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.
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.
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.
As sometimes happens in families who live great distances away from each other, our family has been distanced from some of my cousins for as many as 30+ years. That is a fact that I find sad in many ways, but mostly because now, with the use of Facebook, we have reconnected with many of those cousins, and now we are faced with the lost years that cannot be replaced. I am very glad to be in touch with my cousins Shirley, Terry, Pam, Bill, and second cousins, Larry, Tonnya, Danyelle, Jason, Crystal, Christine, Bill, Kristin, Cody, Tim, and Shawn and all their families. Talking with them now, the missed years seem to have melted away, but knowing that there were so many years, and so many past events that we missed out on, makes me sad. That’s how life goes sometimes. You get so busy with your own life, that there doesn’t seem to be enough time to stay in touch.
Kids I last saw as babies, or have never even met, are grown up and out on their own. Some have their own children and one has a child on the way. My cousins and I have been doing quite a bit of catching up, and that has been very wonderful for me, as I hope it has been for them. I have been getting to know the younger generation, as well as the ones in my age group. We are as varied in who we are as we are in where we live, and yet each person, each personality, each life is a precious reunion to me. I am interested in the lives and lifestyles of each one. Some of us prefer the big city life, some the small town atmosphere, and some the scenic beauty of nature.
We are all very different, but we all share one side of our background. We share the same Spencer lineage. We are connected in the past, present, and future because of it. We share similar views of our background…similar stories of the past. We may have a little bit different view of those stories, but they are basically the same. I feel so blessed by the connection to these precious cousins. It is really the fact that these cousins complete who I am…and that part of me was separated from the rest of me for a long time. Today, I feel so blessed to be reunited with my cousins…the grandchildren and great grandchildren, and even great great grandchildren of my grandparents.
Some people have such a wonderful way with children that they seem ageless. That is the way Bob’s great grandma was. When we went to visit her in Yakima, Washington, when Corrie was just 15 months old, and Amy was 4 months old. Corrie and her great great grandma had such a connection. It didn’t matter that there was an 88 year difference in their ages. Grandma understood Corrie, and Corrie loved her very much. The chair she gave to Corrie was part of that connection they had. Grandma saw that Corrie would cherish the little chair, and her instincts were correct. It has been a treasure to Corrie.
Grandma truly was a timeless person. So many people who are in their 80’s and 90’s, have little tolerance for the silliness of children, but Grandma was no ordinary person. She loved life, and the people in it…especially her little great great grandchildren. And she was so full of life. She was one of those people whose age is hard to guess, because they are so much younger than their years. Grandma lived alone for the 8 years after Grandpa passed away, and prior to that, they had lived together in their own home, with Grandpa doing the maintenance on the house. They were both amazing people. Grandpa was 93 years young, and Grandma was 96 years young when the left us, but they weren’t feeble and weak. They lived their lives fully right up until the end.
When Grandma was 93, her son Frank and his wife Helen brought her out for a second visit since the birth of her first great great granddaughter, Corrie was born. Even though they had not seen each other. 4 years, and it is hard too say just how much Corrie remembers of that visit, but the connection between her and her great great grandmother is very obvious. Grandma and her little great great grandchildren were all having a wonderful time together.
It would be a short 4 years later when Grandma went home to be with the Lord on February 10, 1984, but the influence she left behind for all of her family was huge. She was a woman who took an interest in life, both past and future. It was Grandma that gave me a good start on Bob’s side of the family history, and not just it’s people, but the history of things too. Sometimes it is the history of things that brings home the history of people. Those were the stories that Grandma told me on that visit, and looking back now, I can see that what she was doing, was passing along our heritage…just like she did for her grandchildren, to the best of her ability, even if they don’t remember much of it. We do, and we will keep it and her alive, to pass on to those little ones, now grown.
When your birthday happens to be on a holiday, it can be a special thing. Groundhog Day, 103 years ago was one of those special days. That was the day Bob’s grandmother was born. I don’t know if Grandma’s parents looked at her birthday as something special in those early years or not. For me, however, as her granddaughter-in-law, hers was a birthday that I never forgot. It wasn’t that Groundhog Day was any big holiday where I come from, but for me, the coming of Spring means…well, a return to life!!
I was curious as to whether or not Groundhog day was even something celebrated when Grandma was born, and since I had never researched it before, I decided to look. I found that Groundhog Day began in 1841 when a German shopkeeper named James Morris in Berks County, Pennsylvania, wrote that February 2 was the day the groundhog comes out of his burrow from hibernating. If the day is sunny and the groundhog sees his shadow, he returns to his burrow for six more weeks of hibernation. If the day is cloudy and the groundhog cannot see his shadow, then he ends his hibernation and the weather will be mild. So it was something that was celebrated when Grandma was born.
Still, I don’t know if her parents gave it much thought or not. What I do know is that for her children and grandchildren, it was a special day. Of course, many people like me look at Groundhog Day as the day we hope will point to an early Spring, but for our family it is also the day a very special lady was born. Grandma was the glue that held the family together in the early years, and the one who taught everyone about love. In the later years, her grandchildren and great grandchildren loved to spend time with her too. She made every visit wonderful…an adventure.
Grandma always liked the fact that her birthday was on Groundhog Day. I remember her telling about her birthday, and you could see it on her face. I think grandma liked the Springtime too. What rancher didn’t. Spring always brought the new life. New cows, the garden growing, being able to get outside and enjoy the day…these were things she liked. Her front yard was a place she liked to be, as was her garden. But the place I remember her the most was in her kitchen. Grandma could easily run circles around most people. When breakfast was over, a short break, and it was time to start preparations for lunch…and then dinner.
Even if Grandma’s birthday had not been on a special day, it would always be a special day to us, her family, because it was the day grandma’s life began. Grandma has been gone for 14 years now, but every year on Groundhog Day, I can see her in my mind’s eye…always busy, always smiling, always special.
When two brothers and their sister live way out in the country with their mom, and their dad is away on the railroad a lot, they have to find things to do to entertain themselves. I have talked to to my dad and my Uncle Bill about their antics with dynamite on the 4th of July and riding trains to school, and fixing the gatepost before their mom got home…another result of dynamite mixing with boys. And I know that my Aunt Ruth loved all animals…especially horses. But how did they feel about each other, and their older sister. I’ve often wondered that, since we didn’t get to see my aunts and uncle very often.
I think there was a very close bond between those three younger children of my grandparents. Their older sister, my Aunt Laura was 10 years older than her little brother, Bill, 12 years older than my dad, and 13 1/2 years older than my Aunt Ruth. Aunt Laura was in many ways a second mother to the younger three children. She was old enough to help with them when they were babies, and babysit them when they were older…not that she was totally able to keep them out of trouble. And by the time they were grown up, my Aunt Laura was married and raising her own family.
Still, I think that the Spencer children were very close. And I think the younger three, at least, shared a love of animals. My dad always loved dogs, and of course, dogs and farms just seem to go together as do dogs and kids, but I think few people loved dogs as much as my Aunt Ruth, unless it is my grandson, Caalab, who seems to have a lot of likes in common with my Aunt Ruth…not so unusual in that I am also a lot like my Aunt Ruth. Horses and farm kids also go together. They are transportation, before they are old enough to drive, and a lot cheaper than a car to run. Plus, there are things you just can’t do very easily with a car, like standing up on it’s hind legs. Yes, I think they had some great times back then.
Those days are long gone now, and my Uncle Bill is the only one left. The years took each of the Spencer kids in different directions, and different places around the country. My Uncle, who was the first real adventurer in the family, ended up back in Superior, Wisconsin, where they all grew up. My Aunt Laura would live several places, but finally settled in Portland, Oregon. Like her older sister, my Aunt Ruth also lived several places, but finally ended up in Newport, Washington. My dad moved around some, until he met my mom and then it was 5 years in Superior, and the rest of his life in Casper, Wyoming. I think that like most siblings, there were times they disagreed, but I do not believe there was ever a time when they didn’t love each other. And, while the years and the miles separated the Spencer kids, they still loved each other very much and spoke through the years, even if they didn’t get to see each other much.
Years ago, most people sewed their own clothes, if they knew how. Store bought clothes were not a common item. Times were just different then. My mother-in-law grew up in those days. Most women didn’t have a job outside the home either. They took care of the home and children. Still, there were ways that the women could help with finances through the generations.
Back in the old west many women raised chickens, and gathered and sold the eggs. Often this was to pay for things that were needed at the store. Of course, my mother-in-law didn’t live in the old west. She was raised on a sheep ranch, and having married my father-in-law, who worked on a cattle ranch, there wasn’t much chance of being able to raise chickens or gather eggs, but my mother-in-law wanted to help out, and one thing she could do was sew.
She had known the Cross family, which is the ranch my father-in-law was working on, for some time. They hired her to make ten matching western shirts for the men in the family. The shirts were to be for the dad and nine sons. As you can see, the shirts turned out quite nicely, and that was the beginning of a long career of sewing shirts and other items of clothing, as well as knitting and crocheting items for many families in both Montana and Wyoming. During those early years, she would make over 100 shirts for her many clients.
The items of clothing my mother-in-law sewed were of a quality that could easily rival anything you could buy in a store. She even sewed clothes for my Aunt Bonnie’s future husband’s mom…before they ever met, and of course, many years before I met Bob. Many people reaped the benefits of my mother-in-law’s capabilities over the years. She made her daughter, Debbie’s wedding dress, as well as the Maid of Honor dress that I wore in the wedding. She crocheted dishcloths and afghans. She made afghans for each of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. She knitted sweaters, hats, and sweater jackets that could keep out the cold better than many coats.
Those days are long gone now, as Alzheimer’s Disease has taken away the ability to do those things. She still talks of doing those things now and then, mostly because she thinks she still does them, but that is just the thoughts of a mind that doesn’t realize that it no longer remembers how to sew, knit, or crochet anymore. Still, many people remember those days when she was truly a great seamstress.
I have been researching our family histories for some time now, and I am amazed at the fortitude of some of our ancestors. Bob’s great grandparents homesteaded in Montana in July 1911, and went through everything from a flash flood almost immediately, that washed away all of their belongings, but spared the family, to an early severe snow storm that dumped 15 to 18 inches of snow on their crops, freezing them. Bob’s great grandfather had to travel to the Elk Basin, Wyoming oil fields to make enough money to feed their growing family, and his great grandmother would take on odd jobs doing everything from cleaning houses to acting as a midwife.
I realize that there are hard working people in all walks of life, and through the years, but sometimes, it really seems to stand out as unique and amazing. Bob’s great grand parents would go on to have 10 children. The oldest, Andrew was Bob’s grandfather. As a young boy of fifteen, he was accidentally shot in the leg while hunting antelope in October of 1921. He would spend 23 months and 11 days in the hospital, and would eventually lose his leg to that injury. I’m quite sure that was devastating to a fifteen year old boy, but he would go on to become the Sheriff of Rosebud County for many years. I did not know him for many of the early years of my marriage to Bob, as his dad and grandfather didn’t speak for many years, but in the later years of his life, they reunited and we got to know Grandpa Andy. I never knew what happened to his leg, until after his death, but I remember thinking it very unusual it have a wooden peg for a leg in the 1980’s. Of course, the leg had been that way for a long time, so I’m sure it was nothing unusual to Grandpa Andy, and so we gave it no further thought either.
Adversity can and does hit people from all walks of life, and it is often that adversity that is the proving ground for that person. Some fall apart and are never really whole again. Other’s like Bob’s great grandparents and his grandfather, fight their way through the adversities in life and go on to do great things with their lives. Our ancestors had things much harder than we do. They didn’t have the modern technology that we have, and would be stunned by things we take for granted…like the internet and cell phones. They worked with their hands, scratching out a living on the land, because that was all that was available to them. Yet, while they weren’t tech savvy, they managed to build this country, turning it into the great nation it is today. They were the building blocks of a nation.
We all have people in our past who ultimately shaped who we are today. Yes, our parents raised us and shaped much of the person we are, but where did their values come from. It was their parents, of course. When I look back on who my grandparents were, and who Bob’s grandparents were, I can see traits in them and in their personalities that reflect on our parents, which reflects on us, and even some features and personality traits that have passed on to us. Sometimes the traits we have may have come from a grandparent who is even a step-grandparent, but who meant a lot to us, and so we adopted some of their traits.
Part of who we are comes from the way we are raised or the world around us, but some things are not affected by those things. Those are the parts that come to us from our heritage…our ancestors. Bob and his dad both look a lot like his grandfather, his dad’s dad. That became very apparent to me when we met him for the first time. Bob’s dad had been estranged from his dad for a long time, and only reunited a short time prior to his death. During that time we attended a family reunion, and in the pictures, the resemblance was amazing.
I think about my own grandparents. One set I knew, one set I didn’t, and yet it is the set I didn’t know, that I most take after. I am very much like my Aunt Ruth…my dad’s sister, and she seems to be much like her mother, my grandmother. It makes me wonder what my grandmother was like. Did she laugh like I do, and like my aunt did. I wish I could have known her, but she died when I was six months old. I’m told that she was an amazing woman…very strong and capable, and yet a tiny woman…as her wedding dress would tell me.
My grandfather, my dad’s dad, was gone before I was born, and yet I think that we are a bit alike in that he was an adventurer…always looking for something new…just around the next corner. My dad was a lot like that too. He liked seeing new places…exploring new things. I’m sure that was why the railroad was always of interest to my grandfather.
I think maybe some of my personality traits came from my mom’s dad. He was a gentle man with a soft heart. He was very soft spoken, a trait I wish I had received, but I’m not so sure I did. He was kind and compassionate, as was my grandmother…my mom’s mom. They really never met a stranger. And they helped many a person in need. While their family was large, and times were tough, they often had an extra mouth or two at the table in the evening, and they would never have turned anyone away.
Our grandparents passed much of themselves on to our parents, who passed it on to us. The people we have become is in a big way related to the relatives from our past. Whether we know it or not, often, we follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before us.