It was 1914, and World War I was in the 5th month of a 51 month offensive. The war effort was in a bit of a transition period, following the stalemate of the Race to the Sea and the indecisive result of the First Battle of Ypres. As leadership on both sides reconsidered their strategies, hostilities entered a bit of a lull. The men were hoping for a break in the action for Christmas that year, but they had to wait for their orders. When the orders came down, it was not to be a Christmas truce, but rather a Christmas strike. As the first men to go forth prepared to make the first advances, some men were killed, and some returned. It was the way of war. The leadership wanted to take advantage of the possibility that the enemy might not expect a Christmas attack. One of the younger men…17 years old to be exact, couldn’t help himself. He began to sing Silent Night.His superiors ordered it to be quiet. They feared that the enemy was waiting in the darkness.
Then, a miracle occurred. In the week leading up to the 25th of December, French, German, and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings…and to talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into what was called no man’s land, because to go there was to risk death. Nevertheless, on that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, things seemed different. The soldiers took a chance and stepped forward, hoping to convince their enemies that they only wanted to bury their dead, and hoping that it would be agreeable to stop the fighting for one hour to bury the dead. As they buried their dead, with heavy hearts, someone suggested that they take Christmas Day off. This was totally against their orders, and they knew that at some point they were going to have to go back and follow their orders. They were going to have to become enemies again. Still, for now…for this day, they mingled and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps. Men played games of football with one another, giving one of the most memorable images of the truce. Peaceful behavior was not ubiquitous, however, and fighting continued in some sectors, while in others the sides settled on little more than arrangements to recover bodies. Several meetings ended in carol-singing. Someone commented, “How many times in a life do you actually meet your enemy face to face.” It was almost strange to them, because these “enemies” were not the monsters they expected them to be. These were simply men, just like they were. I’m sure the men were in shock. it’s hard to have your total view of your enemy change so drastically and then have to follow your orders, pickup your weapons, and shoot at the same men again. The Christmas truce (German: Weihnachtsfrieden; French: Trêve de Noël) was a series of widespread but unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front of World War I around Christmas 1914.
The Christmas Truces of 1914, while wonderful for the men, were not to be a Christmas tradition in World War I. The following year, a few units arranged ceasefires but the truces were not nearly as widespread as in 1914. This was, in part, due to strongly worded orders from the high commands of both sides prohibiting truces. It was evident that while the mini-mutiny of 1914 was tolerated and the men were not punished, that this would not be tolerated in the future. It really didn’t matter, because the Soldiers were no longer amenable to truce by 1916. The war had become increasingly bitter after devastating human losses suffered during the battles of the Somme and Verdun, and the use of poison gas. While a Christmas truce would be nice in theory, bitter and angry feelings on both sides of a war make it an impractical idea. Still, in 1914, the miracle of the Christmas Truce was a wonderful treat for the men on all sides of a bitter war.
The Christmas season is always exciting, for old and young alike, and Christmas Eve is often a very hard day to settle down for. The reasons for the excitement vary. They are usually centered around the Christmas holiday, but not always. For my mother’s family, Christmas Eve holds an extra special significance because it was also their parents, wedding anniversary. Grandma Hattie and Grandpa George Byer were married on December 24, 1927. I always wondered why people would pick a holiday to get married on, but in times past, it was somewhat common. People could not easily get all their family members into town for a wedding, but people were often already getting together for a holiday. Of course, weddings weren’t often the great big affair that they can be these days either. Often the bride simply wore her Sunday dress, and carried a bouquet of wild flowers. I suppose it would be similar to the weddings held at the justice of the peace these days.
The reasons for the date and the simplicity of a wedding really didn’t make much difference, especially concerning my grandparents, because they were very much in love all of the years of their married lives together. I still remember all the times that Grandpa looked at Grandma with total love in his eyes. Grandma always knew that Grandpa loved her very much. Their marriage was blessed with nine children, four of whom are now in Heaven with them. They also have five sons-in-law and several grandchildren and great grandchildren in Heaven with them too. I would imagine that all of them are having a wonderful time there, because there are no tears and no sadness there. Of course, we here, who are left behind miss all of them terribly, and can’t wait to see them again.
Grandpa was a hard worker, who held many jobs in his lifetime. He was always a very respected worker. They knew he could be counted on to be there and to do his job well. Grandma was always a stay-at-home mom, who never learned to drive a car. It was just something she saw no need for. She worked in the home, and she cooked…man could she cook!! And there was always plenty of food on her table…no matter how many extras might show up. No one was turned away, and Grandma’s table was famous in this area. Today would have been my grandparents’ 91st anniversary. Happy anniversary in Heaven, Grandma and Grandpa. We love and miss you both very much.
When disaster strikes, and homes are in ruin, people try to come together to help return a sense of normalcy to the people affected by the disaster. Disasters happen quickly, and the devastation is often heavy. It is a difficult thing to help people heal. While one disaster or event is often the same as another in terms of damage, something we somehow don’t connect to that same kind of devastation, is war. I’m not sure why, but when I think of war,I picture a battle held in the middle of a vast desert, with no civilization in sight. of course, when I really think about it, I now that is not reality, but rather my mind trying to fit war into a box of civility. In reality, there is nothing civil about war. Gun shots, bombs, and land mines aren’t picky about who they hit. Soldier or civilian…all are fair game in a war. And towns…well, there is often little to nothing left after a bomb hits.
During World War II, London was often the targets of the German Luftwaffe, and the bombs they dropped, devastated many parts of London. From September 7, 1940, London was systematically bombed by the Luftwaffe for 56 out of the following 57 days and nights, in what was called “The Blitz.” Most notable was a large daylight attack against London on September 15th. Of course, these weren’t the only bombings, and the people of London didn’t know when or if it was safe to be out of the bomb shelters. Life in London had taken on eerie gloom,as people continued to seek refuge in the bomb shelters, because that was the only safe place to be. The biggest problem was that the bomb shelters were also gloomy, boring, and generally depressing. The children probably suffered the most, because kids don’t really understand all this hatred and killing. Their world had been turned upside down…and they didn’t know why.
By the end of 1940, 24,000 civilians had been killed in the Blitz and hundreds of thousands made homeless. In November, German bombers had obliterated Coventry city center and there had been particularly fierce raids on Manchester and Liverpool in the days leading up to Christmas. The public were now mourning the loss of their loved ones on the home front and in combat, as well as praying for the 41,000 British soldiers captured on the continent, but it was the children, in my mind, who suffered the most. Their childlike innocence was completely destroyed, along with their homes. Their parents, and other adults made the decision to change their little world, even if it was only for a short time. They didn’t have much, but they put together whatever they could to lift the spirits of these scared children. Christmas parties were held for the children and the shelter walls were decorated with paper chains and decorations, while amateur singing nights, discussion groups, and sewing circles were held regularly.
In order to avoid the bombs, many families spent some of the holidays in air-raid shelters and other places of refuge. They decked out their temporary homes with makeshift decorations…and very short Christmas trees because of the height of the shelters. Even if gas or electricity was available, Christmas dinner would have still been an amazing feat, because turkey was so expensive. Most people made do with other cuts of meat, which were still expensive. A family of four’s weekly meat ration probably wouldn’t even cover the cost of a small chicken. One alternative was home-raised chickens or rabbits, much to the shock of young children who often regarded them as pets. Home-grown vegetables and chutneys would have also made the table. Rations were scrimped and saved including ham, bacon, butter, suet, and margarine. The tea and sugar rations were increased in the week before Christmas. Very little fruit was imported and nuts were very costly. Consequently, cooks had to improvise Christmas cakes and puddings devoid of dried fruit and marzipan, using instead sponge or other unlikely ingredients. Alcohol was available but, horribly expensive. And there would be no after-dinner French cheeses or brandy due to the German occupation. It was a poor Christmas party in comparison to those in the past, but it served to remind all the people that Christmas is more about the blessings in life, than it is about the things we are given.
Two days ago, I wrote a story in celebration of my Uncle George Wave Hushman’s 92nd birthday. Little did I now that it would also be the day of his home-going, but it was. It is a rather rare thing, except in infant deaths, for someone to be born and die on the same day, but that is what my Uncle George did. He was born on December 20, 1926 in Rock River, Wyoming, and went home to Heaven on December 20, 2018 in Mills, Wyoming…exactly 92 years later.
Uncle George led an unusual life, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that his home-going would be just as unusual. He lost his mother when he was just eleven years old. I’m not sure how long after her passing, before he was sent to the Wyoming State Children’s Home in Casper, Wyoming, but during those years, his guardian was listed as Ethel S. Kittle. Uncle George didn’t know much about his family for most of his life, but his dad, also named George Wave Hushman was in the Navy, stationed in the Philippines when he was killed in action on November 21, 1943…Uncle George was just 17 years old. To his knowledge, that left him very much alone in this world, except for his friend James Wesley Saint John ‘Wes” and Wes’ family, who had unofficially adopted him as a part of their family. Wes, who was three years older than Uncle George was lost at sea on September 9, 1943. While Uncle George didn’t know his father well, he did know his friend, and I find it unusual that he enlisted in the Navy too, but he did. His Draft Card listed his next of kin as WE Saint John. He mustered out on May 31, 1944, and was later listed among the wounded. I am grateful that he was one of those who made it home from the war. Uncle George, was first assigned to LCI(L) 23…Landing Craft Infantry (L)23. He later mustered out on USS Gurke (DD-783), a Gearing-class destroyer.
By 1946, Uncle George was released from the Navy, and was living in Mills, Wyoming, and falling in love with my aunt, Evelyn Byer, whom he married on September 1, 1947. He had found the love of his life, and he only wanted to be with her for the rest of his life…missing her terribly after she passed away on May 4, 2015. Aunt Evelyn and Uncle George would be blessed with five children, George Hushman, Susie Young, Shelly Campbell, Shannon Limmer, and Greg Hushman. They were also blessed with many grandchildren, great grand children, and great great grandchildren. Uncle George was also blessed to be able to reunite with his half siblings over the years, although their passings brought him a feeling of losing them twice. Now that they are together again in Heaven, Uncle George will never have to be away from his beloved Evelyn, or the other loved ones who had gone before him. Rest in peace Uncle George. We love and miss you very much.
My great grand niece, Izabella Siara Harman is quite a girl. She is the middle of her parents, Jake and Melanie Harman’s children, and quite the feisty one. Her grandmother, my niece, Chantel Balcerzak says she got her sassy attitude from her. Maybe that’s so, but Belle, as she is often called wears her sassiness well, and I think she is a total sweetie. If it’s possible, she wears her sassiness well.
Being just three years old, Belle is very curious about many things. She is still discovering the world around her, but she is beginning to be very aware of the things she likes and the things she doesn’t. She is developing her own personal style, and this girl is a girly girl. One of the things little Belle absolutely loves is lip balm…any version…tinted or just chapstick. I can’t blame her. I like the feel of lip balm too,so I can see why she would. Plus, I’m sure it makes her feel pretty.
Another thing that Belle has discovered and really has become pretty obsessed with is pockets. She wants pockets on her clothes, and she likes them on other people’s clothes. It could be because she knows that there are often cool things in those pockets, especially lip balm, or she likes being able to keep her own treasures in her pockets. Its funny what things kids decide that they really like. Well, this Belle’s things are lip balm and pockets.
The other day, Belle wanted her dad’s chap stick, so he took it out of his pocket and gave it to her. Belle put some chap stick on, and after putting the lid back on, Belle promptly tucked it into the only pocket she had…or thought she had…her pull-up. She used it just like it was a pocket. After the moment of shock, her dad laughed and said, “Well that’s one chap stick I won’t be using again!!” Hahahahaha!! I don’t suppose he would either. What a goofy girl she is. I guess in the future, her parents are going to have to make sure that every outfit has a pocket, just in case she borrows a chap stick again.
Well, little Belle will probably get over the lip balm and pocket stage at some point, but I seriously doubt if she will ever get over being the little cutie she is, because that is totally impossible. I love the excitement she shows every time I see her and her siblings. She always makes me smile. Today is Belle’s 3rd birthday. Happy birthday Belle!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
My grand nephew, Isaac Spethman has always been an industrious young man. From the time he was just 7 years old, Isaac has had a job. I know that sounds odd, but I’m not talking about chores. Yes he had those too, but this was different. Isaac decided that he wanted a job, so he asked a local grocery store if he could have a job. They were amused, and told him to bring in a résumé. He went to his Aunt Liz Masterson, who is a teacher, because he thought she could help, and she created a résumé for him. When he took it in, I think the store was quite surprised, but they couldn’t resist, this industrious young man, so they gave him a job. Of course, with child labor laws, they could only have him work a few hours a week, and there were some jobs he could not do, but they let him sweep, and take out the trash, straighten, and other such jobs, and they paid him in goods, instead of money. They also framed his résumé and hung it on the wall. The little store has changed hands three times since Isaac went to work there, but Isaac continues to have a job with each new owner. They see that he is a quality worker, and that speaks so well for Isaac. He did different things for each owner, and they are very careful about what he can do because of laws, but they all love having him work for them.
In addition to his work in retail grocery, Isaac also frequently works with his Dad, Steve Spethman and for his Uncle Bruce Gothard on weekends doing various odd jobs. He worked for his Great Uncle Mike Reed out at his ranch picking up nails all over the property when they were tearing down some old sheep pens. There were nails everywhere! He was diligent and picked up many, many nails. The nails could either be reused, or were thrown away, so people didn’t step on them or run over them. Isaac also frequently asks his grandmothers, Cheryl Masterson and Marie Spethman if they have any odd jobs he can do. He’s sure a worker! He is willing to work hard for what he wants, and that has really gained him a lot of respect. Recently he has become one of the ushers at church, and he takes that job very seriously, making sure that he does it properly.
Isaac reminds many of us, in the family, of our dad and grandfather, Allen Spencer. Isaac even looks like him in some of the very young pictures we gave of him. Time will tell, if he will continue to resemble him as he grows up, but I wouldn’t be surprised, and I know my dad would really like that…especially his work ethic. Today is Isaac’s 12th birthday. Happy birthday Isaac! Have a great day!! We love you!!
Most of the time, the oldest sibling is the first to marry, and true to that thought, my Aunt Evelyn Byer was the first of my Grandma and Grandpa Byer’s nine children to marry. The love of her life turned out to be George Hushman, a young man who was raised in the children’s home in Casper, Wyoming, after losing both of his parents at a very young age. His mother, Wyoma Woodfork Hushman passed away when George was just 11 years old, and his dad, George Wave Hushman was killed in action during World War II, when George was just 17 years old. Uncle George’s dad was unable to take care of him after his mother died, so at some point he ended up in the children’s home. I’m sure many people would think that his would always be a sad story, but it wasn’t. Uncle George had a friend James Wesley Saint John…who went by Wes. They were good friends, and Uncle George spent a lot of time at his parents house. Wes’ mom, Hettie Saint John became like an adopted mom to Uncle George. She was a very stabilizing influence in his life. As the years went on the two men grew up and went into the service. Unfortunately, only one of them would come back home. Wes was lost at sea in 1944, and they never found out what happened to him. It was a hard loss for Hettie, and for Uncle George.
Uncle George went on to marry my Aunt Evelyn on September 1, 1947. While the sadness of losing his friend and not knowing any of his family lingered, Uncle George was a very happy family man. He and Aunt Evelyn would be blessed with five children, and they would be married for almost 68 years before Aunt Evelyn’s passing in 2015. Uncle George has been in frail health since Aunt Evelyn’s passing, but I know that their time together is still vivid in his mind, because she was the love of his life. I remember so many fun times they had with my parents. they bowled together, double dated, went to dances, and spent time at each others house. They were more that sisters and brothers-in-law, they were best friends. I really miss those good times they had, because w, their kids got to have those good times too. Today is Uncle George’s 92nd birthday. What an amazing milestone that is. Happy birthday Uncle George!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
My niece, Michelle Stevens sees things that most of us would miss. Of course, when I say that, I am talking about seeing art in things most of us couldn’t even imagine. Not all of these things were her ideas, but she could make them work, because she is very talented. Her artwork is truly prize winning. Michelle has studied every form of art in her pursuit of her art education degree, and I think she could do any of them and will no doubt create some in the future.
Michelle has taken up crocheting. I did that once, but I don’t think I was nearly as talented as Michelle. She made a beautiful blanket for her little niece, Elliott Michelle Stevens. It is beautiful in gray, pink, and white. Little did Michelle know at the time she was making the blanket, but her sister-in-law, Kayla was decorating Elliott’s room in pink and gray. The blanket fit in perfectly. Of course, becoming an aunt to Elliott has been the biggest change in Michelle’s life for this year. She doesn’t get to see as much of little Elliott as she would like, because she and her parents live in Sheridan, and Michelle lives in Casper, but she is still Aunty Michelle, and that is very cool. Michelle has also taken up sewing with a sewing machine her mom, Alena Stevens gave her. She wants to make quilts and things. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few little baby outfits make their way to Elliott for her Aunty Michelle either. Michelle sees many different things as art, and she is very good at all of them. She makes wreaths, pottery, and is planning to take up mosaic glass art. Even Michelle’s fur babies, dogs Obie and Leia got gifts. She made them stockings, because she loves those puppies like babies and I hear they are spoiled rotten. Michelle is an artist in every sense of the word. Oh…to have such talent!! Unfortunately it is not in my sphere.
On top of all her artwork, Michelle is a great cook. When we had our family Christmas party last weekend, Michelle made crab stuffed mushrooms. They were amazing. Michelle loves to cook, and like everything else in her world, she considers it a form of art too. The more creative she can get with it the more she likes it. Oh…to have such talent!! Today is Michelle’s birthday. Happy birthday Michelle!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
The September 6, 1620 trip to the new world, in which 102 passengers, who had been dubbed Pilgrims by William Bradford, one of the passengers who would become the first governor of Plymouth Colony, was a crowded, grueling trip on the Mayflower to a new life in the New World. The trip was filled with hardship, and sometimes even loss. Nevertheless, the pilgrims knew it had to be taken. The situation actually began in 1606, when a group of reform-minded Puritans in Nottinghamshire, England, founded their own church, that was separate from the state-sanctioned Church of England. This was truly the reason why “Freedom of Religion” is such an important part of our constitution. Many people dispute that fact that our nation was formed on religious principles, but it was, from the very core of the move here.
On November 11, 1620, the Mayflower anchored at what is now Provincetown Harbor, Cape Cod. Of course, it was mandatory that they scout out the new land to make sure it was safe before bringing the women and children there. Before going ashore, 41 male passengers…heads of families, single men and three male servants…signed the famous Mayflower Compact, agreeing to submit to a government chosen by common consent and to obey all laws made for the good of the colony. Over the next month, several small scouting groups were sent ashore to collect firewood and scout out a good place to build a settlement.
Around December 10, one of these groups found a harbor they liked on the western side of Cape Cod Bay. They returned to the Mayflower to tell the other passengers, but bad weather prevented them from docking until December 18. After exploring the region, the settlers chose a cleared area previously occupied by members of a local Native American tribe, the Wampanoag. The travel weary pilgrims finally prepared to begin their new settlement, Plymouth Colony. The Wampanoag tribe had abandoned the village several years earlier, after an outbreak of European disease. That winter of 1620-1621 was brutal, as the Pilgrims struggled to build their settlement, find food and ward off sickness. They were less than highly successful, because by spring, 50 of the original 102 Mayflower passengers were dead. The remaining settlers made contact with returning members of the Wampanoag tribe, and in March they signed a peace treaty with a tribal chief, Massasoit. Aided by the Wampanoag, especially the English-speaking Squanto, the Pilgrims were able to plant crops…especially corn and beans…that were vital to their survival. The Mayflower and its crew left Plymouth to return to England on April 5, 1621.
Over the next several decades, more and more settlers made the trip across the Atlantic to Plymouth, which gradually grew into a prosperous shipbuilding and fishing center. In 1691, Plymouth was incorporated into the new Massachusetts Bay Association, ending its history as an independent colony. And the rest, as they say, is history.
While most of the economy in Southeast Texas depended on agriculture, cattle ranching, and the lumber business in the 19th century, things were about to change. The presence of oil was known, but untapped until 1901 when the oil industry would change the landscape of the region. Uses for oil date back many years. In the 1500s, the Spanish used oil from seeps near Sabine Pass for caulking their ships, and to the north, settlers near Nacogdoches used seeping oil for lubricants before 1800. There were numerous discoveries in east and central Texas in the later 1800s, especially at Corsicana in 1896. Attempts were made to drill wells at Spindletop 1893 and 1896 and at Sour Lake in 1896, but they had no successful oil production along the Gulf Coast until the Lucas Gusher came in on Spindletop Hill on January 10, 1901.
Spindletop Hill was a salt dome oil field, that was located in the southern portion of Beaumont, Texas. People had long suspected that oil might be under the hill as the area had been known for its sulfur springs and bubbling gas seepages that would ignite if lit. Then in August, 1892, several men including George W. O’Brien, George W. Carroll, and Pattillo Higgins formed the Gladys City Oil, Gas, and Manufacturing Company to do exploratory drilling on Spindletop Hill.
By September 1901, there were at least six successful wells on Gladys City Company lands. Wild speculation drove land prices around Spindletop to incredible heights. One man who had been trying to sell his tract there for $150 for three years sold his land for $20,000; the buyer promptly sold to another investor within fifteen minutes for $50,000. One well, representing an initial investment of under $10,000, was sold for $1,250,000. Legal entanglements and multimillion-dollar deals became almost commonplace. An estimated $235 million had been invested in oil that year in Texas; while some had made fortunes, others lost everything.
Following the success of the oil industry at Spindletop Hill, many people, including my grandparents, Allen and Anna Spencer would make their way to Texas in search of a better life. They would settle on the oilfields near Ranger, Texas. They didn’t find any oil fields, so their income came from his work for other people in the oilfields. These days people working in the oilfield business make good money, but as near as I can tell oilfield workers averaged about 90 cents an hour in 1919, which would be about $11.74 an hour today. That’s pretty poor wages, especially for the oilfield, but I suppose people didn’t realize how valuable they really were. Needless to say, the oilfield was not the place my grandfather would choose to make his living, and eventually they returned to Wisconsin where he went to work for the railroad.