My dad’s younger sister, Ruth Spencer married a man named Lester Alonzo Wolfe…who went by Jim, and I truly can’t imagine him as Lester. He was Uncle Jim, and he was truly a kid at heart. He could be serious when he had to be, but that was not his real nature. Uncle Jim and my dad, Allen Spencer were good friends, more than brothers-in-law usually are. They were more like brothers, and what one didn’t think of, the other one did!! When the two of them got together, all bets were off. They came up with the craziest things, from antics to dinners. You never knew what they would do next.
Uncle Jim genuinely loved my sisters and me, and as we grew up and got married and had children, he loved our kids, too. He was so much like our Dad in that way. He always loved having kids around, and in response to all of us kids teasing him and cajoling him, he always obliged us by teasing and cajoling back. I suppose that had to do with the kid he was inside. Laughter was not something you saw in him once in a while, it was the norm with Uncle Jim. It didn’t matter where we were, or what we were doing…in the house, outside, on camping trips, or country drives, which we made often when they were in town…he was just so much fun! He and our Aunt Ruth both were, but he and Dad were such big kids themselves, that when they got together, they could relate to our need to have that fun interaction with our Dad and our uncle. They reveled in it, and it made them both very happy. They played well off of each other. Their fun attitudes and ways were contagious! And we all loved it!
Uncle Jim’s nature was good, clean, and fun-loving, and he had a kind heart. He would give us anything we asked for, if he could. If he bought a treat, it was for everyone. If there was a game to be played, everyone could play, and if there was an underdog, he was their champion! No one ever felt left out because of the inability to keep up with the better players, and none of us felt like we wished he wouldn’t do that. I think it taught us to be understanding of everyone…not just the best players. Uncle Jim thought nice thoughts, and then put them into nice actions. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body.
Uncle Jim’s stories were the best and the most interesting. He could sure tell them, whether they were the truth or some of the great whoppers he told, that we, of course believed. Sometimes I think the whoppers were the best…things like walking ten miles in the snow, barefoot, and uphill both ways. Those were the kind of stories they told us, and we were gullible enough to believe. He could tell a story better than anyone we knew. We loved having Uncle Jim and Aunt Ruth come to visit, and they loved surprising us. They often just popped in…from several states away, making popping in a planned event. When they came to visit, it was truly the happiest time for my sisters and me! They brought happiness and fun with them. Whatever our family may have been doing, we gladly stopped doing, for the entire time they were here. We just had fun with Uncle Jim, Aunt Ruth, and whichever of their children came with them.
My sister, Cheryl, who helped me with some of these great memories, the rest of my sisters and I, don’t have one bad memory of Uncle Jim. He was simply a good-hearted man who, though he was married to our Dad’s sister, could not have loved us any more if we had been his own blood, and he always let us know that fact. You don’t often find that in an uncle, and we love and treasure him still today, and always will!! Happy birthday in Heaven Uncle Jim.
When men get home from the service, or come home on leave, they are usually is really good shape…and as most of us know, boys will be boys, and men will be men…meaning when issued a challenge, each wants to prove that they are better, stronger, or more capable of something than the other. Such was the case with my dad, Allen Spencer and my uncle, George Hushman. The two of them were at my grandparents, George and Hattie Byer’s house, and somehow the challenge was made to see who could do the most pushups. Dad and Uncle George were good friends, and this was to be a friendly challenge between two future brothers-in-law. Nevertheless, it was going to be a challenge.
The two men laid down on the floor. It had been decided that two men in military condition would not find it much of a challenge to do a bunch of pushups. No, there had to be a way to make this a real challenge. In the end they seated the two kids who were the closest in size, Aunt Dixie and Aunt Sandy, on their backs in order to do the pushups. That was not the only challenge they faced, either. These pushups had to be done in a specific and rather hard way. As the men pushed down, the girls weight was a challenge, and as they came up, the fact that they had to very quickly clap their hands together mid-pushup, and without losing the girl on their back made it even harder.
As Aunt Sandy told me the story, I could tell that the whole thing had left quite an impression on her. Being the youngest child, she thought of the brothers-in-law as brothers all her life, and these two taking such a challenge, must have made her think that they were very strong…and maybe they were. I also think that the girls had to have been fairly small, but then I couldn’t even attempt push ups in the way they did them that day. I suppose it is possible that they found additional strength in trying to impress their girls, my mom and Aunt Evelyn. Either way, I think it was a challenge.
Aunt Sandy didn’t say who won the challenge, and maybe she doesn’t even recall after all these years. I don’t think that the winner was as impressive as the challenge itself. I suppose that they could have called it a draw in the end too. Either, way, Aunt Sandy will never forget the day that she and her sister Dixie became part of a military push up challenge. Of course, it might have been something that was talked about for months or even years after. It was after all and challenge, and deserving of attention, and Aunt Sandy was a little girl who was impressed with her future brothers-in-law.
During the holidays, my thoughts often turn to our military men and women who will likely spend their holidays far from home, whether they are in a war zone or not. I was never in the military, but my dad was, as were and in some cases, still are, brothers-in-law, nephews, and cousins. It is such a lonely feeling to think of being so far away from loved ones during the holidays, and it isn’t just about the festivities. For many spouses, and even children, it is about hoping that everything is under control back home. Worrying about things being broken down, needing maintenance, or even if there is someone to help with decorating for the holidays, are all things that are on the minds of our military men and women all the time, and especially during the holidays.
My dad was not married at the time he served in the military during World War II, but he and his brother and sisters had always played a big part in the running of the family farm, while their dad was away working on the railroad. I was reading the letters he wrote home in the days leading up to and including Christmas of 1943. Dad was always such a caring person, and he especially struggled with the idea of his mom and younger sister trying to run the farm by themselves. In Dad’s letter he expresses his concern, and then asks his brother to rent a house in town for the girls. Dad was also always concerned that they might not have enough money. He rarely spent much money on himself, saying that he didn’t really need much. That way, he could send more money home. He told his mom to use any or all of the money he sent home to save for when he got out, saying that he could always make more, and their needs were more important than a savings account.
Dad’s letters to his mom and siblings have been a treasured window into the person my dad was. He was a deeply caring man, who always took care of those he loved. Like so many other military men and women, he wished he could be home for the holidays, but he understood that he was doing something very important. He was fighting for freedom for our nation, and the nations around us who couldn’t fight for themselves. Dad’s sacrifice and the sacrifices of so many other military men and women have made so many freedoms possible, and yet, they themselves lose so much. It is something that we don’t always think about, and something I want to commend today.
Over the last 7 years, my family and Bob’s family have both been taking care our parents in one way or another. Sometimes the need is greater in one family and sometimes it is greater in the other. Taking care of other people is simply not a job that can be done by one person. As my sister, Alena says, “It takes a village.” During this 7 year journey we have taken, we have come to understand that some people are able to give more time, because of bosses that allow much flexibility, or jobs aren’t 9 to 5, or year round. Others cannot give as much time, and some don’t live here. Some can’t handle this type of work emotionally, and some can. Still, all of our adult family members have helped out in some way…as have some of the children.
There are many unsung heroes here, including my boss, Jim who allows me to have the time off to take my in-laws and my mom to the doctors appointments, and to do other important things that their needs require. Without Jim, none of this would have been possible…truly!! Other family members come to mind, when I think of those who have selflessly given of themselves…often setting aside their own interests to help another person who can’t do this alone. My sister, Cheryl, my sister-in-law, Brenda, and my daughters, Corrie and Amy, and my husband, Bob have all been there steadily through these 7 years, and Bob’s Aunt Margee, who comes to sit with her sister, my mother-in-law whenever we need her. I have to wonder how we managed before Margee retired. And of course, Bob’s niece, Machelle, who comes down from Powell to cut my in-laws’ hair, perm my mother-in-laws hair, and do much maintenance work around the house, and Bob’s cousin’s daughter, Stasi, who loves to come to visit and help my in-laws around the house. What a special girl she is. Our other sisters, sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, and their families have done as much as they were able, and their help has also been invaluable through these past 7 years. Truly, I could go on forever, but there isn’t room, so I hope you all know how much you mean to me and how much your help as meant to all of us.
There are also 4 people who were tremendous help especially during the years we were taking care of my dad, and to this day, as much as they are able. My grandchildren, Chris, Shai, Caalab, and Josh started caregiving at the tender ages of 10, 10, 9, and 8. That kind of help is almost unheard of at that age. Chris and Shai work now, and are not able to help as much as they did, but they still help whenever they can, and enjoy spending time with their grandparents just to visit as well. Caalab and Josh don’t work yet, so they are more able to come along now, and Josh has especially shined in the most recent care of his great grandmother, my mother-in-law, since they seem to have a connection. She responds so well to him, and they love each other very much. He pretty much won’t let his brother, Chris do very much for her, because he really wants to do it.
It really does take a village to care for an aging parent or other loved one who is ill, and until you have been a caregiver, you just can’t understand how much work it is. There is no “unimportant person” and even the smallest contribution is a major help. Yes, it takes a village to care for another person who cannot care for themselves, and when it comes to villages, I have to say that I have been a part of 2 of the best villages ever put together to get 2 families through some of the worst health crisis situations you can imagine. Villages just don’t get better than these. Thank you ALL!!!