Mom died during the great pandemic but not before it retreated dramatically because of the near-miraculous vaccines; family had time and opportunity to be with her in her waning months/weeks/days. Great hospice care helped immensely. What follows is my eulogy….
Mom loved a good story. After Dad died, she read lots of fiction. Brother Bob supplied a steady diet of books for her kindle device. As Mom’s vision got worse and worse, the type size got bigger and bigger. When she could no longer read, Bob switched to audio books. As her hearing got worse and worse, the volume got louder and louder. After her stroke she relied on “Alexa” for help. I’d call, and a book would be blaring in the background until she would say, “Alexa, stop!”
Through each new challenge, she adapted and persevered. This, it turns out, was a major theme in her own story. Adapt and persevere. Months ago…when Mom had suffered yet another decline and was struggling just to walk…you’d think she might complain. She’d certainly earned the right to complain! But she looked at me and asked, “Do you think I’m gonna pull out of this?” How could you not love that kind of spirit!
The truth be told, Mom was not one to seek out challenges or take bold initiatives. Rather, the twists and turns of life were imposed on her. She was always a bit anxious and worried about what might come next. The irony is that playing defense in life turned out to be a winning offense. It resulted in the long and fruitful life we celebrate today.
Right from the start, life offered-up the unexpected. At nine months old, Clarie was brought to America from Sweden. At Ellis Island she had to be quarantined: a smallpox risk. The young family settled in the northern Illinois town of Rockford, where there was a vibrant community of Swedish immigrants. Mom’s father was one of five brothers who all came to Rockford with their respective mates. The Lutheran Church anchored the close-knit community as they pursued the American Dream. Through their work ethic, sacrifice and mutual support, they helped write the story of America’s ”Greatest Generation”.
When Mom was a young girl, now with a younger brother, the unexpected hit again; her parents divorced. Scandalous for the times. Mom moved in with her aunt and uncle, and her cousin, Rosemary, became like a sister. Meanwhile, Clarie’s mother and the baby brother moved to Minneapolis and the stage was set for mom to meet her future husband there. At the time, Bill Johnson, was a Minnesota farm boy one-hundred-eighty miles to the north.
Clarie’s mother and her new husband owned a large house in Minneapolis where they rented out rooms to college students. Mom stayed there one summer to help with the boarding-house chores. Bill was tipped off by a friend at the house about a lovely Swedish girl, the landlord’s daughter. Bill showed up for a visit. A romance blossomed and the new boyfriend and girlfriend carried on a distance relationship between Rockford and Minneapolis.
Historical events struck next. After Pearl Harbor, Dad enlisted in the Navy and went to San Diego for training. The farm boy from frigid Minnesota got a glimpse of the promised land, and the stage was set for California to become their future home.
Dad called Mom from San Diego with news of his orders to be shipped out to the war front, and they decided to get married right away. Train tickets were hard-to-get but Mom got one by posing as the wife of a sailor. It’s hard to imagine her at bustling Union Station in Chicago, approaching a total stranger to ask if she could be his wife. Whoa mama! Now, you’re playin offense! Bill and Clarie were married in San Diego on leap day in 1944. Technically, they only had seventeen anniversaries. Dad could only be accused of forgetting an anniversary once every four years.
A wonderful turn of events imposed itself on the newlyweds.
Instead of being shipped overseas, Dad was ordered to San Francisco! They rented a room in the fabled city by the bay and enjoyed an
unexpected year together. For their honeymoon they went to Lake Tahoe and got so sunburned they couldn’t touch each other. Wartime secrecy prevailed at the time, and one day Dad shipped out without warning, leaving Mom a note under her pillow. Clarie left her secretary job and returned to Rockford.
After the war, Dad wanted to settle in Los Angeles. Mom didn’t want to leave Rockford for a new place far from friends and family. But Dad was determined, and Mom had to adapt and persevere. Later in life, the kids were grown and Dad worked for the Irvine Company. He wanted to move to the new promised land of Orange County, but mom didn’t want to leave the San Fernando Valley. They ended up moving, and we bought Mom a wall plaque that read, “Bloom where you’re planted”. Turned out, Newport Beach wasn’t such a bad place!
Mom and Dad were devoted to each other and their three boys.
They lived in service to their family. Allen, Bob and I had the benefit of unwavering love and support. The people at Emmanuel Church became our extended family. We attended the church day school, the church picnics, the church summer camps.
I remember Mom and Dad having only one fight. We were young children, and Dad was president of the congregation at Emmanuel. One evening, he went to one too many board meetings. After a long day, Mom was left alone to wrangle the three boys through dinner and homework and bath time. What could possibly be a problem? We couldn’t walk past each other without throwing a punch, or walk through a doorway without slapping the overhead with a greasy hand. We’d re-enact TV wrestling matches, posing as “The Destroyer” “Mr. Moto” or “Tricky Ricky Star”. When Dad got home that night, there was an animated discussion. And then, it was over. I think they even apologized to us afterward.
And “oh-by-the-way” Mom led a professional life as well. In addition to the shopping/cooking/cleaning/laundry and non-stop schlepping at home, she was the secretary at a local real estate office. Eventually she became executive secretary at Coldwell Banker in the Valley and then Newport Beach. She also managed our family rental units: placed the ads, showed the apartments, wrote the leases, managed the money.
Throughout life, Mom made friends readily…and kept them. She was a great listener, she had a keen intuition, and no big ego to feed. Cleaning up at the house a couple weeks ago, I found a folded paper in mom’s address book that had been put there sometime after her stroke. A contemporary had died in Rockford and it was a condolence note to the daughter. Mom scrawled a message with her shaky hand, crossed it out, and then tried again without any improvement. Then, she must have dictated it. This was such a reflection of her essence: always trying to connect with family, always thinking of someone else, always willing to adapt and persevere.
She outlived nearly everyone from her generation. Today we celebrate and honor the matriarch of our family. She was the glue that held us together. She kept track of what everyone was doing right to the end. And she worried on behalf of everyone right to the end. We used to tell her not to worry so much. Then we realized it was actually her secret method for focusing the mind and staying mentally fit.
Our lives have all been touched by Clarie. She taught us when to adapt, and when to persevere. Her story doesn’t end of course; it continues through us as we write our own stories. No doubt, she is singing today to see us gathered together in her name. We’re so richly blessed to have been her family and friends. May her memory always be a blessing.