These days, we expect that our president will be familiar with the internet, texting, Facebook, and many other forms of technological advances, but we think of presidents in our past as having to deal with the ancient “technology” of the past, and we even find ourselves almost giggling when we use the term “technology” when speaking about such presidents as Abraham Lincoln. Nevertheless, Abraham Lincoln was a “techy” president…maybe not in the way we use the term today, but since technology often advances at the speed of light, he was quite advanced for his era.
Lincoln had always been a “cutting edge” kind of man, but during the Civil War, his “techy” prowess really came to light. Lincoln was quite taken with the new technology, which he called lightning messages. The federal government had been slow to adopt the telegraph after Samuel Morse’s first successful test message in 1844. Prior to the Civil War, even the federal employees who had to send a telegram from the nation’s capital, had to wait in line with the rest of the public at the city’s central telegraph office. Then, after the outbreak of the Civil War, the newly created US Military Telegraph Corps undertook the dangerous work of laying more than 15,000 miles of telegraph wire across battlefields, at Lincoln’s orders, so he could transmit news nearly instantaneously from the front lines to the new telegraph office that had been established inside the old library of the War Department building adjacent to the White House in March 1862. He was so interested in the telegraph, in fact, that he sometimes slept on a cot in the telegraph office during major battles. Of course, his main objective was to be able to get information to and from his generals as quickly as possible, but another major objective, that was just as important, was to be out ahead of his Confederate counterpart, Jefferson Davis, who didn’t have the same kind of access. In this way, Lincoln became the first “wired president” nearly 150 years before the advent of texts, tweets, and e-mail, by embracing the original electronic messaging technology…the telegraph.
President Abraham Lincoln, who was our 16th president, is best remembered for the Gettysburg Address, as well as the Emancipation Proclamation, both of which really stirred the Union, but it was the “techy” side of the man and the nearly 1,000 bite-sized telegrams that he wrote during his presidency, that really helped win the Civil War. It was those telegrams that truly projected presidential power in an unprecedented fashion, for that time anyway. The fact is that many people tend to be very slow to accept change, especially something as “new-fangled” as the telegraph was at that time in history. It took a man with foresight and wisdom to see that this was a “weapon” of sorts, that would explode our highly divided country into a place where the side of personal rights and personal freedom could propel it into a great nation, instead of two mediocre nations. The person who did that had to be cutting edge!! He had to be ahead of his time…and that is exactly what President Abraham Lincoln was. It is a sad injustice that he was murdered before his full potential could be realized. I wonder where we might have been today, if he had lived out his term.
There comes a point after your parent passes away, when you find yourself wanting to pick up the phone and call them, just to ask them a question. It can be anything from family history, to life advise, to simply wanting to share the good times with them. Suddenly, you speak their name as if they are still here, and then, just as suddenly, you realize that they aren’t. That is the place I have found myself several times. Driving by Mom’s house, I thought of her. When exciting things have happened, I’ve thought of calling her. When I had a family question, that she could answer easily, I missed her terribly. And then there were the times I mentioned talking to her in a conversation, only to stop suddenly, shocked about what I had just said. I knew she was gone, but my mind just hadn’t accepted it, I guess.
It seems like after a loss, you find yourself always looking back on the past…missing the person that is gone. It isn’t about wondering if my mom is ok, because I know exactly where she is and I know she is happy in Heaven. It’s just that with both of my parents, there is so much more that I wanted to talk to them about. There were questions I wish I had asked. Now it’s too late.
My favorite part about looking through my parents things, has been the pictures we have found. Those pictures tell a story that we had never known to ask about. It has made a way for us to see the past and some of what it was like even though we couldn’t ask about it. I guess that is some consolation. The undeveloped film we found has been such a surprise treasure. Seeing our parents when they were young and us as kids has been amazing. Yes, we lived those moments, but now we can re-live those moments. We can see a little bit about our parents personalities from the pictures. We get to see the things they liked to do, and the places they liked to go. I have really enjoyed seeing that young side of them. My sister, Cheryl Masterson and I wondered what it would’ve been like had we stayed in Superior, Wisconsin. For me, the pictures have given us a glimpse of what life was like there. These were things that we would have asked our parents, but never had the chance.
When your parents have passed away, you find so many things that you wish you had talked to them about. There are so many stories about the past, that you can never ask about now. The problem is that you didn’t know that you should ask when you were younger. We are not alone and finding this out after their passing, because I think a lot of kids find it out this way. Today marks the eighth month since my mom, Collene Spencer went to Heaven, and every day brings to mind a question I would ask her…if only I could.
What is it about reading a story that intrigues us? It is the content, of course, but there is something more. Sometimes, we just want to take a few minutes outside ourselves…to lose ourselves in another man’s mind. It was a quote by Charles Lamb in 1890, who wrote “I love losing myself in other men’s minds” that came to me in a cover letter for my Great Aunt Bertha Schumacher Hallgren’s journal. It was written to some of her grand nieces and grand nephew, her sister, Mina’s grandchildren, when she gave them a copy of her journal…the writings of her thoughts. And when I read the letter, I was intrigued. I was very curious about her mind. I never had the opportunity to know Great Aunt Bertha, who went by Bertie, and I find that very sad. It is my opinion that she was an amazing woman. In her letter, she points out that all too often, historical writings take in simply the events as they occurred, but leave out the human side of things…the thoughts, emotions, feelings, and the impact the events had on the lives of the people who lived them. She also points out that the family stories told by the very of people who lived those stories will impact the lives of their descendants for years to come. She looks ahead to the 23rd century, and wonders what they would think of the events that shaped the lives of their ancient ancestors. After reading her letter, I realized that my stories had barely scratched the surface of the events I was writing about.
I began to think of the day to day moments of our lives, and how much of the future history is being lost, because we have not recorded the thoughts and feelings we experienced at the time that we experienced them. Great Aunt Bertie suggested that if a person was interested in writing about family history, they should question their parents about the lives of their parents and grandparents. I immediately felt a sense of loss, because my dad and my father-in-law are both gone, and the opportunity to talk with them is gone too. I also felt a sense of loss, because my mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s Disease, and doesn’t always remember the events from her past anymore. I did feel an urging to sit down with my mom to see what things she could tell me, and also with my aunts, because I still have a chance to get their perspective on things. It occurred to me that while the desire is there, time will be the biggest problem, because of work and other obligations. Still, I want to take the opportunity while I can do so, and I know that I will learn many interesting things about my family.
I look forward to reading more of Great Aunt Bertie’s journal. She was an amazing individual, and she had the presence of mind to think in the future. She knew that the past has a very important place in the future, and that the future generations will never know the great things their ancestors accomplished, unless someone tells them about it. They will never know how their ancestors felt when they made the decision to immigrate to a new country, with their future very uncertain, but knowing that they had no future where they were then. And yet, she saw the importance of the here and now too…the everyday changes in the lives of family members around us…the accomplishments, hopes, and dreams for their future. She knew the importance of documenting the everyday moments of a life. Thank you for your wisdom, Great Aunt Bertie, and thank you Julie Holmberg Carlberg for blessing me and the rest of the family with this wonderful journal and the pictures you sent too. Great Aunt Bertie’s legacy will always be our priceless treasure.
Since I began writing stories about my family, I have come to have a greater appreciation for old pictures than I ever had before. Every picture has a story to tell. Every one is like a priceless gold treasure. When I hear of pictures being lost in some way, I feel that loss very deeply, because so often, they cannot be replaced. That is what happened to a vast collection of pictures that had belonged to my Aunt Ruth and Uncle Jim. When Aunt Ruth passed away in May of 1992, Uncle Jim continued to reside in their home until it was destroyed by a fire…taking with it all of the pictures they had collected over the years, including all of the childhood pictures of my cousins, Shirley, Larry, and Terry. Larry had passed away in 1976, so they had so few of him anyway, and now all that remained were the pictures Shirley and Terry had, and that was not many.
When we re-connected with Shirley a while back, she asked if we had any pictures of them as children, and we have looked through what we had…again, not many. I felt very sad for her, because it was almost like tearing her childhood out of her past and throwing it away. Since then my heart has me trying to replace at least a few of the pictures she once had. It has not been an easy task, but last night while at my mom’s house, my sister, Cheryl, Mom, and I went through a box of things, that included a few pictures. I was so excited when a couple of pictures turned up of Shirley’s family. I couldn’t wait to get them too her, and I really hope that she doesn’t have these yet, because that will make the find even sweeter.
The more I look through the pictures that make up my past and those of my family members, the more I realize the value of those pictures. So many people don’t have those old family pictures and if they do, they don’t know who they are or what they were like, unless they happened to have someone like my Uncle Bill, who was meticulous in recording the past. He spent much of his life talking to people who knew our ancestors so that he could document as much information as he could. His work, like the old pictures are more than valuable…they are pure gold.
A while back, my daughter, Amy saw a picture of four hands forming a square. They were four generations of a family and that struck her as very special. So the next time we were all together, we took the pictures that were like those she had seen. We were very pleased with how the pictures looked. It was a very different way to do generational pictures.
I started thinking about what those hands represent. They represent the past, present, and future of our family. Yes, you could say that my mother’s hand is the past, but then so is mine, Amy’s and even Shai’s. Parts of our lives are in the past and part of our lives are in the present, and yes, parts of our lives are in the future. Within those hands is the hope of the future and the wisdom of the past. Our mistakes are now living in the past, and the future is what we will make of it. The choice is really ours.
Those hand have done so many different things. They have cuddled new life and changed diapers, shaping the future with their loving touch. They have been the disciplinarian of young lives, teaching responsibility and respect for others. They have played and worked…held books and babies. Everything we do, in some way includes our hands. They have shaped what we are. Some hands are calloused…the hands of a manual laborer. Some are soft, possibly the hands of an office worker. Some are dry from too much soap and water, possibly the hands of a nurse or caregiver. Some hands are permanently stained with oil or paint, while some are soft and manicured. It all depends on what things are going on in their lives.
So much can be seen in our hands, whether it is physically seen, or simply seen because you know the person. Our hands are so expressive of who we are, and when you look at four generations of hands, you can see all the differences that you know exist between the hand’s owners. It was such a good idea to take the picture, because it will always be a reminder of the past, present and future of who we were, are and will be.
Sometimes in life, you find yourself receiving a treasure so priceless that it overwhelms you. I have been so blessed several times, and yet, each new blessing finds me as overwhelmed as the last one, or even the first one. I’m sure that you are wondering what I would have that is priceless. You might find yourself surprised, but it is old photographs…lots of them. I have received old photographs from my mom’s family, my dad’s family, and from both of Bob’s parents families. The latest priceless treasure came in the form of old photographs in my Grandma Spencer’s photo album.
While visiting my cousin, Shirley this past week, she brought out an album for us to see. I had no idea the album existed. We had not seen my cousin for a number of years, and the album had been given to her mother upon her grandmother’s death. Then it was given to Shirley upon her mother’s death. It had been in her possession since 1992, and now, 21 years later, during our visit, we were able to look through its contents together, and we were all very excited by what we found.
I suppose many people would think I was a little crazy, because old photographs get me very excited, but for me…they are treasures. They are the people of my past, my family, and many times they are faces I have never seen before. We found pictures this time that we believe to be the only ones in existence of our great grandparents…my dad’s grandparents on his mother’s side. We knew their names, but we didn’t know there were pictures of them…anywhere!! It was a priceless treasure!!
Shirley quickly scanned the pages of the album and we loaded them onto my flash drive. Now, I am in the process of separating the pictures out and digitally refocusing them, so that they are much clearer. Soon we will be able to see their faces much better. To me, that is amazing…especially since prior to this time, we didn’t even know they excited…not even Shirley, until we all looked at them very closely. We all felt so close to them. Suddenly, the names had faces. It was an incredible find. It is beyond my ability to fully tell you what that means to me. I will always fell blessed by the priceless treasure of Grandma’s photo album.
As we have been visiting with my cousin, Shirley in Washington, the conversation has turned to her parents, and the many adventures and funny situations that they had in their lives. While it was hard in some ways, it was also a way to keep their memory alive in us. Since Aunt Ruth has been gone since 1992, and Uncle Jim’s funeral was yesterday, it seemed like a fitting time to reminisce about all they meant to all of us.
About 30 or 35 years ago, Shirley’s parents, my Aunt Ruth and Uncle Jim, moved to the mountains of eastern Washington. For a time they had no electricity or water. It was rough living. They built cabins for them and their children’s families. Now, with the passing of my Uncle, there is only one of their families still living on the mountain. They still do not have electricity, but they have a generator, propane, Hughes Net, and telephone, which brings me to how the mountain got it’s name. When they were getting the telephone lines in, the homes had to have addresses. The mountain was named Wolfe Mountain, after my aunt and uncle, and the road was named Wolfe Mountain Road. Thus their addresses were established and they could have their phones. I thought to myself, what a nice tribute to my aunt and uncle. Not many people can say they have a mountain named after them. It is a lasting mark that remembers their lives.
My Uncle Jim’s funeral was the final chapter of our stay in Newport, Washington, and after spending time with all of our cousins who live there, and driving the area taking lots of pictures, we said goodbye to our Washington branch of the family. It was a bittersweet reunion. We were there for something very sad, and yet the trip was filled with renewed relationships, new stories and new pictures, as well as scans of some old ones. I felt a renewed excitement about the future stories I will be writing, because I have so much new material to write about. It is a great idea to re-connect with family once in a while. It puts new life into the relationships, and a renewed sense of our past, and who we really are.
Through these past few years, I have been looking through my family’s old pictures, and while many are still of unknown people, many have now been named. The funny thing is that while some were completely unknown, some were ones I was sure were my dad and his siblings. This one in particular, was one I had thought was my Uncle Bill, my Aunt Ruth, and my dad, but my sister, Cheryl didn’t think so. Then when she looked again,she realized that it was. Neither Cheryl nor my cousin, Shirley was sure of all the people at first, but then realized it was.
I have been looking at that picture for a while now, and wanting to write about these 3 little kids who were so cute and looked so much like my aunt, uncle and my dad, but without the identities of the children for sure, I couldn’t write about it. The picture is taken in front of what appears to me to be a one room schoolhouse. I think that mostly because of the difference in the ages of the three children, and the friends who were in it before I cropped it.
My dad is the younger boy and the one who, while trying to smile, seems to be the most bothered by the sun in his face. Most of us try to smile without squinting, but little kids have more trouble with such things…or maybe it is a boy thing, since my Aunt Ruth doesn’t seem to be having a problem.
I am excited at this find, as I am about all old pictures of my family and especially my dad. I feel a closeness to my dad and my past every time I come across these pictures. I loved school, and so the one room schoolhouse is especially interesting to me. I have often wondered what it would have been like to attend such a school, and I think it is very cool that my dad did. I guess the past isn’t so far back as it seems sometimes.
My mother-in-law is in the hospital tonight. Her age, Pneumonia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Diabetic related Kidney disease are taking a toll on her body. We don’t know how long she will be with us, as she is in and out. When she is somewhat lucid, this dear sweet lady is asking us things like, “Do you want me to make you some breakfast?” or “Did you feed that brown dog?” Here she is very ill with Pneumonia and very messed up electrolytes, causing her to hallucinate about things like the crocheting she used to do, and the pets she used to have, yet she is thinking about doing for others. She isn’t moaning and complaining about how much she hurts, and demanding that something be done for her. She is thinking of others…or she is resting quietly…asking very little. She just weaves her story as she goes along.
She has always wanted to make sure that guests didn’t go away hungry, and so offering to make breakfast for Kevin, Corrie, Amy, and Josh isn’t so unusual, but she hasn’t cooked in years, so you would think that she wouldn’t bring that up. That is what Alzheimer’s Disease does though…takes away your present and leaves you only the past. She lives in an alternate reality…a review of the life she lived. Much of what she says makes sense only to her, and those who knew her in her young life.
I mentioned the dog question to my father-in-law, telling him that I had assured her that we fed the dog this morning. He said the dog had to be Brownie, a dog they had when Bob was a baby. A picture popped into my head…a picture of my sister-in-law, Marlyce with a brown dog. I had written a story about that dog with Marlyce just 3 days ago. I didn’t really know the whole story, when I wrote the story, I could just see that Marlyce and her dog loved each other. It would take my mother-in-law’s trip down memory lane to bring out the full story of how protective the dog was of Marlyce…often stopping her from going where she shouldn’t…like too close to the railroad tracks near their home. And yet, it was just what I was thinking when I looked at the picture.
I don’t know how this hospital stay will end. My mother-in-law is a fighter, and I don’t believe that she will leave this world until she is ready to go. We all hope and pray that she will stay with us a little while longer, because we are not ready to have her go. I guess we never will be ready, and it doesn’t matter anyway, because when it comes right down to it, we will have no say in the matter. All we can do, when the time arrives is to remember that she lived a good long life…even if part of it was lived in the past…in an alternate reality.
The closer we get to Christmas, the more my mind begins to reflect on the Christmases of my childhood…My Christmas Past. In those early years, an artificial tree was unheard of. We would go to the tree lots and get a tree, usually shortly after Thanksgiving. Dad would bring the tree in and decide how much would need to be trimmed off. Then he would begin to cut on the trunk of the tree. The smell of pine was everywhere.
Once the tree was set, the decorating would begin. We would sing Christmas carols as we decorated the tree, and we would have candy and hot chocolate or some other treats to munch on while we worked. Soon the tree was finished and the house was filled with festive, twinkling lights. I couldn’t wait for evening to come each day, so the tree lights could be turned on again. It was my favorite time of year.
It was the time of year for buying gifts for my sisters and my parents, hopefully without disclosing what I bought. A time to try our best to keep the secrets for the days and weeks until Christmas finally arrived. Gifts were hidden around the house or better yet wrapped right away so they could not be found, but that brought it’s own set of problems. As kids, it is so hard not to peek. We would shake and squeeze our packages hoping to be able to figure out what we were getting, and stopping short of opening the packages and re-wrapping them…mostly because I would be sure to be caught.
Probably the most fun we had, however, was the shopping for our parents. As kids, we didn’t really have a lot of money, so the gifts we could get for our parents were usually small or even homemade, but as we got older, we schemed, scrimped, and saved so that we could buy them the kind of gift that would really knock their socks off. Those gifts brought the best memories. And there were a few times that our gifts were so surprising to them that it almost brought tears to their eyes…and usually did with my mom.
My Dad has been in Heaven now for the last 4 Christmases…this will be the 5th, and at times, I find myself…less than enthusiastic about the coming holiday. I miss him so much, but I know that he would want me to be excited about the holiday that he loved so much. So I’ll soon be ready, and the day will be great, but I think I’ll always wish we could, maybe just for a little while, relive…My Christmas Past.