History

I was looking through some of my mom’s old grade school pictures, and the names on the back. I find myself amazed at the number of names that are familiar to me for one reason or another. I have lived most of my life right here in Casper, having moved here when I was 3. My mom has also lived here most of her life, with the exception of the first 6 years of her marriage, so I guess it stands to reason that there might be a name or two from her classmates that might have stayed on in Casper.

It was just somewhat unexpected I guess, although I don’t know why. Some names, of course, were common enough so that I wasn’t absolutely sure, but many were names I had heard…from my friends. One is the mother of a girl who was my best friend in junior high. Another was the mother of someone who was a client of mine a few years ago. Another was the same last name as a mortal enemy, later turned friend from junior high. And there was one who was related to someone I bowled with.

A name that really amazed me, although it probably shouldn’t have is most likely the daughter of a man who developed part of this town, because there is a street named after her, and again the name is not a common name and the street carries both her first and last name, so what are the odds that she isn’t the same girl? Pretty slim I’d say.

As I looked at the faces…kind of searching for a face that looked like one I use to know…it occurred to me that I was really looking at something very special. I was looking at the past, and the past had met my past, and who knows, maybe that past might just meet the future, because who knows how many of the children of those kids have stayed on here in Casper. It is totally possible that while the names might change due to marriage, many of the families remain the same, and my children’s children might go to school with the great grandchildren of classmates of my mom’s…as the past meets the future.

In mid 1951, my father-in-law was hired to work on the railroad in Dalin, Montana. It was a necessary job change for him, since the prior job he had been working couldn’t seem to pay it’s employees, and you just can’t raise a family with no money, nor can you continue to work for someone on the hope that they will finally pay you. I’m quite certain that this job felt like they were rich, after the struggles of the previous situation.

At the time of the move to Dalin, they had only their daughter, Marlyce. During their 5 years in Dalin, the family would grow by two more children. Debbie was born in 1953, and my future husband, Bob was born in 1954. Both Debbie and Bob were born in Miles City, Montana, although Bob was almost born on the road between Billings, where the family had gone to spend the day, and Miles City. Thankfully they made it in time, and Bob was born in the hospital in Miles City.

During the years they lived there, the family lived in a house that was owned by the railroad. There were actually two houses on the property. A big house where the boss lived, and a smaller house where my future in-laws lived. But the interesting thing about the property was that there were also two railroad cabooses that had been turned into homes for some of the other railroad employees.

Now, I don’t know about you, but to me, that would be an interesting idea. I’m sure someone decided that it would be an inexpensive way to house the employees who didn’t have big families, and it did serve it purpose, as you can see in the picture. The kids must have thought it was interesting, because they liked to play around there, although maybe they never gave it much thought. When I look at it from the future, it seems like a very different kind of life than any I would have imagined, but I suppose that many things we take for granted today would seem quite strange to the people of the past.

Trains have always held an interest for me, and I especially liked the caboose, so I’m quite sure I would have wanted to see what they were like inside, and maybe the kids did get a chance to see for themselves, I don’t know for sure. I also think I might have found it somewhat interesting to live in a caboose, at least in the short term. It would undoubtedly get to be pretty cramped after a while, but for the single person workin’ on the railroad, it might have been just the ticket.

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.

Today is Veteran’s Day, and most of us have a Veteran we think of when we think of this day.  They are the heroes who served their country, protecting our nation and other nations around the world. They willingly answer the call when the enemy rears its ugly head and we have to go in and push them back, so the freedoms that we so love can continue to exist for us and for other nations. My dad was one of those heroes.

Dad joined the Army Air Forces on March 19, 1943 at the age of 18. He would turn 19 on April 27, 1943. He had been employed at Douglas Aircraft Company Inc since May 19, 1942, so I’m sure the Army Air Forces could see that he had experience in the mechanics of airplanes. Dad deployed with his crew in a brand new B-17G Bomber to Great Ashfield, Suffolk, England in April of 1944. Dad was trained as the flight engineer. That is a position of great importance on a plane, in that he knew everything about the plane, and if anything went wrong, he was the one who had to fix it. If he couldn’t fix it, they would likely crash, so he needed to know everything about the plane, and Dad did. Once when the landing gear would not come down, Dad had to hang upside down in the open bomb bay, while his crew held on to him, and hand crank the landing gear until it was down and locked. I’m quite sure there were many sighs of relief when the gear was finally down. Dad was also the top turret gunner on the B-17G Bomber, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters, signifying that he had shot down four German planes, and two Gold Stars, signifying that he had taken part in two major aerial engagements. In all he would take part in 35 bombing missions before he was honorably discharged on October 3, 1945.

During the time Dad was in the service, he sent most of his pay home in the form of war bonds, telling his mother that if she needed the money, she was to use any or all of it. He wrote letters to her as often as he could…his way of letting her know he was ok. He worried more about his mom worrying about him than he did about himself. He was a hero to his mom, as well as to his country. And he carried that heroic attitude through the rest of his life…always putting the needs of those he loved and even those he didn’t know ahead of his own. That is what makes a true hero. That is what my dad was. I am so proud of you Dad. I love and miss you very much.

While visiting Bob’s great grandparents in Yakima, Washington in 1976, Grandma Knox showed me a family heirloom of a different type than most, but priceless nevertheless. It was a drawing of a tree, on which the trunk and branches were the names of family members. It was a true family tree. It must have been a copy of several or many that were made and given to family members in the Knox family, because I have since seen it on the Internet. And was able to save a copy on Ancestry.com.

I think about the person who did all that original work. Her name was Hattie Goodman, and she is a relative on Bob’s side of our family. I would have to dig deeper to tell you exactly what the relationship is, but we are related, and on the copy that Grandma had, we know where our family section is. Of course, the tree does not show the names of my children or grandchildren, or even Bob and his parents, but his great grandparents are listed, so we know where we fit. It is an amazing piece of history, painstakingly written down by a woman I would love to have known, because I think she must have really been something!

Bob’s great grandparents are gone now, and I am quite sure his Uncle Frank still has the family tree drawing, as he is one of the last of the brothers born to Bob’s great grandparents, and the healthiest one for sure, making him the best choice to keep it. And he is also the one who would be the most interested in the family history, so he would treasure it.

It is quite a responsibility to be the family historian…and yet quite exciting too. You carry the memories in your head, and you feel the need to get it down on paper, or online these days, so that it can be passed on to generations who would not have known these stories any other way. There are family historians in every family, and you know who you are. The memories live in the filing system in your mind, but they are not content to stay there. They continue to spill out in your writings as a memorial to times past. You feel the need to leave a legacy of the stories of the past, so that future generations will not forget where they came from.

That is where I fit into the family, but I am not alone. Most families have several or sometimes even many people who are interested in those stories from the past. They can sit down and hear a story from the past, and immediately commit it to memory, and turn around and tell it to others to preserve the family history. This stuff just sticks in their memory so easily, and once it is in there, it stays. They are the family historians, and they have an important role in the family. Keeping the past alive for future generations.

When we look back into our own history, we often wonder who we look like. I suppose it gives us a feeling of belonging to look at our ancestors and see a face there that is very similar to our own. Sometimes those faces are uncannily close to ours even. It seems to be a thought that comes and goes throughout our lives…or maybe it is just at the milestones in life.

Everyone asks the new parents, which one the baby most looks like, and it can be hard to tell when comparing babies to adults, so you look at the baby pictures of the parents for those clues. It is funny, however, when your granddaughter mistakes a picture of you for her. That is what happened to me recently. I had been told from the time she was born that Shai looked like me, and even she and I have noticed a resemblance as she gets older, but I have still had a hard time believing that this beautiful granddaughter I have could possibly take after me.

As she has grown up, she has begun to notice the similarities more and more, as have other people who see us together. It was something I never expected, and yet some pictures I see of us are…almost like a mirror image. I can’t explain how very blessed that makes me feel. I always knew too that her mother, my daughter, Amy looked quite a bit like me as well, but to have 3 generations that look alike is unusual to say the least. The cool thing for me is that unusual or not, that is exactly how it is in my family, and I kind of like that.

Through the years I have found myself looking at my aunts, and grandmothers to see if I look like anyone in particular. I have found that I look similar to my Aunt Ruth and I laugh like her too. I look at my mom and I find that she looks very much like her mom, as does my Aunt Evelyn and my cousin Shelley, who is also Aunt Evelyn’s daughter. My sister Cheryl reminds me quite a bit of my Aunt Sandy. It is simply in the genes. Some characteristics are more dominant than others, and those characteristics are passed along, from generation to generation.

For as long as I can remember, my Uncle Bill has been interested in guns. I’m certain that interest dates back to his childhood days. Being the oldest brother, and with his dad working on the railroad and away a lot, Uncle Bill helped provide for the family by hunting and fishing. Of course, many men, and women have an interest in guns, but few turn it into a career.

For many years, Uncle Bill traveled to gun show after gun show, sharing his interest with many people. I remember him telling me about one particular trip that found him driving around Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. For those who don’t recall, that fateful day was the day the SS Edmund Fitzgerald was sunk in Lake Superior during an early winter storm that produced near hurricane force winds. No one knows for sure exactly how the actual sinking occurred, but my uncle told me that it was a storm to remember, and one he very much wished he had not been out in. I suppose I can understand how he felt. A storm that was bad enough to sink a 729′ ship, must have been horrible to drive in.

Since my uncle had lived most of his life around Lake Superior, he knew what an early winter storm could mean. Lake Superior had taken down many a ship and she was ruthless when she got a ship in her clutches. He said he wondered about the ships that might be on the lake in such a storm, and he was not surprised to hear of the loss of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, when the storm was over. Oddly, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald was the only ship lost during one of the worst storms to ever hit Lake Superior, but that sinking was a permanent reminder of the perils of a life at sea.

Being a collector, Uncle Bill collected all the newspaper articles that came out about the tragedy. A year later Gordon Lightfoot came out with a song called “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and when I mentioned the song to Uncle Bill, he told me of his harrowing drive around the lake on that fateful day. Then he sent me all of the articles and such that he had saved. When I was done looking it all over, I told him I was ready to send it back, but he said to keep it. That’s how he was and still is. He wants to get history into the hands of those who are interested. Maybe we are alike, he and I, because I enjoy getting little bits of history into the hands of those who are interested too.

Grandma's gardenDuring the years of the Great Depression, people had to do whatever was necessary to make ends meet. The backyard garden became a necessity, not a hobby. Hunting and fishing really became a vital part of life, not just a pastime. People had to make their own repairs around the house, rather than hiring it done. People put blankets up for curtains, and made their own clothes. I suppose it was like a move back in time…to the time when their ancestors didn’t have a store to go to, or a repairman to call, so they did what they had to do, on their own. I would imagine that there were a lot of repairs that the repairman would have scratched his head at…just trying to figure out how it ran at all.

While the things the people of the Great Depression era did were a bit unusual, and were an essential part of making ends meet, they were also a part of their independence. They didn’t want a government handout…even when they had to take it, they didn’t want it. They were used to taking care of themselves. Nevertheless, jobs were scarce, and often required the men to travel for work, leaving their wives and young children to run the farm. School became a luxury, because the kids were needed at home to plow, weed, and harvest the crops to put food on the table. Nothing was wasted either. They cooked the feet, tongue, and even brains of an animal for food. They didn’t necessarily kill an animal, if all they needed was the feathers for a mattress. Can you Grandpa by the Gardenimagine plucking the feathers from a goose while it is alive?? I would be afraid it would come after me, but it was well known then, that the feathers would grow back, just like our hair, of course, cutting our hair doesn’t hurt.

Tough times can make or break a nation and it’s people I guess, but if we are a people, determined to make it on our own, and help this nation be great at the same time, then we can be a nation who can handle difficult times with grace and dignity. If we become a nation of people who are willing to sit back and let the government take care of us, then we will be a truly poor nation indeed.

My Dad passed away 3 years ago, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of him and miss him terribly. So much so, that many times it is hard to speak or think of him without tears. He was like the main trunk of a tree, and we, his family the branches. While the tree can come back from the roots if the trunk is cut down, it takes a long time to do so. Yes, we have all gone on with life, just as Dad would have wanted us to do, taking care of our Mom, and hoping that we do so in such a way as to make Dad proud, but there is something missing, and a huge gaping hole in the middle of our lives that we can’t seem to fill. My Dad is irreplaceable.

Dad was a World War II veteran, and like many of those men, he rarely talked about those years, choosing instead to move on with life. He was the Top Turret Gunner and Flight Engineer on a B-17 Bomber. He was credited with shooting down 2 Japanese planes, and he saved the men on his plane when he hung upside down in the open bomb bay to hand crank the landing gear down when it was stuck and they couldn’t land. But, these were things he didn’t tell us about. My Mom would tell us later. It just wasn’t Dad’s way. To him, he just did his duty.

One of my Dad’s greatest loves, other than family, was the great outdoors. Dad wanted us to be able to see as much of our great country as possible. We have camped out in many places, and seen almost every state. There have been funny times, like making my Dad get up to put another log on the fire, because we thought there might be bears in the area, one of the joys of camping with 5 daughters, I guess. My Dad was a brave man. And of course, he had to get every moth away from us, because they might be “deadly” or something. He was so patient. He just took our craziness is stride. When I think back on those years, I can’t help but laugh at how goofy my sisters and I were. Dad just had a way of making things fun, no matter what came up.

One of Dad’s all time favorite travel destinations was the Black Hills. Because it was close to Wyoming, and there was so much to do there, we went often. I’m sure that is where my love of the Black Hills came from. He showed us many fun things to do there, and well, from there my love for it just grew. When I am in the Black Hills, I always feel like I can hear “echos” of my Dad, because there are so many wonderful memories there.

Another thing my Dad was very good at is problem solving. Whenever any of us needed help with something, Dad could always be counted on come up with a solution. He was the strength of our family, no matter what. I can still hear him saying, “This is what we are going to do.” And you just knew everything was going to be alright.

Dad, you taught us many lessons of life through the years, and you made life fun. Your words and laughter will always echo in my memory. I will miss you until the day I see you again in Heaven. Thank you Daddy for being the greatest Dad ever!! I love you so much…and Forever!!

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