aunts

My aunt, Dixie Richards is the middle sister of the younger three sisters of my mom, Collene Spencer. My grandparents, George and Hattie Byer had nine children. The first three were girls, the second three were two boys with my mom in the middle, and the youngest three were girls. It would have been almost like having three families, except that there wasn’t any significant distance between the sets of three. Even without big distances between the sets of three, there was a number of years between the oldest and the youngest of the kids. That could have made a sibling distance too.

I’m sure that with any big family, the older children are often married before the younger ones are born or at least before they are very old. That can make the memories seem a little distant for the younger children. Fortunately for my mom’s family, they were pretty close, so the sisters and brothers stayed close too. That gave all the cousins the opportunity to be close too. I know of cousins that barely know each other, but my cousins are close. We may not see each other every day or week, but we are all friends. We care about each other. That’s what families should be, I think.

That sort of closeness is how Aunt Dixie’s family is too. They spend lots of time together. When Aunt Dixie and Uncle Jim had some health issues, the kids rallied around them to take care of them. When their girls, Jeannie Liegman and Raylynn Williams needed babysitters, Aunt Dixie and Uncle Jim watched the grandchildren. Their son Jim lives with them, which makes them feel good and safe. As people get older, it’s nice to have your kids near you, and it’s even nicer to have them want to help you. Of course, Aunt Dixie and Uncle Jim are there for their kids too, no matter what the need…physical or emotional. That is what family is all about, and Aunt Dixie has created a close family. Today is Aunt Dixie’s birthday. Happy birthday Aunt Dixie!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Years ago, my mom, Collene Spencer told me about witnessing a plane crash as a little girl. I wish I had thought to get more information from her then, but at the time, all I could think of was the vision of the crash she told me about, and specifically the airplane in a corkscrew nosedive toward the ground. She said she didn’t hear any engine sounds, and she thought the plane was a piece of paper at first, but then she realized that it was a plane. I didn’t think to ask where she was at the time…whether she was at home or if the family was rock hunting or something. I wish I had asked more questions, back when I had the chance to do so.

Rather than asking questions, I began to try to research plane crashes in the area over the years of my mom’s childhood. I had expected it to be an easy search, given all the information on crashes that is out there these days. I was wrong, and by the time I decided that I needed more information from my mom, she was gone. I tried asking my aunts about the crash, but they did not remember it. It’s possible that they didn’t see it, and so they were unable to help me with it.

After much research, I have found possibly the only plane crash my mother could have seen at the age she would have had to be…provided she was close to her childhood home when she witnessed the crash. The crash would have been a B-17 bomber on a training maneuver 25 miles north of Casper, Wyoming. The biggest problem with this crash is the 25 mile distance from Casper, but looking north from Casper, you can see a very long way, provided you are near the events center, which could have been a possibility back then. The distance could also explain the lack of engine noise, if the engines were still working as the plane was going down, which is unlikely.

The plane, which crashed on March 3, 1944 was carrying three officers and five enlisted men. There were no survivors in the crash, which is in line with what my mother told me about the crash. The bomber was on a combat training flight, according to Lieutenant Colonel Marcus A. Mullen, station commandant, who said that the cause of the crash was not yet determined but that a board of officers had been named to investigate. The dead were later identified as Captain Charles W. Bley of Berkeley, California, Second Lieutenant Eugene E. Ravera of Newton, New Jersey, Second Lieutenant John A. Williams of Morristown, Tennessee, Staff Sergeant Carl E. Cleveland of Sunbury, Ohio, Sergeant George P. Peterson of Perry, Ohio, Sergeant Vernon E. Arne, Stewart, Illinois, Sergeant Duane T. Zefah of Cushing, Minnesota, and Corporal Elmer L. Walters of Pawpaw, Illinois. I can’t say, for sure, that this was the plane crash my mom saw when she was a little girl, but it is noteworthy, and so worth telling about. I know that the crash was something that my mom never forgot, even though she would have only been eight years old at the time.

Yesterday, August 3, 2018, at precisely 7:45am, Miss Elliott Michelle Stevens made her grand entrance into the world. Elliott, who will likely be nicknamed El or Elli, is the daughter and first child of my nephew, Garrett Stevens and his lovely wife, Kayla Smiley Stevens. Elliott is the first grandchild on both sides of their families, and so will be “spoiled” by grandmothers, Alena Stevens and Lynnette Smiley, as well as grandfathers, Mike Stevens and Wes Smiley. She also has three aunts, Michelle Stevens, Lacey Stevens, and Lexi Smiley, who all became aunts the moment Elliot arrived. Elliot has changed a lot of lives, and all she did was to be born. It was a big job, but Elliott was up to the task.

Elliott is a pretty little girl, who likes to suck her thumb a little. Time will tell if that becomes a habit. She is a good baby, who doesn’t seem to cry much. She will find her voice, I’m sure, but for now, she is just relaxing and enjoying her new world and all the loving grandparents and great grandmother she has found there. Little does she know that there are many other family members who are waiting excitedly to meet her too. She has been born into a much larger family than she could possibly imagine, but those meetings will come in time. For now, she is just enjoying a few family members, and especially her parents, who are still marveling at the little blessing they have been given. And while Kayla and Garrett have become something their siblings are not…parents, their siblings have also become something they are not…aunts.

Time will tell who little Elliott will look like, and we all see similarities between her and her family members, but she will change quite a lot over the next few months and more similarities will begin to show. We will see an expression here, a facial shape there, and hair color will also begin to tell the tale. As she finds her voice, we might discover that she laughs like one person, or her voice sounds like another…it might even be an aunt or grandmother…or even a great aunt or uncle. Babies are amazing that way. They are created by God from the traits He ordains in their family DNA to be the perfect little person, unique and yet similar. I can’t wait to see who little Elliott Michelle will resemble as she grows. No matter who it is, she will be beautiful, just as she is right now, because she comes from two beautiful parents. Welcome to the world, Elliott Michelle, and to our family. We love you so much already!!

For most people the holidays are all about tradition. Of course, for all Christians, Christmas is about Jesus, but it’s also about family time, family traditions, parties, and gifts…with the greatest gift being Jesus. But, one tradition concerning those parties, for me and my family anyway, is the traditional Byer Family Christmas party. My mom, Collene Byer Spencer’s parents George and Hattie Byer started the tradition years and years ago, when their house really got too small to handle their large and ever growing family. The party was moved to the Mills Fire Hall, and on the day of the party, we literally filled it up!! Grandma and Grandpa Byer were surrounded by their loving children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren…and they were so happy. With a family as large as ours, well over 300 now, of course, you might not get to talk with each and every one, but you saw them, and they saw you, and it kept the family close. Grandma and Grandpa wanted that tradition to continue, even after their passing, and so they charged their children with the task of keeping the tradition alive, and the family close. And they did a good job of it.

Now, there are several of those kids who have, themselves, gone on to Heaven, and sadly, our numbers are dwindling, because we…the grandchildren have failed to take the reigns, and keep Grandma and Grandpa Byer’s dream alive. It is so easy to look at the aunts and assume that this is their duty, and not ours, but is it…really? Aren’t we, the grandchildren old enough now to also take up the simple task and honor our grandparents, and our aunts and uncles, in such a way. There are, of course, a number of the grandchildren who still come to the party every year, and we find ourselves very blessed by the evening. It is fun, and if we take a few minutes to walk around the room and visit with our aunts, uncles and cousins, we will find that we have a pretty wonderful family, and that the traditional Byer Family Christmas Party is a blessing that continues to grow…needing really just the watering of more loved ones to join in. It saddens me to think that the day might come, when it no longer makes sense to rent the facilities, because so few have shown up in past years, but it could come to that I suppose. We all think there is a lot of time to visit with our aunts, uncles, and cousins, but every time one of them goes to Heaven, we find out that there was so little time, and we wasted it, by thinking that our presence didn’t really matter. They could do without us. And yes, the party did go on, and we all had a great time, but the family members who were not there…who could have been, because they didn’t have to work, or have anyplace else to be, the ones who simply stayed at home…believe me…yes, you were missed, very much.

Grandma Byer was a great cook, and she taught her children well, and they taught their children well, and I can tell you that we are a family of great cooks. The food last night was delicious, everyone enjoyed it very much. The children were able to run and play without being in the way, and their parents could relax, because no one was going to think they should make their children sit still. The party is one where everyone’s feeling are treated with care, and oh my…did the children have a great time. No one got hurt, and they got to get their wiggles out, and probably eat far too many sweets, but hey, what is a party for anyway? I loved seeing all the precious little ones, whose eyes danced with glee as they got to spend time with other children that they hadn’t seen in quite a while, and as you know, kids don’t need an introduction. The see another kid their size, and it’s an instant friendship. Oh, that we adults could make friends so easily. All too soon, the party was over, and for many of us, it will be the last time we will see each other until the summer picnic…the other family tradition. We all lead busy lives, and daily visits are hard, but Grandma and Grandpa Byer wanted us to continue the tradition. So to all of you who came, thank you. It was great to see you and I really enjoyed our time together. And to all who couldn’t be there, know that you were missed. Merry Christmas to all of you.

Every family has its traditions, but I don’t know of many families that have a twice a year gathering of aunts, uncles, and multiple levels of cousins. In fact, I don’t know if I know of any families that do that…but my mom’s family does. The Byer family has been having these gatherings ever since we got too big to all gather at Grandma and Grandpa Byer’s house for the holidays. Grandma and Grandpa have been in Heaven now for 37 years and 29 years respectively, but their tradition still holds. It was their desire that their kids stay close, and in making that one request, they have successfully kept all of their grandchildren and great grandchildren close too.

Some years, we have quite a crowd, and other years, not so much, but those who come out always have a nice time. Maybe it was the heat, or maybe this was an off year, but we did have a smaller crowd. Nevertheless, it was good to visit with aunts Virginia Beadle, Bonnie McDaniels, Dixie Richards, and Sandy Pattan, as well as Uncle Wayne Byer. All are doing well, and that makes me glad, because I’m not ready to lose any more of the aunts or uncles. most of the usual group was there for the picnic. We have those who like the heat and those who can’t take it, so the picnic tends to have a smaller turnout. Most of the families were represented, with just a few exceptions, but it happens.

Even though it was hot, we had a great time. A breeze kicked up and it took the edge off of the heat of the day. Everyone got a chance to catch up on the lives of the other family members. Our busy lives sometimes make it hard to stay in touch on a day to day basis, even though Facebook has helped with that some. I love having a chance to see all of the younger members of our family too. They are all so full of life. Talking with them is so interesting, and I know that for the aunts and uncles, it makes them feel a part of the younger set’s life. At least that is how it makes me feel.

I suppose lots of people would think the Byer family traditions are a bit unusual, but I like them. I like being close to the family, both on Facebook and in person. Each and every family member has something amazing to share. Each one is special in their own way, and together, we make a very special family. I am very blessed to be a part of such an amazing family. I love you all very much, and it was great to see you today.

1524622_671825779529276_1711248615_naSquatting down to look upLots of kids love to spend the night with their grandparents, and my grand niece, Siara Harman was no different. Lots of girls are drama queens too, and again, my grand niece, Siara was no different. What was different was that Siara was a drama queen and grandma’s girl at the tender age of just two years. Siara and her grandma, my sister, Cheryl Masterson loved to spend time together, but with Cheryl working, they were more limited to the weekends. Problem solved…almost every Friday, Cheryl would have Siara spend the weekend with her. Siara loved it. She would come in the house, and immediately get comfortable, by stripping right down to her undies, something lots of kids find the most comfortable. Who needs clothes anyway…right.

Siara and her grandma would do lots of things, like watch movies, play games, and read books. Of course, there were the aunts and uncle there too, because they were just barely in double digit ages themselves. That made it lots of fun too, because Siara had lots of kids to play with. Nevertheless, it was her grandma that Siara really came to see. They were best friends, and even though Siara is 23 years old now, they are just as close today, although Siara doesn’t spend the night any more. Siara loved sleeping with grandma those days, and even liked hanging out in Grandma’s bed during the day. It was their way of having a lazy girls weekend. I wish I could spend the day in bed sometimes. Of course, Cheryl couldn’t spend the day there, during the day, it was mostly just Siara…chillin’…for a few minutes anyway, until she went to see what her friend, i.e. grandma was up to, because that was more interesting, after all.

When Sunday morning rolled around, it was time to go to church, and Siara liked that as much as any other part of the weekend. The problem occurred after church…when it was time to go home. Her mom, Chantel would come to pick her up, and the drama queen came out. When she was told that it was time to go home, Siara would slump down in her chair, with her head flopping down in an exaggerated show of utter devastation, and yell, “It’s only been a minute!!!” My niece, Chantel Balcerzak, Siara’s mom, said, “No baby, you have been here all weekend.” Again, Siara would yell, “No!!! It’s only been a minute!!! Now for a grandmother, that kind of display immediately tears at your heart. Cheryl would say, “Can’t you come back later and get her?” Chantel mostly said that Siara had spent enough time, but sometimes she would give in, or Cheryl would agree to bring 20131_237936679000_2548401_n15672720_10208173123661731_7457098709153368598_nSiara home later. The thing is, it wasn’t a tantrum, that made Siara argue about the time to go home, but rather that she loved her grandma so much, and she hated to leave, because it seemed an eternity until the next time she got to come over. Of course, she loved her family too, but her grandma time was special, and after all, it had only been a minute since she got there. It couldn’t be time to go home already. Time flies when you are having fun, and I think most of us can relate to Siara’s thinking on the matter. Today is Siara’s birthday. Happy birthday Siara!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

img_9568img_9553With each passing year, I find myself looking forward more and more to the Byer Family Christmas Party. Sadly, I think that part of the reason is that as time passes, we seem to lose more and more of my aunts and uncles. This year found us with only four aunts and only one uncle at the party. There are other uncles who are still alive, but that aren’t really able to come out for these events any more. It makes each time we get together that much more precious. I always feel sorry for those who didn’t make it to the party, because we always have such a nice time, and we are a family of excellent cooks, so the food is fabulous. And it is a way to keep those who have gone to Heaven just a little closer to the family. Nevertheless, the sadness over missing those who have left us persists, and grows with each new passing.

I think one reason that our grandparents wanted their children to continue the annual Christmas party and annual picnic was so that we would all get to know each other better. As the new generations come along. It would be so easy to lose touch with each other. That would be so sad, because little kids are usually instant img_9583img_9577img_9555friends, and that makes it extra special to watch. The kids had a sparkle in their eyes, and smiles on their faces. They were so excited to have new friends to play with and lots of room to run around, with no one to get upset at them. For kids, Christmas is always a special time of year, and it’s really hard to hold back the excitement. I love watching them bounce around the room. I could say that they ran around the room, but that wouldn’t be right exactly, because they really did bounce with excitement, and after all, it’s all about the kids right.

My grandparents were wise people. They had a vision for their kids and grandkids…for all of the generations that would follow them. They knew how easy it is to get busy in life, and to lose touch with family. It happens img_9552img_9551in so many families, and they didn’t want that for their family. Very wise people indeed. They wanted their kids not only to know their nieces and nephews, but also their grand nieces and nephews, and great grand nieces and nephews, for as long as they lived. What a precious gift that request turned out to be. It was not a burden to be carried or work to be done…it was a gift, and one I am thankful for every single year. It’s a time for family and reconnecting. While we miss all those who are gone now, I know that they would be proud of us for continuing this tradition. We love you all.

img_5407It’s like taking a trip down memory lane…going back to Forsyth, Montana. It’s the town where my husband, Bob Schulenberg’s family comes from. When our girls were little, we took them to Forsyth every summer for a visit with the family that lived there. In those days, we saw Bob’s grandma, Vina Hein, and her husband, Walt “Grandpa” Hein, and his Uncle Eddie and his wife, Pearl Hein and their family and Butch (Bernard) and his son, Scott. Then later on, we got to know Bob’s grandpa, Andrew Schulenberg, who had been the sheriff of Rosebud County for a number of years, and Bob’s Uncle Butch (Andrew) Schulenberg. After Bob’s dad, Walt Schulenberg’s passing, we talked to his brothers, Eddie, Butch, and Butch. Those were sad phone calls, but as often happens in these situations, when one door closes, another opens. Such was the case with my father-in-law’s passing. As sad as it was, it opened a door that has allowed me to get to know his brother, Butch Schulenberg, his wife, Charlys, and their family. Finding out that they are on Facebook was an added blessing, because we have become quite close. I think my father-in-law, Walt Schulenberg would be very pleased.

Yesterday, brought Bob and me full circle…back to Forsyth, Montana, and back in tough with the uncles and their families. As an added blessing, the Uncles are friends, even though they Eddie and Butch Hein are not brothers with Butch Schulenberg. That simply hasn’t mattered. Butch and Eddie worked together at Peabody Coal, so they were friends for years. We all went out for dinner and had such a wonderful time. We talked about everything from their Peabody days, to the old days with their families. When my father-in-law, Walt Schulenberg passed away, and my mother-in-aw, Joann Schulenberg went into the nursing home, I knew that things would never be the same. That door had closed. Our lives had taken a turn in a new, and unfamiliar direction. It was not especially a direction I had ever wanted to take, but here we were, and we could not go back. Dad was gone now, and Mom’s mind is quickly slipping away.

Coming back to Forsyth was a journey into the past to a degree, and I wasn’t sure hour it would turn out, img_5171except that I knew that I loved the people we were going to visit. It had been a number of years since we had seen them, especially Butch and Charlys Schulenberg, but when we arrived, it was like we had seen each other every day for years. While one door, the one with my father-in-law, had closed…another door, the one with his brothers had opened…or rather, re-opened. It never really was closed, but we hadn’t stepped through it, I guess. Now, I can’t imagine not spending time with the Forsyth family again. Each one is a special blessing to me. I find myself feeling so thankful to know these wonderful people. Time slips away so quickly, and I don’t ever want to take that time for granted. I don’t want to find another door closing only to find that I didn’t go through it to spend time with and really get to know the precious people there.

imageI think that in many ways, my mom’s family is unique. It all started with Grandma and Grandpa Byer, of course. The family had grown to a size that was far too big to get together at their house, so they came up with the idea of holding a family Christmas party at a central location in town, that would hold all of us. It was truly the only way for all of us to get together at the same time, but I think Grandma and Grandpa had an ulterior motive for doing this. They wanted their growing family to stay close, even though it wasn’t always easy. Most of the family still lives right here in Casper, but we are all very busy people, so getting together on any kind of a consistent basis is really hard, and it gets harder every year as we grow in size. Still, it was Grandma and Grandpa’s dream that we would not stop the get togethers, which has grown to include an annual family picnic in August.image

Every few years, the number of the original siblings seems to dwindle, and of course, each of the original siblings that are left are growing older. For that reason, I feel a strong urging to go to these events, to spend time with them. I’m not saying that everyone can make it, and that’s ok, but I feel the need. My aunts and uncles are getting older, and they have so much information that they can pass on to us…stories of their childhood and stories passed down from their parents. These are stories that will be lost if we don’t hear them now. Since my parents have passed away, I can’t ask them the things I have wondered about since they left. And I won’t say that I would have wondered those things while they were still alive, but I know that I wish that I had asked them many things about their families and their lives while they were still here, because I do wonder now, and now I’m stuck with unanswered questions where my parents are concerned. That is the thing I don’t want to have…those unanswered questions with my aunts and uncles too.
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The Byer family Christmas party and the Byer family picnic are two chances for all of us to spend time with and talk to these precious people before it’s too late. What I have noticed is that the same people come to these events and I suppose that is how it will always be. We always have a wonderful time, and I do look forward to both the picnic and Christmas party. As I said, my mom’s family is unique…especially in that they hold two family reunions a year. We may not get the turnout that reunions that are further apart get, but no one can say that they didn’t have the opportunity…and any unanswered questions are purely the fault of those who would not come and ask.

imageKids follow a typical pattern in the things they do, but that in no way makes kids the same. Some kids are too busy with their own things to take much notice of the aunts and uncles around them, while others, like my grand niece, Audrianna Masterson, always make an effort to come and say hello, followed by a hug, of course. Anna, as she has been nicknamed, is a very gentle soul, with a loving spirit. Whenever I am around her, usually at least twice a week, she just warms my heart with her gentle, loving ways.

Anna loves to read, and is spending much of this summer in a reading contest to see how many books she can read. So far she has won a t-shirt for her efforts, and she was so proud of it, that she had to make sure I saw it. Anna really loves learning in general. During the school year, when I see her, she like to sit with me and do her homework. Then she has imageme check it for her. I don’t really think it’s the homework help she is after, but rather the time she and I can spend together.

Don’t get me wrong, because Anna love to play too. She doesn’t care if the kids are older, like her cousins, Xander, Zach, and Isaac Spethman, or her brother Matthew Masterson, or her little cousin Aleesia Spethman, who is just three, and even her cousin, Shai Royce, who is twenty. She also likes hanging out with her big sister, Raelynn Masterson, when she has time for her that is. Raelynn is in middle school now, so that is a bit limited, nevertheless, Anna looks up to her big sister.

Anna may not be in the double digit age group yet, but she is coming into her own, nevertheless. I see her personality coming out more and more. Anna is not a drama queen or a princess. That just isn’t her style. She imageis a good girl who loves to help others, especially her parents. Anna is also a lot like her Great Aunt Caryn in that she is a deep thinker. She reasons things out in her own mind. She concentrates on the task at hand, or just on the thoughts running through her own head. Being a thinker and a concentrator can make people wonder about you. Some might think you are mad or that you are stand offish, when what you really are is deep in your own world of thoughts. Some people may not get that, but I get it, Anna, because you remind me of me…and I don’t think that is a bad thing at all. Maybe you will be a writer too, telling others about your own thoughts, memories, and family. Today is Anna’s 9th birthday. Happy birthday Anna!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

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