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Friday, February 25, 2022


My Mom had a long life, raised by suffragettes of many generations, several of whom lived well into their hundreds and we all place a high value on the right to vote. And a right to privacy. And a right to make your own decisions and mistakes. And discussed and debated world affairs from the time my little ears started hearing things. And then I listened to the stories of many generations in my more-than-sixty years. But this is not a story about rights. 

My siblings and I went to great effort to make certain our parents could vote until their last years even on their own with absentee ballots, making their own choices. Franklin Roosevelt was President when my Mother was born and I listened to the stories of the Roosevelts all my life, including what my Grandma Lily had to say about Eleonore Roosevelt's part in helping get the US through the years of the Depression. (Side note: mother bought us lots of children's biographies over the years, including a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt and Nellie Bly and Florence Nightingale). 

During the Cuban Missle Crisis, we received orders for where she would take her children if the worst would happen and she told us about how terrifying it was that her older children would be in school and separated from her (dependents were going to be bused somewhere). One of my earliest clear memories (besides being told we are home and snow and cold water in various wells and such) is watching her watch the black & white TV in Slope County airing the JFK funeral and, like the world, mourning that event. And I do remember for good reason that my parents voted for Ike! At least I think they did. Well, my Mother told me over and over she most certainly did! I'm not sure who she voted for subsequently and that isn't important (and was, after all, her business, not mine), but I can say that she took great pleasure in voting for the first woman president and then lived long enough to cast an absentee ballot (someone she trusted from the family delivered it to a slot in Mandan -- we documented that for her far away son who was concerned that she might not get to vote while living in elder care) and she took some righteous pleasure in watching the inauguration of the first woman Vice President. 

She loved the Dodgers. This stemmed from early memories including watching the Dodgers play baseball in LA, where we were living at that time. Her family played baseball in western North Dakota, including her cousins, the "Silbernagel" twins. Mother cheered for the Dodgers until her last days (my brother is a Cubs fan, but that is another story altogether). And she wore her Dodger shirt that someone in the family got for her, even during the last baseball season she watched. 

The current Matriarchal Trifecta for my Mother's line. The three of us were darned cold in that tent this weekend and had to use potholders for mittens. That morning we woke up to a hard frost and some kind person on the trail took this photo of us. We heard elk on that hike and one of us sprained an ankle. But we were together on a Badlands outing so we were joyous. My Mother and Junette were off on their own adventure somewhere as I recall. Darn, we are going to miss those ladies! We will, as they say, "soldier on."   

A grief journey


Thursday, February 24, 2022

My Mom, the very beginning of a biography

If there was a geography bee my Mom might have won. It’s not that she just reads a lot, which she did (starting with but not limited to National Geographic). And having chased a career military husband around the world adds to her advantage. But a big addition to what she knows about the world is jigsaw puzzles.

You see, jigsaw puzzles are generally pictures of places, and Mom put together hundreds, maybe thousands, of them. And each time, she learned something about the place in the picture she’s just completed and admired the art work.

Marian Crook was my mother, and a retired nurse. She grew up on the family farm in Slope County, North Dakota in the Bad Lands of the Little Missouri River, the youngest of four sisters, and, as she describes it, she was “her father’s son,” working alongside him in the fields as much as time permitted when she wasn’t going to school.

Those long days on the tractor and in the grain truck gave her plenty of time to dream about faraway places. And, like a lot of farm kids growing up during the Great Depression, she learned about responsibility and independence at a pretty young age.

So, when she became a military wife, eventually with a handful of kids to look after while her husband was deployed both overseas and in this country during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, she wasn’t intimidated by the challenge of getting ready for the next move, sometimes after her Army husband had gone on ahead to his next post to line up housing for his growing family. And she always looked forward to the possibility of seeing some of those places she had dreamt about as a girl. Like crossing the Pacific Ocean. She taught us all a lot about packing and unpacking and traveling and fashion and more – including changing fashion of hats over the years.

Many years after those daydreams on the tractor, after flying from Billings, MT to San Francisco with four young children (one of those was me), she herded us onto a modified Troop Ship headed for Okinawa in order to rejoin her then-husband at his US Army assignment on that island so very far from the United States.

Sea-sickness plagued us all on that “cruise ship.” To prepare her children for their time on the island she quietly but firmly told us “remember this is their country – show the locals respect” and she got thoroughly acquainted with the culture and history of the island with her new friends there. She let her children roam when they were not in the local schools or in a boat exploring nearby uninhabited islands with other military friends. One of her friends was a local seamstress, who also served as our babysitter. I have an intense memory of Hilukyu and Mother pounding a poisonous centipede with a hammer to a pulp. In Mom’s eventful life she learned Latin, English, Norwegian, German, Spanish, and Japanese and could remember many of her mailing addresses. And I’ve written those down in doing family history work with her in her senior years living in Mandan. She was always interested in genealogy and wanted to know if any of her relatives were still living in Norway (they are). She puzzled over why I had not yet visited Norway (I hope to).

Marian loved the seashore and the mountains and birds, and hatched ideas for many adventures with her new friends around the world. Her window bird feeders are the stuff of legend and she nurtured countless people in learning to identify birds and plants and more, when she was not reading books or newspapers, or baking krumkake, or organizing a pinochle or cribbage game with her neighbors or scheming up a trip to The Owl Used Bookstore in Bismarck, where she had the owner on her speed-dial. Her apartments were easy to identify because she has a long love of lighthouses – born perhaps from the time she lived on the west coast near Seattle in her later teenage years. She visited as many lighthouses as she could and loved the view from the top of those and from the tops of many mountain ranges of the world.

While living at her husband’s duty station at Fort Bliss, Texas, she trained as an LPN and worked while her children were at the neighborhood schools, and Aunt Marie Hovick (an elder Hovick sister who had taught in many a Dakota rural school) helped with their care. Later, as an older-than-average student after her marriage ended, she returned to college with her youngest child in tow and graduated with her bachelor’s degree in Nursing at Dickinson State University. Following that, her career took her to Grand Forks where she worked at then-United Hospital until her retirement from that career just before the big flood of 1997.

Known as “Gram” to her grand- and great-grandchildren, upon retirement, she lived a “gypsy” life, traveling and living with her children around the country to help care for her many grandchildren so their parents could work and enjoy some free time by themselves.

In addition to travel, she learned to love to camp, and until just a few years ago, well into her 80s, it wasn‘t unusual to find her camping, with or without her family, in her tent and a well-used sleeping bag, in national and state parks around the country. She’d pitched the tent and plunk herself down in a camp chair and read National Geographic or one of the many other publications to which she subscribed. She always wanted to share what she had read with her loved ones and she and Junette traded stories and magazines back and forth until Junette’s death in 2020.

Marian and Junette were very resolute about the importance of education and justifiably proud of their descendants as we proceeded in our adult journeys of education. While they were humble, they were generous in praising us and in telling the world as we obtain our myriad credentials in life.

Mother eventually settled in Mandan where she would be near to Junette, where she kept busy taking care of her newest grandchildren, getting to know her new neighbors, participating in geography bees, and knitting special scarves for staff and other loved ones. She loved to keep contact with her many family members over the years. She had a real fondness for pie and ice cream.

We were all raised to work hard: farming, ranching, Scouts, hauling bales, raising chickens, singing in choirs, playing piano, 4-H – you name it. Roll up your sleeves and do it. We all rode various buses to school on muddy and snowy roads, played musical instruments in various bands – again – whatever was required of us. To the end of her life, she told me stories about how Grandma Lily could make a horse "purr." 

Sarah, her eldest, worked in various nursing homes and hospitals, attended UND, and worked for J.C. Penney until she retired after more than thirty years. Mom burst with pride with Sarah became a seasonal employee of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and couldn’t wait to see a picture of her in her new uniform. Which I supplied to her. Our last long road trip with Mom last summer was for Thomas and me to take Mom to Theodore Roosevelt National Park for a picnic with Sarah, right there in Chimney Park in Medora. Then we drove the South Unit loop road with her for what has turned out to be her last visit to a National Park.

Thomas is a retired Senior Chief, US Navy who now works for the TSA. He managed to fly into Bismarck for Mom’s last birthday party and I wish you could have seen the faces of the people in the building when he arrived. Mother melted into his arms in tears and smiles of pure joy. Sarah was my witness. Other family members arrived for the birthday party as allowed by the current lockdown rules and everyone’s schedules, including Beckie, who has worn so many hats in life as wife, mom, dental hygienist, Fort Lincoln Elementary School PTO President and Art Gallery Organizer and Instructor, New Mandan Junior High Exploratory Committee, Spirit of Life Catholic Church leader, Mandan High School Group leader – and, in our view, aspiring “master gardener” and all-around great cook. Our family loves the outdoors and such treasures as state and national parks, we enjoy fishing and potlucks and various boats and campers and such – time off the grid on our sacred landscapes with trusted companions – that is when we are not reading books or keeping up with the news! I’ll stop with the bragging now because I’ve written long enough and will let others tell the stories – and like my ancestors, I’m not fond of bragging. But I can say you would have enjoyed Mom’s last birthday party. To this day it slays me that the Silbernagels traded the Nelsons a pony for the Nelson boys for a piano for the Silbernagel girls. But it was a damned fine piano and still holds its tune despite being moved around countless times.

Marian Crook, the youngest daughter of tough Scandinavian and German roots, embodied the pioneer spirit and worked hard to make her corner of the world a better place. Her obituary, while brief, is just a glimpse of her interesting life.

Monday, February 14, 2022

A North Dakota Event Near and Dear to My Heart Returns this Winter to In-Person

This is a ND event near and dear to my heart. The Great American Bike Race. Photo is me biking with my daughter Rachel's team at Bismarck Century High some years ago.

Photo by Jim Fuglie

Yes, I biked too. I had some sore muscles when my turn was over.

Photo by Jim Fuglie

Great American Bike Race Returns

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Theodore Roosevelt National Park & Medora Winter Getaway

RoughRider HotelHundreds of bison, wild horses, three coyotes, one Northern Shrike, and some spectacular sunsets and sunrises. Reconnecting with friends and making new ones.