A to Z Family Stories: V for Vera

My  mother wanted this wonderful lady included in our family stories to make sure we remembered her contributions. She didn’t come into the family until most of us children were past the age of spending a lot of time with a grandparent.  We knew her a little from seeing her at church and hearing about her at school – although none of us had her as a teacher.  She did so much for my grandfather and helped him in a difficult time of life when he suffered from Parkinson’s. She was there when he died. 

V for Vera

The Olsons were a Swedish family with nine girls (I know !!) – Esther, Hilda, Agnes, Ellen, Sigrid, Hilma, Bertha, Elvira, and Nina. Elvira Constance Olson or Vera, as she was known, was the next to the youngest of the nine. As the family got older and the girls married, the town became full of related families, the Petersons, the Johnsons, the Goruds, a regular Scandinavian mash-up. Swedish people always had the coffee pot on whenever guests arrived and probably even when there weren’t guests. Coffee at 10 and 2, like high tea, included bread, cheese, donuts, cookies, pickles… a real spread. It was hospitality and just what proper people did. It’s one of the pleasant things we remember about Vera.

Vera and John Boone at a family reunion around 1975.
Vera and John Boone at a family reunion around 1975.

Vera was 59 and Grandpa was 69 when they married. She was his third wife. Vera had been single until then, perhaps because she was the one who had been “elected” to care for the parents until they died. She was a teacher in an outlying country school until education was consolidated in town. She taught second grade for many years. She was a successful, independent woman who had her own house, her own car and her own money. Grandpa moved in with her at her house in town after their marriage. Even though farming was not her usual aspiration, she did go out to the farm with Grandpa and helped take care of that house too as it was being maintained by a bachelor who needed help of that kind.

Grandpa and Vera were well matched socially. They loved being with others and often got together for rousing games (crazy eights, ha ha). Grandpa loved to participate in fun and Vera’s family seemed to enjoy him. Vera was a fisher woman and it was also something others in her family did so Grandpa learned to add himself to the boat.

My memories of Vera were often in the setting of church. She was one of those ladies who dressed smartly and wore hats well. Mom helped to distribute the household after both Grandpa and Vera died. She was given one of Vera’s hats.

a “smart” looking hat, although years in the attic have made their mark.

She also remembers finding a small cedar chest full of doilies, tablecloths and linens of all kinds, again accompaniments to the coffee klutch way of life. I grew up knowing that term, coffee klatch, but was never sure where it came from or what it meant until researching this post. I found it had a German derivation having something to do with gossip, which I would alter somewhat in this case. Swedish hospitality, especially for Vera and her family was just sharing life and knowing each other, as all close families should.

The Older Generation. Party!!!

It happened so quickly. Suddenly, I’m giving a New Year’s Day party that’s about three times bigger than I anticipated.  I don’t do parties like I used to and I’m kind of wondering about myself.

For about a week I have been planning to take the New Year’s holiday shifts with my client, Jack. The other girls have taken so many extra days while I’ve been gone, including the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays so it’s fitting that I should give them a holiday off.  Besides, working for Jack is hardly like working at all.  I have to go beyond nursing responsibilities to things like determining what chores stress Jack out and how can I help with them?  Sorting mail and helping fill out insurance forms are common tasks, as are cleaning and organizing closets, getting rid of clutter.  These are all things Jack’s wife would do if she were alive.  And some days that’s how I decide how to spend my time, asking “what would Carol do?”

On New Year’s day I thought Carol would probably enjoy seeing Jack watch football with a few of his friends.  So I suggested that, if he felt up to it, he might invite a few people over.  Jack is doing so much better these days, getting stronger and more independent, and well, he jumped at the chance.  For seven months his friends have been visiting him in the hospital and doing things for him so he is eager to host them for a little fun.  Jack is probably the most hospitable person I know. After retiring from the Navy he spent over 20 years arranging conventions for different associations as their hospitality expert.  He loves to take people out to eat.  And he and Carol used to entertain in their home quite often.

Today I explored the details of what Jack had in mind.  I had already given him the bare outline of my intended menu to see what he thought of it.  I asked him how many people I needed to get ready for.  He started making a list.  It took him a while, but finally he said twelve or thirteen. That was about ten more than I envisioned so I began conscious breath control and sat and thought a bit.  He went back to the list and a few minutes later he amended the number to 19, because surely there would be some who wouldn’t be able to come.

There you have it.  I’ll be throwing a party at Jack’s house for pretty much all his close friends, most of whom are over 50 and many of whom are over 75 (Jack is 81).  I think it’s pretty safe to say that activities will be limited to eating safe food and watching several hours of football, early football, probably the Rose Bowl, party over at 8 pm,

I think I remember how to care for a house full of people, and I’m pretty sure I’ll have a great time seeing Jack have a great time.  But this whole thing did kind of sneak up on me, and I have to say that sometimes I kind of wonder about myself…

What do you think you are going to be doing on New Year’s Day?  

Heading East Again.

Group photo op Prek Eng 5 family
Group photo op
Prek Eng 5 family

But to be precise, I don’t really know which way you would say Cambodia is from where I am. I could get there in almost any direction because it’s pretty much on the other side of the world. I think the plane flies north over the pole.

After hours and hours of seeing nothing because it’s dark, I usually look out on what I am guessing are the mountains of Siberia. I remember thinking how cold, rugged and barren that area looks from up in the sky (and probably from down on the ground too – I’ve heard things about Siberia).  We land in Seoul, stand in several lines, change planes and fly for another six hours to Phnom Penh.

Things really warm up there.  Suddenly I’m back in a climate much like the one I left in Florida and surrounded by excited children. The hugs and smiles just don’t stop and their helping hands take all our bags and they lead us to the transport vehicles. All 40 plus children and house parents come to get us and come again to see us off ten days later. Kindness, gentleness, patience and love, love, love… from them to us.

This December I will be taking my third trip to Cambodia.  Things change so fast over there.  This year instead of being scattered all over the city of Phnom Penh in rented housing, the children have five new homes in progress on a central campus. There was not even one building on the property last year.  The church and education center was the first to be built.  The jungle has been cleared away, gardens have been planted. Thanks to Facebook I see pictures of foundations being poured, tile being laid, landscaping taking form. And yes, they take lots of pictures of their food too.  I am eagerly anticipating this visit.

And of course, the children are growing up, The older ones are making plans for educating themselves in university and the trades.  Last year a men’s dorm for university students was started and was amazingly successful.  This year the women are also getting a dorm and some of the Asia Hope girls will be living there as they go to school. I will probably get a chance to talk with them several mornings before they head out and I’m looking forward to encouraging them and telling them how special they are.

They are truly Asia’s hope for the future. I am so blessed to have a window on the changes taking place there – and an opportunity to meet needs as they are expressed.  Last year donations from many friends helped provide needed prophylactic medications for all 15 orphan homes for two years, plus some equipment for medical examinations.  That was one FUN shopping trip! I am asking for donations again this year, if any readers are so inclined. I can guarantee that the funds are put to good use. God provides, but you are his vehicle.

Being there always inspires me, and I think it will inspire you as well. I’m just sayin’, stay in touch if you want to watch this year’s trip unfold in December.