Viola Agnes Jensen Peterson wasn’t famous exactly, not unless you counted the awards Nordstrom’s handed out to her for being their top sales person in the men’s clothing department year after year. However, she was famous to her family as she was dearly loved, as a thin, down-to-earth, hard-working woman who came from a Danish family of ten children. Vi was born into the middle of the pack, but no matter what age they were, all the children learned to work hard as they grew up on a North Dakota farm.
Vi didn’t want to remain on the farm so she married an enticing Norwegian engineer, Einar Peterson, who promised her adventure and excitement. In the years that they were married, Vi encountered adventure, but I don’t think it went the way she had it in mind.
When I think back about my connection to this family, I realize that the universe definitely had a lesson planned for me. One day their son followed me to the beach, since his apartment building was kitty corner to the home where I lived on 19th street in Hermosa Beach. We learned we were both from Kirkland, Washington but had lived at opposite ends of town as small children. It was years later after we married and moved back to Kirkland that I became friends with his mother.
Vi was memorable as we enjoyed long heart-to-heart chats with one another. I had a relationship with her that I did not have with my own mother, so Vi became like a mother to me. We were there to support one another… something I had not experienced in my own family. Vi was there for the people she loved no matter their faults.
Over years of marriage Einar and Vi lived in Washington, Alaska, and California. Einar became a licensed pilot of small airplanes and flew them around Alaska while working on large construction projects. One time Einar crashed his airplane through the ice and radioed for help. Since Vi was a passenger, along with the construction materials in the plane, Einar had to hide Vi out in the snow banks until after the investigative rescue crew left so that he wouldn’t get in trouble for overloading the airplane. Einar liked to party and his nine year old son, repeatedly had to drag his dad out of the local bars to bring him home. Einar liked to drink. He even fell, cracking his head open, and while bleeding went back to bed. Fortunately for Einar, Vi came home from work to find him bleeding and called 9-1-1. If Vi hadn’t come home when she did and called 9-1-1 Einar would have bled to death as the actor, William Holden did. Plus, after this scary event, Vi with the help of her son, forced Einar into an alcohol treatment center.
As the years progressed Vi, maintained their home, raised two children, worked full-time for Nordstrom’s in Bellevue, Washington, and loved her grandchildren. Vi, as the top sales lady in Nordstrom’s men’s department, earned more than Einar, who was the City Engineer for the City of Kirkland, Washington. Most importantly, she loved being a grandmother and playing with her grandchildren. I still laugh as Vi was highly intelligent and excellent at helping people, yet she was addicted to People Magazine and all of the Hollywood gossip rags!
Then suddenly, her already slim body shriveled, and her spleen became swollen. Doctors ran tests. I went with her to the Oncologist’s office for the results of those tests. The doctor told Vi, who was barely 65, that she had a rare form of cancer, myelofibrosis, and that she had plus or minus five years to live. Evidently, that is the typical life expectancy of someone with this voracious disease. The doctor reported that Vi’s bone marrow was ceasing to make blood and the marrow was turning to fibrosis tissue. I don’t know how Vi kept from crumbling right there in the doctor’s office. As for me, I was in shock and denial. The doctor couldn’t be right! I wanted to believe that some miracle would happen and that Vi would live many more healthy years.
However, Vi’s energy slowly languished, but she worked as hard as ever, but now black and blue bruises formed. She continued to work at Nordstrom’s until she was too tired and retired at 66 after working for Nordstrom’s for over 20 years. She put her grandkids, Heather (age 8) and Mathew (age 5) to work cleaning her sliding glass door. I’m sure the bottom of their door saw more Windex than any other window in the house. Then one day, two and a half years after her diagnosis, Vi caught what seemed to be a bad case of the flu, but she was hospitalized. The next night she was gone. This vibrant bloom withered overnight right before our very eyes.
Vi wilted like a rose that had been lost in a snow drift. Watching a person, I loved like a mother, flag and melt away before my eyes decimated me as she was a very dear mother-in-law. I was closer to her than to my own mother. That month I lost Vi, two weeks later my beloved grandmother died, and then one week later my delightful and energetic grandmother-in-law died from a sudden stroke. These very special women, the vitality and love in my life, all died within a month. I too sometimes feel like that blackened rose because of my sense of shock and desolation at the loss of these treasured women.
The day arrived for Vi’s funeral and reception. I bore the burden of preparing all of the food for the reception at my house after the funeral service while Vi’s daughter sat there in my living room. I was determined to be as strong as my dear mother-in-law had been as I trudged forward – looking similar to a zombie. My daughter, Heather and I could sense Vi’s invisible presence and Heather often saw Vi in her dreams. Heather even asked “why the grandmother who loved me died?”
Remember, as one bloom dies new buds form. My daughter, Heather, is very much like her thin, hard-working grandmother, Vi, right down to loving People Magazine and the Hollywood gossip rags!