So often we think that toddlers don’t have the ability to remember things that happened when they were so very small, but the mind is an incredible thing. If our toddler’s mind has deemed something as important enough to remember, we will remember it for the rest of our lives. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of sitting with my mom, Aunt Sandy, and my sister, Cheryl at my mom’s house, while we scanned some pictures, and talked about family history. We talked of many different family stories, but one that stood out in my mind was Aunt Sandy’s account of the entrance of my grandparents’ first grandchild, my cousin, Susie. For any grandparent, the moment when you actually become a grandparent for the first time is amazing…a moment you will never forget. But, what of the small children? Most of us assume that there really won’t be small children to consider when it is the first grandchild, but sometimes, the aunts and uncles are barely toddlers themselves. Such was the case with Aunt Sandy when Susie was born.
When she became an aunt, my Aunt Sandy was just three years old…too young to really remember much about it, right? Wrong! This would be an event that Aunt Sandy’s three year old mind knew was a life changing event. She was never going to be the same after that November day…she wasn’t just a little girl now…she was an aunt. I can’t say for sure that Aunt Sandy knew what being and aunt really meant, or that she understood that there was a new baby in the family now…at least, not at first. Then came the moment when the baby was to be brought over to meet her family.
The house was filled with all the family members. That wasn’t such an unusual thing for my grandparents’ home, so it probably didn’t seem like anything new to Aunt Sandy. Then my Aunt Evelyn and Uncle George brought the baby into the house. Everyone gathered around the new little family. There were the usual ooo’s and ahh’s, as everyone vied for a position where they could get a good look at the baby. But, standing in the back of the crowd, momentarily forgotten in all the excitement, stood my Aunt Sandy, her eyes as big as silver dollars, as she took in this incredible scene. Her little three year old toddler mind was trying to figure out what all this meant, because it didn’t take an adult to know that everything in her world had changed…she knew it, she just didn’t really know how much it had changed.
Feeling maybe just a little bit nervous about all this activity, Aunt Sandy went up to her mom, and put her little hand out and touched her mom. Grandma turned around, perhaps realizing for the first time that the prior youngest person in the family had been momentarily forgotten in all the excitement. As she looked down at her youngest daughter, her youngest child, she knew just what was needed. She said to Aunt Sandy, “Do you want to see the baby?” Aunt Sandy nodded, Grandma picked her up, and she was able to get her first look at the baby that had changed her life forever…the baby that had made her an aunt. She now knew that something amazing had happened in her family, and this was a moment she would remember for the rest of her life.
As we talked about the way that such an early memory could stay with a person, I could see on Aunt Sandy’s face, that the picture of that day was very clearly imprinted in her mind. It was almost as if she was that three year old toddler again, standing in back of the crowd of family members wondering what was going on. That earliest memory had so completely imprinted itself on her mind that she could still see it as if she was back there again.
As the youngest of my Grandma and Grandpa Byer’s family, my Aunt Sandy got to hear all the stories of her family’s lives, starting at a very young age. Her siblings were already out there doing things with their lives, and it all sounded so interesting to her. I suppose that is why she has been the one that was most interested in the family stories, and my go to person when I need information on this person or that person for a story I’m working on. I really need that kind of a person, because there are many stories I hadn’t heard before. I have enjoyed our talks so much, and look forward to the next one. It’s funny, that sometimes when I ask my mom about something to do with one of her siblings, she will say, “I was married by that time, but Sandy will know.” And mom is right.
Of course, eventually Aunt Sandy began to have stories of her own unique experiences, such as the traveling peddler of sorts, who was allowed to take a picture of Grandma, Grandpa, and Aunt Sandy, or the trip she and grandma took to Wisconsin to visit my family, when we lived there. And as a little girl, she became an aunt at an early age when my cousin Susie was born. They would be almost like sisters in those younger years, and at least, great playmates. Every life has a story to tell, and Aunt Sandy paid attention to all the stories, keeping them safe in her memory files…just waiting for someone to take an interest in all of those little treasures waiting there. Some people have a knack for remembering the really interesting stories of a family’s past, and Aunt Sandy is one of those people. She has an amazing memory for the details of situations that happened a long time ago, and she can relate them in such a way as to keep her audience spellbound throughout her story. That is a great skill to have.
These days, Aunt Sandy has retired from the job she held for many years, and she is taking life a little easier. She and my mom have been spending a little more time together, and that has been such a nice thing for my mom. She hasn’t gotten out as much is the last few years, so those get togethers with Aunt Sandy have become very special. Today is Aunt Sandy’s birthday. Happy birthday Aunt Sandy!! Have a great day!! We love you very much!!
Bob and I went out to the nursing home to visit his mother on Saturday, and very uncharacteristic of her, since she got Alzheimer’s Disease anyway, she was very talkative. She was telling us about her day…at least as she remembered it. Her story moved from one scenario to another, making little sense, unless you knew some of the characters, and the places she was talking about. The other problem with her story was that it spanned at least 6 decades, and they were all intermingled. Probably the most disconcerting part of the story, however, was the fact that she was talking about Bob and me, almost like we weren’t there, and yet at other moments, she talked to us, knowing who we were. It was very strange to feel the need to speak of myself, as someone else, so it didn’t confuse her. It was also strange to shift gears, when she asked me what I was making everyone for the dinner she had decided I was cooking.
I’m sure a lot of people would have been a little bit freaked out by this strange visit, but with Alzheimer’s Disease, that is somewhat normal. The main reason it isn’t very normal, is that many Alzheimer’s patients, including my mother-in-law, don’t usually talk so much. It was quite an interesting conversation, really. She mentioned several family members, including Bob and me, our daughters, Corrie and Amy, and two of my grandsons, Chris and Josh. She also mentioned my brother-in-law, Ron, and my nephew, Barry as well as my sister-in-law, Jennifer. Then she mentioned the names Adolph, Brady, and Cody…names that made no sense to me, and two of which will most likely always be a mystery. Adolph and his wife Loretta, apparently were good friends of my in-laws, a long time ago.
It was very strange to know that she knew who we were, and yet also had a picture in her memory of what we looked like 30 years ago. The two pictures seemed like two different people in her mind, so it made perfect sense that she would be talking to us and about us at the same time. I suppose many people would find that sad, and think of Alzheimer’s disease as a horrible thief, and to a degree, they would be right, but so much of this disease…if looked at with the right mindset…can be found humorous. Yes, she makes up her stories, but they are about things in her past. Yes, she doesn’t always know us. But there is a lot to be learned there too. I never knew about their friends, Adolph and Loretta, but maybe someday she will tell me a little bit more about them…perhaps, in another story session.
It’s strange to think about the amount of things you don’t know about your dad, or anyone else for that matter, but when I think about my parents, I expect that I should know most things about them. I guess there are stories that were never told, or little things that just didn’t seem important, and so were passed over. Such is the case with my dad’s time in World War II. I’m not talking about the major things that Dad couldn’t talk about in his letters home, but some of the smaller things. Today I was reading his letter dated August 1, 1944, in which he talks about having a little down time from flying missions. He and a friend went to the gym. In his letter, my dad mentioned punching a bag for a while, among other unnamed exercises.
I never knew that my dad had any interest in boxing, although I vividly remember playing a little boxing game with him every once in a while in the hallway at home. Of course, he never hit me, it was a game. Dad was very quick, and no matter how much I tried to defend my face, he always managed to get a tap in. Looking back, I think my dad taught me a lot about self defense in those little sparring matches, but it never occurred to me that he had any real interest in boxing. I just thought it was a natural ability he had.
Dad had a great time with those sparring matches, and I guess I must have been a bit of a Tomboy, because I did too. I managed to get in a few good taps during those years, but I promise you, it was very few. Talk about feeling uncoordinated!! Nevertheless, if I got one in, I knew it was real and it was an accomplishment, because he didn’t just let me get one in…which is something I was always grateful for. Letting a little kid win at a game once in a while is fine, but if you do it too often, they don’t learn to play well, nor do they learn sportsmanship. Dad’s laughing, fun way of teaching me self defense was something I will always remember fondly about him, and now I know a little bit more about what he was like back then.
Many people think that the elderly have nothing left to give to this world. They are pretty much done, and maybe even waiting to die, right? I couldn’t disagree more. I have been a caregiver since 2005, and while there have been challenges and sadness, the overall experience has been very rewarding. While there have been times when they are irritable, or even downright grouchy, I have found that if you will just walk a mile in their shoes, you will walk away with a new understanding of what they are going through and why they might have mood swings.
I have also found that if you take the time to listen to things they have to say, you can learn a lot about their lives while you are caring for them. These people have live in times that we have no idea about, and listening can teach you a lot about the past…a past that is your heritage. So many of my stories have come from just such talks about days gone by, and I will be forever grateful for having been given the opportunity to hear about it. All too soon, these people could be gone, and with them go all the stories they have stored in their heads. If you have that opportunity, I strongly recommend you have a talk with your parents or other aging loved one so that you can see what it would have been like to walk in their shoes.
Last night and this morning, I found out what it really is like to walk a mile in their shoes, when I experienced a headache that just would not go away, and would not allow me to even think much. My neck was out of place, and after my Chiropractic appointment, I felt much better. Still, it was an eye opener for me, because the one thing a caregiver can’t do, is feel the pain of their patient. For days now, I have been and probably will continue to try to minimize the back pain my mother-in-law feels in an effort to get her to continue to walk. She experiences pain in the low back and would love to get out of walking, which is something I can’t allow, hence the need to minimise. I doubt if she will believe me when I say the it is not so bad, but with Alzheimer’s disease, she will also not remember it later….a very good thing. Nevertheless, I will do whatever I can to minimize it, because after the horrible headache I had last night, I can honestly say that I have walked a mile, or maybe two, in their shoes.
We have, in our family three boys who while they weren’t bad boys, did have a flair for antics. I’m going to call them The Three Musketeers of Mischief. As those of you who have been active in the Family Stories page I set up on Facebook might already know, these three boys were full of mischief. In case you don’t know who I am referring to, that would be Greg, Forest, and Elmer. They are all fairly close in age, although sadly, we lost Forest July 3, 2005, and because they were all close in age, they liked doing the same things, which mostly included being places where they probably shouldn’t have been, but because they were the kind of boys they were, they survived their own mischief…mostly due to sheer luck, but probably a goodly amount of skill too.
One time, these boys had gone swimming in the river, where it runs through Mills. That was the thing to do in the summer. They got to the train trestle and decided to cross it to the Amoco Refinery to get some wax to make wax hands with. Forest and Greg had gone across the train trestle many times, and so were pretty good at running across them, when necessary, but Elmer was more of a novice at running the tracks…until that day. As they were going across a cart that hauls workers and such, came up behind them. Greg and Forrest ran on across, but Elmer was still going along pretty slow. The other boys yelled out to Elmer to run!! He went a little faster, but not nearly fast enough. As it came closer, and they yelled louder, Elmer decided it was time to get outta Dodge, and he learned in a really big hurry how to run on the trestle. Greg says he was probably better at it than he and Forest were. Not that Elmer thought that information was any kind of good news.
The wax hand incident didn’t have such a good ending though. One time, Greg and Forest were making wax hands, by building a fire in the back yard, but it was raining, and the fire wouldn’t stay lit. They decided to go into Greg’s house and use his mother’s new stove, since his parents weren’t home. The stove worked very well, but when they were finished playing, they began the clean up work…a little late, unfortunately. Greg’s parents got home, found the mess, and they were…well less than pleased. Forest was sent home immediately, and Greg had a meeting in the shed with his dad…yikes!!
Yes, these boys were definitely the Three Musketeers of Mischief…in their younger years. They all outgrew these childish pranks, and turned into great guys. And really, I don’t think their childish pranks were any worse than any of the rest of us. Just boys being boys, and kids being kids. They did make life interesting whenever I was around them though, so I can’t say their pranks bothered my much at all.
While visiting Bob’s great grandparents in Yakima, Washington in 1976, Grandma Knox showed me a family heirloom of a different type than most, but priceless nevertheless. It was a drawing of a tree, on which the trunk and branches were the names of family members. It was a true family tree. It must have been a copy of several or many that were made and given to family members in the Knox family, because I have since seen it on the Internet. And was able to save a copy on Ancestry.com.
I think about the person who did all that original work. Her name was Hattie Goodman, and she is a relative on Bob’s side of our family. I would have to dig deeper to tell you exactly what the relationship is, but we are related, and on the copy that Grandma had, we know where our family section is. Of course, the tree does not show the names of my children or grandchildren, or even Bob and his parents, but his great grandparents are listed, so we know where we fit. It is an amazing piece of history, painstakingly written down by a woman I would love to have known, because I think she must have really been something!
Bob’s great grandparents are gone now, and I am quite sure his Uncle Frank still has the family tree drawing, as he is one of the last of the brothers born to Bob’s great grandparents, and the healthiest one for sure, making him the best choice to keep it. And he is also the one who would be the most interested in the family history, so he would treasure it.
It is quite a responsibility to be the family historian…and yet quite exciting too. You carry the memories in your head, and you feel the need to get it down on paper, or online these days, so that it can be passed on to generations who would not have known these stories any other way. There are family historians in every family, and you know who you are. The memories live in the filing system in your mind, but they are not content to stay there. They continue to spill out in your writings as a memorial to times past. You feel the need to leave a legacy of the stories of the past, so that future generations will not forget where they came from.
That is where I fit into the family, but I am not alone. Most families have several or sometimes even many people who are interested in those stories from the past. They can sit down and hear a story from the past, and immediately commit it to memory, and turn around and tell it to others to preserve the family history. This stuff just sticks in their memory so easily, and once it is in there, it stays. They are the family historians, and they have an important role in the family. Keeping the past alive for future generations.
My dad was always quite the kidder. He loved to joke around with his girls. He was also a bit of a history buff. He loved to travel, and in our many travels, his favorite thing was to stop at historical markers…especially the Oregon Trail. I’m pretty sure I have seen every marker for that one there is. Obviously, we didn’t have a good appreciation for some of his history information, like we should have, and might have today, but one historical fact that was of interest to all of my dad’s daughters was, Christopher Columbus. I’m pretty sure Christopher Columbus was my dad’s favorite historical character.
I can’t say for sure when this story got started, but I can tell you that I was pretty young. The way the story went is this. Dad would begin by telling us that according to historical records, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492…and you all know the rest of the story, right? Well, not exactly. You see, the story continues like this. Dad would tell us, “In reality, Chris didn’t discover America.” We would say, “He didn’t?” Dad would answer, “Nope, I did, but I was a nice guy, so I let Chris take the credit for it.”
We probably believed this tall tale early on, but after a while, we just went along with the joke because Dad liked it…and so did we. I think he always thought the idea of sailing across the ocean back in those days, in search of a new route or a new world, would be an exciting venture. He always had the heart of an adventurer, a fact that blessed his whole family with the ability to see many places. Dad loved to take us there…wherever there might be this time. And I think he always loved the idea of seeing beyond the normal range of vision…like a sailor looking out over the bow, or a mountain climber looking off across the mountain range from the top. It was a vision that would bless his whole family.
I think my dad might have been a lot like Christoper Columbus. I think they both had a way of looking at things that goes deeper than average. A way of being able to pull the extraordinary from the ordinary. Maybe it was fantasy, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with a little bit of that in life.