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  • Tracy N. Coley

Six on the Sixth of September

In the summer of 1950, my Aunt Lois was looking forward to a special day: her sixth birthday. It was particularly special because she liked the way it sounded. My Grandma Olga introduced her youngest daughter to Mrs. Quinemoen at church as Lois Rebecca. To which Mrs. Quenemoen asked how old she was. Lois would have straightened her back with pride, much like the women do in our family, and replied, “I’ll be six on the sixth of September.”

Mrs. Quinemoen took one look at Lois, sizing her up and down, and said, “If she’s anywhere as nice as the first Rebecca, she must be an awfully nice person.”

She, of course, was referring to Olga’s mother, my great-grandmother Rebecca, the namesake of my own daughter. Rebecca and Hans Dahl were Norwegian immigrants and pioneer settlers in the small Lac Qui Parle community in southwest Minnesota in 1884. Lois was too young to remember her Grandma Dahl, as she died when Lois was one, but her legacy of family and friends was all around.

Lois was the youngest of her five siblings. From left: Roger, Dave, Wanda, Paul and Lois (Middle Child, by Wanda Coley ©2013)

I had several occasions to talk at length with Aunt Lois in the four years before her untimely death this summer. I’d been writing about family and faith and the strong Norwegian-American women who’ve propelled our family forward over the last 150 years and wanted her perspective. She told me about growing up on their small farm in the rural Midwest as the youngest of five children. She also shared what it was like to have children too early in life, the hardships she endured in just putting food on the table and managing without her husband who left them.

She talked about the love of her life, Maynard, who was so handsome in his blue tuxedo when they were married in 1972 and became the surrogate father to her children and father to two more sons. They had plans to renew their vows next year on their 50th wedding anniversary, hiring the pianist who played at their original ceremony. Instead, the pianist played at Lois’ funeral in June.

We also bonded over what it was like to lose an only daughter and the gaping hole grief leaves in your soul. She lost Kim in 2008, I lost my Rebekkah in 2013. I wish our two daughters had met, but it was not meant to be. I think they would have hit it off.

Lois left this earth three months and 10 days ago, and it still doesn’t seem possible. I’m grateful for the time we spent together. Today she would have been celebrating her 77th birthday. It would have been a day that started with a phone call from my mom Wanda singing Happy Birthday and asking her what she had planned for the rest of the day. She would have replied, “Oh just going to get my nails done in a bit. Then I think Maynard, Matt, and I are going to get a bite to eat at the Rivers Cafe.” Then on the weekend she most likely would have gathered with Maynard, all her boys and their families at the farm in Dawson. My cousin Brian might have made her a salty margarita as she surveyed the faces who loved her most. The name Rebecca, which means to tie or to bind, was so fitting. Lois Rebecca bound her family together in love and laughter.

Happy birthday, Aunt Loey. You have to know that you are thought of often and loved infinitely, so much so that if feels as if you are still with us. I hope you and the other Rebeccas are having one heck of a heavenly party today.



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