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
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
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:
might be a little money,
|And a few
trinkets from my past,
|But I'd really
prefer instead to give them,
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
|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
secret sins I do not see
sins I now confess to thee
me, love me, keeper be
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.
Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying
our hopes for love, joy and celebration. The hummingbird's
delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere,
every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is
life's sweetest creation.