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- Remembering Verdene -

SUBMITTED PHOTO  - This photo was taken of Verdene, 14, and Jo Ann, 11, during the summer of 1941.

The last of my 13 first cousins on my mother’s side of the family died recently, and now, it is just me, dangling alone on this branch of the family tree with a legacy of memories left to me by cousin Verdene.

Our mothers were sisters and perhaps because of their close relationship, and because we were both their only children, we too enjoyed a special closeness. Verdene was three years older than I and mentored me through our childhood years. We grew up on Iowa farms with our dolls and dogs substituting for siblings, and looked forward to the Sundays when our parents traveled the 35 miles between their farms for family get-togethers.

We would say our hellos and then race upstairs in our large farmhouses where we had our own bedrooms and playrooms. There we would choose our doll families, give ourselves movie star names and enter our make-believe world. Our mothers’ older sister and family usually joined us, so there were two boy cousins to contend with. Don was older than Verdene and hung out with the men; but Duane, younger than I, would peek in on us until we reluctantly included him. He would soon tire of whatever insignificant role we assigned him and leave us alone. Eventually we’d emerge from our fantasyland and play cards or board games with the guys or find some outdoor activity to entertain ourselves.

Our passion for paper dolls had us toting boxes containing paper families and their wardrobes to our get-togethers, including the larger family gatherings. Our mothers were two of six children and when all convened for holidays and birthdays, there could be 30-plus people as some of the older cousins were already married with small children. After doing our obligatory greetings to aunts and uncles (trying to avoid Uncle Otto who always tousled our freshly curled hairdos and set our hair ribbons askew), we’d find a quiet bedroom and spread out our treasures where they were safe from curious toddlers and crawling babies.

The highlight of our summers was the three or four days we’d spend at each other’s houses where we enjoyed endless hours of little-girl time together. We started writing letters to each other at an early age with subjects progressing from school happenings to movies, boyfriends, marriage, children and grandchildren, and continued on into our golden years.

As teenagers we spent our allowances on sheet music, so we could play and sing the latest Hit Parade songs. We also played duets and often our mothers would take their turns at the piano. Most of our relatives had pianos in their homes and her mom, my Aunt Nora, enlivened every party with her signature song of “Doodly Doo” that she played from memory.

We learned to dance at the wedding and anniversary dances of family and friends held at small town dance halls. Children were included at these affairs, and we danced with our parents and each other. It was the jitterbug era in our teen years and we could keep up with anyone who asked us to dance. It wasn’t a requirement, but a definite plus if whoever we were dating was a good dancer.

I never quite forgave her for eloping and not letting me be a part of her wedding, but I did ask her to be the organist at mine. And my husband and I were honored to be godparents to her firstborn. Our lives had some parallels. We were both secretaries in our working years and organists in our country churches. In our later years, we each mourned the death of a son.

As we aged, our lives took different paths and we saw each other less frequently, but we always kept in touch. After my move to Oregon in 1992, our only times together were during my four trips back to Iowa. Verdene never embraced the computer age, so we continued with letters, hers always in longhand. There were occasional phone calls, but, because we were of the time when long distance calls were expensive and only made in the case of births, deaths or some other significant event, we were not accustomed to phone conversing.

Our last communication was the annual exchange of Valentines. When hers arrived with only her name, and the envelope addressed by someone else, I knew all was not well. She had enclosed a beautiful hanky ... something we used to do in our younger days. My friend suggested it may have been her way of telling me I’d need it soon to dry my tears.

I’ll miss those Iowa-postmarked letters in my mailbox and it’s going to be lonely on this branch of the family tree by myself.

Rest in peace, Verdene ... and thanks for the memories.

Jo Ann Parsons is a member of the Jottings Group at Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.