I have noticed in the family history books that my Uncle Bill Spencer put together over the years, that people in the family, or maybe that era, would sometimes just pick up and go visit a different branch of the family…often without much or any advance notice of their impending arrival. I suppose that sometimes they just got excited about finding out about a different branch of the family, and decided to go check it out for themselves. Being a bit shy around strangers, family or otherwise, I find this type of visit to be very strange indeed. What do you say to those people after the initial, “Hello, You don’t know me, but I am your relative from Wyoming.” I would simply have no idea. That is probably why most people who do go to visit relatives they don’t know or don’t know well, take someone else with them…to help carry the conversation. I can’t imagine going alone, and yet that seems to be the norm for some people.
My grandfather did just that when he went out to visit his Aunt Tessie, as did his brother, my Great Uncle Clifford. Oddly, both of them just dropped in on Aunt Tessie!! I don’t know if Uncle Clifford just liked what he heard about Aunt Tessie from his brother, my Grandpa Allen Luther Spencer, or if he was curious about her and her family too, or if he even knew of the prior visit by a member of his family, but he went, and he went alone. I also have to wonder what Aunt Tessie thought of the whole thing…like, “What is it about me that makes these people keep just showing up here?” It appears to me, as it did to my Uncle Bill, that my cousin Cornelius Davis, who was Aunt Tessie’s son, found his cousin a little strange, or maybe the entire visit was just strange to him. It’s possible that he was wondering why these relatives just popped in like they did too, without any advance notice…or maybe he was wondering just how long this guy planned to stay.
Bob and I have gone many times to visit his family in Forsyth, Montana, but we always told them that we were coming, and our stay was just a week. I guess, in days gone by, when it takes a long time to get somewhere, it didn’t make sense just to stay a week, because it probably took several days driving out, so if all you had was a week, you would have to turn around and leave again. Still, I can’t imagine going for a visit without letting anyone know. Of course, the phone was not widely used in those days, so it would mean a telegraph, but it seems that many people just went and didn’t worry about it. Whatever the case may be, my cousin Cornealius seemed to think it was rather a strange visit indeed.
It’s strange that our minds, even as small children can remember the things that most impressed us. Even as young as 3, or maybe even younger, those memories so clearly imprint themselves on our mind that we can see the event as if we were experiencing it still. Sometimes that memory is scary and we wish we could forget, such as the time I was tripped by a woman trying to get off of the escalator that we were on. I clearly remember falling, my dress being torn, and my chin and elbow being cut. Escalators bother me to this day. Other memories, like the first time we got to stay in a motel bring a smile to my face.
I’m sure that is exactly how my Great Aunt Bertie Schumacher felt when she remembered the fall days on the farm, after the wheat had been harvested, and the flocks of ducks and geese would begin their migration south. She remembers that the wheat fields seemed to be covered with a thick cloud, that was in fact the flocks of ducks and geese. Then the fields seemed to be alive as they went about looking for food as the evening neared. She recalls how her older brother, Albert would go out to the wheat fields and return with twenty birds in an hour. While Fred, Bertie, and Elsa watched with their mouths watering, Anna and Mina had to clean the birds, and even though they liked the end result, the cleaning was a lot of work, and they grumbled through every second of it.
Years later the family had a smoke house, and the meat that came from there was heavenly. Great Aunt Bertie said she could still taste that meat, while feeling quite sad that she had gone years without it by then. One of her fondest memories of her mother was one of sneaking out to the smoke house with a sharp knife and cutting off a bit of the meat whenever they needed a snack in the middle of the day. And the best thing is that it was allowed in their home, and not considered an offence in need of punishment.
So much of life is commonplace, and would maybe even be considered boring, but in every life there are moments that stand out…that, are labeled in our memory files as special and very important, even if, to other people, they would not seem so. It is the privilege of each person’s mind to pick the memories that it finds the most special and the most important…the sweetest memories. Then they are locked away, so they can be opened up another day, when something we see, hear, taste, smell, or touch triggers that particular file to reopen and pour out that sweet memory that has been tucked away there, so that we can experience it once again in our mind.
It would be hard for most of us to imagine a world where we got to go to town only once a year, and yet that was the way of things back when my Great Aunt Bertie Schumacher was a little girl. The Schumacher family moved from Minnesota to a place 8 miles from Lisbon, North Dakota, and the school house was 3 miles from where they lived. Bob and I, in our many evening walks have walked 8 miles at a time, but not in the winter, and since that walk takes us 2 hours, I can’t say that it would be feasible as a way to go to town for groceries, because then there is that walk back loaded down with groceries. Just the thought of 4 hours of walking in the winter cold is enough to make me cringe.
Nevertheless, the children needed to be in school, so Great Grandpa Carl Schumacher got up early every morning, to get the horses out and break a trail, then hook up to the sleigh for the 3 mile drive in to the school with his older children, Anna (my grandmother), Albert, and Mina. Aunt Bertie remarks in her journal, that she and Elsa were very glad that they could stay home with their mother. The sleigh was nothing like the more romantic New England cutters we all think about, but was rather a grain wagon box placed on two heavy runners pulled by their sturdiest horses because of all the deep snow the area got. Great Grandma Henriette would bring the older 3 children out to the wagon, and place bricks she had heated by their feet. Then she would wrap them in blankets that even covered their faces to protect them from the bitter cold. In all the time the children went to that school, they were there everyday, unless they were sick. It was by far the best attendance record in the school, and the Schumacher family lived the furthest away from the school. When Aunt Bertie went to school, a place she was not very fond of, she had to force herself to do what she needed to. It was at this time that she met the only teacher that would remain in her memory for the rest of her life. She was beautiful, and well dressed, but it was her graciousness and her love for children that made her the best teacher little Bertie would ever have.
Not long after Bertie started school, the family moved closer to Lisbon, and the school was only a mile away, and much to Bertie’s delight, it had an indoor bathroom. No more running outside to the outhouse in the middle of a freezing cold day and then running back inside in the cold again. Bertie felt like she was attending school in a palace, I’m sure. One day, when her mother had to drive the long distance into town on a very cold winter day, she decided to leave little 4 year old Elsa at the school with Bertie and their brother, Fred for the day. Elsa had never been away from her mother before, and they were very close, so she proceeded to cry. The older children could not console her, and finally a teacher came and took Elsa under her wing, calming her and allowing her and her siblings the peace of knowing that everything was going to be alright. Bertie recalls how it is funny that the memories that really stay in your memory are the ones where someone showed such love and kindness that the memory of it lingered on for years to come. What a lovely way to be remembered. That is something I think I should like to be remembered as. Loving and kind enough that the memory of my acts of kindness and love stay in the memories of those whose lives I might have touched.
As I was looking through some old pictures, I came across one of a house. It was old, with it’s windows and doors boarded up. At first I thought that it was sad that so many houses around our country are left to fall apart, right in a town where people are using the homes all around it. I couldn’t figure out why this house had some significance, when so many others don’t. Then I looked at the back of the picture and I was surprised at what I found. First of all, so many of the pictures I have looked at, were not written on at all, leaving so much of the family history to the imagination…frustrating to say the least, and I know too that I have been guilty of that myself. We think that we will know the people in the picture, and we will, but what of the people in years to come…our children and grandchildren or even, great grandchildren…what will they know of the people or places in the picture.
So, what of the house in the picture I found…well, it was the house that Bob’s grandmother, Vina Nona Leary Schulenberg Hein was born in, 105 years ago today. It’s strange to think that you are looking at a house that was the specific location of a specific event over a century earlier, but that is exactly the case. Most births took place in the home back then, and this one was no different, in fact, it was probably completely routine…to them. To most of us today, that seems incredible, even though home births are making a comeback.
Grandma Hein’s birthday was always easy for me to remember, because it came on Groundhog’s Day. I’m sure that was always something her whole family thought was a cool thing too. Having a birthday on a special day or holiday can be fun, with the possible exception of Christmas. I have heard that a Christmas birthday, or even close to it, can be a real bummer with the whole gift thing and all, but any other special day is a cool thing. Grandma’s birthday being on Groundhogs Day, marked the day of either the promise of an early spring or 6 more weeks of a dreary winter. I don’t know, that one might depend on the outcome, as to whether it was a cool birthday or not. Nevertheless, being able to look at the very house that was aflutter with activity on this Groundhog’s Day 105 years ago is a cool thing to me. I have to wonder what the walls of this old house could tell us of that day. Quite a bit I expect. It’s a bit sad to think that no little children run and play in it’s rooms, no wonderful smells fill it’s rooms, no family enjoys the warmth of it’s rooms, but rather it has become a sad empty structure left to fall apart. Still, it was an important place in it’s day…Grandma’s day of birth 105 years ago today. Happy birthday Grandma!! We love and miss you very much.
In October of 2013, Wyoming and some of the surrounding states were hit by an early snowstorm that broke many branches from the trees, because the leaves had not had a chance to fall off of them. Casper looked like a war zone for weeks and weeks. It was such a devastating loss for the town, and it saddened many people. Trees that had been here for a long time, were virtually destroyed. It remains to be seen how well these trees will come back in the spring, and of course, some are gone completely and families will have to plant new ones in their place. Cars and roofs were damaged from falling branches too, and had to be repaired.
As I was looking through my old family pictures, I came across a couple of pictures of a Minnesota Ice Storm that caused much of the same damage, but to trees that had no leaves. It is hard for me to imagine a storm that can bend and break leafless trees, but I suppose that if it is so cold that ice forms faster than the water can run off of the branch, it is possible. Indeed, it was more than possible in Minnesota that winter about 1935, it happened, and my dad and his brother, Bill and sister, Ruth can attest to that. I think my Uncle Bill felt the loss more deeply than the younger kids, because he was older, and he loved being out in the wooded areas near their home.
These days, you can go to the local greenhouse or landscaping store, and buy trees to replace the ones that were destroyed, but back then it wasn’t so easy. You might be able to transplant a small tree from somewhere else on the property…if those survived, but in this storm, that was unlikely too. The thing I find quite strange is that it doesn’t appear that there was much snow really, but rather that on the ground, it soaked in, but on the trees, it just froze…likely because the air was colder than the ground. It’s sad anytime that trees are destroyed by the weather. It doesn’t matter if it’s fire, tornadoes, hurricanes, insects, ice, or snow, the destruction is the same, and the loss of the beautiful trees we love leaves us sad, but I guess that is the way nature works sometimes…on its own timetable.
My Great Great Aunt Ida Spencer Brown Nass, married Andrew Alfred Brown on October 1, 1872. They had two sons, Elmer Ellsworth and Andrew Alfred. It is unknown what happened to Ida’s first husband, but she later married Sjur Johannesson Nass, who went by Samuel, and they had two daughters, Ellen and Ethel.
Ida and Andrew’s son Andrew Alfred, who usually went by A.A. Brown, married a woman names Emma Caroline Haessler. Their marriage was filled with love, and blessed with ten children, Gertrude Flora, Alwyn A, Emma Henrietta, John Henry “Johnie”, Bessie, Warren Winston, Elizabeth Ida, Edward Spencer, James Robert, and Fredrick Valden. While their lives were happy, they were not long. Emma passed away on October 31, 1918, leaving Andrew to raise their seven children…a difficult task with small families, but much harder for a man with seven children. Andrew was doing quite well with the task, even though his oldest daughter, Gertrude, who had most likely been a big help, was married on April 20, 1920, leaving him with one less helping hand around the house. Their son Alwyn had preceded his mother in death on June 10, 1918, as had Johnie on September 12, 1905 at 3 years of age, and Bessie on September 10, 1905 at 3 months of age.
On January 29, 1921, tragedy would again strike the family, when Andrew was killed in The Great Olympic Blowdown. The storm, which was one of the worst in Washington state history, came in off the coast at around 8:00 am on January 29, bringing with it, hurricane force winds estimated at 125 to 150 mph. The Forest Service estimated the loss of timber at several billion board feet. The loss of life was one, Andrew A Brown, who was an engineer working at the Anderson-Middleton Lumber Mill in Aberdeen. He was killed instantly when a sudden gust blew down a smokestack pinning him against a broken steam pipe and scalding him to death.
Once again, a grieving Gertrude, who had married Patrick Mint House, stepped in, taking the remaining six children into their home and raising them as their own. Emma was 21 years old by then, so I don’t know if she lived with her sister or not, but the rest of the children ranged in ages from 4 years to 14 years. The littlest ones would most likely not even remember their parents very clearly in the coming years. Their parents hadn’t shared memories of their childhood even with their eldest daughter, Gertrude, so the memories the younger children would have would only be what little bits and pieces she could tell them of her childhood years with their parents. I have to commend Gertrude and Patrick for their heroic and selfless act of taking in her siblings. I can only imagine how hard that must have been for them. In looking through the genealogy records, I can’t find any evidence of Gertrude and Patrick having any children of their own. I don’t know if that was because they were unable to have children or that they had a ready made family. Either way, I find that very sad, because I think they must have been wonderful, loving parents. I imagine that it was an enormous job to take on six children…especially when one is only 23 years old herself. Still, they were family and she loved them. She could not bear to have them go to an orphanage, so she and her husband did what they had to do, and raised her siblings in a happy, loving home…an act of kindness the children never forgot.
Most little kids don’t really like fish much, unless it is in the form of fish sticks, and I don’t think fish sticks existed when my sister, Cheryl and I were little girls. I don’t know why Cheryl wanted to have her picture taken with all these fish, or if my mom just set her there because she would be a good point of reference to show just how many fish there were here, but I do know that it would have been a good thing that the fish were dead already, because if they had been flipping around, Cheryl would have probably been freaking out for sure…I know I would have, but then I was a baby. The fish were Smelt, and there were lots of them.
Rainbow Smelt, which are silver-colored fish about 6 to 9 inches long, are not native to Lake Superior, but rather to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Smelt entered the Great Lakes accidentally in 1912 when they escaped from an inland lake in Michigan where they had been stocked as forage fish. After that, they quickly spread throughout Lake Michigan and were finally discovered in Lake Superior in 1946. By that time, Sea Lamprey, which had also invaded Lake Superior, had begun reducing the number of native lake Trout, so there were far less Trout to eat the Smelt and they began to rapidly increase in number. Every year in mid-April, the Smelt head for the streams to lay their eggs. They are light sensitive, so smelting must be done at night. The best place to go smelting is at the mouth of the streams where they enter the Lakes. The rapids make it more difficult for the fish to jump over them into the stream, and so they are in abundance at that place. Smelting was a big deal at the time we were living in Superior, Wisconsin, when Cheryl and I were little girls.
When April came around in 1957, Mom, Dad, Uncle Bill, and Aunt Doris took Cheryl, me, and our cousin, Pam, and went smelting. Of course, the women pretty much just watched the proceedings, while Dad and Uncle Bill gathered up the buckets of fish that would be our haul for the evening. It was a good run, and the amount of fish they took home was amazing. The fish were then cleaned and frozen for lots of good eating down the road. I’ve never been smelting, at least where I actually participated, but I can imagine that it was pretty exciting to see all those fish all at once. usually think of fishing as a lazy day sport, and normally it is, but during a smelting run, it sounds pretty exciting to me!!
My great aunt, Mina Albertine Schumacher, who went by Minnie as a child, but Min for most of her adult life, married John Clark Spare in Fargo, North Dakota on January 8, 1921. In the years preceding their marriage, John had enlisted in the North Dakota National Guard, Company B, at the age of 17 years. His company was assigned to the Rio Grande River Patrol on the Mexican border at Mercedes, Texas. Company B was patrolling one day, and John had an empty gun, because at that point, there was not enough ammunition to go around. Basically, the men who had loaded guns would have to cover the ones who did not, in the event of anything illegal happening along the border. I suppose that was the only thing that they could do, but I have to tell you that I would not feel very comfortable being one of those guys who did not have any ammunition at the border between Mexico and the United States. I realize that these days that border is probably more dangerous than it was then, but maybe not. Many of the outlaws from both countries ran to the other country to hide out from the law in their own country.
On that day, John was patrolling near the bridge by the encampment, with his empty gun. Suddenly, a herd of horses was seen thundering toward them. Behind the herd was Pancho Villa and his gang of bandits. The gang was in a gun fight with the men from the Third Cavalry, from whom the gang had stolen the horses. The time had come for the border patrol to do their duty. It would be the job of the ones with the ammunition to engage the enemy and assist the Cavalry. The remainder of the men would need to dive under the bridge for cover. The men immediately prepared to take their necessary positions, and with one accord, all of the men of the border patrol dived under the bridge. Unbeknownst to the men, at least until that moment, they all had unloaded guns!! While that might seem like a funny thing to see all those men diving under that bridge because they did not have the ammunition to fight in the battle that was looming down on them, my guess is that it would also be a horrifying situation to the men hiding under the bridge hoping the battle would continue to go on down the road, and not circle back.
Following his time as part of the border patrol, John was called to the Guard full time, and assigned to guard the Fargo Armory, just as bombs were being placed at strategic points around the country to blow them up if it became necessary. I think it is a bit ironic that on his first assignment, John had no ammunition, and at his second assignment, when he was just going on 19 years of age, he was guarding a building that held larges stores of ammunition. I have to think that he must have thought to himself, “Where was all this ammunition when we were at the border?” John’s company would be taken into the Federal Army as the United States entered World War I. John would later re-enlist and fight in both world wars before he finally decided that he had served his time. I’m sure my Great Aunt Min was glad when he came home for good.
As time marched forward toward the United States entering World War II, many people were afraid for the lives of their sons. My dad’s mother, who had two sons, was among them. Things were really heating up while my dad was working in California, and the family really wanted him come home. The word was that any young men 18 to 20 years of age were going to be deployed by Christmas 1942, putting my dad and my Uncle Bill squarely in that group. It was a fearful time in our country. People didn’t want their sons to go to the war, but they knew that Hitler had to be stopped. The things Hitler was doing were so horrible that everyone knew that he must not be allowed to take any more countries over. He was completely insane and dead set on controlling the whole world. They knew that while the fear of sending their sons into battle was almost more than they could possibly bear, it was also going to be the only way to stop this horrible man.
The letters from home to my dad in California were filled with worried questions. They had heard rumors of the impending deployment back home in Holyoke, Minnesota, and were desperately hoping that what they heard in that small town was wrong. They questioned my dad, as to why he thought he would be going so soon. Uncle Bill and Dad had both decided that if one was called to go, the other would join up too. I’m sure they were thinking that if they went together, they could watch each other’s back. In the end, that was not to be, because Uncle Bill had flat feet and a hernia that needed to be repaired. It was a devastating blow to him. He wanted so desperately to be there with his little brother. He had always been there for him, to protect him, and it seemed impossible that he couldn’t do that this time. He was scared for his little brother. He even tried to get him to take welding classes, because he mistakenly thought that my dad wouldn’t have to go if he was working in the shipyards. I don’t know if dad took the classes or not…he did at some point, because he worked as a welder for many years…but if he did, it did no good, because they needed men in the war zones, and that was more important to the country. In the end, he chose the Army Air Force, and went to the war, did his duty to his country and the world, and he lived!!
For some time now, I thought that the main reason my dad’s letters home were always upbeat and positive was so that he could protect his mother…keep her from worrying about how bad things were. Now, after reading her letters to him, and the letters from his brother and sisters, talking about how worried their mother was, I realized that he wasn’t trying to keep her from worrying…she had already voiced those fears…she was already in the middle of serious worry, and now she was in the middle of praying that her boys wouldn’t have to go, and if they did…please dear Lord, take care of them and bring them home to her!!
It is hard enough to go into battle or to send your son into battle…to deal with the fear in your own heart…much less to know that your soldier was scared…and for the soldier, to know that your family is scared. Knowing my dad like I do, I know that he was in the process of pushing his fear back, putting his faith in God, and setting his mother’s worried mind at ease. He knew he could not stop what was coming, but the hardest thing to accept was that he couldn’t really stop his mother’s fears…no matter how excited, positive, or fearless he made his letters sound. And, that tore him up more than anything he would face in the war. The days leading up to, and during World War II, were filled with the worries and fears of a nation. The letters to the soldiers and home from the war, were carefully worded so as to try to alleviate the fears that could not be alleviated until the deployed loved ones were home again.
Uncle Bill always had some new iron in the fire. He has many interests and talents. Uncle Bill, who’s full name is William Malrose Spencer II, was named after his grandfather, William Malrose Spencer I. To Uncle Bill, the single most important accomplishment of his lifetime, is the incredible family history he has dedicated his life to documenting. Uncle Bill started the family history as a young boy of only 8 years. He never quit thinking about the family history after that, even after dementia clouded his ability to process the information he found like he used to do.
Recently, I came across another accomplishment of Uncle Bill’s…one I would never have expected. While looking at his Family History Journals, I found a picture of a house, and I wondered what significance this house might have to have found a place in the family history. Nevertheless, Uncle Bill clearly thought it belonged. The building of the house began in 1948, and continued to it’s completion in 1951. Why would a house take so long to build? The answer explains it quite well. My Uncle Bill, whose nickname is Willie, singlehandedly built the house. The only work he did not do was the wiring and plumbing. The concrete for the sidewalk and steps, was mixed in a 3 x 4 foot plank box, with a hoe. Having done a little concrete mixing with a hoe, I can attest to how difficult that is to get right, or maybe that’s just me…techy yes, builder…not so much. During that time, Uncle Bill was living in Casper, and wanted something to do in his spare time. Building a house seemed to fit the bill nicely. I know that is an odd hobby, but it was the one he chose.
Sometimes, people come into our lives in odd ways. One night while Uncle Bill was digging a trench from the bathroom to the sewer line, it was late and dark. He had a light cord out there, so he could see. Suddenly someone yelled, “What are you digging down there…a grave??” The voice came from a young man named Mark Knittle and Uncle Bill liked his sense of humor immediately. They became lifelong friends, and kept in contact for many years. So, what of the house that Willie built…well, it still stands today and it’s in very good shape. Not much has changed about the house at 1228 S Jackson Street, other than the color of the paint. I tried to locate Mark Knittle, but the Mark Knittle who lives in Casper at this time, is apparently no relation. I found that rather sad, because I had hoped to tell a little more about their friendship. Today is my Uncle Bill’s 92nd birthday. He is doing quite well in most ways, and loves having visitors. Happy birthday Uncle Bill!! Have a great day!! We love you!!