Betty Barr Boilesen

In Memorium

     

 

In Memory of Betty Ann Barr Boilesen, October 26, 2000

By Doug Boilesen

Friends of the Phonograph will recognize this photograph of my parents as a take-off from the famous 1905 Edison advertisement "The Phonograph," often called the "Old Couple." My mom loved occasions for people to come together and their gift of this image for one of our phonograph birthday parties still makes me smile. The following are words I delivered at her funeral on October 30, 2000.

My mom loved to tell stories about her childhood and she instilled in us a sense of pride about the pioneer spirit that her parents and grandparents epitomized. She was a member of what Tom Brokaw calls the "Greatest Generation." She lived through the depression, she saw her true love go off to war, she worked at the Grand Island Airbase during the War, she had the joy of her true love safely returning home, marrying him, raising a family, watching her grandsons grow, and having 54 wonderful years of marriage.

To her core, she was a Nebraskan. Her grandparents homesteaded in Nebraska in the 1870's, her parents farmed the land, lost their ranch in the depression, then continued farming for another 20 years. My mom's father was a true cowboy who bachelored for many years before marrying my grandmother. My grandmother had been widowed much earlier with two small boys and a girl. With nearly 20 years difference in age, her half-brothers Chris and Ray and sister Fay Vogt would become like an aunt and uncles to my mom who was to be the only child of my grandfather. My grandfather was tough as nails but my mom was the apple of his eye and she could melt him with a smile.

Faye, Chris and Ray Vogt, circa 1908 Elba, Nebraska

From the stories I've heard, I don't think she had to do many chores when she was growing up. Instead, I believe she was developing her imagination and appreciation for times when relatives or girl friends would come to visit. She loved going to school where she could be with her friends, and she especially looked forward to trips to the big city - Grand Island. She loved to be around people, and birthdays and holidays with friends and family were always special.

On their farm there was a flat, weedy area close to their house that my mom always tried to keep mowed. She thought it would make a great area for playing croquet. Of course, they didn't own a croquet set and they never did get one, but she was going to be ready when they did. Years later we had many family games of croquet and my mom was a great competitor who loved to win. She and my dad played bridge with many friends over the years. Many of you here today played cards with her and you know how much she enjoyed those games. But it obviously wasn't about playing croquet or playing cards or winning. It was about spending time with those she cared about. And it was this caring and the love that she radiated that made her special.

My mother had a unique talent for relating to strangers. She could ride on a bus or a plane and come home with stories about who she sat with and a synopsis of their lives. When I go on a plane I read a book or I sleep. But not my mom. That would be missing an opportunity to meet someone and find out what they are thinking. When she was a little girl, she would walk to the railroad tracks to watch the passenger train go by. She was fascinated by what she thought those people were eating and talking about as they zoomed by in their Burlington Zephr cars. I'm sure she would then interpret in great detail what she thought was going on in those passing train cars to whomever she was with.

I can imagine those scenes so well because years later she still had that knack. We would go to restaurants and you always had her attention. But if there was a break in the conversation and she overheard someone at the next table, the phrase that she heard would soon become part of our conversation and she would speculate on what they were talking about. But the amazing thing was that it wasn't gossipy or vicarious. She had a genuine interest in people and who they are. And because of that attitude, many of you here today got to know her and be transformed from strangers to dear friends. To my mom, her friends were like extended family. I know she always felt your love and always carried that love in her heart.

When my mom was selecting her oncologist, one of her first questions of the doctor was did he have a family. Did he have children? Did he go to church? She found this particular doctor a bit cool and formal and she felt it was important that she could relate to him on a personal level. And despite his initial reluctance to relate to her in the way she wanted, she decided to go ahead and select him as her doctor and make it sort of a project of hers to soften him. I think if you would ask that doctor today, he'd tell you that she did have a special effect on him.

When she was in hospital this last time she got to know a lot of the nurses and staff. But in particular there was a woman who cleaned her room. She was Egyptian and her husband was at the University working on his doctorate. She was soft spoken and her English was somewhat broken, but my mother would always talk with her whenever she came in and you could see in her eyes that this young woman genuinely enjoyed answering my mom's questions. My mom would later say to me, "Do you think any of the staff here realize what an intelligent and wonderful woman they have working here cleaning these rooms? It bothered my mom to think how lonely this woman might be, living in a foreign country, doing a job she was overqualified for, and potentially not talking to anyone all day. It was typical of my mom's concern for others. There was no judgement in her soul, simply love and caring.

Love and care is what my mom practiced to perfection for 54 years as wife and mother. For her, family was what it was all about. My mom wanted all holidays and all family birthdays and even the purchase of new china to be occasions for the family to gather and share. Even her transition from life in a sense became a family gathering. For us, not a day will go by that she doesn't enter our thoughts.

In the poem entitled "My Legacy", the last stanza reads:

Oh, there might be a little money,
And a few trinkets from my past,
But I'd really prefer instead to give them,
Precious blessings that I know would last.

 

It's true that trinkets and material things don't matter. But trinkets can be used to remember someone. Some of you might have something that brings my mom to mind: You might have a recipe of hers, or a birthday gift or a photograph or a quote that you know she liked. Today, my sister is wearing the sweater that my mom wore when she came home from hospital after she gave birth to my sister. My wife is wearing my mom's turquoise necklace. There are pink roses on the table with her urn recalling the pink roses of her wedding. This church itself has an unbelieveable number of connections to her life.

We all have things or associations we can link to her. But in the end LOVE is her greatest legacy. And it is truly the most precious blessing anyone could give.

In closing, I'll leave you with the image of my mom as a little girl standing beside my grandmother in the parlor of their farmhouse. At the end of each day, my grandfather would be walking in from the fields, and the sun would be setting, and my grandmother would sit down at the piano and start singing "Evening Prayer". It goes:

If I have wounded any soul today
If I have caused one foot to go astray
If I have walked in my own will power's way
dear Lord forgive
Forgive the secret sins I do not see
Forgive the sins I now confess to thee
and guide me, love me, keeper be
dear Lord.

 

I think those words echoed through my mom all of her life. In the last weeks of my mom's life she spoke of dreams and visions of her parents and Christ waiting for her in a doorway. In her new role of guardian angel, I know she has now joined them and is singing those lines again with her mother, as her father quietly listens.