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.
When I retired from Keep Fremont Beautiful back in 2017, I knew that I wanted to spend part of my retirement, writing. I built a writing hut in the backyard and that’s all the further I got in terms of a writing plan. It was kind of a “build it and they will come” thing. What came was a series of children’s stories or more accurately – a series of stories for Grandma’s (Oma’s) to tell their grandkids.
First my granddaughter RaiLee crawled up into bed with me one night and asked me to tell her a story about three frogs. Then my other granddaughter Gracyn Mae, named me Oma Sue – we decided she must be German or something, because she recognized me as an Oma as soon as she could talk.
So, what started out as a simple story about three frogs, grew to become a retirement project, a series of books, a publishing company (Oma Publishing) and a labor of love for my sweet Gracyn - who was diagnosed as a toddler with Muscular Dystrophy. (All proceeds from the sales of the books are deposited in the Gracyn Mae Smith Special Needs Trust Fund. Those funds are designated to benefit Gracyn with her future needs.)
The “Three Frog” Trilogy is loosely based on real life events, activities and fond memories of growing up in Fremont, Nebraska and time spent at our family cabin on Big Island, as well as, the influences of a decades long career in environmental education. I’m pretty predictable, I write what I know. I write what I experience in life… I mean – the three frogs are imaginary… I guess.
To be honest, I was thinking of certain people when I first made up this story for little Rai. Rai is three years younger than her cousin Mac and six years younger than her cousin Sam. In my mind Freddy was patterned after Rai, Green after Mac and Hops after Sam. As the stories progressed, Freddy revealed herself to be a combination of both Rai and Gracyn.
The three little frogs are best friends. They all have their own personalities, their own strengths, their own interests but they still come together to form a special bond of friendship and compassion for one another. The three frogs have exciting adventures and must face difficult challenges together. They trust, respect and cooperate with one another when needed and even engage in “sibling rivalry” or maybe just friendly competition. When all is said and done, they celebrate the achievements of their friends!
In the first story, Freddy challenges her friends to build a raft from the litter left by the pond. The first one to sail across the pond will be the “Boss” for the day. Freddy makes her raft out of a Styrofoam clam shell container, a couple of plastic water bottles and strips of plastic torn from a discarded shopping bag. I didn’t realize it at the time but this story was based on a real-life event…
Back in 1957, Styrofoam was invented. A few years later huge Styrofoam crates would be used to ship cut flowers to my grandfather’s greenhouse in Fremont. Grandpa “Carnation” Joe Green was born in 1900 and lived through WWI, the great depression and the rationing of WWII – all while running a huge greenhouse operation.
He never threw anything away – he learned to “make do” out of necessity when materials were unavailable. I’m guessing that some of the Styrofoam crates were returned to the wholesalers or reused in hauling plants or bouquets – but that is just a guess. I do know for sure that a few of the Styrofoam crates were used to build a boat/raft – because in 1960, Grandpa Joe, my brother Billy and I made a couple of river crafts to sail down the Platte River. Billy got first dibs on the lower part of the crates – they were much deeper than the lids. Grandpa and Billy attached three bottom crates together with thin pieces of lathe. His river sailing craft looked more like a canoe. My craft was made out of two lids… which was, in hindsight, a totally insufficient design for a raft.
Grandpa drove Billy and I to our cabin on Big Island (the Platte River) to try out our river boat/raft thingies. I took my two-box lid raft out into the knee-high deep stream and gingerly lowered myself down onto the raft. I and the raft instantly sank to the bottom of the river bed. Billy did somewhat better and would have stayed afloat if the river had been a little deeper.
I think the failure of that raft/boat experiment had been “floating” around in my brain for decades - just waiting for an anti-sinking solution. In creating and telling the story to Rai, I accidentally hit upon the answer – increased buoyancy. Freddy was very clever and engineered a raft that utilized plastic bottles for the necessary buoyancy.
I write what I know – bits and pieces of my memories, my family, the cabin, the greenhouse, the river, the frogs, the litter, problems and solutions… it all just comes together. The stories I tell my children and grandchildren are off the cuff but they come from somewhere close – they come from what I know… The other two books in the trilogy contain real life events and familiar themes – I’ll share more information about that in the next blog entry.
Rai and I made a raft, just like "Freddy" described in the story. We tested it in the bathtub and it worked great! Back in 1960 we didn't have plastic water bottles, but if we had - I would have used them on my raft to create buoyancy and keep it afloat!
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog entry about the perhaps, maybe, possibility of having an ancestor who traveled to the New World on the Mayflower. In that blog, I explained that my 5th Great Grandfather, Christopher Coy, was thought to have been the son of John Coy, who was thought to be the son of Jonathan Coy, who was thought to be the son of Matthew Coy and Ann Brewster. With Ann Brewster being the actual Mayflower descendant.
I came to find out that there were a lot of people with the surname “Coy” back in the early days of America. I felt reasonably sure that my lineage back to Christopher Coy was correct as numerous DNA connections had been confirmed. I didn’t feel that confident about John Coy, Jonathan Coy or Matthew Coy as the line led back in time.
My 5th GG Christopher Coy is likely the son of John Coy but my John Coy was married to a Sara Woodbury. The John Coy who descended from Matthew Coy and Ann Brewster (Mayflower) never married a Sara Woodbury and there is no record of the Mayflower John Coy having a son named Christopher. I know this because the “Mayflower Society” told me so.
I had written to the Mayflower Society and asked them to check my lineage to learn if that particular family line had been verified. When I heard back from them, they regretted to inform me that my particular lineage had not been established. They were kind enough to point out the broken branch in the family tree… My John Coy is a different John Coy from the Mayflower descendent John Coy – two different guys.
Now you might think I am disappointed. I’m not! Not at all. I suspected that my John Coy was a different John Coy. I would have never thought my John Coy originated from the Mayflower, if a researcher through Family Ancestry hadn’t sent me the information. It seemed wonky, but I was willing to do some detective work. Well actually, I wasn’t all that willing to do any work, but I was willing to have the Mayflower Society do a little work and check it out. Question answered – I am not a descendent of the Mayflower. Cool – No is an answer too!
Over all, my experience in determining my family tree has been fun and informative. It is truly remarkable that so much material is available online. In just a few seconds and a couple of “clicks”, you are connecting with long forgotten family members. Instantly revisiting history through the lives of my ancestors is enthralling … bringing to life the events of their time. Reading about and learning more about the Mayflower and the pilgrims was a fun and enlightening experience… now I’m ready for the next adventure into the past – wherever that may or may not lead. Right now, I’m in search of “Jewells”. I have found a few.
Henry Lancaster Jewell – my 6th Great Grandfather fought in the French & Indian War, was wounded in the leg in “The Old French War” , captured in Quebec and died from measles upon his return from war. He was only 30 years old at the time of his death. I have to admit, I haven’t retained much information pertaining to the French & Indian War, so now I need to check that out.
So much history – so many people – so many possibilities – so much to learn…
A few weeks ago, I started thinking about sending out a postcard mailing to announce the publication of the third book in the Three Frog Series. The book would be ready in early January 2021 and I wanted a clever way to tie in the New Year with the New Book.
The first book in the series, “Tell Me A Story Oma Sue About Three Frogs” dealt with a fun challenge. The three frogs created a game of sorts. The first one to build a raft, from the discarded trash that littered the area around their home, and sail across the pond, would be the winner of the challenge. The winner would be the boss for a day.
I wrote the second book in November of 2018 – “Tell Me A Story Oma Sue About Three Frogs Swept Away”. In the second story, the three frogs are asleep on the raft and are flooded out of their pond. The book came out in March of 2019, just after our hometown suffered severe flooding and hundreds of people lost their homes. For a short period of time Fremont was an island – we were cut off from all sides. It wasn’t just Fremont – Nebraska suffered historic flooding. It was sort of a premonition that I wrote about the flood before it happened.
The third book was written and the illustrations almost completed when the pandemic hit in March of 2020. Everything kind of came to a halt as I tried to figure out what to do. In the third book, “Tell Me A Story Oma Sue About Three Frogs Returning Home”, we learn how the three frogs find their way back to their pond.
So back to the postcard mailing… You have to admit that 2020 was a strange year… definitely plain ass crazy. Most everyone I know, and pretty much everyone I don’t know, has been looking forward to a new year and perhaps a return to normal. Just as our “real” lives have been impacted by a series of truly odd occurrences and a complete lack of normalcy, the lives of the three frogs were impacted by a series of unforeseen and equally odd events. A return to normal was all they wanted…
I pondered 2020 and all it’s madness… murder hornets, Harry and Meghan leaving the royal family, the impeachment, COVID 19, the death of Kobe Bryant, the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the Black Lives Matter Protest, the plot to kidnap the Michigan Governor, the insanity of the Proud Boys and the QAnon conspiracies to name a few of the weird, the sad and the absurd.
Nearly 400,00 have died from the virus and our President is spiraling further down into his own hell of mental illness and delusions of grandeur. He is intent on stealing the election he genuinely lost… sadly, too many Americans support him still…
So, what came to me for the copy on the New Year postcard – what could I say about my feelings regarding 2020? 2020 was yucky! But we made it home… that was lucky! Perhaps another premonition…
I hope I don’t spoil anything for you, but the three frogs find their way home to their pond. I picked up the postcards at Max Designs on New Years Eve. Again, I thought I would get them all addressed and ready to be mailed. However, I got sidetracked…
My daughter called me in the early hours of 2021 to tell me that she had been in an accident. Her car was totaled but she was alive. The trip into Omaha to retrieve her was hampered by dense fog. I prayed for help, strength and guidance. I started to doubt that I could continue but soon a white pick-up truck passed me going around 60 – I sped up and kept my eyes on the tail lights. I figured the truck would hit something before me and I would be able stop safely – at least that was the plan.
The truck led me to Dodge Street and the fog lessened as I crossed the bridge at the Elkhorn River – the Bridge that had been washed out in the flood of March 2019.
I found my daughters wrecked car. Two guys in a white pick-up truck had stopped and called for help. She had been alone but these young men had come upon her at the right time.
The return trip to Fremont was even more blinding. I could only see bits of the center white line and the side white line. I concentrated and held the steering wheel a bit too tight. A red SUV passed me and I matched my speed with theirs. I kept thinking that I would feel better when I got over the viaduct at Waterloo – I would at least know then that I was on the right path. I kept hoping that I would get there soon – and hoping – and hoping – and praying. Then the fog started to lift – not much but just enough that I could see a green sign next to the road – “Entering Dodge County” WTF… Luckily, I had traveled the correct path.
Finally, I recognized something familiar. I could see the lights from the Budweiser Distributor and then weirdly, there was another white pickup truck. This one was in front of the red SUV. The truck was swerving from side to side – the SUV was keeping a safe distance and singled to me with their turn lights and hazard flashers. Both cars exited at Military, I decided not to follow and went on to the 23rd Street exit instead.
I pulled out one of the postcard from the package – thinking I would start addressing them. I smiled as I looked at the three frogs standing there so innocently in their little protective masks – with the message… 2020 was yucky! But we made it home… that was lucky! In that moment, I realized that the message on the postcard was so true. 2020 was certainly yucky – in so many ways. But through the grace of God – we made it home – we were lucky!
May we all be blessed with a less traumatic year! My hope for you is to experience divine intervention and know God’s grace. God’s use of the white pick-up trucks was kind of cute. Earth’s angels have need to travel – on that foggy night, they traveled in white pick-up trucks. Thank you Jesus Amen.