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Remembering MaMa

HelenPetersonBY JANET GILLESPIE

My mother would have been embarrassed by this attention, but I know she would have also been very honored…it feels like just yesterday that I was reflecting on my dad’s life…now, all too soon, I celebrate my mom’s life.

It was no accident or stroke of good luck when God moved the Adam family across the street from my parents in 2005. They began helping and supporting my parents and me from day one. They visited, mowed lawns, shoveled walks, brought meals and adopted my parents (and me) into their family. As my parent’s needs grew, so did the helpfulness and support from Thor, Mary and their children. I don’t really have words to tell you, Thor and Mary, how your coming along side me in the last 3 1/2 weeks of mom’s life lifted me up. I knew all I had to do was call and you would come, which you did 3 times in one day on the last day of her life.

Mary, your help, advice and guidance with medications, your translations of “doctorese,” a language I don’t speak, sitting for hours with me in the ER, making sure I ate, are all things I will never adequately be able to thank you for, but do know I will never forget your kindness to mom and me. Thor, thanks for all your phone calls checking on us and thank you for all of the furniture moving you’ve done in the last 3 1/2 years.

I was incredibly blessed by the gift of being entrusted to and adopted by Helen and Carl Peterson.

Her smile was sweet though somewhat shy. But behind that smile was a rather dry sense of humor which she probably inherited from her Scottish father. Helen was the second of four girls born to Thomas and Minnie Esdaile on a farm in Ayr, ND. Mom’s maternal grandparents, Solomon and Jemima Alm, immigrated from Sweden about 1880 with their three children. Nine more children would follow when they reached the United States. Helen’s paternal grandparents lived in Scotland and never met their four American granddaughters.

Helen’s mother, Minnie, was very close to all eleven of her siblings throughout her life. However, writing to each one would have taken an inordinate amount of time so they developed a letter chain. When a packet of letters arrived they would read but not keep the letters, add their own and send the packet on to the next sibling. These letters from her aunts and uncles were another highlight. When mom was 11, the Esdailes moved to Braham, Minnesota. She was 11 when she first saw my dad who noticed her and said to his friends that when she grew up she was “going to be a real looker.” A chance meeting in Minneapolis with Helen’s older sister Agnes resulted in a meeting and first date for Carl and Helen, which apparently went well because they married on August 24,1940, and were married for 74 years.

From their marriage on, Helen’s story is really Helen and Carl’s story. My parents were always a team. My dad was the one with the ideas and my mom was the one who made my dad’s ideas and dreams become reality. When my dad started his business in the 1950s, my mom, who had gone back to school and studied accounting after she stopped teaching, took on the role of accountant for my dad’s business. When my dad started organizing high school class reunions, my mother was the one who was working quietly behind the scenes finding addresses for classmates, writing letters and making posters.

After graduating from Marshall High School my mom went on to teacher’s college. She taught school for five years and then chose to make her career establishing a home and family. Being a teacher didn’t stop however just because she wasn’t in a formal classroom. When I started kindergarten at 4 years old, I had already read all the Dick and Jane books. Incorrect grammar was not allowed in our house and anything written was corrected for both grammar and spelling. The Bible was sacred to my mom, but any book, magazine or newspaper was not far behind. Growing up during the depression these items were not readily available to her, and she loved to read and had a passion for knowledge and learning. So when they became available to her, she not only read them, but saved them, all of them! Oh! and you never, ever wrote in a book (or your Bible). You wrote notes on little slips of paper and left them in the pages of your book or magazine. For my mom, reading every day was like the air she breathed, a necessity. I just had to “google” my mom to find information on any topic! I once asked her why she saved so many books and magazines and she said, “well, you never know what life is going to bring, and if I’m really poor in my old age, I’ll have something to read.”

The last years of my mom’s life were not easy for her. She was hospitalized several times and spent an extended time in a rehab facility with a wound on her leg. While she was here she asked me to find a song in the old brown hymnal and make a copy of it for her because she couldn’t remember all the words. The song she wanted goes like this: “When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.” So even in pain and discouragement later in life, she was still setting an example and teaching me how to respond with grace to hardship.

I love you, MaMa, and I still want to be like you.

This Memorial Tribute by Janet Gillspie spoken by her at the Memorial Celebration for Helen on July 2nd, has been shortened greatly for publication here. For the complete Tribute read it on the website site alleynews.org.

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