A very short four months ago, my life took an abrupt turn. As many of you know, my Mother passed away in January. Since that time, I’ve been with my Dad helping him with his life transition.
Barbara Rudolphia ‘Dolfe’ Brown Van Alyne, circa mid 1960’s, June 1932 – January 2018
In helping Dad, I’ve gotten to know my Mother differently. There are things that I knew: the loving Mother, Grandmother, and Great-Grandmother she was, accomplished author, and musician. Thankfully, she kept fun stuff from her childhood and beyond.
Mom was the 14th of 17 children born to Tandy and Grace Brown. When she was two years old, her family moved into their home just east of Holliday Park in Cheyenne WY (the Brown kids pretty much ruled their side of the park). Mom got her middle name, Rudolphia, from Rudolphia Holliday, who was instrumental in building Holliday Park and a good friend of Grandma Brown. Mom used a variation of her middle name – Dolfe – most of her life, because there were several ‘Barbaras’ and even a couple of other ‘Barbara Browns’ in her schools.
Mom had to walk 8 blocks to Fincher Elementary School, even though Alta Vista was only 2 blocks away, because her Mother didn’t like the principal at Alta Vista. (Of course, uphill both ways – sound familiar?) A common theme in her progress reports (aka report cards) was ‘…Dolfe would do better if she worked harder…’ Hmmmmm! She was selected to Girls’ State in 1949 and was elected Sheriff for their mock government session.
Grandma Brown required all her children to play a musical instrument. Mom chose the French Horn and played it extremely well. (I have the judging sheets and band letters to prove it!) She played the piano and taught piano for many years (she used the money from piano lessons to buy the family cabin in the mountains). She also played in piano competitions and placed very well. I didn’t inherit any of her musical talent, even though she tried in vain to teach me both piano and French Horn.
Mom and Dad married in 1951. My brother, Bobby, was born in 1952 and was joined by my sister, Barbara, in 1953. I was born in 1956, and they bought a house in south Cheyenne in 1957. Rodney, the baby brother, was born in 1962. Mom and Dad bought the cabin when I was a toddler, and we spent most of our summer weekends in the mountains.
Mom was very active in the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) at our schools, and at the state and national level. She traveled Wyoming in the early 1960’s speaking about the health risks associated with smoking. She was a Girl Scout leader for my sister and several cousins. The local rodeo, Cheyenne Frontier Days, used Girl Scouts as ushers in the 1950’s and ’60’s. I never missed a performance of the rodeo until they quit using Girl Scouts as ushers.
Mom was always a history buff. She loved the history of Cheyenne, the state of Wyoming, and settling the West. When my brother attended the Boy Scouts World Jamboree in Idaho in 1967, our family trip there started by following the Bozeman Trail to Custer’s Battlefield in Montana, to Idaho, then home through Yellowstone National Park and the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody. Mom knew the story of every fort and battlefield.
Her family caused this passion for history, I think. One of her ancestors was a Cherokee maid who married a ‘dirty old German fur trapper.’ They often set traps in a neighboring tribe’s territory, and Mom often told us of the time they were on a bluff in a cold camp while members of the other tribe camped at the base of the bluff when looking for them.
Her Grandmother, Molly Eidam, was quite the free spirit who wanted to be an independent woman at a time when that wasn’t going to happen. Molly had several marital relationships so she could run various businesses, including houses of ill repute in Colorado and Wyoming.
Mom’s mother, Grace, didn’t approve of Grandma Eidam’s lifestyle and didn’t like being an only child, which contributed to her very high moral code and the large family. Grandma Brown baked pies in a wood burning stove to make money for her children’s music lessons. (All Mom’s brothers are tall and strong from chopping wood, and the sisters are short and round from being in the kitchen helping to bake.) Grace was selected as Wyoming’s Mother of the Year in 1954.
Mom’s father, Tandy, was born in Georgia and came west with the Army. He was stationed at Ft. Crook (now Offutt Air Force Base), Nebraska, and Ft. D. A. Russell (now F. E. Warren AFB) near Cheyenne, where he met and married Grace. Tandy served in the Phillippines and chased Pancho Villa with Blackjack Pershing. He and Grace were expecting their 3rd child when he was mustered out of the Army (apparently a Sergeant couldn’t have that many kids). Shortly after, he started working for the Union Pacific Railroad and continued until his 70th birthday. His job allowed him to take Mom to Georgia to visit family when she was a little girl.
Dad was gone quite often for the National Guard and Boy Scouts. Mom stayed home with the kids, but their letters showed that they loved each other very much. They were married more than 66 years!
In 1981, Dad went on active duty at the Pentagon in Washington, D. C. He started with a two year tour of duty that turned into ten years. Mom went with him to our nation’s capitol, living outside Cheyenne for the first time in her life. She planned on being a soldier’s wife and ‘just stay home’ but that lasted about a week, so she became a Kelley girl. Her earnings allowed them to travel the east coast and expand her study of history to include early American history. She also began serious genealogy research which continued until her death.
Mom and Dad lived on Sergeants Major Row on Ft. Myer (now Joint Base Myer-Henderson), Virginia, which is immediately adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery. Mom joined the Ft. Myer Enlisted Wives Club, and was active in the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States (EANGUS) Auxiliary where she served as the National Vice President.
Mom was invited to become an Arlington Lady in 1982. The Arlington Ladies attend funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, providing comfort to the families and representing the chiefs of staff of the armed services (Mom represented the Army Chief of Staff). After my brother’s death in 1985, Mom laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. She truly enjoyed her time as an Arlington Lady and spoke of it often.
After Dad’s retirement, they returned to their home in Cheyenne (yes, the one they bought in 1957). Just before Dad’s retirement, they built an addition on the house consisting of a huge family room, master suite, and two car attached garage. At the same time, they remodeled the kitchen. This work included a small office that Mom used extensively. She needed space to store family history information and work on her first book about her family’s involvement in the Civil War. Since her ancestors came from Georgia, they fought for the Confederacy.
Mom and Dad traveled extensively visiting grandchildren and family, and doing genealogy research. They spent lots of time at the cabin, especially during Frontier Days and the hottest part of summer. She became a big fan of the Wyoming Cowgirl basketball team. She was quite tech savvy, using email and texting to keep up with the grandkids and great grandkids, and using computer technology to conduct research and write her books.
After her death, I found that she had two more books in process: the first was a cookbook of recipes used by her mother and other members of the family, and the second was her family tree. The first chapter, Tandy and Grace The Early Years, was written, and the rest of the book was outlined and ready to be written.
Mom and Dad’s health caused them to slow their travel in recent years. The family gathered in the summer of 2016 to celebrate Dad’s 85th birthday and Mom and Dad’s 65th wedding anniversary.
It’s tough to have Mother’s Day without my mother. It’s tougher on Dad, though (his mother passed away in 1952), so my attention is focused on him. In my heart, I know that Mom is in heaven with my brother and her family, and has been enjoying meeting all those people who were names on a family tree or possibly an image from a faded picture in her collection.
We miss you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day!