Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Perspective and the elephant

This is most of the text of the talk I gave today at my mom's memorial. I improvised a little while speaking and those thoughts are not included. I paraphrased the elephant story here because for the talk I copied it from an online site. But it is an old legend.

Once upon a time there were six blind men in a village. One day there was an elephant and they wanted to find out for themselves what it was like. Each one touched the elephant.

One man said, “the elephant is a pillar”
Another man said, “no, it is like a tree branch.”
The man who touched the tail said it was like a rope.
The man who touched the ear said it was like a huge fan.
The man who touched the side of the elephant thought it was a wall.
The man who touched the tusk said it was like a solid pipe.

The men started arguing about which one of them was right. A wise man passed by and asked them what was the matter. They told him what they each thought the elephant was like. The wise man explained that they were all right, but the elephant was the combination of what they had each discovered. The men were happy.

My purpose today is to share my perspective on the life of Janice Burrell Snyder. I can only share my perspective because I have mostly known her as my mother, but somewhat as friend and sister in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Now, all of this is pieced together mostly from my memories of what my mom told me. So it is a mixture of her perspective and my perspective. Other people who were involved have their own perspective.

For the purpose of being clear, I'm going to say Janice rather than Mom, because most of you knew her as Janice. And I sometimes called her that – mostly in public when we were shopping and if she heard “Mom” she didn't think it was for her, but she would answer to “Janice.”

And now, part of the story of Janice Burrell Snyder.

Once upon a time, there was a man named Arthur and a woman named Florence.

Arthur and Florence fell in love. They wanted to get married, but her parents didn't approve because Arthur was about 9 years older than Florence. Nevertheless, they did get married.

Arthur and Florence had three little girls: Janice, Diane and Nancy.

Janice was born May 30, 1938, in Chicago. That is the traditional Memorial Day, no matter that now it's celebrated on the last Monday of May. She told me that her mom's doctor was determined that she be born on Memorial Day. He wanted her sister Diane to be born on the Fourth of July, but he didn't get his way that time. I really have no idea why he was so fixated on holidays.

Arthur held a variety of jobs and the family moved around a bit. They lived in Dixmoore Village in 1940, according to the census. That's next door to Harvey, Illinois. Janice said she had a pony when she was little. I believe the pony was traded in for a younger sister, Diane.

They lived in Chicago and also Fort Dodge. Janice went to elementary school at Hawley, where the Hawley Lions park is located today. When in elementary school or junior high, her plan was that when she grew up, she would be an old maid. She and her best friend would adopt kids and kittens and raise them all together.

Later on, her plan was to have four kids and when she and her husband retired, they would live with each kid for three months of the year.

The family moved to Gowrie, and she went to high school there. I have recently been in contact with her boyfriend from high school, and he gave me a new perspective on her – the high school girl with younger sisters who teased her about kissing her boyfriend.

Janice's dad, Arthur, was Gowrie town marshal for awhile. He resigned from that job and they moved to Aurelia during her senior year. She worked at Cherokee as a nurse's aide, while her parents worked there. They moved to Chicago some time after she graduated.

Her uncle worked for the Fort Dodge police department. When they moved, there wasn't room for her to travel with her parents and sisters, so she was to take the train by herself from Fort Dodge. Her Uncle Walter escorted her to the train depot, in his police uniform. She said that she felt like a scarlet woman being run out of town on a rail.

Janice had met and dated Bill Snyder while still living in Iowa. I don't have all the details of their courtship, just that she worked in a cafe and he was driving a truck. I do know that they were married in Chicago.

They lived in Des Moines, where Bill was going to college. He transferred to Iowa State University and they lived in Pammel Court – the married student housing. It consisted of trailer homes and quonset huts. This is where they lived when I was born. My earliest memory is like a fuzzy black and white snapshot. I was being held by one of my parents by a quonset hut, at night.

When Bill graduated, he got a job teaching vocational agriculture in the Van Buren School system at Keosauqua. This is where Donna was born. We joke that my dad was a student and her dad was a teacher.

The family lived in several homes in the Keosauqua area. There was one farm house, then another – we called this one Little House on the Prairie. The neighbors had pigs that would get out from time to time. My Aunt Nancy blamed me for causing Mom to go into labor – she said I let the pigs out and Mom had to chase them down. What can I say? I was three years old. If it is true, I think I have the excuse of not being old enough to know better.

I need to backtrack a little here. While the family was still in Ames, Janice was visiting one of the neighbors in Pammel Court to bring over extra tomatoes given her by Bill's mom. She noticed that the woman was coloring in her Bible. She was curious about this and asked. The neighbor explained about marking scriptures for studying, and invited her to go to a weekday women's meeting – Relief Society.

While at the church for this meeting, Janice met and shook hands with two men who were there. She said that she felt something was very different about them and she wanted to know more. She started investigating the church.

It took some time for Bill to accept the gospel, but he did while they lived in the Keosauqua area. They were baptized in January 1964, in the swimming pool at the Ottumwa YMCA. The family was sealed together in the Salt Lake Temple in 1967.

The other two homes the family lived in near Keosauqua were an old farmhouse that burned completely down in February 1966 and another home that was rented by the same landlord.

Bill got a different teaching job – this time for the West Marshal school district. The family moved to an old farmhouse just outside Rhodes. This is where I attended school from second grade through eighth grade.

Janice went to Marshalltown Community College and received an associate's degree. Bill left teaching to take a truck driving job for Umthun Trucking in Eagle Grove, and the family moved to Fort Dodge in 1975.

Janice moved out in 1978 to take an apartment at the Warden. She was still around for a while, but eventually moved to Chicago, where she lived with her sister Diane and her family. You will have a chance to hear about that perspective from my cousin Neela, Diane's oldest daughter.

Bill and Janice divorced. She never remarried. He did remarry, and I assume happily – it appears so from my perspective.

Janice's mother, Florence, died in 1979. Her father, Arthur, died in 1981. One thing that made her happy was a mistake she made in June 1981. She gave her father some books – Westerns, that she knew he would enjoy – for Father's Day. Unfortunately, it was one week early. She took some ribbing about that, but her dad enjoyed the books for a week before he died.

In 1982, Donna and I both moved to Chicago at different times. I got married to Kent, who I had met in Iowa. Donna married Elias, who she met in Chicago. They produced four grandchildren for Janice. Kent and I produced two grandchildren for her.

Janice loved to babysit her grandkids. When she would visit Donna when Alex was little, at parting she would go to the door in preparation to leave. She would say “1, 2, 3” and Alex would run the length of the apartment to jump into her arms for a big hug.

Sometime after Donna's divorce, she moved back to Fort Dodge. In March 1996, Kent and I moved to Fort Dodge, as well. Janice moved back to Fort Dodge later that year to be with her grandchildren. And, I suppose, her daughters as well.

In Fort Dodge, she became a Foster Grandparent. She loved her first assignment, in Mrs. Duffy's kindergarten class at Hillcrest. Unfortunately Mrs. Duffy died and Janice was reassigned. She didn't find as fitting an assignment at the other schools she went to. Eventually her physical condition caused problems – she had both knees replaced and some other surgeries.

The last few years she lived at Garden Village in Fort Dodge.

These things tell part of the life of Janice Burrell Snyder. But there is much, much more.

Her favorite flowers were lilacs and lily of the valley.

Janice loved to read. There was hardly a time in her life that she wasn't involved with books. She enjoyed a wide variety of genres like fantasy, science fiction, mystery, certain romances, and one of her favorite authors was Betty Neels. I have quite a collection of Betty Neels books at home now. I also have her collection of church books. She loved the scriptures and read them daily as long as she was able.

She liked to watch some crime dramas, science fiction and history on TV. She enjoyed the classic Doctor Who, but I couldn't get her interested in the current episodes, unfortunately.

Janice enjoyed participating in a couple of online forums. She liked the people there and they liked her. She did gain a certain amount of expertise in being online and emailing, although sometimes we got a little exasperated when things didn't go well and she called us for tech support.

Janice loved the church. She believed in the gospel. She held many callings throughout her life. Her death is a separation from the things and the people she knew, but we hold on to the belief that we will be reunited some day. I take comfort in the timing of her death on Good Friday. I will remember the resurrection when I think of her and hope that we will have a sweet reunion.

I have told you a part of the story of Janice Burrell Snyder. But like the blind men and the elephant, there is only so much that I know.

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