When my girls were little and in grade school, I used to volunteer to do throat cultures at the school they attended. Throat cultures aren’t done anymore, so for those who don’t know, it was and still is a way to test for strep throat, but it isn’t done in the schools anymore. Anyway, every Monday morning I went into town and my friend Pat Neville and I made the rounds at the school, swabbing throats.

Now my last name is not the easiest name to learn for little kids, and even most adults have trouble with it. So I was not surprised when on one particular Monday morning, when I came into the nurse’s office to get my throat culture cart set up, and two little kindergarten girls had a little trouble with my name.

As I entered the nurse’s office, there were two little girls sitting on the bed waiting for the nurse to come in. I don’t know if one was hurt or what, but that didn’t end up being the most important part of my story.I thought they knew me from throat cultures, because they started talking to me like they recognized me, and I guess they did…sort of.

The first little girl asked, “Are you Amy’s mom?” My first thought was ok, now I have been relegated to being just my kid’s mom, but that thought didn’t last very long, because the other little girl asked, “Amy who?” Then, everything became very clear. The problem wasn’t that they didn’t know my name, or that I was just somebody’s mom. It was my name.

That fact was made perfectly clear when, in answer to her friend’s question, the first little girl said, “You know…Amy Sugarberry!!! Inside I laughed and laughed, because I figured that if someone were going to butcher our last name, that was the best way to do it. With the last name of Schulenberg, I had heard every possible way to butcher my name, but this was by far the sweetest!

My great grandmother lived next door to my grandparents for all the years I knew her. She was my mother’s dad’s mother, and all of us kids loved her very much. Whenever we were at my grandparent’s house, we would always go over to Little Great Grandma’s house. She would always have cookies for us to eat, and she would sit with us at the table and talk a little. We didn’t go over often, because there was always something going on at my grandparents house…always lots of kids there to play with.

Whenever we got to go over, I loved seeing Little Great Grandma. I don’t know who started calling her that, but I don’t remember ever calling her anything else. When I think about my own grandchildren and all the nicknames they have come up with for me though, my guess is that one of the great grandsons got taller than her, and decided that she was now Little Great Grandma. My grandsons, who are all taller than I am now, are always calling me Little Grandma, so it stands to reason that, since my great grandmother wasn’t a tall woman, she would eventually be given that name.

I used to think it was unique to this generation or my family, since my sister’s grandchildren have those nicknames for her too, but when I got to thinking about my great grandmother, and the nickname we always called her, I think it is something that crosses the generational lines. I suppose my great grandmother would have cringed at some of my nicknames, but as times change, so do the nicknames.

I also think it is a form of endearment. Kids call ’em as they see ’em. My grandchildren used to call me the fingernail grandma (I believe Christopher thought of that one) when they were little and trying to figure out a way to distinguish which grandma they were talking about. I do love to paint my nails and they are always long, so I guess it stands to reason. As the years have gone by, I have been Gma, G (came from Josh, it was easier), Gram, Gramama (definitely from my granddaughter, Shai), G-pickle (Caalab, my joker, came up with that one), as well as several others that didn’t have a very long life, and so don’t come quickly to mind.

Endearing nicknames are only given to those we love, and since I know my grandchildren love me very much, I can look at the silly nicknames I have acquired over the years, and know that funny as they are…they are my own, given to me by grandchildren who love me with all their heart, and they show me that every day. I love each and every nickname, almost as much as I love each and every grandchild.

Bob and his dad have always had a close relationship. As the first son, and the only boy for 14 years, Bob and his dad had quite a bit of time for father/son bonding. They did a lot of things together. My father-in-law was a mechanic by trade before he retired, and he handed down many valuable skills to Bob. But while there was always work to be done around the place they lived, my father-in-law still made time for having a little fun with his kids.

For a number of years, my father in law worked at jobs that caused him to be out of town a lot, so the times he was in town were precious to him. He wanted to connect with his kids…all of them. He is first and foremost a family man, and they are his number one priority. That is a quality he instilled in my husband, his son, Bob.

Those were times when meals were eaten around the table at night, and everyone talked about the events of the day. The kids were home for dinner most nights, and life really was a little bit like the old television shows, except with his job, my father-in-law had to miss many of those nights. It was something that tore him up inside, especially when his kids were little and didn’t know who he was when he came home. He couldn’t do that, so he quite the jobs that put him out of town, and worked nearer to home. He and his family never regretted that decision.

Bob and his dad still have a very close relationship…one to be cherished. At 82 years old, his dad is not as strong as he once was, but he is still very much a sweet, loving man. The relationship I see between them today warms my heart. My father-in-law has always had a wonderful sense of humor. Through our 36 years of marriage, I have been able to enjoy the many moments filled with laughter in my in-laws home…and they are moments I will treasure forever.

After reading a story I wrote about our grandmother, my cousin Shirley, told me something about her mother, my Aunt Ruth, that shows that while my aunt was a beautiful, petite woman, she was also a strong woman, like her mother before her. My Aunt Ruth has always loved horses. I have a number of pictures of her, and quite often she is with horses. Some people are just amazing with horses…seem to know what they are thinking even. I believe that my aunt was one of those people. In fact, I’m pretty sure she loved most animals. She is also pictured with dogs quite often, and they seemed to be best friends. Not everyone has the gift of being so good with animals, but she certainly did.

Aunt Ruth thrived on the outdoor life. She loved life on a farm, and growing much of their own food. They had a place outside of Casper, Wyoming when I was little, and she had a garden that took up about 3/4 of an acre. Like her mother before her, she taught her children to help care for that garden, and help with the 100 or so chickens she raised every year for butchering. They hunted and froze wild game as well. Not only did my aunt and uncle teach their children how to live off the land and love the outdoors, but to have fun doing it.

As I said earlier in my story, my Aunt Ruth loved horses, but I also think there might have been a bit of an inventor in her. When the work was done, my aunt came up with a great new invention I’ll call The Butter Churn. What?? You don’t think my aunt invented the butter churn? Well…I think you just might be wrong. Let’s just see. My cousin, Shirley tells it like this, “When there was time she would let us take the horse out to ride and she would give us each a quart jar of cream and while we were riding we would turn that cream into butter. She said that was the easiest way to do it but I can tell you it wasn’t that easy on our arms. That was a lot of shaking. But the best part was no additives and no preservatives, and boy was it good butter.”

I know, you might say that there is no proof that she was the one to invent that, and you would be right, but there is also no proof, that I know of, that she didn’t, so I’ll just stick by my story that my Aunt Ruth invented a new and, in my opinion, very interesting, although maybe not easy way to churn butter. And since I really like the taste of real fresh butter, I can totally imagine just how good it was. I just wish I could remember it, because I’m quite sure I must have had some.

When I was a little girl, we had the most amazing German Shepherd dog ever. His name was King…for short. My parents actually named him LarKing Raesuekayal Vonlished. I can’t say for sure that I spelled that correctly, but if you sound it out, you will come pretty close to the correct pronunciation of his name. King was named after all for my sisters and me. Middle names were used for the three older girls, and the first part of the first name on my younger two sisters. Mom and Dad wanted his name to have special meaning. And it always has.

King was just about the greatest dog ever. When we were little he gave us girls “horsey” rides, and seemed to love doing it. He was very loving. King loved having the neighborhood kids come in to play, but we did have to tell them not to climb the fence without one of us girls there. Dad trained him not to bite obviously, but even more, you could put your arm in his mouth, and he would never even let his teeth touch your arm. But when it came to protecting his family, watch out. He wouldn’t have to bite…his bark was usually enough. He did bite one time, when a neighborhood boy was throwing rocks at him…boy was he in trouble with his mom when she found out. She wouldn’t even let the police issue any kind of ticket or warning, of course there was the required quarantine, but that was all.

The funniest thing King ever did though, was one time when my mom’s dad came over for a visit. Mom was on the phone when Grandpa knocked on the door. She motioned him to come in, and went on with her conversation. A few minutes later, she realized that he hadn’t come in. Thinking that he hadn’t heard, she motioned again. Then, she realized what the problem was. King was “guarding” the door. She said, “King, you let him in!!” She said it was the only time she had seen a dog smile. King sheepishly looked away, with a grin on his face, and my grandfather was able to come inside. I really miss that dog!!

The Love Of My LifeI met Bob when I was still in high school, though not in the way you might expect. We didn’t meet in school or at a game. We met at Kmart. We didn’t just casually meet there, I was working there, as was his sister, Debbie. I worked in the Millenary department…handbags, belts, sunglasses, accessories, and wigs, and I had a display near the delicatessen where Debbie worked. In fact, my display of winter gloves and hats was how I met my future sister-in-law. Every evening when I worked, I had to go over an straighten that display, and believe me it needed it after a day or even an hour of people going through it. When people would look for glove and hats, they would dig clear to the bottom to see if there was a set they liked more, nearer to the bottom. The display usually needed to be straightened twice in a shift. When I went to straighten the display, my future sister-in-law, Debbie and I would talk if it wasn’t too busy.

One day, Bob came in to take his sister on her break, and I happened to be there straightening the display at the time. She introduced us, and then they went to take her break. Bob took to coming by for Debbie’s breaks more often after that, but I didn’t know that it was because he wanted to get to know me…not right away anyway. Bob was a little bit shy, and didn’t know exactly how to approach me, so he and his friend, Paul would come in, dig to the bottom of my glove display and flip the whole stack of gloves upward, messing them up. I, of course, had just straightened them, not two seconds earlier. They would only do that if I was there straightening them. It was his way of being playful…and it was cute, after all.

Finally, he got up the nerve to ask me out…and wouldn’t you know it…I couldn’t that night. Being shy, as I said, Bob thought that was my polite way of saying I didn’t want to go out with him. That, of course, couldn’t have been further from the truth. Nevertheless, the guys decided to see if I would go out with Paul. When Paul asked, I did turn him down, because I wanted to go out with Bob. They thought that I didn’t like either of them, and pretty much dropped the subject…but, not coming up to mess up my display. I couldn’t believe that Bob and Caryn - the early yearsBob didn’t ask me again. Debbie and I talked about it, and she told me that he was shy. It was a big dilemma.

Finally, I had to solicit Debbie’s help. She kept talking to Bob to tell him that I did like him and I wanted to go out with him. It was no easy task. Bob had convinced himself that I didn’t. Eventually though, Debbie talked him into asking me out one more time. Of course, I said yes, and the rest is history…with a little bit of a twist. While I’m sure a lot of people have met their spouses at work, I still think ours is a unique situation. When people ask me how I met my husband, I still say that I met him at Kmart, but I playfully add that he was my Blue Light Special. I don’t think I could have found a better deal anywhere.

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.

Little RonYears ago, when my husband, Bob had just started his first job, his family took a trip to California. It was to be the first time Bob didn’t go along on the family vacations, and I’m sure it felt odd to the whole family, but perhaps none so much as his little brother, Ron. As the only two boys in a family of six kids, Bob and his little brother had a bond…or maybe it was simply the need for an ally. Two boys against four girls doesn’t always bode well for the boys…especially when two or all of them are older than you. Bob has two older sisters, and two younger sisters, and finally 14 years after his own birth, Bob got his little brother, Ron. Needless to say, the girls dominated the household for the most part, and for most of Bob’s life at home.

The family set out for California, leaving Bob to work, and hopefully, stay out of trouble. The trip was fun filled, and as most vacations do, it went by far too fast. They were sightseeing and visiting family, and just having a great time. All this was so new to Ron, who was just a little guy, and so when the time came to start back home, he was clearly not the happiest person in the group. He wanted to stay longer. Home was boring. It meant going back to the same old everyday things…no more fun and exciting new things to see and do.

The family tried to explain to him that they had to go home. His dad had to work, and the Bob at about 16girls had to go back to school in the fall. Their had a house and all his toys back in Casper. Nothing seemed to work. Finally in a last ditch effort to convince Ron that they simply could not stay on vacation forever, the said that Bob would be lonely if they never came back home. Ron had seemed to have an answer for every other argument, but they thought they had him on this one…not so!! Ron was quick to solve that problem as well. He quickly explained, “Just send for him in the mail!” I’m quite sure that took them all by surprise, and while he didn’t win the war to stay on vacation, I think he might just have won that battle, I mean…how can you argue with logic like that.

Dad and MomHaving been a caregiver since October of 2005, I find myself coming face to face more and more often with the Winter of life. It is the time in someones life, when they have far fewer days in front of them that they have behind them, and in many ways, I find that sad…especially when it is my parents or in-laws that I am talking about. I understand…all too well…that life on this earth is finite, and that we will all leave here one day, but still, it is hard to face that day as it applies to my parents, in-laws, grandparents and other loved ones in my life. I guess I just don’t like change very much and especially when it means having a loved one get old and leave this life.

Change is, unfortunately, inevitable, and their is nothing we can do to stop it, or slow it down even. Like the seasons, life has a cycle that cannot be changed. Like Spring, bringing newness to the Earth, birth is also a new beginning, and young life. Summer is the youth Dad and Momand young adulthood, Fall is middle age, and finally, we arrive at Winter, bring late life and finally death. I have never liked Winter in any form…be it weather or life cycle. It is a depressing time to me that always feels sad.

The only consolation is that we have the promise of eternal life in Heaven, and I know that I will see my dad again. It was never about a lack of belief that I will see him again…it is more about the wait for Spring…eternal life, that seems so long. When we are the ones left behind, the wait seems to take forever. I’m not in a hurry to leave this Earth, I just wish that the getting to Heaven could be sooner. I know that doesn’t make much sense, but that is exactly how I feel about the Winter of life.

Dad 1978The loss of a loved one always seems like the end of the world as we know it. So often we wonder how everyone can just continue to go on doing all the things they normally do, doing new things, smiling, laughing…living when life for your loved one is over…at least in this world. After my dad passed away, I found myself feeling like something was terribly wrong in the world, because my dad was no longer here. It almost felt like his life had been put on hold, but that wasn’t it exactly either. For a time, I tried to picture Heaven, and what my dad must be doing, and while we all do that on occasion, I know that our idea of Heaven is like poverty compared to what Heaven really is. What comes to my mind most now is almost like a different dimension…like they are floating somewhere above us in an alternate universe.

No matter where or how I picture my dad, I simply can’t envision him back here on earth with us. I can see him, in my mind, when he was here, but not going forward from that last moment on December 12, 2007 at 12:00pm. My mind simply cannot convince itself that he is here, and that is the thing that breaks my heart so badly. So, where do I go from here? How do I heal from that? Does the pain get to be less and less over time? I almost don’t want to think that it does, because that would mean that I have accepted what has happened, and I don’t want to do that.

I was watching the show, “Touched By An Angel” the other day, and there was a young man going through exactly what I have been going through since my Dad’s passing. On the show, an old man who had been his dad’s butler, gave the best advice I have ever heard. When the young man asked him how he was supposed to get over the loss of his dad, the old butler said, “You never get over it…you just get on with it.” Truer words were never spoken. You can’t get over a loved on like to do a cold or the flu. You can’t go on like they had never existed. They were here, and they were a huge part of your life, and that has forever changed you. You are who you are because of the influence they had on your life, as well as the influence of so many other people. You will never get over them, but you must move forward with your life. So that is what I must begin to do now. Not to get over my dad, or his death, but to get on with…life, just as he would have wanted me and all of his family to do. Thank you, Dad, for all you did to prepare us for life…I love you Dad!!

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