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.
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.
I posted this “Oma Sue” blog entry nearly two years ago. The blog entry contains a bit about reincarnation. I have been thinking about reincarnation lately so I decided to share again. FYI, I have updated the story by including a few new paragraphs at the end…
2-11-2019 - The original blog entry
My friend Leila, who happens to be the current executive director of Keep Fremont Beautiful, stops by the house every so often, to visit about the organization and to get caught up on what is happening in our lives.
Her most recent visit happened just a few days after I had gone to my oldest daughters’ home for my birthday dinner celebration. I had taken a ton of pictures and videos of the decorations and the family. Our little Gracyn had entertained us throughout the evening with jokes and singing – she is quite the performer.
Gracyn is my granddaughter who has muscular dystrophy. Gracyn is beautiful, intelligent, talented, funny and fierce. Leila was appropriately smitten with the videos of my adorable little granddaughter, as well as, the numerous pictures of the other magnificent grandchildren and the evenings activities.
Of course, the conversation led to topics concerning the sale of the book, the setting up of the special needs trust for Gracyn, creating the website for Oma Publishing and the writing and illustrating of the second book. There was a lot to get her caught up on.
I can’t remember exactly how the conversation went, but as it was winding down, Leila stated that she had never known my husband Randy but she imagined that I wished he was here to experience all of this with me.
I paused for a moment before answering Leila… “I feel that he is here. He is with me.”
For those of you who don’t know, my husband Randy passed away in 2006 from brain cancer. I have often talked to Leila about Randy and what a special man he was to me and our children. I have told her stories of his strength, his wit and his intelligence. The man was a wonderful and loving person. I miss him and always will but at the same time, I know he is here.
During the last few weeks of Randy’s life, he entered hospice care. It was much too difficult to provide the needed care for Randy in our home so we opted for a medical facility a few blocks from our house. I had my son-in-law move our recliner into Randy’s room so I could stay with him day and night. I rarely left his side as he slowly slipped away from me.
One day my Mom came in to the room. She stood at the end of his bed. I stood beside the bed. I looked down and saw that Randy’s hand was resting on his chest. I giggled because he was giving me the finger. I didn’t think he would respond but I jokingly said “Hey Randy, you’re giving my Mom the finger.” He opened his eyes, raised his head to look at my Mom, picked up his hand and with a bit of a smirk, gave my Mom a proper finger.
I could tell he was thinking... how many times do I have left to give my mother-in-law the finger? Mom and I both laughed as he rested once again.
Our oldest daughter Sara was pregnant during Randy's time of hospice. She would come visit and sit by his bed – his hand resting on her baby bump. He had told her he would live to hold his grandson. He had told me that he would beat the cancer inside his head. We were heartbroken as the cancer continued to take its toll.
I prayed, I cried and I worried during those days in hospice. I told Randy over and over how much I loved him and how I knew that he would be watching over us. I pleaded with him to give me a sign so I would know that he was with me, after he was gone.
Late on January 30th, I nodded off to sleep, holding Randy’s hand through the guard rail. I awoke suddenly in the early hours of January 31st, with a warm sensation throughout my body, I couldn’t move, the warmth faded, the paralysis ended and I knew that Randy had passed on. I appreciated the warm good-bye and hoped that I would receive a sign of his presence in the future.
That was in January of 2006. Fast forward to April of 2006 and the birth of our first grandchild. Sara had wanted me in the delivery room and I was so honored to be present for the birth of dear Sam. I was so completely delighted to get to hold that precious boy just moments after his birth. As I gazed at his adorable, and oh so familiar little smirk, he laid his hand on his chest and gave me the finger. At that moment I realized that Randy was with me – with all of us. We were surrounded by the love of the most special man I have ever known.
For those who knew Randy well, you know that he could be a tad irreverent – he had a wonderfully wicked sense of humor. Sam giving me the finger, just after entering this world, was the absolute most perfect sign to show me that Randy is with me still.
December 29, 2020 You might be wondering what this has to do with reincarnation… I’m not sure, but it seems like it does. The last little irreverent joke that Randy carried out in his life, is the exact same “first” little joke performed by baby Sam. I suppose the finger could have been merely a sweet little coincidence, but it feels like more to me.
When I told my Mom what had happened, and showed her the picture, she got chills. We both got tears in our eyes – I know it’s weird… getting the finger from a newborn… but it truly meant something special to us both…
As Sam grew older, he would say things that Randy had said to me. He would do things that Randy had done. Sam is 14 now and I still witness the odd "Randy" thing from time to time. Although I can’t prove it, I feel that Randy shared an aspect of his personality and that aspect reincarnated in Sam.
At any rate, I believe in reincarnation. I don’t know exactly how it all works but I think it is possible that reincarnation manifests in a variety of ways.