Category Archives: Family History

The Year We Changed Our Lives

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After months of deliberating, strategizing, decision-making and then fine-tuning those decisions, Scott and I are finally on the brink of a dream we’ve wanted to achieve for many years: we are taking our family to England.

We gave away our cat, loaned out our dog, put our house in beautiful North Carolina on the market and just finished driving across the country. All of our things are going into storage, and now the only obstacle between us and the biggest adventure my family has ever had is 8 days.

Scott will be working at Oxford for only a semester, so we will be back to the States in December, but it will be enough time for us to have a wide range of experiences in the United Kingdom and surrounding areas that we would not have if we were simply tourists. To make things even more interesting, we won’t have a car and we will be living in the middle of a city.

If you are wondering how we are feeling about all of this, imagine you are about to jump off of a bridge, step into the gladiator’s ring, or are standing on a street in Pamplona, Spain just before the bulls are released and you will have a good idea.

Wish us luck. Updates to follow.

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The Godsend: The Gift of a Second Marriage

Mom and Terry on horses

Photo by Bill VandeMerwe

Today, eight years ago, my mother eloped. Goodness knows she would have never let me do such a thing.

My five siblings, their spouses, and her 24 grandchildren were not invited to the wedding. Neither were any of the groom’s seven children, their spouses or his grandchildren. It was just the two of them, in the temple, married for time.

The two had been introduced to each other by a family member. Their first date had a stunning backdrop:  a huge reservoir in Wyoming, surrounded by rugged, snow-capped mountains. He was there on his boat, and she was to meet him at the dock at a predesignated time.  From the lake, he could see my mother’s little red car drive across the dam. He gunned the engines towards the dock and trolled up to the platform just as she walked up.

From where she was standing she could see that he was tall, robust, and handsome.

“You must be Terry,” she said.

“You must be Patsy,” he said.

“Are you a good guy?” she said.

“Depends on who is keeping score,” he said. He helped her into the boat and off they went.

My mother had been a widow for four years.  She moved to a new home in town, she dated, and she even served a mission to South Africa. And although she filled up her time with worthwhile things and was surrounded by good people who loved her, including forests of relatives, that didn’t take a way the fact that she went home to an empty house every evening, slept in a bed by herself, and woke up staring at an empty pillow. She had no one to make plans with, no one to share meals with and no one with whom she could anticipate the future. Sundays were the hardest. For my mother, this was like never waking from a bad dream.

Being single is hard at any age. And being an older single person comes with its own unique challenges. By that time people have lived pretty full lives. They’ve collected a lot of memories, children, and survived a variety challenges. It is different than two young 20-year-olds falling in love and building a life together. When you are older, lives have already been built. Change is not just hard, it is titanic. It is hard to find someone with whom you can relate and who will be willing to merge your lives together.

So when Terry came along, he road into my mother’s life like Zorro, saving the day. He owned horses (a passion of my mother’s), he was a crack-shot with a gun (I know some of you out there might not find this attractive, but we westerners do) and he could fix anything. My mother and Terry found they had much in common. They both had seven children. They both had the same beliefs. They both liked popcorn.

They were married by fall.

Surely it took adjustments for them as they settled into being married to a new person. I know it did. And their most stressful adjustment was probably us adjusting to them.  When a new person comes into a very old family, the transition can be tricky, and it goes much further than do we call him by his name or do we call him “Dad.” There is an unspoken resistance by the adult children that is painful and takes work to subdue.

Am I being disloyal to my father if I accept this new man in his place? Will Mom love him more than she loved Dad? Can we still tell stories about my dad?  Or do we have to stop talking when Terry enters the room? All we have left of my dad are the memories. If we can’t speak of him, and sing his songs, will my dad be forgotten? Oh the pain!

In an ironic twist, Terry’s name rhymes with Jerry, the name of my father. And to twist it even further, my dad was also good with horses, a gun and could fix anything.  My children would always see this newcomer as their grandfather. Who is this man to come in and take the place of my father? Not only that, but to elope with my mom like they were a couple of rebellious teenagers!

But I will admit the truth, that after observing the loneliness of my mother, and despite my fears, which I knew were 95% selfish, I was happy to welcome Terry into the family. But Terry still had to show us what he was made of. There were a lot of eyes watching him.

Was he a good guy?

My mother loves perfume. My father’s favorite scent on her was Beautiful, and my mom wore it all the time, even after my dad passed away. Terry, however, is allergic to Beautiful, and most of my mother’s other perfumes. But knowing that this was something important to her, he went to the fragrance counter at the department story and wheezed and choked through a half dozen bottles of perfume until he found one that didn’t make his eyes water. This he bought for her, and this is what she wears.

On Memorial Day he and my mother went to visit cemeteries. First they went to the cemetery where his wife is buried. Then they went to the cemetery over the mountain, where my father is buried. My father’s headstone was covered with dead grass. Terry got down on one knee and cleaned it off.  He noticed that the headstone had started to sink and was crooked, so later he brought a crowbar and pried it up, shook in some fill, giving it an new foundation. What kind of man does these things? A darn good one.

From the very beginning Terry made it clear that he was not a replacement. He was a bonus. And that is what we call him: Bonus Dad.

Ultimately, if an adult child wants peace and tranquility and if they desire to continue to have a relationship with their parent, they must humbly admit defeat: My dad is not coming back, my mom is alone, and God has sent us this gift. If our hearts only had room enough for a certain amount of people that would be a very sad thing. Fortunately, hearts can stretch. Infinitely.

Just before she met Terry, when my mother came home from her mission from South Africa, she sat on my couch and told me she felt as if she were at “rock bottom.” That is a scary thing  for a child, even an adult child, to hear from their parent. But since she married Terry I have watched her become a phoenix. They have served two missions together, built a house together, they ride horses, they go out on four wheelers, they eat popcorn for dinner . . . sometimes just popcorn. They are more like teenagers than teenagers. He is my mother’s elixir of life, she is his foxy lady. You can live a long time with that combination.

Terry and I have a joke. He always tells me “I love you” and I say “Thanks.”  I cannot return the sentiment. I just cannot. The words do not come out of my mouth.  I know I do love him (did you hear that, Terry?), but I can’t say it. And I won’t for a long time. I need to keep him waiting. Because the longer he has to wait for my “I love you” the longer he will have to stick around. And I want him to stick around as long as he possibly can.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Terry. I am happy for you, and I am proud of you.

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When I Grow Up

I just got back from vacation out West where I met with a lot of very, very old people.

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My father’s siblings and their spouses

First I met the mule man. His name is Lew. My mom wanted me and my kids to meet him since he had mules, and she thought my kids would like to come and feed them. Not my first idea of a good time, but I always do what my mother says.

We found Lew out back by the barn. I am pretty sure he was close to 800 years old. He had three mules tied up to a fence by the corral. He taught my kids how to hold their hands flat as they fed alfalfa pellets to the mules. Once they had mastered that skill he said, “I’ll teach you anther way to feed the mule, and if you can feed him like this I’ll go into the house and give you a dollar.” Then he took an alfalfa pellet, put it in his mouth, bent over, and to the horror of my children, he let the mule take the pellet from his lips.

After wiping a smile (and mule spit) from his mouth, the ancient man slung a saddle up on the mule, slung up Naomi, and then slung up Dan as easily as if they were all made of paper mache. He led the mule around in a few circles. Then Danny wanted to be in front, so Lew taught them how to switch places. He told Naomi to stand up on top of the saddle–yes, on top–and had Danny to crawl through her legs as she slid behind Danny’s back and viola! Like magic Danny was in the front. I wish you could have seen the pride shining in my children’s eyes at acquiring this novel, new skill. I could read Naomi’s mind: Now THIS is a TALENT!

After that he lifted Danny off the mule but told Naomi she could slide off the back of the mule’s rump, “but don’t ever do it on any other horse or mule unless you want to get your head kicked off.” As he was putting the saddle way he said to me, “Did you know that I have five daughters and each of them can ride a bucking horse and shoot, skin and clean their own elk. But my greatest regret is that not one of them can play the piano.” Before Naomi could say, Hey, that is not so bad! My mom piped up and said, “These girls can play piano! And they can sing for you. RIGHT NOW!”

So, since I always do what my mom tells me, we did. In Lew’s tack shed. Surrounded by saddles and ropes he made himself, while he sat misty-eyed on an old pick up truck seat. To our delight, he reciprocated by reciting a cowboy poem from memory. When it was time to go back to my Mom’s, Lew looked at my two-year-old and said, “Since you didn’t get to ride the mule I’ll take you on the four wheeler.” And then he drove my Levi back to the house, making sure they crossed under every single sprinkler a long the way. I may have had my doubts about the mule man when we arrived, but by the time we left I was his biggest fan.

Next I went to a family reunion, where I saw my Uncle John whom I have not seen for years. He engaged me in conversation in which he asked me all about my life. Then he called my children to him, looked them steadily in the eye and said, “Your grandfather had a beautiful voice, just like you. Did you know that? I knew your grandfather very well. He was a wonderful man. I know because he was a good friend of mine. And it is important that you to know how wonderful he was.”  I tell my kids every day how great my dad was, but like a lot of things, it doesn’t sink in until they can hear it from someone else. This was truly a great gift from my uncle, and one I will always be grateful for.

Finally, I attended the 90th birthday party of one of my favorite people in the world: my grandmother. Actually, she is not my grandmother. She is Scott’s grandmother, but I claim her whole heartedly. She is extremely intelligent, talented and has read almost every book ever written. When she talks to you she makes you feel like you are her absolute favorite grandchild, and that you possess talents that no one else has, and that your talents can make a difference in people’s lives and will change the world. And because she is who she is, you believe her. If you met her you would claim her as your grandmother, too.

All of these encounters make me wonder if I am cut out to be a good old person.

What kind of old lady will I be?  Will I be the old lady that complains about everything and tells the younger generation to take their shoes off and get out of my flowers or don’t touch my breakable things and eat your vegetables? Or will I have something wiser to say like “I remember your grandfather and he was a good singer and a good friend” or “you, my dear, have talents that will change the world” or “let me show you how to switch places on a mule.”

On the Forth of July I entered a 5K race. So did my husband, many of my in-laws and most of my kids and nieces and nephews. My athletic in-laws and competitive husband took off, leaving me behind with the smell their burned rubber, and I was on my own to pad my way amongst strangers down the streets of Manti. Before long footsteps came from behind and I looked to see my nephew, Max.

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There was no way I was going to be beaten by an 8-year-old. Especially one who is related to me. I broke away from him for a while, but a half mile later I heard those shoes coming up behind me again. So I let him keep pace with me, and we talked about the weather, the pros of stretching before a race, and how often he practiced running. Throughout all this I always made sure I was slightly ahead of him at all times. When there was a mile left he was still on my tail. (Inconceivable!) I debated what I should do. Should I pick up my pace and leave him behind?  After all, I do have a 28-minute personal best that I needed either meet or surpass. Besides that, if I came in too late I knew I would have to prepare a good verbal comeback for my husband when he asks if I stopped to pick flowers.

“How you doing, Max?”

“Okay.”

“Are you feeling good?”

“Yes.”

He looked good. His pace was good. He wasn’t limping, he wasn’t complaining. I measured up the situation, calculated the risks.

Then I asked,”You want to sprint the last part with me?”

“Yah.”

“Are you sure you can do it?”

“I’m sure.”

So as we rounded the corner to the finish line, we sprinted. I still could have left him and crossed first, but we ran side by side until right before the finish line when I pulled back and let him cross first.

Now he can say he can beat his aunt.

It is a start, I guess. Luckily, I am only 37. I have a lot of years still to learn how those 80 and 90 year olds do it. But hopefully, when I grow up and become an old lady, I will be a good one.

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By the way, my enchanting niece who also happens to be Idaho’s Miss Outstanding Teen, is doing a project called Bridging Generations. You should check it out. #BridgingGenerations

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My Mother: A Study in Great Fashion, Part 2

My dad often told people, “You owe it to your children to marry a beautiful wife.”

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He was a man who always practiced what he preached.

Some of you may remember the post I made last Mother’s Day. I wanted to make a part 2 of that post for this year’s celebration of Mom, but there were just too many wonderful photos. As I looked for a common theme, I discovered something about my parents I never knew: my dad loved to take photos of my mom in cool places in front of cool cars.

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The Fiat. My parents drove this before they were married. My mom said she didn’t like this car because it rattled too much and she had to hold the door closed as they drove.

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After they were married they drove this Karmann Ghia. Mom loved this car.

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This was a borrowed convertible that they took on a little joy ride to the other side of Utah Lake. This is where Saratoga Springs is now.


I love this photo so much I made it my screen saver on my laptop:

Patsy at Thermopolis 1969

Their first of many Ford pick-ups, at Mammoth Hot Springs

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The karmann ghia again at an old mission in San Luis Obisbo, CA

This is my dad’s very first fireworks stand/filling station in Jackson Hole. He and my mom ran everything since nothing was self-serve back then. This is her pumping gas for a customer.

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Then kids started coming along. Here is the first of seven.

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Karmann ghia

As the family got bigger the cars did, too.

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Lovely station wagon in the ghost town of South Pass City, Wyoming (I think).

By the time I came along (#6), we drove a massive blue van with no seat belts. I cannot find any photos of my mom posing in front of that, but I’m sure she still would have made it look great.

But then, my mom could make anything look good. 😉

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