Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tribute to My Mom

Mothers Day was two weeks ago. Ever since then I have been thinking about my Mom. I have intended to write something about her, but one thing after another has delayed my writing.

I saw very few pictures from my Mom’s childhood when I was young. Then a few years ago, her brother, who had spent his career as a photographer, found a few family photos from the old days. He cleaned them up, reproduced them, and sent them out to family.

When Mom looked at the black and white photos of the family on the porch of the old homestead, she said that she didn’t remember the clan and the place looking so rundown. She said, “It looks like the Grapes of Wrath.” Dad looked at the photos and said, “That’s because it IS the Grapes of Wrath!”

Mom was born in a small town in the rural Midwest during the hardscrabble years of the Great Depression. She was second to the youngest of her parents’ large brood. Like everyone else in the area, my grandparents were farmers. Also like their neighbors, they fell on very hard times during the depression.

Grandma was a member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Her sister sent her a letter saying that she had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and was going to send missionaries to teach my Grandma. Grandma responded that if the missionaries came, she would prove them wrong.

The missionaries showed up during harvest season. During the day they went out and worked long hard hours helping Grandpa with the farm work. In the evening after dinner they taught the family the gospel. Grandma soon changed her mind and joined the LDS Church along with some of the older children. From that moment on, Grandma was a stalwart member.

Mom was a young girl when the family left the Midwest and moved to a tiny town way up near the northern border of central Wyoming. They were attracted by the oil field jobs in the area, since it had become so difficult to make a living farming. They still had a farm, but Grandpa spent the rest of his working years doing hard manual labor in the oil fields.

Mom was baptized a member of the LDS Church in northern Wyoming. Her Dad had been baptized a few years earlier. But Grandpa was never a serious churchgoing type. And he never gave up his tobacco.

One of my older cousins relates that he and a couple of our other cousins were pretty young boys when Grandpa caught them trying out cigarettes behind the barn one day. He said that it was the only time he ever saw Grandpa get really angry. Through strong words and corporal punishment he tried to impress on the boys how addictive tobacco was. He wanted to give up the dirty habit, he said, but he just couldn’t.

The only pictures I ever saw of my Grandpa until I was an adult were of him emaciated and dying of cancer incident to his tobacco addiction. He passed away while my Mom was pregnant with me.

Grandma did an astonishing amount of family history research from her outpost in rural Wyoming with very limited resources (in the days before computers). Once a year she would make an excursion to the Salt Lake Temple to do ordinance work for her kindred dead.

When Mom was a teenager she spent a year living with her brother’s family in California. She cared for the young children while her brother and sister-in-law worked. On one occasion they drove to Utah to attend the LDS Church’s general conference. They had to drive through Ogden to get to Salt Lake. Even living so far away from the area, they knew the seedy reputation of Ogden’s 25th Street. Mom said she felt unclean just passing through the town. Little did she know that she would one day live in Ogden.

Back at home, Mom worked in the local pharmacy after school and on Saturdays. Like most small town pharmacies, the place featured a soda fountain and hand dipped ice cream. During football season, the local high school games would end almost at the same time that the pharmacy was supposed to close. Mom said that the manager would try to keep the place open longer to catch the stream of people leaving the nearby football field. The girls that worked at the pharmacy, on the other hand, would try to make sure the place closed right on time so that they didn’t have to wait on the crowds.

Mom went to work one balmy afternoon wearing a light jacket. Then a severe winter storm blew in while she was at work. She lived several miles from town. Around closing time, her little brother showed up on his bicycle. Apparently Grandpa was still at work in the oil fields with the family’s only car. But Mom couldn’t ride on the bike with her brother. So she walked home with inadequate footwear and outerwear. She said she has never been so cold in her whole life.

After graduating high school, Mom took a trip to visit some friends that were living in Salt Lake City. While she was there, she ended up getting a job with a small CPA firm. Later she took a typist job at the LDS Church Administration Building. Back in those days, all businesses employed typists because every document had to be created from scratch. Large organizations had armies of typists.

One day Mom was sitting in the cafeteria alone during break time when Gordon B. Hinckley walked in. He was not a general authority at the time, but was the top employee in the church’s missionary department. He walked over to my Mom and said that he felt impressed to ask her if she had considered serving a mission for the church.

Mom replied that she had considered a mission, but that the church only let “old maids” serve missions. The policy at the time required young women to be at least 23 years old to serve. When Brother Hinckley asked Mom’s age, she responded that she would turn 21 in a couple of weeks. He said that the church policy was changing to allow 21-year-old women to serve missions. He suggested that she go to her bishop and apply to serve a mission. She followed this counsel and was called to serve in Germany.

Mom travelled to Germany by ship. All missionary language training occurred on the job back in those days. The first German word Mom heard after disembarking was somebody saying, “Achtung!” (Attention!) over a loud speaker. She thought some guy was clearing his throat in the microphone.

Over the next two years Mom served in various places, including Berlin and Hamburg. Back in those days young men served 2½ years and young women served two years.

While Mom was serving in Hamburg, she and her companion were at the local church building one evening when a young German man entered and asked to know more about the church. He had been contacted by LDS missionaries while visiting his parents out on the northwest coast of Germany. He had read everything the missionaries had given him and wanted to know more.

The first meeting with this young German wasn’t very productive. They knelt and prayed to start off. He asked all kinds of deep philosophical questions which the missionaries couldn’t address very well. But he agreed to another meeting.

As they began the second meeting with the young German man, they again knelt to pray. Then my Mom’s missionary companion informed the young man that it was his turn to offer the prayer. Although he felt odd about that, he began to pray and experienced a sensation of divine love so profound and all encompassing that he had difficulty saying much. From that moment on, the man was converted.

Mom grew quite close with this young man. Eventually Mom’s mission wrapped up and she returned to the States. The young man joined the church and continued to correspond with Mom. After a few months, the young man succeeded in arranging passage to America and getting a work visa. A kind couple in Colorado that didn’t know him at all sponsored him. They agreed to financially care for him for five years if he failed to care for himself. Mom moved in with her sister who lived in a nearby town.

Over the next few months, the couple courted. When Dad had been a member of the church for a year, Mom and Dad traveled to Salt Lake City and were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple. They then traveled up to northern Wyoming to visit Mom’s parents. Dad was stunned by how many hours they could drive seeing only what looked to him like desolation.

Dad was further stunned upon meeting his new in-laws. Their home was pretty rustic. Dad said that it was little more than a tar papered shack and that their “farm” was a tiny rundown affair. As far as he knew, nobody in Germany had lived like that for more than three centuries by that time. How could anyone in the world’s wealthiest nation live like that? He wondered what he had gotten himself into.

Mom and Dad soon settled into life in Colorado, where their first apartment was small and old. The bathroom was a converted closet that was so tiny that “you had to decide what you were doing before going in.” Eventually they moved to a larger apartment. During their five years in Colorado they welcomed three sons to the family.

Then Dad got a job in Ogden, Utah, so they moved. After a year of living in an apartment in the inner city, Mom and Dad moved into a starter home in a new development. They soon welcomed another son to the family. The fifth son—my caboose brother—didn’t arrive until some 14 years after that.

The new neighborhood was a joyous place filled with many young families and hoards of kids. About three years after moving in, Mom and Dad began to desire to visit Dad’s family in Germany. Contact with the family was minimal, mostly by mail. Overseas phone calls were frightfully expensive back then. But they needed more money to afford to travel to Germany.

The IRS was opening a new service center in Ogden, so Mom applied for seasonal shift work as a keypunch operator. During tax season, Mom would spend evenings punching taxpayer information into computer cards. I hated those times. I’d come home from school and Mom would leave for work. Dad would get home later after Mom left.

But Mom’s work paid off. After three years she and Dad traveled to Germany for a month. Gracious families in the neighborhood took care of us boys during the weeks that Mom and Dad were away.

Mom needed to work the next season to help defray some expenses. Without being asked, Mom was transferred to the human resources department as a clerk, where the work was not seasonal. Eventually Mom was working day shift. Later she transitioned to the job of personnel specialist and made a career of working at IRS.

Throughout those years, life was crazy with kids, school, activities, and church callings. Mom served in many church callings. Whenever Mom undertook to serve, she did so wholeheartedly. Whether she was a Cub Scout den leader, a Relief Society president, a Sunday School teacher, or anything else, Mom served with deep dedication and devoted energy. If Mom’s essence could be distilled into a single word, that word would be “service.”

When my younger brother was 13 years old, Mom and Dad gathered us around the kitchen table one Saturday morning and explained that Mom was four months pregnant. We were shocked. But a few months later we found ourselves very welcoming of our new baby brother.

As grandkids started to come on board, Mom tried to treat each one with special care, all while juggling her own affairs, working, and raising my little brother. Dad retired relatively young and then went to work doing electrical engineering work on a contract basis. Mom continued to work at IRS.

When Dad was called to be a stake patriarch, Mom became his stenographer. Dad recorded the blessings as he gave them. Mom would carefully listen to the tapes and type up the blessings; more than 750 of them over time. Although Dad’s command of the English language significantly exceeded that of most natural born Americans, Dad was always frustrated that he couldn’t say in regular English the ideas that the Spirit conveyed to him while giving blessings. Mom helped compensate for this by helping Dad refine the language of each blessing until he was ready to deliver the printed copy.

Eventually Mom retired from the IRS. Dad finally retired from work at that time too. A few years later, they went back to their old stomping grounds in Hamburg Germany as missionaries for the LDS Church.

A few years after returning from their mission, Dad suffered a stroke. His heart was in bad shape from having failed to get proper treatment for several heart attacks. After Dad’s stroke, he couldn’t think quite the same. Although he was mentally functional in some aspects, he was incapable of thinking his way through some daily tasks that had been his domain for many years.

Getting Dad’s medications balanced was nightmarish. But Mom persisted. After Dad’s stroke, he frequently suffered psychological trauma at night. Nights could be terrible for Mom as the caregiver, but month after month she persisted in caring for Dad. It wasn't just nighttime either. Dad's episodes of impaired mental clarity and physical impairment caused incredible amounts of stress for Mom, whose 24x7 job became caring for Dad.

Dad’s heart was dying bit by bit. The doctors had told us how it would go, and it pretty much followed that path. As the heart became less efficient, Dad became less able to function both physically and mentally.

Dad had another stroke about a week and a half before he passed away. This time his body and his psychological state were so dysfunctional that Mom simply couldn’t care for him at home any more. He was admitted to the hospital, where he declined day after day until he passed away. Mom stayed steadfastly by his side until the very last.

Mom has been busy in the years since Dad passed on. You guessed it, she’s been busy serving. Not only does Mom do church callings, she busies herself serving neighbors, friends, and family.

Mom has been a wonderful example of service, devotion, and work throughout the years. She has been persistently strong and valiant in her testimony of Christ. She not only sees the needs of others; she actively tries to do something about it. Every day.

That’s my Mom. One of the choicest people I know. I have no idea what I did to be so blessed to have her for my Mom.


Hygge Man said...

It's amazing how much we don't know about our parents until we take the time to reflect. Thanks for taking the time to put down your thoughts and thanks for sharing.

bkbsmiles said...

This is a beautiful tribute to your mother! She has had such a life of service. I think it would have been so hard to care for your father after his stroke. I am glad she is still very able to this day. --Barb

Sharoon Sunny said...

Beautiful tribute. I've been trying to find words to express my gratitude to my mom. It is so hard since words don't do justice.

Thanks for sharing