carpenter

I never had the opportunity to get to know my Grandpa Allen Luther Spencer, because he passed away before my parents were married, and 4½ years before I was born. Life was not always easy for my grandfather. His first marriage ended in divorce, following the death of his daughter, Dorothy, which was quickly followed by the birth of his son, Norman. The loss of a child can be so devastating, that many people never recover, and many marriages fail. It was a dark time for him, until he met my grandmother.

After their marriage and four more children, Laura in 1912, Bill in 1922, Allen (my dad) in 1924, and Ruth in 1925, it looked like his life was on the right track again. Of course, like many other people, this good period was followed by the Great Depression. Thankfully, my grandfather was a carpenter (mostly for the Great Northern Railway), and as near as I can tell, had a job throughout the Great Depression. Still, times were tough, and I’m sure the wages were not what a family of six really needed to live. Most people struggled during the Great Depression.

My grandfather was a product of his circumstances, and the times he lived in, and the two things together created a stressful life for him and his second family. Much more was expected of the two older children, and feelings were raw at times. The younger two children really never remember his being so hard on them. Grandpa had specific ideas of things the children should learn and do. All of the children learned to play the violin and some learned the guitar. My Aunt Laura never really liked learning to play the violin, but the rest of the children did…or at least they did later. Grandpa Spencer may not have been an easy teacher, or maybe it’s just hard to learn from your dad.

No matter what kind of a man my grandfather was, and whether circumstances led to his troubles, his children loved him very much. Like any family, kids and parents “lock horns” sometimes. That doesn’t mean you don’t love them. When my grandfather was dying, my dad drove from Casper, Wyoming to Superior, Wisconsin, 980 miles, in 17 hours. That might not seem like a big deal these days, but cars didn’t do what they can do now, and speeds were different then too. Needless to say, my dad made it home to see his dad before he passed away, and he was always thankful that he made the trip, and always thankful that he saw his dad one more time. I only wish I could have met him, and gotten to know him too. I feel like I missed out, on my grandfather and my Grandma Spencer, who passed away when I was 2½ months old. Happy birthday in Heaven Grandpa Spencer. I look forward to meeting you someday soon.

On the first trip I made to Forsyth, Montana with my husband, Bob Schulenberg’s family, I was introduced to his family there…among them, Eddie Hein, Bob’s uncle…his dad’s half-brother. That first trip was followed by yearly trips for many years to come. We loved going up for visits, and we were always made to feel welcome. Eddie was a quiet man…soft spoken, but with a big heart. You always felt accepted by him. Eddie had a great big smile, and a laugh that lit up his face, and he liked to laugh. I will miss his smile, and his big hearted kindness. There was never the formality of calling Eddie and Pearl, uncle and aunt, because they weren’t that much older than many of their nieces and nephews were. Even though we didn’t see them as much lately as we used too, it was always good knowing that he was there. Now, suddenly, Eddie is gone. He passed away yesterday, even though it seemed that his health was improving after his stroke of a few years ago. We will all miss him very much.

Bob and I went to Forsyth, two years ago, after his stroke, and I am so glad that we made that trip. It is a trip I will cherish now. Eddie and Pearl, his wife, were both is good spirits, and the trip was so much fun. His mobility was good, even after the stroke, and he seemed just like his old self. I was glad. Pearl just beamed. She was so happy to have him beside her…something I understand after my own husband’s heart attack. You learn to set aside things that don’t matter so much, and live for the day you are in. That’s what Eddie and Pearl were doing too. There were times that Pearl wanted to declutter…we all need to do that from time to time, but Eddie wanted her to let that go, and just be together. I think I understand where he was coming from, as I’m sure Pearl does too. Stuff can be cleaned out anytime, but time cannot be relived. Memories are always with us, but we have to live them to have them first, to make the memories. Eddie and Pearl lived them.

They were married on July 15, 1967, and their marriage was blessed with two children, Larry on May 17, 1969; and Kim on June 27, 1971. Life was good. Eddie worked for many years at Peabody Coal in Colstrip, Montana; while Pearl worked at the IGA in Forsyth, until they both retired. This past July they celebrated their 52 wedding anniversary. Eddie and Pearl had a house in Forsyth, Montana, along the Yellowstone River. They raised vegetables, and Pearl canned they every year. Eddie had a garage where he could tinker, and he loved caring for the garden. He was also a capable carpenter. He turned their mobile home into a beautiful house, with a fireplace made from area stone. It was beautiful. Eddie was always willing to help other people with their own projects, including when his brother, Walt Schulenberg, my father-in-law was building his house outside of Casper, Wyoming. As the years passed, Eddie and Pearl became grandparents. They loved their time with those kids, and I’m sure the kids loved the time with them.

It’s hard to believe that Eddie is gone now. There will always be an empty place that belonged to him. I am thankful for the memories of our trips to Forsyth, and the wonderful visits to Eddie and Pearl’s house. I can picture it now, sitting around their table, drinking coffee, and listening to the stories of our lives. It didn’t matter what we talked about…their lives or our lives, we were reconnecting, and that always felt good. I will really miss those times. It saddens me to have the aunts and uncles leaving us. They contribute so much to our lives, and that rich heritage is slipping away with each one who goes home to Heaven. Still, Eddie, like so many others who have gone on before us, is in our future now, not our past. We will see him again. Rest in peace Eddie. We love and miss you already.

Over the years, I can recall that my dad, Allen Lewis Spencer had a number of hammers, of differing handles and sizes…like most men do, but for as long as I can remember, one hammer was always there. It wasn’t that this hammer was made of gold, or even looked fancy. It had a plain handle, but I suspect it is a hardwood, and not a simple pine. The handle is a medium toned wood, but it may have darkened with age and use. It also has a scorch mark about five inches long along one side, that happened when it was laid a little too close to a campfire. Dad rescued it just in the nick of time. He had to save it, you see. It wasn’t just any hammer…it was his dad’s hammer, and with his dad’s passing, the hammer was given to my dad.

Most wooden handled hammers don’t have a long handle life. That is probably the main reason that many, if not most hammers are made of metal these days. This wooden handled hammer is different, however. My grandfather, Allen Luther Spencer was a carpenter for the Great Northern Railway. His job was to build and repair seats, trim, walls, and floors…anything made of wood on the trains of the Great Northern Railway. He also made tables and chairs for his own family, and he did it all with that same hammer that my dad inherited upon his passing. Unfortunately, I never knew my grandfather, because he passed away before my parents were married. That leaves my sisters and me with only the stories we have heard from family and my Uncle Bill Spencer’s family history. I do know that while my grandfather’s work might never have been in the caliber of my cousins Gene Fredrick, and his sons, Tim and Shawn, he did make some nice things. What impresses me the most is that any work needing a hammer was done by the same hammer that my dad inherited, and that even after all the use my dad has give the hammer, it is still in amazing shape. Things were just made well in those days.

My dad took great care of that hammer, because it was as much a treasure to him as it is to me. It is so much more than just a hammer, it was my dad’s hammer, and his dad’s hammer. The handle still has the oil from Dad’s hand on it, making that spot darker than the rest of the handle, and I can tell you, that I will not be using the hammer, nor will I clean off that oil, or sand off the scorch mark, or the one little sliver of wood that was torn off of the handle at some point. You see, I think the hammer is just perfect the way it is, and I plan to display it with no changes to it at all, because it was my dad’s hammer, and to me…that makes it priceless.

When my nephew, Barry was just a little boy, he and his mom lived with her parents. As far as Barry was concerned, his grandpa was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Barry was determined to be just like his grandpa!! My father-in-law was building a house on their land when Barry was just about 1 year old… just old enough to want to help. When my father-in-law was doing the preparatory work Barry wanted to be with him. He wanted to know all about the cool things his grandpa was doing, especially since he had no intention of going to school or anything like that. He was going too be far to busy being Grandpa’s partner.

In building a house, you have to have the right tools for the job. You can’t expect to build a house with a nail file, or paint with a toothbrush. The right tools are vital to the success of the entire project. A good carpenter has tools that are well fitted to his hands and to his
way of working. He has a team of workers who know their job and work together to get the job done. Each person helps the others to do the job right. That said, Barry had his own tools. He had the little wooden hammer he used on one of his toys, and since some of his other toys included tools, I’m sure he had a little toy saw, shovel, pliers, wrench, and many other tools that he figured might come in handy in this endeavour. Barry put his tools to work whenever he could find someone to lift him up to the work area so he could get at it.

The home plans will always include plenty of storage space, because everyone knows that storage space is vital. Barry considered himself the Foreman of the storage areas, I think. He had to make sure they were the right size, because a storage area that couldn’t hold it’s foreman was…well, simply too small. There are lots of times that a guy needs to get into those cupboards, and cramped space in there is just not acceptable. So Barry was the Foreman and also the Inspector of the storage areas.

Yes, building a home is a big job. Being the foreman on such a job usually means plenty of stress, so one final thing that Barry learned from his grandpa about the right way to be a carpenter, was that you have to take time out for occasional breaks. So, every once in a while, Barry would find a cupboard to hide out in for a while, and the most important item to have in that space was the thing we all know helps with the stress of any job…the Folger’s Coffee!! It can be the only thing that lies between a man and his sanity.

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