Uncle Bill always had some new iron in the fire. He has many interests and talents. Uncle Bill, who’s full name is William Malrose Spencer II, was named after his grandfather, William Malrose Spencer I. To Uncle Bill, the single most important accomplishment of his lifetime, is the incredible family history he has dedicated his life to documenting. Uncle Bill started the family history as a young boy of only 8 years. He never quit thinking about the family history after that, even after dementia clouded his ability to process the information he found like he used to do.
Recently, I came across another accomplishment of Uncle Bill’s…one I would never have expected. While looking at his Family History Journals, I found a picture of a house, and I wondered what significance this house might have to have found a place in the family history. Nevertheless, Uncle Bill clearly thought it belonged. The building of the house began in 1948, and continued to it’s completion in 1951. Why would a house take so long to build? The answer explains it quite well. My Uncle Bill, whose nickname is Willie, singlehandedly built the house. The only work he did not do was the wiring and plumbing. The concrete for the sidewalk and steps, was mixed in a 3 x 4 foot plank box, with a hoe. Having done a little concrete mixing with a hoe, I can attest to how difficult that is to get right, or maybe that’s just me…techy yes, builder…not so much. During that time, Uncle Bill was living in Casper, and wanted something to do in his spare time. Building a house seemed to fit the bill nicely. I know that is an odd hobby, but it was the one he chose.
Sometimes, people come into our lives in odd ways. One night while Uncle Bill was digging a trench from the bathroom to the sewer line, it was late and dark. He had a light cord out there, so he could see. Suddenly someone yelled, “What are you digging down there…a grave??” The voice came from a young man named Mark Knittle and Uncle Bill liked his sense of humor immediately. They became lifelong friends, and kept in contact for many years. So, what of the house that Willie built…well, it still stands today and it’s in very good shape. Not much has changed about the house at 1228 S Jackson Street, other than the color of the paint. I tried to locate Mark Knittle, but the Mark Knittle who lives in Casper at this time, is apparently no relation. I found that rather sad, because I had hoped to tell a little more about their friendship. Today is my Uncle Bill’s 92nd birthday. He is doing quite well in most ways, and loves having visitors. Happy birthday Uncle Bill!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
What is it about reading a story that intrigues us? It is the content, of course, but there is something more. Sometimes, we just want to take a few minutes outside ourselves…to lose ourselves in another man’s mind. It was a quote by Charles Lamb in 1890, who wrote “I love losing myself in other men’s minds” that came to me in a cover letter for my Great Aunt Bertha Schumacher Hallgren’s journal. It was written to some of her grand nieces and grand nephew, her sister, Mina’s grandchildren, when she gave them a copy of her journal…the writings of her thoughts. And when I read the letter, I was intrigued. I was very curious about her mind. I never had the opportunity to know Great Aunt Bertha, who went by Bertie, and I find that very sad. It is my opinion that she was an amazing woman. In her letter, she points out that all too often, historical writings take in simply the events as they occurred, but leave out the human side of things…the thoughts, emotions, feelings, and the impact the events had on the lives of the people who lived them. She also points out that the family stories told by the very of people who lived those stories will impact the lives of their descendants for years to come. She looks ahead to the 23rd century, and wonders what they would think of the events that shaped the lives of their ancient ancestors. After reading her letter, I realized that my stories had barely scratched the surface of the events I was writing about.
I began to think of the day to day moments of our lives, and how much of the future history is being lost, because we have not recorded the thoughts and feelings we experienced at the time that we experienced them. Great Aunt Bertie suggested that if a person was interested in writing about family history, they should question their parents about the lives of their parents and grandparents. I immediately felt a sense of loss, because my dad and my father-in-law are both gone, and the opportunity to talk with them is gone too. I also felt a sense of loss, because my mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s Disease, and doesn’t always remember the events from her past anymore. I did feel an urging to sit down with my mom to see what things she could tell me, and also with my aunts, because I still have a chance to get their perspective on things. It occurred to me that while the desire is there, time will be the biggest problem, because of work and other obligations. Still, I want to take the opportunity while I can do so, and I know that I will learn many interesting things about my family.
I look forward to reading more of Great Aunt Bertie’s journal. She was an amazing individual, and she had the presence of mind to think in the future. She knew that the past has a very important place in the future, and that the future generations will never know the great things their ancestors accomplished, unless someone tells them about it. They will never know how their ancestors felt when they made the decision to immigrate to a new country, with their future very uncertain, but knowing that they had no future where they were then. And yet, she saw the importance of the here and now too…the everyday changes in the lives of family members around us…the accomplishments, hopes, and dreams for their future. She knew the importance of documenting the everyday moments of a life. Thank you for your wisdom, Great Aunt Bertie, and thank you Julie Holmberg Carlberg for blessing me and the rest of the family with this wonderful journal and the pictures you sent too. Great Aunt Bertie’s legacy will always be our priceless treasure.