When a ship sinks, the first person to bring up an object from a wreck can claim legal ownership of the wreck under international maritime law. That gives that person the control of the wreck and control over salvage rights. Robert Ballard, one of the men who discovered the Titanic in 1985, had mixed feelings about disturbing the graves of those victims who are still there…a very noble man, if you ask me. Ballard’s partner, Jean-Lous Michel, agreed. They made the decision not to disturb the wreck, but rather to leave it in the pristine (for a wreck) condition that it was in. They didn’t bring up anything from the wreck.
Unfortunately, their act of decency and kindness, left a legal door open, and that has been the greatest source of regret for the two men. Because they chose to bring nothing up from the wreck, they could not claim legal ownership of Titanic. Unfortunately, that left the ship vulnerable, because anyone and everyone now had a legal right for salvage the contents, and even parts of the ship…and they did. The artifacts and ship parts were free for the taking…and they were big business, especially after the movies came out, and interest grew. Soon, Titanic Ventures went in to claim salvage rights, and began bringing up artifacts to sell for exhibits and souvenirs. Since then, they have made a fortune on exhibits all over the world.
Following the find, and subsequent decision not to remove an artifact, anyone with the ability to explore the ocean floor that deep, went in and raided the ship. I’m sure that many of us have seen the Titanic exhibits, me included, and even purchased one of the artifacts, me included, but in my defense, I did not know the thoughts and wishes of Ballard and Michel, or the thoughts and feelings of the families of the deceased, at that time. I looked at the exhibit as a learning tool. I love learning, and I love history, and in fact, one of my own ancestors died on the Titanic, which I suppose gave me as much right to see the exhibit as anyone, but I’m still not sure it is right to make money off of the horrific way others lost their lives.
I remember as I went through the exhibit, walking through the recreation of the steerage rooms, with the eerie sounds of the water on the outside, thinking of the people who had been trapped there on that fateful night. I remember looking at the piece of the hull, thinking that I was standing almost close enough to reach out and touch part of a ship that had been so far under the ocean. I have seen both versions of the Titanic movies, but while looking at the exhibit, it was the original movie that came to my mind. Titanic wasn’t really a love story. It was a loss story. It was a story of bravery, courage, and yes, love…the kind of love that made a wife refuse to leave her husband and parents to comfort their children, when all hope of survival was lost…holding in the tears of knowing that their children would never get to live their life to adulthood. When I think about all the lives that were lost on that fateful day, I can see how Ballard and Michel would want to leave the Titanic as it was, thereby preserving the graves of all those poor souls. While their idea was noble, it is sad that they didn’t bring at least one thing us so that their ownership and control could remain the gift they had planned to give the families.
My Aunt Virginia Beadle, my mom’s second to the oldest sister, was born in 1930 in the middle of the worst depression in United States history. Unemployment had increased from 1.3 million in October 1929 to 3.2 million by March 1930. Money was scarce, and people had to make due with what they had. Of course, like any parent knows, children don’t wait until you can afford them, and in those days people had large families. My Aunt Virginia was the second of nine children born to her parents, George and Hattie Byer. Like most families, the children can have very different features, while still looking very much like brothers and sisters. Such was the case for my aunts and uncles. They all looked different, and yet very much like siblings.
Some of my aunts were tall…or at least to me they were. Their dad, was over six feet tall, so it stands to reason that some of the girls would inherit his height, or at least a little of it. My mom was 5’6″ and some of her sisters were taller, but Aunt Virginia wasn’t one of those. She took after her mother in height. My grandmother was 5 feet tall in her tall days, and I would guess that Aunt Virginia was no more than 5’2″ tall. I think though, that the thing that always stood out to me about Aunt Virginia was her dark hair. I always felt like it must look like shining black silk. Some of my mom’s siblings were blondes and some brunettes…some even dark brunette, but I think Aunt Virginia’s hair was the darkest, and it gave her an exotic look in my mind.
These days, my Aunt Virginia is even smaller than she was before. When I saw her at the cemetery on Memorial Day, at my parents graves where she and her sister, my Aunt Sandy Pattan were coming to add their decorations to ours on my parents graves, it occurred to me just what a tiny woman she is. I am only 5’2″, but I felt so tall next to her. Still, there was enough love inside her to fill up a much bigger person than she was. The love overflows, Aunt Virginia, as it does all of my aunts and uncles. Maybe that is what makes them all seem so much alike. Today is my Aunt Virginia’s 86th birthday. Happy birthday Aunt Virginia!! Have a wonderful day!! We love you!!
Because of my broken shoulder, and the fact that I am still taking an average on one pain pill a day, I can’t drive. My boss, Jim Stengel has been picking me up for work every day, and since I am back to work all day, and I can’t drive, I decided to take a walk during lunch. The cemetery is near my office, and so was a logical choice for a destination. As I walked, I took pictures of a large number of graves, because I am a member of the Find A Grave site that sets up memorials for people who have passed away, so their loved ones can add the information to family trees. That part of my walk was something that made me feel like I had accomplished something good, but it was something that happened a little later in the walk that I found to be so sweet that I had to share it.
During my walk, I stopped by my parents’ graves. I took a picture there, just because I often do. Maybe it’s to keep them close in my memory. I can’t really say. Then I straightened some of the flowers we have on their graves, and when I looked down, I noticed a nickel on the base of the headstone. There was no doubt in my mind where that nickel came from, because my niece Jenny Spethman, and her husband Steve often bring their children by to visit the grave of their baby sister, Laila, which is close by my parents’ grave. They never fail to stop at their great grandparents’ grave too. They loved them so much.
In the five years since their sister’s passing, Jenny and Steve’s children have come to the grave often, and since it is so close, they visit my parents’ graves too. During that time, I have seen so many gifts they have left for their great grandparents, whom they loved very much. They have left rocks, toy guns, cars, and now a nickel. There were many others too. They give the best of themselves. The things that mean the most to them, are the things that they want to share with their great grandparents. Our is a close family, and the great grandchildren were very close with their great grandparents. Loss is hard on everyone, but for the little kids, it is so much to accept. They often don’t exactly understand what happened…even when they know what death is, they still wonder when their loved one is coming home. Eventually they learn, especially when death becomes such a glaring reality, like the passing of their baby sister. Still, in their trusting heart, they know that their God has their loved ones, safe in His loving arms. To leave a gift on the headstone is another form of trust. They trust that God will tell their loved on about the gift they left, and about the love they feel for their loved one…forever.
Some would call that childlike innocence, believing in fairy tales, or even a child’s imagination, but I say that it is the faith of a child…unmarred by so many years of being told that God doesn’t do much in this day and age, that miracles are a thing of the past, or that we are on our own here. They are so close to God, that the world hasn’t had time to muddy the waters of their faith. They simply believe that their loving God cares about every little thing in their life, including the gift they wanted to give their great grandparents. Their faith is not spoiled by this world. They simply know that their God will tell their loved on that they love them…always and forever. That is the faith of a child, and it was so sweet for me to see. And all it took was a nickel left on a headstone.
My Uncle Jim Richards has always been a soft spoken man. To me he always seemed shy, and maybe he is, but over the last year, have come across information that has made me realize that while he might have been shy, he was also a very strong man…a man of deep convictions, who valued has family and took care of them when they needed it the most. I can’t imagine growing up without my dad, and yet when Uncle Jim’s dad died, an eight year old Uncle Jim stepped up to the plate, and did his very best to fill the shoes his dad had left behind. I’m sure that at first the whole head of the household thing seemed almost cute to his mom, but as the years went on, and he continued to show a leadership ability far beyond his years, his mother learned to depend on this son who was the man of the house before he was even old enough to be a man. He proved himself to be the person everyone could count on.
Just a year before his dad’s passing, while the nation was in the middle of World War II, Uncle Jim found himself the younger brother of a war hero who had been killed in action while storming the beaches of Normandy, France…his brother, Dale Richards. There was not much that a young boy of seven years could do to ease the pain his parents felt, and there was not enough money to bring his brother home, so he was buried in Normandy along with many other war dead. I can’t imagine the pain that must have inflicted on the family, and how one seven year old boy felt helpless to stop the hurting that had come upon his family. Then to add to the pain, his dad passed away just one year later. The sadness must have been overwhelming for them. I think too, that it probably shaped Uncle Jim’s life into the kind of life it was…one of close family ties, and helping each other whenever possible.
I don’t know if Uncle Jim will ever be able to go over to France and visit the grave of his war hero brother, but after hearing about the facts surrounding the loss of his brother, I set out to find out what I could. I didn’t have very much to go on…just his name, but before long, with the help of Aunt Sandy Pattan, Ancestry.com and Findagrave.com, I found what I was looking for…the location of the grave of Dale Richards, and even better, a picture of his grave. At the family Christmas party, I was able to give that picture to Uncle Jim. It was an emotional moment for his whole family, and I was so happy to be able to give him that gift, because he was such a sweet man who had done so much for so many others, asking nothing for himself. The picture will never replace the loss of his brother and dad all those years ago, but for the man that had become my uncle, I hope it was a comfort, because his brother’s grave is in a beautiful, well kept honorable place, and I’m sure that is just what Uncle Jim would want for his brother.
Uncle Jim will always be a quiet, soft spoken man, who carries a big load on his shoulders. It’s not that his life these days is so hard, but rather that he is the family patriarch…a lot like my dad was. The family looks to him for leadership, guidance, and emotional support. When things go wrong, he shows them the way to go, and when all is well, they all share in the joy of it together. Today is a day of joy. Today is Uncle Jim’s birthday. Happy birthday Uncle Jim!! Have a wonderful day!! We love you!!
I am always surprised somehow, when a side of the family tree takes an unexpected turn. I remember years ago, talking to Bob’s grandma, Vina Leary Schulenberg Hein about her family. She had never mentioned her mother much, but I knew that she loved her dad, Chester Marion Leary and her brother, Kirby Leary very much. The events of our past can shape our views of people…sometimes forever. The reasons people do things are not always clear, and sometimes may never be known. That said, Grandma told me that her mother had left when she was a young girl. That meant that her life changed overnight. Childhood was over to a degree, because she had to help out around the house. Her dad loved her and her brother very much, and did his very best for them.
I suppose that because I was asking her about her mom, she didn’t exactly go into detail about what happened afterward. While looking through Ancestry, yesterday, I clicked on a hit for Chester Leary that took me to FindAGrave.com. I didn’t have a picture of Chester’s grave yet, so I wanted to get that. As I looked at his memorial, some of which I had seen before, because I had added the picture of him, I glanced to the relationship information, and saw that there was a child listed there that did not match what I knew of the family. I clicked on the link for Ruth Leary Dilley, and it stated that indeed Chester was her father, but her mother was Marie, not Viola, who I knew to be Chester’s wife.
Well, of course, after Viola left Chester, he did remarry. I wondered why that was not mentioned when I spoke to Grandma Hein all those years ago. Since Grandma was listed as one of Ruth’s sisters, they must have had a relationship. It was so strange to me. I suppose that Grandma thought that all I was interested in was what happened to her mother, which wasn’t exactly right, but maybe the whole situation with her mother was still a touchy area, and she didn’t think about the woman, Marie Behrendt who had become her step mother. Marie was quite a bit younger than Chester…seventeen years, in fact…so Grandma Hein was fourteen years of age when they married, and Marie was only six years older that she was, so maybe she didn’t really feel like a mother to her, and maybe not even a friend really. Nevertheless, the half sisters who were born to that second marriage certainly felt like Grandma Hein was their sister, since they listed her as Ruth’s sister. Grandma Hein was just seventeen years old when she married her first husband, Bob’s grandfather, Andrew Schulenberg, so it could be that she wasn’t really around her dad’s new wife long enough to feel like she was her mother either.
Whatever the reason, I certainly did not know about the twist the family history was about to take. Of course, I know that marriages fail and people remarry, but it just seems odd that when asked about her side of the family, Grandma Hein mentioned only the things that she had felt so negative about, and not the aftermath. I have found some of the Dilley children, and plan to attempt to contact them to see what they know of things. Once again, time will tell as to whether or not I am able to learn much more about this step grandmother and half aunts that we have through my husband, Bob’s grandmother’s family. Once again, the story continues to evolve.
After my story a couple of days ago, on logging in the old days, my cousin, Elmer told me a story that our grandma told him years ago. I didn’t know that some of my mom’s family was also in logging. They were loggers in Cascade, Idaho, which is a beautiful area. In figuring the time frame, I would expect that my Great Uncle Herman was a logger in the 1940’s or so. Logging may be something that can be done year round these days, but back then it was more a seasonal thing, and required that the men who worked there find other work in the off season.
According to the Grandma, who is Great Uncle Herman’s sister, he had been hired to dig graves in the off season. The ground there is rocky, and in the winter, the ground gets frozen and really hard. Digging graves under those conditions would be quite difficult. Uncle Herman’s boss told him to use a little bit of dynamite to loosen the soil a little bit. I don’t think my uncle had ever been around dynamite much…nor have I, but Elmer figured that a quarter of a stick would have been enough. He didn’t know for sure how much dynamite Uncle Herman used, but apparently the resulting hole was big enough to bury half of the townspeople. The good news was that somehow he didn’t hit any graves in the area, because no body parts were unearthed…thankfully, because I can’t imagine what a scene like that would do to a person.
The pictures that immediately came to my mind when I heard this story is the look that must have appeared on my uncle’s face when he saw what the dynamite had done. I also thought about the noise the blast made, and the fact that this mistake was not going to be able to be kept to himself. Not only would his boss know about it, but the whole town was going to know about it. Of course, Uncle Herman lost his job that day, and went on to do other off season work…probably a lot less exciting, but maybe less dangerous for everyone concerned. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that every time that incident came up in Uncle Herman’s mind or in the conversation that was going on, he couldn’t help but laugh at the very absurdity of the situation. I know Elmer and I have laughed about it repeatedly since we heard the story.