Sunday, August 15, 2010
Eulogy for My Mother
Given at the Danish Hall, Enumclaw, Washington
August 15, 2010
Thank you everyone who came this afternoon to honor my mother, Myrna. It means the world to her family and I know she would be pleased you are here.
We are not here today to mourn my mother’s death. We are here to celebrate her life. It was a rich and rewarding life that lasted 89 years. She was full of energy, adventure and was active her entire life, right up until the end. Her life served as a healthy model to me as she strived to live it fulfilled.
My mom was born on May 3rd, 1921 the day before her older brother Russell’s 5th birthday. Her father, Carl Grove, emigrated from Denmark, arriving Ellis Island in January, 1911. Myrtine Petersen, her mother, was born to Danish immigrant parents in 1891. Baby Myrna Mae arrived that spring day, joining the family on their farm in the little town of Colman, South Dakota. She also joined a brother, Norbert, who was seven years older. Another baby girl, Verla came exactly five years later, just two days before Myrna’s own birthday.
The farm, named Ash Grove, was a fully functioning and thriving operation. When we were growing up, my mother told us tales of bareback horse riding in the fair weather and digging out of snowdrifts in the harsh winter months. There were gardens and fields that sustained the family and several others over many years. Cows, pigs, cats and dogs, chickens, geese and belligerent roosters that terrified Baby Verla. A beautiful two story wood house with a veranda was surrounded by acres of rich farmland; a real house on the prairie.
My mother had some brushes with fate in her life beginning at a very young age. When she was two, her father backed over her in his big Model T with steel rimmed tires. He couldn’t really see well and though there seemed to be something lumpy under his wheels, he continued to back out and ran over her with the front wheels, as well. Horrified to see his baby daughter in the mud, he picked her up and carried her to my grandmother, who’d heard his awful cries. Because the mud was so deep and soft, Mom amazingly survived. She liked to tempt fate though and when she was a few years older, convinced she should not wait for her ride from school, decided to walk home in a snowstorm. It’s really a miracle that my brothers and I are here to tell these tales. She managed to survive getting tired from walking, settling down in a snowdrift and falling asleep. Before she was completely covered, her brother who’d been searching for her found her and she escaped death once again.
In 1935, with the Depression having devastating effects on the farm, my grandfather moved his family out west, to Enumclaw. My mother didn’t want to move to Washington State and she did stay behind in South Dakota, but eventually completed high school in Enumclaw, after enjoying wonderful friendships, an admirable academia and enthusiastic participation in the thespian society. I remember over the years her reciting lines from her favorite performance in Charlie’s Aunt.
Besides my mother’s theatrical talents, she was an accomplished musician. She was pianist and later organist under Lutheran steeples, Danish gatherings and impromptu songfests and continued to tickle the ivories until only weeks before her death.
She learned to wait tables at a young age, working in Enumclaw at the Canteen, which was later Harold’s, and in her twenties, in Los Angeles, where she had also worked as an aircraft builder. In 1944, she met my father, John Lewis Rieck, 16 years her senior. He was working as a bartender at the Elk’s in Seattle and Mom was looking for a better job. Dad hired Mom, they fell instantly in love and were married three weeks later. (Yes, three weeks. And that was a marriage that lasted 42 years.) In a few months, my dad was off to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, followed shortly by my mom. She almost didn’t make it. Tempting fate again, she slipped on the icy decks and nearly slid through the stern of the boat into the Bering Sea, saved by a lone sailor, the only other person in sight at the time. It was an exciting and sometimes frightening time in Unalaska, where warships could be seen daily off the coast.
In the following years, my parents moved to Olympia, where they ran a little gas station, with an adjoining store. Those were good years, with the birth of their first baby, John Carl, JC, in 1946. Then mom got spinal meningitis and had another battle with the other side. But she wasn’t ready to go, even though she always claimed she’d heard angels singing. Once she recovered, they moved to Enumclaw where baby Margo Jodyne was born in 1949. The little house out by the Wishbone Inn where they first lived is long gone but their next home, on Kibler Avenue is still standing and that is the home of my childhood memories. We lived there when little Roy Dana was born in November, 1958. For awhile, Mom’s brother, my Uncle Russ lived in a little house next to ours and we kids grew very close to him. It was a devastating loss when he died after an accident working at Boeing in 1961. In 1966, my grandparents had just moved into a house on the same block on Kibler, when my mother’s mother passed away suddenly on Easter Sunday. Her dad died in Denmark, only 4 months later while visiting his sister. They were married 54 years.
For a brief time, we lived on Porter St, right here next to the Danish Hall. It has always seemed longer to me, but we lived there for one year while our house on Kibler was being remodeled. The old kitchen was tiny and Mom needed more room for her growing baking business. The new kitchen was huge and it was the first official home of Myrna’s Kitchen. Many of you will fondly remember the blue and white Dodge van, known as the Cookie Wagon. Many wedding cakes were delivered in that car. I won’t forget the cakes my dad and I delivered and oftentimes, Mom was home working on another one. He would drive like the car was full of hummingbird eggs, drop off the first cake (sometimes as far away as Seattle or Tacoma) then tear back home, watch Mom put on the finishing touches and off we’d go again. Myrna’s cookies were legend.
Her Christmas cookies, delicious Danish delicacies, were a labor of love. This last year she lamented that she’d only been able to bake eight different varieties. That was because she didn’t produce as quickly as she used to but it was also because Christmas was a very busy time for her and a time of year she truly loved. To quote from her 1996 journal, “Christmas has always meant so much to me: purchasing gifts and wrapping, decorating the house, writing cards and letters, stringing the lights outside, candy making, cookie baking, lever postej, rolle pulse.” That was the year she spent Christmas in Denmark with her cousins Erik and Myrna Storgaard. It was a hard decision to go but one she never regretted. Lile Jul Aften in our family, Danish Christmas is a very special time. Traditional food, drink and song, and family getting together just this one time of year was a ritual my mother cherished and honored after her parents were gone.
My dad died in February, 1985 and my mom was only four years older than I am now. She missed him so very much but she knew the answer was staying active. And for the next 25 years, that is exactly what she did. She was an avid golfer and a fierce card player. She enjoyed her morning swims at the local Community Center and kept a fast pace walking. She continued to bake, cook and entertain and little slowed her down. She worked as a chef at Anderson House, took small catering and baking jobs and when she moved to Fircrest, even worked for a babysitting service for awhile. She had many hobbies, quilting, doll-making, sewing, reading, bible study. In later years she began to keep journals and had one notebook where she wrote down her favorite quotes and poems, from which the May Sarton quote came in your handout today. That was one of the last things she copied into her book, after her diagnosis. She loved writing letters and receiving mail. My parents once had an entire wall lined with bowling trophies. Myrna was a member for several years of the walking club Volkssport. She was a faithful Sister to the Danish Sisterhood and loved traveling to conventions, whether a delegate or not, and had wonderful memories with hilarious tales to tell. A lifelong baptized, confirmed and devout Lutheran, she was a member of Hope Lutheran in Enumclaw and their organist until she moved to Anderson Island where she was actively involved in the church there.
Later, she joined St. John’s Lutheran in Tacoma. When she lived on the island she was a very active member in the Anderson Historical Society and the Community Club. My mom started FISH, with Dort Hart, in Enumclaw, a community outreach program for the needy. She raised money and walked in many 5 K’s, including the Bloomsday in Spokane and was a participant in the America Cancer Society’s Relay For Life in the past few years, making even more precious friends.
In 1988 she hosted a French exchange student and entertained Helene all over the state. In her mid-80’s she began taking Spanish lessons.
She absolutely adored her seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren and bent many an ear bragging about them.
My mother drove herself to the doctor on May 26th. She’d not been feeling well and actually complained of a headache that wouldn’t go away and she ached all over. I knew when we had lunch that Monday that there was something wrong, as my mother rarely complained. The Grove sisters celebrated their 89th and 84th birthdays together on May 3. My Aunt Verla had broken her hip and shoulder in January and my mother went that day to stay with her as she was moved from nursing home back to her apartment at Radcliffe Place in Kent. The sisters were able to spend nearly three treasured weeks together, lunching, playing cards (but they were so busy they hardly had time for that), visiting and reminiscing. Myrna even got to go on a shopping spree with my cousin Marci, a pastime they both thoroughly enjoyed sharing. God does have a plan. In hindsight, those three weeks were precious and both my aunt and my mother were very thankful for that opportunity. On May 28th, the doctors gave my mother their dire diagnosis. She opted not for surgery or chemotherapy but decided to have ten days of radiation, which helpfully eased the pain. It was an agonizing decision for her. She had to decide quickly and, as she put it, she needed to “get her affairs in order.” She said “I don’t want to linger. I don’t want to be a burden. I don’t want to be in pain.” I won’t forget that day as I entered her hospital room and we talked about the future, what needed to be done. In the next couple weeks she arranged for a day to sit down with her three kids with lists. Mom was the master of lists. She was the most organized, prepared person I will ever know.
In the past few days, I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of going through old photos. I could wallpaper both levels of this building with the photos she kept. As I put together these montages, I have been reminded of how much fun my mother had living, how much she enjoyed life. When she contemplated trips to see the fjords of Norway, the fall foliage of the Northeast United States, Nashville, Disneyland and Disney World, Spain and Italy, the Caribbean. Virgin Islands and so many other places, we encouraged her.
She met her grandson Charlie in Paris and traveled with him when she went on her trip to Denmark for her 86th birthday. She spent time in Copenhagen with her granddaughter Emily when Emily was at the University of Copenhagen. She traveled with both Dani and Emily as they participated in Danish conventions, competitions and festivities.
She held on to her purse in Morocco, climbed cliffs in California, hiked in the jungles of Mexico, just in the last few years.
My mom had many friends and was loved by young and old. She could carry on a conversation with anyone and often did. She was an opinionated liberal and didn’t mind sharing her views.
I don’t suppose I have reconciled with my mother’s death. I think that will take some time. And I know my brothers and I will miss her terribly. She never got to see my little apartment in Seattle and we talked about that a few weeks into her illness. I told her I was sad she wouldn’t ever see it and the wonderful things she had given me to make it a home. I thought she was just exhibiting another sign of her growing confusion when she patted my hand and said “I’ll be there.” But she wasn’t. She is and she always will be there.
I’d like to thank Joan and the Danish sisters today for making this memorial possible and also those who contributed to the display. Thank you all for coming and thank you for your kindness, your cards, your flowers, your contributions.
Thank you to Dana and his daughter, Dani for diligently staying with mom in the few short weeks she had left with us.
I would like to extend a special thank you to my brother JC for not complaining or wavering, always being reliable and sacrificing more than many of us can know during my mother’s short illness. He was the absolute rock of Gibraltar of our family and I am eternally grateful.
Please join us and share your own memories of my mom and enjoy the desserts provided by the Danish Sisterhood.
My mother will be missed by many. Thank you for coming.