As my Aunt Deloris Johnson’s birthday approached, I wanted to get a different aspect of the woman who was my aunt, and who we lost so long ago to brain cancer. So, I contacted her oldest child, Ellen Bremner to ask her for her memories of her mom. Some of what she told me, I knew, of course, but some of the things she told me were new to me, because they were treasures from her daughter’s heart.
Aunt Deloris, like most of the Byer family to which she was born, was always late. That fact drove her kids crazy. Most of my grandparents George and Hattie Byer’s grandchildren could relate to that fact. The family had a running joke, that our parents operated on Byer Time, and they were always at least half an hour late. Nevertheless Aunt Dee, as we all called her, tried her hardest to be on time, even attaching a watch to her running shoes so she could keep track of time while working. Her second child, Elmer Johnson, always said that she was the true inventor of the “shoe watch.” Nevertheless, time was a concept that always eluded her, and the shoe watch did nothing to change that.
Aunt Dee loved red lipstick, a part of the time she grew up in I’m sure, because my mother, her sister, Collene Spencer wort red lipstick a lot too. Most of the kids of my generation went much lighter with our lipstick, although the darker colors are back now. Aunt Dee loved black coffee, and as I recall, drank it all day long. Black coffee is a little much for me, and I always use cream in mine. She also loved sweets, except candy, which she never ate. She grew up in a household of singing, and loved to sing all her life, her favorite songs being ballads, most of them sad songs that made her children cry.
Ellen told me that her mom was a real germaphobe when they were young, and I found myself thinking that she would have been on the cutting edge of situations like the Coronavirus Pandemic, already doing what needed to be done to fight the virus. Ellen said that she bleached and Lysoled everything, to make sure that the germs didn’t take hold in her home, and she used the many home remedies she knew to keep her family healthy. Aunt Dee was a caring, sensitive, loyal, and loving person. Her family and her husband, Uncle Elmer Johnson, whom she loved deeply, were her life, and she protected her children at all costs. She loved each of them equally. Her own fear of the water, caused her to decide that her children would not take swimming lessons…something she may have softened on after the two oldest children. Aunt Dee was a very good cook, even though it was not her favorite thing…I can relate to that. Nevertheless, she learned a lot about cooking from her mother-in-law, and added that to what her mom had taught her to make her an excellent cook.
She had an altruistic and caring heart, and hated injustice, a fact that inspired her daughter, Ellen to choose service oriented work. Aunt Dee was a dreamer, and a bit of an artist. She loved crafts, painting, and knitting, and indulged in these pastimes whenever money allowed. She was a collector, which went along well with the craft idea, but like most of us, who are collectors, thinking we will “find a use for such an item” down the road, it can create clutter. Still, I bet she had some very cool things in her stash.
Ellen tells me, “Mom had so many plans for her retirement years! So many things she wanted to do and try! She wasn’t afraid to challenge herself in her later years. It broke her heart when she realized that her dreams would not come to fruition. But she left this world knowing she was loved, and telling her family how much she loved them. We miss her quirky, generous, loving, dreamers heart and soul!” As do we, her extended family. She was a wonderful woman, and a very special aunt to all of us. Today would have been Aunt Dee’s 89th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Aunt Dee. We love and miss you very much, and can’t wait to see you again.
My aunt, Sandy Pattan is the youngest of my grandparents, George and Hattie Byer’s nine children. Because she is the youngest, she was at home while her older siblings were married. She got to witness the changes that occurred as each of her siblings married and moved into their own homes. Of course, she was very young when some of these changes occurred, and even found herself playing with her nieces and nephews, because they were close to her age. Because of that and the fact that she grew up having brothers and sisters-in-law, so also got to hear all the stories of their lives and their family’s lives.
That has largely made Aunt Sandy my go-to person or the family history stories. When Aunt Sandy was a little girl, Grandma and Grandpa Byer would tell her all the stories about the old days.Most of us don’t really take much of an interest in those stories as young people,mostly because we think there will always be time to hear all about it later. All too often, by the time we are finally interested, the people who now the stories are gone, and we find ourselves filled with regret, and there is nothing we can do about it. For that reason, I feel very blessed to have both opportunity and interest at the same time in my conversations with Aunt Sandy.
Aunt Sandy has such a caring heart. As I have spent time talking to Aunt Sandy we have really become quite close. We don’t have to be talking about anything specifically, we just enjoy talking. I love hearing about her sons, John and Jim; granddaughters, Ashley and Alicia; and her great grandson, Brian. And she loves to hear about my family too. She has been working on some remodeling on her house, and things are going well. She has also been going through boxes of old treasures. I love that. You never know what you will find. Aunt Sandy has come across old family pictures, and other treasures too. It is exciting, and I love hearing all about it. That is one of the many things we have in common. Of course, if you ask me, she is the real treasure. Today is Aunt Sandy’s birthday. Happy birthday Aunt Sandy!! Have a great day!! We love you!!
Whenever my sisters and I get together to go through some more of our parents things, I find that the time spent is bittersweet. We enjoy the time together, sharing memories and stories of the past, but there isn’t always regret, because our parents are gone and can’t be there with us. We were always a close family, and as we visit, I can’t help but think just how much Mom and Dad would have loved to be there, listening to the laughter of their girls. As we went through the attic this weekend, there much of the laughter and camaraderie that our parents taught us. They would have been proud of our teamwork, and of course, thrilled with some of the things we found.
It had been many years since either of our parents were able to get up in the attic, and Mom couldn’t figure out what had happened to some of the things she felt were precious. If she weren’t in Heaven now, she would know where those treasures had been, and that they had fared well through the years. Now, some of those treasures have been divided up between their girls, and some will be in time. I just wish that we could have found them before Mom passed away, because she always wondered what happened to some of their things. I suppose it happens to most of us, at one time or another. We put something away for safe keeping, and then, we can’t remember where we put it. Mom was right when she said that some of the things were precious, because they were.
As we planned the weekend’s work, we expected the items in the attic to be mostly junk…old toys, old clothes, and such, and we did find those things, but there were some surprises too. We found more of Dad’s uniforms from World War II, as well as the medals Mom thought had been lost forever. We found her antique sewing machines, and an antique typewriter…yes, the really old style. We found their bowling balls from the years when they bowled, and that made me miss them a lot. I remember all those bowling years, and I suppose that is why I still bowl today. Bowling was their sport of choice, and all of their kids and some of their grandkids bowl too. We made the decision to donate their bowling balls to Sunrise Lanes, so that other people could use them, and enjoy their sport of choice too. I think Mom and Dad would be pleased…I know the employees at the blowing alley were.
We also found many pictures, as well as negatives and film. We are excited to have them developed, but dividing them up will be a future get together, because we want them scanned so we can all have copies. We spent a little time looking through the pictures today, and I can tell you that they are precious. Baby pictures, baptismal pictures, baby shower pictures, and many others. I can’t wait to look through those, as well as the love letters Dad sent to Mom…and yes she kept them all tied in a neat little ribbon. Yes, the weekend was an exciting one in many ways, and a sad one in many others, but we would all agree that the treasures found were precious.
Going through your parents things after they have passed away, is one of the hardest and most time consuming things you will ever do. It is also one of the most rewarding. With the passing of our mother last month, my sisters and I now beginning the task of going through the treasures of their lifetime. Their house has been in our family for about 56 years, and in that time they gathered many things. Of course, like every long term household, there were things to be thrown away, but I think what really surprised us was that there were many things that we didn’t want to throw away. In reality, they really kept only the really good things…the treasures of a lifetime filled with love, laughter, and happiness.
There were treasures of our dad’s military days, including old newspapers from World War II, Dad’s soldier’s handbook, pilots manuals, and a training manual from his flight engineer training. There were baby clothes he had worn, as well as his Christian books. Treasures from their Silver and Gold Wedding Anniversaries, and souvenirs they had collected over the years. And there were pictures…lots and lots of pictures There were pictures from our childhood, pictures from his war years, pictures from Mom’s younger years, and Dad’s younger years…so many pictures. Of course, those will be scanned so that we can all have copies of them, and then we will divide them up. We didn’t even have much time to really look at them, but we could tell that they are treasures, because they are the stories of many lifetimes.
I don’t think that any of us could really fully comprehend all of what we had in front of us, but as time goes on, we will really realize what gifts we have been given. These were the things that our parents loved. They were the things that they searched for. Especially the souvenirs, because Mom and Dad loved to travel, and they loved to have mementos of those trips. They traveled to so many places. They truly, really lived, and the things they kept were the things that reminded them of all the wonderful times they had on those trips…their treasured memories.
I’m sure that as time goes on, there will be many stories to tell about all they things they have done in their amazing lives, but that will be a story for another day. For now, the biggest story of the day is the discovery of these, the many treasures of two lives so very well lived. Nothing held them back. They did the things they wanted to do. In fact, it never occurred to them to think they could do anything they wanted to do. They just went out and did the things they wanted to do. They built a beautiful lifetime, and then left us the treasures of that lifetime.
One memory from when I was little is of Grandpa’s rocks. He had many of them, because he was a rock collector. Grandpa went many places to find his rocks…and no place at all. That’s because great rocks could be found just about anywhere, and you never really knew what they could look like until you put then in a rock tumbler and polished them up. Then, even the rock that had seemed so plain, could turn into a beautiful stone. To find that special rock, you had to have an eye for it, and my grandpa really had an eye for it.
He had some beauties. I always wondered how he could find so many beautiful stones…and where he could find them. I liked to looks for pretty rocks too, but aside from an agate or two, I never really turned up much that was very pretty, much less stunning, like his were. Of course, I didn’t have a rock tumbler to bring out the beauty, but still, I’m not sure that I would have had the eye for the rock that had the potential to become a beautiful stone.
Grandpa spent years looking for rocks…possibly his entire life. I can picture him as a little boy, looking around and finding a rock here and there that had touches of color in them. Maybe some pinks or whites mixed in with the gray or black that most of us see. When I think of rocks, they are all plain and ugly, but I have to wonder how many beauties I passed up because my mind couldn’t see inside the rock…couldn’t see the rock’s potential, but Grandpa could see it. He could see inside the rocks…see their potential, and he knew how to bring the inside of the rock out and turn it into a beautiful stone.
It was almost as if Grandpa knew how to talk to the rocks…coax the beautiful stone out of the simple gray or black rock. Maybe it’s just because he was able to see the beauty in many things. Grandpa had so much love to give. And he wanted to share his love of nature with his family. They would go on rock hunting treks. The kids got to do what so many kids would love to do…hunt rocks and bring them home. And nobody stopped them from bringing their treasures home…and then he could take those treasures and turn them into something more. Of course, I don’t suppose Grandpa had a rock tumbler back in those days, still a little water could bring out the different colors in an otherwise Plain Jane of a rock, I’m sure. Eventually, with the invention of the rock tumbler, Grandpa was able to show the rest of us what he was always able to see…the beauty that lies inside of the rock.