Eulogy for my mother
Inger-Marie Hojberg (January 26, 1934-November 18, 2011
If my mother’s life were a movie, it would be a musical. It would include songs such as Good Morning, Good Morning!, from Singing in the Rain, Edelweiss from The Sound of Music and Happy Talk from South Pacific. There would be shades of Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy, and Rose Nylund, aka Betty White, in the Golden Girls. And chocolate. Lots of chocolate. The plot would take a twisted path along yellow brick roads and through wormholes, and every vehicle would fly. There would be snow-skiing, ice-skating and water dancing a la Esther Williams,’ intermixed with action, adventure and a touch of two-part harmony.
Mom had a regular inclination to break into song, whether she was happy or frustrated. If anyone else started to sing around her, she would join in, providing the harmony. She loved musical instruments, and experimented with the viola, the guitar and the dulcimer, but her favorite was always the piano. Her piano was like a treasured companion. How well she played never mattered; all that mattered, was that she played.
She also liked to laugh. I think her favorite TV show of all time was Americas Funniest Videos. She could watch the same clips over and over again, and always, always laugh. She could also laugh at herself, and she certainly did, more often than not.
She never swore—at least, not in English. In English, what she most commonly said to express her frustration was “7734.” As a child, I always got a kick out of that. I also used to like to say “ain’t,” just to hear her respond with “ain’t fell in the paint so it ain’t no word.”
My mother loved the night sky. She was a star-gazer who followed every mission closely, from the Apollo program to the space shuttles. Star Trek was among her favorite shows, and I think her favorite character was Scotty, although I’m sure she never actually declared a favorite. When I became obsessed with Stargate, it was easy to pull her along with me, and she journeyed through the Stargate vicariously through me.
She liked to watch game shows, particularly The Price is Right and Wheel of Fortune; once upon a time, many years ago, she went with me to try out for a slot on Wheel of Fortune. Neither of us made the final cut, but we sure had fun trying.
She was never afraid of trying. She would try just about anything. In high school, I was the only one who had a mother crazy enough to break her hand roller-skating. And when roller-blading officially became the next great trend a decade later, she had to try that, too—right there in her “senior citizens only” condo complex. Fortunately, she was limber, thanks to years of Yoga.
One thing she always wanted to try, though I’m not sure she ever did, was speed-skating. I would have loved to try that, too…in my younger years. We both loved those perfect winter days when the lake would freeze just so, and there wasn’t a lot of snow to shovel off the surface. On days like that, we would strap on our ice skates and watch each other racing across as far as we could go, so much farther than either of us could ever swim, undeterred by the way the ice creaked and groaned beneath us. We weren’t careless; we both knew when the ice was too thin. She was never afraid of trying, but she would not invite danger.
It was never about danger; it was about flying.
She enjoyed a good thrill-ride, and would join me on any roller coaster I, myself would dare to try. Even so, she did not like the Beast at Kings Island. It moved too fast and with too much force for her to be able to enjoy the high in the sky views. Actually, I think her favorite amusement park ride of all time was the much slower, double Ferris wheel, for the impression it gave her of being up in the sky.
In a parallel universe somewhere, in which we all follow different paths in life, I have no doubt she became a pilot.
She did love the sky, day or night. But swimming…swimming was almost like a religious experience for her—maybe because it provided her with the illusion of flying, albeit flying in the water. She would swim throughout the year if our northern weather would let her. Long after the rest of us Michiganders had tucked away our flip-flops and pulled out our sweaters, she would still go down to the lake for a swim. One story that has achieved almost legendary status tells about the time she dove into a hotel swimming pool despite an unseasonable frost that had left the surface coated in a very thin sheet of ice.
If you ever saw mom swimming and you asked her how the water was, you knew to be wary if she answered “refreshing.” Refreshing to her meant freezing to the rest of us. And heaven help you if she said it was “invigorating!”
Mom greeted life with enthusiasm. Christmas never lost its magic, and she saw the world as though it was fresh and new each time she looked. She relished every spider web, every bird's nest, every tiny bud clinging to life from seemingly impossible places. She surrounded herself with such treasures, and my parents' condo was as full of broken robin's eggs, grasshopper husks and transplanted blossoms as it was of shiny trinkets.
She did what she could to instill that same enthusiasm into my sisters and me when we were children. Any time she had a special surprise gift, she would have us close our eyes, hold out our hands and say the magic words. No, those words did not include "please." It was a Norwegian phrase I've never known the direct translation for. "Looka, looka blind man, fol jeg lit e mitt hand." After we said the words, the surprise would magically land in our hands.
We also had a special nightly ritual. After tucking us into bed, she would stand in the doorway with her hand on the light switch, and tell us to blow out the light. My sister, Kari, and I would fill our chubby little cheeks with air and then blow as hard as we could until she clicked off the switch. The ritual also included Norwegian words: God natt, sover godt, vakner i god helse i morn. Good night, sleep well, wake in good health in the morning. I'm comforted to know those were the last words I said to her, together with jeg elsker deg, I love you.
And I'm quite sure no amount of blowing will ever snuff the light she has given to each of us.