Sunday, September 28, 2014

Laramie, Wyoming

Earlier this week I went to Laramie, Wyoming.You might ask "what is in Laramie?". Well, not much besides the University of Wyoming... and my uncle Barney.

A little over a month ago we received news that Barney has cancer in his esophagus and that it's spread to his liver. They gave him a couple months, but after a fast round of radiation, that time estimate has been prolonged to 6 or so months.

Family started making plans to see him and in the end a number of us were able to coordinate our schedules to be out there at the same time. My aunt Doris and cousin Kathy drove from Crookston, MN (and also made a trip to Idaho to see other family), and another cousin, Ed, and his wife Allison flew from San Diego, CA with my aunt Marian. My dad and I also flew and met our San Diego family in Denver, CO and then drove to Wyoming.

My dad's 3rd flight - his first in 25 - 30 years.

Barney doesn't have any family in Laramie. My aunt Peggy passed away 11 years ago and Peg and Barney's only child, Gordon, died in a plane crash about a year and a half ago. Gordon was a trained pilot that owned his own company and was on the way to see his dad. On our drive into Laramie, my cousin pointed out where his plane went down which was disturbingly close to his destination.

Barney does have close friends, though. I actually don't know the story as to how Barney and Peggy moved to Wyoming, but I do know that they usually spent the summers there and then lived in Sun City, AZ in the winter. Somewhere along the way Peggy connected with a tax guy and a plumber, both of whom knew George. This led to them living on George's ranch while in Wyoming and they become good friends. (Side note: My dad did drive here twice many years ago and stayed on George' ranch too. He even brought back a rock from there and gave it to me as a paperweight when I started a new job.) Along the way Barney and Peggy also met Terri and her husband, Brad. Terri has helped oversee Barney's care and has been our point person of sorts. She makes sure Christmas cards with updates about him get sent to his family, she helped coordinate a Skype session when my uncle Stanley only had a few days left to live, and she does so much more. So much more. We are incredibly grateful for her, Brad and George for the care and love they provide uncle Barney.

My dad is one of 5 kids and Barney is the oldest at 89. I probably knew Barney the least of my aunts and uncles because he was often so far away. He worked on the Alaskan pipeline for many years (while his wife and son lived in the Golden, CO mountains - he would work for weeks in Alaska and then come home for a time before returning to work). They also once owned a truck stop in Fairmont, MN which is slightly fascinating to me since my birth family is from that area. I imagine them crossing paths without even knowing they had a connection. He lived in Peru for some time and in Florida... and probably some places I am missing. Aunt Peggy and I used to write letters a lot when I was young, but it wasn't until I was an adult that I got to know Barney better.

This picture was on Barney's wall - a picture that I don't think I've seen before so I had to capture it. My dad is in the bucket on the right and Barney is the tall one (Lester's on the Left and Stanley's in the wash bin.)

Brad, Terri, and George with uncle Barney

We weren't sure my aunt Marian was going to be able to make it as she's been going through treatment for breast cancer and is considered frail. The night before we left my cousin sent me a message that they just discovered that she's in the beginning stages of dementia. My uncle Lester wasn't able to make it as he had just gotten out of the hospital. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my uncle Stanley passed away, but his wife Doris visited. It's hard to see my aunts and uncles go through these losses and health issues, not only because I hurt for them, but because it makes me worry about my dad.

At any rate, we spent a fair amount of time visiting Barney at his assisted living place. Terri was great to coordinate a couple meals and a family meeting. Plus, we got to check out a little bit of Laramie itself.

My dad and aunt Marian

Barney has always been the talker of the siblings. Overall, he didn't talk nearly as much this time which I think is partly due to him being pretty much deaf. We either had to yell in his left ear, or write on a white board to communicate with him. Our first visit was the one where I heard him talk the most, but for the rest of the time he was much quieter than usual. Hopefully, he still enjoyed having us there even if he couldn't understand the conversation much of the time. 

Monday and Tuesday night we spent eating together as a family along with Barney's friends. George used to work for Coors so he was in charge of beer while Terri ordered the food.

Of course, we had to get some group pictures. One of the things that helps Barney hear is this headphone set up (it is attached to a microphone), but it wasn't that helpful with a group of people talking all at once.

I so love the picture above even though people are looking at different cameras, and my dad's holding a fork (lol). Also, none of us thought to take the headphones off Barney, but that's ok because they really do represent a part of his life right now.

Monday morning we all gathered at Perkins (minus Barney) to discuss arrangements for the future. It's challenging to talk about funeral plans when someone is still alive, but good to be prepared. Terri had a lot set up for Barney, but wanted to check in on a couple things and as a family we made some decisions. 

These two are the best... my cousin Kathy and my aunt Doris.

Just hanging out in the hotel lobby

Not only was I sleep deprived on Monday (we had a very early flight the day before and I woke up at 1:45 and could not get back to sleep knowing I had to get up at 3 am), but I also started to feel sick. The family hung out all morning and decided to go visit Barney after lunch time. No one was actually hungry for lunch except me. I have no idea how people can skip meals as I need to eat on a regular schedule or I'll get a migraine (in fact, they skipped lunch on Tuesday as well). I decided to stay behind, eat lunch and take a nap so I would feel better for a visit later on.

This is the University of Wyoming logo and you will find it everywhere... lamps, rugs, buildings, garbage cans...

I think I am going to make my dad my photography assistant. I asked him to go stand by the statue above and he did - no questions asked. I asked him to walk with me so I could take a picture of the mountains and he did. I suggested we do a selfie and he did. I even had him take a picture of me and he did... without getting his thumb in the frame.

I walked across the street and up over a hill to get this shot (with my dad waiting at the bottom of this hill). Somehow the mountains seemed closer before I walked up the hill. How is that possible? Also, earlier this day it was super windy and the rain was coming down hard. You could hear the wind whistling through the hotel. We decided to head out at this time because it was so beautiful, but moments after this picture the wind picked up and it started to rain again. Terri says that they actually keep a down coat in their cars at all times because the weather can change in an instant. 

Tuesday was our last day in Wyoming so we spent the morning at Perkins again (it was attached to the hotel) with our family. Doris and Kathy went to see Barney to say goodbye and the rest of us decided to check out the town before having lunch with Barney. I wanted to get something for my people back home and since it's a big college town we decided to go the the Brown and Gold store for some college sports paraphernalia where I got Jesse and Riley t-shirts and where we ran into Doris and Kathy before they headed out of town. They suggested we check out the Ivinson Mansion before heading to Barney's so we did so, but discovered that they weren't open until 1:00. So we headed over to see Barney, ate lunch and said our goodbyes.

We still had a little time before we had to get back to Denver for our flights so we swung back to the mansion and did a little tour. It was good to see a little history of this town and go beyond the mile between our hotel and the assisted living home.

The Ivinson family came to Laramie in 1868. They ran a store in town and lived in the same building until they built this property in 1892. Mrs. Ivinson died in 1915 and in 1921 Mr. Ivinson gave the house to the Episcopal church who turned it into a boarding school for girls. 

Pretty sure those icicle lights are not authentic to the house. Just saying.

The room above is the same room as the photo below. While the furniture and some of the details are different, they did their best to replicate the room. The carved piece on the right (above) was made by a gentleman in the local prison many years ago. He spent three years there and created many of these type of pieces out of the railroad leftover wood. There are close to 20 items in the Ivinson mansion alone.

In 1958, transportation became more reliable so ranchers did not need to send their girls to live at the boarding school anymore. The school closed up, and eventually stopped being maintained. The church sold some of the fixture and vandals stole and damaged a lot from the house as well. In 1972, a renovation took place to restore it to it's original beauty. Some items were returned and some remade. Many non-Ivinson items are displayed in the house, but are authentic to the time.

Stereoscopes. I have one that's been in our family for years.

You can't tell so much here, but that bear was HUGE.

Apparently, hair wreaths were common in the 1800's. Um, yes, that would be a hair made into a wreath. You can see one above hanging with the picture in the frame on the wall.

Mrs. Ivinson found this shower at the Chicago Fair and purchased it for $150 in the late 1800's.

Mrs. Ivinson had a maid that stayed in this room next to hers. It is now filled with creepy old dolls playing Monopoly.

The hand-stitched doll is 150 years old.

The third floor was thought to be an attic and not a entertainment hall. Now it is used as a museum to show various items from the 1800's including a Native American room, and a barber's room.

Barbed wire

Outside there was a memorial to women and their history in Laramie. 1870 was a big year for women in Laramie with being able to vote and be on a jury. 

There were many flowers on the property.

This school was found out in the middle of nowhere and moved to a city park, but was vandalized too much so it was moved here.

And finally, a few pictures from the tail end of our trip. I had to capture some of the snow fences that doted the landscape on our drive between Laramie and Denver, but neglected to take a picture of the Rocky Mountains. 

While at the airport we had one last dinner with our San Diego family before heading back home to Minneapolis. We ate at Root Down, and organic restaurant that provided plenty of options for Allison who is vegetarian, and had some pretty cool decor. My favorites were the globes. 

Dad and I got home before midnight. It was only three days, but filled with a lot of activity and connecting with family. I got to spend time with family I don't get to see much and most importantly, I got to spend some good one on one time with my dad.