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.

Change, Community, Family

A Gradual Goodbye

I realize my blog can sometimes carry themes — depending on what I’m experiencing in life.

Loss is the theme for my recent blogs because that is what is consuming my life right now.

Of course you know, my mom died suddenly in March. And while the grief is profound, it is eased by knowing she was ready to go, and that I’ll see her again someday.

A lot of my time since her death has been spent cleaning her house and getting it ready to sell.

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It’s been exhausting and sometimes sad, but also it has been tender, therapeutic, memorable, and sweet.

As I’ve stood in each room  of that house– steaming off wallpaper or cleaning out cupboards, I’ve been swept up in a lifetime of memories.

There is a memory in every corner of that house.

It’s hard for me to believe that Doug lived in 18 different homes before graduating from high school.

I lived in the same home until I went to college and I’ve been returning to that home ever since.

Standing in the small upstairs bedroom, I remembered being in first grade and learning to read. I thought of the thrill I felt running upstairs to sit in my bedroom with a new stack of books.

I remembered going to the public library with my mom every week and gathering armloads of books and hauling them upstairs to that bedroom.

That reminded me of returning mom’s last library book just after she died.  I knew I had to get it back to the library as soon as possible! She never, ever had an overdue book.

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Cleaning out her kitchen cupboards, I thought about her love of dishes. She had her own wedding china, a great grandmother’s china, and various sets of dishes she had purchased over the years.

I remembered the “club” meetings she had with her high school friends and how she pulled out the china for some of those dinners. Then, I remembered that for one Easter, she had a brown bag picnic lunch in the house and moved all the furniture back and put quilts on the floor. I tried to imagine her 12 lady friends sitting in circles on the floor enjoying their brown bag Easter picnic.

In the kitchen, I remembered Mom’s reaction when she found a Playboy magazine in one of my brother’s dresser drawers. Oh, that was a classic Mom Moment. You can check out that story here.

While sorting through her Christmas decorations on the patio, I looked around at her sprawling back yard and remembered how many parties I held back there over the years.

I could hear her saying, “You always begged me to host your friends’ last-night-of-school parties in the backyard, and you swore you’d only have about six friends coming. And, every year, the whole school showed up!”

It’s true. I couldn’t help myself. I invited every friend I had every year. It was the perfect backyard for big parties!

That house was my mom’s “corner of the world.” She always said she just loved sitting on the porch watching the world go by.

She was a homebody if there ever was a homebody and she never understood what she called my “go-go-do-do” ways.

Nate Berkus said, “Your home should tell the story of who you are, and be a collection of what you love.”

My mom lived by those words.

Her house was a collection of everything she loved –cherished notes, her life story in a scrapbook, stories, family memorabilia, photos, photos and more photos,  flowers, and plants, books, books and more books; and more thread than I’ve ever seen in my life for her embroidery projects. She loved decorating for every holiday, especially Christmas.  I think I counted five Christmas trees!

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She had some of her favorite quotes in places where she could see them regularly.

One of her favorite quotes that has become one of my favorites was a quote from Ezra Taft Benson:
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More than anything else, cleaning out her house has been like a gradual, tender goodbye.

I have felt wrapped up in her “corner of the world” for the past couple months — folding her quilts, steaming her wedding dress, discovering the baby quilts she made for her future great grand babies, dusting off her dishes and boxing up her china, sorting out her Christmas tree ornaments and collecting her mail.

It’s been like a slow goodbye and while it’s been tiring, it’s been kind of a sweet melancholy, a last chance to feel her around me through her perfectly personal home, and all of her belongings.

The more I take out of her house, the more I realize she is gone.

And, while I don’t enjoy the goodbye, I certainly savor the way that cleaning out her house has kept her here for just a little bit longer…

 

Change, Family, Memoir

Goodbye to the Mom of All Moms

Some blogs are easy to write and some blogs are hard.

Today’s blog is the hardest one I’ve ever had to write.

I’ve started it about 10 times.

The thing is, my mom died.

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At 82 years old, she just didn’t feel well, had a weak pulse, went to the ER, and died.

Doug and I were vacationing with friends at the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

My mom and several other family members were in southern Utah to help my sister, Sallie, move to a new home for a new job. 

At the end of the day, I called to see how the day went.

Sallie said, “Well, we’re actually in the ER with mom and the doctors said things are going south fast.”

“What?”

“What is even wrong?”

She said they didn’t have a diagnosis, but eight doctors were in her hospital room trying to figure it out.

I quickly made plans to get back to Utah as soon as possible.

This involved getting off Hatteras Island, a remote strip of land in the middle of the ocean, and to an airport where there are no direct flights to Utah.

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I got to the hospital the next day — in time for a doctor to ask me for a copy of her living will and for me to tell her goodbye.

She was calm, serene and fearless as she told me she was 100 percent ready to go.

No regrets. No unfinished business. No questions about anything other than, “Are you okay with this?”

My head nodded yes while every emotion in me vigorously shouted, “No!”

That was on a Monday afternoon.

On the following Thursday, she took her last breath.

I was surprised at the word that came out of my mouth after she died.

“Congratulations,” I whispered as I kissed her cheek for the last time.

And that’s really how I felt — like she’d given life everything — left it all on the field to use sports vernacular.

There was nothing morbid or morose about it. 

In fact, the few days with her in the hospital were sweet, tender, and sacred. We talked about how lucky we were to have her as a mom.

She was the mom of all moms — loving, smart, tough, fun, hilarious, just the whole package. We couldn’t ask for more. She was everything.

As we shared stories about her life — her sayings and crazy antics — sometimes we couldn’t stop laughing.

Oh, there were tears — plenty of them because we wondered how we will live without her, but there also was so much joy because we knew she was ready.

She knew where she was going and she was looking forward to it.

She couldn’t wait to see her husband again and the son she lost when he was an infant.

She was tired of the world and she didn’t like that her body wasn’t cooperating with her anymore.

And don’t even get her started on Donald Trump.

The doctors probably still regret that while testing her mental acuity, they asked her if she knew who was President of the United States.

For months, she warned us that she thought she would die soon. We just didn’t believe her.

She told my brother he needed to go into her basement and find her funeral insurance policy.

She told her friend at the church library to get her own library key because she didn’t think she’d be back the next week.

She told her walking partner she didn’t think she’d live after my sister moved.

I think she really saw it coming. We just didn’t want to believe her.

On the day she died, I posted a picture of her on Facebook and said, “It was the honor of my life to be her daughter.”

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And, it truly was.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

I hope every heavenly reunion is even sweeter than you imagined.

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…