grandfather

Some old pictures are classics, like a picture of your grandfather with only part of the nine kids he and your grandmother had. It’s strange to see Grandpa so young, and if your parent is in the picture, like mine is, seeing your mom or dad that young is really odd, unless you have seen a lot of those really old pictures, which I had not. Their children, Evelyn, Virginia, Delores, Larry, Collene, and Wayne (the baby being held by Evelyn), born in that order, surround their Dad. It looks to me like they were on one of their many outings, most likely rock hunting, which was a favorite pass time for the whole family, although Aunt Evelyn doesn’t looks so happy…probably because, Uncle Wayne is crying, or so it looks to me.

It must have been taken in the Fall or Spring, because everyone is wearing coats. I was looking at my mom, who is the little girl Grandpa has his hand on, and I thought it was interesting that her hat looked like some worn by little immigrant girls on the Titanic. That interests me, because my grandfather’s dad immigrated from Russia, and Mom reminds me of that era, but I could be wrong on that thought. Of course, my grandfather’s mom was born in the United States, and Great Grandpa Byer was gone by the time my mom was born, so any similarity is probably accidental. I wish I could have known him.

I think it is interesting that the children are recognizable to me, even my mom, who is actually looking down a bit. There is just enough of her face for me to tell without a doubt that it is my mom. We all think that children change so much from the time they are little to the time they are grown, but the more I look at pictures, the more I realize that it isn’t so. Those little faces are smaller, but the features are the same, and while some might look quite a bit different, many really don’t.

When my grandparents were young, it was not unusual for there to be bigger age differences between a man and his wife. There was a 16 year age difference in my grandparents ages. Grandma was a mere 18 years of age when she became a bride.  I am reminded of a country song called “Love Like Crazy” sung by Lee Brice, in which a couple is told that they are crazy to marry so young. I don’t know if my grandmother’s parents felt that way or not, but that rarely makes a difference to the couple in love anyway. The funny thing about the song is that it ends up pointing out that if a couple “loves like crazy” they can beat the odds and stay together.  That song always reminded me of my grandparents, and I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe because Grandma was so young. I’m sure you will agree that she looked like a little kid.  And while my grandfather was 16 years older, he looked very young too.

For my grandparents, age made no difference. They would have been in love if they were the same age or 16 years apart. You could always hear it in their voices, and see it in their eyes. There is another song that also reminds me of my grandparents. It is “I Only Have Eyes For You” by Frank Sinatra. That is how my grandparents were. From the moment they met, they only had eyes for each other. And even after 50 years together, they still have that look in their eyes. They always would. They just looked so in love.

Their marriage would last for 53 years, until Grandpa went home to be with the Lord in 1980, but the love remained for all time. They were blessed with 9 children, many grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren…too many to easily count. Most of their family and extended family has stayed close to home, making ours one of the largest in Casper, numbering close to or over 300. And of course, some of my grandparents’ brothers and sisters are here too, making for an even larger family.

The love that began when my grandparents first laid eyes on each other, has grown into a love so big and so beautiful, that it could not be contained in just two people, and so it has blossomed in their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren. It is a love for all time, that reminds me of yet another song called, “Little Houses” by Doug Stone. My grandparents may not have been rich in worldly things, but their lives were so rich in love, that no one would have ever been able to tell if they lacked money. They were so blessed, and they loved like crazy! Does it get any better than that?

My grandfather and his brother, my Uncle Ted were born 14 years apart. There were, of course, other siblings who were born in between the two brothers. Still, these two brothers would be tied together for years to come…until my Uncle Ted passed away, in fact, because they would marry girls who were sisters. About June 5, 1917, when my Uncle Ted was about 10 years old, my grandfather was drafted into World War I. I’m sure Uncle Ted felt many things…fear and worry for his brother, and yet excitement and wonder over the big adventure his older brother would be having. I’m sure his mother was feeling some of the same things, although I doubt if she was excited at all. A boy of 10 years of age probably doesn’t totally understand the dangers, just the adventure, but a mother totally understands that her baby might not be coming back.

My grandfather did come back from the war, and for a time our world had relative peace, but before all of her sons were out of the necessary age range for the draft, World War II would break out, and another of her sons would be called to fight. Uncle Ted enlisted in the Army on January 28, 1944, and so it came about that my great grandmother would have two sons fight in two separate World Wars. I know many people have had more than one son fight in a war, and I’m sure that would be awfully hard, but equally hard would be the situation where you thought the rest of your sons had dodged a bullet, no pun intended, only to find out that it wasn’t so.

Great Grandma was very proud of her soldiers, as she was of all her children, and to remember their bravery in battle in two wars, they took a number of photos. I don’t know if these were before Uncle Ted went of to war, or later on, but I do know that my grandma was feeling either worry, or relief, because war is a very hard thing on those left at home. Still, my great grandmother sent her boys off to war, and prayed that they would come back home safely, and they both did.

It will always seem strange to me that my grandfather and his brother could have fought in two separate World Wars, but that is exactly what happened. This was something I had not realized until my mom told me. I had wondered since finding this picture, why the uniforms were so different, and now I know. They were brothers who fought in two separate wars, to separate eras almost, and yet, only 14 years apart in age. Sometimes things can change so quickly in our world. We can move from one war to another seemingly overnight. We look back a short way and think, “Wow!! Just a few short years ago, this or that was the reality, and now it’s all changed!”

Most of us are able to trace our roots back to the Old West, since many of our ancestors were homesteaders. The Old West was a dangerous place to live. There were few, if any lawmen around, and outlaws found it to be a good hiding place. Probably a bigger concern for many of the settlers was the Indian population. There were a lot of hard feelings toward the white man, because of broken treaties and stolen lands. Still, this wasn’t really the fault of the settlers and homesteaders, but they were the ones who often suffered the consequences. For this reason, friendships between the Indians and the White Man were rare.

My grandfather’s family was privileged to have one of those rare relationships. They were accepted and even loved by the Indians in the area. They were invited to the Pow Wows and other celebrations. The had meals and probably hunts with the Indians, and got to know them well. They knew men like Chief Thin Elk and Sitting Bull, two Lakota Sioux Indians and their tribes. They spent time with them, and learned their customs…spoke their language. Not many White Men had the opportunity to do that.

Of course, when we think back on the Old West, the first thing that comes to mind are the old shows, like Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Little House on the Prairie. We seldom think of the real people who lived those times…especially our own ancestors. I had been told that my great grandfather knew some Indians, but it just didn’t register until I saw pictures of him with the Indians…being friends with the Indians…having Pow Wows with the Indians. My great grandfather was one of those rare people who really did know Indians from the Old West. It was such an eye opening moment for me.

As is the case in most families, we have a number of heroes, both living and deceased, in our family. Memorial Day was originally set aside as a day to remember our military heroes. It has evolved into a day to remember those loved ones who have left us too…even if they weren’t in the military. I know there are those who have served that I am unaware of, and I first want to thank every member of the military past or present for their brave service to our country. Freedom isn’t free, and it was your dedication, bravery, and sacrifice that have made it possible for us to enjoy our freedom.

My grandfather and my great Uncle Ted both served during World War I. My dad , Uncle Jim Wolfe, and Uncle George served during World War II. My Aunt Laura and Aunt Ruth also helped during the World War II by working in the shipyards welding ships…a man sized job that was being handled very well, but a group of outstanding women. Others in the military were my Uncle Larry, Bob’s Uncle Eddie and Uncle Butch, my cousins Larry, Greg and Michael, Bob’s cousins Sheila and Pat, Bob’s brother Ron, Bob’s brother-in-law Lynn, and my nephews Rob and Allen.

Whether our military men and women served in wartime or peacetime, doesn’t matter. It takes great bravery to even sign up for the military, because you never know when war can break out and you will be given the call to action. Our military men and women sign up not only to fight if necessary, but to give their very lives as a sacrifice for others. Their everyday life, the places they live, the job they have, and the hours they work are all things that they give up control over. Many have missed the births of children, wedding anniversaries, and family birthdays, because they were far away from home serving their country. The things we take for granted that we will be able to attend, they know with certainty that they will not be able to attend.

Such sacrifice…such selflessness…such dedication!! These are all a part of the very makeup of these individuals, and something many of us never give any thought to. These people turned a part of their lives over to their leaders, in order to make our homeland, and the countries of other people a safer place to be. They fought for people they didn’t even know, while leaving their own loved ones behind to answer the call of duty. Today is Memorial Day, and I want to thank these, and all our military men and women for your courage…your selflessness…your strength…and your dedication!! God bless each and every one of you!!

When my dad was a little boy, he really liked his bottle…but he was a little bit careless with it as he got a little older. It was time to get him off of the bottle, but he was not very interested in that idea. When he got teeth, he started pulling on the nipple with his teeth, and would bite it off, spilling the contents all over the floor. I’m quite sure my grandmother was frustrated beyond words with him.

One day, in one of Dad’s careless moments, he tossed the finished bottle into the wood box, breaking it, because there was no such thing as plastic bottles then. His mother, who was all done with this nonsense, looked into the wood box…then turned to my dad and said, “That was the last bottle…they are all gone.” I can imagine what was going through her mind…and his. I’m sure she was thinking, “Will he cry…for hours!!” And I’m sure my dad was thinking, “Can’t we get another one?” But after looking at his mother, who looked back at him, stone faced, my dad knew that was the end of the matter. He looked sadly into the wood box, and walked away. I’m told he didn’t cry, nor did he ask for another bottle ever again. I think my grandmother was a wise woman.

While he was a good boy who loved his mom and dad, and respected his elders, my dad was still full of antics as he got older. Like many kids who think they are so grown up, sometimes you just can’t tell them anything. Sometimes they just have to learn things for themselves. Such was the case on day when my dad was sitting at the table…leaning back in his chair. The chair kept rocking back on two legs. We have all been there. Our parents telling us not to rock back in our chair like that, but…really, how many of us ever listened. No, most kids know it all…right!

Well, my dad was no different. His mother had repeatedly told him not to lean back in his chair. On this particular occasion, my great grandfather, my grandmother’s dad, was visiting. My great grandparents had immigrated to the United States from Germany, and Great Grandpa still spoke in mixed English and a German dialect. Then the inevitable happened. My dad leaned back a little too far, and the chair went on over. My dad looked up from the floor, to see his grandpa looking down at him and saying, “So Du bist a Oka Mann!”…which translates to, “So, you are a Big Man!” Somehow…I’m not so sure Dad felt very big…nor do I think he thought it was very funny!!

As we go through this journey we call life, this world we live in will go through many changes. As I was looking at old family pictures, and it got me thinking about what a change it must have been to go from the horse and buggy days to the automobile. My grandfather and my Uncle Ted (back seat right two people) I’m quite sure grew up with the idea that cars were going to be around, but my great grandfather (back left) must have been quite in awe over the changes going on in his life. I remember the first time I drove a car, but I had ridden in a car many times by that time, and they were commonplace items. I just can’t imagine seeing a car for the first time as an adult, but that is what so many of our ancestors did. Bob’s grandmother talked often of the changes from a horse and buggy to the car.

When I was a kid, a computer took up an entire room, and nobody had one in their home. Then came the PC, and people started buying them. Pretty soon everyone had one in their house. Now there are laptops, netbooks, tablets, and even smart phones. I remember too, when the only phones that existed where in a building or the occasional telephone booth…remember those. Telephone booths almost don’t exist anymore, because we all have a phone in our purse or pocket, and most of them are smart phones now, so we can even access the internet with them.

So many changes have taken place in in the past 200 years alone, that our ancestors would not even know this place if they could see it. I have to wonder how much of it would absolutely terrify them, if they could step into our time. And what would our thoughts be if we could step back into the old West? Back to the days when the harvesting was done with a horse and wagon, and it took a large group of people to get the job done. Hay was cut down using scythes and loaded in the wagon using rakes and a pitchfork. That was a much harder time in our history, and the harvest wasn’t taken so much for granted. School was planned around it, because the kids were needed to help with the harvest too.

Sometimes, I think we all need to look back in time once in a while, and really see how very blessed we are to be living in a time where much of our work is easy, food is abundant, travel is quick, and staying in touch with people all over the world is a normal, everyday event.

When my Aunt Evelyn was a toddler, her parents were trying to teach her how to address different adult family members. Whenever she called an aunt or uncle by their first name, her parents would say, “You must say Uncle Ted or Aunt Gladys.” I’m sure she heard those words many times, as it is hard for a toddler to hear everyone else calling the person by name, and yet they must use something different. It can be a very confusing time for a little kid just trying to learn the ropes.

These days, at least in our family, many of the aunts and uncles go by just their first names, and while some people might think that odd, I am just as comfortable being Caryn as I am Aunt Caryn. We don’t consider it to be any kind of a show of disrespect. But in times past, and in many families today, if the person is an aunt or uncle, you must address them as Aunt this or Uncle that. We do draw the line at grandma and grandpa, and my grandchildren know that while Gma, G, or G-mamma is ok, Caryn is not. I suppose that could be confusing to little kids too, but that is the way it is. Another place where we draw the line is Mommy and Daddy, or Mom and Dad. But for the aunts and uncles we are a little more casual.

Nevertheless, in my Aunt Evelyn’s day and my childhood, the children were taught to use the proper terms of aunt and uncle. So Aunt Evelyn, in her early training days, heard over and over that she must say Uncle Cliff or Aunt Myrtle. And as all little kids do, she worked very hard to try to figure out who was who so her parents, aunts, and uncles would be pleased with her. Children love to get praise from their parents and such.

One day, when my grandmother needed my grandfather for something, all that training came to the point of complete understanding. My grandmother told my Aunt Evelyn to go get her daddy, and quick as a wink, my Aunt Evelyn said, “You must say…Uncle Daddy.”

Many people name their children a longer name, planning to shorten it to a nickname. Names like Christopher and Joshua are shortened to Chris and Josh. Some times, names are changed to initials. Names like Joel David, Machelle, or Brenda are changed to JD, MAC, or BR. Names even had things added to them, like Susan becoming Susie Q, or Shai Renee becoming Shai Reenie the Pooh. And sometimes directions came into play when Weston and Easton became West and East. And some names didn’t need to be changed, just used in their entirety to be a nickname of sorts, like Caalab Rolles Royce. Such is the case in our family, but I guess I had to be different. I never intended to use nicknames for my girls, Corrie and Amy, and for the most part didn’t, but the nicknames they did get, didn’t shorten their names…rather, they lengthened them. Odd…I know, but that is what happened.

Corrie became Cornelia…after my grandfather according to my mom. Amy became Amelia, mostly I think to match Corrie’s nickname, but it was all so perfect. Their names were similar and fit perfectly to lengthen their names from the original to the new nickname. We had a lot of fun with those new longer nicknames, but it never escaped my notice that they were of an unusual type.

Everyone had their little additions. Some added middle names so Cornelia became Cornelia Sue. Other made rhymes, so Amelia became Amelia Bedelia. The play on words was fun and interesting. We even had a few little songs that incorporated their nicknames. Just another way of adding to the fun of it. And through the years, more and more nick names have been added…some short and some long. Corrie has been Cor, CorSue, Corrie Lou, and even Apple Core, and Amy has been Ames, Amos, Amy Lou and Strawberry Shortcake, because she was so little. The names changed through the years, but never really went away.

The other night at bowling, Amy came up to me and said that Pete, another bowler, had called her Amelia, and was surprised when she turned around and responded to the use of the nickname. He said, “I didn’t figure you would answer to that name.” She said, “It has been my nickname all my life.” So I guess nicknames, don’t always mean a shortening of the name, and it isn’t so uncommon for nicknames to be a lengthening of the name. But, what is really funny to me is that when we picked names for the girls, I said I didn’t want names that would be shortened…and well, I guess I got my wish…at least part of the time.

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