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.
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.
After lunch with her.
for tea ceremony.
I’ve called ahead.
After tea, we take pictures.
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.
LINES TO ACCOMPANY THE ORAL HISTORY PRESENTATION
OF PHYLLIS HOENHOUS BY GERRI HOENHOUS OMLI
ON HER MOTHER’S 100TH BIRTHDAY
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?
10- 14 April 2018