Sunday, April 18, 2010
Mama was a Giggler!
The call we've been gently anticipating for the last few years finally came this morning. My brother Roger called with news of our mother's passing last night after a little stomach ache and a reduction of her blood thinner medication. She went mercifully quick. Today the phones have been alive with the sounds of plans to gather for her memorial service. She was 87--and had just celebrated 57 years of marriage to Grampa Milo on Tax Day! Her time had come and her reunion with her beloved companion was the first thing on my mind.
Yes, she was a giggler. She laughed at things she saw as funny--and that was a lot of things! Her chuckle was low, inside her throat -- in a way that invited everyone around her to join in. She defused awkward situations with that strategic giggle. Mostly she just found life around her funny!
It's been several years since I saw her--at the funeral of her husband. We used to chat on the phone every Sunday night--and as time went on and her situation deteriorated she repeated herself -- and she knew it. Finally, about a year ago, her calls to us dwindled and stopped.
Our brother, Roger--who handled all her finances and with his nurse wife Sue, looked in on her and took care of her with the professionals at the care center--Roger told me she still had the cell phone he bought for her. Because of petty thefts, Gramma Delma kept the phone in her dresser, turned off. She lost the ability to listen to voice mail. On Roger's regular Sunday visits, he would listen to the voice mail we'd left and call us for her--then put her on for shorter and shorter visits. I noticed the last time I spoke to her that she was calm, happy and was repeating herself less than usual.
Delma Isabella Hunt Howe relished her role as the hub of our family--and enjoyed keeping up on all the new babies and the ins and outs of a growing clan. Near the end, she was less and less aware--but cheerful none the less!
My first memory of her was in a little house in what was ironically called the Roach Addition. Home movies reinforce the hazy memories of my baby baths in a galvanized tub; of a front loading automatic washer in a knotty pine kitchen and visits from Grampa Charlie and Gramma Lilly Hunt--her parents. I knew Gramma Hunt well through the years, but Grampa Charlie's image is known to me through those movies, and wonderful stories at Hunt family reunions. His son Charles was our beloved uncle. She came from the Fernelius line: great Swedish stock, descended from nobility.
She was born in 1922 and was a teenager through the depression and WWII. Food was scarce and my mom, one of the two great cooks in my life, was never allowed to learn to cook in her parent's home. She told me years ago that her first cake came from a neighbor friends E-Z Bake Oven. She learned to cook quickly. Her decorated cakes were the envy of the neighborhood after she finished an ag extension course.
She was always learning, reading and growing. She and her favorite sister Helen Marie travelled to Logan so Helen Marie could attend college and snag a man. Mother worked in the Dean of Women's Office and put her high school office skills to work to pay for room and board for both of them. It worked. Helen Marie met and married Law Student Zachary Champlin, who retired as the District Judge many years and nine kids later.
I'm a teacher both in church and business -- and Delma inspired me with great teaching in Primary and Relief Society. Her lessons as Spiritual Living Leader demonstrated what we all knew for a fact: She had a pipeline to heaven! Humble and caring, loving and tender with an ability to "bring the Spirit" to every class; Delma bloomed and blossomed in the gospel after a life time of patient gospel service.
Delma and Dad served a proselyting mission to Indianapolis, Indiana after sending three sons on Missions to Brazil (me); Hong Kong (Roger) and Spain-Barcelona (Donald). Their time was spent strengthening a little branch. Dad would charm the little children with pocket knife carvings and tricks. Both Mom and Dad always dressed in their Sunday Best when they went to church. The congregation was made up of many new converts used to coming to church in shorts, sleeveless tops and on formal occasions: holey blue jeans.
At the little party they threw to say goodbye after 18 months, one sister came up to mother and thanked her for setting a good example. They both commented on how the branch had dressed up for the Sabbath. They may not have made a single convert--but their example had a deep effect in Indianapolis. Their second act was a mission to the new Denver Temple. Their most effective "missionary work" was with their Gramkids.
I know especially with our own kids, Gramma and Grampa would swoop in and carry Jeff and Sally back to Cheyenne for fun in their tiered garden, riding Dad's golf cart around and the early morning barbequed pancakes on the patio Jeff remembers a trip to Frontier Days. Sally remembers the ongoing board games like Uno and Skipbo!
Mom and Dad were a great team and worked at influencing their downline for good. I can remember the snazzy bicycles Grampa Milo brought in the back of his vintage 1957 Green two toned Cadillac. I treasure a picture with then 9 year old Jeff making rope with Gramma out of fragrant yellow-orange baleing twine. They came to visit often (but not too often) Mostly they showed our kids how a happily married couple run the day to day in their compact, tidy Wyoming homes filled with love.
Besides our Jon and Rosie Family-- which is always number one, I have four or five creative occupagtional passions and Mom got me started on every single one:
MUSIC - I begged to play the piano when I was five or six and then I found out how much work it was going to be! Mom Delma played a number of great melodic solos like NOLA, and of course all the LDS Hymns. Turns out she and Dad had planned that we would ALL take at least a year of piano for life preparation--and possibly playing a band instrument. My sweetest musical experience was during my High School years, she was the Sunday School organist and I was the chorister. It was a great memory. (There were times in my earlier years when my Father brandished a belt to insure I would practice the obligatory hour daily. Mother would grit her teeth on those rare occasions whenever leather would smack my bottom) As so often happens, I struggled through the early years until I finally enjoyed it and didn't need threats any more! Because of my mom, I can enjoy my church choir experience, great orchestras, playing in a number of different brass bands (Trumpet and Baritone) and pass on that love of music to our son and daughter. Because of the musical influence of Gramma Delma, Sally whacked away at a Bass drum for a few years in grade school. Her brother, Jeff started on Baritone in grade school, Trombone in 7th and 8th grade and finished his 9th grade year on a brand new Yamaha Symphonic Tuba!
THEATER - When I was still in grade school, Mom took me to a Laramie High School Thespian Performance of THE DOUBLE BARRELLED MYSTERY. I felt all grown up--and near worshipped the skinny, over made up high school guys and gals who portrayed the characters in the play. It was held in the ornate Laramie High School Auditorium with the famous Lynn Faucett murals. I would later appear there in Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS PINAFORE as Sir Joseph Porter KCB in my 9th Grade year and as Mr. Antrobus in Thornton Wilder's SKIN OF OUR TEETH when I was a Junior. Though I did many roles in College and Semi Professional Theater, my funniest memory (that Mother and I both laughed out loud about) was in a Children's Theater production of WAPPIN' WHARF. I played Prince Hal, the hero of a Pirate abduction. As a University of Wyoming freshman majoring in Theater, I wanted to pull out all the stops. I went to a hair dresser and had my hair bleached to a shiny brass tint. I wanted a poofy fair haired boy wig appearance so the night before the opening, I slept with curlers. What a pain! My costume was left over from a Moliere period piece -- light blue brocade with a little flouncy skirt and knickerbocker breeches. When I made my first entrance my mother was sitting behind a chatty older woman who turned to her friend in the next seat and whispered rather loudly, "Who's the ugly girl?" Dissolve in laughter! Mother was always there whenever I was on stage. She'd hop a plane or drive the 500 miles from Cheyenne or Laramie to show her support. I was especially glad when she came for the Musical MISSIONARY BOXER that I wrote and produced. Mother never warned me that a theater career would never pay enough to keep a bird alive. She didn't have pre-formed wishes for me to be a lawyer or doctor so I could keep her with my magnificent earnings. She just wanted me to do the best I could. We've tried to pass on those expectations and set a good example for our children. It's what she did so well.
BROADCASTING - Delma Howe supported her husband as a Den Mother when he was long time Cubmaster of Pack 138 in the Laramie Ward. She encouraged us in crafts and merit badges and put up with all the antics of boys from 8 to 18. My interest in Photography led to a merit badge and then a part time job as a photographer in my Senior Year at the local paper. That interest in Journalism and performance led to more than 20 years in radio news from Wyoming through Provo, Utah and on to Washington D.C. It was a way to make a living with my mouth, my brain and my typing skills. She was listening and cheering all the way. I tell the story that I never graduated to television because my mother said I had a great face for radio! She never said that, but it makes for a funnier joke, yes? Maybe not! To make up for it I quote my Dad for much of the wisdom I've picked up along the way. Needless to say my folks have taken a wonderful, active interest in my careers. Always proud, never criticizing and always there when things fall apart as they often do. (Because of my news beginnings in Provo, I wore the Santa suit for the Sales Department. When Alan Osmond of the famous family called to borrow the suit, I negotiated coming along as the Santa and for 30 years we travelled together and appeared on network television and stages coast to coast with the Osmond Family - Donny and Marie and all of the kids old and young)
POLITICS - My earliest memory of politics came from my mom scanning the local paper and wondering aloud at every crisis why ANYONE would want to be President. Citizenship Merit Badges gave me a good excuse to get acquainted with the folks who ran the little power structure in Laramie, Wyoming. Telling Senators and local councilmen where to stand for a picture for the paper gave me a taste and I found I liked it. Politics was a bit of practical theater and before I "retired" I had worked in Washington for a U.S. Senator (Gale McGee D-WYO) the Mayor of Provo and Marketing Director at Utah Tech in Provo and Orem, now Utah Valley University. I served on the staff of a major Republican candidate for Governor of Utah. He lost, but I learned.
TEACHING - All these skills come together in my teaching career. Between Osmond Tours I took a temporary job as an instructor in the nationwide network of New Horizons Computer Learning Centers. The method was fairly straightforward. Study a new software one day, teach it the next, then again and again and again. This discipline was set for me by my sweet mom who sweat the details every time she went on the platform. While I've always enjoyed the computer classes I've taught, curriculum design, production of training videos and publishing resource material in support of a cadre of professional presenters has been another aspect of this mom-inspired skill. At this writing I'm teaching four computer classes for a community ed center. I've never been happier working to do the best I can just like Milo and Delma would have expected. (My best efforts have always been poured into gospel classes, especially teaching adults in Gospel Doctrine Class with all the bells and whistles that a well prepared Powerpoint Presentation can produce).
If the scripture is true that, "...by your fruits ye shall know them" (Matt 7:20), my siblings and I are the fruits of a great team of parents: Milo Seth and Delma Hunt Howe. They now join our sister Carolyn Howe Sansoucie and many others who have gone before. It will be (and likely already is a great and glorious reunion)
A dear relative of mine told us several years ago at our Dad's passing that Mormon's shouldn't cry at funerals. I've thought a lot about that idea as we get ready for this latest family pilgrimage to Worland. There's crying and there's crying. Hopeless crys of despair have no place at Mormon funerals. We have a certain knowledge that the deceased is going to a place far better to reunite with long separated loved ones. Crys of temporary mortal separation -- I'll grant you those--but tears of joy are a dead cert. I planning on lots of those next week in honor of a woman who has gone on ahead to make way for all of us. JRH