Birthdays are supposed to be happy events, and most are, but the birthdays that come after someone has passed away can be some of the hardest days we will ever spend. Losing a loved one leaves the family with nothing but empty space and memories. The place our loved one once filled with their presence, is now filled only with memories of someone who was, and still is, so important to us. Each first, as it arrives makes the emptiness even more pronounced. The first holiday, birthday, family dinner, or even just the mundane tasks they always helped with, are among the worst days of our new reality, but I think it is the first of those events that will always be viewed as the worst.
On October 16, 2019, our uncle, Eddie Hein had a heart attack while working in his yard. Friends and neighbors, as will as his wife, Pearl and their grandson, Dalton, all tried to help, but it was too late. Eddie was gone, but his memory will be with his many friends and family members forever. Eddie was a sweet man with a heart of gold, who was always willing to help those in need. The people of Forsyth, Montana knew Eddie well. He was a friend to all. He would wave as he drove by, and help when it was needed. Eddie was known around town as someone who could always be counted on, no matter what the need. He was there to give a smile, a hug, a wave, or a hand. Someone said that Eddie was one of God’s great ones, and I agree.
Eddie loved vintage cars, and had his own 55 Chevy that he thoroughly enjoyed. It wasn’t just the cars either, because he loved old tractors too. Eddie loved living next to the Yellowstone River. It was almost like living in the country, and it gave them enough room to have their garden. Eddie could fix just about anything. He loved tinkering around in his shop. If you needed a part for something, there was a good chance that Eddie had it or could make it. He was a great carpenter, and could help build just about anything. Eddie was a bit of a Jock of all trades, and the people of Forsyth counted on him for many things. That is a big part of what makes his passing so sad for everyone, and the only consolation is that since Eddie was a Christian man, we know that we will see him again soon. Happy first Heavenly Birthday Eddie. We love and miss you very much.
First chronicled by the famous western writer, Zane Grey, in his 1934 novel The Code of the West, no “written” code ever actually existed. However, the hardy pioneers who lived in the west were bound by these unwritten rules that centered on hospitality, fair play, loyalty, and respect for the land. These days, little of that code remains, or so it seems. These days, the more someone can get away with, he better they seem to like it. That just wasn’t the case for the people of thee old West. They needed to know that they could count on their neighbors, friends, and yes, even strangers
Ramon Adams, a Western historian, explained it best in his 1969 book, The Cowman and His Code of Ethics, saying, in part: “Back in the days when the cowman with his herds made a new frontier, there was no law on the range. Lack of written law made it necessary for him to frame some of his own, thus developing a rule of behavior which became known as the “Code of the West.” These homespun laws, being merely a gentleman’s agreement to certain rules of conduct for survival, were never written into statutes, but were respected everywhere on the range.”
Though the cowman might break every law of the territory, state and federal government, he took pride in upholding his own unwritten code. His failure to abide by it did not bring formal punishment, but the man who broke it became, more or less, a social outcast. His friends “hazed him into the cutbacks” and he was subject to the punishment of the very code he had broken. Though the Code of the West was always unwritten, here is a “loose” list of some of the guidelines: Don’t inquire into a person’s past. Take the measure of a man for what he is today. Never steal another man’s horse. A horse thief pays with his life. Defend yourself whenever necessary. Look out for your own. Remove your guns before sitting at the dining table. Never order anything weaker than whiskey. Don’t make a threat without expecting dire consequences. Never pass anyone on the trail without saying “Howdy”. When approaching someone from behind, give a loud greeting before you get within shooting range. Don’t wave at a man on a horse, as it might spook the horse. A nod is the proper greeting. After you pass someone on the trail, don’t look back at him…it implies you don’t trust him. Riding another man’s horse without his permission is nearly as bad as making love to his wife. Never even bother another man’s horse. Always fill your whiskey glass to the brim. A cowboy doesn’t talk much; he saves his breath for breathing. No matter how weary and hungry you are after a long day in the saddle, always tend to your horse’s needs before your own, and get your horse some feed before you eat. Cuss all you want, but only around men, horses and cows. Complain about the cooking and you become the cook. Always drink your whiskey with your gun hand, to show your friendly intentions. Do not practice ingratitude. A cowboy is pleasant even when out of sorts. Complaining is what quitters do, and cowboys hate quitters. Always be courageous. Cowards aren’t tolerated in any outfit worth its salt. A cowboy always helps someone in need, even a stranger or an enemy. Never try on another man’s hat. Be hospitable to strangers. Anyone who wanders in, including an enemy, is welcome at the dinner table. The same was true for riders who joined cowboys on the range. Give your enemy a fighting chance. Never wake another man by shaking or touching him, as he might wake suddenly and shoot you. Real cowboys are modest. A braggart who is “all gurgle and no guts” is not tolerated. Be there for a friend when he needs you. Drinking on duty is grounds for instant dismissal and blacklisting. A cowboy is loyal to his “brand,” to his friends, and those he rides with. Never shoot an unarmed or unwarned enemy. This was also known as “the rattlesnake code”: always warn before you strike. However, if a man was being stalked, this could be ignored. Never shoot a woman no matter what.
Consideration for others is central to the code, such as: Don’t stir up dust around the chuck wagon, don’t wake up the wrong man for herd duty, etc. Respect the land and the environment by not smoking in hazardous fire areas, disfiguring rocks, trees, or other natural areas. Honesty is absolute – your word is your bond, a handshake is more binding than a contract. Live by the Golden Rule. “The Code of the West was a gentleman’s agreement to certain rules of conduct. It was never written into the statutes, but it was respected everywhere on the range.“ Ramon F. Adams
As I read through these “codes,” I have to think just how sad it is that so little of that beautiful code is practiced these days, and how very sad that is.
You never know what kind of an impact you really have on those around you until you leave this world. It is then that all those whose lives you touched step up and show what you meant to them. Oh they show it in many ways while you are here too, but the people who love you seldom know about all the others whose lives you touched, until you are gone. It is strange to think that you can go all of your life and not know just how many lives your parents impacted, until they are gone. Since my mother’s passing, the outpouring of condolences, food, flowers, Facebook messages, and love from so many sources, has been overwhelming. So many people whose lives crossed paths with hers, and they came away thinking just how sweet she was. She had so many friends that we didn’t even realize were her friends. I always thought of my mom as a bit of a homebody, but she was quietly building her legacy…a legacy of love.
We have been so surprised by the people who have told us how she impacted their lives. Mom was an idealist. She held herself to high moral and social standards, and encouraged others to do the same. We have heard from people who were saved much heartache because of her words of wisdom, and her guidance when they were heading the wrong direction. Her sweet, smiling ways endeared her to so many people from so many different walks of life. Her faith and joy caused her to find great favor with the members of our church. Her neighborliness through the years made endeared her to the whole neighborhood. And of course, there was the love she had for her family and extended family. So many lives, affected in so many ways over the years…all by my mom. She was quietly building a legacy of love, when we weren’t looking.
We have been so amazed by the outpouring of love we have received since Mom’s passing. The stories of how she affected each one, and how their lives were blessed because they knew her, have blessed us so much. It is amazing just how much love multiplies. Mom’s legacy of love has grown and become such a beautiful thing. Over the years, her little idiosyncrasies that might have even been a source of embarrassment for us growing up, I can see now, as just a show of love and kindness that was unique to Mom. It makes me so very proud of her, and it makes me hope that someday, I will leave a legacy of love that is remotely like hers. I know that it would be impossible to ever come close to matching hers, but if I could be half the woman my mother was, I will consider myself very blessed indeed.
Today would have been my mother-in-law’s 65th anniversary, and in her mind it would still be so. She has no idea she is a widow. She has no idea that the love of her life…the man she has known since she was just a little baby, and with whom she shared a crib sometimes…has been gone for over a year now. That is the side of Alzheimer’s Disease that I think is merciful. While she doesn’t remember the things that happened a few minutes ago, or even a few years ago, and she doesn’t always remember our names, she also doesn’t remember that my father-in-law passed away on May 5, 2013. To her, he is visiting the neighbors, working, or out in the garage. I’m glad that is the case. She feels no grief and she doesn’t miss him…because to her, he is still here. She sees him everywhere. When she sees a man in a plaid shirt, she thinks it’s Dad, because he loved those plaid flannel shirts. I wouldn’t wish for her to remember Dad’s passing…it’s just too hard. We can play along. When she asks where Dad is, I tell her that he is in the garage, at Walmart, or at the neighbors. It satisfies her. She also sees Dad in her sons, Bob and Ron, her grandsons, and even in some of the men in the nursing home. We play along. At first it was hard, but the guys are used to it now.
This anniversary, that would have been a landmark anniversary for them, had Dad still been with us, is a bit sad for us…the children, in-laws, and grandchildren left behind, after Dad’s passing. It is always such a cool thing, especially these days, when someone makes one of these landmark anniversaries, because so many marriages don’t last. But theirs beat the odds. They had the real thing…love, and that made all the difference. It’s what keeps a marriage together through good times and bad.
Dad was always the bread winner, and Mom was always the homemaker. Together, they raised six children. She cooked, baked, canned, and kept the home and kids in order. He took care of the outdoor things like shoveling the walk, mowing the lawn, working on the cars, and any building that needed to be done. They were a team…and then half of the team was suddenly gone after a little under 64 years of marriage. To us, their family, it seemed too impossible to be true, but to Mom, it simply wasn’t true. To her…he is still here, and will be for as long as she is. It’s the merciful part of Alzheimer’s Disease.
In days gone by, there just weren’t a lot of construction companies out west. People built their own houses. Of course, if a man has to build his own house, you can bet it took him a while to complete it. I don’t really think a lot of people built their house all by themselves however, because if they lived anywhere near the neighbors, people just seemed to show up to help. I’m not sure just how they knew that you were in the process of building a house or barn back in the old west, but somehow they did, and so they came to help. There was a camaraderie back then that doesn’t always exist today. Too many people don’t want to get involved, or they just decide that they are too busy with their own lives to go and spend time helping others.
With droughts and thunderstorms causing buildings to burn, and no fire trucks or fire stations available, your neighbors always seemed to be the first responders to fire emergencies, or any other emergency, for that matter. Unfortunately with the neighbors living so far away from each other, the house or barn was usually gone before anyone could get there to help you put out the fire, and when all you are using is a bucket and a wet towel, it’s pretty much a lost cause before you even start. Nevertheless, they were right there to help you rebuild, so that you weren’t left without shelter for your family or your animals. That was just how neighbors were in the old west.
When you think about it, it was how they had to be in order to survive. With the Indian uprisings, and the old west outlaws, the pioneers had to stick together. There wasn’t a lot of lumber companies, and if they homesteaded a piece of land with an abundance of trees on it, they could cut down the trees to clear the field, and use the logs to build the cabin too. That was doing it the hard way, of course, so having friendly neighbors to help you get the job done before winter set in was essential. And of course, meeting the neighbors and offering to help them with their house or barn always meant a big potluck dinner and barn dance when the work was done. They didn’t have to get all dressed up and go somewhere fancy to have a great evening, they just got together with the neighbors and had a hoe down.
With time and modern equipment, came more construction companies, big cities, and less neighborly camaraderie. In fact, people these days are as likely not to know their neighbors as they are to know them. Sad when you think about it. We don’t live in such a big city, that all of that has gone away. Our neighbor, Bill has a snow blower, and if it snows while we are at work, he is out there with that snow blower doing the sidewalks and driveways for about half the block. It’s very nice for Bob to be able to come home and not have to get out the and shovel every thing off. Of course, Bill knows that anytime he needs help, all he has to do is ask, because we will be there with bells on, and likely as not, Bob is out there doing something for Bill before he has a chance to ask. I love our neighbors, and after all, that is what being neighborly is all about.
I have been intently watching the flooding this past week in Colorado, and especially Boulder, which is very near where my cousin Tim and his family live. Rain has poured into the state, and the flooding rivals the July 31, 1976 Big Thompson flood in many areas. In that flood, 12 to 14 inches of rain fell in 4 hours, flooding the canyon…144 people lost their lives, and 150 were injured. So far in this flood, only 4 people have died, thankfully, and hopefully that will be all, but only time will tell. Roads have been washed out, and I-25 is under water in some areas, causing it’s closure along with the closure of many other roads. Neighbors have stepped up to help save the homes of other people, some of whom they don’t even know, and often working for hours without even being asked. It has been a real show of the human spirit and its ability to care for those in need. Outside help is probably scarce, because no one can get there, leaving them somewhat isolated, except for helicopters that have been able to come in from other areas. Schools are closed, and many people have been told not to attempt to go to work. Two people were stranded in the mountains in whiteout conditions, because rescue resources were limited. They were rescued after 48 hours in the storm. Tim told me that the barrel they have in their back yard, to measure the rain, shows 10 inches over 3 days, with most of it coming over a 12 hour period. The huge snow storm in the mountains could cause continuing problems if it begins to melt.
This flood also reminded me of an old photograph in my grandmother’s album. I’m not sure where this taken, but it does appear that they had quite a bit of water. Sadly, in those days, homes weren’t sealed as well, and so I’m sure there was extensive damage. Add to that, the fact that they didn’t have some of the clean up tools and chemicals to prevent mold, and you have a recipe for a big mess. They also didn’t have warning systems to tell them of the possiblity of a flash flood, and there were may people who lost their lives in those situations. The things that have not changed over the years are the incredible human spirit and peoples’ will to survive. Neighbors will continue to help their neighbors, and people will fight to survive and rebuild their lives after each new disaster hits them. Floods are one of the most dangerous situations people can be in, and I am thankful that we have resources today to help more and more of them survive that danger. I will continue to pray for all those people who’s lives have been touched by the 2013 Colorado floods.
In a time where it seems like it is every man for himself, I like to look back into the family history and see how things were done back then. People in the towns banded together. If someone needed to build a barn, they had a barn raising. All the neighbors came over…and brought pot luck dinners to feed the workers. These days you have to buy your friends a case of beer and a steak dinner just to help you move! Now, I know that doesn’t apply to every situation, but think about the number of times you or someone you know couldn’t get anyone to help them move without bribing them.
If we look back a few years though, we see that harvests were often brought in with the help of neighbors. They would start at one farm, and move to the next and the next, until the harvests were done. Harvesting can be a huge job, and one family really can’t harvest a big farm alone. Their neighbors had the same problem, so by working together, they could all get the job done, and everyone made a profit. Farming was and is a tough life, and when money is scarce and equipment was expensive, it was a real struggle. Many people couldn’t make it just because of weather alone, much less the inability to get the harvest in, in time to save it from the elements.
These days, so many people are struggling to make it on their own, because there is no one to help them. I don’t mean lots of government help. I mean good old fashioned elbow grease and muscle. Most people can do most things on their own, but sometimes it is easier or more fun with the help of friends and neighbors. That is how things were back then, and the best part was that it gave these neighbors who often lived miles apart, a chance to get together and enjoy each other’s company. So many people miss out on the camaraderie of friends, because they don’t allow themselves to be willing to help out a friend. It’s something we should all think about.
Most people remember little about their early years, but sometimes something happens that causes you to keep it in your memory all your life. Often these early memories are from traumatic or perceived traumatic events. Such is the case with me.
I was 2 years old when my family moved from Superior, Wisconsin to Casper, Wyoming. On our way, we camped out. Unlike today, people camping out might get to know their “camping neighbors” and even know their names. Such was the case with our family when we met the Sims family.
They were such nice people, and they were moving too. They had two children, but they were older than my sister and me. Our families had a very nice evening, and the next morning we left the campground and went on our way. It wasn’t until we had gone many miles that I would realize that I left my doll at the campground. I was devastated. I mean she was my baby!
When I was 3 years old my parents bought the home my mother still lives in today. As we settled in, and started to get to know the neighbors, we were very surprised to find that our neighbors across the alley just happened to be the Sims family. It was like so nice to move into a neighborhood and already know some of the people. And even better was the moment when they told me that they were hoping to see us again, because on the day we left the campground, I had left my doll, and they had saved her for me. I was elated.
Our families would live across the alley until Mrs Sims passed away. Mr Sims and their son Harold had passed away before Mrs Sims, and Julie had married and moved to Colorado. We were friends all that time, and Julie babysat for my parents until my sister was old enough to babysit. They even went to the same church as we did. They were a wonderful blessing to our family, and someone we always glad we got to know.