I think most people have played with a Slinky at one point or another in their lives. The Slinky is a pre-compressed helical spring toy invented by Richard James in the early 1940s. It is able to perform a number of tricks, including travelling down a flight of steps end-over-end as it stretches and re-forms itself with the aid of gravity and its own momentum, or appear to levitate for a period of time after it has been dropped. Kids have been known to spend hours playing with the simple spring, which rather defies the imagination in itself. Most kids tire easily of toys, so the long lasting play with a slinky was surprising. Still, as with all such toys, the Slinky eventually lost its draw, and few people play with it now.
The strangest thing about the Slinky is that it wasn’t invented to be a toy at all. In 1943, a naval mechanical engineer named Richard James, who was stationed at the William Cramp and Sons shipyards in Philadelphia, was developing springs that could support and stabilize sensitive instruments aboard ships in rough seas. As he worked, James accidentally knocked one of the springs from a shelf, and watched as the spring “stepped” in a series of arcs to a stack of books, to a tabletop, and to the floor, where it re-coiled itself and stood upright. I’m sure the sight was funny, mostly because it was so unexpected. As his wife Betty later recalled, “He came home and said, ‘I think if I got the right property of steel and the right tension; I could make it walk.'” As with any inventor, I’m sure that his inventor’s mind was already clicking. James began to experiment with different types of steel wire over the next year, and finally found a spring that would walk. I’m sure he was like “a kid in a candy store” with each fine-tuning of the toy. Betty was skeptical at first, but changed her mind after the toy was fine-tuned and neighborhood children expressed an excited interest in it. She dubbed the toy Slinky, by which she meant “sleek and graceful,” after finding the word in a dictionary, Betty decided that this word exactly described the sound of a metal spring expanding and collapsing.
The couple formed James Spring and Wire Company, which was later renamed James Industries, using just a $500 loan. They had 400 Slinky units made by a local machine shop, hand-wrapped each in yellow paper, and priced them at $1 a piece. Each was 2½ inches tall, and included 98 coils of high-grade blue-black Swedish steel. At first, the James couple had difficulty selling Slinky to toy stores but, then in November 1945, they were granted permission to set up an inclined plane in the toy section of Gimbels department store in Philadelphia to demonstrate the toy. Finally, the Slinky was a hit, and the first 400 units were sold within ninety minutes. In 1946, Slinky was introduced at the American Toy Fair. The Slinky was without doubt a huge success, yet in it’s humble beginnings, it was an accident.
There is an old saying, “If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb.” If that’s the case, then one must assume that the opposite is also true. And in the case of March, 2016…the opposite would definitely be the case. Bob and I were married on March first, and so we go to Thermopolis around that time to celebrate our anniversary. This year was absolutely beautiful!! It was warm with no snow, and our quiet little walks were just lovely. The groundhog had predicted an early Spring this year…and unusual prediction for him, so I was feeling very optimistic about the remainder of the Winter…or the lack thereof. Now it’s not that I’m superstitious, and I don’t believe that these predictions are superstition anyway, but rather God’s way of showing us little signs of His plans for the future. He tells the animals things that humans just don’t hear, like telling the geese when to fly south or to head north. We humans have somehow become so scientific that we fail to listen to the signs from God.
Of course, the scientists would say that they are able to predict the weather too, and perhaps they do listen to the signs of God, whether they admit that is what they are doing or not. Still, I find it odd that things like the groundhog not seeing his shadow on February 2nd, or the way March makes it’s annual entrance, can have such an impact of the weather over the next month or so, but they do nevertheless. One thing that many of us have come to look for is the time when the geese fly south. If they head out early, we have a pretty good idea that Winter will soon follow, but if the stay around into late fall, things could be very different for the Winter. They simply have been told that there is no hurry to leave. It is maybe the one sign from God that we humans have noticed over the years.
Be that as it may, we have arrived at the end of March in Wyoming. Enter Winter Storm Troy!! This Winter has been a relatively easy one, even though, the snow that fell in mid-December, didn’t leave the streets until mid-February. Nevertheless, I am pretty much over Winter after the first snow of the season, so I was looking forward to an early Spring. Now, with the end of March upon us, it decides to follow the old saying, and go out like a lion…since it came in like a lamb. That said, we are sitting here in Wyoming with about sixteen inches of snow on the ground, many businesses closed, and schools that would be…were it not for Spring Break. This storm is not supposed to hang around very long, but those unfortunate people in its path could get anywhere from 1″ to 47″ of the white stuff. I certainly hope we are not on the 47″ end of that scale. The snow is expected to continue through tonight and finally heading out around 6pm tomorrow. After that, look out, because when the temperatures heat up to the low fifties by Sunday, all this snow is going to melt, and become…a whole lot of water. I guess that is the April Fools Day joke in all of this weather prediction process.
Every year, I dread the beginning of winter. It doesn’t matter how late it starts, I still wish it was over the minute it begins. I know that many people would say, why do you live where you do, and to that I say…it is where I have always lived…or at least since I was three years old. Before that, up until I was three years old, I lived in Superior, Wisconsin, and I must say that the weather there would have been worse than the winters here, so I have moved to a better place…sort of. Don’t get me wrong…I love Wyoming. It is my home, and in the fall, spring, and summer, I am perfectly happy here. I would just love to eliminate winter all together. I can’t say that I always felt that way about winter, because as a kid, I probably didn’t. I think our parents had no trouble getting my sisters and me to go outside and make snowmen, or snow angels, or build a fort and have a snowball fight. It’s what kids do. In reality it seems like winter bothers us more and more, the older we get. Even my sister, Cheryl Masterson, who loves winter, really has no true desire to be out in it. She likes the beauty of it and the coolness of the air, but shoveling snow or driving in snow…not so much.
I guess it is a good thing that our lives have seasons too, because if they didn’t, I doubt if anyone would ever do those fun things that kids do in winter. If we all felt the way I do about winter right now, I suppose we would move to a different place every six months or so. That, of course is the snowbird stage of life, except that it would be something that happened much more often, and that is what I would be, were it not for my obligations here. For me, there is a love/hate relationship with the changing seasons. When spring rolls around, I will start to feel alive again, just like the flowers, trees, and birds. My heart sings as the warmer weather approaches, and I feel like hibernating during the colder months. The odd thing too, is that I love winter scenes…in pictures, but in reality, I have no desire to be there…just to look, and then to go out in the warm summer weather I truly love.
Perhaps I need to consider what the difference was when I was a child, and I really did like going out into the snowy weather. Was it that I didn’t mind the cold, or that I didn’t mind dressing for it? Is it that I have forgotten how to play? Probably, that is it. In fact the last time I can say that I really played was when my grandchildren were little. I think it would be great if I could travel back in time those 15 or so years to when I would gladly have gone out in the snow with my grandchildren, because…well, I would do just about anything for them. I suppose that even then I can’t say I loved the cold, but I did have a great time playing with those grandchildren…even if it was cold. I can’t go back in time, so here I am at the beginning of another winter. The snow has arrived, the cold is here…and so it begins.
Sixty six years ago, when the bitterly cold winter of 1949 was finally over and spring had finally arrived, my mother-in-law, Joann Knox was a young girl of eighteen, and she was in love. She had known her future husband and the love of her life, Walter Schulenberg, all her life. Still, knowing him didn’t mean they were always in love, or even that they liked each other. Little kids can be friends with someone, and then when they get older, things change. Then, as was the case with my in-laws, things can change again. That annoying teenaged boy or girl suddenly takes on a new look to you. Suddenly, the time is right, and they both wonder why they didn’t see this person this way before. That’s how it was for my in-laws. Grandma Knox, Joann’s mom told me once that after they got older, Mom didn’t like Dad one bit. I would guess that was probably in his bratty adolescent years, when most boys are awkward around girls…especially if they like them at all.
As the years went by, Walt and Joann moved in different circles, and didn’t really see each other very much, but then one day, he noticed her again. My mother-in-law wasn’t too sure how she felt about his new found interest in her, as she still thought of him as a bit of an annoying boy, but if you knew my father-in-law at all, you would know that he had a winning personality, and it was really hard not to like him. That is what my mother-in-law found too. Before long, they were an item. First meeting them after many years of marriage, and meeting them is a more reserved situation…for my mother-in-law at least, I never saw the love struck side of their early relationship. I don’t think their kids really did either. Their love letters, written during the times he was working one place and she another, were tender and sweet. It was such a surprise to see those letters, because they just never seemed to me to be the googly eyed kind of couple, and yet, here in their letters, they were.
As time passed, their future plans began to grow, and when Joann graduated, they decided to be married. Like their granddaughter, Corrie Petersen, my daughter, they didn’t wait very long after graduation. The wedding took place on the 5th anniversary of D-Day, a fact that I seriously doubt that either of them gave a single thought to…at least not that year. Like many marriages of that time, it was a simple wedding…much like my own parents’ wedding just a few years later. My mother-in-law wore a simple peach colored dress and my father-in-law a suit. Nevertheless, it was for them the perfect day…the culmination of the many years of an on again, off again friendship, now turned to a forever kind of love. Today marks the 66th anniversary of that wedding day, and while my father-in-law has been gone now for two years, my mother-in-law is still alive, and since she does not realize that he is gone, we will still tell her happy anniversary…at the same time that we tell her that Dad is out in the garage working on a car, or at Walmart, or visiting the neighbors, because to tell her he is gone would be just too mean. Happy anniversary to my in-laws, Walt…in Heaven, and Joann, here on Earth. Have a wonderful day. We love you both very much.
For years now, part of our Mother’s Day gift to Mom was to clean up her yard, make necessary repairs, and plant flowers in anticipation of the coming Spring. Mom had decided that she really had everything she needed, and so asked that this be our gift to her, because these were things that she could no longer do. Mom and Dad had always loved their flower gardens, planning them out every year. They always had a beautiful yard, but with Dad in Heaven and Mom’s knees the way they were, she just couldn’t give them the care they needed anymore. And yet, her yard was very important to her, because it had been important to them. We were carrying on the tradition she and Dad had started, and she wanted to be out there with us, supervising and wishing she could get down there with us, because unlike me, she loved digging in the dirt to plant the flowers that would grace her yard. It is not my thing exactly, because while I love flowers, I don’t like digging in the dirt to plant them. Nevertheless, I understand why this was what she wanted, and that makes it important to me too.
Spring will come this year, as it always does, but my mom will miss spring and Mother’s Day this year. Her house will be my sister, Cheryl’s house now. It is my hope that the tradition of planting the flower garden in the planter that Dad prepared will continue in some way. I don’t know if it will be the sisters or Cheryl’s children, but I hope we at least plant the front gardens for Mom, Dad, and Cheryl, because like it or not, Spring will come this year, as it always does, the sun will shine and the flowers will bloom, and while Mom will spend this one with Dad in Heaven, enjoying God’s amazing gardens, she would not want their gardens to miss out on God’s glorious Spring gardening season.
It is so odd to think about taking the reigns on things like this, but as my cousin Elmer Johnson said, “Just remember they taught and trained us for this day, now it’s time for you guys to take your place at the head of the table.” They did train us well. They taught us things like never go to bed angry, keep on the sunny side, and that family is so very important. They taught us to help each other and stick together, no matter what the situations of life might bring. They taught us that love never fails. No matter what people do or say to you, react to it in love, because you don’t know what they have been going through. You might be the only bright spot in their day, but only if you walk in love. Yes, when I think about all of the life lessons they taught us, I can see that they did train us very well, and while we will never get over their home going, because we miss them so very much, we will get on with life, because that is what they would want for us. We will take our place at the head of the table. We will carry on with traditions designed to keep the family close. We will honor their wishes, hopes, and dreams for us, by always sticking together, and always putting God first in our lives. Spring will come, and with it, the flowers, the sunshine, and reasons to smile again.
After last year’s unusually hard Winter, with weather patterns that were dubbed Polar Vortex, I was not too keen on the idea of a repeat performance this year. Thankfully, I have been treated to the Indian Summer that I remember from my youth. Of course, we didn’t get an Indian Summer every year, but when we did, the neighborhood kids all celebrated. September always brought with it cooler weather, school, and the dreaded homework that came with it. It always seemed like having that hit all at the same time was really a very cruel joke on the kids. But occasionally, we got a year that made a lot of us feel a lot better about the coming Winter.
This has been such a year. With temperatures in the high 60s and into the 70s, more people have been spending evenings and weekends outdoors, enjoying the unusual warmth. Oh, I don’t say that jackets are unnecessary, but you wear them mostly in the morning and you find yourself taking them off a lot too. Kids are out on their skateboards, scooters, and bicycles enjoying the last few evenings during which they can play outdoors for a good part of the evening…at least until they have to go get their homework done.
For me, Indian Summer means a reprieve…if only for a short time…for the drudgery of Winter, while also giving a break from the worst of the Summer heat. I used to be a serious Summer person, but these days, I like the temperatures to be in the 70s and 80s, not the 90s and 100s. I know that my sister, Cheryl Masterson will still call 70s and 80s serious Summer heat, but I can’t agree with her there. Early Fall and late Spring are my ideal times of the year…provided that the fall is not too cool and the spring is not too rainy.
Indian Summer is said to be a time of unseasonably warm weather and little wind…but I doubt if they had seen Indian Summer in Casper, Wyoming, because we definitely have wind. I can deal with that too, as long as it’s not too cold. With this years lovely Indian Summer weather, and the opportunities to get out and hike some, I am feeling a lot less of the affects Winter brings on me, but then we are still on Daylight Savings Time until the end of this week. I’m sure that after that the normal affects of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) will begin to rear their ugly heads. For that, I simply have to spend as much time as I can in the sun, and keep telling myself that December 22 is coming, and with it, comes the beginning of the move toward the longest day of the year…one of my favorite days. I know that like every season, Indian Summer will pass, and Winter will pounce on us, as it always does, but for now, I’m just going to enjoy every moment and every bit of warmth of the Indian Summer that we have been treated to.
My great great grandfather, Allen Spencer and my great great grandmother, Lydia Quackenbush Potts Spencer were married on February 22, 1850 in Canastota, New York. It didn’t take them too many years to decide that New York was not where they wanted to be. So, in the spring of 1855, after the birth of their second child, Ida, who was born June 11, 1854, they packed up their belongings and their two children, and headed west. They had their hearts set on Iowa. It would be a long journey, traveling on dirt roads, camping underneath the stars, cooking over a campfire, and often going for days without seeing other people. They would have had to cross rivers with no bridges, traveling for miles sometimes before finding a place where it was safe to take the covered wagon across. Then traveling back to where they had been before. They would have most likely crossed the Mississippi at Prairie Du Chien, which was the only place north of Saint Louis to have a ferry at that time. I imagine that it seemed very odd to be around what seemed like so many people again. Then, probably after a few days, they set off again for their dream home…Iowa. It is unsure if they arrived in Iowa in 1855, or if they wintered in Prairie Du Chien before going on in the spring of 1856, but apparently Iowa was not quite what they expected, because it was not long before the family would again move…this time to Wisconsin. My great grandfather, William was born in Iowa on August 27, 1857, but by the time their next child, Luther was born on May 18, 1858, the family was living in Wisconsin.
Having driven through Iowa recently, I can say that it is pretty flat, and at least to me, not very interesting. I suppose it was a matter of what you were looking for. Farming country wasn’t exactly what this city girl had in mind for life, which is probably why I chose to stay in Wyoming…country enough to be small and city enough to have things to do. Still, Iowa does appeal to a lot of people and in the end, it must have appealed to my great great grandparents again, because Webster City, Iowa would be where my great great grandfather, Allen Spencer would pass away, and where he is buried. My great great grandmother, Lydia Quackenbush Potts Spencer would again move on, this time to Fay, Oklahoma, where her sons lived and would pass away there twenty three years after the passing of her husband, Allen Spencer, and after seeing her many grandchildren.
I don’t know if they found the winters in Wisconsin too harsh, the growing season too short, or exactly what drew them back to Iowa, but I guess it was their dream in the beginning and their dream in the end…or at least until Allen’s death. Then maybe Lydia could no longer bear to stay, or maybe she only left because of her sons. I’ll probably never know for sure, but I can relate to being near family…especially after a loss, so that is my guess as to what my great great grandmother would have wanted.
As Spring approached each year, my Great Aunt Bertha Schumacher seemed to blossom right along with it. Her favorite flower was the Crocus, and while I can agree that they are beautiful, the fact that they last for such a short time, makes them a flower that I hadn’t really considered as a favorite, or even given much thought to once they had faded away for another year. Nevertheless, for Bertha, Spring was a time to feel alive again. The long winter was finally over, and she and her sister, Elsa reveled in the beauty of the flowers, as they drove their horse and buggy to school in the mornings. Bertha called the drive to school, one of her wildest joys, because the Crocuses were so abundant in the fields along the road. The view must have been amazing!
The Crocuses she would see around Boulder, Colorado later in life grew much taller in the mountains there, but on the prairie, they grew in sheets, and they were magnificent. I can only imagine how amazing they must have looked along the road as the girls went to school. It would be enough to give you a horrible case of Spring Fever when you got to school, and had to try to apply yourself to your studies. The only time I can remember seeing flowers that dominated a field was when my sisters and I visited our sister Caryl in Bremerton, Washington and we took a drive up to Bellingham for the Tulip Festival. That was magnificent, so I can somewhat relate to Bertha’s feelings on so many flowers in one place.
Another of Bertha’s favorite flowers was the wild Tiger Lily, which grew in “unbelievable abundance” in the lake country near their home in the Fargo, North Dakota area. The wild Tiger Lilies grew only where the ground had not been “turned by a plow” and in the 27 years the family lived there, they saw them completely disappear. The family occasionally saw the wild Tiger Lilies when they were driving home from Minnesota. They were always so tired, and then they would come up over a hill, and there would be a whole field of them., They got so excited. They stopped to pick some of them, and then go to enjoy them for days.
The only spring plant that Bertha thought was a worthy rival to the crocuses and lilies, was her mother’s strawberry plants. the strawberries were planted at the edge of the garden so they could be easily picked, and often the early ones were picked and eaten long before the main harvest. The strawberries grew so large that they could not hide among the leaves and were easy to see. Of course, as with any garden, there was weeding to do, but nobody seemed to mind, because as they worked, they were reminded of the luscious harvest to come. Great Aunt Bertha, and her sister, Elsa loved to garden in her later years too, and tried to transplant some of the wild Tiger Lilies and the wild Crocuses into their own garden in Boulder, but they just wouldn’t grow. I guess that some flowers will only grow where they choose, and not where we wish they would…unfortunately.
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.
Most people think of Ground Hog’s Day on February 2nd, but in our family, it is more than that. Today is Bob’s grandmother’s birthday. She would have been 104 years old, if she were still alive. She always liked the idea of being born on Ground Hog’s Day, and I think most people born on a holiday do feel like that is a special thing. For Grandma, finding out if Spring was coming early this year, and turning another year older were part of the same thought…almost like getting one more present. Everyone feels like their own birthday is the most special day of the year. I know I have always loved my day. I like the name of the month, the day of the month, and even the year I was born, but to the world, there is nothing special about my birthday, because I was not born on a holiday. To the world it is just another day, but when you are born on a holiday, it’s almost like everyone acknowledges it…or at the very least remembers it, like all of us have done with Grandma’s birthday.
This year, Grandma would have received the happy news that Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow, so Spring will come early. That would have been happy news to Grandma, who as I recall, didn’t care for Winter any more than I do. Grandma was always such a happy person, and I can just see a little spring in her step, and maybe a little brighter smile, at the though of the coming Spring. She always had a garden, and loved to be out there in the sunshine picking vegetables for canning. Of course, that was in the Summer, but Spring is for planting, and anticipating the coming harvest, which is what Grandma was most likely thinking about.
I wish we would have been able to see Grandma more through the years, but she lived in Montana, and we live in Wyoming. Not too far for our yearly visit, but too far for visits that came much more often, and a visit on her birthday was difficult to plan because of the weather concerns. Still, she knew we loved her and wanted to come, because we did so almost every year from the time Bob and I married to her passing. I miss those visits to Grandma’s house, and the peaceful days that those visits meant. It was a special time in our lives, and a time I will never forget. Happy birthday in Heaven, Grandma!! We love and miss you very much.