Norma Irene Faries Nelson chose to leave this life on a beautiful fall day. It was Sunday. She always hated Sundays.
Norma arrived here in Olathe, Colorado on April 9, 1935. She was born in a log cabin on the banks of the Uncompahgre River with (as Kenneth, her husband of 66 years always said just to annoy her) “snow sifting in through the chinks.” She was the 4th of 5 children born to Jasper and Lodema Faries. It was the middle of the Depression and feeding a family was a challenge. So Norma spent her early childhood in Colorado for a while, then Utah, finally settling in the Seattle area where Jasper and Lodema were employed to construct warships.
Norma had fond memories of growing up in Silver Lake, Washington where she and her brother (and best friend), Wade, ran wild in the woods. She loved roller skating and when Wade received his first bicycle, she stole it and taught herself to ride by pedaling through the frame. She soon had her own bicycle and she cycled everywhere. Her intrepid spirit and wild red hair earned her the nickname “Fearless Ferris” during her adolescent school years.
After the war, Jasper recalled a beautiful valley on the Idaho-Oregon border that they drove through on their way to Washington. So they packed up and moved to the Treasure Valley. Molly Nelson, the eldest daughter of a local farm family, invited Norma to sit with her on the school bus and they became best friends. They finished high school and attended Link’s School of Business in Boise together, well on their way to becoming “career women”. However, life will derail plans and, even though Norma always claimed that Kenneth’s mother conspired to put them together, she rarely did anything she didn’t want to do. So she married Molly’s oldest brother, Kenneth, on June 30, 1954.
They immediately began producing children (Norma referred to herself as “Fertile Myrtle”) with Kim born on April 9, 1955 on Norma’s 20th birthday and Herbert born on April 12, 1956. Mother said she finally figured out what caused this phenomena and she stopped doing it! Ken and Norma’s only “planned” child, Henry, came along June 27, 1959.
Norma decided if she was going to be a mother and a farmer’s wife, she’d be a good one! So she cooked, cleaned, gardened, canned and sewed. She reorganized, reupholstered, repainted and remodeled. She transformed her shabby farmhouse into a home. She totally wowed her little daughter when she stripped and painted the old linoleum kitchen floor with bright, shiny red paint and two full-color, larger-than-life roosters standing proud and cocky in the middle of it!
She sent her (often painfully) well-groomed and well-behaved (?) children to school, took them to church, the grocery store and the grandparents. She was involved in school activities and PTA; she built booths and baked cakes for school events.
But as soon as the kids could manage on their own a bit, she realized that home-making wasn’t really her bag. So she started taking art classes at TVCC; she dragged Kenneth to dancing classes; she worked in the fields and the apple shed to make extra cash. She bought a dishwasher because her lazy daughter hated doing dishes as much as she did. She got a job setting type at the Parma Review newspaper office where she met her life-long friend, Sharon Fletcher. She went back to school at Boise State. Then when the kids were mostly grown, oopsie! at 35 years of age, Norma was expecting another baby.
But like most things, she dug right in. She read books on nutrition, took prenatal vitamins, ate according to the trimester. And on March 12, 1971, out pops an 11 lb 3 oz baby girl! Dr Kirby was so proud! He paraded Kendall up and down the halls of Malheur Memorial Hospital showing off that big, beautiful baby that he delivered.
So Norma and Kenneth were raising a baby again but this time she had built-in teen-aged babysitters. She finished her BA degree at BSU, graduating Summa Cum Laude with a double major in Children’s Literature and Special Education. She substitute taught at Red Top/COSSA and fell in love with the little children there. The two-car garage was converted to an office for Kenneth and a studio for Norma. The studio had north-facing windows with the perfect light for her new art project – eggs! Ostrich, emu, goose, duck and hen… She blew them out and painted, drilled and carved them. She made satin-lined jewelry boxes with golden hinges. And then she discovered gourds!
Norma researched, grew, cured, scraped, sanded, cut, burned, painted and carved gourds. She filled her studio with every size and shape of gourd and every tool used to transform them into beautifully decorated boxes, vases, bowls, water jugs, Christmas ornaments… She joined the Gourd Society, went to meetings and traveled to shows. She still managed to feed Kenneth, keep his house and clothes reasonably clean, expand and maintain her garden, raise Kendall, spoil her (eventual) grandkids and care for her mom and dad. But working with gourds was her last and greatest passion.
Norma was an excellent researcher and studied nutrition beginning with Adele Davis in 1960. She knew everything about food, vitamins and supplements and freely shared ways to fix what ailed you. However, she rarely practiced what she preached. Her food obsessions were the stuff of myth! She tended to focus on one food item and would mostly eat only that for as long as the obsession lasted. An incomplete list would include Pepsi, peanuts, ice, Nacho Doritos, Certs, Ramen noodles, Almond Roca, popcorn (slightly scorched), candy corn, ice cream and M&Ms (but not the blue ones because “food isn’t blue.”) And peppermint candy in every possible form!
But creating was what Norma did and she filled a long life with creations that fell like rain into the waiting hands of her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, friends and acquaintances. She loved to talk about the creative process and teach it. She was always the teacher – she corrected your grammar, spelling and vocabulary with or without your consent. She was fierce, volatile and voluble. Her last days were spent in her garden under the trees that she planted despite the objections of Kenneth who didn’t want to mow around them. Even on hospice, she didn’t want to be anywhere but sitting in her garden watching her hibiscus bloom. We will miss her.
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