picnic

My grandfather, George Byer was always a rock hunter. In hard times, when trips were not possible, he shared his love of rocks with his family. You didn’t have to go far to look for rocks…you didn’t even have to leave home. Still, when you raise a family of rock lovers, the back yard gets picked over pretty quickly. Nevertheless, there was always someplace that he could take his family for a picnic and rock hunting excursion, and every one of the kids became rock lovers too, as did many of his grandchildren, great grandchildren, and the list has continued long after his passing.

If you aren’t a rock lover, you could so easily miss the beauty that is found in many of the stones around us. On the outside, they may look like they are just a plain black, brown, or white stone, but when it is cut or broken open, you find a stunningly colorful stone inside, even a gem in some cases. Of course, these days, we have to be careful where we do our rock hunting, because there are rock hunters who have staked and registered their claim on certain areas. But as long as you steer clear of those areas, rock hunting is a free way to get out and find nature’s best treasures.

Grandpa Byer loved his rocks so much that he later bought a rock polisher, and made beautiful jewelry and key chains from the rocks he found. I think many of his grandchildren have been blessed to receive such a gift as a memento of the treasure that was our grandpa. These pieces are precious to us. Somehow, they are filled with all the stories our parents have told us about the joys of rock hunting with their family. I think most of them loved rock hunting all their lives. I’ll never forget my mom telling me about their rock hunting trips, sometimes to Independence Rock, sometimes by the river, and sometimes the kids went by themselves. Wherever they went, they always came back with the treasured rocks.

The rock stories remained even after my grandparents were in Heaven. Of course they did. My aunts and uncles were so blessed to carry those memories in their hearts for their entire lives, and we were blessed that they could pass them along to their own children and grandchildren. I don’t think I ever grew tired of hearing about their trips to find rocks. My mom used to tell me all about how much fun the had. These are the kind of memories that stay with you long after the people in them are gone.

Shipwrecks on the Great Lakes are not a totally uncommon event. Over the last 300 years, Lake Michigan has claimed countless ships, mostly in violent storms and bad weather, especially when the gales of November come in. Nevertheless, a few ships went down without even reaching open waters. One of those ships was the SS Eastland, which went down while docked between LaSalle and Clark Streets on the Chicago River. That site and that ship became the site of the greatest loss of life on the Great Lakes, and it wasn’t a fire, explosion, or act of war, but rather something far more strange.

The SS Eastland was built by the Michigan Steamship Company in 1902 and began regular passenger service later that year. In July 1903, the ship held an open house so the public could have a look. The sudden number of people, particularly on the upper decks, caused the Eastland to list so severely that water came in through the gangways where passengers and freight would be brought aboard. The ship was obviously top-heavy and this problem had to dealt with quickly, but these incidences continued to plague the ship. In 1905, the Eastland was sold to the Michigan Transportation Company. During the summer of 1906, the Eastland listed again as it transported 2500 passengers, and her carrying capacity was reduced to 2400. But in July 1912, the Eastland was reported as having once more listed to port and then to starboard while carrying passengers. In 1915, the LaFollette Seaman’s Act, which was created as a response to the Titanic not carrying sufficient lifeboats, was passed. The Seaman’s Act mandated that lifeboat space would no longer depend on gross tonnage, but rather on how many passengers were on board. However adding extra weight to the ship put top-heavy vessels like the Eastland at greater risk of listing. In fact, the Senate Commerce Committee was cautioned at the time that placing additional lifeboats and life rafts on the top decks of Great Lakes ships would make them dangerously unstable. This was a warning that the Senate Committee and the Eastland should have heeded.

On July 24, 1915, the Eastland once again fell victim to its top heavy design, and this time the outcome was disastrous. On that cool Saturday morning in Chicago, the Eastland and two other steamers were waiting to take on passengers bound for an annual company picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. For many of the employees of Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne Works, this would be the only holiday they would enjoy all year. A large number of these employees from the 200-acre plant in Cicero, Illinois were Czech Bohemian immigrants. Excitement was in the air as thousands of employees thronged along the river. Three ships would transport them across Lake Michigan to the picnic grounds in Indiana. The Eastland was slated to be the first ship boarded. That morning the Eastland was docked between LaSalle and Clark Streets on the Chicago River. As soon as passengers began boarding, Captain Harry Pedersen and his crew noticed that the ship was listing to port even though most passengers were gathered along the starboard. Attempts were made to right the vessel, but stability seemed uncertain. At 7:10am, the ship reached its maximum carrying capacity of 2572 passengers and the gangplank was pulled in.

As the captain made preparations to depart at 7:21am, the crew continued to let water into the ship’s ballast tanks in an attempt to stabilize the vessel. At 7:23am, water began to pour in through the port gangways. Within minutes, the ship was seriously listing but most passengers seemed unaware of the danger. I wondered how this could have continued to happen, until I saw this video, that explained it very well. By 7:27am, the ship listed so badly that passengers found it too difficult to dance so the orchestra musicians started to play ragtime instead to keep everyone entertained. Just one minute later, at 7:28am, panic set in. Dishes crashed off shelves, a sliding piano almost crushed two passengers, and the band stopped playing as water poured through portholes and gangways. In the next two minutes, the ship completely rolled over on its side, and settled on the shallow river bottom 20 feet below. Passengers below deck now found themselves trapped as water gushed in and heavy furniture careened wildly. Men, women and children threw themselves into the river, but others were trapped between decks, or were crushed by the ship’s furniture and equipment. The lifeboats and life jackets were of no use since the ship had capsized too quickly to access them. In the end, 844 people lost their lives, including 22 entire families. It was a tragedy of epic proportions.

Bystanders on the pier rushed to help those who had been thrown into the river, while a tugboat rescued passengers clinging to the overturned hull of the ship. An eyewitness to the disaster wrote: “I shall never be able to forget what I saw. People were struggling in the water, clustered so thickly that they literally covered the surface of the river. A few were swimming; the rest were floundering about, some clinging to a life raft that had floated free, others clutching at anything that they could reach…at bits of wood, at each other, grabbing each other, pulling each other down, and screaming! The screaming was the most horrible of them all.” Yes, I’m sure that was the worst, and the loss of life was something that would never be forgotten…especially for an eye witness.

Every family has its traditions, but I don’t know of many families that have a twice a year gathering of aunts, uncles, and multiple levels of cousins. In fact, I don’t know if I know of any families that do that…but my mom’s family does. The Byer family has been having these gatherings ever since we got too big to all gather at Grandma and Grandpa Byer’s house for the holidays. Grandma and Grandpa have been in Heaven now for 37 years and 29 years respectively, but their tradition still holds. It was their desire that their kids stay close, and in making that one request, they have successfully kept all of their grandchildren and great grandchildren close too.

Some years, we have quite a crowd, and other years, not so much, but those who come out always have a nice time. Maybe it was the heat, or maybe this was an off year, but we did have a smaller crowd. Nevertheless, it was good to visit with aunts Virginia Beadle, Bonnie McDaniels, Dixie Richards, and Sandy Pattan, as well as Uncle Wayne Byer. All are doing well, and that makes me glad, because I’m not ready to lose any more of the aunts or uncles. most of the usual group was there for the picnic. We have those who like the heat and those who can’t take it, so the picnic tends to have a smaller turnout. Most of the families were represented, with just a few exceptions, but it happens.

Even though it was hot, we had a great time. A breeze kicked up and it took the edge off of the heat of the day. Everyone got a chance to catch up on the lives of the other family members. Our busy lives sometimes make it hard to stay in touch on a day to day basis, even though Facebook has helped with that some. I love having a chance to see all of the younger members of our family too. They are all so full of life. Talking with them is so interesting, and I know that for the aunts and uncles, it makes them feel a part of the younger set’s life. At least that is how it makes me feel.

I suppose lots of people would think the Byer family traditions are a bit unusual, but I like them. I like being close to the family, both on Facebook and in person. Each and every family member has something amazing to share. Each one is special in their own way, and together, we make a very special family. I am very blessed to be a part of such an amazing family. I love you all very much, and it was great to see you today.

Aunt Sandy nowIn recent years I have grown closer to my Aunt Sandy Pattan than I was in prior years. There was no particular reason we weren’t as close before, except that we were both busy. It is a poor excuse for not keeping in better contact with your aunt, and one that I’m glad has changed. It’s not that we necessarily get to see each other a whole lot more, but rather the quality of the conversations, and the visits have become much more precious to us. We have discovered a common interest in the family history, and a growing desire to get it documented for future generations, and that has solidified our…friendship really, because it is more than the typical aunt-niece relationship. When we talk, we share new discoveries that we have made, as well as the old ones, that we never seem to grow tired of hearing. We reminisce about the loved ones who have passed away, and shed some tears too, because we miss them so much, but talking about them, and even shedding the tears is what keeps their memories fresh in our hearts and minds.
Young Aunt Sandy
Aunt Sandy, being the youngest of nine children, had almost double the older siblings in some ways, because there were brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law who were a part of the family before she was a teenager, and some by the time she was two. As she said to me, “Those brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law were like my brothers and sisters, because they had been a part of the family for much of my memory.” That also gave her a unique perspective of the in-laws, because she got to see their playful side…the way they would be with her as a child. Of course, my uncles were playful with the nieces and nephews too, but it was different with her, because she was like their little sister. Those were some great times for young Aunt Sandy.

I was watching some of my parents’ old home movies last night, and there was Aunt Sandy a little girl of about Aunt Sandy and Grandma by bus for trip home from Superior, WI in the fall of 1957 or 195810 years. We were at a family picnic, because my parents and sister Cheryl were in Casper for a visit. They lived in Superior, Wisconsin then, and Cheryl was the only child they had then. The day was perfect, and everyone was having a great time. My parents, Allen and Collene Spencer had purchased a movie camera, and everyone was trying to decide if they wanted to be filmed or not. Most of the adults didn’t think they wanted to, but the kids were a little more open to the idea. I noticed that Aunt Sandy was having such a great time. There were more children to play with than usual for her, and everyone was having so much fun. She was literally jumping up and down with excitement. It was an awesome day for her. Today is Aunt Sandy’s birthday. Happy birthday Aunt Sandy!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

imageI think that in many ways, my mom’s family is unique. It all started with Grandma and Grandpa Byer, of course. The family had grown to a size that was far too big to get together at their house, so they came up with the idea of holding a family Christmas party at a central location in town, that would hold all of us. It was truly the only way for all of us to get together at the same time, but I think Grandma and Grandpa had an ulterior motive for doing this. They wanted their growing family to stay close, even though it wasn’t always easy. Most of the family still lives right here in Casper, but we are all very busy people, so getting together on any kind of a consistent basis is really hard, and it gets harder every year as we grow in size. Still, it was Grandma and Grandpa’s dream that we would not stop the get togethers, which has grown to include an annual family picnic in August.image

Every few years, the number of the original siblings seems to dwindle, and of course, each of the original siblings that are left are growing older. For that reason, I feel a strong urging to go to these events, to spend time with them. I’m not saying that everyone can make it, and that’s ok, but I feel the need. My aunts and uncles are getting older, and they have so much information that they can pass on to us…stories of their childhood and stories passed down from their parents. These are stories that will be lost if we don’t hear them now. Since my parents have passed away, I can’t ask them the things I have wondered about since they left. And I won’t say that I would have wondered those things while they were still alive, but I know that I wish that I had asked them many things about their families and their lives while they were still here, because I do wonder now, and now I’m stuck with unanswered questions where my parents are concerned. That is the thing I don’t want to have…those unanswered questions with my aunts and uncles too.
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The Byer family Christmas party and the Byer family picnic are two chances for all of us to spend time with and talk to these precious people before it’s too late. What I have noticed is that the same people come to these events and I suppose that is how it will always be. We always have a wonderful time, and I do look forward to both the picnic and Christmas party. As I said, my mom’s family is unique…especially in that they hold two family reunions a year. We may not get the turnout that reunions that are further apart get, but no one can say that they didn’t have the opportunity…and any unanswered questions are purely the fault of those who would not come and ask.

imageimageMy niece, Chelsea Hadlock joined our family eight years ago, when she married my nephew, Ryan. Chelsea is a beautiful girl, inside and out. Over the years that she has been in our family, we have watched the changes that have taken place in her. Besides the visible changes, such as becoming a mother and the natural momness that comes with being a mom, I have seen a deeper change in her that has endeared her to our whole family…or maybe it isn’t a change in her at all, but rather just us getting to know her more and more. Chelsea has a sweetness about her that really shines through in all she does. She is thoughtful and kind, and totally dedicated to her little family and the rest of our family, as well.

Chelsea has a creative side that colors her home with a variety of looks and love. Chelsea loves the different holidays, and decorates for each one…often using a different theme each year. While most of us put up the Christmas tree and decorations and call it good, Chelsea decides what her decorations will depict that year. She has done things like a red Christmas and Disney, to make it special and unique. Halloween find her not only dressing up her kids in great costumes, but herself too. As I said, she is very creative.

Chelsea loves camping, hiking, and the outdoors in general. I totally get that. She loves to take her children, Ethan and Aurora in little hikes that end in a picnic. They have such a good time. Kids need that in the summer. Too much sitting around the house makes for a boring summer vacation. And of course, Chrlsea takes lots of pictures so that the rest of us can share in her family’s adventures. It is such a treat to open Facebook and see new pictures of the Hadlock family adventures.

Ryan fell in love with Chelsea almost from the moment he laid eyes on her. And she felt the same way about imageimagehim. Theirs has continued to be a fun filled life, and what better thing to have in your marriage. If the marriage is always work, with no play and no teasing, what does it really have. Thsnkfully that laughter and fun decorate their marriage just like Chelsea decorated their home. She is the perfect wife for Ryan, and a great mom to their children. Oh, and did I forget to mention that Chelsea is a pretty fair mechanic too. Brakes are definitely no match for Chelsea, because she got this!! She’s multi-talented!! Today is Chelsea’s birthday. Happy birthday Chelsea!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Sisters on the SwingsWhen I think back to my childhood, I always remember the carefree times. Summers spent with nothing but time on our hands, meant swimming at the Kelly Walsh pool, sunning in the back yard, and sack lunches eaten at the park, simply because it was something different to do. Of course, back then, you could easily send your kids to the park by themselves, and they could be gone for hours, and still you did not worry. That fact worked in our favor, because we were allowed to go so many places and do so many things on our own because the world was much safer than it is today.

I remember the hours we spent at the school…the very place we couldn’t wait to get away from while school was still in session. Of course, we weren’t there for the Picnic on the mountain - May 1960classroom, but rather for the playground. Just a couple of months earlier, we couldn’t wait for summer to come, because we were determined not to go anywhere near that school…oh well, the best laid plans…right? Nevertheless, just as soon as you got to those swings that were so very different from the ones at home, you knew that coming to the school in the summertime was a totally different thing, and very much acceptable. It didn’t even matter if you had to bring your little sister along, and going to the park was totally ok even if your parents had to come along. Somehow, even having that parental supervision couldn’t dampen your spirits.

I’m not sure why these thoughts of summer vacation came to my mind today, other than perhaps the upcoming Christmas vacation, which is definitely a close second when it comes to the carefree days of vacation from school. I loved school, but there was just something about that break from school that always felt so Picnic in Thermopolisamazing. I just think every kid needs a break from school, even if they love it. There will always be time for kids to work every day for the rest of their lives, but summer vacation and Christmas break…well those are just pretty much for the kids, and of course their teachers, who I consider very blessed, by the way. I think most of us would love to have their summer vacations off. Nevertheless, that said, today found me thinking about the upcoming Christmas vacation that the kids will have, including two of my grandsons. It will be a welcome break from their studies, even if they do have to work at their jobs. To the kids, I say, enjoy those days while you can, because all too soon, the day will come when you too have a job and those long vacations are a thing of the past.

IMG_6737imageEvery year my mother’s family has two gatherings designed to keep the Byer family close, which was my grandparents, George and Hattie Byer’s desire for their family. They were married on Christmas eve, so a Christmas party was the ideal event for on of those gatherings. It was decided that the other would be a picnic in the summer. Over the years, attendance as dwindled a bit, which I find very sad, because this is an easy way to stay connected, but this year was a bit of an exception to the rule, because unusual as it is, we had a family member come from out of town, and everyone wanted to see him. Greg Hushman decided to make the trip down from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho to visit family members and attend the picnic. We were all excited to see him, and people who had never come to the picnic before, came and really enjoyed themselves.

Elmer Johnson is a regular attendee, like me, but with Greg’s appearance, we had two of the Three Musketeers imageimageof Mischief in attendance. Unfortunately, Forrest Beadle, who was the third musketeer, passed away in July of 2005. He was very much missed yesterday. As we visited with Greg and Elmer, they recapped some of the various ways they managed to get into trouble…especially with Grandma Byer, who had a broom that could somehow reach around corners, and down stairs to wallop the, by then running to get away, mischievous musketeer. They could never figure out how she did that. Surely they were quick enough to outrun Grandma. After all, she was only 4’10” tall, and being a grandma, she must have been too old to run…right??? Nevertheless, she never failed to make them painfully aware that short and old or not, she was the boss…and they simply better never forget it!!

My sisters, Cheryl Masterson, Caryl Reed, Alena Stevens, and Allyn Hadlock all commented that they had never been spanked by Grandma Byer…after which I had to admit that I had. I was probably the more mouthy one of imageimagemy siblings…no not probably…I was. I argued with my Dad…we called it debating, but my sisters thought I was about to die, for sure, because they never dared argue with Dad. Well, anyway, somehow, my Grandma Byer didn’t understand the difference between arguing and debating, and she just called it mouthy, so I got a spanking. Not to self…don’t argue or debate with Grandma Byer!! She will win!!

Of course, most of the still living original siblings were there, but this year, we lost two…my mother, Collene Spencer, and Aunt Evelyn Hushman. It felt a little bit empty without them, and in a strange way, I noticed that the remaing original siblings worked very hard to connect with all of the nieces and nephews, almost like they were concerned about those relationships. Uncle Wayne Byer was seen teasing several people, and Aunt Virginia Beadle, Aunt Bonnie McDaniels, Aunt Dixie Richards, and Aunt Sandy Pattan made a great effort to make the rounds to talk to as many of us as they could. As did the cousins, like imageimageClyde and Susie Young, Terry and Shannon Limmer, Dennis and Wendy French, Kevin and Jamie Patsie, Jeannie Liegman, Jimmy Richards, Keith Beyer and his brother, Cliff Byer’s family, Cindy Ellis and family, JeanAnn Stanko, Rachelle French, Corrie Petersen and her son Chris, Jim and Alina Young, Dwan Orr and family Steve and Jenny Spethman and kids, and lots of the children. I felt like this was one of the closest picnics we have ever had. I suppose that the more family members we lose, the more we realize just how quickly we can lose each other. The time to stay close is right now!!

Aunt Evelyn HushmanLate yesterday afternoon, my mom’s eldest sister passed away after a battle with cancer over the past few years. It was a battle she had mostly kept to herself. She had spent much of her last years taking care of her husband, my Uncle George, with the help of family members. Caregivers, like Aunt Evelyn have a tendency to brush aside their own illness while they take care of others. They simply don’t have time to be sick. They are busy making others well.

Being the oldest of Grandma and Grandpa Byer’s nine children, Aunt Evelyn learned at a very young age that she was needed to help with the younger siblings. While Grandma Byer didn’t work or go many places, there were after all eight other children, and the oldest if often the best helper. Aunt Evelyn was also a very social person as a girl though, and really all her life. It was Aunt Evelyn, who would make her parents grandparents for the first time, something that can be a bit of an honor, in itself. It was Aunt Evelyn and Uncle George, who would double date with my mom and dad during their courting years. They would all survive being hit by a train during one of those dates because of the quick thinking of both of the men. I’m sure that was something they all talked about for a long time.

Now the memories are flooding my mind. Times we spent at her house as kids, playing hide and seek, and all the other kids games we used to play. I remember the New Years Eve parties they spent at our house, and all the times at Grandma Byer’s house. I remember sitting out on Aunt Evelyn’s lawn on summer afternoons, and her beautiful house, which was her pride and joy. She enjoyed throwing and attending the annual Christmas party, and the summer picnic, until it became too difficult…which made me sad indeed.

It seems that with each passing year, our family patriarches become fewer and fewer. I remember thinking that we would always have the aunts and uncles with us, and now there remain only five of the original siblings and four of their spouses. Somehow, we all believed that they would always be here. I guess our minds play Aunt Evelyn & Uncle George Hushmantricks on us when it comes to loved ones…even to the extent of refusing to notice that they are aging, until we look back at pictures after they are gone. Then suddenly we realize just how tired they were, just how weak and weary, and maybe, just how sick and in pain they were. Nevertheless, they kept up a brave face, smiling at each visit, in spite of the pain. They tried so hard to make us feel better, when in reality they were getting ready to say goodbye. That’s how Aunt Evelyn was. Always thinking of those around her before she thought of herself. Always trying to make their day better, a thing she did quite well with that beautiful smile of hers. I will always miss her smile. It is so much of who she was, and who she will always be in my heart. We love you Aunt Evelyn, we will miss you very much, and we will see you again in Heaven very soon.

Broken wristI love the two annual family get togethers that the Byer side of my family has. It seems like each year brings the passing of another of my aunts and uncles, or at the very least, a close call, and as each of them gets a little older, the possibility of losing another of them seems very real. This year when Aunt Virginia arrived, with her arm in a sling, we found out that she had fallen the day before and broken her wrist. It will be in a cast as soon as the swelling goes down a bit, but when I think of what could have happened, had her granddaughter, Autumn Beadle not been there, I cringe. Autumn is so good to her, as are her son Steve and his wife, Wanda.

The picnic, on Sunday, was a lot of fun. The day was beautiful, with just enough breeze to keep it comfortable. The food, as always, was great. We have so many good cooks in our family. My mom, my daughter, Amy and I had an opportunity to visit with Susie and Clyde Young, Aunt Dixie and Uncle Jim Richards, Aunt Sandy Pattan, Peter McDaniels, Aunt Bonnie AutumnCliff and Keith ByerMcDaniels, Uncle Wayne Byer, Aunt Jeanette Byer, JeanAnn Stanko, Elmer Johnson, Keith Byer, Cliff Byer and his family, Cindy Ellis, Aunt Virginia Beadle, and Autumn Beadle, Shannon and Terry Limmer, Jim Pattan, John Pattan, and so many others. I especially like that Mom got to visit with all these people, because while I am on Facebook and have a chance to connect with them, she is not. In our busy lives, it is really hard to go visit our family members at their homes, but Mom doesn’t do the computer, so when people can’t visit, she doesn’t see them much. She misses that time with her family a lot, and loves every chance she gets to see them.

I always find it interesting how much the children have grown. It gets to the point that you Elmeraren’t absolutely sure who they are. The ones I see pictures of on Facebook I can usually remember, but some you just don’t get to see as often. I can remember through the years wondering “who’s kid” this one or that one was, and my mom was having the same trouble, when she didn’t know who Mayme Williams was, or Aunt Bonnie’s great grandson, Mateo. And she’s not alone in that I hear lots of us asking, “Who does that kid belong to?” Then of course, to throw a monkey wrench in things, so people bring a friend, and you find out that it’s no wonder you didn’t know that kid…they aren’t even in the family. At least you now know that you aren’t losing your mind! That’s just how it goes at The Annual Byer Family Picnic!

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