Helen Katherine Bomer Clarke
Born December 15, 1912
Died October 6, 2007
Nearly 95 years old--what a good long life--I was lucky to have spent so much of my life in hers and yet it is hard to give her up.
This is the last photo I took of her--at the end of September.
My sister keeps saying, "Everyone will think we're crazy, but this was a real shock for us."
And it is true--Grandma had such a tenacity for life. Though she'd often say things like, "I sure hope I don't see another birthday!" when we'd say something about the party we were planning or "I think he forgot me, too" when a 95-year-old friend stated that God had forgotten her, her actions spoke louder than her words. She pulled through traumas that literally would have killed people half her age. And we noticed that she stopped talking about her desire to move on after her great-grandchildren arrived--boy, did she love them. She loved us all--but she really lit up when her great-grandchildren came to visit her.
We have weekly dinners on Monday nights--Monday night dinners (we're going to continue the tradition). When I lived up in Fort Collins and then Loveland, I used to come down on the weekends and stay with her. We'd go on morning walks around City Park. She had to cut back on her walking as she got older (when she got into her 90s)--she'd walk around the block, or go to the church and walk around the sanctuary so she could sit on the pews when she needed a rest.
She was fiercely independent and really never thought of herself as a little old lady, though she was the littlest and the oldest any of us knew. Once, walking up to church with my dad a few years ago, she saw that the sidewalk was crumbling in a spot and remarked to my dad, "Someone should fix that before some little old lady trips over it."
I only ever remember her with gray hair and hands knarled by time. She was 34 when she had my dad--two years after her husband Jack returned from WWII--and 36 when she had my Uncle Andy. She aged dramatically after Jack died when he was 49 in 1963. You can see it in the photos. My dad was 16, Andy was 14.
She wanted to do things on her terms, and she did. Even though some would have considered her a pioneer in women's rights in many ways, she would have loathed the association. She was scorned for wearing pants in the southern United States when she went to visit her husband when he was on leave from the war and was thrown out of a hotel for bringing him a bottle of scotch.
She graduated from Western State College in Gunnison with a degree in physical education in the 1930s.
She earned a scholarship that covered her tuition, and got a job that covered her room and board by working at the
Mary Lawrence Boarding House (now a bed and breakfast in Gunnison, Colorado). She wrote in her memories that, "What more could she need than that . . . NAIVE!" Her sister Thelly went to Western State at the same time, but only had a job that covered meals during the week, so on the weekends she didn't have meals--and Grandma would sneak into the kitchen at the Boarding House and make sandwiches to give to Thelly so she wouldn't starve on the weekends. Grandma also used to sneak out to meet with Jack.
This photo is taken in Pueblo, Colorado when Grandma was a little girl (on the left), with her Grandma Layton (who everyone says was rather harsh), and her sister Thelly. Grandma really liked the dog. This is on Grandma Layton's homestead where the family lived after they moved to Colorado from Missouri when Grandma was 5 years old. Her father, John Bomer, worked in the steel mills.
Grandma graduated from high school in 1929, when she was 17.
Helen and Jack were married in 1936 in Grand Junction.
Her house was always full of people--family and friends--and later when my dad and his brother were older, their friends. In fact, their friends often found refuge at Grandma's house--she was very welcoming.
Grandma and her friend Janie Seraphine are reflected in a mirror Jack and Marsh are carrying.
This photo was taken in 1943 before Jack went off to war.
Here she is in Mexico in 1945. The story is that Jack returned from playing Craps with $1,700, so they took the month off from running the Clarke Agency and went off to Mexico and traveled around until they ran out of money.
Here's Grandma with Uncle Andy--all the photos from 1949 have a smudge on them--I think there was something on the lens.
Jack, Mark, Helen and Andy in 1962.
This is my dad and grandma and their wiener dog--I think this photo was taken after Jack died.
I'm in this photo--it is of my mom (and me) and my dad at his college graduation from CU Boulder, 1969.
Grandma visited us in Egypt when my parents moved there to study at the American University in Cairo.
Grandma and Andy visiting us in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1975.
Grandma and me in 1989 at her 50th high school reunion.
Grandma Helen and Hannah in March 2007 in her kitchen, Monday Night Dinner.
I miss kissing her on the cheek and forehead. I miss the way she would gesture with her hands--throwing them up in the air and grinning when something delighted her, shaking a bony finger in your face if she disagreed or wanted to make a point. I miss her expressions--"Hot Dog!" (said to me and Kelly when we got engaged), "Gad about" (said to my sister who has lots of friends), "Are you going back to the dump?" (said to my brother after she saw his studio apartment for the first time)--he still laughs about it.
I miss how when I'd leave, she say, "Be a good girl" and how she'd laugh when I said, "You, too!".