Family

Ah, here it comes…the wearin’ of the green, corned beef and cabbage, and green beer for those who like that…Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s a day for partying…and pinching for those who forget to wear green. Most people look at Saint Patrick’s Day as just another party day. And I enjoy the pinching games and the corned beef and cabbage, but I’ll leave the green beer for others.

One thing that Saint Patrick’s Day does make me think of, however, is my Irish background. I think most of us have a little Irish background, and some have a lot. You can usually find it by the last names, like Bob’s grandmother, whose name before her marriage was Leary, or my great grandmother, whose maiden name was Shaw. Many of these ancestors really never knew very much of their Irish roots, because their families have been in the United States for centuries. I don’t remember either of these grandmothers ever mentioning Irish roots, or being particularly Irish.

Still, many people whose Irish traditions, or any other traditions common to their countries, have been passed down from generation to generation, feel a deep attachment to the past and to their roots. Anytime you look back at your family history, you can’t help but feel the beginnings of an attachment to a different time and a different place. It’s easy to envision what life might have been like then. Days before cars and planes, when people traveled by horse and buggy. Days when moving to a new country meant leaving your family behind forever…never to see them again.

Travel wasn’t so easy then. And yet brave people like our ancestors, who wanted to have a better life, set out into the unknown. They had no idea what they would find out there, but they set aside their fears and went anyway. They were pioneers, and were it not for them, we would not be where we are today, or have what we have today. They are also the inventors. Someone had to come up with all of the modern conveniences that we have today. They were people with that same pioneer spirit. What would our world be like without those people and people like them. People who carried their traditions into a new world, or people who came to the new world and started traditions of their own.

Much of my background is German and English, but there is some Irish, and the Irish family members that I have had the pleasure of knowing were very much a treasure as valuable as the emerald colored hills of the old country. So I’ll carry on the tradition today. Wearin’ the green, and pinching those who forget, and eating corned beef and cabbage with loved ones. Because, today…everybody is a little bit Irish. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to all.

When Eric was born, his older brother, JD was very excited about having a little brother, but that didn’t mean that he knew how a little brother needed to be cared for. That wasn’t really unusual for a little boy of 17 months. Nevertheless, we all wondered how Eric managed to survive having an older brother like JD.

The first hint that Eric might be in peril came when JD stuffed an eye drop bottle, with the lid on thankfully, down Eric’s throat when he was less than a year old. Thankfully, their mom, my sister-in-law, Jennifer was very nearby and heard little Eric’s struggle to breathe. She immediately called 911, and they walked her through what to do. While Jennifer is a nurse, you can’t thinks straight when it is your own child.

Having survived that ordeal, life got back to normal for the two brothers…for a while anyway. When Eric was about 3 years old, JD’s curiosity would again get the better of the situation, and JD would lock Eric in the trunk of the family car…thankfully it was parked in the garage at the time and not in the hot sun. Jennifer heard his muffled yells for help and rescued her youngest son from his big brother a second time. Now, I know you think JD hated Eric, but the opposite was the truth. They were inseparable.

And if having his brother out to get him wasn’t enough, Eric decided to give it a go himself, when he fell off of the deck of the family’s bi-level home. He landed on the concrete below, but somehow managed to stay in one piece…with everything in working order. Talk about having nine lives, I think Eric must be part cat.

Through the years many future challenges presented themselves, since the brothers were very much into motocross, and with motocross comes a number of bruises. Still, that did not diminish their love for extreme sports. They have tried many different extreme sports, and usually do quite well at them.

But, probably the craziest thing Eric wanted to try almost happened on the day he had a friend over and he called his mom at work to ask if it would be ok for them to jump off the roof of the house and into a snow drift. Of course, Jennifer told him no, but he continued to try to persuade her to allow it. So, finally she told him that if he insisted on doing that, he had to wait until she was at home…because someone needed to be there to call 911. Needless to say, that was one attempt at Eric’s demise that didn’t happen. We’re glad you made it through it all, Eric!! Happy birthday!!

Some people are just naturally goofy. They make you laugh at every turn, and the jokes and funny comments seem to just roll off their tongue. And quite often, it doesn’t stop at just what they say, but continues right on into what they do. My niece Kellie is like that. Practically from the moment she was born, she was a giggle box and constantly doing things to make people laugh. And her laugh…well, contagious if putting it mildly. I can hardly remember a time when I have seen Kellie without a smile on her face. That is because she is one of those people who go through life unaffected by the negativity that goes on around her.

Kellie is so full of life, and she has a way of drawing others into her world…even if they can’t figure out how to stay for very long…mostly because their own lives get in the way of it. But Kellie, lives in a world of fun and laughter that is very much her own. I like being drawn into Kellie’s world, because it gives me a chance to be a kid again…or at least, a Wee One as Kellie calls me and my girls. We are among the shortest ones in the family, and Kellie is among the tallest, so she can do that…along with picking us up in a great big bear hug. Then she puts us back down on the ground and laughs delightedly about it. You just never know what Kellie might do…or what she might dress up like for that matter.

Kellie has no enemies, and especially not animals. She loves her kitties and her dog, and you just never know…she might even kiss a dolphin when given the opportunity. And it seems quite obvious to me that the dolphin was quite taken with Kellie, but then, why should the dolphin be different. Everyone who knows Kellie is quite taken with her.

The thing that is really amazing about Kellie, though, is that while she can be very funny, and a total jokster, she has a sweetness about her that is unmatched. She loves everyone, and they love her. With her knack for happiness, also comes a knack for kindness. And she has a love for beautiful things…especially music. Kellie has a sweet spirit, a love for the Lord, and a beautiful voice that is a joy to listen to…especially when she is singing worship songs to God. It is my honor to know you Kellie. You are a great blessing to many!! Love you, and happy birthday!!

There is something about getting a brand new car that is so exciting. It’s never been used by anyone else. That’s kind of how my dad felt about the B-17G Bomber that he and his crew were assigned. It was brand new. They were to be the first crew to fly her. I’m sure they weren’t the last, since their plane survived the time they were in it. But I don’t really know if the plane continued to fly in war times. The B-17 bombers had a strange history, and I’m sure many people wouldn’t have felt like it was going to be a very safe plane since the early prototypes didn’t fly well. That is probably a fact that I’m sure my grandparents were thankful not to have known, and hopefully my dad didn’t know either. Still, the early models that crashed were built in the mid 1930’s and the B-17G version, which came out in the mid 1940’s, was the final and by far the best version.

I am thankful that it was the final version that carried my dad on his missions, and even more thankful that his plane brought him back every time…even though they flew through many hazardous missions. My dad was so proud of his plane, and he believed that it would bring him safely home again. He could seen why the plane was called The Flying Fortress and The Super Dread, because it could come home even after taking some damage, provided the damage left the fuselage in one piece, of course.

In my dad’s letters, he described the beautiful plane to his family. Dad could see the beauty in the planes, of course, because he had worked for Douglas Aircraft Company, building planes. So, the intricacies and the strength of the B-17G Bomber made sense to him, where they were probably lost on my grandmother. I took my dad out to the airport the August before he passed away, and he got one last chance to go through the B-17G bomber. He was still highly impressed with the plane, and all it could do. He told me where he was stationed on the plane, and what his duties were, and what a wonderful plane it was. I could still see the look of wonder on his face…almost like that of a little boy with his first toy car or plane. As we went through the plane, I could see why my dad was so impressed with it.

Dad went on to tell his family about how smoothly the plane flew, and how impressed the crew was. He also wanted them all to know that this was a plane that would keep him safe and bring him home. It was very important to him that his family not worry. My dad knew that “not worrying” would be difficult, but he wanted to encourage them and let them know that God would take care of him and bring him back safely. Dad did return from World War II, of course, and he was unscathed. He had experienced things he never expected to experience, and sadly, he really never much enjoyed flying after that time, but he was always in awe of the B-17G Bomber.

When my girls were 4 years old and 3 years old, we were living on my in-law’s land, while we got our land ready to move onto. During that time, my sister-in-law, Brenda, and my brother-in-law, Ron were in elementary school and often needed help with their homework. I enjoyed helping them out, so they usually came to me for that help. So, many nights we had a tutoring session at my house. It’s pretty hard to run a tutoring session with small children around, who want to play.

I needed to come up with a way to help my sister and brother-in-law, and occupy my young daughters. Like most kids, the girls just wanted to do the same things the big kids were doing. The problem was that they were too young and would need more help than I could give them right then.

So, after giving it a little thought, I got each of my daughters a piece of paper and a pencil and told them to do their homework too. I was amazed at the way they did their homework. The girls didn’t scribble or draw pictures, but rather they made small careful circles. They were making their letters. As a mother, I was impressed and pleased at their very good attempt to mimic their aunt and uncle’s homework. They even stayed on the lines fairly well.

Things went on that way for a short time, and then Brenda and Ron started needing help with spelling. That…was the beginning of the problem. Before I knew it, Corrie and Amy wanted to learn to spell too. It all seemed innocent and, well even cool, but having them ask how to spell every word they could think of did get old after a while.

On day they started asking me how to spell the names of all their aunts and uncles. I was busy with other things, and really didn’t have time to go through every family member’s name. By the time we got to my sister-in-law, I had had just about enough of spelling. So, when they asked me how to spell Brenda, I very quickly blurted out B-r-e-n-d-a. Well, the girls caught BR, and that is the name that stuck.

At first, Brenda didn’t know if she liked the new nickname or not. When she was little, Jennifer had called her Bea, and she thought it would work into Aunt Bea. She never expected to be BR or Aunt BR. Still, it was a name that grew on her, and the kids really liked it. Before long, everyone was calling her BR. She has it on her license plate, and people have bought her blocks and plaques that say BR. It is her own nickname, unique and original…even if it was an accidental nickname.

Life in the early 20th century was not always easy. Many people were on the move westward, hoping to find a better life, as things were much more crowded in the east, and land was not readily available. The government was giving away homesteads in Montana, so that is where Bob’s great grandfather decided to move his young family. It took men and women of strong constitution to settle the west, both during the wild west and into the 20th century. Bob’s great grandmother, Julia Doll Schulenberg was one of those strong pioneer women. She was always a hard working woman, and when times got tough, Julia Schulenberg shined. She was a woman capable of doing just about any job required to help her family survive. In addition to running the homestead, farming and caring for livestock and children, she cleaned houses in Forsyth, worked in the cafe, and even served as a midwife to the area women. She did what she had to do to save their homestead during the tough times.

When her oldest child, Andrew…Bob’s future grandfather, accidentally shot himself in the leg at age 15, and subsequently spent 2 years in the hospital, losing his leg about a year into his stay, Julia and her husband Max would pull him through it. They had passed their strength on to their children, showing them how to survive in the rugged west, even during the worst of times. Andrew would be no exception to that rule. With hard work and stubborn determination, Andrew would recover, and while he had a wooden leg, he went on to become the sheriff of Rosebud County, Montana for many years. He would also go on to marry Bob’s grandmother, and later, after their divorce, he would narry again and would be largely out of his son, my father-in-law’s life for all but the last few years before his death in 1986.

While Bob’s dad did not have much association with his dad until much later in life, he has very fond memories of his grandmother…Julia Doll Schulenberg. It would seem that Julia was, in all reality, the backbone of the Schulenberg family. While Max seemed to struggle to get by, and went from job to job, Julia was of very strong stock. She taught her children to work hard, and do what was right, and also passed those good qualities on to her grandchildren. My father-in-law remembers her as a hard working woman, who kept a clean home and always welcomed him in for a visit. He has based much of his view of a good woman on the amazing example his grandmother gave him.

While her husband, Max would die and the young age of 56, Julia Doll Schulenberg lived a long life. She passed away on November 17, 1974, at 89 years of age. Her death came just 4 months before I married Bob, so I never got to meet her. Still, from my father-in-law’s stories of his grandma, I know that she was a woman of strong constitution and a kind, loving spirit, and the fact that I never met her is most definitely my loss.

From the time they were just little kids, my grandchildren have loved to visit me at work. Grandma’s work was a cool place to go, as well as a place they could go when they didn’t feel well, and their mom’s had to be at work. They would bring a blanket and pillow, and camp out under my desk, often sleeping the day away with no one but Jim, my boss, and me knowing that they were there. It was a place of refuge for them, and their mom’s and I knew they were looked after. Not many children got to go stay with their grandma at work, and we all knew what a great blessing it was, and what a great boss Jim is.

As they got older, the kids often came into my office after school, so they didn’t have to be home alone. They sat and read a book or did their homework until the day was over and then went home with their parents. I suppose it was a strange office in the eyes of many people who knew what went on there, but to me and to my grandkids, it was a blessed office…and a blessing to those in it. Yes, it was unconventional, but ours is an unconventional office. We are real people…not a corporation. Jim understands that sometimes life collides with the office…sometimes in bigger ways than others. Sometimes that means being away from the office, other times it means having an extra person in the office. Jim always allowed me to make our office a safe place for my grandchildren, and they in turn think of him as an uncle.

Sometimes, the turn of events can be strange to say the least. When you open the doors in a time of need, even such a small need as a sick child, you also open the door to what the future can bring. As Jim got to know my children and grandchildren, and allowed me to help them with their needs, he has also found several employees among them. Two of them, Amy and Shai work in our office now. Caalab is our part time maintenance man, mowing the grass at the edge of the parking lot and emptying trash, as well as helping with other odd jobs around the office. Corrie designed our website, and her husband Kevin took the pictures of the staff for the site. It’s funny that what began as a one man office, has now become a family affair, and the only non-family member is the boss…but, then again, we consider him family too…maybe by adoption of sorts. Not on paper, but in our hearts.

I have been caregiving for my parents and my in-laws now for almost 7 years. In the last couple of days, I have spoken to clients and business associates who know about my situation, and as we spoke, the conversation turned to the blessing of my girls and my grandchildren. I don’t know how I would have made it through these last 7 years without them. Each and every one of them has gone above and beyond the call of duty, and their husbands have given up time with my girls and their kids to make sure that I had the help I needed. How do you ever re-pay such love, kindness, and compassion? You can’t, of course. You are simply forever in their debt…and forever grateful that they answered the call of duty and took on a responsibility that was bigger than any they had ever known, and one for which none of us had any formal training.

As I told of the help I received, I felt such a sense of pride in my family. I am able to count on my whole family to step up and help me in caring for their grandparents. Right down to my teenaged grandchildren. In fact, my grandchildren have been helping out in the field of caregiving since the youngest was 7 years old. They were not squeamish, or grossed out by blood or any of the other things they saw. These were their grandparents, and they love them. The rest didn’t matter. I was and still am so proud of them. Words cannot say how proud, because there are no words big enough. I am also grateful beyond words to each one of them, because they never let me down…not once in those 7 years, and I know I can always count on them. It was not with a sense of gloating that I told of the help my family stepped up to give me, it was more with a sense of gratitude and pure awe at all that they had done. Talk about heroes!!! Heroes don’t come in a finer form than my kids and grandkids.

No one ever wants to be in a position of having to make life changing decisions for their parents, but the harsh reality is that before this is all over, most of us will have to make those decisions….and I’m not just talking about life support and nursing homes. Many of us have to make the decision as to “do we go to the doctor or the hospital” over and over. Many of us have to help out with daily activities too, such as dressing, bathing, meds, shots, and bedtime. Sure, these are hard things to take on for your parents, in-laws, or grandparents, but for me and my family, the decisions are a no-brainer. Do everything to help them to live, and live life to the fullest extent that they possibly can. And when it comes to doing that, I know that my kids and grandkids are right there with me…on board in every way. I just can’t ever thank them enough for the awesome support they have given me and their grandparents at this difficult stage in the lives of my parents, their grandparents. I love you all…more that I can EVER say!!

As I have looked through some old pictures over the past few months, I came across a picture of my cousin Jimmy as a young boy, with his parents, my Aunt Doris and Uncle Bill. I have been thinking about Jimmy quite a bit lately. He was such a funny guy, making all of us laugh at his antics as a child. Sadly, Jimmy’s life was cut short by Mesothelioma on February 1, 2006.

Jimmy was a boy who was full of life, and his life brought laughter to those around him. When my sister’s and I were young, and visiting my Uncle Bills family in Superior, Wisconsin, Jimmy kept things lively with his jokes and his great smile. If there was going to be trouble…and I mean mischief…you can bet Jimmy and his big brother Billy were going to be at the heart of it, with Jimmy usually leading the way.

My Uncle’s family lived just down the street from the funeral home in Superior, and of course, that meant that the Ghost Stories were sure to be a part of our visits. The boys were always trying to scare us girls with their suggestions that the dead might still walk the street, and maybe we should go check it out…right, like I’m going to go down there and have a look at the dead people who might be walking around just looking for some dumb little girl to grab, who was just stupid enough to decide to go into the funeral home…I mean, isn’t that like saying “Hey, ghost…here I am!! Come and get me!!” Yep, that sounds like a great plan to me, right…NOT!!

I remember one other time when my Uncle Bill, Jimmy’s dad had taken us to get ice cream, and apparently there had been spill problems in the past, because Uncle Bill told us kids that if we spilled in his bus/camper, he was going to make us lick it up. It took all of about 2 seconds for Jimmy to manage to spill his ice cream on the floor. He looked up at his dad, very wide eyed, and I’m sure a little queasy in the stomach, probably hoping for mercy or that maybe…just maybe, his dad had bee kidding. Well, no such luck. His dad…towering over little Jimmy, said, “Ok, lick it up.” So, Jimmy got off of his chair and started to get down on his knees, gulping, I’m quite sure, and got ready to lick it up, when my Uncle Bill boomed out, “Don’t lick it up…I was just kidding!!” Well, I don’t have to tell you how relieved Jimmy was, and before you knew it, that winning little smile was back on his face.

While I had not seen Jimmy for a number of years, I will never forget his great smile and funny ways. He was a wonderful person, and I will always remember the great times we all had as kids. When I look back into my memory files, I can still see his face, just as he was the last time he was here, and That is the way I choose to remember my cousin. Love you Jimmy!!

For as long as I can remember, going to my grandmother’s house brought the smell of potato milk soup or oyster stew. Now, don’t get me wrong, my grandmother made other foods, and was an excellent cook, so maybe that is just the memory that makes me think of her. I was never very fond of oyster stew as a child, although I like it now, but potato milk soup was always a yummy favorite. Grandma always had the oyster crackers too, and I thought those were always fun. Grandma’s kitchen was always full of great smells and plenty of food.

Grandma loved having her family come for visits. The more the merrier. And all of her grandkids would have to agree with that. We always had a great time playing at grandma’s house. She had a huge back bedroom where her kids had slept, and while I always that it was scary at night, it was a great place to play. It had lots of room and plenty of beds when it was time to put the babies down for their naps. Playing house back there was always great fun, and since my grandparents had 9 kids, there were always plenty of cousins to play house with.

I think my grandmother must have been a Popsicle person like me, because her house was warm. I was always cold, so it was nice to go to grandma’s house, because it was always warm and cozy. As a kid, it seemed like I could never get warm enough…except at grandma’s house. I suppose many people wouldn’t think that was much of a memory, but to me, it was a great memory. It never seemed to matter how warm it was in the house, I still wanted to snuggle up in a warm blanket, but at grandma’s house, I never had to get a blanket…Grandma understood.

When my grandparents moved from their old home to the new one on 3rd Street, I remember playing in the basement. It was a great place for a haunted house when we were kids, and the pool table in the rec room was a definite plus…if you could get a chance to play. It was definitely a first come first served basis, and the older the kids were, the quicker they got there, and somehow it always seemed to me that the boys got there quicker than the girls.

I didn’t really matter what we were doing when it came to going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, we always had a good time. Whether we were playing in one of the many rooms in her house, or playing hide-and-seek outside, it was always fun…mostly I suppose because we were at Grandma’s house.

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