A collection of distilled sarcastic wisdom, numerous photographs, discussions of books and stuff to learn and more stuff to think about from a retired economics professor turned blogger and photographer.
Velna Blood with her parents, Volney and Pearl Black
My parents, Russell and Minnie Blood
Today is a day of remembrance. My wife, the mother, grandmother, and great grandmother of our own descendants has been gone since October 22 2015. Velna's parents , Volney and Pearl Black, and my parents, Russell and Minnie Blood, stand at the head of our growing family. We each carry a gene or two from each of our forebears. Not a day goes by that I don't remember my parents for the love, example of integrity and honesty that they endowed us with, and the enormous sacrifices they made to raise their family of six children, first through the Great Depression of the 1930s and then through the arduous years of eking out a bare-bones living on the farm in Penrose.
I often remember Velna's parents who were so kind to me and supportive of the blossoming friendship between Velna and me and then raised not a single objection to our marriage. I think of Volney, the locomotive engineer, going around town to pay his bills in his engineer's outfit, to save the postage of mailing the bills. I think of Pearl, Velna's mother, who took me in and fed me when I was starving and who flashed the porch light to signal to Velna that it was time for her to come in from the freezing Laramie cold.
My mother was first and foremost a teacher, and she did more than frown if we shirked our duties. My dad was one of the hardest working men I ever knew, irrigating and haying and shoveling and milking cows and working 16 hour summer days and yet with the gentle and creative soul of an artist in his legacy of marquetry work that graces the walls of all of his descendants. Of course, there are many others: my grandparents, Velna's grandparents, and others among our families who went before us. But we pause on this memorial day with a thankful heart and a head full of wonderful memories as we shed a tear or two for our losses and try to emulate the examples of those we have lost to make the best of our own remaining days. To my wife, Velna, you were the love and light of my life and I still struggle some times to get through the day without stumbling, without having you to ask if my symptoms are serious, to have someone to show my photos to and read my writing and tell me that whatever I cooked, no better how bad I thought it was, was still delicious. Dear girl, I do not ever remember an act of unkindness or criticism or regret from you in all of our years, and that is far more than I deserved. But we remember you and our other forebears in a special way on this special Memorial Day 2016.
Dear Megan, Once in awhile a rare gem of a thought or a picture so penetrates our hearts that it becomes something so special that we treasure it forever. Such a rare gem came in your response on Facebook when we were discussing the photo I tried to take at Thanksgiving Point but failed because all of the people were in the way. So you took a photo of the same place and sent it to me and that was surely enough to lift my spirits. But then the unexpected happened: You said that perhaps we could go together to the garden again when the roses bloom. And I read those tender words so ripe with beauty and hope and sat down and wept. The last time I saw the roses bloom at Thanksgiving Point I was with Velna and took many hundreds of photos, as usual. The hope that I could return there with you to retrace those precious moments gives me great hope and wonderful expectations. I seldom wept throughout my life until the last few years with Velna's illness and her leaving us. Now, somehow, a thought that evokes the deepest feelings of our hearts in such a tender way that the tears begin to flow happens more often and I am no longer ashamed when it happens. Your comment reminded me of the sad and beautiful words of the Irish song "Oh Danny Boy," and the thought of returning again "when summer's in the meadow."
I am so grateful for you and for each of my grandchildren and greatgrandchildren. I wonder some times how I can still be of use to anyone. But your continued concern and love from all of you are sources of great strength and hope for me as I continue to watch each of you from my vantage point and rejoice with you in your successes and struggle with you in your trials. Thank you again dear Meggie, who used to chase the butterflies when you were a little girl and who has always been a lover of flowers and beautiful things. Love from your Grandpa Blood.
I have only rarely looked in Velna's trunk during the past 63 years since that is where she kept and hid her treasures. I decided to open the trunk the other day and discovered a box, slightly larger than a shoe box, that was sealed on all sides with heavy duty strapping tape. Velna obviously meant to protect the contents from prying eyes. After spending five minutes with a sharp knife, I was able to open the box. And this is what I found: every letter I wrote Velna from the time I met her in 1950 until we got married in December 1952, three years later, and every letter she had written to me during that time. I had no idea for 63 years that she had saved the letters she had written to me and I know I had asked her about those letters several times. We met in January 1950 on a blind date. I began my letter writing the following summer when I had to return home to the farm in Penrose in northwest Wyoming for the summer after completing two quarters of school at the University of Wyoming.
Here is the first letter, as nearly as I could find, that I wrote to Velna in spring 1950:
Garland Wyoming (post office located 7 miles from Penrose in tiny place with store and blacksmith shop)
Dinner time on Saturday, thank heaven
Seems like the mail man charged by 6 1/2 dozen times before your letter finally came which it did, this morning, at last, and actually its the best thing that happened all week.
Pardon my exquisite exclusive stationery but seemed to be the handiest available. Have been playing archaeology all week in spare time, trying to unearth my bedroom. My sisters haven't cleaned it yet and aren't about to, either, so I resigned myself to the awful, awful fate. Have burned practically everything except a few books and relics so now I don't have to hunt for the bed quite so long when I come in to go to sleep. Really shouldn't need cleaning again until fall. At least I unearthed a bottle of ink in the ruins.
My gruesome grades came through today, probably the last decent ones I'll ever have to brag about, so here's what happened: 5 measly straight up and downs (in other words 1s, since the U of Wyomong graded 1,2,3,4,5 before they started the new fangled A, B, C, etc.) in botany, intro animal husbandry, agronomy, English, and Military (required). Then 3's in PE (which I was never any good at), gasoline engines (which I never got the hang of), and speech (which was a shock because I had just won the state FFA public speaking contest and won 3d place in 11 western states contest in Reno NV). When Stevens (speech teacher) gave me a 3, I felt like going back and caving in his big, fat head but decided from his looks somebody had already beat me to it, so will let him suffer in blissful agony. Average: 1.58.
Have spent lovely week amongst the gnats, mosquitos, deer flies, bog clods (how we described the hard Penrose soil), hot sun--with nothing at all to do but hack weeds and sugar beets on rows 1/4 mile long and think of you and wish I were back in good old Cinder City (so called because Laramie was a major railroad hub with coal burning monster locomotives for moving over the summit to Cheyenne until the middle 1950s). I like it though in spite of all my gripes. I always wondered which was best--sitting at a desk and wishing I could be outside or outside wishing I could be sitting at a desk and have come to the conclusion that the lastest one is the bestest.
Dad told me to go ahead and find a job after the beets are thinned, hoed, and irrigated, the hay stacked, and the grain irrigated, which will probably be the middle of July. Should be lots of work this fall with new hotel, hospital, drug store, addition to grade school, but jobs are scarce as hen's teeth now. So if I'm lucky enough to get a job, I will work through as long as possible. Dad said he would hire me for 6 weeks in Oct. and Nov. to drive truck (seven miles to beet dump with about 6 tons of beets) and that should clear me with him. (Dad thought I owed him for pig feed for my pigs so I was working it off for no pay to help me get back to school).
I would really like to come back fall quarter mainly to see you (Please don't think all this is a line because I have meant everything I have said). Maybe a miracle can still happen but I couldn't accumulate much of a fortune from July to September even if I could find a job.
I guess its my turn to be Cinderella. Dad, Mom, and Louise are at conference in Salt Lake, Liz is working for Louise at the REA (rural electrification) office in Powell, leaving me home with kids, pigs, cows, beets, and not a can of beans in the house. Am delegated to take Judy (my sis) Ann, and Steve to see Cinderella in Powell.
After we all take a five minute intermission to dry our hankies after reading above sad, woeful tales, I still want to say that I'll never quite be able to tell you, Velna, how much I really miss you or how much I really like you. I'll never be able to change my mind about you being the sweetest, swellest gal I've ever known or could ever hope to know. Behave every chance you get and be sure to practice your whistling. Write soon. All my love, Dwight
I was 17 years old when I wrote that letter. I wrote dozens and dozens more the next three years before we got married. And then Velna and I traveled life's road together through all the bumpy spots and the smooth spots and the happy times and the difficult and challenging times and the occasional heartaches as we raised five children and lost one and I completed four years of graduate work and we went from Bozeman to Fort Collins CO (three times) to Ann Arbor to Cheyenne to Washington, D. C. and back to Laramie and back to Fort Collins and then finally, to Provo and Orem Utah. And all the time Velna worked and supported me and always agreed with what I wanted to do no matter how preposterous it might have seemed and we always planned together to figure out what to do next and how we were going to do it. Through all of these years, dear Velna, you never criticized me or held my mistakes against me while you set a quiet but no nonsense example to raise our brood of children and send them on their own life's path. And somehow, in some way, we made it through every crisis and every challenge and every health upset and we never gave up. Until we came to a final challenge we could not win or defeat.
And so here, after 63 years of 365 days a year together,doing the laundry, cooking the meals, cleaning the house, working on part time jobs, teaching 25,000 students in four universities, we came to a roadblock that left nothing but tears and emptiness and heartache and wondering why, why, how did this happen, why couldn't we have spent just a few more days or years together, and where is the deed to the house and how do I fold the underwear and how long do you cook the broccoli, and you plead with me, "Dwight, why am I so sick?" and "Will you pay the tithing?" and "Who will send out the birthday cards ?" So where did you go and when will I see you again and how am I supposed to know how to get by without you and when will I stop breaking into tears?
So here is the last letter I wrote to Velna, just a few days before Velna left me and before the doctors had told me they had run out of hope:
To my dear wife Velna,
We do not know why we are some times called upon to go through seemingly unbearable crises--you have weathered so many. I am so proud of your brave and courageous determination. I just want you to know how fortunate I have been to share your life with you, to feel your strength, to share your faith, and through it all you have always maintained your sweet and gentle disposition. You always remained kind to everyone, even those who may not have always earned your kindness.
Never, never give up. We give you all of our faith, all of our prayers, and we know there will be a brighter and more hopeful tomorrow.
Your Loving Husband,
Velna was too sick to read my message so I read it to her while holding her hand and then she wanted me to place it so she could see the picture of the flowers on the front of her card and then three days later she left me. The journey that lasted 66 years was over, at least as far as this mortal life is concerned. Life has a way of distilling the chaff and the mistakes and the hard times and leaving us with the sweet memories and eternal gifts that forever remain the priceless legacy of our years and our struggles and our good times and our hard tines, For these incomparable blessings we remain forever grateful and tearfully thankful.
Velna Black at Vedauwoo, popular picnic and rock climbing area between Laramie and Cheyenne WY, about 1951
Dear Velna: It is time for me to report after you have been gone for three months. I am starting to feel a little better though I am still struggling with my balance, a leftover effect of the vertigo attack I had a year and a half ago. I am trying to keep my promise to send out the birthday cards, one of your last spoken requests, though I have been a day or two late on a couple of them. I remember that day when our friends and you and I went to Vedauwoo. I remember those shoes you were wearing. I remember what a good time we had, such a relief to get away from the campus and my janitor jobs for a few hours. And I can see from this photo why I thought you were the prettiest girl I had ever known or wanted to know. The question I get from everyone is "How are you doing?" and I still don't know what to say so I try to say I am doing better though I don't know about that. How can you do better when you have no one to talk to, no one to talk about family history, no one to complain to, no one to ask if I can help you or if you need anything or is your pain any better today or are your shoulders better or how did you sleep or what would you like for dinner and a million other things. I wish I had helped you with the financial records since I can't find some of the most important documents I need for the taxes. You managed to save every utility receipt and phone bill but where or where did you hide the purchase contracts for our two condos? I have turned the house upside down without success in finding them. Also, do you know where you put my mailbox key? I can't find it anywhere. I have no one to blame, no one to share my worries and concerns with, no one to say evening prayers with and pray for relief from your pain and your daily suffering. Instinctively, some times I look over at your chair when I wake up and I wonder, where are you? Where did you go? And then reality sets in. I cook something that used to last three days and now it lasts more than a week and I'm tired of it after three day. I spend about half of what I used to spend on groceries and I have a huge stock pile of stuff I'll probably never fix or never eat. Most of the time I'm not very hungry. I used to care about trying to fix something nice for dinner for you every night and now I don't care what I eat for supper. The house is empty. My tears have mostly dried, but they still flood now and then over the most seemingly inconsequential thing, the hint of something, the sight of something, the memory of something, something I know you liked, your continual acts of kindness and encouragement for me. I guess I am making some progress. Every day I still need to change some address, take your name off some account, send legal papers in somewhere to take care of something, the details never end. Your children have been unbelievably kind, compassionate, and helpful. Our neighbors continue to be supportive and kind in so many ways. I am surprised in some ways that I am still here and the hardest thing I have to do each day is to get up and get going when that is the last thing I feel like doing. Every dayh I realize more and more how much I took for granted when you were here, how I wish I had been more considerate, more helpful. But life goes on as long as I am still here and I am gradually starting to try to do a few more things as I feel a little better and don't drag around quite as much through the day as I did for weeks. And yes, I did pay the church tithing, one of your very last requests before you left me. I'll report again on another day. Your husband.
Your mother would not be happy if I forgot your birthday which I about did, forget, that is, how am I supposed to know all this stuff? Anyway, Happy Birthday. I walked down the street to get our neighbors the Kempers to come look after Ron and Russ while I took your mother to the hospital.
When I grew up in Penrose Wyoming in humble circumstances, one of the highlights of each Christmas was writing a letter to Santa and then reading Santa's letter back to us on Christmas morning. My mother was such a clever and devious Santa, we never ever suspected that she actually was Santa, even when I was sixteen years old during my last Christmas at home. My sisters may have saved some of Santa's ingenious letters, which I will have to try and track down so you can see them.
At any rate, I have never written another letter to Santa. Until now. And now I feel a compelling need to write to Santa once more in my lifetime.
I am not going to ask you to give me anything. I may ask you to give a few things to others, but you have given me enough during my 83 years and I do not need any more material gifts. What I may need are a few more gifts of the spirit, gifts of the heart. So here is what I want to ask, or tell, in my letter to you.
First of all, I hope your reindeer are all in good shape and for heaven's sake I do not want to hear about Rudolph and his Red Nose. I am not in Penrose Wyoming any more where on one cold and frosty Christmas night I and my sisters were standing outside and we know that we clearly heard your sleigh scraping on our isolated Penrose lane and so we hustled inside to make sure you didn't see us.
Most of all, I would like you to give my thanks and heartfelt love and appreciation for all who have done so much for me, recently and throughout my life. I include the following on this list, without meaning to leave anyone out. If I leave anyone out, you know who they are and you can make corrections for me:
I thank my wife Velna for nearly 63 lovely years together and for 62 memorable Christmas days. I would never have been worth as much without her and the gifts she freely gave that included encouragement, love, compassion, forgiveness, confidence, unselfishness, quiet serenity, support, a light in troubled times, faith that never waned, and the gift of her loving presence in my daily life. Where ever she is, Santa, let her know how I feel and how much I thank her.
I thank my children for continual loving support, for living good and honest and exemplary lives, for raising good families, and for embodying the principles so lovingly taught by example from their loving and supportive mother.
I thank my daughters in law and my son in law for continual support to Velna and me and for their contribution in raising their own children.
I thank my grandchildren and great grandchildren for their loving support and for their exemplary lives. Yes, there have been a few bumps and bruises but what has mattered most is how they pick themselves up and move on with faith and courage and determination to face each new day.
I thank my sisters and my brother for unstinting and unconditional love and support. We six are a tight-knit six, never wavering in our united support for one another.
I thank all my friends and neighbors and church members for compassion, concern, for continually checking on me, and for not forgetting me during my hours of trial.
I thank Velna's two loving sisters who gave so much to Velna during the last several years of her life.
So there is my letter, dear Santa. As you distribute your presents, please distribute my gifts of gratitude to everyone on this list, tie the gifts with a bright red ribbon, and add a dollop of hope and strength to help each one through whatever challenges they are facing. If you will do that, I will feel that my Christmas has been everything I could have wished and hoped for.
There was a little hill above a frozen pond by our student apartment on Michigan's North Campus. Russell liked to go down the hill, scoot across the ice at breakneck speed. We were always afraid he was going to break something.
My granddaughter Amanda, her husband Jason, and my great granddaughter Alice finally returned from a three year military deployment in Germany. Alice was not especially happy for awhile, and did not want to have me take her picture. They are now in Colorado Springs at Camp Carson.
Alice was entertained by two things during her visit: One was a Hershey bar, the other was pasting stickers on everyone and everything. Amanda said pasting stickers was how she got Alice back on the long flight from Germany.