Forty-four years is a long time, but for my husband, Bob and me, it doesn’t seem like long at all. That is the number of years that we have been married. It’s over half of our lives!! We were just two kids back in 1975, when we said “I do” on March 1 of that year. Of course, we “knew” that our marriage would last a lifetime…doesn’t every married couple? Still, in reality, you hope your marriage will last a lifetime. You don’t know for sure until many years later, when that lifetime is in it’s golden years. If you are still together, then you know that yours is a marriage that will last a lifetime.

We were one of those blessed couples, for whom marriage stood the test of time, and still together, and still going strong. For us, the “mountain” has been filled with lots of trails and hikes, and mountains within mountains, and I many ways, that is what has given our marriage the color that it has been filled with. Every trail, whether outdoors, or just a “virtual trail” in a marriage taking us on a different path than we had intended to go before, or one that we had been working toward for a long time. Every trail, and every path became the journey our lives were meant to take.

With every passing year, our marriage becomes more and more precious, but this past year took a turn that made it even more precious, when my husband, Bob had a heart attack that was deemed the Widowmaker. At the time, God provided us with all the right people in all the right places to save Bob’s life, and I still find myself thinking about how very blessed we were and are. Our marriage could have ended that October day, but instead, everything was restored to us and Bob continues to be healthy, and our lives have continued on as before, only better. I guess that when you have a serious event take place, you discover just how precious the love of your life is, and that is a discovery that has not been lost on me. I know that I am very blessed to have Bob in my life, and I will love him for the rest of my life. I couldn’t be happier with my choice of a lifetime mate. Happy 44th Anniversary, my love!!

William Malrose SpencerWillie's HouseUncle Bill always had some new iron in the fire. He has many interests and talents. Uncle Bill, who’s full name is William  Malrose Spencer II, was named after his grandfather, William Malrose Spencer I. To Uncle Bill, the single most important accomplishment of his lifetime, is the incredible family history he has dedicated his life to documenting. Uncle Bill started the family history as a young boy of only 8 years. He never quit thinking about the family history after that, even after dementia clouded his ability to process the information he found like he used to do.

Recently, I came across another accomplishment of Uncle Bill’s…one I would never have expected. While looking at his Family History Journals, I found a picture of a house, and I wondered what significance this house might have to have found a place in the family history. Nevertheless, Uncle Bill clearly thought it belonged. The building of the house began in 1948, and continued to it’s completion in 1951. Why would a house take so long to build? The answer explains it quite well. My Uncle Bill, whose nickname is Willie, singlehandedly built the house. The only work he did not do was the wiring and plumbing. The concrete for the sidewalk and steps, was mixed in a 3 x 4 foot plank box, with a hoe. Having done a little concrete mixing with a hoe, I can attest to how difficult that is to get right, or maybe that’s just me…techy yes, builder…not so much. During that time, Uncle Bill was living in Casper, and wanted something to do in his spare time. Building a house seemed to fit the bill nicely. I know that is an odd hobby, but it was the one he chose.

Sometimes, people come into our lives in odd ways. One night while Uncle Bill was digging a trench from the bathroom to the sewer line, it was late and dark. He had a light cord out there, so he could see. Suddenly someone yelled, “What are you digging down there…a grave??” The voice came from a young man named Mark Knittle and Uncle Bill liked his sense of humor immediately. They became lifelong friends, and kept in contact for many years. So, what of the house that Willie built…well, it still stands today and it’s in very good shape. Uncle Bill's friend Mark KnittleThe house todayNot much has changed about the house at 1228 S Jackson Street, other than the color of  the paint. I tried to locate Mark Knittle, but the Mark Knittle who lives in Casper at this time, is apparently no relation. I found that rather sad, because I had hoped to tell a little more about their friendship. Today is my Uncle Bill’s 92nd birthday. He is doing quite well in most ways, and loves having visitors. Happy birthday Uncle Bill!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Mom SchulenbergMost of us have watched the movie Groundhog’s Day before, and thought that it was a funny show, and it was…at least for a while. Then, it got to the point where you, like the character in the show, thought this was ridiculous. You already know what is going to happen, because it has happened over and over again. For most of us, this scenario would be a serious annoyance, but for my mother-in-law, this is her life…and she isn’t bothered by it at all…nor am I. I suppose that because most people think of Alzheimer’s Disease only in it’s negative aspects, they think that the loss of recent memory is the most horrible thing that could happen to a person, and in the area of new additions to a family, that is true to a degree, but while it is sad that this grandmother will never really remember the new in-laws that arrive from the marriages of her children or grandchildren, nor will she ever know her new grandchildren, and yes…that is very sad for us…but she will never feel that sadness. Nor will she ever feel the sadness of loss, and that is a good thing in my mind.

Most of us go through many times of loss and sadness during our lifetime, but those with Alzheimer’s Disease don’t. We can think of Alzheimer’s Disease as a horrible end of things, and since I have never seen the very end of the disease, I can’t say that it doesn’t end horribly, but between the beginning and the end of it, there can be some very funny times. Things like not wanting to go to bed until someone comes to tell them if they won a prize or not, and then when they are told that the awards ceremony is the next night, they go to bed without question. It all depends on what things they were interested in before. My mother-in-law liked the thought of winning the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes, so that was the illusion her mind came up with, and that was my answer to it.

I am thankful that her life was filled with good things, so that her memories are sweet and not scary, because I also think that Alzheimer’s Disease can be very torturous for those who have memories of sad or scary times…like being lost for instance. I would hate to think of that kind of a memory being the kind that was running through my mother-in-law’s head, and sadly I have seen people with the disease who live with that memory over and over again. Nothing can be done, but to comfort their worried mind…over and over again. I can only feel bad for them and for their families.

From what I have seen of Alzheimer’s Disease, every action taken by the patient has more logic to it than people know. While the person who is asking for help over and over before asking someone to let them in, has probably been locked out of the house at night before, the person, like my mother-in-law, might pour her drink into her plate, because pureed food looks like oatmeal to her. She is also known to play with a blanket or napkin or nothing at all, and yet she is doing something very specific. If you know her like I do, you realize that she is working of an afghan or a potholder or a dishcloth, because for years she made those things, and she thinks she still is. I guess, when you think about it, all they really need is someone to understand that they are stuck in a time loop.

My mom grew with stories about the Indians her grandfather had known in his lifetime. Of course, my Great grandpa Byer passed away before my mom was even born, but his legacy lived on long afterward. He had been a friend to the Indians, and had been invited to take part in their Pow Wows. I don’t really know how much this impressed my mom, but I know that she often talked about the stories she had heard so many times in her youth. I remember, Mom’s stories well…probably because she used to use examples of Indian things when she spoke to us in everyday life.

As with most kids, we figured shoes were optional in the summertime, and in reality, they were in the way. As a result of this belief, our feet spent the better part of the summer looking as black as the ace of spades. My mom liked to joke with us about our feet. She would say such things as, “Look at those feet! The are completely black! Are you part of the Blackfoot Tribe!” I didn’t know much about the history of the Blackfoot Indians, but apparently they got their name because of their moccasins, which were often black from walking through the ashes of the prairie fires. Many of the Indian tribes would set the prairie on fire as a way of…well, mowing the lawn. Tall grass provides a hiding place for enemies, be they animal or human. So, burning them made riding and walking easier, and gave the protection of the open areas with no place to hide from the tribe’s people. It was the best protection they could have.

I always used to wonder why she would say that we were from the Blackfoot Tribe, and then I checked into it. No, we weren’t wandering around the prairie, walking through the ashes left from mowing the lawn, but we did wear moccasins for a time, when they were in style. The reality, however, was that she was reminded of the Blackfoot Tribe, by her own little tribe of barefoot girls with feet as black as soot, running around, carefree and happy, in the summer sun. Her own little tribe of Blackfoot Indians.

Kids play so hard. From the moment they get up until they fall asleep they are going. It’s almost like they are trying to cram a lifetime of play into each day. They don’t understand that there is always tomorrow. I love watching toddlers as they get to that point where they want to keep playing, but they just don’t have any more play in them. They start to get sleepy and they try to go faster and faster, until they simply fall asleep.

Sometimes that can be a parents dream…especially if the child is one who is hard to get to sleep, but it also seems like by the time the child falls asleep, it is late enough in the day that after their little nap…they will be up half the night. What is the parent supposed to do? Wake the child back up and deal with the grouchiness, or let them sleep and plan on a late night. It is a tough decision to make.

My grandson, Christopher was one of those play ’til you drop kids, but not the hard to get to sleep type, and he loved his sleep time, so we got to enjoy those all worn out moments. He was so funny. He would play so hard that he could fall asleep sitting up if, you weren’t watching. In fact, that seemed to happen rather often. Not everyone can sleep sitting up, you know. He just didn’t care. He would fall asleep in the middle of dinner or playtime. The need would hit him and he was out like a light.

He always made the funniest faces, and some of the funniest ones came when he was just waking up. That point of still being half asleep and half awake, made him look as if he had been given just a little bit too much to drink. Of course, that wasn’t the case, but he sure looked the part.

Yes, kids just don’t know when to quit. They don’t shop ’til they drop…the play ’til they drop. Sometimes, I think we are the ones missing out on things. We spend our lives slaving away at our jobs, and all too often forget to allow for a little play time or down time. Then the years fly by and we wonder where they have gone, and how we missed them. Maybe we should take a page out of their book and play until we are so worn out that we could sleep sitting up. Think of how contented we would feel!

My mother-in-law and father-in-law have known each other for a lifetime. Their mothers, Nettie and Vina were friends when the kids, Walt and Joann were just toddlers. Nettie and Vina became friends and spent time together while their husbands worked on the ranch. At that time Walt was 3 and Joann was 1. When nap time rolled around, they would put both babies in the same crib, and so years before they would marry, Walt and Joann slept together, a fact which has been laughed about by their family members ever since, much to the chagrin of Joann, who was never sure she thought that type of teasing was very funny.

My father-in-law speaks proudly of the years of marriage that they have mastered…63 years today. All those years of working together, raising a family, weathering the storms of life and loss, and making the journey toward growing old together. So many plans, so many dreams. A lifetime of making plans. For most of those years, my mother-in-law kept the house, and my father-in-law worked. It was the way many it was back in the late 40’s and early 50’s…before women’s lib and feminism came into being and so many women turned to careers. I’m not saying it was better or worse then…just a different time. And it was the way my in-laws wanted their life to be.

As with many things in life, sometimes things don’t turn out just exactly as you had planned. My mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in about 2004, and since that time her abilities have deteriorated…but not the love that has endured through all the trials, all the difficult times, the loss of daughter, and granddaughter, and parents. The love has endured. Now that my mother-in-law is no longer able to do the cooking and washing, my father-in-law has taken over those duties.

People never know how they will react to the illness of a loved one…especially long term illness. Some people leave, but most long term marriage partners stay. Still, not all people with an illness like Alzheimer’s Disease can expect to be living at home with the one they love. So many partners feel like they have already lost their loved one, so a nursing home won’t matter. And so many people have no other options, because there is not enough help. And even though they love their spouse, there are no other choices. It is a difficult decision to make and one that could still be in my in-laws’ future. There is no right or wrong choice…just no other choice.

No matter what the future holds for my mother-in-law and father-in-law, I know that their love will endure. When she no longer knows who he is or who her children are…the love will endure. He will still go see her as often as he can get someone to take him, because she is the other half of him…she is the heart of him. When she is ill, he worries, when she is difficult, he sweet talks her (after he fights with her a little), when she is having a good day, he praises her…because after all these years, the love endures.

When my grandchildren, Christopher, Shai, and Caalab were little, my daughter Amy stayed home with her kids and babysat Christopher for her sister. It was such a blessing, because Corrie and I would come over at lunchtime and have lunch with them. Corrie was able to spend precious time with Christopher, and I was able to spend precious time with my kids and grandkids…at least the ones we had then. Joshua would join our family later on.

Amy’s house was a lively place those days. The kids kept her running and there was never a dull moment. I’m sure she was exhausted many times, but I hope she knows what a blessing she was to Corrie, Kevin, and me. The knowledge that the children were happy and well cared for, as well as loved, brings a peace of mind that cannot be matched. And most daycares do not allow parents to stop by for lunch, as it disrupts their day, and the children can get cranky when the parent leaves, but, while he hated to see his mommy go, Christopher was fine, because he was with his Aunty Amy, and his cousins.

Don’t get me wrong, there were the normal fights and competitions during the day, but because of the close surroundings, a close friendship grew. Since Christopher was 1 day older than Shai, they had spent all their lives together, and would do so until they started grade school. First, in Amy’s care until she needed to work full time. Then in their next sitter, Dani’s care, and finally the pre-school/daycare they would go to before grade school began. Theirs would be a friendship to last a lifetime. And when Caalab came along, they would work very hard to be big helpers to Amy, even though they were only 17 months older than he was.

The kids got personalized care from Amy, because she had just the two, then three. She would not babysit Joshua, because she went to work before he arrived. I feel a little sad for him, because he did not have that special time with his Aunty Amy like Christopher did. She taught the kids things, played games, trained them in walking, pottying, and talking, although she might regret that part sometimes. Amy played a big part in those kids early lives, and I was always glad.

The days the kids spent together with Amy were filled with giggles and laughs, and a few tears, but she would kiss the boo boos and stop the fights, and get things back into fun mode very quickly. Whenever I was there, I could tell that the kids were so happy and blessed. I wish I could tell you about everything they did during those days, but unfortunately I didn’t get to see that part of the day like Amy did. I just know that the babies grew into happy children, and we knew that they spent every day in the company of friends.

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