This weekend I’m headed over to the west side to help my mom celebrate her 90th birthday. It will be a big family gathering to mark another noteworthy milestone in the life of Jean Ellen Walz of Hartington, Nebraska.
Mom has come a long way from the small town that more or less served as the setting for the movie my brother Bob Nelson wrote called “Nebraska.” (She would like to remind you all again that although the Bruce Dern character represented her first husband and my dad, she is nothing like the wife portrayed in the movie.)
Mom attended Catholic schools in Hartington and did quite well in academics. For a while when she was young, she worked for the Cedar County News, the local newspaper. Maybe that’s where my journalistic influence comes from. She married George Nelson, who she met at a dance in Hartington, in her early 20s and had five children (I’m the oldest). My brother Bob was a newborn when the family migrated in the mid-1950s to the Seattle area, where several of our dad’s brothers already lived.
Mom was a housewife and kid-raiser for many years, but eventually found secretarial work with the Kent School District, where she was employed for many years before retiring and taking up a second career working for Avis at SeaTac International Airport. She retired from that job a few years ago, and decided that was enough retiring. She made friends through her work in both places. For years, she has been an enthusiastic square dancer and formed another circle of friends through that activity. She attended the annual square dancing event in Winthrop a few years back.
After a couple of divorces, Mom doesn’t see much point in another marriage, although she has lots of friends from those different spheres of her life. She lives independently and self-sufficiently, although she limits her driving to church, shopping, hair styling appointments and other close-by destinations. She’s still mentally sharp — she does the New York Times Sunday crossword every week, and though it takes her longer than it takes me, she usually finishes it before the next weekend. I’m hopeful that her longevity and mental acuity are good indicators of what I might expect a few years down the road.
Mom pays close attention to world and national affairs, especially politics, and is up on the current news. I’m proud to say that she is a staunch liberal and feminist who has no use for Donald Trump or his policies. She also reads the Methow Valley News closely.
Mom is the oldest of seven Walz children, but has lost three of her sisters in recent years. Her five kids have found different paths in life, and she’s proud of all of us and our accomplishments.
Birthdays are serious business for Mom. She decides how she’s going to celebrate, and the rest of us show up. For this year’s gathering, we’re collecting family photos that go back as far as we can find them. I also asked Mom to write a narrative of her life to share at the party. After all this time, we still occasionally find out things we didn’t know (nothing scandalous).
If the Post Office is on time, Mom will get this edition of the Methow Valley News in the mail at about the time her birthday party starts on Saturday. She doesn’t want presents and I didn’t send a card, so this will have to do. Happy birthday, Mom, and all the love in the world. And if you have plans for 95 and 100, let us know so we can clear our calendars.