Some birthdays are different beyond anything we could have ever imagined. That is the kind of birthday my brother-in-law, Ron Schulenberg is having this year. Never in a million years did he expect to be a widower at the age of 53, but that is exactly where he finds himself, and his 13 year old son, Tucker, who also lost his mom. While Ron’s current situation is devastating, I am very proud of how he is handling it and the sadness that comes and go with both Ron and Tucker. While this year started it in the worst possible way, I pray that the rest of the year will get better. I know that his wife, Rachel would want Ron and Tucker, as well as her other children, Cassie and Riley, to be happy in life…as hard as that seems right now.
With Rachel’s passing came other changes for Ron. He had always worked nights, but with a 13 year old at home, he needed to change that to days, so that is what he did. It is a big change for him. He preferred the night shift, but it was important for Tucker, and that is all that matters now. Another change is that Ron is now the “Chief cook and bottle washer,” so to speak. He can cook, but Rachel was a phenomenal cook…a hard act to follow. I believe that Ron with find his own rhythm and cooking style. Tucker likes most of what he cooks now, and they will find things together that they like. Who knows, maybe Tucker will find some good recipes too.
We are all so thankful that Tucker has his dad, who adopted him on June 27, 2019. Tucker is not alone now. He has his dad to help him get through such a sad time in his life. And Tucker is helping his dad too. They depend on each other now, and work together to get through this. When I think of the terrible loneliness that happens after such a loss, it tears at my heart that these guys are going through it I know that in time, there will be less pain, but right now, it is so strong and we have no way to ease their pain. The future will be different than they every planned for it to be, but they will get through it and we as a family will help them to get through it. Today is the first birthday Ron has had without Rachel in ten years, and that will make it a hard day, but I pray that he knows how much Rachel loved him, and that she wants the best for him and her children. She is in Heaven now, but her memory will always live on in our spirits. I pray that Ron can find some measure of happiness today too. Today is Ron’s birthday. Happy birthday Ron!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
Edward Leedskalnin was a bit of an eccentric, which might have been caused by the sadness of lost love. When Edward was suddenly rejected by his 16 year old fiancée Agnes Skuvst in Latvia, just one day before the wedding, he decided to immigrate to America. Once there, he came down with allegedly terminal tuberculosis, but was spontaneously healed. He believed that magnets had some effect on his disease. I don’t know about that part, but he lived much longer that he was ever expected to.
Leedskalnin decided to build himself a home where he could live out his years in solitude. The resulting “home” was eventually names Coral Castle, but was originally named “Ed’s Place.” Leedskalnin originally built the castle in Florida City, Florida, around 1923. Florida City, which borders the Everglades, is the southernmost city in the United States that is not on an island. It was an extremely remote location with very little development at the time. Leedskalnin built the castle by himself, out of Oolite Limestone. Edward spent more than 28 years building Coral Castle, refusing to allow anyone to view him while he worked. A few teenagers claimed to have watched his work a few times and reported that he had caused the blocks of coral to move like hydrogen balloons. The only tool that Leedskalnin spoke of using was a “perpetual motion holder”. The stones are fastened together without mortar. They are set on top of each other using their weight to keep them together. The craftsmanship detail is so skillful and the stones are connected with such precision that no light passes through the joints. The 8-foot tall vertical stones that make up the perimeter wall have a uniform height. Even with the passage of decades the stones have not shifted.
Leedskalnin purchased the land from Ruben Moser whose wife had assisted him when he had a very bad bout with tuberculosis. The castle remained in Florida City until about 1936 when Leedskalnin decided to move and take the castle with him. He renamed it “Rock Gate.” The move was an even more amazing feat the the first building of the castle. Its second and final location has the mailing address of 28655 South Dixie Highway, Miami, FL 33033, which now appears within Leisure City but which is actually unincorporated county territory. He reportedly chose relocation as a means to protect his privacy when discussion about developing land in the original area of the castle started. He spent three years moving the component structures of Coral Castle 10 miles north of Florida City to its current location outside Homestead, Florida.
At Florida City, Leedskalnin allowed visitors to the castle, charging them ten cents apiece to tour the castle grounds, but after moving to Homestead, he asked for donations of twenty five cents. Nevertheless, he let visitors enter free if they had no money. There are signs carved into rocks at the front gate to “Ring Bell Twice.” He would come down from his living quarters in the second story of the castle tower close to the gate and conduct the tour. Leedskalnin never told anyone who asked him how he made the castle. He would simply answer “It’s not difficult if you know how.” When Leedskalnin became ill in November 1951, he put a sign on the door of the front gate “Going to the Hospital” and took the bus to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. Leedskalnin suffered a stroke at one point, either before he left for the hospital or at the hospital. He died twenty-eight days later of Pyelonephritis (a kidney infection) at the age of 64. His death certificate noted that his death was a result of “uremia; failure of kidneys, as a result of the infection and abscess.” While the property was being investigated, $3,500 was found among Leedskalnin’s personal belongings. Leedskalnin had made his income from conducting tours, selling pamphlets about various subjects (including magnetic currents) and the sale of a portion of his 10-acre property for the construction of U.S. Route 1. As Leedskalnin had no will, the castle became the property of his closest living relative in America, a nephew from Michigan named Harry. Coral Castle’s website reports that the nephew was in poor health and he sold the castle to an Illinois family in 1953. However, this story differs from the obituary of a former Coral Castle owner, Julius Levin, a retired jeweler from Chicago, Illinois. The obituary states Levin had purchased the land from the state of Florida in 1952 and may not have been aware there was even a castle on the land. The new owners turned it into a tourist attraction and changed the name of Rock Gate to Rock Gate Park, and later to Coral Castle. In January 1981, Levin sold the castle to Coral Castle, Inc., for $175,000. The company retains ownership today.
A while back, I wrote a story about a house in Massachusetts that was built by our ancestor, James Noyes, who is my husband, Bob’s 7th great grandfather. Almost immediately, a cousin of ours, Paul Noyes told me that he had been there many times, and yet another cousin, David Noyes had been invited inside and had pictures. Of course, this was exactly what I was hoping for, because I wanted to talk about the interior of the home, but could not find any pictures online. So, I want to thank David for these beautiful pictures, and Paul for forwarding them to me, so that I can tell a little about the inside of this grand old house. My husband, Bob was sure that the interior had probably been renovated several times since the 1646 date that the house was built, but other than what has been documented, there is no indication of a massive remodel.
James Noyes, moved to and was co-founder of Newberry, Massachusetts in 1635, bringing with him, his wife Sarah Brown Noyes. Little was documented about where in Newbury they lived before the Noyes home was built in 1646, but the family grew by five children…Joseph, James, Sarah (who died at an unknown young age), Moses, and John. I would assume that their growing family was the reason for the large home to be built. Even with that, the home was not what we would consider large these days. The current home has five bedrooms, but it is my guess that the original probably had only three, a master bedroom for the parents, a bedroom for the boys, and a bedroom for the girls. The house was only one room deep in those years, and while it might have been somewhat small, I can only imagine what stories those walls would tell, if they could talk. My guess is that there would be stories of laughter, sadness, and crying as new babies joined the family. The family grew, with the additions of Thomas, Rebecca, William, and a second daughter named Sarah, after her mother and the first Sarah, who had passed away.
James and Sarah lived in the house for the remainder of their days, during which time the house saw children come into the family, and children marry and move away, returning now and again to share their children with their parents. Then on October 22, 1656, just seven months after his second daughter named Sarah, was born, James passed away. The house saw the sadness of a family in mourning for its patriarch. Sarah became the head of the family then, and so it remained until her passing on September 13, 1691. James and Sarah were blessed with at least 47 grandchildren…not all of whom lived very long unfortunately. Not much is said about what the children did with the home after their mother’s passing, but while it has been home to a number of families over the many years since it was built, it remains an important historical home and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. There were some changes, which added size to the home making it a five bedroom home at this present time. The last time the home was sold was in 2010, and it is my assumption that it was the current owners who allowed our cousin David Noyes to have a tour and take the pictures I now have of this beautiful home.
Every year, my mom’s family gets together to celebrate Christmas as a family. Of course, it isn’t on Christmas, but rather a couple of weeks ahead of Christmas. They get together to stay close to each other and to honor their parents’ wishes that they not drift apart. My mom, Collene Byer Spencer, like her sisters looked forward to that party every year. She planned the little gift that she would make for each of her sisters. She worked on them with great care, planning every detail, so they were just perfect for each of her siblings. There was always that special moment when the siblings would gather at one of the tables and exchange those precious little gifts that showed how much they loved each other. It was always such a sweet thing to watch. It was never about the gift they received, but about the love they all had for each other. I felt a sting of sadness, because Mom and Aunt Evelyn weren’t there at that precious moment of sisterly love. Nevertheless, I was happy for Aunt Virginia Beadle, Aunt Bonnie McDaniels, Aunt Dixie Richards, and Aunt Sandy Pattan, because they still had that precious time together.
As the years have passed, fewer and fewer of the siblings remain, and this year, we lost two more of the sisters, my mom and my aunt, Evelyn Byer Hushman. Everyone felt the sting of those new absences, and my aunts tried to console us and we them too, but it really didn’t do much good. We simply cried together, because we missed them so much. Sometimes, when we are caught up in our own grief, we can forget that there are others who loved our loved one too. I somehow hadn’t grasped that thought before, but while talking to my aunts, I realized that they are grieving as much as we are. These were their sisters, who they had known all of their lives, and they missed them too…very much.
This Byer Family Christmas Party was different in several ways, but it was also the same in many ways too. The same people that usually come, were mostly there this time too. These are the family members who have embraced Grandma and Grandpa’s dream of a continuing close family. These are the ones who have strived to keep the future generations of the family close too. We have a wonderful heritage in our family. Our grandparents left us a legacy of love. Those connections warm our hearts with every party or picnic. We are all busy, and seeing each other every day…other than on Facebook…is very hard to do, but these precious family gatherings will always keep the legacy of our grandparents alive.
As I walked around the room, talking to the different family members and taking too many pictures to possible show here, I could hear the echoes of those aunts and uncles who are in Heaven this year…Aunt Evelyn Hushman, Uncle Elmer and Aunt Deloris Johnson, Uncle Larry Byer, my mom and dad, Collene and Allen Spencer, and Uncle Jack McDaniels…and of course of Grandma and Grandpa Byer. It was as if they were there in spirit, celebrating the family with us. I could hear some of the things each one had said over the years. I was thankful that many of their family members were there at the party, because even though they are in Heaven now, we are all still part of this wonderful family, and we belong together celebrating this family and the legacy our precious grandparents left behind.
When a loved one passes away, you don’t get to see them on this Earth any more, but they seem to take up a new kind of space all their own, because they are always on your mind. You may not even realize that you are thinking of them exactly, but they are there in the back of your mind, just beneath the surface, until something happens that brings their memory to the forefront again. It isn’t always a sad thing when it happens, but sometimes it is. I think that as time goes by, we are able to look more to happy memories than lonely tears. I don’t think it is a bad thing to have your loved ones living in your memory, occupying a special place in your heart, or even always being on your mind, it’s just that sometimes it is a little hard when you are hit with a ton of bricks moment…when their memory is thrown out there so unexpectedly that it does bring tears, and you are helpless to stop them. Really, it’s the only way, once a loved one has passed away.
In many ways, we like having them living there, in the back of our minds, because it give us a warm sense of Heaven…a closer connection to it, maybe. Someone very dear to us lives there now, and like my search for new connections in my family history, just knowing they are there, waiting in Heaven for us to join them someday, makes me feel like I am a part of Heaven already. I guess that is really because a part of my heart lives there now, and really always has. It encourages me to keep going forward because for me and my family, there is an expected end…a destination. While my journey must remain here for now, and God is taking the time to show me the beautiful things He has made here, I know that someday, my own journey will take me to a place I haven’t and couldn’t ever travel to before, where I will see my loved ones in person again, but for now I must wait for that glorious day to arrive.
Each item I see that belonged to those I love returns them to the forefront of my mind again. Our memory is often triggered by something we see, hear, or even smell, because in our memory files, our senses are tied to those we love. I’m thankful for those ties really, even though sometimes the memories hurt a little, because it is those memories that keep my loved ones alive, in the back of my mind, waiting for their moment to grace my thoughts once again. I love each and every one of those loved ones, although I cannot picture all of them here. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, a sister-in-law, and three nieces are waiting in Heaven. I love then, and they are always on my mind.
Today, I have been thinking about my cousin, Greg Huhsman a lot. This has been a year of much change, and sadness, for Greg, with a little bit of gladness mixed in. Greg lost his beautiful wife, Dustine on February 18, 2015, and if you have ever lost a loved on, you know that it feels like your whole world just came crashing down on you. Before too long, you are expected to pick yourself up, and get back to your job, but your body wants to go back to bed, and hope that when you wake up again, you will find that all this was just a nightmare. Sadly, it wasn’t, so you move forward, probably a little bit mechanically at first, doing the things you need to do each day, and praying that your heart will stop hurting so badly pretty soon.
I don’t say that anything will ever take Dustine’s place in Greg’s heart, because there is nothing that can do that, but sometimes, like in Greg’s life, something else happens that while it doesn’t stop the pain, it adds a little bit of joy to balance it out a bit. Nine months ago, Greg found out that his daughter was going to have a surprise baby. The baby was not planned, nor was she going to be planned for in the future, but arrive she will, and within the next three days. Her mother, Greg’s daughter, Stephanie, found herself pregnant after a seven year time span. I don’t think Greg had expected to have any more grandchildren. He has two, Kathleen and Michael Willard, but what an exciting thing to find that you are going to be blessed with another, and really just when you need some good things in your life. This baby was due a couple of days ago, and I am still holding out hope that she will arrive on her grandpa’s birthday, but even if she doesn’t, she will be a blessing for the entire family.
Unfortunately, we can’t change the sad moments life hands us, but God is always so good to us. In the midst, of sadness, joy always seems to comes. I know this birthday will be a very different one for Greg…a very lonely one, but I’m just as sure that he knows just how much his entire family loves him. We are all praying for comfort, and the coming reintroduction of joy in his life. Greg has always been such a kind and thoughtful cousin. It breaks my heart to have him go through such loss at such a young age. I know too, though, that his family means the world to him, and this new little granddaughter will bring him great joy. I can’t wait for her arrival, and I know Greg can’t either. Nevertheless, babies come when they are ready, so we will simply have to wait. Today is Greg’s birthday. Happy birthday Greg!! I’m praying that this is your new granddaughter’s birthday too. Have a great day either way!! We love you!!
Every day, we see change happening all around us. Some of it is good, some bad, and some is just simply change, but some things just never seem to change. There is a timelessness about laughter for instance. It doesn’t matter if it is a giggle, a big belly laugh, or a throw your head back laugh, laughter is contagious and just simply fun. It’s also good for you. It lifts depression, and it just makes you feel better about your day…even if it’s been a bad one up to that point. Our lives may change, bringing periods of sadness, grief, pain, and loss, but even in those times, our memories can bring moments where a memory brings a bout of laughter, that lifts our spirits even in the saddest of times.
Thankfully, most people live relatively happy lives, filled with blessings mingled with those few sad times. It is during those happy times that we find ourselves noticing the things we like about the good times…things like the timelessness of our laughter. In taking pictures of the unwrapping of the Christmas gifts, I got a couple of pictures of my girls laughing. It’s funny how a picture in which the subject closed their eyes, can become one of the most treasured. Both of my girls were laughing and in the laugh, their eyes closed, but it was because of the joy of the moment, and that is what made all the difference. Then Corrie sent me a text with a picture comparison of her now and in the middle of a laugh as a little girl. All I can say, is that some things never change. Talk about the timelessness of our laughter. Corrie now looked so much the same as Corrie then, it was uncanny. We always think of ourselves as changing so much as we grow up, but maybe it isn’t really such a change after all.
Things like our smile, laughter, frowns, and other facial expressions really don’t change to very much over the years. We just think they have changed until we see them do the same thing years later that you have see in a picture. That is what happened to me when Corrie noticed that in the picture I took on Christmas eve. She saw that it looked a lot like one that had been taken years ago on another Christmas eve. She hasn’t changed much at all. She still has the ability to throw her head back and laugh as hard as anyone…just like she did as a kid.
Laughter is such a wonderful part of our lives. It is something that adds meaning to our lives. There are things in our lives that change…never to be the same again, and there are things that never change. It makes me glad that the laughter and the way people laugh just never change. The memories that include laughter are the best kind of memories there are. Every time I think of my kids laughing I can now remember the laughter as little ones, and realize that it is the same and the grown up daughters they have become. I love that some things just never change…don’t you?
When my two oldest grandchildren, Chris and Shai, completed their last day of high school, they both stopped by my office to share their thoughts with me. Chris has his next three years of college all planned out, while Shai isn’t sure of what she wants to do concerning college, but that didn’t matter, because their feelings were essentially the same. Both were a little bit in shock. How could all those school years have somehow flown by so quickly? Suddenly it seemed like just yesterday that they were starting Kindergarten, middle school, and high school…so how could it possibly be over. It felt so final.
Looking back, I remember my own final day of high school, and I still remember exactly how I felt. It was a mixture of shock and sadness. It wasn’t that I wasn’t ready to move on to the new chapters of my life and all the great things my life would hold, but there was just a little sadness that my formal childhood education, and therefore my childhood were now over. Being an adult is such a change from the teenage years. You don’t have to answer to your parents, or even live under their roof, but that means that you are now responsible for your own bills, your own job, your own decisions, and your own mistakes. It is a big step, but that isn’t what is causing the feeling of, something is…not quite right here…when did I suddenly slip through this passage of time, and how could I have not noticed that it was going by.
To a kid, the school years seem like they will go on forever, and by about first grade they figure out that they have a total of thirteen years of school to go through, and that feels like a huge amount of years of school. It seems never ending. Then in the blink of an eye, they find themselves standing on the threshold of graduation, and they look back and wonder where all the years went. There is simply no way to reach this point without suddenly thinking “Whoa…wait!! I’m not sure I’m ready for this!!” Nevertheless, ready or not, here it is. You don’t have the option to go back, slow down, or stop and do things over. You are graduating, and your years of childhood education, and childhood in general are over. It is a sobering discovery, and therefore it takes a bit of getting used to, combined with that hint of sadness. I could totally relate to how Chris and Shai were feeling.
Whether a student likes school, or can’t wait until it is over, I think the reaction to that final day is the same…even if they plan to go to college. College is not the same as high school, so the feel of that is very different than anything they are used to. Their education is their own responsibility…they can do what they need to do, or they can bomb out. Of course, bombing out does mean that they have some explaining to do to their parents, but it is still up to them really. They are adults now, and their choices are their own…as are their mistakes. I know that both my grandchildren will be great!!
There are many ways for a family to be spread across the country. Most times, these days anyway, it is a choice to move to a different place or climate, but other times, people move for work or education. People used to leave family and friends to head out west to search for gold or to get a piece of land that they could homestead on. But, sometimes the reasons a family gets spread all over the country are very different, and much more sad.
My great grandfather’s family traveled by covered wagon to Wisconsin in 1879. The rest of the family lived in Iowa, so it is my assumption that my great grandfather and his wife, my great grandmother moved in the months following their marriage. My grandfather was actually born in that covered wagon, in Eu Clair, Wisconsin. That said, he was already out of the home when the moves of the rest of his family took place.
My great great grandfather passed away in Webster City, Iowa on January 13, 1883, at the young age of 56 years. His loss would be devastating to the family. As often happened in those years, with the loss of the bread winner, the children had to be farmed out to the relatives. Such was the case in my great great grandmother’s family. Her family would never be the same. Her oldest daughter, Ida, who was also married and wasliving in Washington state, took her younger brother, Allen to live with her family. Her daughter Teressa went to live in Rushville, Nebraska. She and her sons, Luther and Cornealius went to live in Oklahoma.
With travel being more difficult, I don’t know if my great great grandmother ever saw some of her kids again, and if she did, I’m sure it was not often. She would live out her life in Oklahoma, with her son Luther and his family, and would live to the good old age of 75, on April 6, 1906. While her life was long, especially for that time period, I still have to wonder if it was also filled with a great degree of sadness and loneliness since so many of her children lived so far away. Because women didn’t have the ability to make enough money to properly raise a family in those days, they had little choice but to depend on the charity of family members to make it. These days are different, of course, and many women have been single moms and fared very well. Still, I think it took a great amount of courage to send her children to live with family, not knowing how they would do in life. I’m sure it took a great deal of worry too.
Throughout all the years that I knew Bob’s grandpa on his mother’s side, we all knew with certainty that he hated having his picture taken. So much so, that he would look away, or glare at the camera. We all just knew that any picture he was in would have him looking angerly away, and that made us sad sometimes, but there was nothing we could do to change things. I often wondered why he wouldn’t just cooperate, but we all assumed that he simply hated having his picture taken…badly enough to practically throw a fit about it. It got to the point where it was easier to leave him out or to let him be grouchy about it.
As I was going through some of the old pictures from my in-laws’ house, I came across a few pictures here and there, that were a little different. The grouchy look was gone, and he was looking at the camera. I began to wonder about something else…like what could have happened to make him hate having his picture taken. He wasn’t always that way. The pictures proved that. Life can change people sometimes. Sadness can take away their smiles, and every life has some sadness in it, but I couldn’t think of a deep sadness that had happened to him since these pictures were taken. So what could it be? What could have stolen his smiles, and turned him into someone who didn’t want his picture taken?
Since Grandpa died in 1985, I suppose that we will never know. It saddens me that he died with some deep dark sadness still living inside him. It saddens me that we never got to see the other side of him…the side of him that had smiles and laughter in it, because I think that side would have been very nice to know. I wonder why he locked that part of himself away? No, I guess we will never know what happened to Grandpa to make him that way. But, after looking at the pictures of his smiling face, looking directly at the camera, holding my brother-in-law, Ron when he was a baby and his smiling face looking lovingly at his mother, I will always know that there was a time when things were very different.