Loss

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Serious accidents happen, and they are almost always due to negligence on the side of one party or the other, but when two automobiles, planes, ships, or trains hit each other head-on, someone was seriously in the wrong place and going the wrong way. On May 14, 1991, two diesel trains carrying commuters crashed head-on, near Shigaraki, Japan, killing 42 people and injuring over 600 others. This was the worst rail disaster in Japan since a November 1963 Yokohama crash, which killed 160 people.

Shigaraki, a town near Kyoto, is famous for its ceramics. On that May 14th, the World Ceramics Festival was being held in the town. That put many more people in town than normal. It also filled the passenger trains with people on their way to the event. At just after 10am, passengers filled a train in Kikukawa, which was to run along a 9.1-mile single-track rail line away from Shigaraki. When the train was loaded, the However, workers on the Shigaraki Kogen Railways (SKR) line prepared to depart, but they could not get a green signal indicating that the track was clear so they could depart from the station. The system showed that a train was approaching. The workers believed the signal was malfunctioning, and so they overrode the system and sent the train out, 11 minutes late.

Sadly, they were to find out too late that the system had been correct and a JR West commuter train carrying passengers toward Shigaraki for the festival was speeding toward them. The only mechanical failure that day was when a faulty-departure detector failed to work correctly, sending the JR West commuter train out on a collision course with the SKR train. The resulting crash derailed both trains and cost 42 people their lives. Very seldom does the fault in an accident lie with just one person. A subsequent investigation faulted the SKR workers for allowing the train to depart without a green signal, an action found to be dangerous and illegal. A signal engineer was also blamed for the defective wiring that led to the failure of the faulty-departure detector that should have prevented the collision. A 1999 civil trial resulted in a 500-million-yen (3,196,500 US dollars) award to the victims against SKR and JR West jointly. JR West pledged safety improvements (after the Shigaraki accident), but it again had an accident in Amagasaki. The Amagasaki rail crash was a fatal railway accident that occurred on April 25, 2005, at 9:19am local time. Of the roughly 700 passengers (initial estimate was 580 passengers) on board at the time of the crash, 106 passengers, in addition to the driver, were killed and 562 others injured. Each year, since the disaster, the victims of the Shigaraki Head-On collision are remembered in a ceremony in Shigaraki.

My uncle, Larry Byer was just 20 months older than his little sister, my mom, Collene Spencer, who was followed 24 months later by their little brother, Wayne Byer. The three of them being as close as they were tended to try their mother, Hattie Byer’s patience at times. Boys being boys, and my mom being in the middle made for triple trouble. If you know anything about double trouble, I’m sure you can imagine what triple trouble was like. It was a good thing my grandmother was a tough lady…small but mighty, as they say. When her triple trouble kids got under her skin, she had no trouble handling their antics.

After high school, Uncle Larry went into the Army. This was during the Korean War, but he was stationed in Germany. and he also spent some time in Austria. He said he wished he had been in Korea, but I’m not so sure he really would have. My guess is that he felt like he should have been there with so many others. After the war, he married my Aunt Jeanette, and together they had two children, Larry Wayne Byer and Tina Grosvenor. They also have six grandchildren, three granddaughters, including a set of twins, as well as three grandsons, and a number of great grandchildren. They were happily married for 55 years until Uncle Larry’s passing.

Uncle Larry worked for a number of years for Texaco Refinery, and when they closed down, he was not at retirement age, so he took the transfer, and they moved to Louisianna. The split up their land here, outside of Caser and gave it to their kids. It must have been strange to move to a hot climate after living their whole lives in Wyoming, where we have more months of cold weather than we do warm weather. They remained in Louisianna until Uncle Larry was ready to retire, then came back to Wyoming where his lived out his life. Uncle Larry died of a heart attack on December 22, 2011, and we were very saddened to see him go. Today would have been Uncle Larry’s 90th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Uncle Larry. We love and miss you very much.

Since my Dad, Allen Spencer’s passing, our family has grown more than he probably ever could have imagined. He would be so pleased with the new spouses and all the new great great grandchildren he and my mom, Collene Spencer have now. Mom and Dad loved their family, and they always thought of children as a blessing from God. Dad loved playing with the little kids. He didn’t even have to get out of his chair. He sat in the kitchen, right beside the door. They kids would run past him while trying not to get swatted. Dad on the other hand tried to swat them before they could get past him. I can’t say who the biggest winner or loser was, but with all the loud screams and laughter, Mom would eventually get enough of the noise, and tell Dad to stop…good naturedly, and often while laughing. Still, I’m sure the noise got annoying at times. The little kids we have now, will never know their great great grandparents, until they go to Heaven anyway, and I find that very sad. They miss so much.

My sisters and I will always be thankful for the wonderful parents we were blessed with. We always knew that no matter what mistakes we made, we always had their love. Dad was the problem solver. My early school years found me struggling with two subjects that would later become my favorites…Mathematics and History. Mom would tell me that there would be trouble when my dad got home. I think she thought I wasn’t applying myself. Then, when my dad got home and saw the progress report, he said, “Well, I guess we will need to work on this.” We did work on it. Dad leading the way, and I ended up excelling in Mathematics, and while I did ok in history, it wasn’t my favorite subject until much later on…when I was a parent. Some people might think that I did better because my dad made me work harder, but I think he was the better teacher.

My dad loved to travel, and wanted to show his girls just how wonderful this nation we lived in really was. We traveled and camped out every summer. When we went back to school and the teachers asked what we had done over the summer, we always told them about our trips. The teachers told us we were blessed to get to go so many places…and we were. Most of us have been to almost all the 50 states, with just a few exceptions, but there is still time for us, so that could change. We definitely got our love of travel from our parents, and for that we are all grateful. It is something that has enriched our lives greatly.

Of course, we also got our faith from our parents. No matter what things we faced, we knew that God was with us and that everything would be ok. We went to church regularly, and we watched our parents use their faith in every situation. We will always be thankful for that Christian upbringing. It shaped the strong women we have become. These days, our upbringing continues to make us the people we are. We try to be kind and loving, just like our parents. If we can grow to be even half the people they were, I would say that they were successful in raising us. Today would have been my dad’s 100th birthday. I wish he had been able to be here to celebrate with us. Nevertheless, today we celebrate his life, and we thank God for giving him to us. Happy birthday in Heaven, Dad. We love and miss you every day and very much.

My sister-in-law, Rachel Schulenberg left us all too soon just over three years ago. She was just 45 years old. We all felt her loss quite deeply. Rachel was a kind soul, who loved everyone. She had worked at a church in Powell, before she was introduced to my brother-in-law, Ron Schulenberg. When they were married, she moved to Casper, where Ron lived. Prior to that, and even after her marriage, Rachel could often be found talking to people about Jesus. She was sold out to the Lord, which of course, makes me thankful, because we know where she is, and that we will see her again. While we know that is the case, it doesn’t mean that we miss her less. Rachel is the kind of person who makes her mark on your heart, and it never goes away.

Rachel left behind her husband, Ron and three children, and at that time, two grandchildren, Lucas Iverson and Zoey Iverson. She would be thrilled to know that she now has four grandchildren, and a bonus grandson. In addition to Lucas and Zoey, Ryder Birky and Alicen Burr, were born in 2022 and 2023 respectively. Also, Riley’s fiancée, Sierah Martin, had a son, Jace Swan from a prior relationship. I know that her children, Cassie Franklin (Wesley Burr), Riley Birky (Sierah Martin), and Tucker Schulenberg (when he has kids) will all tell their children about their sweet grandmother. They need to be told how very special she was, and how thrilled she was to be a grandmother. I will never forget when Lucas was born, and she first became a grandmother. Lucas was early and very small, and she couldn’t wait to meet him. I’m sure she is looking forward to meeting all of them one day.

Rachel would not only be very proud of her grandchildren, but her children as well. Each of them has gone through some adversity, and they have persevered to come out on top on the other side of their problems. Rachel raised so very strong human beings, and I believe that they will live successful lives that their mother would be very proud of. They are highly motivated to live lives of which their mother would be proud, and that makes me very proud of them. These kids, who are mostly not kids anymore, have become responsible adults…people Rachel would have been really proud of. Of course, she was always proud of her kids. They were always her pride and joy, and she knew that they were going to be ok, because she had trained them to be strong people. I just really wish she could have been her to play with these sweet little grandbabies. Life goes on after a loss, and we must go on with it. I heard an old saying once, in reference to the loss of a loved one. When asked how you get over it, and the answer was, “You don’t get over it…you get on with it.” Truer words were never spoken. While Rachel is no longer her with us, the memories of the good times are, and we will cherish those forever. Happy birthday in Heaven, Rachel. We love and miss you very much.

When I met my mother-in-law, Joann Schulenberg for the first time, I wonder what she thought of me. It’s not that my mother-in-law was a snob or anything, because she certainly wasn’t. Nevertheless, I was just 17 years old, so I could have seemed like a frivolous teenager. As I got to know her better, she would say things like, “You have never canned vegetables?” or “You don’t make your own clothes?” Well, the reality was that I was a teenaged city girl, and she was a country girl. In addition, I was from a completely different generation than she was. She had lives through the depression era, when food was scarce, as were many other things. People did what they had to in order to survive. An experience like that is not something people forget easily. It wasn’t that I had never cooked or even helped make jelly, but living in town, we didn’t have the space for a garden, and so didn’t have the vegetables to can. I also knew how to sew, but I have never liked it. Hmmm…maybe I was a frivolous teenaged girl.

Nevertheless, my mother-in-law never looked down on me, but rather I think she had found a “new student” to teach. When I married into the family, I was introduced many new things. I learned canning, some gardening, and even raising cows for family use. Still, you really can’t take the city out of the girl, even if, for a time, you take the girl out of the city. Just like moving her to the city, didn’t take the country out of her. While I can do those things, I can’t say that I love doing those things. Sorry Mom!! Nevertheless, I loved reaping the benefits of her many talents, like knitting, crocheting, canning, baking (from scratch), sewing, and cooking.

When my mother-in-law began to develop Alzheimer’s Disease, we were all saddened. So much of who she was in the past, began to drift away. Still, some of the best memories of her life stayed with her, and for that we were blessed. True, most of the memories were from her distant past, but those were the ones that we didn’t know about. Her life as a girl, things her parents did, places she lived, horses she loved, and stories about her children’s past too. We found a new part of her and a new way to be blessed by her. Mom changed with Alzheimer’s Disease, but she did not get irritable like many people did. She was sweet and accommodating…if you didn’t ask her to get up and walk. She did require a lot of care and eventually we had no choice, but to place her in a nursing home. She didn’t mind. She was a “people watcher” and so it was a good fit. She didn’t walk the last 4½ years of her life, which might have contributed to her good mood. I think, in the end, she appreciated me more, because as her caregiver, I honestly did my best for her…as did our whole team. Today would have been my mother-in-law’s 93rd birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Mom. We love and miss you very much.

My grandmother, Harriet “Hattie” Byer, was a tiny woman, who loved kids, and had nine of them with my grandfather, George Byer. Grandpa worked hard, and he was a soft-hearted man. I’m sure he spanked his kids, but not very much. Grandma was the disciplinarian of the family, and I’m telling you, she might have been small in stature, but my grandma was a powerhouse!! She had a heart of gold, but she just didn’t take any guff. Don’t get me wrong, my grandparents’ home was filled with love and respect. During chores, there would usually be singing and much laughter. Grandma kept the atmosphere light and happy. My aunts and uncles always knew that they were loved. They also, knew that theirs was not to interfere when Grandma was disciplining one of your siblings. She would quickly turn on the one sassing her while she disciplined their sibling.

Evenings would find the family sitting in the living room mesmerized by whatever story Grandma was reading to them that night. Grandma worked so hard, and sometimes it was hard for her to stay awake while reading the evening’s story. Every time she would doze off, the kids would wake her up with calls to read on. Sometimes she just kept on sleeping, and on those days, Grandpa just had to close the book and tell the kids they would hear more the next night. Grandma worked so hard, and for that night, she needed to sleep, and do no more reading.

Grandma was a beautiful woman. She and Grandpa made beautiful children. Every year, we are amazed at how much the family has grown. My guess would be, that Grandma and Grandpa now have over 600 descendants…and counting. When we hit 200, Grandpa said, “Look what we started, Mommy!” He was surprised then. Just imagine what he would think now. Every time I mention an aunt, uncle, or cousin, people say, “Which one?? You are related to half the town!!” Well…yes, that is very likely true…and I have my sweet grandparents to thank for it all. We are not only a large family…we are a very blessed family. And it all started, when my grandfather saw this beauty of a girl, and never looked back. It was love at first sight. Today is the 115th anniversary of my grandmother’s birth. Happy birthday in Heaven, Grandma Byer. We love and miss you very much.

With every passing year, I find myself wondering how it could have been nine years since my mom, Collene Spencer, left us to go to Heaven. Like she lived her life, my mom went out in her own time, and in her own way…on her own terms. I’m sure that you have heard about having a bucket list. Well, my mom had her own kind of bucket list. After my dad, Allen Spencer graduated to Heaven on December 12, 2007, Mom told us that she was going to stay. I don’t know if she thought we thought she would just give up, and maybe we did to a degree, but she told us that she missed Dad very much, but she felt that she had more to give and that there was more life for her to live.

She talked about the things she wanted to do. Her bucket list was filled with simple things really. She wanted to travel to Washington to visit family up there. My Aunt Ruth and Uncle Jim were gone, but their kids, Shirley Cameron and Terry Wolfe were still there, as were their families. She wanted to see them again, so Mom, my sister, Cheryl Masterson and I went in 2013. It was a good trip, even if part of it included my Uncle Jim’s funeral. The next year, we took her to Wisconsin to she family up in the Superior, Wisconsin area. We reconnected with so many people, and had a lovely time, making lasting cousin friendships. Mom got to reconnect her brother-in-law, Bill Spencer, her sister-in-law, Doris Spencer, as well and good cousin friends, Les and Bev Schumacher, Carol Carlson, Bernice Hutchison, and several of their family members. Mom was so happy to see her relatives on that side of the family, who had become her close friends too.

Mom had always said that she wouldn’t mind going to Heaven straight from church, and she almost did. On Thursday of that last week, we took Mom to dinner at Red Lobster (one of her favorite places). Then, on Sunday, we all went to church, as we always did, but this day was to be different. Mom’s sister, Evelyn Hushman was in the hospital. She had terminal Breast Cancer, and Mom wanted to get all of her remaining siblings to meet at the hospital to have lunch with Aunt Evelyn. They were all able to make it, except Aunt Dixie Richards. They all had a lovely lunch, and really enjoyed the visit. That night, Mom and my sister, Cheryl had a nice dinner and watched a movie. At 10:00pm, Mom said she was going to bed. Cheryl loaded the dishwasher and went in to take Mom her pills, but Mom would no longer be needing those pills, or any other pills. She was lying on the floor, peacefully. She had not fallen, because nothing was disturbed. She could not have laid down there by herself, because her knees would never have allowed that without disturbing everything in the room. You can say what you will, but we know that the angels carefully laid our mom down there on the floor, when they took her spirit to Heaven, because Mom was ready to go. She had been talking about it for weeks, if not months. I think she might have left during church, had it not been for the chance to say goodbye to her siblings. What a blessed way for a blessing of a lady to graduate to Heaven!! We love and miss you so much, Mom. Tell Dad we love and miss him too. You are in our future now, and we will see you both again someday.

The Space Shuttle Challenger mission, named STS-51-L, was the twenty-fifth Space Shuttle flight and the tenth flight of Challenger. The crew was announced on January 27, 1985, and was commanded by Dick Scobee. Michael Smith was assigned as the pilot, and the mission specialists were Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, and Ronald McNair. The two payload specialists were Gregory Jarvis, who was assigned to conduct research for the Hughes Aircraft Company, and Christa McAuliffe, who flew as part of the Teacher in Space Project. The mission was originally scheduled for July 1985, but was delayed to November and then to January 1986. The mission was scheduled to launch on January 22, but was delayed until January 28, 1986. This was definitely a “less than ideal” situation. Delay after delay, maybe should have raised a serious red flag, but somehow, it did not. At least not to the people who could have changed the outcome.

One man…Roger Boisjoly knew that the Challenger space shuttle might fail catastrophically at any time. There may have been others I suppose, but none that chose to try to take action. Boisjoly knew that every mission was an accident waiting to happen. Knowing that, he tried to stop the launch on January 28, 1986. He had a definite sick feeling about this mission, but NASA refused to acknowledge his objections. That fact amazes me!! Boisjoly was a rocket engineer who worked for a company that NASA contracted with. He had noticed that the Challenger’s booster rockets had a major design flaw. Their elastic seals had a tendency to stiffen and unseal in cold weather. I’m sure that most of NASA simply took for granted that there would not be much cold weather in Florida. Nevertheless, on this occasion, the Challenger was scheduled for a winter launch. The time had come, and Boisjoly knew that the temperatures would be too low for the booster rocket seals to handle, even in Florida. He convinced colleagues at his engineering company to formally recommend NASA delay the launch. They did, but NASA ignored that recommendation. It was a life altering, or life ending decision on NASA’s part. Most of us know that the rest is history. The launch took place, the seals failed, and the Challenger exploded less than two minutes after it launched. That day, because of the foolish stubbornness and arrogance of NASA, seven people lost their lives. The air temperature on that January 28 was predicted to be a record-low for a Space Shuttle launch. The air temperature was forecast to drop to 18° F overnight before rising to 22° F at 6:00am and 26° F at the scheduled launch time of 9:38am. For most of us, those temperatures wouldn’t seem to be so severe, but for that little seal, it was very severe. Why couldn’t they have swallowed their pride, and postponed a little longer until the temperature warmed a bit. Were we really in that big a rush to start that mission, that we were willing risk the lives of seven people in the attempt. I love the space program and all that it has accomplished, but the people who made that choice that day were foolish and selfish.

When my husband, Bob’s uncle, Bobby Cole comes to mind, I am taken back to the days when my girls, Corrie Petersen and Amy Royce, were little. Whenever we took a trip to see Bobby and Bob’s aunt, Linda Cole, we always had a great time. The girls got to play with their cousins, Sheila and Pat, and we enjoyed visiting and playing cards with Linda and Bobby. In those days, they lived in Kennebec, South Dakota. It was a tiny little town, with very little to do, so having visitors was a big deal to them.

Linda and Bobby owned a hotel, and there were a few guests, but not really very many. It was like they owned a bed and breakfast…for us anyway. The rest of the guests had to go somewhere else for their breakfast. Bummer for them!! The visit was always so relaxing. The small-town feel was always there, and really, I loved it. I wouldn’t want to live in a small town all the time, but as an annual getaway, it was nice. I suppose it was the break from the everyday that held the majority of the appeal. We didn’t get to see Linda and Bobby much, so having the unhurried time to visit was a rare treat. They were always so full of laughter and fun.

A few years later, their hotel was struck by lightning during a summer storm, and it burned to the ground. After the fire, they made the decision to get out of the hotel business, and to get out of Kennebec. That was when they moved to Winnemucca, Nevada, and for the most part the annual trips stopped. Winnemucca was too far away to make it a weekend trip, like we could with Kennebec. I was always sorry to see those trips end. It was rather like the end of an era. The only thing that was more sad was when Bobby passed away, and then when Linda passed away. I will always miss them. They were a very fun couple. Today would have been Bobby’s 81st birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Bobby. We love and miss you very much.

It’s hard for me to believe that my uncle, Bill Spencer has been in Heaven for more than three years already. Uncle Bill chose Christmas Day to go. I think maybe he wanted to spend the holiday with his parents and siblings. He was the last of the original family to go to Heaven, and with Covid stalking the world, he didn’t get to see his children as much either. Since Uncle Bill had Dementia, he probably didn’t realize that he didn’t get to see much of his family, but they knew it, and it made them sad. There were months and months during which they could not go visit him, and sadly it didn’t matter that all these precautions were taken. Uncle Bill still got Covid, and by Christmas Day, he was ready to go home. And so, on Christmas Day 2020, the Spencer brothers got back together again.

My dad, Allen Spencer was two years younger than his brother, Bill, but they were the very best of friends. When they were together, you didn’t have to ask them to talk about their childhood, all you have to do was sit back and listen, because the stories were the talk of the day. They had so many great adventures. They would go fishing, swimming, and boating with friends. They also loved getting into mischief, and dynamite was one of their favorite mischief makers. They normally used dynamite to remove tree stumps, but they weren’t above the Independence Day “fireworks” display or the “gate post” experiment. They were very industrious boys, and in those days, before things like video games, television (while it did exist, was not common in every household), and telephones (they were first in homes in 1856, but only 35% of homes in the 1920s had one), kids actually played outside, and used their imaginations. These brothers had the best time. They rode their bicycles for miles and miles. They hopped the trains…no, not like illegally. These boys had a pass, because their dad worked on the trains, but they never simply boarded a train…they hopped the train, even though they were scolded for it, they hopped the trains anyway. Danger be hanged!! Oh, the adventures they had.

When the United States entered World War II, the brothers were all set to go into the Army Air Force together, but Uncle Bill had a hernia and flat feet, so they wouldn’t take him. My dad went in alone, and his big brother, who had always been there to take care of him, was…well, a little frantic about it. He didn’t want my dad to go without him. He worried about his little brother. Sending any family member into the military in times of war, is something any family would worry about, and Uncle Bill was no exception. So, while his brother fought in the war, Uncle Bill worked on the planes here at home. Uncle Bill was a welder, and his skills were very important in the building of the planes that would fight and eventually win World War II. His was a very important job, and I am very proud of the part he played in the victory. Today would have been Uncle Bill’s 102nd birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven, Uncle Bill. We love and miss you very much.

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