Lake Superior MapCaryn Sue Spencer abt June 1956 editedI always liked the fact that I was born in Superior, Wisconsin. It was where my dad was born, and I suppose that could have been part of its charm, but I really think it just seemed exotic or romantic to me. I know that sounds funny, but there is so much history in the area, with a bit of mystery mixed in. The mystery comes from all the shipwrecks in Lake Superior, in my mind anyway. When I think of Lake Superior, my mind always wanders to the shipwrecks that have occurred there, and the fact that Lake Superior, while beautiful, has a dark and dangerous side for any ship caught out on her in a storm…especially a November gale, and especially an early November gale, such as in 1975. When the Edmond Fitzgerald was caught out there in an early gale on November 10th, she sank with all hands lost because it. I remember my Uncle Bill telling me about that storm, years later, and the fact that he was driving around the lake at the time of the sinking. He told me that it was a horrific storm, and he was not surprised to hear of the loss of a ship.

Of course, the shipwrecks are not the only things I find to be exotic and romantic about the Lake Superior area. Smelting at Lake SuperiorThe fact that ships come into the Duluth-Superior Harbor from all over the world and that things that are shipped out of that harbor go all over the world, makes it feel more connected to the world somehow. My cousin, Pam’s husband, Mike Wendling, who worked for the railroad for many years, before retiring, told us that the trains would bring in coal from Gillette, Wyoming and Montana. It is strange to think that the coal we see in railroad cars here is headed for an ore boat on Lake Superior…and then places all over the world.

When I look at some of the pictures of me as a baby, I almost feel a bit like I missed out on some parts of my own babyhood. My sister, Cheryl remembers living there, playing with our cousin, Pam and the neighbor kids…including the last name of her favorites, the Lawlers. I don’t remember them. I was too young. With movies and pictures, I have been able to get a picture in my mind of what my life there must have been like. Most of it was likely spent being a third wheel to my sister and cousin, but it doesn’t look like they minded me too much. I was probably too little to be very bratty then. There were also trips to the lake with the family, which I didn’t know about really until my cousin, Pam produced a picture in her baby album during our visit. It was such a great family moment, at the lake when the smelt were running. Smelt are a type of fish who, like the salmon swim against the current to lay their eggs. People went out and gathered lots of them. It was a big deal on the lake.
I probably get most of my memories of Superior, Wisconsin from our many visits back there when we were kids. Even then, I felt like it was a special thing to be born there. Maybe it was just about not being born in Casper, Wyoming. Don’t get me wrong, I love Casper, but when you are born somewhere other than the place you grew up, it just has a different feel. I’m sure most smaller city or small town kids think that their little corner of the world it the most dull and boring place ever. It tends to make any other place take on an exotic feel. Nevertheless, I will always feel like there is something exotic and romantic about being born on the tip of Lake Superior.

Grandpa Byer and 6 of the kidsWhen I think of my grandparent’s house in North Casper, it always brings a smile to my thoughts. It wasn’t a big house, in many ways, but it did have a big back bedroom where all the kids had slept at one time. With nine children, they needed a fair amount of space for everyone. Nevertheless, the rest of the house really wasn’t that big. When I think of the song, “Little Houses” by Doug Stone, I think of my grandparent’s house. When their kids were young, and all or most of them were still living at home, there was little chance that they could pass each other in the hall without brushing against each other. They had to learn to get along and to work together as a team. There was simply no other way.

Oh, I know there were the typical fights. I came from a family of 5 sisters, so I can attest to that, but there is always a closeness too. It’s about knowing that your siblings will always love you…even if you are annoying sometimes. Let’s face it; you can’t grow up without going through that annoying adolescent stage, so we have all been there. Still, there is something about being crowded into a house that is maybe just a little small for the size of the family that brings a camaraderie that you can’t get when you live in a house that is so big that you almost don’t notice that you have siblings at all.

In big families, the older kids are grown and often married while there are still more children coming into the family, so there really never is a time without the pitter patter of little feet and the giggling of babies. There is just never a dull moment. And for the older kids, there is nothing more exciting that getting a new baby to hold. Sometimes you wonder if that baby will ever learn to walk…because I mean they are always being held, right? Nevertheless, those same siblings who want to hold those babies will also happily teach them the ropes of growing from babyhood to the world of the toddler.Growing Family

Once the siblings have all been born into the family, the nieces and nephews begin to arrive, and there are more babies to hold, teach and babysit. Love is simply everywhere in a little house. I remember going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and as one of those nieces, I remember feeling the love that filled every wall of that old house. Grandma and Grandpa always made us feel like we were their own kids, and the house always felt warm and cozy. Yep…love really does grow best in little houses.

Bob, Jennifer, and baby cowThese days when the fair comes to town, many people think of the rodeo and the petting zoo, but years ago petting zoos didn’t exist. I suppose that might have been because so many people raised their own animals that they didn’t need to go out somewhere to see the farm animals…or at least, many of them didn’t. With the urbanizing of our country, more and more, people don’t get to be around farm animals as much in their everyday lives. I guess that has made us a little nostalgic is some ways. We keep trying to connect to the past in many ways.

I think most little kids these days have been to a petting zoo, but years ago, the petting zoo was out at the barn after the calving was over, and your admission fee was cleaning out that barn. It just didn’t have quite the same effect on a kid, whether they really liked animals or not. Taking care of animals is a messy job, as any rancher or 4-H student can tell you, and not one you usually associate with little girls. Nevertheless, little girls do like babies, and baby cows are very cute.

Personally, I think I would rather go to the petting zoo. We have raised a cow or two in our time living out in the country, and while the baby is cute when you get it, they are messy, and a lot of work. They grow from babyhood very quickly and then they aren’t so cute. They want their grain and they are willing to rush you to get it. Having a cow…sweet as they can be, step on your foot, or accidently kick you while trying to get to that food or Aunt Laura with a baby calfgrain really hurts. Oh, they don’t mean anything by it, but it was not a job I was willing to allow my girls to do,

And the saddest part about raising a cow…the main reason I would rather go to the petting zoo is that once they are grown…they must be butchered. They had been like a pet to us. We had even named them, and then we were expected to eat the meat. It truly got to the point where I could hardly stand to eat it. It’s not that I don’t like beef, because I do. It’s just that I don’t want to know my dinner by name!! No, I’ll buy my beef at the store, and go to a petting zoo, if I really feel the need to get next to nature in that way.

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