New Years Eve
New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day have always held a special place of significance in my family, because my mother, Collene Spencer was born on New Year’s Day. We always held a New Year’s Eve party, and I guess as kids, we thought that everyone did that, but it wasn’t so. I know lots of people have a party on New Year’s Eve, but not really as many as I had always thought. Most people just go out to a bar, and celebrate with a large group of people, but that would never have been the same thing in our family. Now that Mom is in Heaven, we still have the party, and as many of us as can, come to it. We do it in honor of Mom, because even though she is in Heaven…it’s still her special day. The traditional beating the pans…which my mom came up with, because we didn’t have noisemakers years ago, just doesn’t feel the same, however. That was always a favorite part for Mom. Once we rang the new year in right, we all go around to each other and wish each other a Happy New Year…and for Mom, a happy birthday. Then we all sang happy birthday to her. Of course, this wasn’t her birthday party…that would come on New Year’s Day. It was a two day celebration in Mom’s honor. Some things just cannot stay the same after the passing of a loved one, and I suppose this is one of them. We can tall Mom happy birthday, but not in person.
Sometimes, I think God places people in our lives for a specific moment and a specific reason. As my husband, Bob and I were leaving Denny’s this morning, after having breakfast, I glanced at a couple sitting in a booth we passed on our way out. At first glance, the woman looked a lot like my mother when she was young…enough so, in fact, that I had to do a double take. Yes, there were similarities, but she didn’t really look enough like Mom to mistake her for my mom after a good look, but I walked out of the restaurant smiling anyway, because it seemed such a sweet gift from God. It was like seeing my mom on her birthday! Of course, I know it wasn’t her, nor did the woman look totally like her, but rather it just seemed like a reminder that she is with God, and that she is very happy. Mom had been on my mind much more than usual for the past several days…probably because of her birthday. Nevertheless, that woman, in that place, for that moment, made me smile, because just for a second, at a quick glance, she reminded me of my mom.
As with my dad, I somehow never expected to live one day on this earth without my mom here on Earth. We were always such a close family, and I never expected that to change, and in reality, I suppose it hasn’t. Rather, we just have to wait to see our parents again. That is the sad part about getting on with life after your parents have gone to Heaven. You have to take the reigns, and lead your family in the way they should go, just like your parents did, but often you still feel like that little daughter would love to ask your parents’ advise about life again. There is a little joke on Facebook about wishing you were a kid again. Basically, I want my mommy and daddy. I’m tired of adulting.” Today would have been my mom’s 81st birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Mom. We love and miss you very much.
Each year, it seems that Thanksgiving brings something new with it…at least in the past few years anyway. The loss of my parents, and my father-in-law, my daughter Amy Royce and her family moving away, my broken shoulder last year…just a month before Thanksgiving, and now, my husband, Bob and me, spending Thanksgiving at Amy’s house and our daughter, Corrie Petersen’s family here in Casper. It’s rather odd, I suppose, but in my lifetime I can only think of one other holiday I didn’t spend at home with all of my family…the year I graduated from high school when I spent New Year’s Eve with my sister, Cheryl Masterson and her family, in Plattsburgh, New York. In the past, the sad things brought with them sorrow, and made it a little more difficult to feel thankful, but then I thought about the things I still had…family members who were still here, friends, jobs, my writing, and photographs of days gone by.
This year also brings some sadness, in that we will really miss Corrie and her family, as well as gathering with Corrie’s in-laws, Becky and Duane Skelton, who graciously invited us last year, as well as the future years, because, as Becky told us, “That’s the way it should be.” Nevertheless, I am so thankful to be visiting my daughter, Amy and her family, who I have missed very much. It will be a great way to have a reunion with them, and it will something new on my list of memorable events in my life. I am so thankful that my daughter, Amy at least, gets four days off for the Thanksgiving holiday. It will give us some real quality time together, and then when the rest of the family is there, the visit will be even more blessed.
I am also thankful that Corrie and her family will be spending the day with his parents, and that Corrie has the week off. It will make for a cozy time at home with her family too. Of course, I want Corrie, Kevin, Chris, and Josh, and Kevin’s family to know that we are thinking of them and praying that they have a wonderful day, because we miss them very much too, on this Thanksgiving Day, away.
With our mom, Collene Byer Spencer spending her birthday in Heaven this year, my sisters, our families, and I have had much time to reflect on the years of our lives, our loving parents, and sadly the loss of our parents. These past nine years have held more twinges of sadness and loss that we ever expected or wanted to feel. We know where our parents are, of course, and that makes the pain of their loss easier to bear, but there is still an emptiness that fills our hearts and lives, because they are not with us here on Earth anymore. Last night’s New Years Eve party went pretty much as we expected it to go. We were able to push back our feelings pretty well, until midnight, when our traditional Happy New Year hugs took place, and our Happy Birthday Mom song didn’t, because it couldn’t. We could barely talk with the lump in our throats, much less sing Happy Birthday, when she wasn’t there. Nevertheless, she was in our hearts and our thoughts, as was our dad, Allen Spencer. They will live there always, until we see them again.
Since Mom’s passing, we have been going through their things, and especially pictures. We have been overjoyed by some of the old pictures that had never been developed. I especially found the ones of Mom’s birthday in 1964, when our youngest sister, Allyn Hadlock was almost one year old, to be an amazing find. There we were, all Mom’s daughters, gathered around her, as she held her birthday cake. Dad always treated her like a queen, and us as his little princesses. For Mom, that meant things like a two day party for her birthday, simply because it fell on New Years Day. At our house, New Years Day was as big a celebration as New Years Eve was…because Dad’s queen was born that day, and it was just icing on the cake that it was also a national holiday.
Those birthdays, when we were children, were most likely the most precious ones for our parents, because we didn’t work yet, had no boyfriends, and no place else we had to be. They were family days, to be cherished and remembered always. Now that they both live in Heaven, those cherished pictures, and the memories they provide, are even more precious than they were when we were little. It’s a funny thing, time. What you took for granted as children, now stands out as some of the best days of your life. I know that for my sisters and me, nothing could have been sweeter than just one more New Years Eve party with our parents, and of course, that statement would continue to dominate our thoughts for the rest of our lives, because we would love to have just one more moment with our parents, and one more, and one more. It is never enough, nor could it ever be. That is what makes us so thankful for the eternity to come, when we will all be together again, forever and ever, in Heaven, where sadness does not exist and every face wears a smile.
The echoes of New Years Eve parties past, birthday parties past, and…just lives now past, will always linger in our thoughts and hearts. We can’t go back to those times, except in our own memory files, and I suppose that is what makes all these pictures so precious. They are the memories of the wonderful life our parents gave us, and of the things we are grateful for as this new year, the first with no parents on Earth begins. The legacy of all they gave us will always be with us, as will their memories. Today would have been Mom’s 80th birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Mom!! I know this day, like all others in Heaven will be filled with wonder, joy, and love beyond our wildest imaginations. We love and miss you very much!!
Over the years, the New Years Eve party that we always hold at my parents, Al and Collene Spencer’s house, has changed in many ways. New family members join our clan, and others depart, whether by their passing or moving away. Still, the party goes on. It is tradition, because, you see, my mom was born on New Years Day. That has always made New Years Eve and the party we hold be something that is anticipated with excitement…or at least it always was.
This year will be very different, and all future New Years Eve parties will also be very different, because our guest of honor…our mom will no longer be there. It’s hard to believe that it has been over ten months since her passing, but it has. Still, just knowing that our parents loved the New Years Eve party so much, and having all their children and grandchildren around them at this special time, was their way of celebrating it, makes it special. They never wanted to go out to a bar, because they wanted their kids to be able to be involved, so in their early years, the annual New Years Eve party at the Spencer home was born.
As teenagers, they knew we would be safe, because we didn’t have to drive anywhere. The party was at our house. And we never wanted to go anywhere else anyway. Our assorted boyfriends were allowed to come to the party over the years, and later husbands and kids, but the party location never changed. It hasn’t changed now either, but our guest of honor will be celebrating her birthday and the party that goes with it, in Heaven this year, because that is where she lives now.
I think we are all a little apprehensive this year, because we really don’t knew how we feel about this particular party. I know that the echoes of our parents and indeed their very essence will linger over the party, because they will be in our thoughts throughout the night. It is just very strange to think about having this party without them. over the years, it was always them that planned and executed the whole evening. It didn’t matter how cold it was outside, because it was always warm and cheery in their house. I’m sure there will be a tear or two that will escape from our eyes, but for the most part, we will try to keep things light. This is a party and not a punishment, after all…and Mom wouldn’t want us to be moping around. So here’s to our parents. Mom and Dad, we love you always and forever, and we miss you very much. As you would have wanted it to be…the party will go on without you…but it will not be nearly as much fun as when you were here.
My dad passed away on December 12, 2007, but since my mom was still alive, we never really went through his things…until after her passing on February 22, 2015. Mom had given out some of Dad’s things to different family members, but the bulk of his things would wait until her passing to be given to those who would receive them.
In his later years, my dad got cold often. That can happen as we age, or with surgeries to the chest or abdomen, which dad had to repair damage from Pancreatitis. More and more often, Dad could be seen wearing a sweater, and it really became a signature item for him. One sweater in particular that he wore almost daily, was a multi-shade blue striped sweater. He wore it so often, that it is one of the ways I picture him in my mind. I had asked Mom for that sweater shortly after Dad passed away, and was told I could have it, but did not receive it until now.
This was the sweater that Dad had on when he and Mom danced their last New Years Eve dance on January 1, 2007, just under a year before his passing. It was also the sweater he wore on his visits to the hospital when Mom was receiving Chemotherapy treatments for the Lymphoma Brain Tumor that she would beat in 2007. The blue sweater became synonymous of Dad…in my mind anyway.
There are many things that remind me of my dad. Anything World War II, of course, because I have written so much about his time in the war, and because we have toured the B-17s several times together, making the B-17 an integral part of my memories of my dad. Then, there are the funny memories of Dad, that always come to my mind…things like the whisker rub, our many debates, pretending to box with him, the Oregon Trail markers, the many vacations, and of course, the swatting games he played with the grandkids, will always bring back great memories of my dad. All of those things bring images of my dad and what an amazing man he was, but they are not things I can hold in my hands, and picture him if I use them. The blue sweater is.
Memories are the most precious things we have once a parent has passed, and I treasure every memory I have of my dad, as I do my mom, and there are things that will always remind me of them. And one of those things will always be that blue sweater. Today would have been my dad’s 91st birthday. Happy birthday in Heaven Dad. Have a wonderful celebration. We love and miss you both very much.
As our parents get older, and less able to do the same things they used to when they were younger, and we come to expect less and less of them, and sadly sometimes we include them less in things. It’s not because they don’t want to be included, because they do, but because we don’t think they can do things anymore. As the new year approached, many people were at parties, and many of their parents were at home. Of those that included their parents, and were at a place where they could dance, I have to wonder how many made sure that their parents got to dance. Sometimes, it is harder to pull that off, and all too often the kids just don’t think about it. Still, when that forgotten dancer gets the chance to dance again, it lifts their spirit so much. I got to see that exact thing happen last year at my mom’s New Years Eve party, when her new grandson, by marriage, Jason Sawdon took Mom out on the dance floor and they danced.
Since my Dad’s passing, we had not thought about getting Mom out on the dance floor. Since her knee injury, she has used a walker, and it would have been very difficult for her to dance. Nevertheless, Jason would have none of that. He got Mom, his new grandmother, out on the dance floor and filled in for our dad for that special New Years dance that Mom and Dad always shared. It was such a precious moment, and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place. It occurred to me that we had inadvertently left Mom out of part of the festivities, leaving her…a forgotten dancer. It wasn’t that we intended to do that, but more that we didn’t think about it. Dad had always had their special dance with her, and he had gone home.
I think that it’s easy to look at that situation and accept that a part of someone’s life might be over, when you are very close to that situation. We girls, being daughters and therefore not thinking like a man might think that was the case, and even the sons-in-law and grandsons who were there at the time of my Dad’s passing, could not see what Mom might need. We had watched with tears in our eyes, as they danced what turned out to be their last dance, because we were so grateful that they had the opportunity again. When Dad was gone on the next New Year’s Day, we thought her dance days were over. What Jason saw was a different need, and maybe Jessi gave him the idea…I don’t know, and I have not asked, because our forgotten dancer got to dance again, and that was all that mattered.
I found a picture among my Uncle Bill’s family history books, of my dad, Allen Spencer in a water fight with a friend named Ordie at Pattison Park, in Wisconsin, which is just 15 miles east of Holyoke, Minnesota, where the family was living at the time. I could just hear my dad’s laugh as he pummeled his friend with water. Dad had such a great laugh, and he took great pleasure in getting the best of people…in a friendly way, of course. I remember, as a kid, my dad and I used to have sparring matches. Somehow I had it in my head that I could beat him, if I really tried. Our sparring matches weren’t real, of course, but rather a matter of blocking the other persons attempts to pat their opponents face. Dad always won, and he always laughed all the way through our match. I was like a kid with an adult holding onto my head, while I tried to swing and couldn’t hit anything. Dad never held my head, but he almost always blocked my attempts to pat his face. It wasn’t really the sparring matches that drew me back into them, but rather my dad’s laugh. It amused him so much, he laughed in pure delight.
Some memories are so vivid that it’s almost as if you can hear the person. Dad’s voice, the way he teased his girls, his laugh, dancing with him on New Year’s Eve, the swatting game he always played with the grandkids from his chair in the kitchen as they tried in vain to run past him before he could swat them, and the whisker rubs he used to give us…laughing all the while. So many great memories of the wonderful dad that God blessed me with. He could even turn a moment when we were really angry or had been fighting with one of our sisters, into a laughing matter, because it was really hard to keep from laughing when he was laughing. I remember really trying a few times though. We would come to him tattling on whichever sister had so wrongly offended us, and he would imitate our whining…while we tried to keep a straight face. Before you knew it, we were both laughing, and the sister incident was forgotten. That was my dad…always the peacemaker.
When a loved one has gone to Heaven, you just never know what things will bring a memory of them that engulfs you. Sometimes, the sadness is overwhelming, and sometimes the memory brings a smile to your face. Either way, it is always unexpected and you are completely unprepared for it. My dad passed away 6 years ago today, and the memories continue to bring both tears and smiles. My mind shows me video clips of those moments in time, and the happiness we all shared with our dad. I see his smile. I remember his teasing. I hear his words of wisdom. And yes, I hear Dad’s laugh. These memories keep him in my heart until we see each other again in Heaven. I love you Dad!!
Our New Years Eve party is a time of joyful celebration, as are most, but ours celebrates the new year and our mom’s birthday which is on New Years Day. We bring in lots of snacks, and in fact we almost compete to see who makes the best one. We clear the kitchen of the table and chairs so there is room to dance, because Mom and Dad always liked to dance. There will be lots of visiting tonight, but there will also be lots of dancing. Everyone gets in on the fun, from the littlest kids, to the oldest adults there.
The dancers have changed over the years. These parties started when my sisters and I were little kids. As the years have gone by, our spouses and kids have danced on that kitchen floor, and now it’s our kids and their spouses and their children who grace the kitchen floor. The music has changed over the years too, from country, to a little bit rock and roll, to disco, and back to country, and all the dance styles that go with each of those genres. We have seen slow romantic dances, and fast dances that were just because the dancers were feeling happy. If these walls could talk…the stories they would tell.
The dancers were festive and the music cheerful. We have had some memorable dances, such as the rubber knee, performed by my brother-in-law, Mike, and for me, it was sweet to see my daughter, Corrie and her husband, Kevin strutting their stuff. I didn’t even know they could dance so well. The many adult/child and adult/baby dances are always dances that put a smile on your face. But, the dance that will always hold the place in my heart for the most amazing, special, beautiful dance ever is the dance my parents had after both had been so ill that dancing seemed like it would never be possible for them again. It was a dance that showed their deep, lasting love for each other. It was a dance that we all gathered in the kitchen to see. The floor was theirs. We didn’t want to dance at that moment. We wanted to watch. It was a beautiful dance…not because of the steps taken, but because of the hearts that had been joined together for all those years…hearts that would belong to each other, forever.
Yesterday, I talked about a New Years Eve tradition in our family, but the annual height measurement isn’t the only tradition we have on New Years Eve. As I said, we always have a party at my mother’s house for New Years Eve, because New Years Day is her birthday. We always move the kitchen furniture into the living room, and part of the living room furniture into Mom’s bedroom, so that the kitchen can be free of furniture, because part of the party is the dancing. A big part of the party is dancing, and the kitchen floor is the dance floor.
During the party, various people, young and old, get out there and dance. We play a variety of music, from rock to country, so everyone has the kind of music they want to dance to. Some of the cutest dances, as everyone knows, are the ones the little kids do. And, when we aren’t dancing, we are eating the delicious food that each family brings to add to the celebration, and there’s plenty of room to talk about all the good times and the many memories our family has been blessed to share with each other. The party spreads from the living room to the back yard, and even the front yard when midnight rolls around and it’s time to bring in the new year with the beating of the pans, and firecrackers…but that is another story.
And, there is one tradition that, while it doesn’t happen every year, is really cool…when we can talk him into it. My brother-in-law, Mike Stevens, has the ability to do a dance that we fondly call The Rubber Knee. I would love to tell you how he does this dance, but I’m not even sure Mike knows how he does it. The Rubber Knee is an Elvis Presley type of dance move that requires the dancer to have the ability to almost dislocate his knee…not really, but it sure looks like it. And try as we might, there has never been another family member that can duplicate The Rubber Knee. It is a dance that is unique to it’s owner. Mike is a great dancer, and that particular dance will always be remembered as something that had to be done before it could really seem like New Years Eve to our family.
New Years Eve around our house always meant a party, because my mom’s birthday is January 1st. The party always included a dance in the kitchen, which we empty of all the furniture for the occasion. One of the highlights of the evening was when Mom and Dad would share a dance. It is one of the moments that I will always remember, as will my mom, I’m sure. It wasn’t New Years Eve until they had their dance. Their dance had the same importance on the evening as the bride and groom’s dance at a wedding, and the same feel. It almost brought a tear to your eyes, especially in those last two years, when we weren’t sure Dad and Mom would be able to have their dance.
New Years Eve was not, however, the only time when my mom and dad danced. I remember many times when Dad would come home from work, still in work clothes and the would share a dance in that same kitchen. It was one of their ways of expressing their deep and abiding love for each other, and one of the ways we, their children could enjoy the fact that our parents were and always would be in love.
That is what life can be compared to also…a dance. We don’t know the twists and turns life will take until we live them. We don’t know the hurts and loss we might have to endure. Every life has its sorrows, as well as its joys. In a life where the joy outweighs the sorrow, you find a very blessed person or persons. That is the kind of life my parents lived. Their dance was one of joy and happiness, and very little sorrow or loss was added to it.
When I look back at all the pictures of trips we took, and places we got to go, our family’s dance was a great waltz, if you will, with a lot of country swing and a little bit of rock and roll mixed in. My cousin Bill commented on my dad’s life after his passing. He said, “Wow, he really lived!!” How true that is. My dad always made sure the dance of our life was a wonderful dance set to a beautiful song. Whether we were traveling, or just spending time in the back yard around a picnic table, or working together, he tried to add fun to every part of our lives. And the dancing continued until that last New Years Eve party, when we were blessed one last time with my parents special dance…the last dance.