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Happy 98th Birthday, Mom!

May 6, 2013

May 7, 1915. The day went down in history as the day the Lusitania was sunk. But that isn’t why this day is important to me.


That same day, 98 years ago today, my mother, Eleanor Grace Halvorsen, was born in Salt Lake City. She was the oldest of 3 children.

She played violin and piano as a child. My youngest daughter would often ask me while she was playing her own violin if I thought her grandma would be proud of her. I knew she would have been!

She was a Girl Scout in Troop 4 in Salt Lake. She earned the Golden Eaglet award, the highest award in Girl Scouting then. golden_eaglet_pin_1918-1939






She was a voracious reader and wrote stories.

She was a good student, and skipped two grades. She wanted to become a doctor after graduating from West High School at the age of 16. Not many women were doctors then, and my grandparents wouldn’t allow her to pursue that goal. Instead, she became an elementary school teacher, completing her college degree by the time she was 18.

Her first teaching job in Fillmore, a small town, about 150 miles south of Salt Lake City. It was a rural area, although it had been the original capital of the State of Utah. Teachers had to be unmarried, and could not even be engaged to work there. Her contract stated that she would be paid $12 a month, less room and board (she was required to live in the teachers’ house), providing the school district had the funds to pay her.

The people were poor, and it was 1933, the middle of the Great Depression. Many of her students walked to school from their farms carrying their shoes to save the leather on the soles. Many came to school hungry. One little boy in her class lived on a dairy farm. His parents sent a bucket of milk every day, and my mother bought graham crackers so the children had something to eat.

She was a good teacher and loved by her students. The school is gone now, and a park is there.

She met my father, Nello Beckstead, at a New Year’s Eve party on December 31, 1933. He was the son of a farmer in South Jordan, Utah, a town at the south end of Salt Lake Valley. They were married on June 5, 1935.

In the years that followed, my four siblings were born. In 1944, my father was drafted into the Navy and was stationed at the supply depot in Clearfield, Utah. Whenever he got leave, he was able to come home.

After the war, my parents moved to a home they built near the farm where my dad grew up. The house started as a basement house, then the next year, they bought a barracks for the upstairs. It was there they started taking foster children. Over the next 25 years, they had over 200 children, many with disabilities. We would often have five at a time at our house.

My mother taught me how to love without judgement and to look past a person’s outward appearance. Race was something one did with your feet or a bicycle; it had nothing to do with nationality. A disability doesn’t handicap a person, but just changes the way he does things. All life is precious and valuable, people most of all.

She was always doing needlework, knitting mostly. All her grandkids had sweaters made by her. She was room mother for my class, and she taught me at home because my school wouldn’t give me more work the year we changed schools. She would drive for field trips for my Girl Scout troop.

Being the youngest, I had the privilege of travelling with my parents. We often went to southern California to visit my aunt and uncle. On those trips, we would have singalongs in the car, or Mom would read to us all. We also enjoyed being quiet together. That was in the days before air conditioning in cars, let alone DVD players! We actually interacted with each other!

Her favorite flowers were lilacs, lilies of the valley, and roses. The lilacs bloomed around her birthday. Every time I smell them, I remember my mom with love and a smile.

Lilly of the valley free Lilacs

My birthday is in December, and in Utah, it was usually cold and snowy. Although I always had a birthday party with my friends, Mom would share her birthday with me. We would spend the day together going to the zoo or to a movie or something. It was a special fun time, just the two of us.

Mom taught me to be the best person I can be. She gave me the love of learning and the joy of reading. She taught me to see the wonder of life. She was an inspiration to many, and loved by all who knew her.

In October 1970, she had a radical mastectomy. The cancer metastasized and was in her brain, too. I was just 17, and still in high school. As children, we assume our parents will be around forever. We don’t think of them as mortal. Then, as we get older, we think we will have them with us at least until we have our own families. A few years later, we hope they will be here a little longer. I found my prayers change during the weeks that followed her surgery. First, I prayed that she would live to see me marry and have children, then my prayers changed to asking that she would see me graduate from college. In the last few days of her life, I prayed that she would live to see me graduate from high school, just six months away. Finally, as hard as it was, I prayed that God would take her home and relieve her pain and suffering. On Friday, November 13, 1970, she peacefully left earth for heaven.

Being young and losing a parent is hard. There are so many things I wish my mother could have been here for. She never met my children, and they never got to know her. Nevertheless, they do know her, in a way. They have been told many stories about her, they have seen photos of her. They knew my dad, and they loved him dearly.

I have the glass bell that was on my mom’s first Christmas tree in 1915. It goes on the Christmas tree every year. As my children were growing up, they knew that if they let the holiday excitement get to them and if they started fighting with each other, the bell would come off the tree. It was a way for me to share my special mama with them. Only once did I have to take that bell off. This last Christmas, it was on the tree at my son’s house. My grandchildren learned about the bell, and were able to share the love and beauty of a woman they never knew.

So on this day when she would be 98 years old, I share her with you, my readers, as an inspiration to be all that you can be, to live life to its fullest, and to enjoy the gifts God has given you each day. We aren’t guaranteed even the next breath. Live your life, enjoy your blessings, share your talents and love with others. Never forget to say “I love you” to those you care about. You never know when it may be your last opportunity to do so. You may never get the chance again.

Mom 1966Happy birthday in Heaven, Mom! I love you!


From → Family, Memorial

  1. What a wonderful tribute and way to honor your mama, DeEtte.
    I feel like I know her. How precious a soul she was to share her life & love with so many others. Though you lost her early in your life, the lessons she taught you shine through, my friend. You are also a blessing to so many. I have no doubt that she is looking down on you beaming with pride at the woman you have become.

  2. A beautiful tribute to a beautiful woman. How blessed you were to share your life with her.

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