Oral History: Phyllis Hoenhous and the Generations

Gerri Hoenhous Omli: Phyllis Hoenhous' 100th Birthday

Born 13 February 1918 in Coteau, North Dakota, Phyllis Hoenhaus became the matriarch of a large family in Washington State. On her 100th birthday celebration, her daughter, Gerri Omli Hoenhaus, honors her legacy at a celebration in Bothell, Wa.

Phyllis Hoenhous and the Grandkids

When a snow storm in the Cascades shut down I-90, half of our family had to turn around and go home. Two days later, four lucky grandkids get to spend the morning with Aunt Phyllis, and have lunch. They get to know her. She gets to know them. Oral history at its best from the North Dakota diaspora of the 1950s, Aunt Phyllis is our family's matriarch. Here she is entertaining some of our grandkids during the week of her 100th birthday celebration.

Grandchildren and the Tea Ceremony

After celebrating with Aunt Phyllis who just turned 100 years old, four of my grandchildren and I stop in Seattle's International District for a Tea Ceremony before returning home to Yakima, What becomes a part of these children after today is part of the great wonder.


Clean table, clean stomach
After visiting Aunt Phyllis,
After lunch with her.
After leaving, saying our goodbyes,
 we drive downtown
across from Owajamaya,
in the International District
for tea ceremony.
I’ve called ahead.
Clean table,
clean stomach.

After tea, we take pictures.
The kids get some tea
to take home. Each grandchild
with her own small bag of fresh leaves.

We go next door for dumplings.

The ride to Yakima is mostly quiet.

Jim Bodeen
14 April 2018


Aunt Phyllis was my Dad’s sister.
I lived with her for almost two years
after I graduated from high school in 1963,
Dad was transferred to Huntsville, Alabama
to work on the Saturn project.
Mom, Dad, Chuck and Vonnie
went to Alabama in fall, 1963.

They were in Alabama until early 1969.
Phyllis and Dad lived in Coteau, North Dakota,
about six miles from Bowbells.
There’s no town left, but there’s
a county cemetery where Dale’s
twin brother, Darold, is buried. Phyllis
held it all together in my book—

my way of looking at things.
Phyllis and Mom fished together in Alaska.
Phyllis and Mom attended Seattle Mariners
spring training games twice.
Phyllis said they were like sisters.
Both of them mothered me
in different ways.

Speaking of how one sees things.
Phyllis has lost her vision in both eyes.
You can’t tell this from the video.
She listens to books on tape
and loves them. Why bring this up?
I ask this myself. She’s still learning
how to see this way. Understanding

this, helps one understand how sharp
her vision enters the room
and shapes a conversation.
God knows more about this
than we do. Children listening
for what comes now
in new time, time folding itself

back and forth. Phyllis mixing it all,
who’s here, who’s not, differences
shredding definitions, banging synapses.
How does Phyllis obliterate
the world we’ve brought with us
into the room? What is a generation?
Other questions have to do with me?

Maybe you’re listening down the road.
Perhaps you’ve already lost track
of the kids. If you haven’t,
what do you remember of their lives?
What paths did they find?
Which ways opened for which ones?
Returning to Phyllis, the more I see

of her here, the more I want to listen to threads
she hasn’t had time to reach and give us.
Maybe, too, she’s the only editor that counts.
She’s left in what she wants to keep.
And us, in the room?
We’ve only had 100 years to listen.
What distinguishes this from nostalgia?

This conversation. Who do you talk with
who carries conversation better?
My own joy can’t hide. Deflect?
Delete? Too much? What gets lost
if you take out what brings Phyllis closer?
Gerri gave a remarkable speech
at the Birthday party, oral history

by a daughter who has paid attention,
and that, too, has been videotaped.
She says things I didn’t know.
I’ve listened half a dozen times
and still don’t have it.
Could this be? Could this really be?
Gerri’s presentation details major points

of Phyllis’ life, and I’m so glad
we got there in time to hear it.
Most of our family had to turn back
the day of the birthday party
because of snow in mountains.
The party was held on Saturday,
17 February, in Bothell, Wa.

Three cars of our family had to
turn back. Karen and I turned around
in Ellensburg, came back
and went over White Pass,
arriving after the meal
and just before Gerri spoke
and the kids came up and sang

Iust in time to see Phyllis, to hear Gerri.
To listen to the kids sing.
Roads improved, and on Monday
Josh, Kate, Sam & Dee got over the pass.
That was time, too.
Part of what the kids experienced
is part of who you are too.

What does, Who’s here? mean? Any way?

Jim Bodeen
10- 14 April 2018



Bicycle be ready for the child.
When it's not, my spokes come loose.
There's the barber's.
The shoe store. And groceries.

Away from home
in a parking lot without a book.
Cash at the barber's.
Could shop groceries.

Wearing sandals. The old blue Patagonia.
Note-book, No-Gate. Critical studies.
Rap songs from an unknown source.
Girl named Libby. Late for everything.

Before stores open.
                                    Two white girls.
I'll show you, man. Not deep travel.
Deep living. Deep living my ass.

Load the snapper in back of the Honda.
Fits with bars down. Noon on Saturday,
Buddy. Smitty's Small Engine always
closes noon on Saturday.

What I know. What I don't.
How I Work.
What I know. Lawn mower
going back and forth as I stop and go.

What my wife said.
What I told the barber.
You're no marine.
Crew cut, short. High and tight.

Take back the shoes.
Time Smitty's closes Saturday.
What noon looks like on the door handle.
Monday then. 8 am.

Banging around in back until Monday.
Leave the Mariner's at the end of 5.
M's ahead 3-0. Leake pitching.
Seeger with a 2-run homer in 4th.

Beautiful lady. Beautiful lady.
Lovely, lovely lady that one.
Oh song in my heart.
Nobody reads books at the barber's.

Rising and sinking into true form.
What Now talking to What Next.
Talking with their hands.
He said it all didn't he?

Which one?
That old ship of Zion.
Running errands, listening to songs.
Those songs. Old enough to get one arrested,

Thomas Dorsey, your songs.
Sing me through my town.
Father of Black Gospel,
not Jimmy's brother.

Not the Dorsey brothers. Thomas A.
And all who follow will be dorseys.
Field singing for me. Bringing new,
to what had been. The self, my self,

each other, appears.
I may be lost, but not subsumed.
Take my hand. My father's favorite.
Whispering piano playing.

Carrying a suitcase of rejected songs,
thrown out of some of the best churches in America.
Taking me through my town.
Peace in the Valley for Mahalia.

Texas Tommy. Georgia Tom. And me?
Spit shine and a three piece suit.
Soft enough to keep the police from hearing.
Lead me. Sing for Martin. Count the wheels.

Take off your shoes on the Holy ground.
Profane covering of the foot. These shoes.
Functioning at just-below our dreams.
Subliminal. Authority and power.

All that happens between men and women.
What boys want.
Red shoes. Two servants.
Approach to life. Changing roles.

Having come to terms with it all.
Shoe stores, Brother Thomas. Shoe stores.
Somebody say, Take back the shoes.
Somebody say, Bicycles.

Jim Bodeen
April 5-12, 2018

Hear, Hear!

Morning Song

Love from here for what
Could have been, What could have been
Love from here, a song

Jim Bodeen
11 April 2018

A Satisfying Diversion: Bill Ransom's Kelp

Poet and fiction writer Bill Ransom walks the beach, talks about kelp, and how kelp became crucial in co-authoring works with Frank Herbert. Ransom reads from his work as he explores, and finishes with a poem. Three days, two nights at Ransom's home in Grayland, Washington.

Apache Cache


Mobile people
and their stash.
Geronimo's wickiup.
Dateways and gateways.
A big wind brings down
your tipi. Cache
some food in a pot.
Cover your treasure
in yucca.
Rings and circles.
Don't look one way.
Earliest Apaches passed
through here, early 1300s.
Climb more mountains.
My mountain spirit headdress.
These antlers. These.
Know the way to water.
Not hard to find
See through answers
Rope to rope.
Llano estacado.
Knowing the way with no rope.
I heard someone else.
One pen.
One spot of ink on paper.

Jim Bodeen
Heard Museum/Yakima



The voice, in short, in which poetry, fusing with life, becomes incarnate spirit, language ablaze, with something like divinity.  "Syria" (1951-52), Notes, p. 732. William Arrowsmith, The Collected Poems of Eugenio Montale 1925-1977.

Beach reading pitiless holiday,
grandchildren surround me,
digging sand dollars inflecting

multiplying treasures of rainbow,  
citing ancients on poetry
as a ladder to God, Montale

excuses himself. Daily decency
after reading names
in mid-day sun

memorial at Sant' Anna.
Desert flowers, lost shoe horns,
every written line evoking

road, underlined, referenced.
All I want in Little Testament,
no longer able to memorize.

Return to time among children
tenderness and cruelty
no love for God or opinions,

they make nature theirs
without worshipping.
Can I go back?

Dig my toes into sand.
Walk the beach.
Sandals and rain jacket.

Hooded for wind,
with my phone for photos,
finding sun reflecting foam

in tide pools. Clouds in sky,
clouds in sand. Close-up, abstracted
for patterns. The road ahead

is not a way. So beautiful.
Like jazz. Grasses with shadows
drawn towards early sun,

one burnt log banking sand
in earlier wind, stammering
like that log, sastrugi sand,

rousing language. Happy
kids selling washing machines.
A way out of memory,

mind. Where I find,
Heat, Lightning. Where
the poet laureate found it.

Did it make them brothers?
Children face the ocean
with two shovels, animated

themselves by sea, surf
pounding 12-year old hearts.
Me in sinking lawn chair

rocking, wool gloves
around my fingers writing
in a notebook. I have also

spent my life facing
memorials luchando\
mi fé, finding confidence

in the other, in others,
my other, now in Arrowsmith's
Montale: dissolved

into other, at the point
just before saying yes--
elsewhere, too, partly

how we apprehend
what children inhabit,
ineffably, momentarily, again.

Jim Bodeen
3-5 April 2018

Young Climbers at Joshua Tree Hall of Horrors


At the roadside pullout,
a group of them,
young men and women
among old stones,
across the road from Saddle Rocks,
arranged in parallel fashion.
A series of halls.
Faces forming as natural buffers.

On the northwest side of Sheep Pass Loop Road.

The list of classic climbs: Jaws, Lickety Splits, Lazy Day, Nurn's Romp, Buckets to Burbank, It, Ledges to Lawndale, Garden Angel, Dog Day Afternoon, Grit Roof, Cactus Flower, Jane's Addiction.

Highest rating: Exorcist--on the East inner wall. Three and a half-stars out of four. 10.5. Traditional.

At the table in the Mothership with Karen, eating crackers and cheese, watching the young men across from us put on their gear. Their van hatchback open before us, full entry into their wilderness lives. Joshua Tree. The national park where two deserts meet: Colorado and Mojave. Rangers explain it at the Visitor's Center. Young climbers sleep in tents or cars outside the park on BLM lands. Which desert am I? Which desert is Karen? Colorado and Mohave. The Exorcist in the desert. Camera on the table. Sun block and water is what we carry. Light backpack and trekking poles. The National Park established in 1994. Coming out of the Sierra Nevadas on Highway 395, we cut across deserts. The park straddles the cactus-dotted Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, higher and cooler. The Deserts distinguish themselves as you drive around the 1,235 miles. We ask the Rangers about the two, Karen and I, completing fifty years of marriage, what are the differences here? We ask each other: Are you California? Are you Mojave?

In the park. Out of the park. Lots going on. Young climbers. Student walkouts. One minute for each of the 17 murdered from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Students in Arizona march to Governor Doug Ducey's office. He doesn't appear. The papers? "Yes, kids can fix this. Keep up pressure. Hone advocacy skills. Become informed voters." Notes in the Mothership log quote Phoenix journalists from the Arizona Republic. I break quotations into lines.

Our young people
grew up watching adults
eviscerate public education
and genuflect to the NRA.
So-called adults
failed to provide resources
for mental health,
promoted policies that turned
the middle class
into an endangered species.
--Abe Kwok

They are wide-eyed and savvy,
I can't imagine
how that won't upend everything.
--Joanna Allhands

It's silly to argue that these kids
don't know
what they're doing...
they're powerful
because they have
no ties to the powerful.
--Elvia Diaz

Righteous anger
is a powerful thing
and these kids have it.
--Phil Boaz

These kids preparing to go up this rock aren't those kids and they are. They're part of this. They know what they've been given. What's here. Rock, piton, rappels, amp. Awareness of who they are still low in the adult world. Their language turns up in crossword puzzle clues. Savvy. Locking carabiner, chalk bag, chalk ball, climbing harness. Tape and hexes. The harness secures a person to a rope, or anchor point. What I come to learn: Carabiners, a specialized shackle, metal loop with a spring-loaded gate, quickly and reversible, connecting components in safety-critical systems. Knife. Sun block. Water.

Joshua Tree. Jumping Chollas.

The rock along the cracks weathers into soil. Over years, rain and wind erode the soil leaving a boulder pile. Look for lines in the rocks called veins. A vein forms when molten rock is pushed into cracks in older rock. As the molten rock cools it forms crystals of quartz and potassium minerals. If the crust pulls away from both sides of a rock, or if the rock shrinks while cooling, vertical cracks form. When pressure on top of a rock releases, like when soil and rock erode away, horizontal cracks form. And when the rock is squeezed from the top and the bottom, x-shaped cracks form. Underground dams force water to the surface and form oases. Early Mormons thought these plants looked like the biblical prophet Joshua guiding travelers westward. Don’t confuse the Mojave yucca with the Joshua tree. Yucca has longer, wider leaves and fibrous threads.
Ropes, locking carabiner, chalk bag, chalk ball, climbing harness, climbing shoes, tape, hexes The harness secures a person to a rope or an anchor point. Carabiners, the specialized shackle, a metal loop with a spring-loaded gate, quickly and reversible connects components in safety-critical systems.

Knife, sun block, water.

How did these young people get here? By what word of mouth?

I love the yucca. My friend plants a yucca garden on the parking strip outside his house in the city. It's a forest. He gives me the stalks. I make gates with them. Chinese gates. Gates with no fences.

Rock Climbers at Joshua Tree

I see them from the Mothership, walk to them.

Small talk. Where are you from? Inland Empire. Ontario.
I was looking for a job in Wenatchee.
Wild fire. I didn’t get the job. Rod. Conner. Jared.

Exoccist. A crack that goes up this rock.
A slight overhang. If you fall. I’ve seen pictures.

Expand. Adds pressure this way. Our protection.

Heavy Pedal Bicycles t shirt.
Brian walks over, ready to climb..
Solo hiker, climber. Do you know these guys?
I just met them right now.

Walk behind them with the camera.
Jangle of the gear, walking.
Listening in. Brian. Steel Structural Framer.
Storage company.

Climbing between jobs.
Between the times.
During the times.
Living the times.
What do I see? And hear?
What does the camera tell me?

What am I to make of the young men in the parking lot, putting on their climbing gear?
Where might they take me?
If I can't go where they're going, I can walk with them a ways.
Their vision. It is not the vision their parents picked out for them.
Immersion is a way into wonder. Immersion is one way.
Immersion is my practice.
I have a pass into the park, but the young live outside it.
A way out of abstract beauty walks here.
A walk into cactus.
Walking into stone.

There’s the Exorcist. There’s the crack.
Are we doing a crack line? I love crack lines.

Haul the pack up on a rope.
How to cross to the big rock?
Approach climb from different direction.
Are you guys safe? I’ll put up an anchor.
This is fucking scary. How are we going to get down?
I think it’s one wrap all the way down.
Birds watching.
Fuck. I’ve got to piss.
This one’s got chicken wings.
Toss me a spare beaner.
Oh I hate hauling. Fuck it. Son of a bitch.
We want that backpack.
Getting the four up to the crack.

I wish the start wasn’t so bad.
You’re getting me killed.
Yeah, this is a good day, too.
I felt so bad.

It wasn’t the climbing up part.
No, it was the descent.

Attaching a second rope
to kick the pack out.
Now pull.

Jarrod first.
There you go. Come on. Just breathe.
You’re in there. Just breathe.
Great feet. Relax. You’re fine.
There you go. One more.

Make your way up right here. Oooh, hello.
Fucking champion.
The young man who didn’t get the wild fire job summits first.

Oh yeah, And then you got that bolt.
The whistle. Yabba dabba doo
Son of a bitch
from below.
A burp.

Finger locks and hand jams are perfect. you could hang there all day.

Frivolous. No heightened senses, heightened awareness. Life is different.
Energy. Live changing.

Chalk up. 

Run the rope through the chains and rappel back to desert floor.


Behind the camera. Behind the stone.
Permission to watch and walk.
Their way.                             
Not able to do much. Steady the camera. Wonder.
Neither enthralled nor enamored with me, or the camera.
My walk with the kids climbing on stones.
Jesus doesn't stay in the parking lot.
Remain subversive.
A subversive feeling, this reaching,
this bag of chalk
hitched to my belt
at the back pocket.

Jim Bodeen
13 March--30 March 2018
Joshua Tree National Park--Yakima, WA