When your children grow up and start dating, you begin to hope that they will be able to pick the right spouse, so theirs will be a “til death do we part” kind of marriage. It’s really hard to let your kids make their own choices, because you wonder if they will know what true love is, but then does anyone know at first. I don’t know how my girls both managed to get that perfect mate…just like I had…on the very first try, but they did, and I couldn’t be happier for them. Each new year of their marriage is sweeter than the year before.
My daughter, Corrie Schulenberg Petersen, married her husband Kevin Petersen 23 years ago today, and their marriage has been richly blessed. She was only two weeks out of high school, but they knew that it was right. I remember being so busy with both wedding and graduation. I barely had time to think about the fact that my little girl was getting married and leaving the nest. In fact, I recall being a bit surprised that I wasn’t torn up about it, and then just chalking it up to the fact that Corrie’s little sister, Amy was still here at home, so it wasn’t really an empty nest.
The wedding went off without a single problem. It was beautiful, and the kids were both so happy. The reception went off perfectly as well. The kids were relaxed and enjoying the time to visit with their friends and family. The cake was beautiful, the wedding gown stunning, and the rings were exchanged, but of course what made the wedding so amazing was the love shared by two young people who were now ready to set out on their own and begin a new life. Even then it didn’t occur to me that I would feel any of the common empty nest feelings. Then came the time for them to leave to begin their honeymoon. Everyone went outside to see them off, and they drove away waving and smiling. The day was over, except for the clean up.
There were still a number of guests there when I went back in, including my sister, Cheryl Masterson. As I came in the door, I turned to her and said, “Well…they’re gone.” Immediately, the floodgates burst. The tears that flowed were completely unexpected, but could not be stopped. My baby girl was a married woman, and she was heading out to start her adult life with her husband. They had each other now, and she no longer needed her mommy to guide her through life. I realize now that I was wrong, and that those were the thoughts of a newly, if not just partially, empty nester. There would be many times she…they would need me again. They were married, not gone forever. Their lives have taken many turns, and there have been many times that they have needed me, and I have needed them. They couldn’t possibly be more of a blessing to me. Happy Anniversary Corrie and Kevin!! We love you both very much!! Have a totally amazing and wonderful day!!
You can think you are prepared for life’s changes, but until the exact moment they happen, you don’t really know. When my daughter, Amy Royce, her husband Travis, and son, Caalab moved to Washington state a year ago, I thought I would never get used to it, over it, or on with it, but time marches on, and I had no choice but to march along with it. Amy and Travis’ daughter, Shai stayed here in Casper, and I think it helped that I felt the need to try to lift her spirit and help her make the transition from being a kid living at home to an adult living in her own place. It was such a hard change for both of us. Memories of Amy, Travis, and Caalab were everywhere, but for me, especially Amy, since we worked together. I think that the hardest part with Amy’s move was the empty chairs at the office, church, and Saturday morning breakfast. It will be no different this time, since Shai worked with me too. Now I have that empty chair at the office, church, and Saturday morning breakfast…again.
I have always been close with all my children and grandchildren, so as each one spreads their wings and flies away, I find myself tearing up, as I look at their empty places and think about the length of time before I will see them again. For Shai, I know it is for the best. She has missed her family terribly, and while her grandparents might play a close second, we just aren’t her parents and brother. That isn’t a bad thing, because I know how much she loves us. It’s just impossible to replace your own family. Shai and Caalab have not always been good friends, but as the grew, they became very close, and I think this last year has been extremely hard on both of them. And she is very close to her parents, as well. My logical side is really very happy for her to be rejoining them, it’s just my emotional side that can’t seem to wrap itself around the logic, and every time I see a place where Shai used to be, I feel lonely all over again.
When I came home at lunch I thought about the last few days. Caalab flew in on July 8th, and with both of their things here at my house, we had quite a disaster area going. Now all their things are gone, and the house seems very empty and very quiet. Of course, Bob isn’t here either, since he went with the kids to help with the move. Still, I think it will feel a little empty even when he gets home. It’s not because Shai lived with us, because she didn’t, but she moved out of her apartment on June 30th, and so for eleven days, her things were here. Now, after a whirlwind visit for Caalab, and the date of their departure coming up far too fast, I find myself facing that empty chair…again. I know I’ll be ok, because I’ve been through this before, but that empty chair will be a stumbling block for a while yet, no matter how I feel about it, or how much I try to avoid looking at it. Shai…I know that your life will be wonderful, just don’t forget where your grandpa and grandma live, and remember that we love you more than words can ever say.
Yesterday in church, my pastor said something about big bear hugs, talking about him, his brothers, or his kids doing that very thing. My mind quickly flew back in time to when one or the other of my kids or grandkids used to give me one of those big bear hugs…usually accompanied by a kiss, that sometimes ended up being more like a lip lock. It was really their way of showing the depth of their love for me…kind of like the old saying…I love you this much, with arms spread wide, except that those arms were locked around you, or more likely, around your face. The thought warmed my heart, because of course, for now, those days are gone. The kids and grandkids are all grown, up, and while I still get a kiss and a hug, they aren’t usually the lip lock/bear hug kind. They are a little too refined for that now, and in some ways, that makes me a little bit sad. Those years fly by so fast, and yet at the time, we seem to have the idea that they will be little for a really long time. It isn’t until they grow up, move out, and sometimes, move away, that we realize just how much we will miss those days during which they were little and their love for us was shown in a very exuberant way.
My thoughts drifted back to when my daughter, Amy Royce used to take a strong hold of my face and give me a kiss that practically made her whole body shake, and to when her son, Caalab used to hug me so hard that, even though he was a little guy, I’m not sure I could have pulled away. They both live so far away now, that I see them, maybe a couple of times a year, so even if they were of a mind to hand out a bear hug, they would be too far away for me to receive it. I suppose they would feel kind of funny about that now anyway, but they certainly didn’t back then…especially Caalab. He was the kind of kid who didn’t care who saw that he loved his grandma, or his mom, or anyone else that he cared about. He would hug them anyway…that great big bear hug. A hug that locked you in his strong arms, and didn’t let you go until he was ready, but while there was some teasing, just to show how strong he was, it was all in good natured fun, and tempered with the love that always existed for his grandma, mom, sister, or anyone else he loved.
I find that I miss those childhood years a whole lot, both with my girls and my grandchildren. Nevertheless, they must grow up, and make their own way in this world. Their plans, dreams, and choices will be different than mine, but that does not make them wrong. It has to be their life…lived their way. They know where I am, and that I will always be here for them. I’m so proud of each and every one of them, but I must admit that I do miss those bear hugs and lip locks.
When I was a girl growing up, Mother’s Day always had a special meaning. We didn’t plan other activities for that day, because it belonged to Mom alone. It was a day that we spent honoring that special woman who gave us life, nurtured us from birth to adulthood, and guided us through all the crazy emotions that went along with being girls, especially in those horrible teenaged years. She made life fun, taught us to do chores and to be responsible people, and she filled our lives with singing and sunshine. With all that she did for us, it seemed only fitting that there should be a day dedicated to her alone, and we tried very hard to make it awesome for her. It was her day to be the Queen of the castle.
Time changes all things, and in time, my sisters and I grew up, married, and had children of our own. Mother’s day had to change along with the changing times. The way we felt about our mom, Collene Byer Spencer, had not changed, but now we had a mother-in-law too, mine was Joann Knox Schulenberg, and we, ourselves were mothers. Now, Mother’s Day had to be divided between the, now two moms that we had, and our own family. Mother’s Day had taken on a completely new look. It was almost like having three versions of the day.
In the early years of my daughters’ lives, the girls simply went with us to the two celebrations, and our own celebration happened usually in the early morning before church. Time, however, stepped in again, and before I knew it, my girls were married with children of their own. Mother’s Day morphed again. As a family, we went to breakfast before church, and the rest of the day was again divided between the two moms. We had to turn our girls loose to have their day with their families too, and for me, that was probably the hardest part of those Mother’s Day years, but the hardest was yet to come, and I just didn’t know it yet.
These days, my Morphing Mother’s Day had taken its biggest change to date. My mom lives in Heaven now, so I can only have Mother’s Day with her in my heart. That is very hard for me, because I really miss her so much. Mother’s Day for my mom this year will be a matter of keeping on the sunny side, because that is what she always told us to do. It is the only gift I can give her now. Our family will go to breakfast, which is our tradition, but we will be missing my daughter, Amy, her husband, Travis, and their son, Caalab, who live in Ferndale, Washington now. We will also be missing Chris, our daughter, Corrie and her husband, Kevin’s son, who lives in Sheridan. We will only have two grandchildren, Shai and Josh, one daughter, Corrie, and one son-in-law, Kevin. It will be a bit harder for all of us, because we will each be missing someone. Later in the day, Bob and I will go visit his mother in the nursing home. There isn’t anything that we can give her, except our visit. On Sunday nights, the nursing home holds an ice cream social, and we always take her, so that will be her Mother’s Day treat. We are thankful that we still have her with us, because having no mom on Mother’s Day would be the final morph stage, and would bring with it the next wave of sadness…when all of our parents live in Heaven, but I’ll think about that another day. To all the moms out there, I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day, in whatever tradition you have for the day.
When my grandfather, Allen Spencer and my Great Uncle Albert Schumacher were young men, they were best friends. They did a lot together, including a trapping adventure, or should I say misadventure, which threatened to freeze them to death, causing them to decide that maybe the lumber business suited them better. I think maybe it did serve them better, but it wasn’t their occupations that really impressed me.
In his family history, my Uncle Bill Spencer, Allen’s oldest son, it was mentioned that Grandpa and Albert used to play the violin and the accordion at dances in the area. Then, Uncle Bill mentioned that he did to. I knew that music ran in the family, and while the ability to play an instrument passed me by, I do sing as a backup singer at my church. There are those in my family, however, who play quite well. My grandfather made sure that each of his children could play the violin, even though not all of them enjoyed it. I have to wonder if Grandpa wanted them to play because he loved it so much. I suppose that the excitement of playing in front of people and seeing them all having so much fun, was all Grandpa and Great Uncle Albert needed to be addicted…so to speak. Uncle Bill said that he played for dances too.
My girls, Corrie Petersen and Amy Royce, like many school children, played an instrument, but they continued on through high school. Neither one plays anymore, but I think the still could if they chose to. It’s one of those thing that you don’t forget, you just get a bit rusty. Still, if you continue to play, you could become quite good. My daughter, Amy’s husband, Travis and her son, Caalab both play the guitar. I don’t know how they feel about their ability to play, but I think they are both very good. They haven’t played at dances, but they have played at events where artists can go and play for others. I guess it doesn’t matter if you play at dances, for family, or for other events, being in the band is all that and more for a musician.
My grand niece, Aurora Hadlock is quite a girl. At four years old, she has different moods. Sometimes, she is shy, and clings to her parents a bit, It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t like her family, but more likely that she is a little bit tired, and maybe in need of a nap. I know this, because Aurora is a little girl who loves to tease and make people laugh. She tries hard to find ways to tease those around her. Aurora comes by her teasing ways naturally, because her dad, my nephew, Ryan Hadlock is the biggest teaser I know. Aurora, however, has taken a bit of a page out of my grandson, Caalab Royce’s book, in that she likes to play with hair, and sometimes…very careful not to hurt, she pulls it, just to see if I am paying attention. When I look back at her, she gets the biggest grin on her face, because she knows that she got my attention, and pulled on over on me.
Since May, my niece, Chelsea Hadlock, who is Aurora’s mom has been one of the backup singers at church, along with my niece Kellie Hadlock, who is Aurora’s aunt, and me. I think Aurora, or Rory as she was nicknamed, likes the fact that her mom sings on the stage, because she has always liked music, and now I think she is practicing for the day when she might be able to sing on the stage, just like her mommy. I love that she loves music, and it is so sweet that she wants to be just like her mom. I don’t know if she will sing on stage, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she did some day. When it comes to singing, Rory has no timidity. She just doesn’t care who might hear her. She is simply focused on her song and her singing. Rory also loves to dance, and so music is the perfect invitation to start dancing…unless she is singing in the car, of course. It’s hard to dance when you are strapped into a car seat. All you can do is keep the beat with you head or your shoulders.
It’s amazing to see the changes in Rory as she grows each year. Her personality is so bubbly and fun. She is quick to laugh, and when she does, her eyes just twinkle. She loves playing with her aunts, Jessi, Lindsay, and Kellie, and her uncles, Jason and Shannon. Making faces and taking selfies is big in their play. Then she gets to look at the goofy pictures they have taken. That, of course, brings about more goofiness for both Rory and her aunts or uncles. And, lest we forget, just know that Rory is a girly girl, and getting her bling on is of the utmost importance. After all, Rory is a princess. I think Rory is going to be a really happy, fun filled girl all her life, because she has such a wonderful outlook on life, and a bubbly, happy personality. She is a real cutie, but this girl has more going for her than just looks. She is an amazing girl. Today is Rory’s 4th birthday. Happy birthday Rory!! Have a great day Sweetie!! We love you!!
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.