Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Vern & Beulah

I lived in Brigham City for several years, as Clark and I started out our life together. Tyler was 8 1/2 and Jenna 5 when we left Brigham for Sheffield, Alabama. We loved Brigham City - a perfect small town with highly educated and practical minded folks, whether engineers or farmers. I developed a wonderful community of friends, and we shared our lives with each other. There were folks of various ages in my neighborhood, and I've shared with you my love for Eve.
Our LDS ward was very close, and I don't remember any boundaries based on age, gender, economic status, education level. We were mostly transplants with our husbands coming to BC to work for Morton Thiokol or folks who had lived in BC all their lives. Many of us didn't have family nearby, so we created our own - we relied on each other for walks, babysitting, advice, canning and sewing help, secrets. Renea, Anna, Moana, Grandma Beulah, Betty, Eve, Gayle, Grandma Shirley, Dawn, Denise, Reed and Barbara, and others became my sisters, my family.
One winter a group of us decided we wanted to be more comfortable with carpentry. A man who taught shop at the high school and another man who taught woodworking, invited us into their garages to work on wood projects. Now I'm not talking jewelry box-sized projects, but big things - a set of bunk beds, an entertainment center, a corner cabinet. We built, learned, laughed.
We often had parties, and sometimes so many folks wanted to come that we had to split up the party into 2 nights to get everyone there! One of the funnest parties I remember was playing slip-n-slide baseball in our unfenced, newly grassed backyard. We placed 2 gallon buckets filled with water on each base, slip-n-slides between the bases, and played ball with a big plastic bat and ball. We had so much fun getting muddy and sliding between bases, yelling at each other, throwing water on each other.
Until - until Vern Petersen came up to bat. Vern was about 5'4" tall, stocky but thin, in his late 70s, and had already lived 7 of his 9 lives. He played the saxophone beautifully and had since he was a young boy. Vern had a beat up body, and could not lift his arms above his shoulders, but he still could hold his sax close to his body and play. Vern's wife, Beulah, was 15 years (or so) younger than Vern, and had learned to put up with his sense of humor and his cumbersome ways. Beulah had been finely-reared, was the epitome of a lady, and she had also lived several lives because of health issues - particularly several bouts with cancer. She enjoyed the parties, but wasn't quite the life of the party as Vern, rather, she always contributed something beautiful for a meal, and would cheer Vern on.
So - Vern is up to bat, Vern bunts the ball, runs to first base, has to jump to get his leg in the bucket, runs to second, with his arms tucked into his body, picks up the bucket at second, runs to third, throws the bucket of water on the third baseman, and slides home, a wet muddy mess and no injuries. We were all cheering and laughing so hard we had no idea where the ball was.
I had the privilege of gathering all of Vern's stories together and assembling them. I loved this man as if he were my grandfather. Being able to present this book of stories to him and his family at his 90th birthday party was a gift for me. Vern passed away about 9 years ago.
Beulah on the other hand, would say, "Well, I've had an interesting life, but I don't know that I have stories to share like Vern's." Yet I loved her tales, her advice, her reflecting. This past spring Jenna and I and Tempest stopped in Brigham City and visited with Beulah, who turned 90 in May. Grandma Petersen, as Jenna and Tyler knew her, was able to sit down and tell us stories - stories of living in Boston during the black-out of WWII, being the wife of a predominant Mormon physician and dealing first hand with many dignitaries in Utah. Leaving one marriage for another, choosing happiness and risks with Vern. Beulah's corner cabinet is still sitting in her spare bathroom - Jenna couldn't believe Beulah had made it!
I got to see, first hand, Beulah's battles with cancer. I was able to take dinner in, and we were able to have Vern to our house to eat multiple times - one time, having baked potatoes, I asked him if he wanted sour cream. He replied, "No, I had a friend who ate sour cream on a baked potato, and he died 5 years later." I still laugh at that. Beulah was a lady as she traveled the cancer road - many many times.
I've been dreading telling Beulah about my cancer. She's 90, a little more frail, and she would not take my announcement lightly. I didn't want to tell her over the phone. She called yesterday evening. "Oh Ronda, I  am so sorry. What can I do for you?" We talked, I told her details, she cried, asked if she could stay in touch, and she comforted me. She's been aware of all of my life changes, and she has been my cheerleader all these years. I know I can count on her now - Beulah - thank you - I only hope I can be as strong and gracious as you.

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