I am sad to announce the passing of my mom, Jacquelyn (Jackie) Olson, who lived a full and active life until becoming limited by the gradual but inevitable decline of health from COPD.
I remember her most as the central figure of a busy family; her five children had diverse interests, and she encouraged all of them. She was the family manager, in charge of feeding, clothing, coaching, logistics, cheerleading, and enforcing bedtimes. She set the house budget and found many innovative ways to stay within it, becoming a do-it-yourself expert before DIY became a popular acronym. She was fearless in tackling new skills as needed, providing an example for all of us: that we could learn and become skilled at just about anything.
As kids, we knew that she was quite talented; she could play piano, operate a sewing machine, program a loom, make leatherwork, and ride horses. I was surprised to find out that she even had a darkroom, and at a time when my interest was aimed in this direction, her equipment became my equipment, and I learned to develop film and make prints.
Perhaps the strongest example of her brave approach to learning was when she decided to go back to school and get a nursing degree. She was a student again, and despite the twenty-year hiatus from her earlier coursework, she completed her first semester with an A in chemistry, and all her other classes. My brother Eric and I were at the University at the same time, neither of us quite matching her GPA. I recall meeting her for lunch sometimes at the student union, along with some of her classmates. She was a generation older, but they all seemed quite pleased to be hanging out with her.
She became an RN and worked at Waconia Hospital where she was liked and respected, confirming and adding to her sense of independence. She started applying her income to new hobbies: ceramics and upholstery, and one of her favorite activities was attending estate and yard sales, to find antique or underappreciated furniture, which she then restored.
In contrast to my dad, who offered explicit advice, boiling down life lessons to memorable phrases, Mom taught by example. And not just how to hang wallpaper, but how to be considerate to friends and respectful to non-friends, how to persist in the face of obstacles and setbacks, and how to speak up when someone is not doing the right thing. From her I learned the skills of patience and persistence, and acquired the values for, if not the skills of, being kind and attentive to others.
In 1997, she decided that Minnesota winters were no longer to her liking. The more arid climate of the West suited her better, and so she moved to Idaho Falls, acquiring Eric’s original house there as he built a new home for his growing family. (My dad reluctantly followed, never completely pulling up his Minnesota roots).
She has been happy there for these last decades, gardening and landscaping and able to read as many novels as she wished, solve the daily crosswords and keep up with neighbors, friends and family. In the last few years she has had to slow down on her interests as her disease gradually overtook her body and breath. It has been an unpleasant time, and she has claimed that she has been ready to go for a while, but life is a strong force and doesn’t give up without a fight.
The impact of her examples was not limited to her children. She made friends all along the way, from lifelong childhood friends, through college and sorority sisters, to neighbors that had the fortune to move next door, and their children who are just now becoming young adults. Many people will miss her.
I will miss her.
In an odd cosmic or spiritual coincidence, my mother took her last breath at 3:11, the time indicated by the stopped antique clock in her bedroom. It was the exact complement of the old song about the grandfather clock that stopped short when the old man died.