I read somewhere that the Sunday before Father’s Day is Write a Letter to your Father Day, and I found myself wishing this was a day I had known about a long time ago, because while Father’s Day is traditionally a day on which we show our dads that we love and appreciate them, Write a Letter to your Father Day, in my opinion really had a far deeper meaning in so many ways. Looking back on my life, there are so many things I would love to thank my dad for, and indeed, my parents for, but since this is about dads, I’ll take this one step at a time. Since my dad, Allen Spencer is in Heaven now, my letter will not be able to be sent or received, so I’m sure my dad won’t mind if this is all done in cyberspace.
Dear Dad, Words can never really express how deeply blessed I feel to have been born your daughter. I came home to a house filled with love, and parents who raised me and my sisters in God’s ways. We learned the basics, of course, have faith in God, share with others, helpout around the house, have respect for our parents and those in authority, and to always be honorable in all things. We always knew that no matter what, we were a family, and family came first. We learned that there was nothing we could ever do to lose your love for us, and that no matter how badly we messed up, we could always come to our parents for help and guidance. The one thing we never received from you was judgment and condemnation, because those things are totally out of character with love, and you totally loved your family.
Over the years, you showed us this great country we live in and taught us to love camping and all kinds of travel. You kept the fires going to scare away the bears, because we thought it would work, and you never made us feel silly for suggesting such a crazy thing. As we grew to our teen years, you understood that getting five girls ready in the morning was not a simple matter, but rather a two hour ordeal, while you patiently waited drinking a cup of coffee. There was so much you wanted to show us, but we were girls, and while we wanted to see most of it, vacation simply did not mean that we went out in public, sans makeup. Dad, you were so outnumbered, all of your married life, but you always seemed to take it in stride.
You and Mom taught us how a marriage and family should look, and how parents should raise their kids. Our families have been enriched by the family life we lived as kids. You always wanted your family around you, and Dad you made sure that if we got busy in our lives, we didn’t forget to come and have lunch with you and Mom. It kept us connected. You loved to hear about our lives, our work, our kids, our husbands. You wanted to be a part of our lives, but you were never intrusive…just interested. I always loved that about you and Mom, and those lunches will always have a very special place in my memory files. They were among the sweetest memories.
Dad, I could go on and on about how wonderful you and Mom made our lives, but I guess that will be a letter for another day. I just want to thank you for making life for my sisters and me, the most wonderful kind of life in the world. We have been so wonderfully blessed by God when he made you and Mom our parents. Today isn’t a traditional special day, but really just a day to let you know that I am thinking of you always. I love you so much, Dad. Your daughter, Caryn.
Before women could vote, the first lady in our White House was primarily there to handle the household staff, entertainment, and just look pretty beside her husband…the President. Of course, this was during the age when it was thought that women simply couldn’t handle the serious political information that it took to run a country. These days, women would howl in protest at the thought of being placed in the pretty, but incapable box. In reality, the women back then didn’t like it much either, but it seemed that there was nothing they could do about it…at least, not at the time. Still, even though women were not allowed to vote or have a political voice, there were men who valued the opinions and insights of their wives. One of those men was President John Adams. I suppose that Abigail Adams could have had one of those amazing minds, and that would seem to be the case from the different topics of discussion between John Adams and his wife, but the sequence of events that took place on this day March 7, 1777, is nothing short of amazing.
While John, who was at the time, a Continental Congressman, was in Philadelphia with the Continental Congress, and Abigail was in Braintree, Massachusetts at the family farm, he wrote her three letters, and received two letters that she had written in February. The correspondence between the two, was quite remarkable, and in all numbered 1,160 letters. They covered topics ranging from politics to military strategy, and from household economy to family health. John could see the value of his wife’s mind in all his life’s work, but probably the most in his presidency…other than family, that is. In many ways, it is sad to think that the minds of so many amazing women have gone untapped when it comes to the political arena. Of course, not all minds, male or female, intelligent or not so intelligent, can be said to have a good grasp of the important things necessary to run a nation, and keep it from derailing…as we have seen in recent years. Our nation needs people who understand how a Constitutional Republic works…and sadly, many don’t. But John Adams knew how important our Constitution was and always would be…as did his wife, Abigail. John was probably on the forefront of modern thought, in that he saw in his wife the ability to think politically, militarily, economically, as well as all of the thoughts any wife and mother has for her family. John and Abigail were not alone either. They were among the few people of that time, who saw women as intellectual and emotional equals.
In his letter, John mentioned that he felt saddened by the move of the capital to Baltimore, saying “This City is a dull Place, in Comparason [sic] of what it was. More than one half the Inhabitants have removed to the Country, as it was their Wisdom to do—the Remainder are chiefly Quakers as dull as Beetles. From these neither good is to be expected nor Evil to be apprehended. They are a kind of neutral Tribe, or the Race of the insipids. By contrast, Adams described the Loyalists, who prepared their Minds and Bodies, Houses and Cellars, to receive General William Howe should he attack, as a Pack of sordid Scoundrels male and female.” Abigail had written the letters he received on this day, in February, in which she spoke of the difficulty of corresponding during war, but also spoke of the lack of military fervor demonstrated by the New Englanders around her. I’m sure there was a weariness among the people. She wrote that she awaited greater patriotism, greater prosperity and future correspondence from her beloved husband to his devoted Portia, a nickname John had give her likely in reference to the intelligent and devoted heroine of Shakespeare’s Portia in The Merchant of Venice. These words and the respect her husband had for his wife and her mind were very unusual in a time when women were placed in the pretty, but incapable box.
Communications have come a long way over the years. Still, most of us give little thought to how difficult it used to be in the not so distant past. Of course, letters were originally the only form of distant communications, and I suppose that some people, like my Uncle Bill, still think that is the best form of communication there ever was. These days, I would have to agree with them in many ways, but there are times when a letter is not quick enough. When the telegraph was invented in the 1830s and 1840s, it revolutionized communication. No longer did it take months to get an important message to family members. Prior to that time, a loved on might be dead for months before the family found out. I’m sure that in most cases, people still relied on letters for most things, so receiving an unexpected telegraph was probably a little scary.
While telegraph made communications easier in our own country, trying to get an important message to someone from the homeland…not so much. Not until 1866, that is. Early attempts were made to lay Transatlantic cable for the telegraph in the late 1850s, but those failed, and the confidence of the people was lost, taking with it investors willing to fork out the funds to undertake the next attempt. The first project began in 1854 and was completed in 1858. The cable functioned for only three weeks, but it was the first such project to yield practical results, so progress was being made. The first official telegram to pass between two continents was a letter of congratulation from Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom to the President of the United States James Buchanan on August 16, 1858. Signal quality quickly declined, slowing transmission to an almost unusable speed. The cable was destroyed the following month when Wildman Whitehouse applied excessive voltage to it while trying to achieve faster operation. The cable’s rapid failure undermined public and investor confidence and delayed efforts to restore a connection. A second attempt was undertaken in 1865 with much better materials, and following some setbacks, a connection was completed and put into service on July 28, 1866. This cable proved more durable.
At that point, telegraph communications with the homeland of our nation’s immigrants became possible. While I’m sure it wasn’t inexpensive to send a telegraph…by the standards of the day, it did give the ability to keep in touch with family back home, and really, that was what it was all about. A letter from New York to England took ten days…provided nothing happened to the ship it set sail on. And it still had to get from out west, if that was where you lived to the east coast. I don’t think a month was far off on this. But then how good was the mail service in Europe? It could still easily take another several weeks for the letter to arrive. Primitive communications for sure. Of course, very few people use telegraph these days. I believe it can still be used to wire money, but electronic transfers are much faster, and often free, so why use it? That is the funny thing about inventions. They are only good until the next big thing that is invented makes the old ones obsolete. That is what things like the cell phone, the internet, and electronic transfers have done to things like letter writing and telegraph.
My Uncle Bill Spencer always loved the handwritten letters that were written by his family. It didn’t matter to him if it was nieces or nephews, his siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins. He saw in every word, great value…as if it were pure gold. The more I look at old letters, and search for information about my family online, the more I realize that Uncle Bill was really on to something. Seeing the handwriting of our ancestors…be it on a letter, draft card, or photograph always gets me excited. To think that my ancestor actually signed that card, or wrote that letter is very cool. I especially love finding things that were written in some other language. When my grandmother Anna Schumacher Spencer and her brother Albert Schumacher were in school, the teacher made fun of their language. When they came home and told their mother, my great grandmother, Henriette Hensel Schumacher, she decided that German would no longer be spoken in their home. I don’t know if she ever changed her mind on that issue, but if German was spoken, it was not often. So to find a letter written in German by my Great Grandmother Henriette Schumacher to her daughter, my Aunt Min Schumacher Spare is especially exciting. I wish that I understood then, what I understand now about the handwriting of my ancestors. I am so excited about to find these great letters from people I have come to feel like I know well.
When I look at the handwriting of my great grandmother, I see a woman who, even in the face of much pain and adversity, prided herself on her handwriting. Of course, life happens, and we can’t always have the same control of our handwriting that we once might have, but at the time of this letter in May of 1911, her handwriting was pretty and delicate. My great grandmother suffered much with Rheumatoid Arthritis, and yet, I believe that she loved beautiful things, and that she was a delicate and beautiful woman. I know that she was so proud of her family. She would like to help them all she could, but with a large family, and tough times, it was not much. Nevertheless, it was her hope that all of her children would succeed in anything they chose to do…after all, America was the land of opportunity.
Mina Schumacher always wanted to be a teacher, but in the end, she became a bookkeeper. I think she was probably ok with that, but maybe always felt a bit of regret. Nevertheless, her hanwriting to me shows strong woman who loved the pretty and delicate things in life. She often signed things using beautiful script or calligraphy. It was her own sense of style. Many people never give any thought to the impression their signature will make on another person, but she did, and I loved it since the first time I saw it in my dad’s photo album. It was just as beautiful and graceful as she was. She knew that the handwriting of our ancestors is important.
I suppose that everyone has an aunt or uncle that they connect with better than some of the others, and while the choice would be really tough for me to make, because I have so many great aunts and uncles, I would, nevertheless have to go with my Uncle Bill Spencer, who is my dad’s brother. Uncle Bill and I have always clicked. I notice many ways that we are alike. It was Uncle Bill that taught me how to play cribbage, and when they came to town, the rest of the family was hard pressed to spend much time with him…unless they wanted to watch us play. It was Uncle Bill who got me interested in coin and stamp collecting. I think I liked pretty much anything he was interested in.
While my interest in those things didn’t last very long, there was something that Uncle Bill got me interested in that has stayed with me for years…genealogy. Uncle Bill has been interested in the family history since he was a little boy. I can’t say that I have been interested in it quite that long, but since my girls were little for sure…and probably a while before that too. So much of what we now have is because of the work that Uncle Bill did over a lifetime. As a kid, I was certain that I hated history of any kind, but as an adult, I discovered just how interesting history can be, especially when you apply it to your own family. Most of the time, we don’t really consider the impact our own family members had on the course of history, but often they had a great impact…somewhere, at some place in time. Uncle Bill looked for the things our family did, and for the impact many of them had in history. That made them seem more real. I have also found out that some of the characters that we studied in history in school, are ancestors of mine, so that makes them even more interesting. Sometimes you just have to look at things differently, to really be able to see them for what they are.
While history and genealogy were something Uncle Bill and I shared, I can’t say that those things were the reason that we connected so well. In fact, I can’t say exactly why we connected so well…only that we did. Sometimes, it isn’t just about things you have in common, but rather about personalities. I think Uncle Bill and I were quite a bit alike in our personalities too. Maybe it was our sense of humor, or maybe our determination, but whatever it was, we always seemed to click, and it was a relationship that I always cherished.
Through the years, we tried to keep in contact with letters, but that was not always easy or successful. Uncle Bill didn’t get on the computer except to log his gun shop inventory, and so letters were just about it for him…especially since phone calls across the country back in the day could be pricey. We had thought about finding a way to play cribbage long distance, but could never get that figured out either. These days, online gaming is pretty easy, and if he had know much about the computer, we could have done it. It makes me sad that we were never able to do so.
When we went to see Uncle Bill on this trip, the Alzheimer’s Disease had taken much of his recent memory from him, but when we told him that we were his brother, Allen’s family, he knew who we were. We talked abut the very distant past…his and his sibling’s childhood, and he remember playing cribbage…I think. Nevertheless, it was not the same. The relationship was locked in the past, where it will most likely remain. I wish I could be close enough to see him a little more often, and maybe we could even give a game of cribbage a try. Though I haven’t seen him nearly as much in the past few years, as I did in my younger years, I find myself missing him terribly.
As time marched forward toward the United States entering World War II, many people were afraid for the lives of their sons. My dad’s mother, who had two sons, was among them. Things were really heating up while my dad was working in California, and the family really wanted him come home. The word was that any young men 18 to 20 years of age were going to be deployed by Christmas 1942, putting my dad and my Uncle Bill squarely in that group. It was a fearful time in our country. People didn’t want their sons to go to the war, but they knew that Hitler had to be stopped. The things Hitler was doing were so horrible that everyone knew that he must not be allowed to take any more countries over. He was completely insane and dead set on controlling the whole world. They knew that while the fear of sending their sons into battle was almost more than they could possibly bear, it was also going to be the only way to stop this horrible man.
The letters from home to my dad in California were filled with worried questions. They had heard rumors of the impending deployment back home in Holyoke, Minnesota, and were desperately hoping that what they heard in that small town was wrong. They questioned my dad, as to why he thought he would be going so soon. Uncle Bill and Dad had both decided that if one was called to go, the other would join up too. I’m sure they were thinking that if they went together, they could watch each other’s back. In the end, that was not to be, because Uncle Bill had flat feet and a hernia that needed to be repaired. It was a devastating blow to him. He wanted so desperately to be there with his little brother. He had always been there for him, to protect him, and it seemed impossible that he couldn’t do that this time. He was scared for his little brother. He even tried to get him to take welding classes, because he mistakenly thought that my dad wouldn’t have to go if he was working in the shipyards. I don’t know if dad took the classes or not…he did at some point, because he worked as a welder for many years…but if he did, it did no good, because they needed men in the war zones, and that was more important to the country. In the end, he chose the Army Air Force, and went to the war, did his duty to his country and the world, and he lived!!
For some time now, I thought that the main reason my dad’s letters home were always upbeat and positive was so that he could protect his mother…keep her from worrying about how bad things were. Now, after reading her letters to him, and the letters from his brother and sisters, talking about how worried their mother was, I realized that he wasn’t trying to keep her from worrying…she had already voiced those fears…she was already in the middle of serious worry, and now she was in the middle of praying that her boys wouldn’t have to go, and if they did…please dear Lord, take care of them and bring them home to her!!
It is hard enough to go into battle or to send your son into battle…to deal with the fear in your own heart…much less to know that your soldier was scared…and for the soldier, to know that your family is scared. Knowing my dad like I do, I know that he was in the process of pushing his fear back, putting his faith in God, and setting his mother’s worried mind at ease. He knew he could not stop what was coming, but the hardest thing to accept was that he couldn’t really stop his mother’s fears…no matter how excited, positive, or fearless he made his letters sound. And, that tore him up more than anything he would face in the war. The days leading up to, and during World War II, were filled with the worries and fears of a nation. The letters to the soldiers and home from the war, were carefully worded so as to try to alleviate the fears that could not be alleviated until the deployed loved ones were home again.
When you are young, your cousins are often your friends too. Mostly that is because their parents are related to yours, so it’s easy to get together. Your parents probably get to fairly often, so no play date arrangements are necessary. Cousins are often our first friends, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will remain good friends. Many times, cousins who were friends in the beginning of life drift apart as the years go on. Still, there are a blessed few who remain friends no matter where life takes them, and no matter what life presents them with.
I can’t say how close my mother-in-law remained with her cousins over the years, but I suspect that they might have drifted apart, because she moved from Montana in the early years of her marriage, and without internet, the best way to connect with friends and family was letter writing. Now, maybe she was better at that than I have been over the years, but I think that might have just been because they didn’t have a better way…except the phone, and that could get expensive back then.
My niece Lacey, and my grand niece, Siara are both out of high school and Lacey has started her career, while Siara is still in college. So far, they have remained close friends who see each other when they can. It’s a little more difficult for them now, with their busy lives. Still, they are working through things and keeping their friendship alive, at least for now.
As to my grand niece Christina and my granddaughter, Shai, the future is not set. They are still in high school, and while they are very close right now, things could change as their school days end. I have a feeling that they will be as close as Lacey and Siara have been, but only time will tell on that thought. It is my hope that they will stay close, like many in our family have. We have had several cousin friendships in our family, and personally, I think there is something extra special about them. They are more than close friends…they are as close as cousins.
It’s strange to think about the amount of things you don’t know about your dad, or anyone else for that matter, but when I think about my parents, I expect that I should know most things about them. I guess there are stories that were never told, or little things that just didn’t seem important, and so were passed over. Such is the case with my dad’s time in World War II. I’m not talking about the major things that Dad couldn’t talk about in his letters home, but some of the smaller things. Today I was reading his letter dated August 1, 1944, in which he talks about having a little down time from flying missions. He and a friend went to the gym. In his letter, my dad mentioned punching a bag for a while, among other unnamed exercises.
I never knew that my dad had any interest in boxing, although I vividly remember playing a little boxing game with him every once in a while in the hallway at home. Of course, he never hit me, it was a game. Dad was very quick, and no matter how much I tried to defend my face, he always managed to get a tap in. Looking back, I think my dad taught me a lot about self defense in those little sparring matches, but it never occurred to me that he had any real interest in boxing. I just thought it was a natural ability he had.
Dad had a great time with those sparring matches, and I guess I must have been a bit of a Tomboy, because I did too. I managed to get in a few good taps during those years, but I promise you, it was very few. Talk about feeling uncoordinated!! Nevertheless, if I got one in, I knew it was real and it was an accomplishment, because he didn’t just let me get one in…which is something I was always grateful for. Letting a little kid win at a game once in a while is fine, but if you do it too often, they don’t learn to play well, nor do they learn sportsmanship. Dad’s laughing, fun way of teaching me self defense was something I will always remember fondly about him, and now I know a little bit more about what he was like back then.
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.
The B-17’s and B-25’s are back in town again this week, and of course, they always put me in mind of my dad. I can’t see one in the newspaper, or flying over without thinking of him. Dad was a Top Turret Gunner and Flight Engineer on a B-17 G Bomber during World War II. In his letters to his mom, he was so excited to be on this brand new plane that had never been used by any other crew. He was impressed with the ability of this plane, and felt very safe and secure when flying around in it. As a young man in the war, he was excited, and yet cautious, of course, because he was flying into combat zones, after all.
I can just imagine how he felt when he was flying in the B-17G Bomber, because he grew up working on things around the farm, and loving the train rides he got to take, and then working on planes at Douglas Aircraft Company, so actually flying around in something he knew so much about, had to be exciting. And then to have it be brand new…well, not many people had that opportunity in those days. My guess is that it was a good thing that they were already in the air, because otherwise he would have been floating around in the clouds without his crew. The feeling behind his letters gave a little view of just how excited he really was.
When the B-17G Bombers and the B-25’s came into town in August of 2007, Dad and I went out to go through them. Dad wasn’t feeling very well by that time, as he passed away in December of that same year, and somehow in my excitement in taking him out to see his beloved planes, I missed that little fact…at lease until I looked at some of the pictures I took, which showed a tired version of my dad that shocked me some. Nevertheless, we went, and Dad really did have a wonderful time. We took our time, and he told me so much about the time he spent in those planes. You could see just how he felt about them, because it was written on his face, and it was very obvious in his voice. He still loved those planes. They were a part of him, and he was a part of them. You can’t separate such a life changing event from the person who lived it. It changes them, and shapes them into the person they become.
My dad was a deeply caring, loving person, who always put the feelings and needs of others ahead of his own needs. He worried about his mom worrying about him, so he tried to reassure her at every turn. He was a man who loved God and brought his children up in the Lord, and a man who deeply loved his wife, our mother. He was a man who showed his love to those he loved, and taught them to love others and especially one another. He hated anger and fights, and taught us to forgive. Dads just don’t come better. The B-17G Bombers and the B-25’s will head out of town soon, and while I haven’t gone out to see them since my dad went home, the memories will last a lifetime.