Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Tribute to My Mom.

Hazel Marian Smith Barnwell was my mother.  She passed away last month and I was blessed to have the opportunity to clear up old business, enjoy some quality time, and say goodbye before she died.
My brother and I are all that is left of that particular family unit so we worked together to arrange a fitting sendoff for this unique woman.  After the service several people asked me to send them copies of the talks and slideshow.  I am posting that information here in order to share it with anyone who is interested.

Life Sketch by Jan Oelkers

For those of you who might not know me, I’m Jan – the middle child.  I know that, typically, a life sketch includes all of the born to and married when info and I will give you a little of that but most of all I want to discuss what being Marian’s daughter has meant.

When I tell a story I believe in portraying all of the beauty of an event in the context of the painful in order to truly appreciate the achievement when the final outcome leads to joy.

So mom’s story is a poignant and beautiful one and I'm grateful to have this opportunity to tell you why.

To begin, we are a “get it done” family.  My mother’s great great grandfather joined the LDS church in Denmark and came to this country bringing with him a culture of love and support for family that mom was taught from her first breath.  Mom would say “family is family” which meant that if there is family around that needs something you will do whatever you can to help.  Her childhood was spent in a household where there was there a steady stream of extended family all around.  Add to this that her father tended to bring people home when they needed help as well.  I could be wrong in my interpretation of this but from what I’ve been able to observe my Grandparent’s business was a Mecca for family members who needed work and thus loving family was ever present.

This is a wonderful blessing and a curse.  When there are many well meaning helpers around there are also many opinions and expectations. Mom talked about how proud of her her father was, how he would have her “recite” for people.  A favorite story she told me was about the time her father brought home a flat of strawberries and told her he would really like some jam. Then he left her alone to take care of it.  Now those of you who have had my mom prepare a meal for you might be getting a picture of little Marian in the big kitchen at the house on South Temple up to her elbows in strawberries – and the incredulity of the image.  Let’s just say that cooking was not really my mom’s favorite thing.  She once watched my children for a week and fed them nothing but 18 wheeler sandwiches from the corner gas station – but I digress. She managed to make the jam.  She has never included in the story how the jam  turned out. What she has always said was how it felt to have her father show that confidence in her and then praise her efforts.  From my perspective this little story that she liked to tell me was important to her because she craved that feeling of being trusted and seen as competent.

Now I’ve seen the pictures.  The Smith children had pretty clothes and my Grandmother was, of course, proud of her beautiful children.  You might accuse me of being biased but in truth, my mother and aunts were stunning women. Being pretty and being thin were very important.  For my mother weight management was a lifelong burden.  I don’t think she ever put anything in her mouth without being burdened with conflicting emotions.  If she was thin and eating nothing but boiled chicken and celery then every bite was almost a penance for the sin of having eaten something that tasted good in the past and if she was binging every bite was a failure and foretold a life of loneliness.  In mom’s head she wasn’t lovable if she wasn't thin and pretty and she never felt like she was thin enough. Because of this she often pulled away from people she loved, she wasn’t sure she was good enough.  So, knowing this I am always amazed when I realize how often and completely she opened her heart to people.  My mother could strike up a conversation anywhere.  She made friends easily and often. .

Mom was an original she had many loves in her life and each of those was a new era.  Mom was a 16 year old army wife in Virginia, and the wife of an artist turned realtor, she was the wife of a bartender and then she was the wife and caregiver when her husband’s health failed.  She brought three children into the world,  my sister Brenda and my brother Bill and myself and in likewise manner she loved, provided for, worried about and sorrowed over my step brothers Dave (Huggy) and Tom. 

She had nine grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren. But she was the memorable Aunt Marian as well.  As in all areas of her life, her approach to the children she loved was often unique – remember the 18 wheelers.  In typical fashion she won the heart of my grand daughter by providing a full makeover.  Something our Elodie will never forget.  By sister’s daughter summed it up for me by saying “when Grandma played with you she really played with you.  She got down on the floor and got into the game”. When she gave a gift to a child she always wanted it to be as close to the “real thing” as was reasonable (well her definition of reasonable).  If you want some fun stories talk to her grandchildren today,  they have some doozies.  She loved to play with the daughters more than the grandsons because she could completely relate. But she was so proud of and amazed by her grandsons and sometimes seemed surprised when they loved her back with the same devotion.  Mainly, though she was pretty excited when her grandsons grew old enough to dance with her at weddings.

The final weeks of my mother’s life may have been the sweetest, most enlightening time I’ve ever spent with her. We were able to just appreciate each other without being impaired by trivia.  She ate all the chocolate she wanted with a joy I will carry with me.   I will backtrack just a little to tell you that I have had several loved ones turn 80 over the past 2 years.  I had the blessing of helping arrange a birthday party for my mother in law.  When I realized what a treasure that celebration was to her I wanted so much to do that for my own mother.  My outgoing, red hot chili pepper mother didn’t want that.  It took some work for me to realize something from that.  In all of my mother’s larger than life approach and glamour and big heartedness she really did not like to be the center of attention. She was a one of a kind in a world that often does not appreciate uniqueness and she wasn’t entirely sure that a big party in her honor would be attended only by people that understood that.  She was mistaken but I got my way.  We’re having a party now, and Mama you deserve to be the star of the show. Mama left this life understanding that she is a child of God.

I will address a few final few words to my Mama.  I am proud of your many, many triumphs.  I couldn’t possibly stand here and tell the full story of your colorful, sad, beautiful, triumphant life. I’m a little miffed that you never wrote the memoir you threatened to write but I am inspired by the realization of how many, many times you pulled yourself out of and climbed over the challenges to go on and do something sparkling.

 Musical Number - Ben & Elodie Oelkers
When I was small my Grandma Anna taught me a Danish children's song she learned from her mother who must have learned it from her mother. My brother remembers my mother singing this song to him as a lullabye.  We have included this song because it represents the tender moments between mother and child that we treasured.  The translation of the song itself is:
Get up little Hans
Get up little Hans
Listen- the lark is singing!
No little mom
No little mom
That’s the door creaking

Eulogy by William Barnwell 

--> Hazel Marian Smith Barnwell passed away peacefully in her home in Zephyr Cove Nevada on April 17, 2016 – Born February 25, 1936 to Hazel Anna Sorensen Smith and William Frank Smith of Wendover Nevada. Sister, Aunt, Mother, Great Great Grandmother, world traveler, philanthropist, reformed shopaholic, glamorous movie star to those who knew her, and self-proclaimed golf widow has gone home to our Lord peacefully surrounded by loved ones here at home in Lake Tahoe Nevada. Marian, spelled with her fabulous M, was a 50 year resident of Zephyr Cove Nevada. She started her career as a cocktail waitress at Barney’s Casino here on the south shore where she raised three of her own children for some time as a single mother. Later married to Thomas Gerald Benton Barnwell, AKA Lefty, raising his two sons as well. Her hard work and tenacity always present, she was able to purchase two condominiums in Roundhill and raise not only her children but scores of stray kids and animals. A woman whose vocabulary never included “no” as she replaced it with “how”. Owner of two separate local favorites The Velvet Hammer Tavern & River Boat Casino in Roundhill and Stateline, Nevada, she later went on on to serve as Vice President for the Stateline Hotel & Casino, Silver Smith Casino, Stateline Properties, Jims Enterprises, and HAS associates. Board member and administrator of the William & Anna Smith foundation that helped to provide college educations for countless scores of Wendover High School graduates; wanting for others what she was unable to attain for herself. Born to a hard working Danish immigrant and rugged coal miner turned Nevada gaming pioneer she had hospitality in her veins. Her door was always open with a light and television always on.  She would love to sit for hours talking to anyone about what was going on in Hollywood. When she was not dreaming of Hollywood she would often live it by traveling to exotic locations later in life, sewing and creating her own costumes, performing makeup on her granddaughters (and anyone that would let her) and purchasing scores of costume jewelry and props. With a love for all forms of entertainment she loved to dance, sing, and walk the streets of San Francisco with her dog Cupid where she was able to live, laugh, and love for many years. Renting a vacation home on top of Russian Hill she would host amazing fleet week parties from her lavishly decorated roof top garden designed by her daughter in law Tina Hoy Barnwell. Always up for adventure and a free spirit Marian’s boundless energy could hardly be slowed by her diagnoses of CHF and COPD which she recently fought hard, recovering from Pneumonia then finally succumbing to our Lord’s will. Marian is survived by her sister Carol Smith Johnson (Darrel) of Rush Valley Utah, brother James William Smith (Eve) of Salt lake City Utah, daughter Janell Oellkers (Monte) of Saint Francis Minnesota and son William Frank Barnwell (Tina) of Zephyr Cove Nevada and grand children, Angie & Andrew Arrien, Gina & Terrell Gregory, Ben & Jenna Draper, Sara & Josh Griffin, Anna Pratt & Stan Williams, Brenda & Derek Udy, Bill & Stephanie Oelkers and Gunnar Barnwell.  Her legacy also includes great grand children, Drew, Avery, Gaven, Gracie Arrien, Nolan Gregory, Brynlee, Alana, Isabelle Draper, Rion & Addy Griffin, Xavey and Daevius Udy, and Ben, Elodie, & Eilonwy Oelkers.  She was preceded in death by her daughter Brenda June Draper and Sister Billie Ann Devine . Researchers now believe that English is a Scandinavian language and Hazel the Scandinavian word which means the blending of the perfect colors which embody the best of blue green and brown. So if you knew Marian then you knew she helped color your life perfectly! 
Gunnar Barnwell - Video Tribute
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Peggy said...

Thank you so much for sharing. What a beautiful tribute to a one of kind woman!

UB said...

So awesome to hear her voice I miss her so very much