President James Buchanan was the only bachelor president of the United States, and in the absence of a first lady, his niece, Harriet Lane acted as First Lady for him. Lane was born on May 9, 1830, in Stony Batter, Pennsylvania. Her mother died when she was nine, her father when she was 11, and the orphaned girl was remanded to the custody of her mother’s brother, the future President Buchanan. He oversaw the remainder of her childhood, sending her to a prestigious private school in Washington while he was a Senator. Not only was it very unusual for a president not to have a wife, but Buchanan’s niece was only 27 years old when she was acting as first lady. For the wife of a president, that would be a big enough job, but for a young single woman, who may have never hosted a party, much less such large events, that was a big undertaking. Nevertheless, Harriet Lane was not just any young woman. During her time as First Lady, she was considered the greatest First Lady ever. Many would compare her to Jaqueline Kennedy, had they been of similar eras.
The work Harriet Lane did as First Lady also earned her the honor of having several ships named after her. In 1859, the United States Revenue Cutter Service named a revenue cutter USRC Harriet Lane. The outbreak of the Civil War, saw USRC Harriet Lane as a ship of the United States Navy and later the Confederate States Navy. The cutter was christened and entered the water for the Revenue Service in 1859 out of New York City. It saw action during the Civil War at Fort Sumter, New Orleans; Galveston, Texas; and Virginia Point. She became a ship for the Confederacy when the Confederate Navy captured her in 1863. The ship was converted to mercantile service. Then the Union forces recaptured her at the end of war. The war was not easy on USRC Harriet Lane, and so the US Navy declared the ship unfit for service and sold her. New owners out of Philadelphia renamed her Elliot Ritchie. Her crew abandoned her at sea in 1881. It was not really a very fitting end for a ship with such stately beginnings.
USRC Harriet Lane measured 177.5 feet long, 30.5 feet wide and 12 feet from the bottom of the hull to the main deck. She had a double-right-angled marine engine with two side paddles, supported by two masts. The entire ship was sheathed and fastened with copper. Her initial armaments were light guns, however after joining the West Gulf Squadron her firepower was upgraded to one four-inch rifled Parrott gun to the forecastle, one nine-inch Dahlgren gun before the first mast, two eight-inch Dahlgren Columbiads and two twenty-four-pound brass Howitzers. Her crew of 95 were also issued small arms. In August 1861, in what would likely be her most famous battle, the Harriet Lane, Monticello, and Pawnee were sent on a sortie from Hampton Roads, Virginia, to blockade runners working in the area. While off the Hatteras they also participated in the first combined arms operation of the Civil War: an amphibious landing to take Fort Hatteras and Fort Clark.
As for the real Harriet Lane, following her time as First Lady, she went to England for a while. During her time in England, Sir Fitzroy Kelly, then Prime Minister Palmerston’s attorney general, proposed marriage to her. Queen Victoria was strongly in favor of this match, as it would keep Lane in England. She was well liked in England and considered an asset. Lane considered the advantages of a number of bachelors. Her uncle cautioned Lane against “rushing precipitately into matrimonial connections.” He found most of her potential suitors “pleasant but dreadfully troublesome.” Lane eventually married Baltimore banker Henry Elliott Johnston at the age of 36. They had two sons, but between 1867 and 1885, her uncle, her husband, and her children had all died. She was alone again.
In 1895, Harriet wrote her will. She lived another eight years, during which the country’s general prosperity greatly increased the value of her estate. In 1899, she amended her will, directing that a school building be constructed on the grounds of the Washington National Cathedral property and asked that it be called the Lane-Johnston Building “to the end that the family names of my husband and myself may be associated with the bequest made in loving memory of our sons.” A codicil of 1903 increased her gift by one third, but said that only half the total was to be spent on the building. The remainder was “specially to provide for the free maintenance, education and training of choirboys, primarily those in service of the Cathedral.” This bequest founded the prestigious boys’ school that today is called Saint Albans School, which opened in October 1909. Harriet Lane-Johnston died of cancer on July 3, 1903, in Narragansett, Rhode Island.
My uncle, George Hushman has been in love with my Aunt Evelyn since the moment he met her. Aunt Evelyn is my mother’s sister, and the oldest of the nine children born to George and Hattie Byer. Uncle George was raised in the children’s home in Casper, Wyoming, after losing his parents when he was young. When he met my aunt, and the rest of the family, he knew that he had found his family. He would go one to find his biological family later too…another blessing, but he had never really been part of a family until he met Aunt Evelyn. He had been welcomed into his best friend’s family, but as a friend of their son. In Aunt Evelyn’s family, he was the newest actual member…their son-in-law, and much like a true son.
Together, Uncle George and Aunt Evelyn raised five children, who gave them many grandchildren and great grandchildren. They were very blessed with a large family. They lived a good life and throughout those many years together, they were always, first and foremost, madly in love. Unfortunately, as the years progressed, both Uncle George and Aunt Evelyn began to experience some health issues, and at some point, things like dementia and cancer, can take a toll on a family, just as it does the patient themselves. For many family members, dementia is as tough as cancer.
As Uncle George’s dementia progressed, he would often forget the names of his children and grandchildren. That is one of the hardest things on family. We don’t want to think that our own parents or grandparents no longer recognize us. I know this because of what my mother-in-law went through, but one thing I also know is that they seldom forget that you belong to them. That happened with Uncle George too, as my cousin Jamie Patsie experienced shortly before my Aunt Evelyn, her grandmother passed. She had gone over to visit her grandparents. Jamie tells me, “When Grandma was really sick, before she passed, they were sitting next to each other on the couch, listening to his old tapes of him singing, which was so sweet. As I was leaving, he grabbed my hand and looked at grandma and said, ‘See Evelyn, this is someone that we love,’ and kissed my hand. He didn’t want me to leave. Even with his dementia and not knowing exactly who I was, he knew that I was someone that he loved!” He knew she belonged to them and that they loved her, even if he didn’t remember her name. How very sweet!! Today would have been Uncle George’s 95th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Uncle George. We love and miss you very much.
My sister-in-law, Marlyce Schulenberg lives only in our memories since her passing at the young age of 39, on August 13, 1989. Those were sad days leading up to and following her passing. The cancer stole so much from her. She was skin and bone by the time she died. Marlyce was developmentally disabled, and in most was she was an adult-kid. She loved candy. It was a vice she really had to have, and if that was the worst bad habit she had…well, that’s not bad. In the end, I suppose it was the extra weight she carried from the candy, that kept her alive as long as she hung on. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a horrible disease. In Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, white blood cells called lymphocytes grow abnormally and can form growths (tumors) throughout the body.in Marlyce, they tumor was in her esophagus, and she couldn’t swallow much. She ate baby food in the end.
It was so sad, but I want to concentrate on the good memories. Marlyce worked at Wood’s School, which was for the handicapped at that time. They ran a laundry service there, and she worked in that laundry. She was so proud of her job. Marlyce was very dedicated to her job, and would go on sick, if need be. She was very proud of making money.
Marlyce was also a great baker of Chocolate Chip Cookies, and I loved them. They were the best I ever had…now or then. When we went out to the house to visit, I always hoped Marlyce had been baking. She made other kinds of cookies too, but when I came in the door, I was always happiest when she said, “Caryn. I made Chocolate Chip Cookies!!”
Marlyce also made knitted stocking caps. She sold them at craft fairs, and they sold very well. These were talents that not every developmentally disabled person could do, but Marlyce excelled in those areas. I love the sweet memories of my sweet, gone-too-soon sister-in-law. Today would have been Marlyce’s 71st birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Marlyce. We love and miss you very much.
My Aunt Ruth Wolfe was the youngest of the four children of my grandparents, Allen and Anna Spencer. She was born on November 9, 1925 in Duluth, Minnesota. Strange to think that 31 years later, she would get a niece…me, who would be so much like her…in some ways that is. My Aunt Ruth was a very talented woman. She could play any instrument that was set before her, she could paint and do crafts, she loved horses and even raced them, and of course, she was an animal lover…all animals.
Aunt Ruth was never really one to want to settle in one place for very long…until she and Uncle Jim moved to the Spokane area, that is. Once they bought their mountain top outside of Newport, Washington, she knew she was home. The family built three cabins on the mountain top, one for Aunt Ruth and Uncle Jim; one for their daughter Shirley Cameron and her husband Shorty; and one for their son, Terry Wolfe. The beauty of the mountain lulled them into a quiet, peaceful life, far away from the hustle and bustle of the California area they had left behind after losing their son, Larry Wolfe to an accidental explosion. Nothing would bring him back, of course, but the peace of the mountain top helped to heal their wounded hearts.
Aunt Ruth and Uncle Jim, while very much at home on their mountain top, never lost their love of the open road, and often took trips to several location, including Casper, Wyoming to visit my family, her brother, Allen Spencer; sister-in-law, Collene; and daughters, Cheryl Masterson, Caryn Schulenberg, Caryl Reed, Alena Stevens, and Allyn Hadlock. We loved those visits. Aunt Ruth and Uncle Jim were always lots of fun, and having them in town again was a great treat. They had lived in the Casper area years before, and we were all very sad to see them move away. Those wonderful visits were cut short when Aunt Ruth became ill, and she passed away on May 11, 1992 of Cancer. Today would have been Aunt Ruth’s 94th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Aunt Ruth, I know you’re having a great celebration with all the loved ones who have now joined you there. We love and miss you very much.
After 27 years, one might think that I would be used to the fact that my sister-in-law, Marlyce Schulenberg is no longer with us, but somehow, I’m not. Oh, I suppose that most of the time my mind has accepted that fact, but…well, Marlyce was such a unique person. She was special in every way. She had a heart of gold, and she loved everyone. That didn’t mean that she didn’t have a temper at all, but then, I think that when she got mad…at least at her siblings, it was because they teased her…or picked a fight with her. I suppose it was a kid thing or a sibling thing, but whatever it was, it drove Marlyce crazy sometimes. And every time Marlyce got mad at her siblings, they were moved to try it again. I suppose that’s just how kids are.
Marlyce’s life was cut short at the tender age of just 39 years, when cancer took her life away from her. Gone were that precious moments we all had with my sweet sister-in-law. It was so hard to believe. She was only 39 years old, younger than my own children are now, and yet she was gone. No more of her smiling face telling me that she had made my favorite chocolate chip cookies, or showing me the latest things she had knitted. Her giggle was now silent. That was 27 years ago, and yet, I can still hear her voice…filled with excitement about those cookies, and I can still hear her annoyed voice telling her littlest brother, Ron to stop picking on her.
It’s strange that the voices of the past still exist in our minds to the degree that it almost seems like we are still hearing them out loud. Harder for me to believe than the fact that Marlyce has been gone for 27 years, is the fact that she would have been 66 years old today. She was the oldest child, and with her passing there was a hole left in our lives. Because Marlyce was a special needs child, my in-laws were always concerned about what would happen to her if they passed away. Of course, we would have take care of her, but they needn’t have worried, because she preceded both of them. Today would have been Marlyce’s 66th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Marlyce. We love and miss you very much.
My sister-in-law, Marlyce Schulenberg was developmentally disabled. In many ways that made her always seem younger than her years. In reality, she probably never aged past her teen years, mentally. Still, Marlyce could do some things that adults do, such as cooking and working. In those ways she was much like any grown up person her age.
Marlyce lived with her parents, my in-laws, Walt and Joann Schulenberg, all her life, but she was a part of a school in Casper at that time, that trained developmentally disabled people to be productive members of society, and then worked to place them in jobs. Marlyce loved her job, and enjoyed going to work every day. It made her feel good about herself, and it made her feel like she was a grownup, like everyone else around her. Marlyce just wanted to belong in the adult world. Something most of us can understand.
Before Marlyce was forty, she contracted Cancer, and at the young age of just thirty nine years, she lost her life in that battle. It was a devastating loss to all of us, her family, and to all who knew her. Nevertheless, time marches on, and while we will always miss her sweet smiling face, the hats she knitted, and the wonderful chocolate chip cookies she made, we will miss her more than any of those things. Marlyce was the sweetest sister-in-law in the world. She was kind and caring. She loved being an aunt when all the nieces and nephews started coming along.
Her life was sadly, very short in the grand scheme of time, but in that timeframe, Marlyce lived a full life. She was not held back by the limitations that most of us do not consider limitations, like husband and children, but in reality, they are things that must be taken into consideration when deciding whether to read a book, take a trip with parents, or even take a nap. She could, for the most part anyway make her own choices. And that was what allowed her to live a full life in just a few short years. Nevertheless, we all wish she was still here.
Today, Marlyce would have turned sixty five. I wonder what she would have been like now. Things would have been a bit more difficult in that her dad is in Heaven, and her mom in a nursing home. I’m not sure where she would have been living. Perhaps with one of her siblings or maybe in a group home. She would be ready to retire, but I’m not sure she would have wanted to do so. It’s all speculation, of course, because we will never know. Today Marlyce would have been sixty five, but in reality, she is forever thirty nine. Happy birthday in Heaven, Marlyce. We love and miss you very much.
Late yesterday afternoon, my mom’s eldest sister passed away after a battle with cancer over the past few years. It was a battle she had mostly kept to herself. She had spent much of her last years taking care of her husband, my Uncle George, with the help of family members. Caregivers, like Aunt Evelyn have a tendency to brush aside their own illness while they take care of others. They simply don’t have time to be sick. They are busy making others well.
Being the oldest of Grandma and Grandpa Byer’s nine children, Aunt Evelyn learned at a very young age that she was needed to help with the younger siblings. While Grandma Byer didn’t work or go many places, there were after all eight other children, and the oldest if often the best helper. Aunt Evelyn was also a very social person as a girl though, and really all her life. It was Aunt Evelyn, who would make her parents grandparents for the first time, something that can be a bit of an honor, in itself. It was Aunt Evelyn and Uncle George, who would double date with my mom and dad during their courting years. They would all survive being hit by a train during one of those dates because of the quick thinking of both of the men. I’m sure that was something they all talked about for a long time.
Now the memories are flooding my mind. Times we spent at her house as kids, playing hide and seek, and all the other kids games we used to play. I remember the New Years Eve parties they spent at our house, and all the times at Grandma Byer’s house. I remember sitting out on Aunt Evelyn’s lawn on summer afternoons, and her beautiful house, which was her pride and joy. She enjoyed throwing and attending the annual Christmas party, and the summer picnic, until it became too difficult…which made me sad indeed.
It seems that with each passing year, our family patriarches become fewer and fewer. I remember thinking that we would always have the aunts and uncles with us, and now there remain only five of the original siblings and four of their spouses. Somehow, we all believed that they would always be here. I guess our minds play tricks on us when it comes to loved ones…even to the extent of refusing to notice that they are aging, until we look back at pictures after they are gone. Then suddenly we realize just how tired they were, just how weak and weary, and maybe, just how sick and in pain they were. Nevertheless, they kept up a brave face, smiling at each visit, in spite of the pain. They tried so hard to make us feel better, when in reality they were getting ready to say goodbye. That’s how Aunt Evelyn was. Always thinking of those around her before she thought of herself. Always trying to make their day better, a thing she did quite well with that beautiful smile of hers. I will always miss her smile. It is so much of who she was, and who she will always be in my heart. We love you Aunt Evelyn, we will miss you very much, and we will see you again in Heaven very soon.
Because he passed away in 1953 at the young age of just 43 years. I never had the opportunity to know my Great Uncle Cliff. My mom tells me that he was well liked. She said he liked to make people laugh, and always had a good joke to tell. That made him someone people liked to be around. He loved stopping by his brother’s house after work. He would leave a few snacks in his lunch pail for all the little kids to raid. Of course, that made him a big hit with my mom and her siblings.
Uncle Cliff was quite a character. He loved to pick on his mom some. When he was younger, and still living at home. He had a job, and his job required that he work a half day on Saturday. Sometimes he would not come right home after work, because he knew his mother would think he was out drinking. Grandma was mad, and indeed thought he was drinking. She decided to write a big “D” on calendar…for drunk. I guess she was hoping to shame him into not doing such things. He did it to tease her, because he wasn’t drinking at all, and the big “D” on the calendar only served as a source of humor for him.
Uncle Cliff married Marie Settell on July 28, 1940, and on their wedding night, the family gave them a real Shivaree. Now for those of you who don’t know, a Shivaree is a mock serenade with kettles, pans, horns, and other noisemakers given for a newly married couple. As sometimes happens in these event, things can get out of hand, resulting in the bride being stolen from the groom for a time, and Uncle Cliff was very worried that they would steal his bride. I suppose that once he realized they weren’t going to do that, he might have thought it was a sweet thing to do, but by that time the Shivaree was over, so he couldn’t relax and enjoy it.
When the United States joined World War II, Uncle Cliff was drafted into the Navy on August 18, 1945, at the age of 36 years. He had only been married five years at that time, and they had already had some sadness in the loss of their first child, Clifford Jr in 1941. I can only imagine how hard it would be to send your husband into war, when you had only been married for five years. But then, many woman have had to do this over the years. They and their marriage would survive the war, and they would have three surviving children, Joy, Gordon, and Judy and a number of grandchildren, but unfortunately, Uncle Cliff would never get to meet them.
Coming home from the war would not bring the best of news. I’m not sure just how long after coming home, but Uncle Cliff had some health issues, and he unfortunately put off taking care of them, In the end, it would be cancer that would take his life at the far too young age of 43. Uncle Cliff has always seemed to be a bit of a mystery to me…like an great uncle who I knew should have known, but somehow didn’t. He was a missing part of the family. He was my Grandpa Byer’s youngest sibling, and since I knew my grandpa, who was the third from the oldest of the nine children, why wouldn’t I know his youngest brother. Oh, I know that isn’t such an oddity, because a lot of people die at a young age, but it seemed strange to me at the time.
Five years after Uncle Cliff’s passing, Marie would again find love, even though I’m sure she thought it would never happen. She married Walter Oddsey (Johnny) Skaggs. Marie and Johnny were both well liked by the Byer family, and while they moved to California, they kept in touch with them through the years.
Yesterday, I attended the funeral of Casper firefighter, Captain Jeffrey Atkinson. The service was beautiful and filled with all the pomp and circumstance befitting a hero. The ceremony included bag pipes, the Shriner’s Calliope Band, the sounding of the last bell, and the presentation of the helmet, badge, and flag to his widow, Kristen and his sons Eddie and Christopf. There were tributes about his bravery, his humor, and his caring ways. He was a firefighter, but more than that he was a husband, father, son, brother, nephew, uncle, cousin, and friend. His family loved him so much, and now cancer had taken him from them. It was a terribly sad time for a lot of people, in the firefighting community and the entire city too.
As I sat there listening to the ceremony, my mind drifted back over the last nine years, and my own encounters with Jeff and the other firefighters. As a caregiver for my parents and my in-laws over the past nine years, there have been more occasions than I care to think about when I would have to call for an ambulance for my loved ones. As most of you know, the fire department is often the first responder on those occasions. Since my husband Bob had been the fire department mechanic for many years, the firefighters knew me, but it wouldn’t have mattered. They weren’t just there because they knew Bob and me, they were there because they care about the people of Casper…or anyone in need.
Jeff and a number of other firefighters came to my rescue on more occasions than I want to think back on. In nine years of caregiving, there have been dozens of times when I had no other choice but to seek help in emergency situations. The firefighters and ambulance personnel were always professional, caring, and gentle with my parents and in-laws, but the firemen always seemed to look beyond just the patient. They saw me…standing there in the middle of it all, trying desperately to stay in control of my emotions long enough to be able to give them the information they needed in order to help their patient…my loved one.
At the time of those calls, I didn’t know if my loved one was going to make it through this. I felt like I was falling into a bottomless pit. Those were the worst moments of my life, and they saw me at my absolute worst. It didn’t matter to them. They saw that I was scared and trying desperately to hold myself together. It was at that point, as the EMTs were taking my loved one out to the ambulance that the firefighters turned their attention to me, asking if I was ok. Of course, that was the breaking point for me, and the tears flowed. Several of the firefighters, including Jeff took it upon themselves to give me the hug I really needed, and the encouragement to go forward and make my way to the hospital to give the information needed to the hospital staff too. I don’t think I could have made it without that hug. A hug might seem like such a small thing, but when your parents are sick and you have to be the one to make all the decisions about their care, it can feel so overwhelming. I felt lost and alone. They showed me that I wasn’t alone after all. With Jeff’s passing, the city of Casper has lost a great firefighter.
In June of 1946, my Uncle Bill and Aunt Doris left Wisconsin, for points west. He had no intention of moving back to Wisconsin at that time. They weren’t sure where they wanted to settle, so they tried Idaho, Oregon, California, and Wyoming. Uncle Bill would have loved to stay in California…he said the warm weather suited him. Aunt Doris was homesick, and wanted to be nearer to her family. I can’t say for sure if it was totally Aunt Doris being homesick, or if it was my grandfather becoming ill, with the cancer that would eventually end his life, or a mixture of both. Uncle Bill has indicated the possibility of both being the reason for their return. It doesn’t really matter, but it is my opinion that Uncle Bill could not let his dad go through cancer by himself. I can relate to that quality in him, because I think I inherited it to a degree.
We never really know what events will transpire to change the course of our lives in an instant. We might be just living our lives, making plans for the future, or raising our kids, and then very suddenly we find ourselves in a position to step in when we are needed desperately. It is what we do with that call of duty that can make the difference between life and death for the person in need. Uncle Bill could not stay in Wyoming, where he was at that time, and simply let his dad handle the most horrible experience of his life without the benefit of help from family. He and his wife, my Aunt Doris headed home to Wisconsin, arriving in June of 1950. It was a decision he would never regret, nor did he ever decide to move away from Wisconsin again.
I think we eventually end up where we are supposed to be. Some of us move away from our childhood hometown, never to live there again, while others, like me, never live anywhere but in our childhood hometown, and still others like Uncle Bill, move away, and eventually move back for one reason or another, and never leave again. There must be something that either draws them away or back, or causes them to stay and never move away at all. I suppose the reasons vary as much as the people themselves, and sometimes there seems to be no real reason at all. They just end up in the place that draws them to it. I believe it is that we are in the place where God wants us to be.