Oma Sue's Blog
Hi – I’m Sue Reyzlik. I recently realized my life-long dream of building a writing hut in the backyard. The writing hut serves as a creative space and home office for Oma Publishing. This blog will be intermingled with family history, varied experiences and insights on being a Grandma (Oma), creating my special backyard space, as well as, my “retirement” career as a self-publisher of children’s stories. And perhaps a little bit on the 32 years I served as Executive Director for Keep Fremont Beautiful and the wonderful people who are sharing this adventure.
A few weeks ago, I was giving myself another haircut. I have been doing these home haircuts for over a year now and I was trying a new technique. I would take a section of hair and cut it off and then take that section of hair and wrap it around one of those sticky rollers. So, by the time I was done, my hair was in rollers and I wasn’t at all sure what my haircut looked like, but with all the excess hair out of the way, I went to work on what was left hanging out around the edges… This is when the doorbell rang.
I figured it had to be the neighbor kid so I wasn’t too concerned how I looked. I was a little surprised to find a nice-looking, fully dressed, hair and makeup done woman, standing in the patio with a newspaper column in her hand. I immediately apologized for the way I looked, covered in a dusting of gray hair with an assortment of yellow, pink and green rollers adorning my head… I explained that I had been cutting my hair. Which she had no reaction to at all. She simply smiled and nicely ignored my strange attire.
She introduced herself and told me that her mother and my mother had been in the same class in high school and were friends. Her mother had recently passed away and she was going through her things. Her mother had saved a variety of items and it was taking a long time to process her mementoes.
This sweet woman standing on my patio proceeded to tell me that her mother had enjoyed the columns that I had written for Keep Fremont Beautiful and that her mother and my mother would discuss the columns from time to time. After my mother died, this lovely woman’s mother continued to read my columns and clipped one particular column and saved it – tucked away for her daughter to discover one day.
Now this daughter, couldn’t bring herself to throw the column away… she wanted me to know that her mother had saved it. She wanted me to know that my mother’s friend continued to read my columns after my mother passed. I’m glad her husband knew where I live and I’m glad that she took the time to come over to my house, ring the doorbell, ignore my appearance and tell me the story of my mother’s friend!
The column she returned to me is “Saying Goodbye to Dad”. Dad died just a few days before RaiLee was born in 2012. It was a bittersweet time. I am reprinting this column in memory of not only Dad, but Mom and Mom’s friend as well… connections in life… connections after life…
FYI - The haircut was crappy – but I keep thinking I will get better at it one day. Had the second shot, so maybe I won't have to get better at cutting my own hair! Here's to getting back in the salon soon!
Saying Goodbye to Dad (Around March 31, 2012) Note: I put some of the parts back in that the editor had taken out!
My Dad passed away this last week. For the past three decades, he faced some pretty serious health conditions. He was like that “battery” bunny – he just kept going.
He suffered his first heart attack, just before Christmas one year, when he was out hunting – alone. He got stuck, up to his thighs in a snow bank, trying to retrieve whatever it was he shot. He used his gun as leverage and was finally able to free himself. I don’t remember if he brought back his bird or rabbit or whatever. He did however, get back in the truck and drove himself home.
Later that Saturday evening, Mom came home from working all day at the greenhouse and found him in bed, no supper on the table and it looked like he hadn’t accomplished anything all day. She was irritated. He simply said he didn’t feel good. The guy had a great deal of tolerance for pain!
She finally convinced him to go to the hospital. Mom drove. Sure enough, he had endured and survived his first heart attack. He was still in the hospital that Christmas Eve. We were grateful that he hadn’t suffered too much damage and no surgery was needed. He had to make some lifestyle changes: no smoking, better diet, daily medication.
That Christmas Eve was different from past family gatherings… it felt “lacking” without Dad – the first that he hadn’t attended in my lifetime.
That heart attack was serious enough that it forced Dad to retire from Hormel Foods Corp. Mom watched his diet and monitored his beer intake. During retirement he gardened, fished, traveled, endured Mom’s constant remodeling projects and kept his yard neat and tidy. He became an avid recycler, which I am pretty sure was due to me and my KFB influence.
Dad’s second heart attack was more serious. He ignored the pain… again. The damage was much more extensive. This time he needed bypass surgery. He pulled through just fine and even began exercising on a more regular basis. He enjoyed walking on the treadmill down the basement, while watching his television shows. Mom monitored their diets even closer!
Years later, Mom began to worry about Dad. He often stumbled or became dizzy. He often slurred his words. Mom accused him of drinking too much beer, which he firmly denied. Mom decided it was time to see a doctor!
This time it was a brain tumor that had started in his ear and had grown into his brain. After a successful surgery, as Dad rested peacefully, the doctor explained to Mom that the tumor was the size of a tennis ball and must have been growing for years. The doctor thought it was amazing that Dad could walk at all without stumbling. The doctor and Mom both thought that Dad was unconscious, but he had heard their exchange and without opening his eyes, offered a little dig “I told you it wasn’t the beer”.
We all thought Dad, with his myriad of health problems, would leave this world before Mom. She passed away in January 2009. He missed her.
When he was diagnosed with skin cancer last August, he underwent surgery and radiation treatment. We thought he had it beat. Then in February, the cancer returned, this time attacking his entire body. He said “no more treatments. I want to go lie by Mom.”
He stayed in A.J. Merrick Manor for a couple of weeks and then we took him home for hospice. My brother Bill and his wife, Eileen, came from Sioux Falls to provide for his primary care. Family and friends gathered at his bedside for the next couple of weeks. I would stop by to feed him lunch and dinner. We got Internet at Dad’s so I could work at the kitchen table. This was a “family” time.
Last Friday, the weather was beautiful. Billy and Eileen moved Dad’s bed so he could look out the back window. He marveled at the change of seasons and how the trees were budding and how green the yard looked. After a few hours, Eileen thought he was asleep and started to remove his glasses. He simply said “No, I’m still looking around.”
Dad was a farm boy at heart, spending as much time outdoors as possible. I don’t think he ever applied sunscreen although in later years he would wear a hat to shield his balding head.
At 83 he had lived a full life, married for nearly 60 years, working long hours at the “plant”, raising three children, staying involved in the lives of his grandchildren, great-grandchildren and lots of nieces and nephews. This spring we will plant a tree or two in his honor, creating shade and protection from the harmful rays of the sun. We may drink a beer or two – and for sure, we will recycle the aluminum! This one’s for you Dad.
In the last blog entry, I told you a story about how my brother, my Grandpa Joe and I made rafts out of Styrofoam container lids. We took the rafts out to the family cabin on Big Island to try them out – mine sank to the bottom on the first try. That failure had been in the back of my mind for the better part of six decades and when I started making up that story for Rai, a solution to the sinking problem came to me.
The second book is also based on real life experiences back in the 1950’s and early 1960’s – Platte River flooding on Big Island. Our family cabin sat right on the ground – or more appropriately right on the sand – just a few yards back from the river. Each winter the Platte would freeze and when the weather warmed, the ice jams appeared and forced the river out of its banks.
Each Spring, my Dad, Uncle and Grandpa would spend several days washing out the mud and muck left in the cabin. Our cabin was just a simple summer cabin with no drywall or insulation so the cleanup wasn’t awful. I think they moved the refrigerator and stove up on something to keep those appliances protected and out of the water.
There was an old hand pump at the sink and an outhouse in the backyard – so running water and contamination was always an issue – we never drank the water. We always brought pre-made Kool-aid and water with us from town.
One year the flooding was worse than in years past. More water (and mud) entered the cabin and ruined some cushions on the cabin furniture – as well as the fluffy quilts stored atop the cushions. None could be salvaged - all of Aunt Margaret’s quilts were thrown away!
I remember walking around the area and looking at how the landscape had changed. The river bank had been altered. The bank was much steeper now than in past years. A tree was left teetering on the edge – I wasn’t sure how it managed to hang on. Branches and debris were washed up against the cabin and tall sand dunes rose intermittently across the front yard. The flooding had been a big deal and something no one could control. We could only deal with the aftermath… the flooding made quite an impact on my impressionable mind.
I hate to admit this, but my brother and I had captured a little toad the summer before the flooding and we inadvertently killed it. We shouldn’t have tried to keep it captive. We were heart broken when he died. We conducted a funeral for “Toady” before burying him in the front yard of the cabin. I had carved a cross in a block of plaster at girl scout camp and we used that as a headstone. After the flood, there was no sign of the headstone – anywhere! That missing headstone made me even sadder.
The flooding on Big Island came to mind as I made up the next story for the three little frogs. As a child, I had witnessed the power of flood waters. I saw how landscapes were altered and how large and small things could simply be washed away. The second book became a saga of … “Tell Me A Story Oma Sue About Three Frogs Swept Away”.
I finished writing the Story in November of 2018 and completed the illustrations in early 2019. The book came out just as we, in Fremont and elsewhere in Nebraska, were dealing with historic flooding. For a time, Fremont was completely surrounded by flood water and hundreds of people were forced from their homes. Homes in the southern part of our community suffered the most devastation. It is only by hard work and determination that the remainder of our City was spared.
The flooding in 2019 was a frightening time and thankfully, it was a time of cooperation and compassion. I was very proud of my fellow “Fremonters” in how they handled the crisis and how they worked together to solve problems.
In a way, it was weird that I had written about a flooding event in the second book, but in a way, it was a natural fit… flooding is something that happened every spring when I was growing up and it stayed in my mind.
In the second book, the three little frogs were swept away – they couldn’t stop the force of the flood and had to go with the flow. When it was all done – they had to deal with being forced from their homes and find their way back.
Of course, they have an adventure along the way and make new and diverse friendships! Sounds familiar – doesn’t it?
It’s Fremont at its best – it’s the Fremont I know, and I write what I know.