Loss

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Every year since 1907 (or 1914, if you go by the day that Congress designated the day) children have celebrated a day of remembering all the wonderful things their mom has done for them. Being a mom is often a thankless job. It involves long hours, filled with worries, headaches, weariness, and work…and it’s an all volunteer job. Of course, if we had to pay our mother for all the things she did for us, we would all be broke, and the moms would have all the money in the world…or a good chunk of it. The job of Mom, is a highly skilled job, encompassing many different careers. Moms are nurses, teachers, chefs, nannies, coaches, maids, chauffeurs, financial advisors, tutors, counselors, advisor, judge, and jury, just to name a few. Most of her training is on the job training, because motherhood is a career that starts the instant your first child arrives, and lasts for the rest of your life. There are no days off, no passing the torch, and no retirement. And the funny thing is that no mother ever wants to retire, in fact, they wish their babies would stay little forever.

My own mom, Collene Spencer was a most amazing woman. She raised five daughters, teaching us to cook, clean, take care of a home, and how to be moms. She taught us that we could do anything we set our minds to. As our lives progressed and we took on our adulthood, she became our cheerleader…even if what we were doing was a hobby, she always had faith that we could do it. I remember when I started writing, she wanted to have me read the stories to her. She missed so many of them, because I didn’t see her that day, so I finally made sure she got them on her Kindle. She read every single one. She was my biggest fan, and I miss having her tell me how much she loved this story or that one. And I miss calling Mom to ask her about a detail from her childhood. Her information enriched my stories, because she knew all the little details of the events. Many times, while I’m working on a story, I think, “I need to ask Mom about that”…then, I realized once again…that I can’t. It would be nice to have a phone to Heaven, because I have questions for my mom…and my dad too. And I miss them, and just saying hello again would be wonderful.

When I got married, I assumed that I had learned everything I needed to know, but that was not so. My mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg had been raised on a farm, and had a very different take on life and caring for a family. So, once again, I had things to learn. Having a vegetable garden meant that rather than buying vegetables at the store, you got them out of the cupboard, and that was because you had picked them from the garden, and canned them. It wasn’t that my mom didn’t know how to do that, but we didn’t have a garden, so we didn’t can. My mother-in-law sewed, knitted, and crocheted, and while I knew how to crochet, I hadn’t been exactly willing to learn much about sewing from my mom. I learned how to do these things, but unlike my mother-in-law, they would not become a big part of my life. Some things just simply are, what they are. Nevertheless, I am thankful for the things I learned from my mother-in-law, who also taught me that you never really know it all. My mom is in Heaven now, but we still have my mother-in-law for a while longer. Happy Mother’s Day to my Moms!! I love you both very much.

My Aunt Delores Byer Johnson was always the kind of person who brought sunshine with her into a room. She loved to make people laugh, and she didn’t mind being a little bit silly if it would brighten everyone’s day. My mom, Collene Byer Spencer used to tell me about all of the inventive ideas her sister used to come up with.

Mom used to tell me that with Aunt Dee is the house, there was never a dull moment. Aunt Dee might have been teaching the kids how to dance, or playing the piano she bought for the family, or teaching the kids how to fly…using a coat and the wind of course. It didn’t matter what scheme Aunt Dee had in mind, everyone knew it was going to be a lot of fun, because Aunt Dee made it fun. She had a way of doing that.

Aunt Dee has been gone now for almost 21 years, I can still hear her laughter and see her smiling face, every time I think of her. She loved life, and she had such a zest for life. I suppose that is why I miss her so much. She loved spending time with her nieces and nephews, and never made us feel unimportant. When we were with her, we were important. Family was everything to her.

In many ways, I think Aunt Dee was a kid at heart, and that was what always made her so much fun to be around. I will always miss that, and I can’t wait to see her again in Heaven. Today would have been Aunt Dee’s 86th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Aunt Dee. We all love you very much.

On this, the 105 anniversary of the April 10, 1912 sailing of the RMS Titanic, for her maiden and only voyage, my thoughts have been leaning toward the people who were on board, and particularly those who did not survive that fateful trip. The Titanic was the most amazing ship of it’s time, filled with luxuries beyond the imagination…at least in first class. Back then, people were separated into classes based on their social importance. It’s sad to think about that, because every person has value, and many of those in 3rd class, or steerage were considered expendable. Nevertheless, it was not just those in steerage who lost their lives when Titanic went down on April 12th, 1912.

As Titanic set sail on April 10th, here was much excitement. Those who were “lucky” enough to have secured passage, were to be envied. Of course, the rich and famous had no trouble paying for their passage, but the less fortunate had a different situation, and different accommodations. Many of the steerage passengers had spent their last penny to pay for their passage, and still they considered it money well spent, because they were heading to America for a better life. Little did any of the passengers in all three classes know that in just two days, their beautiful ship would be at the bottom of the ocean, along with many of her passengers and crew. It is here that I began to wonder what they were thinking as the ship sank beneath their feet, into the deep dark murky depths. I know most of them were just trying to find a way to get onto one of the life boats…of which there were too few by at least half, but did it also become that moment when they thought about what might have been for them…had they not taken this particular trip, on this particular ship. I think that anytime a person finds themselves faced with death, their thoughts turn to family, friends, and what might have been. Most luxury trips taken are for a few reasons…among them the scenery, a long awaited visit, or just the sheer luxury of this particular type of trip. No one really considers what might happen if things go wrong, or at the very least, we try not to think about it. Still, when the moment of emergency arrives, did the passengers of Titanic think that if only they had waited for Titanic’s next trip, they wouldn’t be here today…in this most horrible of situations, with so many others screaming in fear, because they knew they were about to die…unless a miracle happened for them.

Titanic was carrying 2,222 people (passengers and crew), when she set sail. Of those people only 706 would receive that miracle. For the rest, this would be the end of their life. Of the 706 survivors, 492 were passengers, and 214 were crew members, a fact that I find rather odd. The class distinctions were closer to expected, with 61% of first class passengers surviving, 42% of second class passengers surviving, and 24% of third class passengers surviving. That is a sad reality of a time when class was everything. I’m sure that all of these people felt that their lives were a tremendous gift, and I’m sure too that their lives changed in a big way. Still, I wonder about the final thoughts of the 1516 people who died that day. I’m sure they wished they had not taken the trip, and I’m sure that they regretted the fact that their family would be sad. It really doesn’t matter what they were thinking, I guess, because it was too late to change what was…for most of them anyway. For the holder of Ticket number 242154, it appears that it was not to late. The holder of that ticket is unknown, but they were given a full refund for their ticket, and it appears that they did not sail on Titanic. Perhaps, they had their ear to the Lord’s Word, and were told not to sail. Not knowing who this person was, we will never know for sure.

Whenever my sisters and I get together to go through some more of our parents things, I find that the time spent is bittersweet. We enjoy the time together, sharing memories and stories of the past, but there isn’t always regret, because our parents are gone and can’t be there with us. We were always a close family, and as we visit, I can’t help but think just how much Mom and Dad would have loved to be there, listening to the laughter of their girls. As we went through the attic this weekend, there much of the laughter and camaraderie that our parents taught us. They would have been proud of our teamwork, and of course, thrilled with some of the things we found.

It had been many years since either of our parents were able to get up in the attic, and Mom couldn’t figure out what had happened to some of the things she felt were precious. If she weren’t in Heaven now, she would know where those treasures had been, and that they had fared well through the years. Now, some of those treasures have been divided up between their girls, and some will be in time. I just wish that we could have found them before Mom passed away, because she always wondered what happened to some of their things. I suppose it happens to most of us, at one time or another. We put something away for safe keeping, and then, we can’t remember where we put it. Mom was right when she said that some of the things were precious, because they were.

As we planned the weekend’s work, we expected the items in the attic to be mostly junk…old toys, old clothes, and such, and we did find those things, but there were some surprises too. We found more of Dad’s uniforms from World War II, as well as the medals Mom thought had been lost forever. We found her antique sewing machines, and an antique typewriter…yes, the really old style. We found their bowling balls from the years when they bowled, and that made me miss them a lot. I remember all those bowling years, and I suppose that is why I still bowl today. Bowling was their sport of choice, and all of their kids and some of their grandkids bowl too. We made the decision to donate their bowling balls to Sunrise Lanes, so that other people could use them, and enjoy their sport of choice too. I think Mom and Dad would be pleased…I know the employees at the blowing alley were.

We also found many pictures, as well as negatives and film. We are excited to have them developed, but dividing them up will be a future get together, because we want them scanned so we can all have copies. We spent a little time looking through the pictures today, and I can tell you that they are precious. Baby pictures, baptismal pictures, baby shower pictures, and many others. I can’t wait to look through those, as well as the love letters Dad sent to Mom…and yes she kept them all tied in a neat little ribbon. Yes, the weekend was an exciting one in many ways, and a sad one in many others, but we would all agree that the treasures found were precious.

As the second anniversary of my mom’s passing drew near, my family and I have been talking more and more about the woman who was our mother. Mom was many things, as most mothers are, but one of the parts of my mom that never ceased to amaze me, was her ability to maintain a certain level of innocence, or at least what we thought was innocence. As I look back now, she was a wise woman, who managed to keep her world…quite pure and innocent. I’m not talking about her personal life, but rather our family life. There were certain lines we all knew not to cross. My sisters and I would never have cussed in front of our parents…if we wanted to live, that is, but somehow we knew that our boyfriends and husbands would be required to live up to that standard too…and they did. It was out of respect for her, my dad, and their home. That was something I always though amazing. I don’t think I even remember having to tell a boyfriend twice, not even the ones who weren’t the keeper I ended up with. It was as if they thought mom might pass out if they were to talk in an inappropriate manner. I don’t know…maybe she would have. I never dared to find out, and I’m not sorry that Mom was that way, because my sisters and I were raised to speak decently, and we have never regretted that.

Another way that my mom always seemed so innocent was in her sense of humor. Mom never cared if she looked silly, if it could make her arguing children laugh. When you have five daughters, complete with all the drama that can be associated with it, you either get silly, or you go crazy. Well, mom was an expert at making her girls either straighten up, or laugh, usually in a very unique way. I remember Mom clearing the living room floor so that two of us could “fight it out” and once we had a good hold of each other’s hair, and were both basically pinned to the floor, the room broke out in laughter, because lets face it, it was pretty hilarious. I remember Mom making some crazy faces that we couldn’t help but laugh at, and even if we knew that Mom was mad, it was sometimes hard not to laugh about her face, but we knew that it was in our best interest not to.

Life with our mom was never dull, but then again, Mom would probably tell you the same thing about life with her girls. If there was some crazy antic that we could come up with…we did. I remember ruining my brand new penny loafers because I felt the need to go trudging through the mud and the construction site at the new Kmart building. The shoes cleaned up ok, but they were now of a size to fit my younger sister, Caryl. My sister, Alena was a whiz at concocting formulas. Of course, using the “shampoo” she created was out of the question, because it would probably burn your hair off. As far as terrorizing my sisters…that would have to be, yours truly. I was born with strong fingernails…well daggers actually, and I did not hesitate to use them. Sometimes I wonder how I survived childhood, because if anyone drove our mom crazy, it was me. I’m sure that my wedding day was cause for celebration on many levels. Just thinking about what I put my mom through…well, I can’t decide whether to laugh or cry. I think that is how Mom had to have felt. It really was get silly, or go crazy in our house.

When we think of the White House, we seldom think of death. Oh, there have been presidents who were assassinated, or died while in office, but mostly not in the White House. It is too well guarded, and an ill president usually was taken to a hospital. Nevertheless, death has visited the White House, and the case I am referring to was not a president, but rather his son. Abraham Lincoln is my 7th cousin thrice removed, making his children, my 7th cousins 4 times removed. Lincoln married Mary Todd on November 4, 1842, in Springfield, Illinois. They were the parents of four sons Robert Todd Lincoln was born in 1843 and Edward Baker “Eddie” Lincoln in 1846. Edward died on February 1, 1850, in Springfield, probably of Tuberculosis. William Wallace “Willie” Lincoln was born on December 21, 1850, and died of a Typhoid Fever on February 20, 1862. The Lincolns’ fourth son, Thomas “Tad” Lincoln, was born on April 4, 1853, and died of heart failure at the age of 18 on July 16, 1871. While three of the four boys died in childhood, only one, Willie passed away in the White House.

Disease was a scary thing in those days, because many serious diseases, which we have cures for now, were a death sentence in those days. Little Willie Lincoln had contracted Typhoid Fever. Typhoid fever, also known simply as typhoid, is a bacterial infection due to Salmonella Typhi that causes symptoms which may vary from mild to severe and usually begin six to thirty days after exposure. The disease was all over Washington DC, and even the White House was not safe from it’s deathly grip. In fact, Willie was not the only one to have it. His brother, Tad was in bed just down the hall, with the same illness. Tad would survive, but I have to wonder if his heart was not severely weakened by the disease, because he passed away just nine years later of heart failure. On February 20, 1862, little 11 year old Willie succumbed to the Typhoid Fever at 5:00pm. His parents were with him, and Abraham Lincoln said, “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!” Mary watched him bury his head in his hands, “his tall frame convulsed with emotion.” At the foot of the bed she stood “in silent, awe-stricken wonder,” marveling that so rugged a man could be so moved. “I shall never forget those solemn moments — genius and greatness weeping over love’s idol lost.” President Lincoln then walked down the hall to his secretary’s office. He startled the half-dozing secretary with the news: “Well, Nicolay, my boy is gone — he is actually gone!” John Nicolay recalled seeing his boss burst into tears before entering his own office. I think I have to agree with Mary. When we think of Abraham Lincoln, we think of a strong man, but if we think about it, he also had a softer side, and he loved children.

Willie Lincoln was a favorite around the White House. In the words of a government official’s wife, “The White House is sad and still, for its joy and light have fled with little Willie. He was a very bright child, remarkably precocious for his age, and had endeared himself to every one who knew him.” Mary Lincoln’s cousin said he was “noble, beautiful…a counterpart of his father, save that he was handsome.” Mary herself called him the “idolized child, of the household.” It’s somewhat strange to think that such a large household as the White House, with all of it’s staff who work there, could be so changed by the death of a child, but Willie Lincoln was not an ordinary child. Had he been, he might not have come to the attention of everyone in the White House. Most of us know who the first children are but the White House staff knew Willie Lincoln and dearly loved him. As dates in history go, while this little boy was not an important man is the way we think of that today, he had a impact that went far beyond his short time on this earth, and his dying day was one that saddened a nation.

These days, tornado watches and warnings are a normal part of life. They may not happen every day, but when they do sound, we know what to do to stay as safe as possible. The warnings don’t always mean that there are zero deaths from a tornado, but they do help. Unfortunately, the tornado warning sirens, Doppler radar, and television warnings did not exist in 1884. In those days, people had to rely on the skies to tell them what was coming, and as most of us know, that is not always an easy task. In fact, it has taken hundreds of years to even begin to come close to perfecting a system whereby the public could be warned of approaching severe weather, and even then, it hasn’t eliminated the deaths that can occur from these storms.

One of the largest and most widespread tornado outbreaks in American history happened at a time when warnings did not exist. It happened on this day February 19, 1884, and into February 20, 1884. The precise number of tornadoes, as well as fatalities incurred during the outbreak remains unknown. The outbreak was nicknamed “Enigma outbreak” and is well known by that name. Research of newspaper reports and governmental studies published in the aftermath reveals tornadoes, or in reality, long-track tornado families, struck Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. It is estimated that at least 50 tornadoes struck those states that day. Some events that had been counted as tornadoes in initial studies, such as those by John Park Finley, were actually downbursts, especially in northern and northeastern portions of the outbreak. Nevertheless, the damage done was nothing to be overlooked.

The majority of the reported tornadic activity was seen across Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, which were all struck severely by multiple waves of tornado families. In the Southeast, the outbreak began during the late morning in Mississippi, preceded by severe thunderstorms in Louisiana. Shortly thereafter, the outbreak widened and intensified, progressing from Alabama to Virginia between noon and midnight. In addition to the outbreak, wind damage, flash floods, with homes swept away by water in Louisville, Kentucky, New Albany, Indiana, and Jeffersonville, Indiana and other towns along the Ohio River, and Derecho-like effects in the Ohio Valley were also reported in published accounts of the outbreak. In case you didn’t know, a Derecho is a widespread, long-lived, straight-line wind storm that is associated with a land-based, fast-moving group of severe thunderstorms. In addition to that, blizzard conditions occurred in the eastern Midwest, as a part of this storm series. According to an article appearing in the Statesville, North Carolina Landmark three days later, the damage tally in Georgia alone was estimated to be $1 million, in 1884 dollars. Today, the damage would have been approximately $23,660,667. That is an astounding figure, and that is just the property damage numbers. Loss of life simply cannot be measured in money. In fact, the greatest mystery surrounding this horrific event is the possibility that, in all likelihood, as many as 1,200 people lost their lives that day at the hands of the 1884 Enigma Tornado Outbreak.

When we think of a series of disasters, it is usually tornadoes, earthquakes, or floods that come to mind. On February 11, 1952, none of the usual suspects were at fault in the series of disasters that began across central Europe. Snow storms don’t normally fall into the category of a series of disasters, but when a storm stalled over middle Europe during the first week of February of 1952, it dumped two feet of snow in parts of France, Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. In the vast area of middle Europe, life quickly ground to a standstill. Everything was closed, and travel was impossible. Germany recruited thousands of people and their shovels in an attempt to make the streets passable. In France several people died when their roofs collapsed under the weight of the heavy snow accumulation.

The worst of the storm, however, was felt in Austria, when a series od deadly avalanches took a heavy death toll. It was during the early hours of February 11, 1952, at a ski resort in Melkoede, when a huge mass of the newly fallen snow suddenly crashed down the mountain from above. There was no time to react, and no time to get away. They were trapped. Fifty people were sleeping at the resort. Twenty of them, mostly German tourists were killed, and another ten were seriously injured. In Switzerland and Austria, authorities issued urgent warnings about potential avalanches and some villages were actually evacuated. Nevertheless, all that was not enough. The next day there were more damaging avalanches. In Isenthal, Switzerland, hundreds of cattle and several barns were buried by an avalanche. In Leutasche, Austria, a twelve year old child was saved by people who risked their own lives in the face of a second avalanche that was poised to fall. Seven members of the child’s family were killed by the avalanche.

Avalanches kill more than 150 people worldwide each year. Most are snowmobilers, skiers, and snowboarders, and most deadly avalanches are triggered by the victim or someone in their party. Given that count, I suppose that the 78 people who perished in the February avalanches in middle Europe in 1952, might seem like a small number, but when you consider that these deaths occurred over a period of a few days, and the rest of the deaths by avalanches from that year were not included in that number, the death toll is staggering. This was not the worst avalanche death toll, however. That record, if it is right to call it such, goes to the Huascarán avalanche that was triggered by the 1970 Ancash earthquake in Peru. On 31 May 1970, the Ancash earthquake caused a substantial part of the north side of the mountain to collapse. The avalanche mass, an estimated 80 million cubic feet of ice, mud and rock, was about half a mile wide and a mile long. It advanced about 11 miles at an average speed of 175 to 200 miles per hour, burying the towns of Yungay and Ranrahirca under ice and rock, killing more than 20,000 people. This avalanche, in my estimation, might have been more of a landslide than an avalanche, and so it’s very possible that all of these people would have died had there been snow or not.

Young Frank KnoxEarly in my married life, I met a precious part of my husband, Bob’s family, in the form of his great grandparents, Edgar and Nellie Knox; his great aunt and uncle, Helen and Frank Knox; and their youngest son, Richard. They were wonderful people, and I loved them right away. I always thought it was awesome of Frank and Helen to bring their parents out to Casper to visit their son, Bob Knox’s family, of which I was a part. At that time, I didn’t really have a lot of time to get to know Frank and Helen, but got to know them on subsequent trip, and found them to be very interesting…but, little did I know, that I had only scratched the surface of who these people were.

After Helen’s passing recently, I found out so much more about her childhood, and the life she and Frank lived. In many ways, it was destiny that they should meet. Helen’s family had moved to California because of her mother’s illness, and after her mother passed away, the three older children were raised by her mother’s sister, while her younger siblings were adopted out. It was a sad time for Helen, but when she grew up, she decided to earn a degree in Social Work. When World War II finally drew the United States into it’s clutches, Helen became active in the USO, and it was then, during a homecoming dance, that she met a handsome young captain, named Richard F (Frank) Knox. They were smitten with each other right away, and married on June 13, 1946.

It was time then for Frank to go to college, so they moved to Pullman, Washington and he attended Washington State College, now Washington State University. When he graduated, Frank and Helen had planned to move to Vanport, Washington for a job he had lined up, with the Clark County PUD in Vancouver, WA, but the Vanport Flood of May 30, 1948 ended that dream. The flood wiped out the up and coming town of Vanport, Oregon, leaving no housing for Frank and Helen. It was then that Frank took an instructor position in Pullman, Washington, and that was where he and Helen lived for the next 40 years, and raised their five sons, Robert, David, Greg, Wesley, and Richard. I find it amazing, how God can have a different plan for us than our plan. I Frank and Hellen Knox Familydon’t know how things might have worked out had the flood not happened, but Frank and Helen and their sons lived a wonderful life in Pullman, Washington.

With Helen’s passing, comes a new kind of loneliness for Frank, and I am glad that he has his wonderful sons and their families to help him get through this difficult time. Nothing will ever replace the love of his life, and I’m sure that this…the first birthday without he beloved soul mate, Helen, will be a difficult on for Frank, and I will be keeping him in prayer today and always, that the Lord with comfort him all the days of his life. Today is Frank’s 97th birthday. Happy birthday Frank!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

12742348_10208513107568216_4472158606894877096_nNot every person in a family is related by blood…or even by marriage. Sometimes, a lifelong friend is, in reality, as close as family. Such is the case with Burl Ford. Burl was one of the neighborhood kids that my mother, Collene Byer Spencer and her siblings played with as children. The first time I heard that they had been childhood friends, I was amazed, because by that time, we were living just down the street from Burl and his family, and in fact we were all friends, with them and their kids. Burl’s kids, Lisa, Susie, Burly, and Judy, were all in gymnastics, and his wife, Thea had learned how to coach and spot for the tumbling. So when my younger sisters and I were at their house, the natural next step was to do tumbling in their basement. It was Thea who instilled in me, the love of gymnastics, which I continued doing through high school.

Cheryl remembers playing Jacks on the patio in their back yard with Burl. That is an unusual thought, because Jacks was primarily a girls game…at least in school. Burl didn’t care about that. He loved kids, and playing with his kids and the neighbor kids 16387182_10202403016154753_4437392044467414144_n[1]was totally within his nature…and in fact, growing up was totally not in his nature. Burl was a kid all his life. And…Burl loved his pranks!! I suppose these days he might have found himself in trouble, but those were different times. One prank, in particular, that lots of their family friends remember is the cherry bombs. In those days, kids could safely have sleep overs in someone’s back yard. The Ford’s back yard had a slight slope to it, and made for a perfect sleep over spot…in theory. You did have to take Burl into account. He would wait until we were all settled out there sleeping, and out of the blue, in the middle of the night…a cherry bomb would go off. Burl was careful of course, and never threw it near anyone, but it was something that definitely got your attention.

Today, we said goodbye to Burl…all of his friends and family. It was a beautiful service filled with happy 16299244_10202403012874671_3342523734846440219_nmemories, and yes, the shedding of tears. Thea’s sisters reminded us of his love of sports, including the Broncos and the Colorado Rockies, as well as the Super Bowl games he got to attend, and throwing out the first pitch at a Rockies game. They told of his love of fishing, camping, snowmobiling, golf, travel, and precious time spent at their mountain cabin. And they told us about the many pranks and his bag of tricks. Burl was a member of the Oil City Slickers and Gentleman’s touch, both barber shop musical groups. The group sang at his service, and it occurred to me that, while the songs were beautiful, there was one voice missing. Those were wonderful memories, but it was something the minister said that particularly struck me as amazing. As he told of his last visits with Burl, and many before that, he said that the one thing he noticed was that Burl was always so happy and full of life. Then, he said that he wished that he could take some of Burl’s happy, joyous spirit and zest for life, and throw it out into the world. Instinctively, I thought…just pack it in a cherry bomb.

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