My former partner Gail Adele and I enjoyed great travel adventures (26 countries), collaborated professionally on solid geometry and shared church duties.
An especially delightful aspect of our relationship was getting to know Gail’s mother, Viola Homan. Our friendship became so close over the years that she insisted that I call her “Mom #2.”
Viola was the sweetest woman I’ve ever known. There was no generation gap with her. She was non-judgmental and comfortable with anyone in the room.
Viola was born to Norwegian parents of Finley, North Dakota, in 1915. She worked hard as a young girl, and she was enterprising enough to caddy for wealthy golfers in Evanston, Illinois. Later, she worked at a canning factory in Chicago. She saved her money and went to business school at night.
In 1938, Viola was swept off her feet by a brilliant horticulturist at the University of Chicago. They married, and after growing flowers in Woodland, Washington, they settled in Terre Haute, Indiana. There she helped run a successful tulip business, and she also raised three children.
In 1964, Viola began traveling to Norway and went back several times to visit. She was persistent in tracing dozens of relatives on each side of her family. They were amazed at her fluency in the language she learned as a child.
In 1995, Viola joined Gail and me in Australia. Gail was on sabbatical at the Queensland University of Technology, and I took research leave to study at the University of Queensland. Showing her amazing pluck, she snorkeled, for the first time, on the Great Barrier Reef at age of 80.
She was so excited about snorkeling that we took her to Belize, where we went out on the world’s second longest barrier reef. One day, as she was climbing back on the boat, we told her that a shark had followed her. She was really scared until we explained that it was only a nurse shark. Later we would chuckle when she told the story of her encounter with the “nerd” shark.
When Viola’s husband died in 1984, she stayed in Terre Haute until Gail convinced her to move to Moscow in 2002. At Good Samaritan Viola “graduated” from a duplex to assisted living and then finally to skilled nursing.
One day, I invited Viola over for lunch, and I had prepared a surprise for her. I served her a veggie-based ham and cheese sandwich. When she said that it was the best ham and cheese she had ever eaten, I told her the truth. Her normal sweet disposition turned sour, and she never trusted me with food again.
I would bike over and visit Viola at Good Sam about three to four times a week. Her favorite activity was playing Skip-Bo. She managed to win most of our games, but with her health failing, I would stand by her side and help her choose the right cards.
I still have our Skip-Bo book with tallies from our games, and I also noted the times that I had given, tongue-in-cheek, demerits to Gail for cheating.
Gail’s brother Glen would visit regularly, and one time he brought some golf hole flags for Good Sam’s small golf green. Perhaps it was her early caddy experience, but, I swear, Viola would beat me every time!
One day I came into her room and saw an apple on her desk. I teased her saying that it must be from a new boyfriend. She looked at me very seriously and said: “You are my only boyfriend.”
In 2014, I was planning a month-long trip to India. I had already paid for the plane ticket and booked the hotels. As my departure approached, Viola’s health was deteriorating dramatically.
I seriously considered canceling my trip, but Viola insisted that I go. At the age of 99, while I was visiting the Bodhi Tree where the Buddha reached enlightenment, Viola died peacefully in the arms of her granddaughter Alison.
Dear Mom #2: I miss you so much! You will always be in my heart. I hope that they play Skip-Bo in heaven! On earth the final score was Viola 300 versus Nick 191.
Nick Gier of Moscow is a professor emeritus at the University of Idaho. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.