Every year my mother’s family has two gatherings designed to keep the Byer family close, which was my grandparents, George and Hattie Byer’s desire for their family. They were married on Christmas eve, so a Christmas party was the ideal event for on of those gatherings. It was decided that the other would be a picnic in the summer. Over the years, attendance as dwindled a bit, which I find very sad, because this is an easy way to stay connected, but this year was a bit of an exception to the rule, because unusual as it is, we had a family member come from out of town, and everyone wanted to see him. Greg Hushman decided to make the trip down from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho to visit family members and attend the picnic. We were all excited to see him, and people who had never come to the picnic before, came and really enjoyed themselves.
Elmer Johnson is a regular attendee, like me, but with Greg’s appearance, we had two of the Three Musketeers of Mischief in attendance. Unfortunately, Forrest Beadle, who was the third musketeer, passed away in July of 2005. He was very much missed yesterday. As we visited with Greg and Elmer, they recapped some of the various ways they managed to get into trouble…especially with Grandma Byer, who had a broom that could somehow reach around corners, and down stairs to wallop the, by then running to get away, mischievous musketeer. They could never figure out how she did that. Surely they were quick enough to outrun Grandma. After all, she was only 4’10” tall, and being a grandma, she must have been too old to run…right??? Nevertheless, she never failed to make them painfully aware that short and old or not, she was the boss…and they simply better never forget it!!
My sisters, Cheryl Masterson, Caryl Reed, Alena Stevens, and Allyn Hadlock all commented that they had never been spanked by Grandma Byer…after which I had to admit that I had. I was probably the more mouthy one of my siblings…no not probably…I was. I argued with my Dad…we called it debating, but my sisters thought I was about to die, for sure, because they never dared argue with Dad. Well, anyway, somehow, my Grandma Byer didn’t understand the difference between arguing and debating, and she just called it mouthy, so I got a spanking. Not to self…don’t argue or debate with Grandma Byer!! She will win!!
Of course, most of the still living original siblings were there, but this year, we lost two…my mother, Collene Spencer, and Aunt Evelyn Hushman. It felt a little bit empty without them, and in a strange way, I noticed that the remaing original siblings worked very hard to connect with all of the nieces and nephews, almost like they were concerned about those relationships. Uncle Wayne Byer was seen teasing several people, and Aunt Virginia Beadle, Aunt Bonnie McDaniels, Aunt Dixie Richards, and Aunt Sandy Pattan made a great effort to make the rounds to talk to as many of us as they could. As did the cousins, like Clyde and Susie Young, Terry and Shannon Limmer, Dennis and Wendy French, Kevin and Jamie Patsie, Jeannie Liegman, Jimmy Richards, Keith Beyer and his brother, Cliff Byer’s family, Cindy Ellis and family, JeanAnn Stanko, Rachelle French, Corrie Petersen and her son Chris, Jim and Alina Young, Dwan Orr and family Steve and Jenny Spethman and kids, and lots of the children. I felt like this was one of the closest picnics we have ever had. I suppose that the more family members we lose, the more we realize just how quickly we can lose each other. The time to stay close is right now!!
As little girls, my sisters and I would get very excited when our different grown cousins, aunts, or uncles would come over. Like all little kids, we would want to hang out with the adults, and tell them about everything we knew…or could dream up. I think this is as common among kids, as breathing is. Maybe it is about someone new to listen to your stories or maybe it’s that everyone in the household has already heard them, so they don’t want to listen again…or maybe it’s just that you like the person who has showed up. Whatever the reason, you just can’t seem to hold yourself back…or at least that was how it was when I was a kid.
Now, fast forward about 50 years. A couple of days ago, I had to take some groceries to my nieces house for my grandson’s graduation party, which she is graciously holding at her home for my daughter. I had called to let them know I was coming, and they were on a walk, so when I got there, I just waited in my car. Pretty quickly, two of my grand nephews, Xander and Isaac came running up to my car. They had run ahead, obviously excited that I was there. Xander is twelve now, and so was a little better able to contain his excitement, but Isaac being only eight, was not able to do so as easily. While Xander ran back to let his parents know I was there, Isaac decided that he could bring everything up to the porch. He proudly carried five bags at once, and the bags were up on the porch in no time.
After his parents got back to the house, we were inside talking, and the kids, including Zack and Aleesia, all wanted to tell me or show me things. They were so excited to have me there. I was suddenly taken back those 50 plus years, to my own childhood, and I could so completely relate to how they were feeling. I could tell that their parents, Jenny and Steve Spethman, were thinking that they should stop the kids from chattering, but for me, it was really cute. I guess that it gave me a picture of what my sisters and I had looked like to our family members all those years ago. I don’t think they were ever irritated with us. They just knew that we loved them very much. As I recall, they always listened to our stories and made us feel like we belonged…never acting like we should just go play. I thought that now, I was that aunt that all the little ones were so excited to see and talk to. It made me smile, because it was such a special place to be.
As we have traveled through six states in ten days, we have not only been connecting with family members, previously known and those previously unknown to us, but we have been somewhat following in the footsteps of our ancestors. Our travels have taken us to several of the places that our ancestors lived and died. Some graves have been easy to find, and some not so much. I think it is sad that more of the records have not been put into sites like findagrave.com, and I think I will set myself to the task of putting as many in as I can, so that more of my family members can find the graves of their ancestors, should they decide they would like to do that. The graves that had been listed and included the plot and block numbers, were so easy to find. Such was the case with my dad’s parents’ graves. We thought it was going to be hard to find them, even though Mom thought she knew where they were, and was actually very close, but in the end, Find A Grave told us exactly where it was, and we found it easily.
Our trek then took us to Webster City, Iowa, where my great great grandfather, Allen Spenser was buried. We aren’t sure why his stone spells Spencer with “s” or if that was simply an error that was made when the stone was placed, but it was definitely the wrong spelling, since his wife, Lydia’s stone in Oklahoma is spelled Spencer. This grave was a surprising find in that while I had seen a picture of the stone, from when my Uncle Bill made the trip, I had no block or plot number. We started into the cemetery, and I remembered that the picture showed a building in the background. I saw a building and a hillside, and decided to take a little walk. I didn’t have to go very far before I found what I was looking for, Allen Spenser’s grave. The odd thing was that while the stone was standing up when Uncle Bill was there, it was laying down when I was there, and while the picture taken by someone else years earlier had an old house in it, Uncle Bill’s picture had none. Think what you would like, I personally think it was God’s guiding that found that grave at the first place we stopped to look.
The next memorial we found was the United Airlines Flight 232 Crash Memorial, and while it was not a grave, I must say it was beautiful. My Great Aunt Gladys Pattan Byer Cooper was killed in that crash, and since we were going right by there, I wanted to stop at the memorial the people of Sioux City put up in honor of the victims and the brave people who saved as many lives as possible. That memorial had a deep impact on me. Aunt Gladys’ tragic death was something that I felt deeply, because I had always loved her very much. To find a place that was dedicated to her memory was so heartwarming. It felt like a place of peace and reverence. No, the victims aren’t buried there, but they are remembered there, and it is a beautiful, well maintained place to remember them…and one I’ll never forget.
We stopped in Gordon, Nebraska and were again guided by Mom’s memory and a picture of the stone. Before long, we were at my mom’s grandfather, Cornelius George Byer’s grave. The record I had also showed his dad buried there in Gordon, but we could not find that one, even with the directory, so the records I had found could be wrong. I really wished that we could have found that one too, because it would have cleared up some possible errors in the spelling of the Byer name too, but I guess that one will be a story for another day and another trek.
Since I began writing stories about my family, I have come to have a greater appreciation for old pictures than I ever had before. Every picture has a story to tell. Every one is like a priceless gold treasure. When I hear of pictures being lost in some way, I feel that loss very deeply, because so often, they cannot be replaced. That is what happened to a vast collection of pictures that had belonged to my Aunt Ruth and Uncle Jim. When Aunt Ruth passed away in May of 1992, Uncle Jim continued to reside in their home until it was destroyed by a fire…taking with it all of the pictures they had collected over the years, including all of the childhood pictures of my cousins, Shirley, Larry, and Terry. Larry had passed away in 1976, so they had so few of him anyway, and now all that remained were the pictures Shirley and Terry had, and that was not many.
When we re-connected with Shirley a while back, she asked if we had any pictures of them as children, and we have looked through what we had…again, not many. I felt very sad for her, because it was almost like tearing her childhood out of her past and throwing it away. Since then my heart has me trying to replace at least a few of the pictures she once had. It has not been an easy task, but last night while at my mom’s house, my sister, Cheryl, Mom, and I went through a box of things, that included a few pictures. I was so excited when a couple of pictures turned up of Shirley’s family. I couldn’t wait to get them too her, and I really hope that she doesn’t have these yet, because that will make the find even sweeter.
The more I look through the pictures that make up my past and those of my family members, the more I realize the value of those pictures. So many people don’t have those old family pictures and if they do, they don’t know who they are or what they were like, unless they happened to have someone like my Uncle Bill, who was meticulous in recording the past. He spent much of his life talking to people who knew our ancestors so that he could document as much information as he could. His work, like the old pictures are more than valuable…they are pure gold.