My dear uncle, Bill Spencer, who left us on Christmas day, 2020, was such a favorite of mine. We were a lot alike, and we had many of the same interests. It was Uncle Bill who taught me to play cribbage, but was never one to let me win. I learned to play well, and when I won…I knew I had really won. Back when you could get away with letting your kid drive on your lap, or even themselves with you in the car, well before they were of an age to get a permit, he let me drive to their cabin when we visited. Even my dad was ok with it, so I drove the three of us for quite a while. As a mom, when my kids needed family history information, I knew that my Uncle Bill was the guy to go to. He was the family historian from the time he was eight years old, and I quickly became as obsessed as he was. Uncle Bill did his research the old fashioned was, by making trips to different places to look in cemeteries, county and state records offices, and libraries. It was much harder work back then, and those of us who have been the beneficiaries of Uncle Bill’s hard work, can say that he has done a great work.
Uncle Bill is my dad, Allen Spencer’s older brother. Uncle Bill was ten years younger than his sister, Laura Fredrick, and three years older than his younger sister, Ruth Wolfe. The two boys were in the middle. The family lived many years in Holyoke, Minnesota, and ran a farm there. Uncle Bill, being the oldest son, played a big part in the farming. He, along with mostly my dad and Aunt Ruth helped with haying, and growing the the gardens. Their dad worked for the railroad, and so the farm was largely left to my grandmother, Anna Spencer, and the kids. My Aunt Laura was married during a good part of the younger children’s growing up years. Nevertheless, Uncle Bill and Aunt Laura were very close during his childhood years when their mother was working and Aunt Laura took care of him. They grew to have a close friendship, as well as being siblings.
As they grew older, Uncle Bill and my dad were the definitely the boys of the family. They loved getting into all kinds of trouble. The jumped on the moving trains, even though they had a pass to ride. They played with dynamite, even sinking the gatepost couple of inches. They also loved to go fishing, and often brought home a good catch, which all the family got to enjoy. Even though they were typical boys, I guess they weren’t all bad. I’m sure that when Uncle Bill got to Heaven a little less than a month ago, there was a wonderful reunion between the brothers, as they rest of their family too. It makes me sad to know that all of the siblings are gone to Heaven now, but only for myself and those of us left here. For the siblings it a big celebration. They are all together again. Today would have been Uncle Bill’s 99th birthday…and his first birthday in Heaven. Happy birthday in Heaven, Uncle Bill. We love and miss you very much.
Being the youngest of my grandparents’ nine children, my Aunt Sandy Byer Pattan, has become my go to person for family history information. She probably got to hear all the stories more than the other kids, because when parents are busy raising a large family, there are always other priorities. Of course, story time was a big priority in their family too, because it was something they could all do together. I’m sure the other kids heard all the stories about their family too, but Aunt Sandy seems to be the one who was especially interested in the family history. There always seems to be one or two who can easily be named the family historian. For the Byer family, the family historian would most definitely be Aunt Sandy.
In some ways, Aunt Sandy almost got to be that “mouse in the corner” listening to what went on in history. She may not have been there experiencing it, but the family she knew and loved, were there, so it felt real. Some of the family history stories were in Aunt Sandy’s time…not that she lived in ancient times, but that she lived during times in our history that were economically tough. She witnessed times when people often showed up at their doorstep…hungry, and they had heard through the grapevine that generous people lived in that house. Aunt Sandy recalls that no one was turned away, because her mother always made a way to feed more hungry mouths. I can’t imagine living through some of those times, and not have it affect my interest in family history.
Aunt Sandy always has a bit of a unique take on the family and it’s members. She often sees a side of them, good or bad, that I would have never known about. Every family has its rebels, and every family has its conformists. That is just a part of life, and for me, each is interesting. The runaway husband story she told me about my second great grandfather, David Pattan left me wondering if he was a cheating husband or just a little bit insane. Unfortunately, those are questions without answers. She has told me about grouchier family members, Some of these, I suppose, were just naturally grouchy, but others, I think might have been overwhelmed. Each will be remembered for the choices they made, I guess.
As to my Aunt Sandy, I will always remember her for the insight she has given me into the great big family that I am honored to be a part of. I think that every family really needs someone like Aunt Sandy in it. She spent many years listening to, and remembering the details of the stories of the family. Her amazing mind allowed her to remember the stories without writing much of it down. If someone is interested, she is willing to share. That, in and of itself, is a big part of the blessing she is. I think everyone of the family members should take a few minutes to sit down with her and find out about all the amazing information she has. Today is Aunt Sandy’s 70th birthday. Happy birthday Aunt Sandy!! Have a great day!! We love you!!