Fifty years ago I turned 18, a few weeks after graduating from high school. My head was filled with dreams of heading off to college. My bank account was bolstered by countless graduation cards filled with $5, $10, and $20 bills. I was filled with certainty in the knowledge that so many relatives and friends believed in me. The feeling was one of confidence.
Those first post-graduate weeks were spent lounging in Lincoln City in the company of Grandpa Morris and cousin, Dave Falk. Returning home, I began my second season as an ice cream vendor for another cousin, Dan Silvestri selling popsicles from a three-wheel Cushman scooter. That summer job netted me $1,032, plus all the Sidewalk Sundays I cared to eat.
One thought however, did not cross my mind. I spent no time reflecting on what life might be upon reaching the age of my grandparents, great aunts and uncles, many of whom had sent cards and offered words of encouragement. It isn’t in a boy’s nature to think about growing old. It’s certainly of an older man’s to ponder what has long since passed.
My Dad never finished high school, but insisted I go to college. My grandfather provided funds for my first year. After that I was on my own and worked summer jobs to pay my way. If I’ve learned one thing in the ensuing 50 years, its thankfulness––the knowledge that I stand today on the shoulders of those who came before. We exist because our parents brought us into existence. And they too, through generations stretching back to the beginning of humanity.
I’ve grown to recognize how blessed I’ve been by those who blazed the trail to where I now dwell. And to recognize the debt we each owe to those who helped us along, taught us a song, or how to belong. To better cultivate that sense of obligation, we owe it to those coming after to pave for them a better path forward, in gratitude for that trail blazed for us. And through it all to rely on the grace of God whose plan unfolds every day, whether be helped or hindered by each daily action we undertake.
Perhaps my great-great grandmother who came across the plains on the Oregon Trail said it best:
“Our being in this world is not accidental. We all have a mission to do some special work, and it is work that will honor Him and bless those around us. If we do not find that work and do it, our life is a failure; the true end of living is not realized. We may not learn in a moment; but step-by-step, day-by-day; as we go on things will be made clearer. Those who do the smallest things well because they are God’s plan, are to be honored far above those who do great things for the world’s praise.”
“Our being in this world is not accidental. We all have a mission to do some special work, and it is work that will honor Him and bless those around us. If we do not find that work and do it, our life is a failure; the true end of living is not realized. We may not learn in a moment; but step-by-step, day by day, as we go on things will be made clearer. Those who do the smallest things well because they are God’s plan, are to be honored far above those who do great things for the world’s praise.” – Nancy Matilda Hembree (1837-1922)
Thus spoke Pauline’s great-grandmother, Nancy Matilda (Hembree) Snow decades before my Mother was conceived. Pauline Lucile Morris was born to John Henry and Nina Marie, both had the last name Morris. She was as Welsh as one could be. Her father was a coal miner and her mother a school teacher. Both her grandfathers and great-grandfathers worked in the coal industry. Her great-grandmother, Nancy was a pioneer of the 1843 Oregon Trail.
Pauline grew up in the coal mining town of Durham surrounded by an extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins most of whom worked in or around the mines. Her family moved to Enumclaw when she was six, first to a hop farm in Osceola and later a home above Newaukum Creek. At school she made life-long friends many of whom are here today. She edited the school newspaper and annual, graduating from Enumclaw in 1945, just as World War II ended. Her obituary claims she briefly attended the University of Washington. The truth . . . for about 15 minutes.
After a short stint in Seattle, she landed back home working at the Palmer Coking Coal mine office at Four Corners. There she pumped gas and helped with bookkeeping. In 1950, she and Jack Kombol eloped to California and married. Eventually the couple made their way back to Selleck, where Barry, Jeannie and I first lived, and then to Elk Coal where Dana was born, just a quarter mile from the Durham of Mom’s childhood.
Mom had six life-changing experiences: Barry, Billy, Jeannie and Dana; but two others I’d like to tell you about. Her second baby, a daughter Paula Jean died two days after birth. Mom used to say that after the loss of that baby, she loved the rest of us so very much, so that she would never lose another child. One day years later, Jeannie and I rambunctiously raced around the living room, and Mother’s prized china cup collection crashed to the floor shattering every piece. Despite her initial sadness, Mom decided then and there that she would never value any possession more than the people in her life.
Our family moved to Enumclaw in 1958. There Pauline joined civic life as a den mother, Camp Fire leader, election-day poll worker, raising money for the March of Dimes, helping elderly aunts, and later caring for her own mother. There she ran the home – baking cookies, canning homemade jam, making pies – always from scratch and never with a recipe or measured ingredients. Menus were traditional and set: Friday – fish or tuna noodle casserole; Saturday – hamburgers; Sunday – fried chicken or pot roast; Monday – meat loaf, and so on. We never had soda pop or potato chips, but did enjoy Kool-aid and homemade frozen popsicles. Each summer we took vacations with the Cerne’s to Grayland and Hoods Canal – I later learned that we stayed at the same Beacon Point cabins where her family vacationed when she was young.
One of the big events of our lives was the family trip to Europe in 1968. Mom researched and found our Welsh and Croatian relatives and planned our journey through ten countries in six weeks. Using her dog-eared copy of Europe on $10 a Day, Mom found cheap pensions and small family-run hotels to fit her tight budget. Jack drove us across Europe in a small station-wagon jammed with six people and 13 suitcases. We played Hearts in the backseat and listened to Radio Luxemburg with Danica stuffed back amongst the luggage.
In later years we spent our summers at Lake Sawyer where Dad built a cabin. During one particularly inebriated summer party, Mom earned the nickname ‘Carrie Nation’ when she raced around the cabin pouring out booze and opening the tap of the keg refrigerator watching cold beer spill to the ground.
In early 1979 Jack was diagnosed with cancer and passed away within 3 weeks. A night before he died, he called me to his bedside and said, “I want you to take care of your mother.” Since the girls were away and Barry was married with a growing family, the primary duty of caring for Mom fell to me. So, I frequented her home where she cooked me delicious dinners. And, made sure I brought my laundry so she could wash it. And, she hemmed my pants and sewed buttons on my shirts; and, always sent me home with casseroles, lentil soup, and blackberry pies. It seemed the more I tried taking care of Mom, the more she took care of me. And who could ever forget the summer Keith Timm Jr. moved in with Mom and me. Then there were two of us . . . “to take care” of Mom.
During the early years after Dad’s death, she kept herself busy on the Enumclaw School Board and as a Director of Cascade Security Bank. But like a caterpillar, she spun her cocoon waiting to find the wings of the butterfly she became. And that she did. I can’t claim credit for pushing her out of the nest – I was too busy “taking care of her.” But off she flew – first to Seattle where she bought a condo and found friends through extension classes and her beloved movie group. More grandchildren were born and off she went to care for them. She enjoyed traveling and over the years took trips to Russia, China, Hungary, Italy and elsewhere. She loved her time in Lincoln City, and eventually spent her winters, first in Palm Springs and later Scottsdale.
Around the turn of the century, a wonderful gentleman entered into Mom’s life. His name was Cal Bashaw. He was a widower born the same year as my Dad. Mom and Cal had known each other from their days as bank directors. Well, I have to admit that Cal and I have radically different styles. When he started to “take care of” Mom; he did things like always helping her with her coat; opening doors; helping with her chair, fixing things around the house, running errands, taking her out to dinner, and always being there to care for her needs. It seemed the more we were around Cal, the more my own lovely wife began pointing out all of Cal’s far-too-many good traits. I started hearing things like, “Why can’t you be more like Cal?” Basically, Cal’s caring manner made my previous efforts to “take care of” Mom look fairly absurd.
But truly, Mom and Cal had a wonderful ten years together. And if only more people were like Cal, and like Mom, the world would be a far better place.
So, I come to the end, but also the beginning: the beginning of our lives without Pauline, without her sunshine.
Still, her light still shines – a small, bright star to guide me – to guide me through the darkness and back to life. So until that day when my light joins hers, I will rest easily, knowing that Pauline led a good life; a life worth living; a life which blessed those around her; a life of small things done well – done not for the world’s praise; but done through an honored existence, dedicated to her friends and to her family, and lived according to God’s plan.
And, if she were here today . . . I’ll let you complete the thought.