History

These days graduation pictures are often very casual. They probably are more of a portrayal of the person, but in some ways, it takes away from the significance such an important event. When a graduation occurred back in my Aunt Evelyn’s school days, they often went out an bought what very well could have been the first new dress the graduate had owned. They also might have made the dress themselves, but either way, the dress was special. In many cases, it may have been more elaborate than the prom dresses of our day.

Such was the case for my Aunt Evelyn’s graduation. She looked stunning. When I saw the picture, I had to ask my mom what event this was for, because I expected it to be for prom or some other dance. I was a little surprised that it was for graduation, but as I thought about it, I realized that it made perfect sense. Other than marriage, graduation is the most special day in a person’s life, or at least the events that you might dress up for. Some people still dress up some for graduation these days, although not as much as my aunt’s attire, and I think it is kind of sad that the others don’t, because she looked amazing. In fact, this picture is one of my very favorites of my aunt. She is a beautiful woman, no matter what age she is at, but this picture is so elegant.

When I look at amazing pictures like this one of my aunt, is feel a sense of loss with the graduation pictures of today. I understand the desire to portray one’s self in their graduation pictures, but maybe it would be nice to add a few shots in a really nice outfit or even a prom style dress or suit for a man, so that the people like me who like a bit of elegance in our world, might have a picture of our loved one looking elegant like my aunt does in this picture.

In a time where it seems like it is every man for himself, I like to look back into the family history and see how things were done back then. People in the towns banded together. If someone needed to build a barn, they had a barn raising. All the neighbors came over…and brought pot luck dinners to feed the workers. These days you have to buy your friends a case of beer and a steak dinner just to help you move! Now, I know that doesn’t apply to every situation, but think about the number of times you or someone you know couldn’t get anyone to help them move without bribing them.

If we look back a few years though, we see that harvests were often brought in with the help of neighbors. They would start at one farm, and move to the next and the next, until the harvests were done. Harvesting can be a huge job, and one family really can’t harvest a big farm alone. Their neighbors had the same problem, so by working together, they could all get the job done, and everyone made a profit. Farming was and is a tough life, and when money is scarce and equipment was expensive, it was a real struggle. Many people couldn’t make it just because of weather alone, much less the inability to get the harvest in, in time to save it from the elements.

These days, so many people are struggling to make it on their own, because there is no one to help them.  I don’t mean lots of government help. I mean good old fashioned elbow grease and muscle. Most people can do most things on their own, but sometimes it is easier or more fun with the help of friends and neighbors. That is how things were back then, and the best part was that it gave these neighbors who often lived miles apart, a chance to get together and enjoy each other’s company. So many people miss out on the camaraderie of friends, because they don’t allow themselves to be willing to help out a friend. It’s something we should all think about.

Blarney Castle in Ireland is a popular tourist attraction. Whether we know it or not, we have all heard about it, or at least why it is famous. Kissing the Blarney Stone seems like just a silly thing people do on St Patrick’s Day…like drinking green beer. At least, that is what I used to think it was. Back then, I had no idea what a Blarney Stone was, and maybe you don’t know either. According to Irish folklore, anyone who kisses the stone receives the ability to speak with eloquence, or The Gift of the Gab. Now speaking eloquently might be an ability we would all like to have, but the gift of gab reminds me of someone who talks way too much, so I don’t think I would want that so much.

On her trip to Ireland and England, my grandmother had the chance to visit Blarney Castle, and of course to kiss the Blarney Stone. When I saw the picture, and since it was not marked as to what it was, I had a tough time figuring out what was going on. I had never researched the Blarney Stone before, so it didn’t look like something…normal, going on. I thought maybe she fell and have to be helped up, but then I seriously doubt if her brothers and sisters would dare to take a picture of such an event. I know my grandmother, and she could take you if you got out of line, and I don’t care who you are. Once my mom told me what the picture was about…well, the story had to be told. In reality, she was kissing the Blarney Stone, which must be done upside down and low to the ground. They used to hang upside down to do it, but now there is a bench to lay on and bars to hang on to so you don’t fall.

It seems so strange to me that a woman who never drove a car in her life, and didn’t do a huge amount of traveling, would travel to the other side of the world and have such cool adventures. She was after all my grandma, and it seemed so unbelievable that she would be off with brothers and sisters to visit such far away places. I never heard a lot about her trip, but I know that she was different when she came back. Not so noticeably so, but there was something different. She was a world traveler now, and while she never drove a car, she was had done things that made the lack of driving seem of little consequence. As for eloquence of speech, I can’t say that I noticed any difference. She was still my grandma, and that was just fine with me. She didn’t need to make fancy speeches. All she needed to be was my grandma, and the grandmother of all my sisters and cousins.

Some old pictures are classics, like a picture of your grandfather with only part of the nine kids he and your grandmother had. It’s strange to see Grandpa so young, and if your parent is in the picture, like mine is, seeing your mom or dad that young is really odd, unless you have seen a lot of those really old pictures, which I had not. Their children, Evelyn, Virginia, Delores, Larry, Collene, and Wayne (the baby being held by Evelyn), born in that order, surround their Dad. It looks to me like they were on one of their many outings, most likely rock hunting, which was a favorite pass time for the whole family, although Aunt Evelyn doesn’t looks so happy…probably because, Uncle Wayne is crying, or so it looks to me.

It must have been taken in the Fall or Spring, because everyone is wearing coats. I was looking at my mom, who is the little girl Grandpa has his hand on, and I thought it was interesting that her hat looked like some worn by little immigrant girls on the Titanic. That interests me, because my grandfather’s dad immigrated from Russia, and Mom reminds me of that era, but I could be wrong on that thought. Of course, my grandfather’s mom was born in the United States, and Great Grandpa Byer was gone by the time my mom was born, so any similarity is probably accidental. I wish I could have known him.

I think it is interesting that the children are recognizable to me, even my mom, who is actually looking down a bit. There is just enough of her face for me to tell without a doubt that it is my mom. We all think that children change so much from the time they are little to the time they are grown, but the more I look at pictures, the more I realize that it isn’t so. Those little faces are smaller, but the features are the same, and while some might look quite a bit different, many really don’t.

When I was in high school, I wanted to be a teacher. That said, I’m quite certain that I would not have been very interested in being the only teacher in a one room schoolhouse, where I was responsible for all the grades. I suppose teaching was quite a bit easier, because so much has changed is the education system…not to mention the knowledge base we have now as compared to in the 1800’s.

Of course, teaching and the students have changed so much over the last 100 years, that I don’t think I would want to be a teacher these days. With all the changes in the school systems, especially the removal of God from our schools, discipline and respect in the schools is a thing of the past. Students do whatever they want, and teachers have little or no control. It is a sad state of affairs. Also, with the removal of God from the school, alternative lifestyles are being taught. I don’t say people don’t have the right to live their lives as they choose, but I don’t like the idea of that being taught in the schools, and I would have a hard time teaching it myself.

What I find interesting about the old one room schoolhouse, and they way they taught back then, is that the different grades had to do their own work while a group in one grade was being taught their lessons. We often say that kids shouldn’t listen to the radio, while doing homework, but I think they have been able to close distractions out for many years, and the radio doesn’t seem like it would be any different to me. I also wonder about how much the younger grades are absorbing while they are hearing the upper grades lessons. It would seem to me that they could learn quite a bit that way, and it might make it easier, as they move into the next grade, to understand the work.

And of course, the students played together. These days, teenagers seldom spend much time with grade school children who are not related to them, but back then, it was very common. Most of our grandparents or great grandparents attended a one room schoolhouse at one time or another. We are the ones who find that so different. One thing to note in Wyoming, however, is that we still actually have a couple of one room schoolhouses in the state. I think I would find it interesting to visit one…wouldn’t you?

I love looking at my family’s old pictures. It makes me  wonder about the way things were in years past. One of the things that stands out to me is the clothing. Kids of all generations think that the clothes they wear are totally new fashion, and I suppose some of it was, but like it or not, there really is no new thing under the sun. The styles of today, were once the styles of yesteryear. Everything from long skirts, to pants, to mini skirts, to shorts has been worn before. It is so strange to look back, and see styles that girls have worn in the very recent past or even today, showing up in the 1800’s or the early 1900’s. In fact, I was amazed to see girls in either a mini skirt or a skirted bathing suit, with heels on. Now is the 1800’s, there would have been a name for girls like that, but in the 1920’s, after World War I ended, and the flapper came into being, the attitude in this country was so festive, that things were allowed that had not been very acceptable in times past.

When I think back on my own fashion statements as a kid, the jeans went from straight legged to bells, to big bells. They went from tight, to skinny, to bells that started at the top of the tight. We also went from Capri’s to shorts, to never wearing shorts, and from never wearing plaid to plaid was totally in style. Skirts went from long to midi to mini. And with each change, we were certain that we had started a totally new trend. Even some of the really outlandish trends of today are not originals. The really low cut pants the boys wear today, were actually started in men’s prisons, to let the other prisoners know that the convict was “open for business” if you can believe it. That in itself would make me refuse to wear that style…how about you? And of course, what girl hasn’t been told that she needs to leave something to the imagination, and yet in some of the eras of the past, showing more than half of the bosom was not only accepted, but the only fashion there was for women to wear!!

So, would we be shocked if someone came into a room is a style from the past, or would we not even notice, because they fit right in. I like to think that showing half of the bosom would shock us, but then we are used to men showing half of the butt these days. So, would we be surprised? I think we might not. In my opinion, the only thing that might surprise anyone, would be if the person was dressed up too much, not how much they were showing. A girl in high school wearing a lacy dress, with a high collar, and mid-length skirt would undoubtedly bring stares from all those around her. Styles do change, and we must change with them to a degree, or at the very least, learn to live with the latest fashion statements that each new generations is bound to come up with…or resurrect.

As we all know, today is the 11th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in United States history. September 11, 2001 was as horrible as it gets, but while it was designed to destroy us, the terrorists did not understand the strength of this country and it’s people. The people of this nation are survivors. When we are attacked, we fight back. We do not give up. The attacks resulted in the deaths of 2977 innocent victims, and 19 hijackers…who I like to think of as executed. These misguided men thought they were doing something great, but they had a rude awakening when they hit eternity. The fires from the planes were nothing compared to the fires of hell.

What followed the attacks was some of the greatest displays of heroics known to mankind. Rescue workers, from police, firemen, and port authority, to ordinary people sprang into action. They were the ones not running from the building, they were running into the building, or staying in the building instead of running to escape. These people valued the life of others over and above their own…knowing that their actions would most likely bring their own death. What kind of person is so selfless? Their actions went so against the normal reaction to this kind of situation. Normally your reaction is to save yourself…run…survive, but not these people. They chose to save others…to go into the buildings…to rescue, to sacrifice themselves so that others would survive. That is the greatest gift, as the Bible says in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” And many of these people didn’t even know the people that they were laying down their lives for. In the face of hate, these heroes loved their fellow man, and did everything in their power to save them.

Everyday, rescue workers and ordinary people make the choice to put others ahead of themselves. Sometimes it is life threatening situations, and sometimes it is saving structures and forests, but the actions are the same. Without regard for their own lives these heroes rush in to save. Today, we remember all those who were lost in the horrible attacks of September 11, 2001, rescue workers and innocent victims alike. It doesn’t matter how their lives were lost. What matters is that their lives were precious and taken from them far too soon. What matters is that they stood bravely in the face of hate, and showed the world that love wins in the end. Those people, those innocent victims and rescue workers deserve to be remembered forever. Their attackers don’t. They chose their fate. They embodied the face of hate that brought out the love…the very best in the people of this country. In the face of hate, our people showed love to one another. There is no greater love on this earth.

After Mount Saint Helens blew up, and it had been deemed safe for tourism, my parents took a trip to Washington to visit my sister, Caryl and her family who were living in the Seattle area at the time. They decided to take a trip to see Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. I’m not sure how many years after the eruption their trip was, but I do remember them telling me about how totally barren the whole place was. They told us about the buried cars and homes sticking out of the ash…broken and ruined. During that eruption, 57 people lost their lives, as well as countless numbers and species of wildlife. I can’t imagine the way that whole area must have felt to be in…so quiet and empty of life…almost like being on another planet.

Yes, it would be a trip of a lifetime…to be able to see an area devastated by a volcano eruption. It is such a powerful act of nature, and yet, behind it all is such a great loss of life and destruction of such beautiful land, and in this case, even a loss of the beautiful mountain top, now forever changed. So many trees were destroyed, literally blown over and burned in minutes. It is so strange to think that one minute the area was filled with wildlife, trees, and flowers, not to mention people…and the next minute it was all gone. Yes, they knew it was coming, but I’m sure many people truly didn’t believe it would happen, or at least that it would not be as bad as it was. I think that if they could have known what was coming, they would have left the area, but their minds couldn’t wrap themselves around that reality…in fact I don’t think most of the nation expected the eruption to be what it was. I know I was shocked by how devastating it was.

It has been over 32 years since that shocking day in our nation’s history. When I came across the pictures of my parents’ trip through the area, I began to wonder what the area looks like now. It would seem that the area is slow to return to life, but then I suppose that ash makes poor soil for many things to grow in. Weeds might do ok there, but trees and grass…maybe not so much. I don’t know how my parents or my sister, Caryl and her family felt about the area, but their pictures told the story of a disaster of epic proportions.

I have often wondered what it must have been like when the first automobiles were starting to make their way onto the scene. I think that both the people and the horses, or other animals used to pull wagons, must have just about freaked out. People had no idea that such things were possible back then. And the horses…well, after the noise scared the daylights out of them, they probably took off like rockets…maybe inspiring future inventions.

I think that the first thought on peoples’ minds would be to distrust this new fangled contraption. They would wonder if it was going to run away like horses sometimes did, only there would be no reasoning with it or pulling on the reigns to stop it. Or, would it blow up…after all, it was a machine. Or, could it be dangerous…going out of control or rolling over. Maybe they thought all these things, but it’s quite possible that they simply thought that this new fangled machine was an unnecessary luxury…a waste of money…or maybe just for the rich people, who always seemed to be too extravagant anyway. People were used to being conservative with their supplies and their money.

Change is often a difficult thing to accept, and I can imagine that people like my great grandparents were pretty unsure of some of the new inventions that were showing up. They were used to their old ways, and it just seemed very extravigant to buy into these new things. Yes, change is hard to accept, but once we get used to it, many inventions turn out to be not only good things, but in many ways, such as with the automobile, they are destined to become something so necessary to life in this world, that it would be difficult to live without them.

I like to think that my grandparents were among those who accepted change easily. I see them as people who had open minds, and who saw change for what it was…necessary. I like to think of them as the kind of people who wanted to be living in the present, with all it had to offer. Still, I have to wonder what they might think of some of the new fangled contraptions we have today, such as the cell phone, lap top, Kindle, iPhone, and iPad. If you suddenly put those things into the mid-1800’s…wouldn’t that just blow your mind.

The Great Northern Railway was created in September of 1889. The line was the dream of one man…James Jerome Hill. He was called the Empire Builder, because of his ability to create prosperous business seemingly from nothing. It came to be as a result of the combining of several predecessor railroads in Minnesota and eventually stretched from Lake Superior at Duluth to Minneapolis/St Paul west through North Dakota and Northern Idaho to Washington State at Everett and Seattle. The Great Northern Railway was in operation until 1970 when it merged with the Northern Pacific Railway, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad and the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway to form the Burlington Northern Railroad. The Burlington Northern Railroad operated until 1996, when it merged with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway to form the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway.

I’m sure you are wondering why I would be telling you this. It’s because this particular railroad played a part in my family’s past. My grandfather (my dad’s dad) worked on the Great Northern Railway. My dad and his siblings had passes to ride the Great Northern Railway for free, as a dependant of an employee. I think it is much of the reason that my whole family loves trains and riding on trains.

Grandpa was a wanderer. He loved to see new places and experience new things. The railroad gave him the ability to do just that…and also kept him away from his family a lot, unfortunately. My grandpa was born 133 years ago today..that seems an impossible number. My grandfather was 77 years older than me. He passed away in 1951, 5 years before I was born. My dad drove back to Wisconsin, making the 1000 mile trip in 17 hours, which was pretty quick back in the 50’s. He did make it to his dad’s side before he passed away on October 19, 1951.

Because he passed away before I was born, I don’t know much about my grandfather. I have to think though, that there was a bit of a little boy in him that he never outgrew. His smile indicated that he had a great sense of humor, with just a hint of mischievousness.  I think that his boyish grin could very well have been the very thing that caught my grandmother’s eye. I think he was always full of boyish charm and mischief, and a need to see what was around the next turn in the road…or in this case, the next curve of the tracks.

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