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12072826_10206482356716597_9173719914773473680_n11147851_10206482351516467_8264778001766904420_nOn October 11, 2015, a wildfire devastated a large area north of Casper, including the area where my nephew, Barry Schulenberg and his wife, Kelli live. While their house was not one that was damaged, they did not escape unscathed. They lost a shed with some lawn equipment in it, fifteen or more trees, a flatbed trailer, and about eight cords of wood, which was enough to heat their home for the coming winter, just to name a few of the things. While insurance will reimburse them for some of the loss, it will not cover all of it, nor will it even begin to reimburse them for the many hours spent cutting all that wood the first time. And the hardest thing to get back…peace of mind.

People would call them lucky, that so much of their property was spared, but I don’t really think anyone who lost anything in that fire, that took 10,000 acres, 12 homes, a number of animals, and several other structures, considers themselves lucky…except that they made it out alive. I still don’t consider that luck. I believe it was the prayers of the people of Casper and others around the nation that kept the loss to the relative minimum that it ended up being, compared to other large fires.Helping Hands 1Helping Hands 6

In the aftermath, many people have donated money and other needed items to those who suffered loss that dreadful day, and many will continue to do so. There is no way for me to talk about them all, but they know how much the people who they have helped appreciated it. Help after a loss never goes unnoticed. It is a show of love, kindness, and compassion that can never be repaid. People helping people…the giving spirit. It is what people do for those in need.

As for Barry and Kelli Schulenberg, a special family and friends benefit took place yesterday, when a dozen people converged on my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Ron and Rachel Schulenberg’s place, where thankfully, Barry and Kelli still had some wood, waiting to be cut. Those dozen people spent most of the day cutting, loading, and unloading the ten cords of wood, that now sits where the first eight cords had been at Barry and Kelli’s place. I know that they already feel much better about the coming winter, because without all that wood, it would have been a much more expensive winter in the heating department.

Helping Hands 5Helping Hands 4The things that Barry, Kelli, and the other fire victims lost in the fire will at least partially be replaced, but the thing you can’t put a value on is the helping hands of the people who stepped up to help you rebuild your life. The fire victims lost a lot of things, but things can be replaced. Nevertheless, cleanup, replanting, re-cutting of wood, and so many other things that had to be done after a fire, take time and effort. I have to give a lot of credit to anyone who helped to put the lives of the fire victims back together. The kindness of those helping hands was a blessing that will never be forgotten.

Aunt Evelyn HushmanMy mother’s is a large family. There were nine children, and with each new marriage and birth, it grows larger still. At this point, I’m sure the family is well over 300, and all from my grandparents, George and Hattie Byer, but with them, it all started with my Aunt Evelyn. She was their first baby. She was the one who informed my grandmother, when she was asked to go get her daddy, that “You must say Uncle Daddy!” She was the first of the social butterflies in their family, having a circle of friends who did lots of activities, and I’m sure that the younger kids wished they could do that too, but by the time they were of age, things like that weren’t done so much anymore. Fads like that come and go, and unfortunately for the little ones who would have loved to be a part of it, but they just don’t get to. Yes, Aunt Evelyn was the first of her siblings, and that gave her some seniority in the whole getting things by ages thing, but to me, she was just my aunt.

Because of the fact that my mom and Aunt Evelyn had children about the same age, they got together quite a bit. Aunt Evelyn, her husband, my Uncle George Hushman, and my parents went to the military ball together, the fireman’s ball together, and they bowled together. They double dated when my mom and dad were dating, and they spent time at each other’s houses. Because they did, my Aunt Evelyn’s kids, my cousins Susie, George, Shelley, Shannon, and Greg, were some of the best friends my sisters and I had as little kids, and we remain friends to this day, even if we don’t get to see each other as much as we used to.

As kids, we loved going to Aunt Evelyn’s house. She lived right next to the Mills Volunteer Fire Department, and I can’t count the number of times that we were there when the fire alarm went off. I will never forget how loud Uncle George, Aunt Evelyn, Mom, & Dad at the Military Ballit was, nor how loud the fire trucks were when they went screaming out those big doors. Not every kid had the opportunity to live right next to that, or even to visit someone who does. It was quite interesting.

Many was the time when we went to Aunt Evelyn’s house and played hide and seek, or went down to the school to play on all the playground equipment there. There was never a dull moment when we went to Aunt Evelyn’s house. Of course, I’m sure that her kids always thought it more fun to come to our house, but that would just have to be their memory.

We lost Aunt Evelyn on May 4, 2015, and I still find it hard to believe that she is gone. Today, she would have been 87 years old. Happy birthday in Heaven, Aunt Evelyn. We love and miss you very much, and can’t wait to see you again.

is[4]When my niece, Susan Cook Griffith met her husband Josh Griffith, she knew he was special. Susan was a single mom to her daughter, Jala and the two of them were living in a little two bedroom house. After dating a while Susan knew Josh was the one. It was February 13th, and Susan was ready to take their relationship to the next level. Josh was over at her house, and her parents dropped by with a card and a box of chocolates for them. She had just put her daughter, Jala to bed. Susan had made up her mind that if Josh didn’t propose on Valentine’s Day she was going to. I’m not sure how she felt about popping the question, but sometimes a girl just has to take matters into her own hands.

Back then, camera phones were a new thing, and Josh had one, so Susan was always asking him to let her look at his pictures. She didn’t even have a digital camera yet, so looking at pictures taken only moments before was a real novelty. Josh teasingly told her that if she got him a chocolate, she could look at the phone, but she said that if he showed her the phone, she would get him a chocolate. Susan won out. I think he planned it that Susan & Josh Weddingway, or at least planned for the possibility. He handed her the phone. The first picture Susan saw was an open box of chocolates, but the box of chocolates held a secret. One chocolate was missing, and in it’s place, was a ring. Susan jumped up and ran to the kitchen where the box of chocolates was and opened it up. She stared at the ring, then turned around to find Josh right behind her on one knee. He asked her to marry him and, of course, she said yes. It was such a simple way to propose, but it was as romantic as it could possibly be. Susan knew that she was getting quite a romantic man to be her husband, and that life was going to be beautiful. Later, she found out that Josh had gone to her parents house and asked her dad for his daughter’s hand in marriage. It was there that the plan was devised…the chocolates, the ring, the picture, and the plan. He had thought about having her daughter, Jala bring her the ring, but then, he decided against that. While that way would have been very sweet…I think his way was more romantic.

They knew they would need a bigger house, so they bought one in October of that year, and were married in June. Josh wanted to make sure that Jala knew that he wasn’t just marrying her mom, but that he was choosing her to be his daughter too. They had a special part of the wedding ceremony for 3 year old Jala so that it showed everyone of his intentions toward both his new wife and his new daughter. Josh makes sure that Susan, Josh, Jala, and Kaytlynthey include Jala in everything, and in 2008, Josh and Susan gave, then 6 year Jala, a little sister named Kaytlyn. For Josh, both are his daughters. It’s just the way he is. Josh is a hard working man, usually working from 6am to 11pm, but usually making it in for dinner every night. When he worked on the oil rigs, the men called him Superman, and his crews broke many records during the time he worked there. For his family though, he brings on the hilarious. He chooses to make them laugh every day, and to keep life in their home happy, so he is always right there with a crazy comeback…and life is filled with laughter. Susan tells me that she could go on for hours about her wonderful man…do you think she likes him a little bit? I do. Today is Josh’s birthday. Happy birthday Josh!! Have a great day!! We love you too!!

imageimage My nephew, Dave Balcerzak, who is married to my niece, Chantel has been staying pretty busy these days. Recently the family moved from the home Dave and Chantel had lived in since their marriage, into a new and very nice home. Since that move, they have been very busy getting settled. That said, I’m sure that Chantel has had Dave working pretty hard to get everything set up. Now I don’t know how much of the decorating Dave has helped with, but then, Chantel wouldn’t really need much help with that, because she is a master of design. But, Dave is a big strong guy, so all the heavy lifting is likely done by him, with the help of some of the other men in their family.

The majority of the basement of their home has been designated as Dave’s Man Cave. I know that a Man Cave is the latest thing, and that lots of guys have them, but…well maybe I live in isolation, because I don’t know anyone who really has one…until now. I’m sure that is going to make Dave the guy to be envied. The closest thing most of our husbands have to a Man Cave, is the garage. For that reason, Dave can feel very special, but then I think we all knew he was special before that.

When Dave and Chantel got married, they each had two children, and as many people know, raising a step child is a bit tricky. Nevertheless, Dave stepped into that role and loved Chantel’s children, Jake and Siara Harman as much as he did his own children, Kiefer and Katy. Dave was such a good dad, that he earned the name Dad, which was bestowed on him by Chantel’s children. Jake and Siara both say the name with as much love as kids would their own dad. You just don’t get that love and respect from step children, unless you are a very special person. Dave has proven himself to be that kind of man, and that has proven to be the greatest blessing Chantel and her children could have ever been given.

Dave’s talents don’t stop there though. With his computer degree, we gained a go to person for all of our computer issues. His heart of gold, has prompted him to help family, but even more to help those who can’t afford a computer, by giving them one he had refurbished…at his own cost. Dave has just always had the heart of a giver. He wants everyone to be as blessed as he has been, and if he can facilitate that, then its a great day imageimagefor him. That is a man who loves helping people.

As I think about his Man Cave, and really how excited he is about it, I feel very excited for him, because sometimes things just couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, or in a better way than they do. This house just sort of fell into their laps at the perfect time, and now, they are thoroughly enjoying it and all it has to offer. I’m so happy for them. Today is Dave’s birthday. Happy birthday Dave!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

JD1306 S McKinley StreetMy nephew, JD Parmely loves cars…I mean really loves cars!! In fact, I have only known one other person in my entire life who owned more cars than JD. At any given time, he may have anywhere from fifteen to twenty five cars. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t see how a person could possibly use that many cars. I suppose JD could drive each one about 20 days and then move on to the next vehicle. Of course, insuring all those vehicles can be pricey too…I should know. I’m his insurance agent. JD doesn’t leave all the vehicles on the policy at the same time, because that would be really expensive, and in reality, he doesn’t change vehicles all the time either. With that in mind, I’m sure that you can guess that JD has a lot of vehicles that he doesn’t drive at all. He also has some for winter and others for summer. All that makes sense, but it still leaves vehicles that he doesn’t drive at all. Some are classics, and so they aren’t driven much at all, and others, he fixes up and sells, but for the most part, they all belong to him, and they could be driven anytime he wants to.

When his grandparents’ home had to be put up for sale after his grandfather, Walt Schulenberg passed away, JD found himself in the position to purchase the house. It gave him the garage he needed, and the extra space for at least some of his cars. We were all pleased that JD wanted to buy his grandparents’ home, because that meant that it would stay in the family. Selling your parents’ house after they pass is always hard, but this time it was pretty easy…and JD loves the house. I’m sure it keeps great memories alive for him. The house looks a little bit different these days, because JD loves Ford blue, and of course, all the cars are there, but I think his grandpa, Walt Schulenberg would love the fact that JD lives there.

imageimageJD is a mechanic, mostly on Hondas, but he can work on just about anything, and you might see him out in the garage at any time…day or night. Working on vehicles is his first priority…well, maybe second to work…where he also works on vehicles, hahahaha!! So, I guess that working on vehicles is his first priority in all areas of his life. He’s good at what he does, and liked by all who know him. And even if he does have lots of cars, it’s just a quirk, and we love him anyway. Besides, he stays out of trouble that way. Today is JD’s birthday. Happy birthday JD!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

1915176_1151598431323_6245569_n1016870_10200176569038125_1898537391_nSean Mortensen, who is my niece Amanda Reed’s boyfriend, and the father of her daughter, Jaydn, is a sportsman in every respect of the word. His favorite things to do are snowmobiling and four wheeling, which pretty much covers the entire year. Sean’s days off are spent happily riding…when he isn’t doing something around the house, that is. Sean and Amanda recently bought a house, so there is always work to do there. It’s never easy making a house a home, so, working on the house is a given. Nevertheless, a guy can’t work on the house all the time. So that’s when Sean heads out to go snowmobiling or four wheeling…and its a great family outing for everyone.

Sean and Amanda met in high school, and they have been together ever since. When Jaydn joined the little family, they knew their lives were complete. Eleven years later, they are all three just as happy as they can be together. Their family loves spending time at the lake in the summer, and with daughter Jaydn being born just one day before her dad’s birthday, having a birthday weekend at the lake is their idea of perfect. Having my dad’s birthday just two days before mine, I can relate to how special it is to share that day with your dad. Of course, those fun birthday weekends won’t last forever. Kids grown up, get married, and move away…or at least, move out. Life gets busy and there is often barely time for an hour to have a birthday party, so I hope that they know how blessed they are to have that time now.
Sean also likes to work on the different toys and vehicles the have, so that keeps him busy as well. Jaydn likes to help him…for now anyway. As she gets older, I suppose that like most girls, that dad time will be replaced by a boyfriend. Nevertheless, for now, they work together as a family to get what they want in life. Sean is a good dad and he is good to Amanda…and for the rest of the family, that is the main thing. Today is Sean’s 30th birthday…the big 3-0. Happy birthday Sean!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Bertha & Elsa School DaysIMG_3567There is a popular song by Miranda Lambert called “The House That Built Me.” It is a rather bittersweet song about visiting the house where she grew up, in and effort to find herself again. I suppose that it is very common to lose sight of self as the years go by, and life gets busier and busier. Sometimes we just find ourselves needing to regroup, to a degree. Of course, in the song, she really just wanted to get back in touch with her beginnings. I can understand that, since my sister, Cheryl Masterson, my mom Collene Spencer, and I took a trip back to Superior, Wisconsin, to reconnect with family members, the town, and the house where the first years of my life were spent. Of course, unlike Miranda Lambert, we didn’t ask to go into the house, although it might have been fun to do so, and unlike Miranda, I didn’t grow up in the house, but rather the first couple of years of my life. Nevertheless, standing there in front of the house, I found myself thinking about the home movies I had seen of our time there. They were good memories, and it felt good to be there to see that house that represented my beginning.

My great aunt, Bertha Schumacher Hallgren and her sister, Elsa Schumacher Lawrence had the opportunity as teenagers to travel from their home in Fargo, North Dakota, to Minnesota. While there, they were not only able to see the house where they were born, but the actual room they were born in. Things are much different these days. Most people are born in a hospital, rather than at home, so we don’t necessarily think of the room we were born in, because there is almost no way to know exactly which one it was years later. Bertha and Elsa had such an amazing opportunity…one I suppose many of us might envy, if we thought about it very long. The time they lived in, combined with the kindness of the new owners, allowed them to take a small glimpse into their past. It was an event that affected Bertha so much, that she wrote about is years later. She too, had been a young girl when the family moved away, but unlike me, she was able to step back into the world, and feel what it was like in those early years.

No, I suppose you can’t really go home again, unless like my younger sisters, your parents stayed is the house where you grew up. In that case, while you have grown up, married, or moved out on your own, you still have grandpa spencer014IMG_3519those close ties to the home of your youth, and with it, the memories and values you grew up with. Yes, my older sister, Cheryl and I do have those memories too, we have still found ourselves wondering what our lives would have been like, and who we would have been if our parents had stayed in Wisconsin. I know things would have been different for sure, but in reality, all the changes that have gone on in our lives have turned out to be the best life for us anyway. So maybe, going back to a lost childhood home really makes little difference in the grand scheme of things afterall.

GiGi and AleesiaNot every great grandmother is so blessed to have a really close relationship with their great grandchildren, and it is even more rare with the youngest of twenty great grandchildren, in which the oldest one is twenty four. My mother, Collene Spencer was a very blessed woman. Her relationship with her youngest great grandchild, Aleesia Spethman, who is my sister, Cheryl Masterson’s granddaughter, was one that was the rarest of the rare, and just as blessed for both of them. Aleesia has three older brothers, and at two years of age, taking her to all the activities the boys are into is difficult. That works our really well for my sister and it also worked quite well for our mom, because they got to see the baby often.

For Aleesia, the two relationships were different, even though they lived in the same house, and spent the time together. She loved both her grandma and her great grandmother, but the relationships were very unique. Aleesia decided that Mom would be called GiGi. Aleesia is too young to know that our mom was her great grandmother. The name GiGi seemed very fitting to my sister, because Mom was, after all Aleesia’s great grandmother, or GG. Aleesia loved coming over to GiGi’s house. Every time she came over, she would run in calling for GiGi. Then she would run over to see her. Aleesia trusted GiGi implicitly. Every time she was there, she would pull Mom’s walker over to Mom’s chair and climb up on it. Then she would jump from it into Mom’s arms. It never occurred to Aleesia that Mom wouldn’t catch her…she knew her GiGi would always catch her. It was a relationship that was so sweet to watch.

When Mom went to Heaven, the family and especially Aleesia’s parents, Jenny and Steve Spethman, and my Catch me GiGisister, Cheryl, were worried about how Aleesia would deal with that, especially since Cheryl would continue to live in Mom’s house. She has done pretty well. She asked about Mom often at first, then she seemed to understand that GiGi wasn’t there, but even a two year old Aleesia is not immune to those ton of bricks moments. The other day, as Aleesia and my sister, her grandma, Cheryl were coming to the house to spend the evening at Mom’s house, Aleesia ran up to the door excitedly like she used to before, and knocking on it she said “We see GiGi?” Then she stopped and looked down, like she realized something. She turned and saw Mom’s car parked on the street, and with a really sad face, she said, “She’s not home.” Such a sad thing for a little two year old to have to try and understand, because her GiGi has always meant so much to her.

Aunt Evelyn HushmanLate yesterday afternoon, my mom’s eldest sister passed away after a battle with cancer over the past few years. It was a battle she had mostly kept to herself. She had spent much of her last years taking care of her husband, my Uncle George, with the help of family members. Caregivers, like Aunt Evelyn have a tendency to brush aside their own illness while they take care of others. They simply don’t have time to be sick. They are busy making others well.

Being the oldest of Grandma and Grandpa Byer’s nine children, Aunt Evelyn learned at a very young age that she was needed to help with the younger siblings. While Grandma Byer didn’t work or go many places, there were after all eight other children, and the oldest if often the best helper. Aunt Evelyn was also a very social person as a girl though, and really all her life. It was Aunt Evelyn, who would make her parents grandparents for the first time, something that can be a bit of an honor, in itself. It was Aunt Evelyn and Uncle George, who would double date with my mom and dad during their courting years. They would all survive being hit by a train during one of those dates because of the quick thinking of both of the men. I’m sure that was something they all talked about for a long time.

Now the memories are flooding my mind. Times we spent at her house as kids, playing hide and seek, and all the other kids games we used to play. I remember the New Years Eve parties they spent at our house, and all the times at Grandma Byer’s house. I remember sitting out on Aunt Evelyn’s lawn on summer afternoons, and her beautiful house, which was her pride and joy. She enjoyed throwing and attending the annual Christmas party, and the summer picnic, until it became too difficult…which made me sad indeed.

It seems that with each passing year, our family patriarches become fewer and fewer. I remember thinking that we would always have the aunts and uncles with us, and now there remain only five of the original siblings and four of their spouses. Somehow, we all believed that they would always be here. I guess our minds play Aunt Evelyn & Uncle George Hushmantricks on us when it comes to loved ones…even to the extent of refusing to notice that they are aging, until we look back at pictures after they are gone. Then suddenly we realize just how tired they were, just how weak and weary, and maybe, just how sick and in pain they were. Nevertheless, they kept up a brave face, smiling at each visit, in spite of the pain. They tried so hard to make us feel better, when in reality they were getting ready to say goodbye. That’s how Aunt Evelyn was. Always thinking of those around her before she thought of herself. Always trying to make their day better, a thing she did quite well with that beautiful smile of hers. I will always miss her smile. It is so much of who she was, and who she will always be in my heart. We love you Aunt Evelyn, we will miss you very much, and we will see you again in Heaven very soon.

George and Hattie ByerWe all have memories of home…the home of our childhood. Most of those memories are as sweet as they can be. Memories of laughing and playing with our siblings, or special dinners with the family…always bring back the warm coziness of those carefree childhood days, when your dad and mom were there, taking care of you, and you knew you were safe, because their love surrounded you and every part of your world. As a kid, I experienced a closeness with my family. Dinners were eaten together, and we talked about our day. It was our way to reconnect with each other after a busy day at school or work. But, while we had a close family life that was far different from many families of today, it was nothing like the evenings that my mother and her siblings spent at their home, and in many ways, I feel like it was I, or rather our generation, who missed out. We may have had things like movies and television, but the closeness they had, and the stimulation of their imaginations…well, our world just couldn’t really compare to theirs at all.

The hours after school at my grandmother’s home involved getting dinner ready for the family, eating dinner, washing the dishes, with everyone singing while they worked. Finally, the work is done, and the evening turns cooler. Grandma and Grandpa, George and Hattie Byer would sit together on the couch covered with a blanket. All the children would get a blanket of their own, and sit around the floor and their parents feet. Everyone was cozy and warm. Then, Grandma Byer would read to the family. It was like the movies of today, except that the screen was in your mind. It was a nightly tradition, and since there was only a certain amount of time to read, a book could take weeks to read. The family never seemed to mind that, however, because the result of stopping for the night was a curiosity about where the book was headed and what would happen the next day. Every night was much the same, with the children listening intently to their mother’s voice telling them the story of cowboys and Indians, or sailing ships from far off places.

As my Aunt Sandy Pattan, who is my grandparents’ youngest child, told me about this nightly tradition from her childhood, I could hear in her voice that the thought of it was taking her back to a time when all was warm The Byer Familyand cozy in her life. I could picture just how much fun it must have been to sit there at Grandma Byer’s feet listening to her voice reading the story, and creating a picture in your mind that was almost like being right there, in the story. It was such a pleasant story, that I began to wish that it had been a tradition in my own life, or that I had thought to start such a tradition in my own family. The mind is such an amazing part of a person, and to think that it could create a movie like story from the reading of a book, is really amazing. I think that the cozy scene I pictured in my head from just hearing Aunt Sandy tell of it, probably paled next to the reality of just how amazing a tradition it really was to listen to her mother read while sitting at her Momma’s feet.

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