Family

He’s as free as a bird now…

In mid-July, my older brother, Kelly, ended up in ICU. A few weeks later, he left with a stage IV lung cancer diagnosis and days/weeks to live.

As we reeled from this news, just a few months after my mom’s unexpected death, Kelly said, “Here’s how this is going to go down.”

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Kelly giving my daughter Annie some of his old fishing gear

Then he told us all how he wanted to spend the last few weeks of his life.

“First, there will be a no-sadness, no-mourning zone around me. I’ve had a good life. I have a lot of good memories. We’re going to reminisce, laugh and remember the good times. We’re not going to cry and be sad. My goal will be to make everyone around me laugh and smile until I roll out of here.”

And, that’s exactly what he did.

He wanted me to help him get his affairs in order, write his obituary, stay positive, and make him my mom’s favorite family meal — cheesy meatloaf, baked potatoes, and salad. 

My brother Mark asked him if he was afraid. He calmly said, “I’m not afraid of dying. I’m pretty sure about where I’m going. I’m just a little nervous about what it’s going to take to get from here to there.”

Luckily for him, it didn’t take much.

He lived about three weeks after coming home from the hospital, and then died peacefully in his sleep.

So, in that three weeks, he entertained us with his endless stories, jokes and funny memories.

He also had time to tell us exactly what he wanted in terms of his end-of-life services.

He wanted an outdoor celebration of a life well-lived, not a solemn, sad funeral in a church.

He wanted a catered lunch in the canyon, a live rock ’n roll band playing Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd, and everyone sharing happy stories and good memories.

 

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I’m as free as a bird now…

He also wanted us to share his real life story, not the  varnished, polished, perfected, version of his life.

He wanted people to know his life wasn’t easy, but that he “played the hand he was dealt.”

He was dealt a pretty tough hand, including a leg amputation that left him disabled and wheelchair bound for the last 12 years.

For an avid fisherman, hunter, outdoorsman and builder, learning he would spend the rest of his life confined to a wheelchair was a devastating blow.

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Even with that crushing news, however, he never complained.

In the beginning, he cycled through his share of sadness, grief, and shock, and even had a significant heart attack not long after the amputation, but he took it all with remarkable courage, optimism, and characteristically good humor, even to the point of always sporting one red converse high-top sneaker as he signature shoe style.

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He epitomized the life Hunter Thompson described when he said, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, worn out, and loudly proclaiming… Wow! What a ride!”

That was Kelly.

Life is definitely not the same without him. It is quieter, less fun, and a lot more lonely.

Kelly and I were Irish twins — just 10-months apart. We spent our lives explaining that even though we were in the same grade all through school and just happened to look very much alike, we were not twins.

And after all those years of saying, “No, we’re not twins,” I have an inkling of what it must be like for one twin to lose another and to feel like a twinless twin, like you’ve lost a part of yourself.

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While my religious beliefs assure me that he is in paradise, resting from his troubles, cares and sorrows,  I don’t think he’ll rest for too long. In fact, I’m sure the heavenly angels weren’t quite ready for him when he skidded into heaven and started reporting on the wild, rambunctious ride that was his life.

I bet they haven’t had a quiet, dull moment since he got there. 

And, lucky for them, because we sure miss him down here …

 

 

Family, Home, Memoir

Welcome to Utah

Since moving to Utah, we have noticed a few things that are uniquely Utah.

Take this…

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Just a mountain lion in the back of someone’s truck. I’m guessing a taxidermy craft project…

Or this…

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This is an invitation to the our church’s summer activities for women. Yep, hand-delivered to my porch because nearly everyone in my neighborhood is Mormon.

And this…

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American flags lining the streets for every patriotic holiday.

And one of my all-time favorites…

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This sweet lady rode her scooter to Swig for a soda on a 112 degree day in St. George. Utah is the Soda Capital of the Universe.

I am slowly getting educated on the soda culture in Utah.

I’ve seriously never seen anything like it –places like Swig,  Sodalicious and Fiiz everywhere. These are small soda shops (sometimes nothing more than a small shack) with drive-thru windows that sell sodas with flavor shots.

Seriously, I’ve seen cars lined up there at 8 in the morning. And, it’s not as simple as ordering a Diet Coke at McDonald’s.

And each shop has its own lingo. Try saying, “I’ll have a 32-ounce Big Al with extra ice” or “Give me an 16-ounce Endless Summer please.”

What you’ll be ordering with the Big Al is a Diet Coke with a shot of coconut and lime. An Endless Summer is Mountain Dew, Powerade with a shot of coconut.

Yes, Utah is Soda Land. 

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Oh, and this cute lady rode up a pretty steep hill, waited in the line at the window on her scooter, secured her drink in her lap, and then drove back down the hill and into her rehab center. (Yes, we followed her!) Then, she sat under a tree and enjoyed her drink in the shade. I told her she was my hero of the day. She said, “Hey, I can’t drive so I take my scooter and go to Swig every day!”
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My daughter Annie (right) even worked at Sodalicious, but since I didn’t know how to order, I rarely went there. Trust me, I’m learning…

And finally, there’s this…

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The scenery is so different from one end of the state to the other. We can see lush green mountains on one end of the state and red rock canyons on the other. And, it’s all uniquely beautiful.

Welcome to Utah.

Family, Uncategorized

Help Me Solve a Family Mystery

This is going to be an usual blog post for me.

It’s a plea for help with a family puzzle.

Here’s the thing…

I have spent a good chunk of my adult life trying to solve a vexing family mystery.

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Julina Harris Snow Berkhimer July 3, 1909 – August 13, 1991

This beautiful woman is my Grandma Snow, my dad’s mom.

We thought we knew her well until her death in 1991 when we found out she was adopted.

My aunts found a family history document in the lining of her dresser drawer that had the word “adopted” scrawled next to her name.

Adopted?

Why didn’t we ever know this?

After learning she was adopted, we launched a search for her birth story.

Who were her parents?

What happened to them?

What is her adoption story?

Oh, there are theories like that she was left in a bundle on my great grandmother’s doorstep.

Or that a midwife delivered her and gave her to my great grandparents when the mother died in childbirth.

Or that the Mormon leader, Joseph F. Smith, who was my Great Grandfather Hyrum Smith Harris’ uncle, arranged for the adoption.

Joseph F. Smith’s wife, Julina, was a midwife and delivered many babies, so we have speculated that maybe she helped with this adoption, and perhaps that’s why they named their baby, Julina.

My favorite theory formed while reading the compelling book The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.

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The book illuminates the brutal tales of abandoned children who were piled on trains from New York City and sent out to train stations across the country between 1845 – 1929 for people to poke, prod, foster, and adopt.

Some of these trains carried infants, and they made it as far as Utah and Texas — places where my grandma lived as a child.

I sent a letter to the records department of the New York Children’s Aid Society – just in case.

They had no records of a little orphaned baby in Utah or Texas in 1909.

We’ve searched vital records, court records, personal journals, orphanages, correspondence, church records, and visited with countless relatives.

Always dead ends.

We’ve given up on this for years at a time, but then, something sparks our curiosity, and we start searching again.

We want to know her story because it’s our family story.

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Julina and her mother, Delia Sarah Rebekah Twede Harris

So, speculation aside, here’s what we know…

  1. Records say she was born July 3, 1909 at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City.
  2. She was blessed in Provo, Utah in July, 1909 by Roy Passey, her adopted father’s brother-in-law.
  3. In 1910, she shows up on the U.S. Census in Garza County, Texas where her father, Hyrum Smith Harris (45) and Delia Twede Harris (38) lived and owned a sheep ranch.
  4. Personal correspondence mentions having Julina “come to them,” and others mention that they “got their baby” in Texas. There is no mention of how they got the baby from Utah to Texas or how the adoption was arranged.
  5. She had no siblings. Hyrum and Delia had a child, Mercy Rachel Harris, in 1891, but she died a few months after her birth.
  6. She married Alton Roswell Snow April 23, 1928. After his death, she later married Mark Elwood Berkhimer April 14, 1969.
  7. We have submitted our DNA to Ancestry.com and continue to try to find matches that might help.

So, where do we go from here?

If anyone has any ideas, please share them.

Share this blog.

Help us solve this mystery.

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Julina Harris Snow Berkhimer

Maybe there is no reason for us to know.

Maybe her story is unknowable.

But, if anyone has any further details, hints, stories, correspondence, journals, or anything the slightest bit helpful, please share.

We would love to know about this beautiful woman and her story.

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Family, Memoir, Relationships

Forgive me Dad

Dear Dad,

I owe you an apology.

Remember after I moved to Washington, and every time I talked to you, you said, “When are you moving back to Utah?”

I remember when you finally stopped asking me that.

It was after one of your visits to Washington, and, at last, you seemed to understand why I loved living in D.C.

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We were standing at a busy intersection in Georgetown, and you said, “I can see why you love it here. This is your kind of place. You really are a city girl.”

So, now that I am back in Utah, I think of you nearly every day.

I think of how you loved the beauty and uniqueness of Utah’s mountains, rivers, and streams, and how I never appreciated them.

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I keep thinking about when you took us to Boulder Mountain, found a perfect camping spot for our trailer house, and planned a weekend of hiking, fishing, Dutch oven suppers, and thrilling in the beauties of nature.

Yeah, well, I hated camping.

Camping was b-o-o-o-r-i-n-g.

There was nothing to DO.

Remember how you called me “The Go-Go-Do-Do-Girl” because I couldn’t sit still?

Well, camping was torture for a girl who liked to be on the go.

And then there was the fishing.

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Just when I thought camping couldn’t get any worse, you took me out on a boat, put a worm on the end of a fishing rod, cast it into the lake, and handed me the pole.

And, there I sat for hours in the blistering sun, holding that pole with a worm dangling on the end of it, waiting for a fish to tug on my line.

You tried to make it fun, tried to help me see the excitement of reeling in a “big one.”

I’m sorry, dad. To me, it wasn’t fun. It was woefully unfun.

And, about that Boulder trip… You were so excited about that trip.

You talked it up like it would be the most fun our family could ever have.

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First thing on the agenda was to hike to the lake, hauling our fishing gear all the way.

It was probably a one-mile hike, but to me, it was Mount Everest.

I whined.

You cheered me on, telling me to concentrate on the beauty around me, and to envision how fun it would be to reel in “a big one.”

I wondered why we just couldn’t drive to the darn lake.

No vehicles were allowed. That’s what you said.

When we finally got to the lake, we saw our neighboring campers packing up their truck to go back to camp.

No vehicles allowed?

Mom and I were not too proud to ask them for an immediate ride back to camp.

You were probably thrilled to have me gone so that you could actually enjoy fishing without my unpleasantness spoiling the fun.

Fast forward to my life now.

Dad, I came home.

I am living in your beloved state.

And, I am hiking, and discovering what you loved.

And, guess what?

I’m not whining, asking for rides down the mountains or using the word “boring” to describe my adventures.

I am awed by the beauty around me, and I am sorry for being such a wimpy, whiny child.

I hope you will forgive me.

But, before you start thinking I’ve made a complete turnaround, I must tell you this: I still hate fishing.

I know it’s blasphemy to say that when I belong to a family of avid fisherman, but Dad, really, fishing is so blasted boring.

But, maybe you could give me a little credit for finally appreciating the beauty and uniqueness of the state you so loved.

Community, Family, Uncategorized

A Visit to the Beauty Shop

When I was growing up, my mom went to the “beauty shop” every week to get her “hair done.”

That meant she went to Beth’s, the neighborhood salon, and Beth shampooed, conditioned and towel-dried her hair. Then, she wrapped her wet hair around rollers, and sat her in a chair under a hooded hair dryer.

Think Truvy in Steel Magnolias.

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After sitting under the hair dryer, probably reading a romance novel, Beth styled mom’s hair and sprayed enough hair spray on it to last for the next week.

Then, Mom slept on a pillow with a satin pillow case to keep it from getting messed up.

Last week I had the pleasure of going with my mom to “get her hair done” at Helen’s, a salon she’s probably been going to since Beth died many years ago.

I had so much fun walking around that salon that my mom worried I’d offended Helen.

I couldn’t help myself.

It was a step back in time.

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It made me think of Dolly Parton as Truvy saying, “I don’t trust anyone that does their own hair. I don’t think it’s normal.” Or, “The bigger the hair, the closer to God.”

I didn’t mean to be rude, I was just fascinated and impressed.

The thing about Helen’s and other salons like this is that they are not just places to get your hair done, they’re places of friendship and conversation that span decades, even generations.

Not only has Helen done my mom’s hair, she did my Grandma’s and two of my aunts’ hair. She knows a lot about my family.

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A well-worn chair in Helen’s salon

She asked my mom about my aunt, who is now in a memory care unit of an assisted living facility.

“I miss her,” she said. “I remember when she started to get dementia. I was out of town and she called me and said, ‘Helen, where are you? I went to get my hair done and you weren’t there.'”

Helen said, “I’m on vacation. Remember, I told you I’d be out of town?”

My aunt didn’t remember.

“That was the beginning,” Helen said. “Then it just got worse. It was hard watching her go downhill.”

Helen even styled my Grandma’s and another aunt’s hair when they died so that they would look beautiful for their viewings and funerals.

IMG_6270While touring the salon, I heard my mom telling Helen about something, and then she said, “Helen, what would mama have done?”

Who has that kind of relationship with their hair stylist?

Not many of us can ask our hair stylist about how our mothers would have handled a situation or a problem.

It struck me as unique and beautiful that my family has “roots” (pun intended) with Helen’s hair salon.

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Helen and my mom

My visits to the hair salon are never as personal or friendly as my mom’s visits to Helen’s.

The guy who does my hair is just that… a guy who does my hair.

I like him. I know he’s from Turkey and that he’s married and has a young daughter. But that’s the extent of our relationship. He doesn’t know my mom, my sister, my family, or what my mom would do in any given situation. He just knows about my hair.

Helen’s may not be a high-end, fancy salon, and it might not make the historical register, but for many women, like my mom, Grandma and aunts, it has been a personally significant place where a woman named Helen dedicated her life not just to cutting and styling their hair, but to witnessing their lives, keeping their confidences, and being their friend.

IMG_6271From the clock with hands made of scissors to the “rain hats” for sale on a peg board, it was a charming salon, full of stories.

Someday I’m going back with a notebook and pen or a tape recorder and I’m going to say, “Helen, tell me everything you know about my family.”

So, watch for another blog on this topic because I sense that after years of doing my mom, grandma’s and aunts’ hair, Helen knows a lot more than how to style hair…

 

 

Family, Uncategorized

An Unforgettable Phone Call

We can probably all remember a phone call that changed our lives.

One of those phone calls for me came 24 years ago today.

It was a Sunday morning. I was at church, conducting a children’s meeting.

Doug came in, looking very somber, and motioned for me to come out into the hall.

I instantly knew something was wrong.

My mind quickly raced through the possibilities.

I followed him out of the room, and we walked toward the Bishop’s office.

There was a heaviness in the room and a serious tone that told me I was about to receive very bad news.

The Bishop was standing behind his desk, holding the phone.

He handed it to me; and, I reluctantly said, “Hello?”

“Bless your heart,” said my Uncle Sherm in a broken voice. “Here’s your mother.”

“Laurie,” Mom said, not mincing any words, “Dad died last night.”

I didn’t hear anything after that.

I’d just seen my dad. He took me to the airport and carried my luggage to the gate. He was fine and very much alive.

“What?” I asked, stunned and frozen.

“Dad died,” she said. “I woke up this morning, and found him dead.”

My dad was 57 years old — a year younger than I am now.  He died of a massive heart attack.

That one phone call changed my life.

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Sometimes I wish the phone would ring and I could have a conversation with him — five minutes would be good. Or how about 30 seconds? I’d take that too.

I might not be able to talk to him, but I believe he’s around — not physically, but spiritually.

How could he not be?

Our love for our families is too deep, too permanently planted in our souls for us to just float off to another realm and forget about them.

So it only stands to reason that God would allow our family members to stay close.

I cannot imagine us sitting comfortably on a cloud, polishing our halos,  waiting patiently for the rest of our families to sail up and join us. God’s got to have more in mind for us than that, and it has to include some spiritual closeness to our families.

I cling to the words of the LDS Apostle Jeffrey Holland, “God never leaves us alone, never leaves us unaided in the challenges that we face…From the beginning… God has used angels as His emissaries in conveying love and concern for His children.

“Usually such beings are not seen. Sometimes they are. But seen or unseen they are always near.”

I haven’t seen my dad, but I surely have felt his presence — even if it’s just through a memory, a song he loved, a fisherman that looks like him or someone who knew him that shares a story about him.IMG_2414

There was a time I worried that I couldn’t remember what his voice sounded like. It bothered me that I couldn’t remember. Then, one night, while sleeping, I heard his familiar voice say”Laur, it’s time.” I woke up immediately because I knew that voice. It wasn’t like a fuzzy dream. It was as clear as it was when I was a teenager and he would call up the stairs to wake me up in the mornings by saying, “Laur, it’s time.”

Sometimes I wish that would happen again.

Better yet, I wish the phone would ring, I’d answer it, and he’d be on the other end.

Now, that would be an unforgettable phone call.

 

Family, Uncategorized, Writing

Writing it all down

It’s New Year’s Day 2016.

I’m sitting on the couch thinking, “I should write a New Year’s blog.”

Last year about this time, I wrote a blog called Blah-Grrr, which was less than inspiring, but it captured my mood at the time.

This year, I want to write something BETTER, more MOTIVATIONAL, but I’m stuck.

Hello Writer’s Block.

(The inability to tap into the writerly part of your brain where thoughts turn into words and sentences.)

Part of the reason for this mental block is that I’ve set myself up with the idea that I should write something INSPIRING or MOTIVATIONAL.

Writing expectations can be lethal. They choke creativity.

No idea is good enough. No thought cogent or powerful enough.

And no good sentences can flow from that kind of clogged up mental mess.

Not only do I have crippling blogging block, I seem to have unintentionally infected my family with it.

For Christmas I gave everyone in my family five-year journals.

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One of our Church missionaries introduced me to them.

She called hers her “most prized possession.”

Her dad gave one to all of his family for Christmas a few years ago and she’s written in it faithfully since.

“It’s awesome to look back and see where I was and what I was doing on the same day in previous years,” she said.

I’m a writer, a journal keeper, and big believer in creating personal histories. So, this sounded like a great gift idea.

Side note: A friend in college once said to me, “What is it with writers? They don’t think things are real unless they write them down.”

Ah, yeah…because they’re not.

Last night, Doug started a group text reminding everyone to start our new journals on New Year’s Day.

 

My sister, Sallie, said, “I can’t wait to start my new journal. I have to do something more exciting tomorrow than taking down the Christmas tree though. I don’t want to judge myself for the next five years for having a boring New Year’s Day.”

Annie said, “I know! I feel pressured to do exciting things!”

Then, Sallie, who drives a red convertible VW, said, “I’ll pick you up, Annie, and we’ll drive around the lake with the top down and then hike Y Mountain at midnight so that we’ll have something fun to write about.”

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Cruising in the Convertible

“Too bad we’re in North Carolina,” Annie replied with a sad face emoticon.

Sara texted, “I was thinking of having a focus — like writing about a funny thing that happened or the best part of my day or tender mercies.”

Having a focus sounded like a good idea to me too — a kind of writing prompt.

“I’m just going to write about the weather,” Doug said.

“Good idea, Dad,” Sara wrote, “Or you could just copy your daily horoscope into your journal.”

Today Sallie texted me to see if I’d done anything exciting to write about.

“I walked on the beach, watched an episode of Oprah’s Belief series and then called a friend who just announced she and her husband are going to Brazil for a Church mission. Is that interesting enough? Or maybe something amazing is yet to happen.”

“We have faith,” she responded.

Yes, if faith means believing our lives on New Year’s Day 2016 literally will be ones for the books, then we have faith.

That’s a lot of faith.

No wonder I can’t write a blog.

I can’t even think about that tiny little paragraph I need to write at the end of the day, let alone write a 500-word blog.

How can we live each day for five years worried about whether our lives are interesting enough to write about?

Well, see, that’s the thing. We can’t. So we don’t think about it so much. We just do it.

We just pick up a pen, or put our fingers on the keyboard, and write.

Start with a word and go.

How’s that for MOTIVATIONAL?

I sometimes don’t know what to write, but I try to write anyway.

Sometimes it’s just nonsensical junk that ends up on the page, and sometimes it’s something that’s surprisingly good.

But writing well isn’t even the point.

The point is expressing ourselves, and what makes it fun is that it’s all stuff that comes from inside of us, stuff that defines us and our ordinary lives.

And that can be wonderfully rewarding.

(And you know that if you don’t write it down, it’s not real, right?)

Get writing people. Make that your 2016 New Year’s resolution.

Capture your life on the pages of a notebook or on a blog or in a daunting five-year journal.

Your life is probably a lot more interesting than you think.

Let me end with this great little nugget from a writer named Victoria Erickson.

“Why write? Why should we all write? This is what I recommend…pick a word and see where that word takes you. Because you store everything in your body: the gorgeous, the ugly, the painful, the ecstatic. It’s all there locked away in your cells where memory, tension and confusion remain day after day, waiting to be set free. You don’t have to show it to an audience or your spouse or your children or even yourself again. But when it’s written down as a list, as a paragraph or poem or story, you can go to bed with greater understanding of yourself, of the world, or even of both yourself in this world. And at the very least, you know all those things are out of your body. Writing is essentially becoming free. It all begins with a word.

I couldn’t have said it any better. Thanks Victoria.

Now, get writing.

Figure out a way to capture 2016 in writing.

It’s only going to be real if you write about it …