Loss

A sudden downpour near Terry, Montana on the evening of June 19, 1938 caused a flash flooding of the Custer Creek that would lead to a disaster before the night was over. Earlier in the day, a track walker was sent out the check the rail lines near Custer Creek which was located near the town of Terry, Montana. After his inspection, he reported to his superiors that the conditions were dry, and there were no problems with the tracks.

That was true at the time, but within a few hours, a sudden downpour overwhelmed Custer Creek. A small winding river, Custer Creek runs through 25 miles of the Great Plains before depositing into the Yellowstone River. Small streams like Custer Creek are prone to flash floods, because they don’t have the capacity to handle any big influx of water, and their banks can quickly and easily be overtaken during heavy rains. As the water came rushing down stream, it washed out a bridge used by the trains. When the Olympian Special came through, it went crashing into the raging waters with no warning. Two sleeper cars were buried in the muddy waters. The night was pitch black seriously hampering rescue efforts. In all, 46 people lost their lives, and 60 others were seriously injured. The rear cars stayed above the water, but scores of passengers were seriously injured. They could not be evacuated until the following morning. I can’t even begin to imagine how awful that was.

That was a tough week for Montana. Just a few days later, Black Eagle saw “torrents of water” that floated furniture in the house of Sam Tadich, the sheriff had to help a rescue effort, the road to Giant Springs washed away and water was up to cows’ flanks around the Sun River. Havre’s worst flood came in June 22, 1938, when a cloudburst in the Bear Paw Mountains sent out a wall of water. Ten people were killed. Floating train cars were wedged under the viaduct, 10 miles of highway were underwater between Laredo and Box Elder, with a bridge washed out, the Havre Daily News reported. Rain is a good thing, but too much rain, coming too fast can devastate an area, especially one with a creek or river, in a very short time, and for Montana, it was a very rainy week, making it a very tough week.

Memorial Day…an often misunderstood day, is actually a day to remember those military men and women who paid the ultimate price for our freedom…they gave their life in service to their country. Whether we know it or not, I’m sure that every family has lost a love one to war…some war in history. It might be many years in the past, and we may not even know about it at all, nevertheless, it is our duty to remember and to honor them, because they sacrificed their very lives that we might live in a free nation. It is so hard to think of someone that we care about, being killed in a foreign country while fighting a war.

I am one of those people who doesn’t personally know of a family member lost in a war, but my Uncle Jim Richards brother, Dale was lost on the beaches of Normandy France on July 30, 1944. It is incomprehensible to me to think of his family getting word of his passing, only to find out that they would have to foot the bill to bring him home for burial. There simply were not enough funds, and so Dale was buried at the Brittany American Cemetery and Memorial, in Normandy, France. I can’t begin to imagine the awful day when the summer suddenly seemed as cold as ice. No parent should have to outlive their child, but with war comes death, and someone’s son or daughter will not be coming home again. I heard it put best in a song by Tim McGraw. The song, If you’re Reading This talks about getting a “one way ticket” over there. Unfortunately, far too many of our young men and women have been given that one way ticket, and while they paid with their lives, their families paid too. Their loved one is forever take from them, and they are left to mourn…to try to go on with their lives.

So many people look at Memorial Day as a holiday…a day to hold picnics, sports events and family gatherings. This day is traditionally seen as the start of the summer season for cultural events. For the fashion conscious, it is seen as acceptable to wear white clothing, particularly shoes from Memorial Day until Labor Day. However, fewer and fewer people follow this rule and many wear white clothing throughout the year. But how should we, the living, best honor the lives of all those who have died in service to our country? On Memorial Day, it is traditional to fly the flag of the United States at half staff from dawn until noon. Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries. in reality, this is a day to reflect on the sacrifices made to keep us free. While we feel like we should be honoring veterans who have passed away, the reality is that their day is Veterans Day, which honors the veterans of all wars living or dead. Within the military, there is a very strict protocol concerning the days we honor military personnel. The other thing that we tend to find odd about Memorial Day, is that we can’t go to someone and thank them for their sacrifice, because the way they came to be honored is to have given their life for their country. All we can do is to honor their memory.

In church today, our pastor talked about how moms can become invisible to their children. Of course, he was talking about how we can take them for granted, but there is another way that our mom can become invisible…at least to us here. When your mom goes to Heaven and you can no longer see her, or talk to her. While she is no longer with us here on earth, that doesn’t mean her love for us ends. Love will endure forever. She was the one who carried us in her womb for nine months, and then brought us into this world. She nurtured us through life, and helped us to become independent people, who can take charge of our own lives.

I’m sure there were many times when we took her for granted, and didn’t give her the respect she deserved, but she always forgave us for our thoughtlessness. In her wisdom, she knew that we really didn’t mean it. Still, our words must have hurt…our actions must have stung. Nevertheless, Mom forgave and didn’t hold it against us. I’m sure some of them us were much more of a challenge than others, and I place myself in that category, because I think I had the ability to be a trial sometimes…and I think I might be putting that somewhat mildly. Still, that doesn’t mean that I did not care about my mom, but rather that her daughter was stubborn. Mom always forgave me anyway, and for that I consider myself blessed. Our moms taught us what it meant to be parents…the need to forgive our kids for the stupid things we did. We learned parenting from our parents after all, and much of the nurturing qualities come from our mothers. Where would our kids be without our mothers to show us how to be mothers. We learned it from her.

Still, over those years, we have all taken our moms for granted. We didn’t really see them. They were a fixture in our lives. They performed a function, but we were seldom grateful. Then, when they are suddenly gone, we finally get it. We realize that they quietly took care of all the needs of our lives. They took a back seat so that we could shine. They cooked and cleaned, and received no thanks from us. We sassed them and disrespected them, and even though we may have said we were sorry, we could not take those things back. They were forever out there. Then, for some of us, the day came when they left this earth and we learned what it was like without that wonderful person that we had taken so much for granted…viewed as invisible…whether we realized it or not. For us, invisible took on a whole new meaning where our mother was concerned. I was blessed in this life to have a wonderful mom and mother-in-law, and both of them are invisible to me now. They are in Heaven, but they will never be forgotten. Happy Mother’s Day in Heaven to my two moms. I love and miss you both.

When I married into the Schulenberg family, I had no idea what the future would bring…we really never do. I just knew I was in love with my husband, Bob, and I liked his family very much too. Bob’s dad, Walt Schulenberg was quite a character, with a flair for teasing and joking with those people he liked. I liked him very much. In many ways, he was like my own dad, Al Spencer, and very much like my husband. They all loved to tease the “pretty girls,” as they would say, and it endeared them to every one of those girls too. Early on my father-in-law let me know what life in the Schulenberg family was going to be like. The first time I met him, he started teasing, and I sent much of the time red face, but not upset, because was used to it after all. My father-in-law was a happy man, and he liked to see the positive things in life. He had a great smile, and he wasn’t afraid to use it. Anyone who knew him, would tell you he was truly an amazing man.

My father-in-law, who quickly became Dad, and the second great father figure in my life, was a hard working man…almost a workaholic, except that as important as his family was to him, he made sure to spend good quality time with all of us too. He loved my mother-in-law, Joann with all his heart, and his kids and grandkids a very close second. When his kids were young, he learned the value of spending time with family, when he was working out of town, and his daughter Brenda didn’t know him. That was it. He got a job closer to home. He loved being a grandpa and great grandpa, and I wish he could have been here to be a great great grandpa. He loved to make things for the kids, and they all loved the things he made.

He could make or build just about anything he put his mind to…from wooden toys and spinners, to a garage, and even a house. He was a mechanic by trade (among other things), and he could fix just about anything. It was a trade he would pass to his sons and grandsons, and one that as served them all well. Having a mechanic in the family is always a good thing. I think Dad knew that would be important, and that’s why he taught his boys. There were so many things he taught them and his daughters and granddaughters. We never dreamed that one day he wouldn’t be there to teach us any more, but five years ago today, Dad left us to go to Heaven. We had hoped that day would never come. It was a very sad day for us then, and it still is sad today. I know that one day we will see him again, but it doesn’t make it any easier to face the beginning of another year without him in it. We love and miss you Dad…every day.

Today, we honor the man who was our dad, Allen Spencer. If a daughter is always a Daddy’s girl, then my dad was very blessed to say that he had five Daddy’s girls. I’m sure that five daughters didn’t seem so much like a big blessing while waiting to get into the bathroom to shave in the morning, but Dad never let that bother him. While he truly was more of a night person, he faithfully dragged himself out of bed early every morning so he could get ready for work, before his five daughters descended upon the single bathroom in our home. I truly think that, for our dad, it never mattered that he had just daughters. He loved all his girls, including Mom, Collene Spencer, of course, more than anything in the world. We were all the princesses of his castle and Mom was the queen. Of course, we thought Dad was the greatest too, so it made for a very happy castle. It as home and it was the happiest home in the world, because we had the best parents.

Dad was always able to see the solution to a problem, rather that getting caught up in the problem itself. I remember countless times, in my school days, before things somehow clicked in my brain, when I was struggling, and Mom would get very upset about it. She wanted us to do good in school, and to her it seemed that we weren’t trying. Her threat was always, “Wait until your dad gets home!!” Now, that was the one thing that would put fear in us. Not that my mom couldn’t spank, but it always seemed worse when it was Dad…or maybe it was the fear of the unknown…wondering if I had crossed a line that would be my doom!! Then, when Dad got home, he was told about the grade we had or the class we weren’t doing well in, and invariably, he would say, “Well, I guess we are going to have to work on this.” What?? That was it?? Yes, that was it, and I would live to mess up another day. We never failed a class. Dad could always somehow make us understand the subject that was giving us the problem, and we would at least get a C in the class. I wonder where I would have been in school, had it not been for him. Suddenly in 9th grade, it all clicked in my brain, and my Dad got a break from the struggle, unless my younger sisters had the same issues I did. As I said, Dad was a problem solver, and I’m pretty sure that my mom greatly depended on him to solve any of the problems they had in life. He handled every problem with great ease, and that is why they were such a good team. Mom focused more on the little things, and Dad saw the big picture.

There have been so many times in the years since his passing that I have wished that I could go to him for advise. He would have always known just what to do, and it saddens me to know that I can’t go to him, as I know that it does my sisters. Dad always knew how to put the humor back in a situation, and bring the sunshine to a cloudy day. I know that he and Mom, and the other family members are having a great celebration today for his birthday, but then again, there is always a celebration going on in Heaven, so maybe it is just another day. Nevertheless, for us, Daddy’s Girls, today is a very special day…our dad’s 94th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Daddy. We love and miss you very much.

My Aunt Delores Johnson was always a sweet, kind, loving, and sincerely genuine person. She loved her family, and she made sure they knew it. From her young years she was a joy to her parents and to her siblings, always finding ways to make them laugh. This endeared her to them for the rest of her life.

Aunt Dee, as she was always known to most people, liked sweet rolls. When she was sick, and didn’t feel like eating, of course, the sweet rolls were not something she could handle, so when she finally asked for sweet rolls, it was a great relief, because it meant that she was getting better. I’m sure that sweet rolls were offered to her when she was sick, in the hope that she would want them, thus indicating that she was on the mend.

Aunt Dee loved kids and never spoke a harsh word to any of us…at least not to her nieces and nephews. I can’t speak to how she might have been if one of her four children, Ellen, Elmer, Darla, or Delwin were in trouble, but then what parent hasn’t yelled at their child at one point or another. Nevertheless, her children always knew how much she loved them, as did all of her nieces and nephews.

Aunt Dee and my mother, Collene Spencer, who was her younger sister, were good friends, on top of being sisters. They just liked spending time together, and I can’t help but think that they are having a great time in Heaven, along with their husbands, Elmer Johnson, and my dad Allen Spencer; their parents, George and Hattie Byer; siblings, Evelyn Hushman and Larry Byer, as well as brothers-in-law, Jack McDaniels and Bill Beadle. I’m sure there’s a lot of laughter going on, because that’s the kind of thing that always happens when Aunt Dee is around. There is joy in Heaven because they are all together again. Personally, I can’t wait to get there myself, to see them all again.

Aunt Dee always had something nice to say. Like everyone in this life, Aunt Dee had her share of storms, but she weathered them all, and was still always kind to the underdog. She was a very good-hearted woman, and we all loved her very much. In 1996, Aunt Dee was diagnosed with Brain Csncer. This time there would be no request for sweet rolls to set at ease the minds of all who loved her. Aunt Dee passed away on October 6, 1996, and I still can’t believe she is gone. I miss her sweet smile and her joyful ways. Today would have been her 87th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Aunt Dee. We love and miss you very much.

There is a strange phenomenon that occurs sometimes, after someone we love passes away. I’m not talking about seeing their ghost, because I don’t believe in ghosts. Besides, the people I have seen, since the passing of loved ones, are real. I have noticed this after the passing of several people, and in some ways it is odd, but in other ways it is comforting, because it shows me that the person I love is still living in my memory files. In reality, I suppose it’s just me, finding characteristics in people around me that remind me of a lost loved one.

After my great aunt, Gladys Pattan Byer Cooper was killed in a plane crash, I used to see an older woman at the mall, just about every weekend. She reminded me so much of Aunt Gladys that I could almost imagine it was really her. Of course, the woman didn’t look exactly like Aunt Gladys, but she looked enough like her to bring back memories of years gone by, and a little sadness at the way she had passed. It seemed so senseless, so unbelievable that it could have happened in such a manner. One minute Aunt Gladys was fine and taking a trip to a family reunion, and the next, her life was over.

I find it strange that this phenomenon doesn’t seem to happen all the time. It only seems to happen in deaths that don’t make sense to me. I’m not looking for people who remind me of the person who died unexpectedly, they just suddenly appear. As I said, they are real people, please understand that. They just have similar features to my loved one who is gone. It doesn’t scare me, but rather it is just a strange reminder that my loved one existed. That their life was important. That their memory is, and always will be with me.

Since my 2nd cousin once removed, Jackie Morton passed away on March 9, 2018, I have thought about her many times. She was such a sweet, loving girl, and her passing simply makes no sense to me. One day she was fine, and the next day she was gone. Then, a few days later, while walking at the mall, I saw someone who really reminded me of Jackie. Had I not known better, I could have really thought it was her…though I knew it was not, for it could not be her. She has gone to Heaven now. Nevertheless, Jackie’s memory, like the memory of her great grandmother, my Great Aunt Gladys will always be with me.

I thought I saw you at the mall today. Though I knew it could not be you at all, for you are gone. I miss you so, and I wish you could still be here on Earth with us. But sadly, that is not to be, and never could be. You will always be with us in our thoughts, and in our memories…and we will always miss you so.

In about 1985, I began coaching youth bowling at Eagle Bowl, in Casper Wyoming. As I set up the teams for the year, I decided to team my two daughters, Corrie Schulenberg (Petersen) and Amy Schulenberg (Royce) with two little sisters named Jaime Morton (Moler) and Jackie Morton. As it turned out, that team would be more than friends for life…because unbeknownst to me at the time, those little girls were 3rd cousins, a fact I found out by accident, when I mentioned the Morton family to my mom, Collene Spencer, who knew that the Morton girls’ grandmother, Margaret was my mother’s cousin. The knowledge of the family connection made the little girls’ team even more special. The girls would bowl together all through their youth bowling years. Those years went by so fast, and I was terrible at taking pictures of anyone but my own kids, so the memories I have of those precious years live only in my mind’s memory files now. Fast forward to adulthood for the four little girls. Through the years, our families remained close and my husband, Bob and I bowl with the Morton family on a league to this day. Our girls bowled the league too for a time, but the friendship…the cousinship…that was forever, and will be forever.

Yesterday, at 12:30pm, I guess I’ll always remember the time, I received some news that deeply saddened all of us. One of the girls, Jackie Morton, just 37 years old, had passed away. She had knee surgery, and the doctors suspect that a blood clot was the cause of her passing. Everyone who knew Jackie will remember her bubbly personality, and her smiling face. She was always fun to be around, and that is why she had such a great group of friends, all of whom will miss her greatly. She truly cared about her friends and what was going on in their lives. Jackie was also a hard worker, and often worked overtime, missing bowling because she was needed elsewhere. She did what she needed to do, because she was loyal and dedicated to her job.

Jackie and her sister, Jaime have been very close all their lives. They were far closer that just sisters. They loved spending time together, going to concerts, vacations together, and of course, the precious family time that the whole family cherished. One of the defining moments in Jackie’s life was the moment she became an aunt. Jackie loved being an aunt, and her nephew, Kaleb, and nieces, Kielei and Haley brought such joy to her life. She attended their activities, and considered them her treasure. Truly, her whole family was Jackie’s treasure. Not a day went by that she wasn’t talking to them, spending time with them, or thinking of them. She never took them for granted. And they never took her for granted either. The family was very close, including aunts and uncles and grandparents. Bowling nights always included Aunt Renae and Uncle Mitch Berlinger, and various other family members, especially grandparents often came to watch and cheer them on. Those were good times that will always be treasured in the family’s memories.

Sadly, and far too soon Jackie has left us now, and entered into Heaven. Our hearts are broken at her passing. The world lost a little bit of the sunshine it had, with Jackie’s passing. Our minds still can’t wrap themselves around the fact that our beautiful, vibrant, loving, sweet Jackie is gone. Her family and friends will forever feel the empty space she has left behind. Jackie, we love you and we will miss you so very much.

My mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg, like her mother before her was blessed to be able to share her birthday with her first great grandchild, Chris Petersen. It was something the two of them really liked, and over the years, many joint birthday parties were held in their honor. It was a tradition that started when Chris’ mom, Corrie Petersen, my oldest daughter, shared her birthday with Joann’s mom, Nettie Knox. The pictures we have of those moments are something Chris and Corrie will treasure forever, just as their were treasures for their great grandmothers.

Unfortunately, that tradition will not be carried on through the next generation, because while my grandson Chris and his fiancé, Karen Cruickshank are making my husband Bob a great grandfather, they will miss his birthday by at least a month. Nevertheless, Chris will be the great grandchild who will make my mother-in-law a great great grandmother, but she did not live to see that day, something that makes us all very sad. She lloved being a grandma, and loved those sweet babies, so I know she would have loved this next level of her ife, and totally loved the little girl who is on the way in early June.

When his great grandma was in the hospital for the last time, we all went up to see her, and Chris wondered if it would be ok to take pictures with her, the baby’s ultra sound, and him, so that there would be a picture for his little girl. He had been hoping for pictures of her with the baby, and also for five-generation pictures with her, his grandpa, his mom, the baby, and him. After Chris asked me about the pictures, my sister-in-law, Brenda Schulenberg suggested the same thing, so we all decided it should be done. That visit was hard, because his grandma was in and out, and Chris wasn’t sure he would be able to understand what we were trying to tell her. When the visit was over, we all left her room, except Chris. He wanted a few minutes to officially tell his great grandma that she was going to be a great great grandma…even if she wasn’t awake to hear it. Then, a little miracle happened. As Chris was talking to her, she opened her eyes and looked right at him. Chris didn’t wait another second, but told her, “Grandma, I just wanted to let you know that you are going to be a great great grandma. My fiancé, Karen and I are having a baby girl in June.” His great grandma looked right at him, and she smiled with delight! Chris knew that she knew, and it brought tears to his eyes. It was the ultimate gift for both of them, and I am so glad that she got to know this great news before her passing just a few days later. Today would have been her 87th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Mom. We love and miss you very much.

As the three year mark since my mom, Collene Spencer went to Heaven arrives, I realize more and more how many time I have wanted to go to her and ask a question, get her advise, or just hear what she thought of my most recent story. Mom was, after all, my biggest fan. It didn’t matter what I wrote about, she liked it. And so often, she was part of it. She answered my many questions about the family, told me the inspirational things that happened, or the funny things her siblings would dream up. Hearing her talk about it all made me feel like I was there watching her and her siblings growing up. I could feel the coziness of my grandparents house, and hear the laughter of the kids in the kitchen as they did the dishes or helped with cooking the evening meal. Mom created that exclusive viewing for me, and I have felt very privileged to have been able to take that little tour into her history with her. Now that she is in Heaven, I find myself with more questions to ask her, and I really wish that Heaven had a telephone, so I could hear her voice and ask her the things that I want to know, because in Heaven, our minds have perfect recall, so the stories would be even more rich with detail.

Of course, the telephone call would not be just to ask her the many questions I still have, but also to hear her voice again, and my dad’s voice too. It has been so very long since I have heard their sweet voices, and I think they are among the things I miss the most. Of course, their faces, and really their person, but their voices are the essence of who they were. Thankfully, God has given me a clear memory, and in my memory files, their voices are stored. I can hear Mom’s laugh, along with her way of being just a little bit goofy, and Dad’s teasing, which had a way of driving Mom crazy…and of course, their life lessons…which is probably a nice way of talking about the many times they had to discipline me. Sometimes, I think I might have been their biggest challenge, and I believe my sisters would agree. They have often wondered how I made it to adulthood. All those things went into the life our parents created for us, and I wish every day that we could have them back. I wouldn’t want to go back in time exactly, but rather I wish that they could have continued on into what for them would have been the future. I would love for them to meet the new little family additions they have now. We have added lots of babies, and there are more of them on the way. They have four great great grandchildren now, and one more on the way. They loved those babies, and I wish they could have seen these great great grandbabies. Their legacy continues. If Heaven had a telephone, we could call and let them talk to these precious great grandbabies and great great grandbabies. Oh, how I wish we could call them. There is so much I would like to tell them. If only Heaven had a telephone. While I miss you so much on this day, in particular, Mom, I know that you and Dad are having the most amazing time in Heaven, and you can’t wait for all of us to get there…where we will realize why Heaven doesn’t have a telephone. When we are all there, we will never need telephones again. What an awesome day that will be. We love and miss you Mom…and Dad too. See you both someday soon…and we can hardly wait.

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