I was cleaning out my email queue and found a couple of emails from relatives asking for copies of the eulogy I write for my father Bjarne Slind when he died three years ago. I'm embarrassed that I never responded and figured today that maybe the best thing would be simply to post it here on my blog so that people who are searching for information about my father it can find it in one place. I also know that eulogies and obituaries are often useful to people who are doing genealogical research. Dad died April 12, 2008
So here the eulogy is below a photo of Dad when he was about 8, a little boy living on a wheat farm in Washington State's Palouse country:
Our father Bjarne Slind was born in Vikvarvet, Selbu Kommune in Sør Trøndelag County, Norway on April 17, 1919. He was the youngest of six children of Ingeborg Klegseth and Ole Slind. His older siblings were Gilbert, Ole, Christine, John, and Johanna. Of his family of origin, only Ole survives.
He was baptized in the Evangelical Lutheran church in Selbu, in, the same stone building where his parents, grandparents and even more remote ancestors were baptized and married and in whose churchyard many of them are buried.
His father raised dairy cattle, cut timber, ran a grist mill and worked as a blacksmith. His mother grew vegetables, helped with the haying, took care of the dairy cows, spun, wove, knit and sewed her family’s clothing.
When Dad was three years old the family left Norway in June 1922 aboard the SS Stavangerfjord, a coal-fired steamship on the Norwegian Line, built in 1917 especially to haul immigrants to the North America. The family was among the 800,000 passengers who sailed from Norway to Ellis Island aboard this ship over the years.
After they left Ellis Island, they boarded a train for Spokane. The children were all wearing new heavy woolen clothing that their mother made for the journey. All the clothes were dyed black, and as each child outgrew the clothing, it was passed on to Dad. The black dye faded into brown, and Dad had a lifelong hatred of brown clothing because of this. ``Brown is the color of poverty,’’ he used to say.
From Spokane they went to Lacrosse, Whitman County, in the heart of Washington State’s Palouse country. There Grandpa became a wheat farmer. Dad was still at home for a few years when his siblings went off to school, so he had more of an opportunity to speak Norwegian to his mother—who never learned English—and he remembered many little folk stories and songs she taught him.
Eventually he was old enough to go off to Mud Flat School with the five bigger kids, and there he quickly learned English. Two important things happened to him in those years. His mother died of von Willebrand’s Disease when he was 10 years old, so his older sister Christine was forced to drop out of school at the end of 8th grade to take care of the kids and the house. Dad formed a powerful bond with his older sister, and, for the rest of his life, cared deeply about what she thought and felt about him.
The other significant event was that one day he saw Charles Lindbergh fly overhead on a promotional tour after Lindberg’s successful attempt to make the first solo flight across the Atlantic. Dad, who was a little boy standing in the middle of a wheat field in bib overalls, looked up, saw the plane and said to himself, ``some day I’m going to fly.’’ Years later, when I was standing in the Smithsonian with my finger on the piece of moon rock they permit museum-goers to touch, I looked up and saw hanging from the rafters Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, the plane in which he made his epic journey. And I realized that it was Lindbergh who motivated Dad to the career choice that made it possible for anyone to bring rocks back from the moon.
Dad attended the Selbu Lutheran Church in Lacrosse, and was confirmed there when he was 15. He was a member of the last class to make confirmation preparations and be confirmed in the Norwegian language, as that immigrant church began to be Americanized, just as its congregation had begun to assimilate.
After grade school he went to Lacrosse High School where he excelled, academically and also made beautiful, well-crafted items in wood shop .There was little time for the kind of frivolity most high school students enjoy, for Grandpa was a demanding taskmaster, and Dad and his siblings were needed to help work the farm.
The farm work was hard. In those days, the plows and combines were pulled up and down the Palouse Country’s rolling hills by teams of mules. Dad said he had to hitch up the teams during harvest, sack the wheat, sew the wheat sacks shut, then haul them down to the railroad siding and load them into the box cars. He blamed his back trouble on damage from tossing those heavy wheat sacks into the train cars.
After high school he went off to Washington State University, entirely on his own. He did odd jobs on campus, and worked harvest in the summer to pay the bills. After several years he transferred over to the University of Washington, near where his brother Ole was completing an internship at Providence Hospital. Dad started work at the Boeing Company as a draftsman, and also helped Grandpa Tjerendsen—Uncle Ole’s father-in-law—who built finely crafted wooden boats.
Dad met our mother through Uncle Ole. Mom -- Mary Kathryn Mead -- was a medical technologist working for a doctor who practiced at Providence. They were married four months after Pearl Harbor Day, and shortly after that, Dad enlisted in the U.S. Navy for the duration of World War II. He said he chose the navy because he knew he’d always have a clean bed instead of having to sleep in a foxhole. He was stationed first at Great Lakes Training Center near Chicago, then in Ogden Utah, and eventually at Treasure Island, in San Francisco. Mom was pregnant with her first child when they were in Ogden, and moved with Dad to San Francisco right before Christmas 1943. That's why I was born in a naval hospital in Oakland.
Dad’s expertise was in electronics, and he spent much of the war teaching his skills to others at Treasure Island. He did go to sea, but never told any of us very much about that time. Eric was also born in California when Dad was in the Navy.
After the war, he and Mom bought 10 acres largely covered with second-growth timber in Lynwood Washington. The idea was that he would build a large two-car garage on the land and we would live in it while he built the big house. He did build the garage that became house, and we moved in in 1949 after Brigit was born in Ellensburg.
The house was made from cinderblocks, with a flat roof, and a concrete slab floor. It was surrounded by gardens where lupine and delphinium grew to gigantic proportions, fertilized with manure from the rabbits Dad raised to supplement the family income. We ate rabbit nearly every night but Fridays, and Dad sold the rabbit skins to a furrier.
We also had chickens, Muscovy ducks, pigs, three goats, and some domestic geese that terrorized Dad by periodically taking nips out of him whenever they could sneak up behind him. Dad bought a brand new car after the old Packard he received from our grandparents gave out. It was a pale green 1949 Ford with what seemed to our eyes to be the ultimate in modern styling.
Dad’s commute to Boeing from Lynwood was too much in those pre-freeway days, so in 1950, Mom and Dad sold their property and bought a huge three-storey house on Interlaken Boulevard on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. There we attended school and our sister Martha was born in 1953. Dad worked on a series of ever more secret Boeing projects: the B-47, and B-52 intercontinental bombers and the Minuteman missile. Dad flew on many of the tests of these airplanes, and in his papers I found a photo of him in the helmet and ``G-suit’’ he wore for high-altitude flights, looking like something out of a primitive science-fiction film.
In 1960, Boeing transferred him to Cape Canaveral, and the whole family moved to Cocoa Beach Florida. This was a very difficult time in the life of the family, with Dad working long hard hours, and drinking longer harder hours with the Boeing Air Force liaisons after work.
I can’t begin to say how important Boeing was to him. how central to his life. When I was going through his pictures and papers to get ready for this memorial, I saw for the first time many photos of him at work. He looked happier and more self-assured than he did in any photos ever taken of him at home.
Boeing gave him the chance to be creative, something we forget sometimes when we think of dweeby engineers with their plastic pocket protectors and their slide rules. But Dad was creative at Boeing. I didn’t know, for example, until I read his personnel file, that he was the one who designed the electrical system for the Minuteman missile.
He dressed like an engineer –when I saw the movie ``The Right Stuff’’ and its scenes in Mission Control, I had to laugh because all the guys were wearing dorky short-sleeved white shirts that were the exact duplicates of the ones Dad wore to work when he was at Cape Canaveral. He loved his Boeing engineer’s flat-top haircut and wore his hair that way for the rest of his life, although when he got old, he had more of what looked like a kewpie doll curl in front.
Being an engineer at Boeing influenced his speech, too. He was always going to ``work the problem’’ and when things went badly at the Cape, he’d come home and say ``they really screwed the pooch today.’’
Dad had a number of unique expressions we’ll never forget. Some came from the navy: When we were little and got into trouble, he always threatened he’d hold a ``captain’s mast’’ hearing. Things had to be ``squared away’’ properly, and he always called his white boxer shorts and his t-shirts his ``skivvies.’'
When something pleased him, he’d always say ``I really got a bang out of that’’ and I honestly think he was innocent of the phrase’s sexual innuendos. And when he liked someone, he’d always say ``I think the world of’’ whoever that was.
His work on the Minuteman gave Dad his first chances for international travel. He went back and forth between tracking stations in Woomera, Australia and Madrid, Spain, and was thrilled when he had the chance to fly all the way around the world on one trip. He was an enthusiastic traveler, and always came home with tales of exotic places he visited, and strange little items he bought—I think mainly in airport gift shops—for his curio cabinet at home.
He was, however, the world’s worst photographer and the photos he brought home from his trips were invariably out of focus and filled with double exposures. One Palm Sunday he was in Munich and he shot—from what had to have been a distance of at least two city blocks-- a 36-exposure roll of identical slides of the archbishop handing out pussy willows instead of palms. It’s funny that so many of his descendents have turned out to be excellent and skilled photographers. For sure they didn’t get it from him.
When we first moved to Florida, we lived in a rented house with a swimming pool that backed up onto a canal. Two weeks after we arrived in the state, Hurricane Donna came ashore, one of the most devastating hurricanes of the 1960s. The house was flooded, the screen enclosure around the pool was ripped apart and Dad said a small alligator found its way into the pool from the canal.
After a year of rented housing, he and Mom built a house on a different canal. It was the first and only new house they ever had. But he was seldom home to enjoy it, as the pace at the Cape grew ever more intense. And the drinking problem got worse and worse.
The family moved back to the Seattle area in the summer of 1964 and lived in a rented house on Mercer Island. He and Mom loved the house and eventually bought it. Dad moved from the Minuteman to the Lunar Orbiter project that photographed possible landing sites on the dark side of the moon. He brought home long strips of the digital black-and-white photos as they were transmitted from space. And after the success of the Minuteman, Dad moved on to Boeing’s AWACS project. This is the airborne warning and control system in the form of a big mushroom-shaped radar dome rising up out of the back of a B-52.
Mom was diagnosed with cancer in the late 1960s, and died, after a long and hard struggle, in December 1972. Dad was at odds, living alone in that big house, and not doing well at all. He married his second wife the following December. They lived together in the house in Mercer Island until her death 31 years later.
It was initially difficult for us to realize and then accept that Dorothy, his second wife, was the love of his life, rather than our mother. To say he simply adored her would be to make an understatement. There was nothing he liked more than making her happy in any way he could. And she made him the center of her life.
Dad was always very sensitive about the fact that he had never managed to finish college. This fueled much of his sense of inadequacy and embarrassment. Dorothy was sensitive enough to know how this rankled and she gave him something he truly treasured, a University of Washington ring that he always wore proudly.
Dad retired when he was in his early 60s, and spent the first decade of his retirement taking Dorothy with him on his travels. They got to Norway and Germany and it seemed as if they were always on the road somewhere. Their life together became very self-contained, and Dad loved the absolutely immaculate order in which Dorothy was able to keep every part of the house.
Dad began keeping a diary. It wasn’t much, just a few lines written in a book every day about the weather, which animals he saw out the window where he sat when he wrote, and occasionally he mentioned the events of the day. When his grandson—and namesake—David Bjarne Flor died in a mountaineering accident in 1989, Dad simply wrote that it was the worst day of his life. And on 9/11 he wrote of his puzzlement that such an attack could ever have happened.
His health problems restricted him more and more. The von Willebrands Disease he inherited from his mother got out of control, and he spent part of every week at the Puget Sound Blood Bank being infused with various blood products and receiving whole blood transfusions. His travels stopped as he was too anxious about being away from his doctor and the blood bank should he have a bleeding episode.
He had other health issues too, including several heart attacks, and more surgery that he could remember. Soon his life settled into a pattern: trips to the blood bank, taking Dorothy to the hairdresser, and their lunches out at several restaurants they favored. Their community of friends seemed to shrink to the various health-care workers who were part of their lives, and one or two old Boeing stalwarts.
The last family event Dad ever attended was his sister Christine’s funeral near Tacoma. He was very ill that day, but he insisted on attending, and I will always remember how tenderly he placed a spray of wheat, cedar and red roses on her coffin. Several days later he went into the hospital to have his faulty heart valves replaced.
Dorothy always took care of Dad, but she was the first to die. In her last months of life, he started doing the shopping and cooking as best as he could. Her last days devastated him, and when he returned to the house after her death, he was in deep and furious denial about his inability to live on his own any longer.
Eric and Martha pressed him hard on the issue because they knew he couldn’t survive on his own. They courageously pushed, prodded, pleaded, yelled and tried to reason with him, and eventually got him moved into an assisted-living facility on Mercer Island. Island House was a great place, filled with staff members who cared about him, but Dad was never really happy there, and always viewed it as a temporary placement. He’d badger Eric to go out and reassemble all the household goods they’d dispersed when he moved to Island House because he just knew he’d be up and on his own in no time again.
He bought a new car, and after several years at Island House, he barely put 100 miles on it. But it was an important symbol to him of mobility, and it was a sad sad day when he had to give it up.
Dad fell and broke his hip last year, and after the hip-replacement surgery, it was clear that he needed more assistance than Island House could give him. Eric looked and looked and eventually found him a place at the Kelsey Creek Family Care Home. Of all the possible nursing home situations, it was the very nicest, and it was clear that Dad was well cared-for and respected by his caregivers.
But his health issues—and the accompanying depression—dragged him down. The last time I saw him—which was about a month before his death—he seemed so small and gray, all curled up in his wheelchair, bent and twisted with osteoporosis.. He read the paper from cover to cover every day, but didn’t seem to have much appetite for anything else. I knew when I saw him that time that I would never see him alive again.
He did love receiving visitors. And I want particularly to thank Uncle Bob, our mother’s brother, who visited him faithfully, and always cheered him up. And Jim Peterson, his old Boeing friend from Mercer Island remained important to him to the very end of his life.
Dad died on April 12, one week shy of his 89th birthday. His death came suddenly, and by the time the paramedics arrived, all they could do was pronounce him.
So those are the facts of Dad’s life, which reads like the story of many of this nation’s immigrants.. He was the youngest child in a six-child family. He married twice. He had four children and certainly was a father to his second wife’s daughter. He had many grandchildren, and was fortunate enough to have known some of his great-grandchildren. Like many Seattle-area men of his generation, he was a Boeing man through and through. Dad made true Boeing believers of all his children. To this day, whenever I get onto an airplane, the first thing I do is pull the card out of the seat pocket to check and see if it’s a Boeing jet.
All of us here who share Dad’s DNA are like him in many ways, and unlike him in others. I hope that each of us has inherited some of his best qualities: his capacity for and pride in hard work, his meticulous craftsmanship, his curiosity about the world, his deep and abiding love of the land, particularly the West. He was an immigrant from a Norwegian peasant family who never forgot his roots yet had a career his parents could never have imagined.
Before I finish, I want to say something about my brother. Usually in a family, it’s the daughters who end up being the caregivers for an aging parent. Because all of Dad’s daughters live in other states, Eric took the primary responsibility for his care. It was a singularly difficult and, most of the time thankless, task and I know that it was one that broke his heart many times over. He treated Dad with unfailing wisdom, kindness, and compassion. I will be grateful to him forever for giving Dad this care. As I’ve told Eric several times, the most important thing he’s done is to teach his children by example how to care for him when the time comes.
(The eulogy closed with the invitation given below for others to share stories about Dad).
I know we all come from different religious and cultural perspectives and finding the right note for this memorial was difficult. But I would like to end this eulogy with an invitation for each of you to share some brief memory of Dad, if you will, and then we will close with some music that seemed strongly related to his life. We will pass Dad’s walking stick around as a ``talking stick’’ and your chance to speak will be when it is in your hand. Everyone else will listen to you and no one will interrupt you when you are talking. If you don’t feel like talking, it’s OK just to take the stick and pass it on to the next person. Your memory doesn’t have to be serious or solemn, just something you recall of our father. After all, what is remembered lives!