Genealogy

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.

When my dad was a little boy, he really liked his bottle…but he was a little bit careless with it as he got a little older. It was time to get him off of the bottle, but he was not very interested in that idea. When he got teeth, he started pulling on the nipple with his teeth, and would bite it off, spilling the contents all over the floor. I’m quite sure my grandmother was frustrated beyond words with him.

One day, in one of Dad’s careless moments, he tossed the finished bottle into the wood box, breaking it, because there was no such thing as plastic bottles then. His mother, who was all done with this nonsense, looked into the wood box…then turned to my dad and said, “That was the last bottle…they are all gone.” I can imagine what was going through her mind…and his. I’m sure she was thinking, “Will he cry…for hours!!” And I’m sure my dad was thinking, “Can’t we get another one?” But after looking at his mother, who looked back at him, stone faced, my dad knew that was the end of the matter. He looked sadly into the wood box, and walked away. I’m told he didn’t cry, nor did he ask for another bottle ever again. I think my grandmother was a wise woman.

While he was a good boy who loved his mom and dad, and respected his elders, my dad was still full of antics as he got older. Like many kids who think they are so grown up, sometimes you just can’t tell them anything. Sometimes they just have to learn things for themselves. Such was the case on day when my dad was sitting at the table…leaning back in his chair. The chair kept rocking back on two legs. We have all been there. Our parents telling us not to rock back in our chair like that, but…really, how many of us ever listened. No, most kids know it all…right!

Well, my dad was no different. His mother had repeatedly told him not to lean back in his chair. On this particular occasion, my great grandfather, my grandmother’s dad, was visiting. My great grandparents had immigrated to the United States from Germany, and Great Grandpa still spoke in mixed English and a German dialect. Then the inevitable happened. My dad leaned back a little too far, and the chair went on over. My dad looked up from the floor, to see his grandpa looking down at him and saying, “So Du bist a Oka Mann!”…which translates to, “So, you are a Big Man!” Somehow…I’m not so sure Dad felt very big…nor do I think he thought it was very funny!!

When Bob was a little boy, his family lived in Montana. When he was 5 years old, his dad would take a job offer in Wyoming, and the family would move to Mills, Wyoming, which is a suburb of Casper, Wyoming. The family lived in Mills from the time Bob was in Kindergarten until about 3rd grade. During that time, Bob was friends with some of my cousins, and for all I know we played together too, since my family spent a lot of time with those cousins, and at the Mills school, which Bob and his family lived across from. Then the family would move out in the country, west of town. But it seems as though our families were crossing paths over and over for many years.

I was born in Superior, Wisconsin, where I lived until I was 3. Then our family moved to Casper, Wyoming, which is where my mom was born and raised. My aunts future husband’s family lived in Mills, and my future mother-in-law did quite a bit of sewing for them. Later my future father-in-law would work with that same uncle whose mother my future mother-in-law sewed for. I am often amazed at the connections that happen without knowing what they will bring to the future of those involved. People you knew years ago and who didn’t seem to have any particular bearing on your future, suddenly do. It makes you realize what a small world this really is.

For a boy from Montana, and a girl from Wisconsin to move to Wyoming and live there for 15 years, go to different schools, and finally meet because his sister worked at the same place as the girl, and then get married and live happily ever after…is amazing. In fact, when I told my mom’s family who I was dating, they all knew his family. Imagine my surprise! You really don’t just assume that your family will know your boyfriend’s family, unless you had grown up around each other for many years, which was not the case with us. Nevertheless, our families were crossing paths all those years, and now they would be forever connected. I guess we all knew good people when we met them.

My mom was a New Year’s Baby, born on January 1st, but too late to be the first baby for that year. Nevertheless, hers would always be a special birthday, and would make for a special party every year for as long as I can remember. We have always gathered at Mom’s house for food socialising, dancing, and of course the annual ringing in the new year with the family beating on old pans with spoons and firecrackers going off in the street. The neighbors don’t usually even attempt to go to sleep until we have notified them of the new year. Then the “happy new year” kisses come, followed by the “happy birthdays” to my mom and the phone begins to ring with friends and family calling Mom, because they know she will be up.

Mom was the middle sister…the 5th child out of 9, leaving 4 on either side of her…3 sisters, a brother, my mom, a brother, and 3 sisters. So she was the middle sister out of all the kids and between her brothers…a fact that got her into trouble more than once, as she and her brothers managed to get into a lot of mischief. They were the three musketeers of mischief so to speak, and Mom thought the world of her brothers. She would willingly defend then against any foe…except her mom, after one incident that earned her a spanking of equal or greater intensity than the one that my Uncle Larry received.

As a beautiful young woman, she caught the eye of a man she had decided was “the most handsome man she had ever seen” and before long they were married and starting their “forever after” together. Dad always treated Mom like a princess, and theirs was a beautiful, solid marriage that would produce 5 daughters…and a family that has grown to 58 and counting.  Dad called Mom, Doll from the beginning, and I don’t remember him ever calling her anything else, in fact I thought that was her name when I was little. Their marriage would last 54 years before my dad when home to be with the Lord…a day that changed our lives forever.

Today, is my mom’s birthday…the 5th since Dad went home. We had her big New Year’s Eve party last night, carrying on with the tradition started so many years ago. In years past there were often times when there were friends of my parents there, or their brothers and sisters, but mostly now the party consists of my sister, me, and our families, along with various boyfriends as they come and go. We always have a good time, and the party usually breaks up about 3:00, and we drag ourselves home to bed, because the party will continue with New Year’s dinner and cake, ice cream and gifts to follow. Simply a great way to celebrate your birthday, I think. Happy birthday Mom!! We love you!!

Have you ever noticed that in really old photographs, the people never smiled? I have often wondered why that is. I mean, I know that there were certain remote tribes of people who were deathly afraid of having their picture taken, because they thought that it stole your spirit. I really don’t think anyone thought that in the 1800’s when these old pictures were taken, so why is it that no one smiles…and some people actually look mad. Even the kids didn’t smile…not one! How do you get that many people to scowl all at the same time?

I know that life was hard in the old west, but it couldn’t have been that hard, or everyone would have packed it in and moved back to the east. The work was harder, so maybe everyone was just tired, still if you make yourself, just about anyone can paste on a smile for a few minutes, especially when you did know in advance that you were going to have your picture taken. I don’t know, it has just always amazed me that people would pay good money to have their picture taken, and then scowl in it, so it looks more like it was a photo for a wanted poster.

But, after giving this question a lot of thought, I think I have finally come up with the answer. I believe that these families like most families these days spent several hours arguing with their darling little ones, and by the time it was their turn, everyone was in such a fowl mood that no one felt like smiling. Wow!! Now if that is the reason, then it sounds just like group pictures of today. I can’t tell you how many times we have tried to get all the kids or grandkids to smile at the same time, much less to stop fighting long enough to avoid putting everybody in a terrible mood. So, who’s to say that those families didn’t have the same problem. Ok, maybe not.

We may never know exactly why all the pictures taken of families in the 1800’s were taken with a straight face or even a scowl, but what we do know is that by the early 1900’s, people realized that the best pictures are taken when the subjects smile, and look like they enjoy life and want to remember this great day. When history looks back on your pictures, what will it see? Why not a smile?

As we go through this journey we call life, this world we live in will go through many changes. As I was looking at old family pictures, and it got me thinking about what a change it must have been to go from the horse and buggy days to the automobile. My grandfather and my Uncle Ted (back seat right two people) I’m quite sure grew up with the idea that cars were going to be around, but my great grandfather (back left) must have been quite in awe over the changes going on in his life. I remember the first time I drove a car, but I had ridden in a car many times by that time, and they were commonplace items. I just can’t imagine seeing a car for the first time as an adult, but that is what so many of our ancestors did. Bob’s grandmother talked often of the changes from a horse and buggy to the car.

When I was a kid, a computer took up an entire room, and nobody had one in their home. Then came the PC, and people started buying them. Pretty soon everyone had one in their house. Now there are laptops, netbooks, tablets, and even smart phones. I remember too, when the only phones that existed where in a building or the occasional telephone booth…remember those. Telephone booths almost don’t exist anymore, because we all have a phone in our purse or pocket, and most of them are smart phones now, so we can even access the internet with them.

So many changes have taken place in in the past 200 years alone, that our ancestors would not even know this place if they could see it. I have to wonder how much of it would absolutely terrify them, if they could step into our time. And what would our thoughts be if we could step back into the old West? Back to the days when the harvesting was done with a horse and wagon, and it took a large group of people to get the job done. Hay was cut down using scythes and loaded in the wagon using rakes and a pitchfork. That was a much harder time in our history, and the harvest wasn’t taken so much for granted. School was planned around it, because the kids were needed to help with the harvest too.

Sometimes, I think we all need to look back in time once in a while, and really see how very blessed we are to be living in a time where much of our work is easy, food is abundant, travel is quick, and staying in touch with people all over the world is a normal, everyday event.

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