My Uncle Bill Spencer spent most of his life collecting information about the family history, in an effort, not only to know about his past and his heritage, but to pass it along to the rest of his family. His search began when he was eight and his mother told him about a black book that held the known family history at that time. For some people the information in the black book might have been enough information, but for Uncle Bill, it was just enough to whet his appetite for more. That was when the journey started. It was a journey that would continue for most of his life…until dementia would cause Uncle Bill to forget…or at least to forget that he was still searching.
As I was looking at a picture in Uncle Bill’s family history books that I had seen many times before, and reading what he had written about it, just as I had before, one sentence caught my eye. The picture was of his older sister, my Aunt Laura Spencer Fredrick, and Uncle Bill taken in about 1924 at Billings Park at the west end of Superior, Wisconsin. Billings Park was a place that Uncle Bill really loved, and over the years, the park was not kept up as well as it had been in the early years of his life. In Uncle Bill’s later years, he went to Billings Park on occasion. He speaks of trying to remember the park in the years when it was kept up better. He would think about the good times they had there, the happy memories, and the friends he knew then…so many now gone. All of the memories he talked about sounded so sweet, but it was his last sentence that really caught my eye, and even made me a bit sad. He said, “I can’t forget.”
At the time Uncle Bill placed the Billings Park pictures and wrote the narrative, he says the year was 2003. When my sisters and I visited him in October of 2005, his memory was slipping a bit. It wasn’t to the serious level that it is now, but having dealt with Alzheimer’s Disease with my mother-in-law, I know without doubt that he was at the point of wondering what was wrong with him…why he couldn’t remember the things that had been so important to him all his life. That simple statement, “I can’t forget” could mean that the memories flooded his mind, or it could have meant that he went there in an effort to hold on to the memories that seemed to be slipping away so quickly.
It saddens me to know that my Uncle Bill, who has spent his whole life researching, studying, and learning more and more about his heritage, and finding pictures, taking pictures, and placing pictures in his history books, is now struggling to hold on to the memories that his life and all his research has given him. I wish there was a way that we could help him to hold onto those memories. It also saddens me to know that he feels sadness when he remembers the friends and family members who have passed away. I think that probably the hardest part of a long life is the loss of so many people that you care about. It would be hard to be the last one left to pass along the memories, lest we…the future forget about the past.