My Uncle Elmer Johnson was an amazing cook. My cousin, Ellen Bremner, his oldest child recalls the many holiday meals he cooked over the years, and just how wonderful they were. Many people think that cooking is no big deal, but opening a few cans and heating them on the stove, is not cooking, nor is heating up a frozen dinner, which seems to be the norm these days. I suppose that in a busy world, such as we now live in, heating up a previously prepared (usually by some company) meal is the best way to get a meal quickly. Nevertheless, people like my Uncle Elmer…well they knew how to really cook…making a wonderful holiday meal from scratch, with everyone in the family standing there watching and smelling the meal with mouths watering and stomachs growling. The anticipation was almost too much to bear. Ellen tells me that her dad was a more adventurous cook than their mon, my Aunt Dee.
Uncle Elmer loved Christmas, and loved to spoil his four children, Ellen, Elmer, Darla, and Delwin, as well as Aunt Dee. I can imagine him at Christmas…just like a kid in a candy store, getting everything ready for his family, and then sitting there with a twinkle in his eye as they opened their gifts. The day most likely passed far too quickly and all too soon it was over, and life went back to normal.
Normal for my uncle was driving a truck. He worked for Burke Moving and Storage, as well as United Van Lines. He also worked for Dalgarno Transportation, where he and his son, Elmer got to work together. He was also a certified welder working on pipeline, and later in a uranium mine at Shirley Basin. Uncle Elmer was also a capable mechanic. Still, I think that as jobs go, Uncle Elmer was happiest when he was driving a truck. He liked to drive, and that made him a good teacher of driving. Ellen remembers that he was very patient with her when he was teaching her to drive. He encouraged her, even when she made a mistake.
Every summer, Uncle Elmer would take the family fishing in the Tensleep area of Wyoming. Uncle Elmer loved fishing, and he passed that love of the sport down to his kids. I think they all still enjoy fishing to this day. Uncle Elmer was witty and had a great sense of humor. That probably came from the years he and his brothers spent getting into mischief…good clean fun really. Uncle Elmer, and especially his brother, Les pulled many pranks. Their brother Tom was quite a bit younger, and so not as involved in their mischief, but I imagine he managed to contribute his share as he got older too. After all, he had his big brothers to show him the ropes. Unfortunately, Uncle Elmer passed away in 1981. Today would have been his 87th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Uncle Elmer. We love and miss you very much.
Christmas Eve traditions can vary from family to family. My husband, Bob’s family always got together for a chili dinner on Christmas eve. Then they opened the presents, and the kids spent the rest of the evening playing with their new toys while all the parents sat around visiting. Sometimes Santa Clause would even show up, which was always a big hit among the little ones. Christmas morning was a day to relax and for the kids to play, while their parents prepared the huge Christmas dinner, and after dinner, all you could think of was how badly you wanted to lay down and sleep…especially when you had eaten two such dinners that day. Christmas dinner was just that way. It really should be followed with a nice long nap, stretched out on the couch to give the belly room.
As a little girl, Christmas eve was a time when we got to open one gift…always pajamas…which ensured good pictures on Christmas morning. We spent time singing Christmas carols. Our Christmas gifts were opened on Christmas morning. I think I always liked that way better, because the anticipation continued to build all night, and then we still had to wait for Mom and Dad to wake up and get things going in the morning. Of course, we really had no idea that they were awake before we were. I think they were just as excited as we were. When it came to Christmas, they were big kids too.
For my grandparents, Hattie and George Byer, as well as my niece, Raylynn Williams and her husband, Doug, Christmas Eve meant celebrating their wedding anniversary. For Grandma and Grandpa, a Christmas Eve wedding was probably more a matter of having family already gathered, and a wedding being held so people didn’t have to travel twice. For Raylynn, getting married on Christmas Eve was a way of honoring her grandparents…a way of sharing something special with them, even though they were both in Heaven by the time she married. It was like having them there at the wedding, and I’m sure that was exactly what Raylynn was thinking as she planned her special day.
Our daughter Corrie Petersen, her husband, Kevin, and their kids like the tradition we have of opening one gift, and then the rest on Christmas morning, and they have the added excitement of going to Kevin’s mom’s after our house. It really keeps them hopping. Our daughter, Amy Royce, her husband, Travis, and their kids like to watch a movie while eating cheese and sausage with crackers after the gifts are opened on Christmas Eve. For Bob and me…after the rush of Christmas Eve chili with the Schulenberg family, and of everyone coming for the traditional Christmas Eve gift opening session, it’s time to sit down and relax a while before everything starts in the morning, because Christmas dinner is held at our house now. Since my sisters, our families, and I have a party a week or so early, like the Byer family, we all spend Christmas with our own families now. With my parents in Heaven, the big day shifted to us. We love having everyone share it with us. Traditions change as families change, and it will continue to change in the future. The main thing is to enjoy the tradition, while remembering the reason for the season, the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
My sister-in-law, Debbie Schulenberg Cook, is a woman of many talents. Over the years she has made clothing for her girls, Machelle Cook Moore and Susan Cook Griffith, including Machelle’s wedding dress. She made lots of other clothes for them through the years too. One thing that I never really had the patience for, was sewing, but Debbie was quite good at it. She sewed most of her own clothes too. I always thought it would be nice to be able to do that, but it just wasn’t going to be something I would master, and my shoulders just couldn’t stand the aching I got when I sewed, so it was what it was.
Debbie took up cross stitch, and made many pretty things to give away and sell at the craft fairs that she, my sister-in-law, Brenda, and my parents-in-law used to participate in. Now cross stitch was something I could sink my teeth into, but I didn’t ever get involved in the craft fairs, because by then, Bob and I were bowling seven days a week…fanatical, absolutely. Nevertheless, they all did pretty well with the craft fairs, and very much anticipated each one with joy. I know that the people who bought the items they sold were very pleased with them, but I think the gifts she made especially for one family member or another were the very best, because of all the love that went into them. Something that is made with love is always a keepsake.
After her dad’s passing, almost three years ago, and after we had to place her mother in a nursing home due to Alzheimer’s Disease, we decided to take the clothes that didn’t go to the nursing home, and any material he mom had left, and make quilts for everyone. Debbie single handedly took on the task of making quilts for the grandchildren. It was a huge undertaking, because there are eight grandchildren, and ten great grandchildren. Debbie did a wonderful job on those quilts, and they are something the grandchildren and great grandchildren will treasure forever, because the are from their grandparents clothing, and made with love for them by Debbie. It just doesn’t get any better than that. Today is Debbie’s birthday. Happy birthday Debbie!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
Every year, my mom’s family gets together to celebrate Christmas as a family. Of course, it isn’t on Christmas, but rather a couple of weeks ahead of Christmas. They get together to stay close to each other and to honor their parents’ wishes that they not drift apart. My mom, Collene Byer Spencer, like her sisters looked forward to that party every year. She planned the little gift that she would make for each of her sisters. She worked on them with great care, planning every detail, so they were just perfect for each of her siblings. There was always that special moment when the siblings would gather at one of the tables and exchange those precious little gifts that showed how much they loved each other. It was always such a sweet thing to watch. It was never about the gift they received, but about the love they all had for each other. I felt a sting of sadness, because Mom and Aunt Evelyn weren’t there at that precious moment of sisterly love. Nevertheless, I was happy for Aunt Virginia Beadle, Aunt Bonnie McDaniels, Aunt Dixie Richards, and Aunt Sandy Pattan, because they still had that precious time together.
As the years have passed, fewer and fewer of the siblings remain, and this year, we lost two more of the sisters, my mom and my aunt, Evelyn Byer Hushman. Everyone felt the sting of those new absences, and my aunts tried to console us and we them too, but it really didn’t do much good. We simply cried together, because we missed them so much. Sometimes, when we are caught up in our own grief, we can forget that there are others who loved our loved one too. I somehow hadn’t grasped that thought before, but while talking to my aunts, I realized that they are grieving as much as we are. These were their sisters, who they had known all of their lives, and they missed them too…very much.
This Byer Family Christmas Party was different in several ways, but it was also the same in many ways too. The same people that usually come, were mostly there this time too. These are the family members who have embraced Grandma and Grandpa’s dream of a continuing close family. These are the ones who have strived to keep the future generations of the family close too. We have a wonderful heritage in our family. Our grandparents left us a legacy of love. Those connections warm our hearts with every party or picnic. We are all busy, and seeing each other every day…other than on Facebook…is very hard to do, but these precious family gatherings will always keep the legacy of our grandparents alive.
As I walked around the room, talking to the different family members and taking too many pictures to possible show here, I could hear the echoes of those aunts and uncles who are in Heaven this year…Aunt Evelyn Hushman, Uncle Elmer and Aunt Deloris Johnson, Uncle Larry Byer, my mom and dad, Collene and Allen Spencer, and Uncle Jack McDaniels…and of course of Grandma and Grandpa Byer. It was as if they were there in spirit, celebrating the family with us. I could hear some of the things each one had said over the years. I was thankful that many of their family members were there at the party, because even though they are in Heaven now, we are all still part of this wonderful family, and we belong together celebrating this family and the legacy our precious grandparents left behind.
Christmas has become so commercialized that we stress for weeks and even months over what gift to buy this one or that one, not to mention all the planning for dinner and places we need to go. Christmas wasn’t always this commercialized, but it still could have been pretty stressful in days gone by. People didn’t necessarily run out and crazily shop all over town, but if money was tight, they tried their best to figure out a way to give a gift of some kind. Even if money was not tight, some people came up with ideas all year long…because some gifts take a little bit of time. Those are the homemade gifts, and usually some of the most awesome gifts a person will ever get. Some people think that a gift that is homemade isn’t as good as a gift that is store bought, but I say they are very wrong.
When my Great Uncle Dennis Dunahee, who always went by Burt, and his son, my cousin Raymon, decided to make Christmas gifts, they did it in grand style. The gifts they made reminded me of the kind of gifts you might see the people on “Little House on the Prairie” and “The Waltons” make. Were the Dunahee gifts homemade with love…absolutely!! Were they stunning…absolutely!! It occurs to me that there are a number of carpenters in the Spencer family who are capable of making beautiful furniture. It’s strange the things you never knew about your family. It turns out that one of this family’s best kept secrets is something quite beautiful indeed.
Christmas in times past was not only less focused on time spent in the mall, it was more focused on the true meaning of Christmas. It’s not that we don’t think about the real meaning of Christmas in today’s world, because we do, but sometimes it is easier to get distracted, by the rush to get our shopping done, gifts wrapped, and dinner planned. By the time the day arrives, we can easily be too exhausted to give thought to what this day is all about…the birth of our Saviour!! The reason we give gifts is to remind us of the greatest gift ever given, but in all our giving, we need to remember that the greatest gift ever given…Jesus, is far more important on this day that the gifts we give and receive. Today, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, and I pray that you take time to be thankful to God for the gift of His precious Son…Jesus!!
When my nephew, Barry was a little boy, I used to get such a kick out of watching him open presents. Whether it was his birthday or Christmas made no difference, because Barry got excited!! I know, most kids do, but the looks on Barry’s face were just classic, and when his eyes lit up with pure excitement, it was impossible not to smile. For Barry, the best gifts were always trucks, but that didn’t mean that all the rest weren’t super cool too. I suppose that he initially thought that gifts were going to happen every couple of weeks, since his birthday is just two weeks before Christmas. For a little kid, that second dose of presents in such a short time could make it seem like this was going to be the new normal.
Of course, as time went by, Barry understood how it all worked, but he still got as excited as any other kid when his special day came along, or when Christmas finally arrived. The one thing he decided that he didn’t like too much was having that birthday so close to Christmas. That put all the excitement of receiving gifts in one short little time frame and then left a whole year until he got gifts again. In a way, that was a disappointment to the rest of us too, because we didn’t get to see how excited he got for a whole year either.
I can’t say that Barry still gets so excited about gifts on his birthday or Christmas, after all, he is a grown man now. Maybe he just holds that excitement inside…like we all do at one time or another. And he doesn’t have that little baby face anymore or his little boys ways, and in many ways, I miss both of those things sometimes, because like all kids, Barry grew up too fast. He has grown into a wonderful man, who is always there to lend a helping hand. He is someone you can always count on when you need something done. He still likes his trucks and other toys, but these days they are just bigger and more expensive. Today is Barry’s birthday. Happy birthday Barry!! Have a great day, and try to contain your excitement, ok!! We love you!!
When Bob and I go on trips, we usually bring back something for the kids, and now grandkids. When the grandkids were little the gift we got them was often a t-shirt with a cute saying. Through the years, we have come up with some really funny shirts. Things like “When your parents are grouchy…Call 1-800-Grandma” and “If you think I’m cute, you should see my Grandpa” just to name a couple. At first the kids were too little to read, so it was their parents who got to laugh about what the t-shirts said, but later on, when they could read, they thought the shirts were funny.
With some t-shirts, like this one, we were actually surprised that her dad allowed her to wear, but then I guess he figured she was too little for it to matter. As for me, I simply couldn’t resist a t-shirt that said “Too Sexy for my Diaper” because it was such a funny spin off of the song, “Too Sexy for my Shirt.” It’s funny how as grandparents we see things so differently than we might have for our own kids. I don’t know how I would have felt about that shirt then, but I like to think I would have felt the same way had it been given to my girls.
It was so fun to bring home those silly little t-shirts for the kids. The grandma shirts were some of my favorites, and of course the too sexy shirt. My grandchildren are such a great blessing to me, and I can’t imagine life without them. I was so blessed with my girls, and then they blessed me with 4 beautiful grandchildren. They are a pleasure to be around, and they keep me young. In fact, I suppose you could say I’m having my second childhood. I don’t think I’m nearly as uptight with the grandkids as I was with my girls. Nope…we just look at things through different eyes, and I’m having the time of my life!!
In our family, turning 50 will get you one thing for sure…an Over The Hill party. Of course, that is our way of teasing that person about their age, especially those of us who have already been there. In fact, for us it is our way to get back at the ones who got us first. My sister, Allyn’s Over The Hill party was yesterday. We all had a great time. Allyn is the youngest of my 4 sisters, and so the last of our parents’ kids to hit this milestone. Now the grandchildren are starting to hit it too…and the next one of those hits it in 4 years. That’s kind of a bummer, because we like these parties. It’s always fun to pick on the poor new oldie, after all.
The gifts of choice, are always a big deal. Things like hugely over-sized playing cards, a cane (with a horn, magnifying glass, pill bottle, and dentures on a string), trophies, goofy hats, geezer glasses, and…well you get the idea. It’s all designed to make the newest oldie look as goofy as possible, and we are very good at making people look goofy, if I do say so myself.
All goofiness aside, what Over The Hill party would be complete without the trip down memory lane. Allyn’s family did a wonderful job putting together a 50th birthday collage of pictures from her past in the shape of 50, to commemorate the day. Everyone had a great time re-living the past. We couldn’t believe the changes in all of us. Allyn and Chris looked like babies when they got married, but then I guess we all did. Those old pictures sure give you a sense of who you are, and where you come from.
It’s all done in good fun, and Allyn was a great sport. I guess when it’s a family tradition, you get to where you expect this day to come, and almost look forward to it. Today is your day Allyn. You’re over the hill now, but as a card I saw said, now you have a great view!! Say goodbye to the 40’s, and hello to the 50’s. Happy birthday Allyn!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
The rush is over, the gifts given, dinner is over, and for most of us…it’s back to work. In many ways, that comes as a relief to me because there are just times that you need to go back to work to rest up. And some holidays are worse than others, some years worse than others. There are some times when you feel like everything went so smoothly that you wish the day would not end so quickly. Then, there are those when you think, “Are we done yet?” The headache won’t go away, and you are so tired you can’t walk another step. Holidays when you think to yourself, “Why am I doing this again? Oh, that’s right, It’s for the kids.” And that is really is true, I think…or is it still that kid inside us all.
Even if the actual holiday or even the days leading up to it are hectic, we still find ourselves excited for it’s arrival. The gifts have been bought, and it is our hope that the person we bought them for will be very excited about our choices. We have planned the meal and with our mouth watering, we anticipate meal time’s arrival. After the meal, we are almost…or maybe we just are…too tired to even think of the cleanup, and secretly we hope that someone else will clean it up for us…but of course, they don’t. There is no cleaning fairy to do it. It’s up to you.
We drag ourselves to bed that night and think, “I’ll clean up tomorrow.” Then tomorrow arrives, and we wish that we had cleaned up last night, because we don’t feel any more like doing it today than we did yesterday. In fact, the looming cleanup job makes us tired all over. So we head off to work and hope that with enough coffee, we can somehow find the energy to get the job done when we get home. I don’t know about you, but, that day after a holiday is one tough day to swallow, so I’m sure glad that I have lots of help with it these days, and that there is very little clean up left for that day after.
For most people, Christmas is a time of family, friends, and gifts. It’s about showing our loved ones how we feel about them. We gather together and make a big meal, open our gifts, laugh and talk, and in general, enjoy a day off, and all that is great, but sometimes we let ourselves get too caught up in all that, and we forget what Christmas really is about. This day is the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. So many people have politicized this. You aren’t supposed to say Merry Christmas even, because someone might be upset…it might offend them and their religion. But, the reality is that my faith has nothing to do with their religion. I believe in the God of Israel, Jehovah God, because I have seen His grace, mercy, and power at work in my life. It isn’t about my God is bigger than yours, it is about me and my family, and what He has done for us.
As a kid, growing up, I had heard of Christians being persecuted. I thought that must have been something that happened many years ago, because I never experienced anything like that…until the past few years. Suddenly, almost as if I just woke up one day, and found out that Christians and Jews are public enemy number 1. I didn’t change anything. I didn’t throw my faith in anyone’s face, but suddenly they are trying their best to force me out. That is something I just don’t understand. The Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and even the Atheists are allowed to display their symbols, just not people of Christian or Jewish faiths. I don’t understand that. Don’t we have freedom of religion here? Don’t we have the right to practice our faith as we see fit? It is still our Constitutional right…like it or not.
So, today, Christmas Day, I will not give in to political correctness, but I will use my Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion to practice my faith and celebrate Christmas both with my family and the giving and receiving of gifts, but more importantly with a grateful heart. Grateful to my wonderful God, who saw that I would need a Savior, Jesus, because the wages of sin is death and a price had to be paid. Jesus came to Earth, lived a sinless life, and paid that price on the cross, so that I could be saved and have eternal life. There was nothing I had to do but believe in Jesus as my Savior, and there was nothing I could do to get to Heaven on my own. The cross was enough. The debt was paid. How can I not celebrate Christmas, and how can I call it anything but Christmas? I simply can’t. It is not about politics, or whether or not others believe as I do. It is what I believe. Merry Christmas to All, and thank you Jesus, for coming to Earth to save us.