For most children, their first friends are their siblings or cousins. Their families get together, so the kids get to see each other often. The days flow from one to another, and for a time, everyone expects that nothing will change. I suppose that is why change always hits us so hard. We have convinced ourselves that it will never happen. Then comes the day when one of those first friends moves away. For some people it doesn’t happen until a sibling moves out of the house for the first time, but for others, as was the case for my sister, Cheryl Spencer Masterson and our cousin, Pam Spencer Wendling, it can come at a very young age, and it can feel quite devastating, for everyone involved.
So often, the two friends only hear one side of how the two of them are feeling. I know that my sister missed Pam a lot. I don’t recall my own feelings concerning the matter, but then I was only two and a half, so that isn’t surprising. In reality, it was Cheryl and Pam who played together every day, and who were so close. They did everything together. It didn’t matter if the day was warm or cold. They were outside playing in the snow or taking care of their baby dolls in the warm sun. It was so cute.
Recently, on our visit to Wisconsin, Pam was telling us about a baby album she had with lots of those early childhood pictures in it. They included Pam and Cheryl, and me too, but there were several of the two little friends going about their daily play. It was so obvious that these two cousins loved each other very much. Our two families lived just across the yard from each other, and since the alley ran along the side of the house, the two yards shared a common fence. In those days, you could let your kids go outside to play with a lot less supervision and worry, so Cheryl and Pam were outside playing together all the time. It was the perfect setup…until all that changed.
In November of 1958, our family moved from Superior, Wisconsin back to my mom’s hometown of Casper, Wyoming. As I said, I was really too little to understand how much Cheryl missed Pam, and until this trip, we hadn’t heard just how much Pam missed Cheryl. Apparently, Pam must have asked her mom why she couldn’t go play with Cheryl, and was told that the family had moved to Wyoming. I’m not really sure where the discussion about trees came into the whole thing, but somehow Pam associated the move with trees. That is odd, because I would have to say that there are a lot more trees in Wisconsin than in Wyoming, but Pam didn’t understand that. She just knew that the move made her sad, and there had to be a reason…in her mind anyway. When that subject came up, Pam cried and said, “Cheryl’s Wyoming has trees!!” Maybe she thought that was why we moved, or maybe she just thought that everything must be better in Wyoming, but whatever the reason, she knew in her heart that Cheryl’s Wyoming had trees.
Kids have always had a fascination with animals. Any animal will do, but pets don’t seem to fall into the same category as other animals. I suppose that the reason for that is that after a little bit of time with a pet, they become normal everyday parts of the family. It doesn’t mean the child doesn’t love the pet, because they do, but the pet is an animal they see everyday, often in the house, so it’s nothing special. Farm animals, on the other hand are something different. Here is an animal that isn’t a domesticated pet, and yet it isn’t afraid of people either. They understand that they need people to bring them their food and water, and they also understand that people aren’t usually scary. Yes, the animal could hurt a child, especially if it stepped on the child, but for the most part the animal is as curious about the child as the child is about the animal.
As small children, my dad and his siblings lived on a farm, so being around farm animals was a part of life. Still, that did not stop the curiosity about those animals from forming in their minds. When they went out to play, a part of their time outside always seemed to be spent visiting the other residents of their home. They would trek out to the haystacks where the cows would be feeding, and watch those strong, yet gentle animals eat, while the cows watched these tiny versions of the people who cared for them watching them. Funny how we all teach our kids not to stare, but when put in a situation like this, all that rudeness doesn’t seem to matter. Both sides are staring anyway, and since it isn’t a person…it just doesn’t matter. I suppose in many ways the whole situation was a lot like the petting zoos that most city children have been to as their only real interaction with farm animals.
When my girls were little, we too had a little place out in the country, and we raised a cow now and them. The girls were quite curious and really wanted to help with our cow. I had to be careful what they helped with, because when it came to grain…our cows always became pigs, and a tiny little girl could get trampled in the cows effort to get to what the cows considered candy. Most of the time the cows were a gentle as they could be, but the grain had to be given in a certain way, and very quickly, because they couldn’t wait to get to it. One cow we had named Rosie, due to her red color, was so excited that she was trying to follow me and still scratch her belly too. The end result was one good, but unintended kick to the back of my knee. It left a knot that stayed with me for the better part of 6 months. It was a good thing for Rosie that I liked her, and it wasn’t butchering time, or she would have been on our table in a matter of days.
Hay was always a very different matter. Little kids could be around cows eating hay, and there was not a dangerous rush to the food. I suppose that was the vegetables of the whole deal, and we all know how kids, which is what cows are a lot like when it comes to food, are with vegetables. The girls loved to help put the hay in the feeding troths for the cows, and then sit and watch them eat. I suppose it was an interesting sight. If you have never watched a cow eat, you might not know it, but they really are strange when they eat. I suppose that is why Aunt Ruth, Uncle Bill, and my dad were just standing there, out by the haystack when they could have been playing in the snow, just watching the cows eat.
Today’s 8″ to 10″ of snow and still falling, takes me back to the severe storms we got when I was a kid. I remember one in particular in about 1972 or 1973, where the snow was taller than my little niece, Chantel, who was about 1 or 2 at the time. I don’t know for sure where that picture is, but I can picture it in my head. As I recall, it was almost taller than my dad, who was squatted down next to her in the picture.
Of course, like today there was no school and no unnecessary travel in the area, and about the only people moving were those with snowmobiles. The main difference then is that we had power at our house, which I do not have today. Thankfully I have one of those Olde Brooklyn Lanterns, or I would be sitting here in relative darkness, since it is still pretty early in the morning. I’ve read that many businesses are closing due to the weather and due to the “no unnecessary travel” warning, because of trees down and power outages, caused by power lines down.
Occasionally, I hear the cracking of branches in the trees. Because so many still have most of their leaves, they are very vulnerable. That makes me sad, especially since one of the trees we have been nurturing from the day it sprouted…a volunteer from one of our neighbor’s trees…is among those trees that have lost branches. My daughter, Amy’s trees have also lost branches. So far my daughter, Corrie’s trees are ok. The streets look like a war zone, and of course, we have made national news with our freak storm. It is so early in the year for so much snow to hit here… but not impossible as you can see.
What makes this feel so bad, however, is the loss of so many trees. The skyline has changed in many ways. When I look across the street from my house, many of the trees are much shorter. It is hard to tell at this moment if they are just bent or if they are broken, but I know that many are broken. It is simply heartbreaking. So many years put into growing those trees, and now they are gone, and there is no guarantee that they will come back. With God’s help we will persevere and we will nurture those trees that make it, back to health. Freak storms are a part of life, I just hate the look of the war zone that they leave behind them.
In years gone by, when it wasn’t as easy to get to your job site as it is today, many people lived as near their work as possible, especially when their work was out in the woods. Jobs in the cities and towns don’t require long drives, but when you travel on a horse, and work from sunrise to sunset; it’s nice to be close to home. Working in the logging industry, like my grandparents did, living in the woods was just part of the job.
I’m told that their little cabin in the woods was near International Falls, Minnesota, where their daughter, my Aunt Laura was born. I would imagine that the winters were very cold there, and the best thing for anyone who could was to stay indoors, but them I seriously doubt that my grandmother was a woman who was afraid of a little but of cold and snow. Still, the cold and snow would really make it hard to work out in the woods…nevertheless, that was the job that had to be done. Maybe that was another good reason to live near your work. You could get home to the nice warm house sooner, and maybe even be able to go home for lunch.
When I look at these pictures, it reminds me of the “Little House on the Prairie” books. Everywhere you look seems to be a new adventure. I can imagine how the Ingalls girls felt living there…the adventures they must have had…the adventures my Aunt Laura must have had there, playing with the children of the other logging families that lived in the woods too. I’m sure there was an abundance of forest animals to see and be in awe of. I love photographing the animals…when I happen to be in the right place at the right time. The pictures can be amazing. I can imagine all the beauty all around the little cabin in the woods.
Most people think of the 4th of July as a hot, mid-summer holiday to celebrate our independence, and they would normally be right…but not always. In Wyoming, and I’m sure there are a few other places as well, there are times when the 4th of July can be cold. We don’t get that too much, but we do on occasion. The year my oldest daughter, Corrie was born, I recall that it snowed on the 4th, and I found myself thinking, “How can this be happening?” Another year that saw snow on the 4th of July was 1973, which was almost 2 years before I married Bob, so I didn’t know his family then.
Apparently, they decided to take a trip up into the Shirley Mountains that day, and were surprised to find snow…quite a bit, in fact. It was obvious to me that they were unprepared for what they found in the Shirleys that morning, because the kids had on shorts and even, bathing suits. It would seem that it had been pretty hot, so when they came across that snow, everyone wanted the chance to really cool off. Everyone started dancing around on the snow… some of them, barefoot!! They were out there on the snow…dancing!! It made me think of the Ice Capades…or in this case, the Summer Ice Capades!!
They had such a good time, and I’ll bet they didn’t even notice, if their feet got cold. Or maybe they didn’t. The day doesn’t exactly look like it was cold, but it must have been, since there was still snow on the 4th of July. I know that it felt cold on July 4, 1975, when it snowed 4 days after Corrie was born, but maybe this snow simply hadn’t melted yet. That would indicate a colder summer, but not necessarily as cold as it was two years later.
Whatever the case, a surprise snow bank brought a cool down moment to a summer day. Sometimes, it’s the little things, things you would never expect, that end up being fun. And sometimes, when you can let go of the everyday things and see the unusual, and allow yourself to be goofy…you just might find yourself having a really great time. Happy Independence Day everyone!!!
Every year, there comes a day…usually in the early Spring…around mid-April, that can only be called Slap Day. No, I’m not saying that everyone should go slap someone, or even that the weather makes you want to slap someone. Although, maybe it does, when they say something like, “We need the moisture.” I mean, we all know that we need the moisture, but it could snow on the mountain, and rain down here. That is what we are supposed to get in the Spring, right? Rain!! I know that the weather isn’t their fault, and they are just trying to look on the bright side. Still it is just so annoying to me, that after enjoying the crocuses and daffodils in your yard…that is starting to turn green…suddenly you can’t find your yard…much less enjoy any flowers. No self respecting flower would come out in this kind of weather, anyway!! I mean, they are delicate!!
I try not to complain, but when Winter pulls such a cruel joke on Spring, I have to draw the line. It seems to me that Winter is enough of a bully to all of us, but when it has to go out and start picking on Spring, who is really just a newborn, after all…well, I get ticked. And, as if that was not enough, Winter doesn’t just throw this whole bullying thing at Spring, he is slapping me with it too. I don’t get it. I have tried to be patient. I have tried to look at snow and cold as just a part of the changing of the seasons. But, lets get them changed already!! What’s up with all of this back and forth. Spring officially arrived on March 20th, after all. That was weeks ago!! And prior to the trusty ground hog’s ridiculous prediction of an early Spring, we had a pretty easy Winter going. You see, once old Punxsutawney Phil decided it was going to start getting nice early for once…well, Winter decided to cut loose. That is the last time I listen to old Punxsutawney Phil…thank you!!
So, all ranting aside, I will just have to look on the bright side, which is impossible to avoid, especially when the sun hits all that snow…and say that yes, we need the moisture, and I’m sure that when this all melts I’ll be glad we got some. And in a few days, I suppose I’ll be able to forget this cruel trick, and move on into Spring with a smile. My annoyance will subside, and the Spring flowers will put joy back into my heart. Yes, I’ll get over Slap Day, but let me tell you this…Old Man Winter…I will not quickly forget your cruel ways.
Living in Wisconsin, my Uncle Bill was no stranger to snow. In reality, it was a fact of life from the time he was a little boy. I’m sure that some winters were worse than others, which is the case in any area that gets snow, but those winters when the area got lots of snow, seemed to cause particular problems for Uncle Bill. I’m sure everyone thinks that lots of snow causes problems for everyone, and I would have to agree, but for Uncle Bill, it was a depressing event to a degree.
At least in his younger days, my uncle loved to be outdoors, and traveling, in particular, was very enjoyable to him. In the letters my dad wrote home to him from World War II, Dad mentioned that Uncle Bill was thinking of going to Mexico…of course, there was a job involved in that one, but Mexico would have also been a way to get out of the snow and warm up too, and since the letter was written in February, it’s my guess that Uncle Bill was, true enough, worried about the shipyards closing, but also, and maybe more importantly, feeling the cold winter weather pretty deeply too.
As a little boy, Uncle Bill had run across snow problems when he found himself sitting on the front walk of the family home, looking at the deep snow that was making it impossible for him to any further on his tricycle. The look on his face told me that this was not a happy little boy, and who could blame him. Tricycles are for riding on, not sitting on with the inability to move. And unfortunately for Uncle Bill, his tricycle was not the only place he found himself in just such a fix. It seems his car ended up snowed in as well, which we all know can be frustrating. The biggest difference between the tricycle and the car is the fact that with the car, Uncle Bill was still able to smile about the whole situation, where with the tricycle, he looked quite annoyed.
Winter’s snow can be lots of fun for everyone, or at least those who like winter and snow, but it also has the irritating ability to slow traffic, mess with travel plans, and make the use of certain toys impossible. For those who live in areas that get lots of snow, it can be particularly annoying, as was the case for Uncle Bill, whose plans always seemed to be foiled by the dumping of large amounts of snow, right on top of his world. It seemed he was always getting snowed in again in those days.
A few days ago, my father-in-law received a phone message from an old family friend. She was calling to wish my mother-in-law a belated happy birthday, and to ask my father-in-law what he remembered about the 1949 blizzard in reference to Colstrip, Montana. Since my father-in-law was in the hospital at the time, I called her back and told her that I would have him call her. Meanwhile, my own interest was peaked about this blizzard, of which I had been totally unaware prior to this call. I got on the Internet and did some searching of my own, and I was quite surprised at what I found.
The 1949 blizzard began on January 2, 1949, and it was soon to be called the “worst winter ever” by anyone who had the misfortune to go through it. The storm roared across several states, and was actually a series of storms that raged on until February 22, and dumped between 50 and 60 inches of snow, depending on where you were. It put a whole lot of people, especially farmers and ranchers in dire straits. Before long everyone knew that something was going to have to be done. Emergency flights of supplies began bringing everything from food to hay to the desperate people in the area. Snow plows pushed through in an effort to get truckloads of hay into the ranchers. Still, it would not be enough to stop the massive loss of livestock that the coming spring would reveal, not to mention the 235 people across several states who lost their lives. My father-in-law told me that the cows tried to stay above the snow by walking on it as it fell. When the snow got very deep, the cows ended up walking above the trees. Then the weight of their bodies caused them to fall through the snow and into the tree tops, where the were trapped and died of starvation. Some ranchers lost entire herds of cattle, either to falling through the tree tops, or being buried alive. My father-in-law told me that the spring brought a horrible sight. Dead cattle hanging in the trees…everywhere.
Transportation came to a standstill too. Before long trains were unable to move forward, and became buried in the snow, right where they stood. When the tracks were finally cleared, the snow would stand as much as 18 feet high beside them. I’m quite sure it was an eerie sight when the trains finally began to move again, because the piled snow was much higher than the trains, and so prevented any view from the train. Not that it mattered much, because there was nothing but snow to see anyway. I can imagine that if a person was at all claustrophobic, however, the feeling that they would encounter going down that track would be almost more than they could bear.
The spring of 1949, would bring to an end, “worst winter ever” and the beginning of healing for many people. Ranchers would have to begin again. Their herds would have to be rebuilt, and it would take much time and a lot of work. I can imagine that the flooding from all that snow was devastating too. Still, healing would take place too. That spring was also one of beginnings, such as the beginning that is so special to my father-in-law, because on June 6, 1949 he would marry the love of his life, my mother-in-law, and so began their years of marriage…63 years and counting.
As much as I dislike snow, and the inevitable wind that always seems to come with it, there are times when, if I have just a moment of free time, and if I stop long enough, I can look at the snow and possibly see something beautiful. It’s hard to do that though…slow down…look around…stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Everything in life these days demands a hectic schedule. Every day I try to cram everything I need to do into a day that doesn’t have enough moments in it, let alone hours.
I had just such a moment on New Years Eve. I had the day off, and Bob had to work. I still had my caregiving duties, but I had a little bit of quiet time late in the morning. I took a look outside, and there it was. The wind had quit. The snow was a little bit windblown, but smooth in many ways. The sun had come out and was shining brightly on the snow. The air was cold…frigid really, but it didn’t matter. I stepped outside, and looked at the snow. The sun was so bright, it made my eyes water, but I still couldn’t take my eyes off of it.
The snow was beautiful, but looking deeper I saw what the snow tries to hide from those who just casually glance at it. So often we miss the deep inner beauty of the snow. There in front of my eyes I saw the riches of the snow…the gems that it had been hiding…snow diamonds. “What”, you might ask, “are snow diamonds?” Well, they are not just ice crystals sparkling in the sunshine. They are much more than that. They are the little glimmer of hope that no matter how heavy our burdens are…no matter how tough our job or our life is…there are still beautiful things around us that can lift our spirits, brighten our days, soothe our souls, and mend the brokenness that comes from a life that is lived far too often in a hurry.
As I stood there in the crisp cold air, looking once more at the beauty that had been pointed out to me by my Lord, in an effort to show me the things He has made that I might have missed, I felt a warmth inside me…a smile that started in my heart and after making a brief stop in my consciousness, it came to rest on my face. I closed my eyes so I could fix the image in my memory. With their beauty, the snow diamonds had completed their appointed work. They had lifted this caregiver’s spirit…brightened my day…and made me feel like I could breathe again.
Many people find themselves living, with no plans to move, in a climate that they are often unhappy with. This would apply to me when it comes to Wyoming winters, but, of course, not the summers. My granddaughter, however, is another story. I never would have expected her to be the one to like the winter, and especially the snow. I mean, she did as a little kid, but then most little kids do like the snow…then they wise up…again, my opinion, but Shai still likes the snow today. She wants it to snow a lot from October through March. Crazy kid, but she is my granddaughter, and I love her. Still, on this one issue, we will never agree.
We do agree that driving in snow isn’t such a lovely thing, and we do agree that watching it snow, as long as I don’t have to be out in it, is also a lovely thing. On the rest, well…sometimes I think Shai should have been my sister, Cheryl’s granddaughter, because Cheryl absolutely loves winter…every part of it, except maybe for the driving in it. I shouldn’t be so surprised about that, because Shai’s mom, my daughter, Amy maybe should have belonged to my sister-in-law, Jennifer, in that both hate beef, love vegetables and fish, and both could easily live on pasta. I don’t know how I managed to have such a mixed up daughter and granddaughter. Thankfully, the areas that we disagree on are few, and far between. We like many of the same or similar things, but on this one thing, well, I have to say that Shai is crazy concerning snow, and Amy is crazy concerning beef, and I will never change my mind on that one.
Of course, the snow scenes on Christmas cards, and other pictures is something I doubt if anyone could dislike. As long as you can be warm and cozy in front of a crackling fire with a mug of hot chocolate, those scenes are very nice and create a cozy atmosphere…at least until the reality of just how bitterly cold it is out there, sets in.