Mom, Migration, and Graduation

Nellie young

Mom was raised in Wapato, Washington, in a farming family in a farming community. Her father, a widower with two sons, married a much younger woman who had immigrated to America from the Netherlands. They had two daughters and three sons. Mom was the oldest.

Hers was a life of rising early, milking cows, doing chores, watching siblings, weeding gardens, canning produce, cleaning up. Evidently it was also a life of reading and studying. After she graduated from high school, she studied one year at Biola (Bible Institute of Los Angeles).

She wanted to transfer to a recently established college in Dayton, Tennessee, named after William Jennings Bryan. She was offered a car ride across the country—before the interstate highway system—, so she decided to check it out. Her mom was doubtful. She wondered how Nellie would pay for tuition and books? The admissions director had the same question, asking her what skills she had. “I know how to milk cows,” Mom offered. It just so happened that the college had cows but lacked knowledgeable milkers. So she was hired. She earned money ironing and eked out a degree with academic distinction.

She also met my dad, whom she called “Johnny.”  She wrote in his yearbook: “Labs, water fights, Gutenburg trips, Sun. Piano playing, Street meetings, Dr. Gregg, or reading together, I’ve enjoyed it all and been blessed by it. He has been extra good to us, hasn’t He? Ps 103 — Nellie. I Cor 15:58

It’s a wonder to me that Mom started in the Yakima Valley of Washington and ended in Lombard, IL, two states over from Ohio, where her father began his life. And I, raised in Lombard, settled a few hours south from where she lived.

I’m gobsmacked that this quiet girl took it upon herself to ride halfway across the nation to go to an unknown college. I hitched a ride with friends to go to one year of Bible school in Los Angeles. My plan was to establish residency and go to UCLA. I never stepped on the campus, frozen with fear. If I had but asked, a dozen people would have been willing to help me navigate both the mass transit and the admissions process.

So Mom migrated, milked her way through school, and graduated. She never knew that her oldest son became both a scholar and a dairy farmer. I imagine a conversation today between her and David, her intelligent questions and thoughtful replies. She would chuckle and sigh, “Farming sure has changed.”

Mom left her mark at Bryan. Reading her senior yearbook, I find these benedictions:

Your life has been a blessing and joy to us. — Eugene Rosenau

I’m unable to tell you what your daily work has meant in my life! — Cleo Graham

I’ll never forget what a friend in need you were. Knowing you has really enriched my life. —Dorothy Borror

I’ll never forget your beautiful smiles. — Delbert Baker

Thanks for letting me sleep in your bed overnights-even if there were stones in it! I could never tell you what a blessing you’ve been to me this year. I really enjoyed my frequent visits to your rooms. — Miriam Levengood

Years later, I’ve been told, Mom was in the throes of a nursing baby, dirty diapers, hungry toddlers, and active preschoolers. My dad arrived home, scooped up a child, and asked the most pressing question on his mind: “Did you study your Greek today?”

Yesterday, on the (46th!) anniversary of her death, I talked to my husband about my mom. A sob caught in my throat, and I admitted, “I still miss her.” He nodded and said, “One day you’ll never have to miss her again.”

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4 thoughts on “Mom, Migration, and Graduation

  1. A lovely tribute to your Mom, Carol — and lovely recognizable pictures of her. Although I didn’t come to know her until probably her early 40s (when your family first came to Lombard), if I were to randomly find that larger photo somewhere I would immediately say, “Surely this is Nellie Harper as a child!” It’s the smile. She had such grace, a gentleness of spirit — and that smile. I remember listening to her sharing some devotional thoughts at a baby shower and I, as a younger mother, thought that she radiated a certain beauty as she spoke. I remember her funeral, with the auditorium packed with more people than one of the funeral directors said he had ever seen at a funeral (I overheard him). People who admired and loved her and knew they had been blessed to know her. We miss our mothers for the rest of our lives Carol, but Curt is right — one day we’ll never have to miss them again. Hugs to you my friend!

  2. I find your mother’s memory here to be so touching. She made a difference in lives…introducing devotions into a baby shower…Wow! You were blessed to have her as a mother. Mother’s Day is not as special and a bit sad after our mothers are no longer with us, but as your husband said, “One day you’ll never have to miss her again.” I do believe. love and prayers, jep

  3. Beautiful post, Carol. What wonderful memories of her life before you were born that you pieced together her! We have friends from Indiana who came through town a few months ago and we met them for lunch. They told us they were planning to stop through Dayton, TN, on their way to Florida. Their daughter graduated from Bryan College about ten years ago!

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