Anne Lamott quipped in her April 2017 Ted Talk, “Every story you own is yours. If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” We all laughed at that: her audience in Vancouver, and me as I listened to the recording almost a year later.
My own story began with an angelic mother. In kindergarten, I distinctly remember feeling empathy for my classmates, looking at each of them in genuine compassion as I realized that none of them got to go home to my mother at the end of the day. How could they face life, I wondered, without my mother behind them?
The most hurtful thing my mother ever said to me was, “Tashi, I’m just me!” after I went on and on about all the wonderful qualities I saw in her. So her worst fault was that she wasn’t big on compliments. I share this only to illustrate how remarkably well my mother behaved to merit the accolades that follow. Ah, my dear, sweet mother. Though she wouldn’t want me “tooting her horn,” I’m going to indulge myself and sing her praises to my heart’s content.
Did I mention my mother is an angel? She passed away last April. So many beautiful moments gave us peace in her “graduation” from this life. The sacred details are recorded in my journal, which I feel is the appropriate place to leave them, rather than posting them here.
I miss her. All my sisters do. We often share with each other the sweet remembrances we have of her. As I write this, I’m taken back five decades to the time I sat with my mom on the foot of her bed. I was trying to find meaning in the sorrow overwhelming my six-year-old heart. Our beloved pet had just died and our whole family was grieving over his death. I moaned, “I don’t want to have pets anymore if it has to hurt so much when they die.” My mother wisely comforted me saying, “Losing pets helps prepare us to deal with the pain when we lose people we love.” Somehow giving a purpose to the pain made all the difference. And I do think it helped prepare me for the pain of her passing.
What I really want to write about, though, is not about her death, but her life:
Arlene Nelson Williams
(1925 – 2017)
An Idaho-girl, Arlene was born in a farmhouse, the oldest of eleven children. She was a natural nurturer. She decided she wanted to be a nurse at the tender age of 6, and fulfilled that ambition, working in the nursing field for 45 years.
Arlene was a year and a day older than Lois, her next sibling. Lois was the more adventurous of the two. At age 3, Lois would play rambunctiously and then caution her big sister not to attempt her daring feats, warning, “Too dangelous for you, Arly!” But Lois made it look so fun that Arlene broke free of her timid nature and joined Lois in her escapades. Once they took it upon themselves to provide their family with a rare chicken dinner. Though they grew up on a chicken farm, the chickens were reserved for customers. She and Lois (ages 5 & 6) reasoned that with all those chickens, they should be able to have one for dinner. So they each caught a chicken and took them to the chopping block. When Arlene's first blow failed to behead her chicken, Lois let hers go and held onto Arlene's chicken so the next blow finished the deed. At this point, Arlene’s conscience got the better of her. She knew she’d done wrong by killing a chicken without her dad’s permission, so she hid the chicken in a bush. Lois let their dad know about the chicken, all ready for dinner. Arlene's punishment was to be sent to her room while the family dined on poultry that night. Her mother later snuck her a little piece because she had worked so hard for the family’s chicken dinner; Arlene fondly remembered that one bite of chicken was delicious!
Lois and Arlene in costume (Arlene is on the right)
As a child, Arlene:
- Delighted in brightening up her home with flowers.
- Hauled 100 wagon-loads of gravel to earn a dollar so she could buy herself a doll, and helped Lois haul another 100 loads of gravel for the same purpose.
- Sponge-bathed her many little brothers, strategically waiting for them to fall asleep first as she discovered they were far more cooperative with being washed while slumbering.
- Sat in her father’s chicken-coop for endless hours, tagging the best layers. She noted the chickens made a satisfied cackle when they laid their eggs, so she called eggs “cackle-berries.”
- Felt tremendous sympathy for Lois after she was scolded by their mother for looking for the potato jackets. (When their mother told Lois to boil the potatoes in their jackets, Lois envisioned little blue jackets like Peter Rabbit’s rather than the hum-drum potato-skins.) Arlene decided then that she would never scold her own children. She did remarkably well at keeping that goal.
She met our Dad, Leslie Warren Williams, while she was in nursing school at BYU. She wrote, “I was watching this tall, handsome man and thinking, I think he’s going to be talking to me. Then the lights went out and the room became darker… I looked up and this [handsome man] was standing beside me asking me if he could stand [by] the light of my fluorescent watch.” They danced, they dated, and before long she was whisked away to California to meet his family. Then they married and had six daughters, raising them together. Warren died three years before Arlene and she missed him very much.
Arlene with Leslie Warren Williams
As a woman, Arlene:
· Always kept her child-like zeal for life. She especially loved nature: flowers, birds, picnics in the mountains, and picking HUCKLEBERRIES!
· Designed and created amazing building projects. (I admit I was sometimes disappointed as a child to discover the motor I heard running wasn’t a kitchen appliance whipping up delightful treats, but the power drill.) She also designed and crafted many colorful afghans.
· Cared for the young, the old, people & pets, showing the utmost respect to all.
· Had a magical way of calming babies.
· Had a goal to never get angry. She wrote how a friend told her, “when people get angry it never helps the situation … So I stay calm and things usually turn out much better.”
· Was a model of determination. She never let difficulties get in the way of her completing her projects. Whenever any of her daughters despaired of completing an assignment we were supposed to do for school, Mama would magically make it happen for us. Often we’d wake up the next morning to find she’d worked through the night to set things right for us so we could finish our task. She showed us that we can accomplish anything we set out to do. She also taught us to always fulfill our responsibilities.
· Loved to learn her whole life long. She always took notes at meetings because she felt it helped her learn more and made it possible for her to share what she learned. She often read biographies of both great and humble people.
· Took delight in her heritage. She raised her children on the stories of our ancestors. She recorded her own story in many memoirs. I’m so grateful!
· She always wished us goodbye by saying, “Good luck and be safe!”
Left--Arlene in her HS graduation dress,
Top Right--Arlene's look of hope at the thought of being with her husband in the next life
Bottom right--Arlene with Lois playing in the sandbox (Arlene is on the right)
Arlene and Lois, a lifetime later (Arlene is on the right)
Thanks to Rachel, Lois's daughter, who took this picture and gave me permission to post it.
My sister, Velinda wrote, "This picture brings tears to my eyes. Those two sisters dearly loved each other.
When Lois left this world, [it wasn't long before] our mother left it, too."
Since our last goodbye, I've been about the business of having "good luck" and being safe. It definitely helps knowing I've got such a loving angel looking out for me and mine. (Thanks Mama! I love you so much and always will.)