holidays

Dad and MomMom & Dad on ChristmasMy sisters, Cheryl Masterson, Caryl Reed, Alena Stevens, Allyn Hadlock, and I were group texting yesterday, as we often do. It gives us the chance to be together, without needing to be in the same room. We love those conversations, because we can laugh with, and at, each other, in good fun, of course. It also gives us a chance to share ideas on everything from our faith to politics, and be thankful that we all agree on both. We keep each other informed if we are traveling, just like we did our parents, when they were here on Earth. Those texts are part of what keeps us close. We all work and Caryl lives in Rawlins, while the rest of us are in Casper, so our lives are busy, and we can’t always get together on a regular basis. Texting, especially has become a great way for us to connect, and we all love it, because we love each other very much and always will.

Our family has always been a close one, and our parents, Allen and Collene Spencer instilled values in us about faith, right and wrong, and family. They are values that we will never allow to fade from our lives. Mom has been in Heaven now for almost two years, and Dad for almost nine years, and yet we can still hear their voices in our heads guiding us in love. They taught us to laugh, and not to be upset when we were the one being laughed at, because it’s better to laugh with those who are laughing at you, than to get upset about it. And in the end, you usually have to agree that it was pretty funny anyway. We were taught that laughing at yourself is a good thing, and while we may not always have practiced that, we have learned that it is a true statement. Sometimes the worst thing we can do is to take ourselves too seriously. Laughing at ourselves helps us to remember to put humor in our lives too.

Around the holidays, however, our conversations often turn to our parents, and how much we miss them. Such was the case with our conversation yesterday. My sister, Alena saw an old friend of our parents, and wanted to tell Mom that she had seen him…then reality set in. I mentioned a story I had written about a piece of family history I had found, and how I couldn’t wait to tell Mom…then reality set in. My sister, Cheryl had received a catalog, and saw a glittery top that Mom would have loved, and thought it would make a great Christmas present for Mom…then reality set in. My sister, Allyn has taken Mom Christmas shopping for a number of years, and the thought came to her that she should ask when Mom wanted to go…then reality set in. The conversation Spencer Familycontinued with each of us mentioning times that we instinctively thought of calling Mom and Dad, asking them something, taking them somewhere, or just how much they would love something, only to have reality set in again. All we have now are the sweetest memories of the greatest parents on Earth. We can see them in all the places they were…the house, church, our homes, the drives they loved to take, the front porch where they loved to sit and enjoy the day, camping in the Black Hills, and picnics on Casper Mountain…all the places they loved. All the places where their echo still exists and their memory still lingers. Reality always sets in, and we know they are gone, but they will always live on in our hearts and minds, and they are in our future now, not our past.

Walt & Joann weddingWhen Bob’s aunt, Margee Kountz was born, her oldest sister, my mother-in-law, Joann was dating and planning her wedding to my father-in-law, Walter Schulenberg. He was working in another town, and so they wrote letters back and forth, because they didn’t get to see each other as often as they would like. Of course, they talked about the normal things, like missing each other, and such, but they also talked about the future, and what they wanted it to be.

One thing that has stuck in my mind about those letters, is how my father-in-law felt about his soon to be sister-in-law, Margee. She would only be 4½ months old when they married, and he just thought she was the cutest little baby he had ever seen. He mentioned several times in the letters they wrote back and forth, that when they had a little girl, he wanted his Margeedaughter to be just like Margee. He simply loved his little future sister-in-law so much, that he would have loved to have a dozen or so of them. In the end, he didn’t have a dozen daughters, but he did get four of them, as well as two sons, so I guess his dream of lots of kids, and especially daughters, came true.

Through the years, Margee remained a big part of their lives. She has pretty much always lived near them, and has shared a good portion of their lives. Holidays, birthdays, and barbeques were among the things the families shared, and of course, these always included Grandma and Grandpa Knox, the sister’s parents too. It was the way they kept the families close, and it was a good thing for all of us.

As the years flew by and everyone got busy with their own lives, it might have seemed that we didn’t spend as much time with Margee as we used to, but when we needed her, she was there. She worked for most of her Mom and Margeeadult life, but when her sister, Joann, my mother-in-law, having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, began to need someone to stay with her when my father-in-law had appointments, we might have had a big problem, but Margee, by that time retired, agreed to come and sit with her sister. I truly don’t know what we would have done had she not been able to do that. There were times when my father-in-law was in the hospital, and we all worked. There was no way to just find someone to take a week off to go and stay with her, but once again, Margee stepped in and bailed us out. She spent the days, and we took care of the nights. I hope she knows just what a relief that was to us. It was a debt we can never repay. Today is Margee’s birthday. Happy birthday Margee!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Corrie & KevinWhen a child goes away to college, there are so many emotions that both the parents and the child feel. The child goes through homesickness, and the parents are trying really hard to adjust to this new independence that their child suddenly has. Those things are really hard, but I think that the hardest thing to deal with is that empty room in the house, that empty place at the table, and that missing face and voice that they are so used to. The first month is probably the hardest, but don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that it gets easier, because it doesn’t, at least not for a long time. Eventually almost all kids grow up get married and move out, so it is something that you have to get used to, because anything else is not normal. But when they are fresh out of high school, and in their first year of college, all you can think about is the next time they will get to come home.

With the Christmas season upon us, having my grandson Chris home from college is very much on our minds. I am reminded of that old song, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” which is a kind of sad song, because the person in that song doesn’t really get to come home for Christmas…except in their dreams. I know that lots of families have loved ones who aren’t able to come home for the holidays, and I find that very sad. I know that life takes people in different directions, and sometimes that means holidays away from family, but I like spending the holidays with my family the best. Which brings me to the fact that as of today, Chris is home for Christmas!! We are all very excited to have him home, and very excited about the fact that he will be here for a little over a month. That is one nice thing about college…long Christmas breaks.

Oh, I know that all too soon, January 20th will arrive, and he will be heading back to Sheridan for his next semester. And we will be looking forward to every weekend he can come home, and most especially to summer Chris senior picturebreak. Having a kid away at college is hard, as is having any loved one who lives away from home. Nevertheless, it is a fact of life, and one we will live through. No one knows where the future will take each person, and the main thing is that they remember the way home, because there are those who miss them and love them very much.

For today, and this year at this time of year, I am thankful that Chris is home and we will all be together. I can’t think of anything that is more important to me than my family, and I love spending time with them, so the holidays are extra special. Family is such a blessing. I thank God for each and every one of them, and I am so glad that we have everyone, and especially this year, Chris, home for Christmas.

Andrea Renae Beach editedWhen my niece, Andrea was a little girl, she was so cheerful. She loved to laugh and joke. She loved it when her grandparents and other family members came to visit her family in Washington. She would always get so excited when company was there. When my sisters and I went to visit Caryl and her family one year, when Warren, Andrea’s dad was on sea duty in the Navy, the house became wall to wall beds, and Andrea was so excited to come out in the mornings and greet everyone. The day seemed perfect to her, because there were so many aunts in the house. I suppose having a lot of aunts in your house at one time might mean lots of attention, and really, what kid doesn’t want lots of attention. And what better kind of attention is there than the special attention of having four aunts in your house at one time. Of course, Andrea did have to go to school for part of that visit, but she did get to spend a lot of time with us. We all had such a good time.

It was always hard for Andrea when family had to leave to go home. She didn’t get to see any of us much, and that was really hard. Of course, we knew how she felt, because we felt the same way every time Andrea’s family had to go home after a visit. It is a tearing situation. Loving family members from afar creates a lonely kind of a feeling. Holidays are smaller affairs, because you live too far away to be there with the rest of the family very much. That was hard for Andrea, because she heard about all the fun the rest of the cousins had at the big gatherings. Of course, she knew that it could not be helped, and that her family loves her, but it is still hard for a little girl to understand why they can’t come for Christmas every year. Still, her parents made their holidays fun too, and made their own traditions. That’s how it works when you live far away from family. And those traditions are just as fun as the ones the rest of the family has, just different…just your own.

I think living far away from family, can often bring you very close to your siblings. Andrea and Andrea & Topherher younger brother, Allen have always been good friends. Oh they had their little tiffs, just like any other siblings, but they grew close over the years. With Allen in the Navy and stationed in Japan now, I’m sure that Andrea feels a twinge of loneliness whenever her brother comes to mind, but she will always know that no matter how far apart they are, he will always be her brother, and he will always love her. New traditions are always a part of life, and now with her son, Topher to think about, I’m sure Andrea is making her own traditions to build memories for him. Today is Andrea’s birthday. Though she is still a ways away I hope that she knows that we are thinking of her today and hoping it is a great day. Happy birthday Andrea!! We love you!!

AleesiaOur family has always been very close. We spend holidays together, birthdays together, go to church together, and often just get together, so it is not surprising that we have had several of the kids over the years who, as cousins, are also friends. My daughter, Amy was always good friends with Cheryl’s daughter, Jenny. Cheryl’s daughter Liz spends time with Allyn’s daughters, Jessi, Lindsay, and Kellie. Allyn’s daughter, Lindsay has always been good friends with Alena’s daughter, Michelle, and Allyn’s daughter Kellie has always been good friends with Alena’s son, Garrett.

As the kids grew up, got married, and had kids of their own, the trend continued. Alena’s daughter, Lacey was very close friends with Cheryl’s granddaughter Siara, and Cheryl’s granddaughter, Christina has always been good friends with my granddaughter, Shai. That is just the way our family has always been, and probably always will be. It certainly isn’t a bad thing to be friends with your cousins. My sisters and I have been friends with all our cousins at one time or another, hanging out with some of them more than we did our friends sometimes. I can’t imagine not knowing my cousins well, and I think every other person in our family would feel the same way I do.
Aurora
Last night, we were at one of those get togethers at my sister Allyn’s house, and everyone was having a great time. It was a time to share thoughts about the past and catch up on everyone’s lives. Allyn’s daughter, Lindsay was in town on one of her last visits before she moves to Florida, so it was a special time to visit with her. We got to look at her wedding pictures, and talk about her plans for her new life down in the Miami area, where her new husband, Shannon is a coach at Florida International University in Miami. We will miss them very much when they move, but it is the best thing for them, as this job is such a great opportunity.

As I was sitting there, watching the whole scene and listening to the stories, I began to notice something taking place that had nothing to do with the adults at the party. There at the coffee table in front of my chair, was Allyn’s granddaughter Aurora, and Cheryl’s granddaughter, Aleesia, having a little connection of their own. They were drinking out of their sippy cups, and Aurora pointed to the coffee table so that Aleesia would set her cup down beside Aurora’s cup. Then, as often happens, Aleesia picked up Aurora’s cup and took a drink. Aurora didn’t get upset at all. Then Aleesia gave it back and they both picked up their cups and wandered of into the kitchen for a cookie. A few minutes later they were back…still together, and they Cousin Friendsdecided to look at the movies Allyn had. They were showing us which ones they liked, and pronouncing the names…which came out funny sounding. Aurora even made the face that is on one of the movies.

It occurred to me that while it was pretty early in their lives, and things could change, doubtful as that may be, these two little girls were lining right up with the rest of the family. They enjoyed each other’s company. They liked to do the same things. They were well able to share with each other. Yes…it became very clear to me that I was looking at cousin friends…the next generation.

Brenda by the Christmas treeAs I was helping my sister-in-law, Brenda and my daughter, Corrie with some projects around Brenda’s house today, we started talking about Christmas Eve, which is always held at Brenda’s house. The talk was really about planning for the upcoming holiday, but my thoughts drifted back to Christmas Eve celebrations, as well as other holiday celebrations, of years gone by. This is a year of firsts for our family. Since my father-in-law’s passing on May 5th, we are facing the first Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and every other holiday without his presence. My mother-in-law is still with us, but with Alzheimer’s Disease, she cannot live alone, so she is in a nursing home. She is quite happy there, but since she hasn’t walked since March, bringing her over to celebrate with us is just not feasible. She doesn’t know what day it is anyway, so she doesn’t miss the holidays. The sad thing about our situation is that with her in the nursing home, and my father-in-law in Barbeque at Brenda'sHeaven, we are almost going through that year of firsts with both of them at the same time.

As I took the trash out when we were finished with our project, I looked at Brenda’s patio, which had often been the place for family barbeques in the summertime, the sad and lonely feeling that had been there throughout our conversation, persisted. Anyone who has lost a parent understands quite well just how hard that year of firsts is. The traditions that had been a part of life for so long that they were taken for granted, must now be completely re-worked to reflect the changed family unit, and no matter what you do, there is always and will always be a hole in them…that empty place that belongs to that loved one who is now gone. Yes, you move on and make new traditions, be they never really feel quite right, somehow. You keep thinking that maybe next year it will feel normal, or at least not feel like something is missing, Mom & Dad Schulenberg_editedbut it just doesn’t. The subsequent years of holidays are joyous, just like before, but with a little hint of loneliness, that never goes away.

As a look at the old pictures of holidays from years gone by, I can’t help but shed a tear, because those days are gone forever. I think one of the hardest things about the circle of life is the changing face of tradition. I love tradition…families gathering to celebrate holidays in the way that their families did, and the way their children’s families probably will. Unfortunately, change is inevitable, and traditions will change…as loved ones pass, children marry, and babies arrive, but some changes feel good, while others feel forced…and laden with a hint of loneliness.

93Kevin & Corrie - first promCan a house feel lonely? Well, maybe not the house itself exactly, but it really can take on that feel after the loss of a loved one, and the moving of the other to a nursing home. We have been preparing my in-laws’ house for the sale to my nephew, JD, and the more things that get removed from the house; the more lonely it feels there. When I think back to all the wonderful times we have had in the 24 years that my in-laws lived there, it feels like the house took on their personalities to a large degree. That is the way it goes, when you own a home. You pour your own style into it, and it becomes almost an extension of you.

All the good times and the sad times that went on during the years they lived in the house, keep coming to the top of my memory files. I reme
mber the sadness we felt when Marlyce passed away, and the excitement as each new baby came into the family. Gone are the times when the kids would come by before a dance or to trick or treat on Halloween. Gone is the noise that was always in the house…the television that was 99always on and turned up loud so my father-in-law could hear it, the laughter and chatter from all the visitors they always seemed to have, and even the rumbling of the oxygen concentrator that was a mainstay in the home for many years. Gone are the birthday parties, holidays, and family get togethers. All are gone from the home now, and it is quiet…too quiet really. That is an amazing thought, since they lived on one of the busiest streets in Casper.

It’s funny, how much my mother-in-law hated the noise of the street, and yet loved the flurry of activity that always accompanied that traffic noise. Everyone stopped what they were doing when an emergency vehicle went by, and grumbled at the loud motorcycles and vehicles when they roared by. Toward the end of their time there, it was all that traffic that gave them something to look at and wonder about. Their chairs were set up so they could look out the big front window and see the hubbub of activity going on, because whether they ever admitted it or not, they liked all of it…except maybe the noise in the summer when the doors and windows were open.

I’m glad my nephew is going to buy the home, so it stays in the family, and I’m glad for the home that it will once again have someone living in it…someone who will remember the scan0266scan0057good times that we all had there for so many years. Oh I know that JD will change the house, add things,  and make it his own…that is inevitable, but to us and him, it will simply always be remembered as his grandma and grandpa’s house…at least somewhere in his memory files…and that makes it all feel better somehow. A house needs to be lived in. That is its whole purpose for existence, and when it isn’t lived in, it is simply a house…so lonely.

Josh helpingI finally got my Christmas decorations and my tree down today. My grandson, Josh came to help me. Some years are just like that. I love the holidays, but like many people I know, the un-decorating is…well, not so much fun. This year was messed up, because we had to put my mother-in-law in the hospital and then a nursing home on the weekend I would have taken down the tree. After that, there just never seemed to be a good time. We were either visiting her, or visiting and taking care of my father-in-law. Of course, there were a few moments mixed in there that might have been used for taking the decorations down, but we were just too tired to think about it.

This year reminded me of another year when I just couldn’t get to the task of taking down Pho4C9Bthe Christmas decorations. We were living out in the country then, and bowling every night of the week. We weren’t home very much, or as my sister, Alena would say, we weren’t country people…we were city people who slept in the country. And she would be right. We took a change of clothes and came home after bowling. Needless to say, it made taking our Christmas decorations down, a little difficult.

Our daughter and future son-in-law, Kevin had been dating a while by then, so Kevin felt comfortable teasing me about the Christmas tree that was still up in March, and I guess I deserved that one, because I suppose I should have found a way to get it down, but time just got away from me. Before I knew it, March had  arrived.  Then, the girls  and Kevin had decided  to take matters into their own hands.PhoB256

We were coming home from bowling one night, and when we pulled up, Kevin’s car was there too. He wasn’t usually there when we got home, so we wondered what was up. When we walked in to door, here were the three kids, taking down our Christmas decoration, and having a good time laughing about the fact that it had come to this. Needless to say, I was quite embarrassed, by their teasing, and vowed never to let that happen again. It isn’t March yet, so I guess I’m ok, but I’m sure that the kids have had a laugh or two this year too, because as we all know, the holidays really are over.

During the holidays, my thoughts often turn to our military men and women who will likely spend their holidays far from home, whether they are in a war zone or not. I was never in the military, but my dad was, as were and in some cases, still are, brothers-in-law, nephews, and cousins. It is such a lonely feeling to think of being so far away from loved ones during the holidays, and it isn’t just about the festivities. For many spouses, and even children, it is about hoping that everything is under control back home. Worrying about things being broken down, needing maintenance, or even if there is someone to help with decorating for the holidays, are all things that are on the minds of our military men and women all the time, and especially during the holidays.

My dad was not married at the time he served in the military during World War II, but he and his brother and sisters had always played a big part in the running of the family farm, while their dad was away working on the railroad. I was reading the letters he wrote home in the days leading up to and including Christmas of 1943. Dad was always such a caring person, and he especially struggled with the idea of his mom and younger sister trying to run the farm by themselves. In Dad’s letter he expresses his concern, and then asks his brother to rent a house in town for the girls. Dad was also always concerned that they might not have enough money. He rarely spent much money on himself, saying that he didn’t really need much. That way, he could send more money home. He told his mom to use any or all of the money he sent home to save for when he got out, saying that he could always make more, and their needs were more important than a savings account.

Dad’s letters to his mom and siblings have been a treasured window into the person my dad was. He was a deeply caring man, who always took care of those he loved. Like so many other military men and women, he wished he could be home for the holidays, but he understood that he was doing something very important. He was fighting for freedom for our nation, and the nations around us who couldn’t fight for themselves. Dad’s sacrifice and the sacrifices of so many other military men and women have made so many freedoms possible, and yet, they themselves lose so much. It is something that we don’t always think about, and something I want to commend today.

As the holidays arrive, my thoughts turn to my dad. It is so hard to celebrate the holidays without him, because he enjoyed them so much. Having all, or at least most, of his family together was one of the highlights of his life. Dad was all about family. If we didn’t come over for a week or so, and we were in town, he would tell us that we needed to come for lunch. He didn’t want to let time go by without sharing those moments, lunches, talks…time with his kids. The years go by so fast, and Dad understood that. He knew that the older we got, the busier we would be, and the harder it would be to get together. Whenever I think that I am too tired or busy to go and spend time with my mom and my sister, or my in-laws, I remind myself that time flies and regret lasts for the rest of your life.

Sometimes, we fool ourselves into thinking that there is plenty of time to go see those important people in our lives, and then before we know it, they are gone and we wish we had gone to see them more. I am so thankful that I spent so much of my dad’s last 2 years taking care of him, because, while nothing makes his home going easy, it did make it less filled with regret. For any of you who have lost loved ones, especially during the holidays, such as my niece and nephew, Jenny and Steve whose daughter Laila passed away 2 years ago tomorrow, you know that you always wish something could have been done differently to change the outcome, but what is done is done, and it cannot be undone. And for those like my niece Chantel and her family, and my sister-in-law, Debbie and my brother-in-law, Lynn and their family, whose loss was not near the holidays, but devastating nevertheless, you know that, though the years have passed, the sadness still returns from time to time. You cannot dwell too long on the past, because now it is your difficult task to go on…because you must, for the rest of your family.

Today I am sad because of the losses we have endured, and tomorrow we will be thankful that we had those loved ones in our lives…even if it was for too short a time. We will be thankful for who they were, and what their life meant to us, and for the joy they brought into our lives. And we will be thankful that we will see them again soon…and for all eternity.

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