Life in the late 1800s was much different from life today, and in many ways, I must say better. It was a more gentle, moral time. I was once again reading through my Great Aunt Bertha Schumacher Hallgren’s journal, and wondering how it can be that every time I look through it, I see a part of the history of my family that I hadn’t noticed before. For a while now, I have wondered why so little is mentioned in the journal about my grandmother, Anna Schumacher Spencer. Of course, the main reason is that by the time Bertha started writing, my grandmother was married and living in Minnesota or Wisconsin. She is mentioned in the younger years, but it was harder to know much about her daily life then, because things like cell phones, free long distance, and internet did not exist. I find it sad in so many ways that they could not stay in closer contact. I wonder if those of us in this day and age really know just how blessed we are, and how very important it is to stay in touch.
Because so many people had begun to move west, and things like towns, churches, and even schools were more scarce then, often, the religious training of the children happened at home. Bertha mentions in her journal that my great grandparents were dissatisfied by the fact that they were only able to attend church a few times a year. Carl and Henriette knew that this was not the kind of upbringing they wanted for their children. Even though they were both devout Lutherans, they knew that their children really needed to be in church…and they did too. It is so easy to slide in one’s faith when the family isn’t getting weekly or even more often, teaching in a church setting. So, Great Grandpa sold the quarter section of land that they owned, and purchased 320 acres just three miles east of Lisbon, North Dakota. Bertha remarks that this was a nice home with one of the few bathrooms in the country, and an artesian well. It must have been like moving into a castle. We take such things for granted these days. They did not.
The artesian well helped to form a ten acre lake, which my grandfather, Allen Spencer later stocked with catfish. Great Grandpa Carl Schumacher built a safe flat bottom boat for the younger children, so they could all enjoy the lake. This was a time of joy and happiness for the family. Life was changing, the children were growing up and moving out on their own, and new babies were coming too. Times were getting easier with new inventions every day designed to make life easier. Nevertheless, the problem of distance remained. I’m sure that Bertha would have written more about her older siblings families, had she had the opportunity to know them better. As a writer myself, I can relate to that. There are family members about whom it is more difficult to write, because I am not around them often. There are others about whom I know much, and so writing is easy. Nevertheless, if I write about them or not, they are all dear to me and in my thoughts often. I am, however, grateful to Bertha for her writings and the insight it has brought to me. Bertha has been an inspiration and a blessing to me. Through her writings, I feel like I know people I never met, and that is a limitless gift. It just keeps on giving.
Last night, while my sister, Cheryl Masterson and I were going through several boxes of our parents paperwork to prepare it for shredding, we came across a number of letters from different family members. I was drawn to some from my dad’s brother, William Spencer. One letter was written on March 5, 1990, and told a lot about the small town of Holyoke, Minnesota, where the family lived for a number of years. Uncle Bill talked of how the town was just a skeleton now, and so unlike its former self. I could read the sadness in his thoughts. Holyoke was a place that, in his childhood, had seemed larger than life. He knew every inch of it. He and my dad, their sister, Ruth, and their friends had dodged the trains, played ball, gone to school, fished the stream, and…well, lived life there. Uncle Bill was sad, because now, all that was changing.
Uncle Bill wrote of the passing of this friend, and that friend, as well as all the citizens, teachers, parents, and business owners who had lived in the little town of Holyoke. While the passing of the people he knew and loved was hard enough, the loss of the different buildings in the town was equally devastating to my dear Uncle Bill. I think the building that was the hardest for him to see go was the little church, which held the baptismal font that had been built in 1935 by Fritz Fredrick, who is the father of my cousins Gene and Dennis Fredrick. Fritz also did most of the cabinet work, too. It was very hard for Uncle Bill to think of that baptismal font being left to rot, so he bought it and gave it to one of Fritz’s sons. Uncle Bill writes about how sad it makes him to see the buildings delapitated and, in his words, forlorn. Nevertheless, he continues to be drawn to Holyoke because it feels like going home to him. He loves the people there, and loves to spend time visiting with them. Holyoke is and always will be a part of him…like it’s in his DNA.
Uncle Bill’s letter continues to draw me back to it in much the same way that Holyoke draws Uncle Bill back to it, because even if the feelings are raw and painful to a degree, it is harder not to make the trip than it is the deal with the feelings when you go back there. My mom, Collene Spencer, my sister, Cheryl Masterson, my cousin Bill Spencer (Uncle Bill’s son), and I visited Holyoke this past August while we were back in Superior, Wisconsin, and I can completely understand how Uncle Bill feels about that place. I don’t recall having been there before, but like my Uncle Bill, Holyoke, Minnesota will continue to live in my heart. I guess that some places simply have that affect on you.
One of the hardest things a parent has to face, is having their child move away. Whether it is to college or a permanent move, it is a tearing time for the parents, who had hoped this day would never come. Parents don’t have children so they can move away, but nevertheless, that is what happens sometimes. Whether it is a job transfer, college, or a move of choice, it is really hard on both parents and children. Since I have never moved away as a child, I can’t speak to the feelings of homesickness that come from living so far from the only home I have ever known. I suppose it could be much the same as the parents are feeling about their child leaving. You want them to be happy, and yet you had always hoped that their happiness would be found in the same city that you live in, and not in a city that is 1200 miles away from you. That is just so far away, that it seems unbearable.
As the parent, in this situation, I think it might be just a bit unique. For the last six and a half years, I have had the great pleasure of working side by side with my daughter, Amy Royce. Friday was her last day, since she is moving to Washington state today. I think the hardest part of her leaving work for good, is seeing her empty chair. Her office is out front, and will continue to be used to do things like make payments and such, until we hire someone to take her place, but it’s really hard for me to go in there, because when I do, I am once again faced with that empty chair…not to mention the task of telling every client that Amy no longer works there. It almost feels like rubbing it in.
It has also been our tradition to go to breakfast with Amy every other week on Saturday, trading off with going to breakfast with our older daughter, Corrie Petersen. As we were having a special breakfast Sunday morning, which included both of them, so that we could all enjoy one more time together, it occurred to me that in the future, we would again be looking at an empty chair…the one Amy used to occupy every other week at breakfast. It is just another reminder of the drastic change that has taken place in our family.
Then, came church. I am used to having Amy sitting on my right and Corrie on my left, but Sunday morning brought yet another empty chair, as Amy and her family spent the morning packing the moving truck they have rented. Amy also sang with me as part of the backup singers for the music ministry, and that felt a little bit lonely too…even though I didn’t stand right next to her. I still knew that she was there, and now I know that she isn’t there anymore.
I know that I will get used to having my daughter and her family living so far away. It will just take time. I know it will be hard for them too, but I think they will have a bit of an advantage over me, and those of us left behind, including their daughter, Shai, who decided to stay in Casper, because they will not be picturing us in places around their world. It will not be normal to have us there at their work, at the restaurants they go too, or the church they attend. They will have a normal that doesn’t include us. We will have to create a new normal that does not include them. Yes, I will get used to having them gone too. I just think it would be easier for me, were it not for that empty chair.
Today, it has been one month since my mother, Collene Spencer went to Heaven. After someone goes home to Heaven, it always seems odd to me that the time goes by so quickly. I can vividly remember that night just one month ago, when she left, and it doesn’t seem possible that it is a month already. While we are doing ok, we are finding ourselves feeling some caregiver’s remorse. It isn’t that we feel like we didn’t take care of Mom the way we should have, because we poured our hearts and souls into taking care of her in the way that Dad would have wanted, and in the way that she deserved.
Instead the caregiver’s remorse is that we didn’t realize just how little time we had left with her. She was so well, so we were fooled into thinking that she would not be leaving us anytime soon. That left us…well, taken completely by surprise. It really was the little things like not going into the bedroom with her right away to help her get to bed, the missed hug after church, because someone was talking to her at that moment, missing church that morning, and the distance lived from her home. They were little things, but in the end, they were the most important things, because they were the last moments we had with her…or rather the missed last moments we would have had with her.
We have found ourselves struggling with that final night. We simply don’t know what happened. Mom had a great last day, and in fact, really a great last week. She had part of her family over for lunch during the week, and then my sister, Cheryl Masterson and I took her to dinner on Thursday at one of her favorite places…Red Lobster. But it was her last day that was especially great. She went to church that morning, which was the most important thing in her life. Then, because her sister, Evelyn Hushman was in the hospital, Mom had orchestrated a luncheon at the hospital with her brother and sisters. The afternoon went amazingly well. Most of her siblings and several other family members were there, and they spent about three hours visiting, laughing, and just being together. It was a beautiful afternoon, and one that would be cherished by all who were there that day. Then, Mom and Cheryl went home for a quiet evening, dinner, and a movie.
Then, while Cheryl did the dishes, Mom decided to go to bed, but once in the bedroom, she went to Heaven instead. They couldn’t tell us exactly what had happened, and so we are left wondering about it…and wishing we had her back. That is the real caregiver’s remorse…wishing you could go back and change things somehow, so the outcome could be different. The point when all you know to do is not enough, makes you feel almost like a failure, even though you know that you have done your very best. I know that Mom is happy with Dad in Heaven, but we really miss her here. Our caregiver’s hearts have become lonely hearts. We love you Mom, and we’ll see you and Dad real soon.
Many holidays get their start on the birth or death of someone famous or very special, and Saint Patrick’s Day is no exception. It was the day that Saint Patrick died in Saul, Ireland. I’m sure that wasn’t surprising to anyone. So, the question then becomes, who was Saint Patrick, and why is he being honored?
Saint Patrick was a Christian missionary, bishop, and apostle of Ireland, but that in and of itself was not what made him famous. He lived in a time in history when little would be known of a person’s life if no one took the time to write things down. The Internet, Facebook, and Twitter were far off in the very distant future, so people wrote letters and kept journals. Saint Patrick wrote a book that he titled, “Confessio”, during his last year of life, and it is from these writings that we know what we know of him.
Saint Patrick was born in Great Britain probably in Scotland, to a wealthy Christian family of Roman citizenship. At the age of about 16 years, he was captured be Irish marauders and made to be a slave. For the next six years he worked as a herder in Ireland. Due to the long lonely days, far from family and other human companionship, he drew closer and closer to God for comfort. After hearing a voice in a dream one night, he escaped and found passage on a ship that took him back to Great Britain and his family. Once he was back with his family, he had another dream. In the dream someone named Victoricus gave him a letter entitled “The Voice of the Irish.” He felt like the Irishmen were pleading with him to go back to Ireland.
In 433, he returned to Ireland, after studying to become an ordained Christian minister and started preaching the Gospel. Thousands of Irishmen were converted to Christianity and many churches were built all around Ireland. After 40 years of devoting his life to God and His work, Saint Patrick died on March 17, 461, in the town of Saul, Ireland, which is where he built his first church.
Since his passing, many legends have grown up about him. He was made the patron saint of Ireland, and people say that he baptised hundreds of people in a single day. He is also said to have used a three-leaf clover, which became the famous shamrock to describe the Holy Trinity. He is portrayed as trampling snakes because it is said that he had driven them out of Ireland. The Irish observe the day of his passing as a national holiday, attending church in the mornig and celebrating with food and drink in the afternoon. Later the rest of the world jumped on board, and the first Saint Patrick’s Day parade was celebrated in the United States, and involved Irish soldiers serving in the English military marching through the streets of New York City in 1762. The parades became a show of unity and strength for the Irish-American immigrants and the party went global in 1995 when the Irish government started a campaign to matket Saint Patrick’s Day as a way of driving tourists to Ireland. Today, March 17th is still celebrated by millions of people, many of whom probably have no idea what this man stood for. It’s something to think about for sure. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!!
When I talked to my dad about his time at Great Ashfield in Suffolk, England, we talked about, among other things, the sign at the town entrance that still stands today, after all these years since the end of World War II. The picture of the B-17G Bomber flying low over the town is not something that would necessarily be well received these days, when people are so quick to complain about the planes when they live near an airport. I understand why people would not like planes flying low on takeoffs and landings these days, but the planes that fly over my house really don’t bother me at all. Nevertheless, my dad assured me that the people of Great Ashfield felt anything but irritation at the low flying planes that graced their skies during World War II.
England was among the nations who had taken some serious hits by the Nazi war machine in the early days of World War II, prior to the entrance of the United States into the war. In fact, it was on this day, December 29, 1940 that London took a massive hit during a German raid. The German planes had been targeting London since August of 1940 as payback for the British attacks on Berlin. In September the Germans dropped 337 tons of bombs on docks, tenements, and the streets in one of London’s poorest districts. Then came December 29, 1940. The attack on that day produced widespread destruction of not just civilians, but also many of London’s cultural relics. The bombing was relentless and as a result, 15,000 separate fires were started. Historic buildings were severely damaged or destroyed. Among them, the Guildhall, which was an administrative center of the city that dated back to 1673, but contained a 15th century vault. Eight Christopher Wren churches were also damaged or destroyed. St Paul’s Cathedral caught fire, but was saved by the firefighters who risked their own lives to save it. Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and the Chamber of the House of Commons were also hit, but the damage to these was less severe. These attacks, that went on from September of 1940 through May of 1940, were known as the London Blitz, and they killed thousands of civilians.
It wasn’t until Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, that the United States entered World War II, and soon after came the time that my dad spent at Great Ashfield beginning in early April of 1944 until he went home in October of 1945. While it may have seemed to many that we were somewhat late coming to the party, the war torn nations around the world were happy to see us arrive. It wasn’t that we were going to be the heroes riding in on the white horses, but we meant instant reinforcements to nations that needed assistance badly. The airmen were well received in the towns surrounding Great Ashfield, and the other air bases in England, but it was Great Ashfield that felt such gratitude that they went to the length of making and leaving to this day, the sign showing the B-17G Bomber flying low over the local church. There is also another memorial honoring the men of the 8th Air Force and the 385th Heavy Bombardment Group.
The reasons for the warm feelings toward the 8th Air Force and the 385th Heavy Bombardment Group are obvious. It was so much more than just the reinforcements the United States provided. While talking to my dad about this, he revealed that the main reason that they were so grateful is that the safest times for the area were when the B-17G Bombers were flying overhead. The German aircraft would become really scarce when the Bombers were around, because they didn’t want to be shot down either. The constant activity surrounding the air field made it almost impossible for the Germans to attack the area. Bombings are horrible, and take a huge toll on the civilians, as well as buildings. I suppose I would be eternally grateful for those planes, those men, and the United States 8th Air Force too. It gave peace of mind.
Safely tucked away, in a closet in the basement of my home, sits a red box. It is a homemade hope chest, built by my dad, when I was a little girl. Dad built two of them, one for my sister, Cheryl and one for me. This was long before hope chests became popular again, or maybe they always were, and I just didn’t know it then. I loved that little hope chest. I suppose some people would have thought it plain, but it held a very special meaning to me. My daddy had made it for me, and told me that it was to keep my treasures in. The original paddle lock was lost long ago, and replaced with a new one. I have lost the key to that one, so now a bobby pin has to suffice. It really wouldn’t matter if it was unlocked, I suppose, because to most people it’s contents have no real value. It holds no gold, silver, or diamonds…just the treasures from my past.
When I opened it last night…the first time in a long time, I saw my girlhood treasures, like souvenirs from trips taken as a child, my first wrist watch, and cameo soaps I got from…who knows where. I saw my high school diploma, and my husband Bob’s, both in pristine condition. There were treasures from my children’s lives, like perfect attendance awards from church and preschool, pictures of our family at that time, cards sent to me on special occasions, and baby cigars from a number of different births…I don’t suppose anyone would want to smoke those now. There was a baby blanket I had been given, and high school pictures of my sisters and sisters-in-law. There are three model cars…remnants of Bob’s past, and a multitude of key chains from his years of collecting them. If you looked at these items, I suppose most people would think many of them to be worthless, but to me, they are treasures…they are my past.
I realize that I am a sentimental person, and that I save things with sentimental value. I have accepted this about myself. I know that many people don’t like to save things. They don’t like the clutter, and I do admit that it can create clutter. But, I don’t really want my world to be so free of my past, that it seems sterile. This isn’t an operating room, after all, it’s my life, and my memories. I like most of my past, not to mention, my family’s past, and I want to be able to see and remember it. That is simply who I am. I can think of so many fun times in my past…camping trips with my parents and sisters, hiking with Bob, vacations with our kids, just to mention a few. In my opinion, I have lead a very nice life, and I want to always remember that. As I looked through the contents of my hope chest, my mind drifted back to a time when my family was young. The years have gone by so fast. It made me feel a little bit sad.
The contents of my hope chest have changed over the years, as my hopes and dreams have changed. As a little girl, I had the trinkets of a little girl in there, and as I grew, the things in my hope chest grew to take in my new self. Once I was married, the hope chest became a memory chest, instead of a hope chest. which was designed to collect the things a girl would need for her wedding and marriage. I think I like the latest job my hope chest has, because memories come from a life filled with good things. And maybe that is a fitting end for a hope chest, because it does start out as the hopes and dreams of a girl, and ends up with the memories of a life well lived.
On our trek back into our past, we took a drive to see some of the places my dad’s family had lived, like the town of Holyoke, Minnesota…my dad and his siblings’ old stomping grounds, I felt as if I was walking in my dad’s shoes so to speak…or at the very least traveling along on the same journey he had taken as a young boy. As we drove into the area, I recognized the railroad trestle that my dad and Uncle Bill had played on as kids. We had just talked to Uncle Bill, who told us that when a train came, they would just drop down and hang on, because there wasn’t room enough to stand there while a train went over. They said it shook a lot, and I personally wouldn’t recommend such a thing to anyone.
Our next stop was at the park across the street. This park was a favorite hangout for most of the Holyoke kids, and was located just down the hill from the school, making it convenient for after school ball games or hanging out in the creek that ran through it. The park is in great condition, and looks like it is still used a lot today, but I could picture the little boys, who were my dad and uncle hanging out there with their friends and avoiding the chores that probably awaited them at home.
We drove past the old church that they attended, who’s alter had been built by my Aunt Laura Fredrick’s ex-husband, Fritz. We were very sorry to see the state it was in. The front of the building looked pretty good, but when viewed from the side, we could see that the roof had caved in, and all that was still standing was three sides. That really made me sad, because it was the church they had attended for so many years of their lives.
Heading out of town, we came to a section of red dirt road that went for about a mile or so before returning to the pavement. Our cousin, Bill Spencer, who was our tour guide for the day, told us that his dad, our Uncle Bill and our dad had ridden their bikes to Superior, Wisconsin on this road. That was astounding, in that it was about thirty miles…one way…and they went to town and home in the same day, on the old clunky bicycles of those days. It was here, as we drove from Holyoke back into Superior, that I felt like I was traveling along the same journey that my dad had taken so many times. It was a lonely feeling, in that I really missed my dad right then, but it was also an interesting, in that they had gone so far in just one day.
I think that sometimes, we don’t realize just how amazing our parents lives were. We forget that technology and transportation have come a long, long way since their day. It seems like the work was harder and yet, the times easier somehow. I thought of my dad and Uncle Bill riding happily into Superior to spend the day, and what their plans might have been. Maybe it was just the idea of being free for the day…with no one to tell you what to do, or maybe they were meeting friends. I’ll probably never know, but I do know that it was strange to be traveling the same road to Superior, that dad had taken so long ago.
My grand nephew, Zack Spethman, who is the middle son of my niece Jenny and her husband, Steve, is a boy who knows what he wants. He has his own sense of style, and doesn’t like to leave the house until he is satisfied with how he looks…something that will definitely appeal to the ladies as he gets a little older. Ladies can’t resist a tall, dark and handsome, well dressed man, and Zack will fit that bill for sure. Zack likes to wear everything from casual style to suit and tie, so taking him places is an easy thing to do. He is also a very thoughtful boy, and is well mannered. If he were just a little older, I could see Zack really wowing the girls with his thoughtful style. He is a child who likes to hug and do sweet things for those around him.
Being the middle son, or middle child is something many kids don’t like, but Zack enjoys having an older and a younger brother, and the added bonus of a younger sister to make his life complete. He and his brothers, Xander and Isaac, are all boy for sure, and Zack is very good in sports, and loves most types of sports. He loves to get out and ride his bicycle with his brothers, but doesn’t mind a wrestling match with them either…sometimes even a middle son has to try to prove his superiority. But when it comes to his little sister, Zack knows how to play gently and always treats Aleesia with love and kindness…and protectiveness.
Zack is a very smart boy and is at the top of his class in school. He enjoys learning, and his curiosity about things around him shows in all his studies. That is something I’m sure his teachers appreciate. Zack, like all of Jenny and Steve’s kids, know how to behave in public. When we are in church on Sundays, you just don’t hear or see them acting up or running around. They are sitting quietly, listening to the pastor or Sunday School teacher speak. Today is Zack’s 9th birthday. I can’t believe he is 9 years old already. Happy birthday Zack!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
On Sunday morning, our congregation was treated to my niece, Kellie’s debut on the piano. Kellie is an accomplished singer, and loves music ministry, but this was the first time she had ever played the piano in public. She told us that she loves playing the piano, but until that day, she played in her home…alone. Kellie is a little bit shy, when it comes to performing solos, but she really shouldn’t be, because she has the voice of an angel, and she plays the piano very well too. She told us that God has been leading her to play the piano as part of her music ministry, and I for one hope she will follow that leading and play more often, because it was beautiful. Her God given gifts are many, and her spirit is so beautiful. It is a wonderful mix that makes her the blessing she is.
As I listened to Kellie sing, I once again found myself totally amazed at the woman she has become. Sometimes, it is hard to imagine what a child will become, as you are watching them grow up. Then, when they are grown, and you see what an awesome individual they have become, and you are somehow surprised at what great things they are doing now. I really shouldn’t be, because Kellie has always been this same way, but when I hear her sing solos, and now play the piano too, the beauty of it just brings tears to my eyes. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear Kellie sing, because each time is like listening to an angel in a choir. She puts such feeling into the songs and you know that even though she did not write them, they are just how she feels in her heart. It is God singing through her, and it is beautiful.
Kellie has always been such a sweet girl, and as she has grown into womanhood, her faith has grow to amazing levels. I love the faith filled posts she puts on Facebook, because they are from her heart, yet they minister to so many people. It’s amazing that somehow the things she posts are just the things I needed to see. She is a blessing to anyone who knows her, and an asset to our church. As her aunt, I couldn’t be more proud of her if I tried. From her sweet spirit to her angelic voice, she is amazing. I love you Kellie!!