My great grandfather, Cornelius Byer was a kind and a fair man. He was generous and honest. It was these qualities that earned him the respect of the Indian tribes in the Gordon, Nebraska area. Great Grandpa passed away on October 23, 1930, but the celebration of life, really began before the day of the funeral, and even before he passed away. Over the years of his life, my great grandfather became a great friend of the Indians. He was invited to their pow wows, he was asked his opinions on things…and they listened when he spoke. He was helpful to the Indian tribes, and they, in turn treated him with great respect.
The Indians would often show up at his home…something that would most likely panic most people. Most often the women and children would stay outside, while the men went in to visit with Great Grandpa. It was another show of respect. The Indians often camped near the house when the men were visiting. I’m sure it was a very interesting lifestyle for my grandmother.
While all that was interesting, probably the most interesting thing happened as Great Grandpa was dying and after his passing. When he lay dying, the Indians came…long lines of them. Each one, including the women and children, passed by his bed. They spoke words of respect and admiration. I’m sure it took hours, but none were turned away. Great Grandma knew how much they loved him, and how much they needed to say goodbye. I would love to have had the chance to see that scene. These were two groups of people who normally didn’t get along, and yet they showed so much love and respect for one another. There was no warring with, no stealing from, no depriving of one another. There was simply love and respect. I’m sure it made my Great Grandmother Edna (Fishburn) Byer and their children feel very safe over the years.
My grandfather, George Byer arrived at the homestead on October 20, 1930. My grandmother, Hattie Byer stayed home with their newborn daughter, Virginia, who was just 4 months old at the time. Grandpa brought almost 2 year old Evelyn with him. His letter at the time said that all the children were there, or soon would be. Three days later, Great Grandpa Cornelius Byer passed away. I’m so glad my grandpa got to see his dad before he passed. When it was time to have the funeral, they would have to travel into Gordon, Nebraska. We would never think of transporting our own loved one to the funeral, but those were different times. Nevertheless, the Indians would not leave their dear friend to go alone. With the casket in a wagon, and his son driving, Great Grandpa went to his funeral. Little Evelyn sat in the back of the wagon, wide-eyed in wonder as a long line of Indians followed the procession to the cemetery. In death, as in life, their respect for this man, who was my great grandfather, was on display. I can’t think of a greater honor than this. Cornelius Byer was truly loved and respected by all who knew him.
Everyone’s home life growing up is different. Some homes are very reserved, some are chaotic, and others, like mine are simply wonderful. We always knew that our parents loved us and that they loved each other too. In our house, there were kisses and hugs all around, but we got the biggest kick out of our parents kissing. Dad would come home from work, and give Mom a big kiss, and my sisters and I started singing a song we made up…”Mommy and Daddy are kissing!!” The more we sang the song, the more they continued to kiss. We loved teasing them about kissing, and they love having us tease them. Of course, there was no embarrassment on either side, because we loved that our parents demonstrated their love for each other. What makes a kid feel more secure in the stability of their parents marriage, than a daily show of love.
Of course, kissing wasn’t the only way my parents showed their love for each other. My dad was always the gentleman. He was very protective of my mom. He treated her like a queen, and made sure that we respected her too. He was a hard working man, and we never wanted for anything that we needed. Nevertheless, it was never the things that made us rich. It was the love of our parents that made us rich. There is nothing more comforting than to know that your parents will be there with you and for you. And mom, for her part, always made our home welcoming and inviting, not to mention teaching us to keep house and to cook. One of my favorite memories of my childhood was coming home for lunch on a school day, to find chicken noodle soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. That was my very favorite lunch, and it was great to come home to Mom’s cooking.
I’s like to say that there was never any drama in our house, but my parents had five daughters, and…well, drama is just a part of the deal. You get five girls to the age of their teens or close to it, with one phone, and everyone wanting to have their turn, and you have drama…not to mention the fights over the bathroom with all of us trying to get ready for school or a date. I suppose mom understood, but dad had to be a saint, and that’s all there is to it. With one bathroom, a wife, and five daughters, dad just had to wait…forever!!
Nevertheless, while there may have been a little bit of drama, our home was a house filled with love, laughter, singing, and yes with mommy and daddy kissing. Today would have been my parents’ 64th wedding anniversary. They will be spending it together in Heaven. I’m sure it will be a beautiful day, and I wish we could spend it with them, but for now, that is not to be. Happy anniversary Mom and Dad. We love and miss you very much.
Sometimes, it’s hard for me to realize that Father’s Day is again upon us. Since both my dad, Allen Spencer and my father-in-law, Walter Schulenberg are in Heaven now, the commercialized part of Father’s Day has little effect on me. I think about both of them daily, and miss them very much, but other than flowers for their graves, there is little in the way of things that I can give them. However, that does not mean that I don’t love, honor, and respect them today and every day. These days, I think that the best way for me to show honor to the two very special dads that God blessed me with is to try to live my life in a way that would make them proud. I suppose that a lot of people would say, “You are over 60 years old, you should do whatever you want to.” But, I don’t think that there ever comes a day when we should not try to make our parents proud. After all, they gave us life, and nurtured us all of the rest of their lives…yes, even when we were adults.
With the passing of each of my dads, came the promise to take care of the moms. And to that task, we set ourselves. It wasn’t always easy, but my dads loved their wives, and had taken care of them all of their married lives. One of the biggest worries of an elderly married person, is the thought that when they are gone, no one will take care of their spouse, and that is not a needless worry sometimes. Nevertheless, my dads knew that when they went home, my mom, Collene Spencer and my mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg would be taken care of, and they were not wrong on that. My Dad passed away December 12, 2007, and we cared for my mom for seven years and two months, until her passing on February 22, 2015. My father-in-law passed away on May 5, 2013, and my mother-in-law is still alive today, and we continue to show her the love and respect she deserves, and he would want for her. These things were not a burden to be borne, but rather a privilege that was given to us…the privilege of still having our mom. No, there may not be much I can give my dad or my father-in-law, but I can do my best to always be the kind of person they would have wanted me to be.
Of course, Father’s Day for me always takes in my own sweet husband, Bob Schulenberg, and my sons-in-law, Kevin Petersen and Travis Royce, all of whom are amazing dads, and all of whom have enriched our family by being a part of it. Every day, they add richness to our lives with their hard work, sense of humor, and their deep love for us…their family. To me, that is the most important thing a man can do. These men have been in our family for many years now, Bob for 42 years, Kevin for 24 years, and Travis for 22 years…unheard of lengths of time in marriages these days. They have proven time and time again that they are worthy of our love and respect. God gave each of us such wonderful blessings in these men. I love each of them very much, as I do my two dads in Heaven, and I wish each of them and all dads everywhere, a very happy Father’s Day!!
Because Bob and I have been hiking for more than twenty years now, I have always thought that we were careful travelers through places that are home to the creatures of the forest. We don’t leave garbage behind, and we keep our distance when we spot wildlife. It is a show of respect for them, and most often, our distance creates a feeling of careful comfort for the wildlife we pass along the trail. Still, there are times when we inadvertently get a little close. It isn’t because we were careless, but rather that we didn’t see them and I guess they didn’t see us in time either. Most often this occurs with animals like chipmunks, squirrels, mice, or birds, but sometimes deer too. It is times like these that I realize that we are really interlopers in their world. Somehow, that never exactly occurred to me before.
While hiking the Centennial Trail in the area where it crosses the tracks for the 1880 Train, beginning at the Big Pine trailhead, and going to the Samelius trailhead, we came across several Ruffed Grouse. They were in the grass right beside the trail. We didn’t see them, and somehow we managed not to disturb them until we were just steps past them. Suddenly they were spooked by our presence, and we were spooked by theirs. The second they bolted, we were so startled that I tried to get the picture of them, and all I got was the turkey that had been there with them. The picture of the turkey in itself was kind of cool though, because somehow the turkey manage to be behind a small tree at just the right angle to be almost invisible to my camera’s eye. I had to look close to realize that I had caught anything in my shaken state.
It was then that I began to think about the fact that no matter how careful, or quiet, or respectful we are, we are still interlopers in their world, and it is still disturbing to them to some degree. True, the lone doe eating grass simply stood and watched us, and the bird intent on the worm it was taking back to its babies went about its business, and the mouse eating grass allowed us to pass by quite closely, and the frog sitting in the water puddle decided that he was not going to jump, even if we were very close by. They allowed us to be in close proximity to them, somehow trusting that we were not there to hurt them. Nevertheless, even with their guarded trust, they still felt like we did not belong there. We were still in their world, and they would prefer that we would leave.
This revelation will not change the fact that we like to hike, nor will it keep us from hiking, because hiking is what we do, but it does give me a new respect for the creatures who live along the trails we like to hike. I feel a new desire to somehow tiptoe through their backyard without disturbing them too much. I want to be the stranger that they allow to pass quietly through, even if they take a guarded stance, because I am not there to hurt them, but rather just to take a peek into their world. All we want is to quietly pass through and drink in the beauty that the animals may not notice any more that we do our own living room, because to them it is normal and everyday, but to us it is extraordinary.
Each of us looks back on our life at one point or another, to reflect on all that has transpired, and the roads traveled to get to the point at which we have arrived. One of the things that often becomes the subject of such reflection, is just how we knew that our parents loved us. Sometimes people mistakenly talk about all the things their parents have given them. Of course, these people are usually teenagers, who have gone beyond the innocent understanding that love isn’t about things, but have not yet reached the point of adulthood, when they will understand that it is often the life lessons taught rather than the gifts received that they value the most.
In reading my Great Aunt Bertha Hallgren’s journal, I noted that one of the ways she felt the love her father had for her was that he made sure that they were in school, except when they were ill. Even though they lived further away than any of the other children at the school, their attendance was the best by far. The children were wrapped tightly in warm blankets for the journey on those cold North Dakota winter days, but they were in school nevertheless. Great Grandpa Carl Schumacher knew the importance of an education, and was determined that his children would have one. Whenever I hear of a student who wishes their parents wouldn’t make them go to school, I am reminded first that they are very young and naïve, and second that they will someday feel differently about that whole situation.
I know of many parents who have given their children a car and other such expensive gifts, and people seem to feel like they must love them very much. I suppose that could be true, but at the same time, the child has been cheated out of an important life lesson…earning the things you want. When my girls were preparing to drive, I told them that they would need a car, a driver’s license, gasoline, insurance, and a job to pay for all that. I suppose that there were people who saw that as mean on my part, but it is one of the life lessons that my girls look back on fondly. They never felt cheated, they felt empowered. That was the gift they were given, and to this day, they are both strong, capable women, who have raised their children in much the same way. I’m not saying anything against parents who did give their kids a car and such, but rather that this was the standard we chose to give our children. I’m also sure that parents who gave their children a car have taught them other life lessons that their children look back on when they reflect on the love their parents have for them. That is the privilege each parent has…to raise their children in the way that they see fit.
I look back on my own parents, and the standards they set for us, with a sense of pride, because they were great parents. We were never given a car…probably, that is why I did things as I did, but we were give much love, and guidance. We had chores to do, and we helped with cooking. We can all cook and keep house to this day too. We didn’t get to eat out all the time, so when we did, it was a special treat, but I never felt like that I was cheated in any way. My parents showed their love in so many other ways. They raised us to be respectful, and as a result, respected. They showed us love, no matter what, and as a result, we know how to show love…no matter what. They showed us that just as God forgives us for our sins, we need to be forgiving of others and especially not to let the sun go down on your anger. They showed us unconditional love. We knew that nothing we did was going to lose us the love of our parents. Oddly, that made us try harder to do good…or maybe that was their plan all along. Looking back on those times makes me realize that the best way to show you love your child is to live it. Teach them values mixed with compassion, and they will try their hardest to live up to the standards you set for them. That is a real show of love.
After my 2nd great grandfather, Allen Spencer passed away suddenly at the young age of just 56 years, my 2nd great grandmother, Lydia Spencer found herself in one of the hardest positions anyone ever has to face. In those days, few of the women worked outside the home, and with her husband and the bread winner of her family gone, she had some hard choices to make. She still had several children at home, including three sons and one daughter. Her daughter, Teresa would marry later that year, and eventually move to North Dakota. Her son Allen would follow his sister to North Dakota, and eventually move to Washington, where he would marry and live out his life. That left Lydia in Iowa, with her two remaining sons, Cornelius and Luther…at least for a time. That had to have been the hardest part of the time too, considering the grief she must have been feeing.
Luther married Ellen Dykes in 1885, and Cornealius married Leona Stinson on February 1, 1888. By 1900, the two brothers along with their families and their mother had moved to the Deer Creek, Oklahoma area. I know that in the years following their fathers death, these two men took on the role of caregiver of sorts for their mother. It wasn’t necessarily that she needed a caregiver, at only 53 years of age, but rather that these two brothers took on the role of picking up the pieces of her shattered life and helping her through the rough transition years, during which she went from being a wife to a widow. It isn’t that she was incapable, but it would be really hard to find yourself widowed at such a young age. You had thought you and your souse would grow old together, and now you have been left to try to figure out how to move on alone.
Little has been said about the role the two brothers played in her life, and I suppose that is because it was just expected of them and so everyone assumed they just did their job. I suppose that is true to a large degree, but there were other children in the family, and yet they chose to take on this role, and she chose to go to Oklahoma with these two sons, rather than move to North Dakota, Wisconsin, or Washington with her other children. She loved the others very much, and the pictures tell me that she saw them whenever she could, but she moved to Oklahoma with Cornealius and Luther, and lived in Luther’s home until her passing in 1906, at the age of 75.
It takes a very special person to move their elderly parent into their home, and I don’t just mean that parent’s child, but the spouse of that child too. You can’t take in your parent without the ok of your spouse, because this is going to affect the whole family. In this case, it is likely that the time Lydia lived with her son Luther and his family in Oklahoma, was about ten years, but in reality, that is a long time. The last days could have been very stressful and trying, given the way, aging parents get weak and tired as they get closer to death. Yes, I think that Luther and his wife, Ellen had to be very special people to make sure that Lydia was taken care of, and not lonely. I’m sure that went a long way toward picking up the pieces of her life, after the loss of her husband, Allen. That leaves me with a lot of respect for these sons and their families.
There is something about naming a child after yourself, or your parent, that appeals to a lot of people. My dad was named after his dad, and my Uncle Bill Spencer was named after his grandfather. Sometimes it’s the first name that came from the parent, sometimes it’s the middle name, or sometimes it’s both. For my Uncle George Hushman, who didn’t know his own family until much later in life, life presented him with a perfect plan for a namesake. When Uncle George married my Aunt Evelyn Byer, he became the second George in the family, because his father-in-law, my Grandpa George Byer was the first George. Since Uncle George didn’t know his family at the time he married my Aunt Evelyn, he pretty much adopted her family as his family.
I don’t know if their first son, George was named after Uncle George or Grandpa George, or if it was both, but I kind of think it might have been both. Then, when he had a son, my cousin George, named his son George. Suddenly there were four Georges in the family. Of course, with the four Georges came the need for nicknames to distinguish between the three and then the four of them. My cousin George became Bub, and his son, my cousin once removed, George became Hush. It seems like anytime a child is named after a parent, nicknames are inevitable, but the parent truly still has a namesake. I’m sure that my grandfather felt honored to have so many named after him, even if he shared that with Uncle George, and I think they both liked the whole thing enough to want a picture of the four Georges as a keepsake. And now, there is a fifth George, with the addition of Tuff.
My husband, Bob was named after his grandfather, Bob Knox, and so my Bob became Bobby to his family…but that was not allowed by his wife, mind you. I can’t say as I blame him, really, I mean it is a little juvenile when you think about it. My nephew, Rob was also named after his dad, and we all called him Robbie, but his wife, Dustie was not allow to use that either…again, too juvenile. Naming a child after someone else can be a little problematic for the one being named, when they grow up and the name seems far too young for them.
For my Uncle Bill, being named after his grandfather was the greatest honor that could have been bestowed on him. He wore the name with pride…often mentioning the connection in the family history along with his signature, as a way of honoring his grandfather. I think that is what having or being a namesake is all about. It is a show of love for the person who had the name first, as well as for the child named after someone very dear to their parents. Maybe it began as a tradition, but even then, it is a show of honor, love, and great respect, and it is a cool thing to do.
Growing up, I recall that my sisters and I were often called, with a degree of surprise, the Spencer girls. I know that a lot of people would say that was simply our last name, but that didn’t really seem to be the reason. Even our boyfriends got that. People would say, “You are going out with one of the Spencer girls?” like they were shocked about it…or like they wondered how they had managed to live through meeting our dad…which couldn’t have been further from the truth about how our dad was. I know that some dads are the kind of guy who practically threatens any guy who wants to take out their daughters, with bodily harm if they break her heart. Now, don’t get me wrong, because our dad would have done whatever he needed to do to protect his daughters, but he was a man who would give a guy the benefit of the doubt…until they proved that they were trouble. Nevertheless, every guy we went out with was a Knot Head!! I suppose that was Dad’s way of saying that, in his opinion, no guy was good enough for his little girls…and believe me, most of them weren’t. The keepers were the ones who showed Dad that they weren’t Knot Heads.
We used to get…almost annoyed with Dad when he called guys Knot Heads, but deep inside, we knew that it was really his way of telling us that he wanted the very best for us, and this guy would have to prove himself before he would believe that he was worthy of our love. He wanted us to have men in our lives who would be good to us, treat us like ladies, protect us, and most of all, love us…until death we do part. How could we ever really be mad at him about that? It simply showed the love our dad had for his daughters…and down the road, granddaughters and grandsons, although the girlfriends weren’t Knot Heads.
Dad always had a way about him. He was able to tease us about boyfriends and yet, really mean that he wasn’t sure this guy was any good. Even while we protested at the name he gave them, we knew that it was more about us than the guy. He wanted us to know that his love for his daughters made him doubt most of the guys we went out with. He knew what most teenaged boys and even young men in their twenties were really like. Marriage and respect weren’t what they had in mind…unless they were the right guy, and that guy would endure the scrutiny and the doubt, and go on to prove to Dad and his daughters that they were the kind of men Dad wanted for his daughters…and not the Knot Head that he had thought them to be.
Looking back now, I am thankful for the scrutiny my dad used to view the men we dated, because it was through that scrutiny that I ended up with my husband, Bob. Yes, Bob was a Knot Head when we first started dating, just like every other guy I dated, but in later years, after he endured the scrutiny and passed the test, Dad often told me how proud he was of Bob. He liked him a lot, and respected him very much. Dad knew he could count on Bob to help out when anyone in the family needed help, but more importantly, he knew that Bob would be there for me throughout our lives. And he was right. Bob had proved himself, and in the last days of Dad’s life, Dad knew that he could count on Bob to help with the caregiving work that was needed in our family as well as in Bob’s, because Bob was definitely no longer a Knot Head.
Sixty years ago today, my dad married my mom. If Dad was alive today, we would be planning on a party to celebrate the event. It makes me sad that they didn’t get to reach their 60th anniversary together. I remember that just 10 short years ago, we were celebrating their 50th anniversary, and soon after they left on the Alaskan cruise that we gave them. It was the trip of a lifetime for them, and one they never forgot. It made us all feel really good…to know that they had such a wonderful time. I am so glad we gave them that trip. They had always wanted to go, and now, looking back, and knowing that just 4 short years later, Dad would be gone, it was like a last chance that we didn’t know about.
We spoke to them several times during their trip. It’s funny that two people who weren’t sure that they wanted to go on a cruise without making it a family trip, were the same two people who didn’t want that trip to end. I can understand that. Although they would have had an amazing time on the trip if we all could have gone along, they nevertheless had a love of travel, and found the places they saw to be exciting and fun. Their natural curiosity would have quickly removed any disappointment at going on the trip alone. They were like a couple of kids on a very cool field trip. When I asked them, as their trip was nearing its end, if they were ready for it to be over, they told me, “No.” I knew they would feel that way from my own experience following our 25th anniversary cruise.
My sisters and I have always felt very honored to have the parents that God gave to us. We were raised in a stable, Christian home filled with lots of love and the very best values. We were taught teamwork and mutual respect. We were taught to forgive and to set aside anger, for the greater gift of love. I couldn’t have asked to be a part of a better, more loving family, or to have better parents. Today is my parents 60th anniversary. Though Dad is in Heaven, Mom has never married another man. Theirs was a once in a lifetime kind of love that would last forever. Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad!! We love you both so very much!!
My sister, Cheryl and I are the two oldest children of our parents. There are two years between us. Our younger sisters always seemed so much younger than Cheryl and me. Those early years were spent as pretty good friends, with me looking up to my big sister. Cheryl, it seemed to me, always had it all, not is the sense that I wasn’t given anything, but in the sense of being cool, and I wished that somehow I could be as cool as she was. I suppose most little sisters feel that way about their big sister at some point in their lives, but I can honestly say that in many ways, I still look up to my sister. She has a kind and loving heart, and more patience that I have ever been able to work up. Big sisters just don’t get any better. She is a blessing to our entire family
When we were little, we were good friends, but as we got older, the personality differences that siblings will obviously have, really began to show, and there were a number of years, where we didn’t get along very well. We were very different people at that time, although oddly, we really aren’t so different now. We have both looked back on those years and wondered why it seemed so important to do some of the things we did, or fight over some of the things we fought over. I guess, the years just change who people are, and what is important.
As adults, we have come to love, respect, and count on each other. Through caring for our parents, we have come to know how vital our relationship has become. We both bring different things to the table called caregiving, as do our other three sisters, and no one is expendable. As our lives and the lives of those we care for change…adding in-laws and children with needs…the things we are able to do change some too. My life has been very busy lately with my in-laws health needs, and Cheryl has stepped up and carried more of the load at our mom’s than I would like her to have to carry. Still, she has carried that load, and given me the time I need to use elsewhere, and for that I am forever grateful.
So much has changed through the years. It happens in life. Cheryl and I have long since resolved our issues, and we are good friends. It’s funny that when we were adolescents and teenagers, we both wondered why God had stuck us with such an irritating sister, but now looking back through the eyes of experience we have both come to know that, clearly God knew exactly what He was doing.