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My own personal heaven on earth

Monday, February 20, 2006

Viola and I were "high school sweethearts"!

We took many of the same classes, played trumpet in the band, sang in the glee club and were elected class officers; she was also chosen cheerleader and, not surprisingly, became the one who did the "daring" tumbles.

We were at a roller-skating party during our sophomore year when, somehow, we wound up roller-skating together for most of the evening (I teased her that it was her doing). That evening this beautiful, fun-loving 16 year old girl stole my 15 year old heart and changed me forever.

Vi in Rolette, 1952

Our subsequent high school years were literally "heaven on earth". Shared classes and other daily school activities became enjoyable beyond any reasonable expectation. During many lunch hour breaks we walked the residential streets of Rolette, North Dakota, holding hands and planning the family we would raise together. We talked about having two children, a boy and a girl. We even decided to name them Carl and Cathy! The picture at left was taken on such a walk.

We were married two years after our high school graduation - I was 19 years old and Viola was 20. My own personal heaven on earth continued until she made her final transition on January 9, 2006 at age 71 years, 7 months and 22 days.

Starting in high school and continuing through all of our time together, Viola Mary Anne Leona (LaCroix) Espe smoothed out some of my rough edges and taught me truly profound things about personal relationships and life in general. When uncertain, we were to simply let Christ's example guide us; when concerned about a course of action (should we move to Virginia?), she would grin and reassuredly point out that it wouldn't matter because if we made a mess of things, God would help clean it up. Even though I was keeping vigil while my lady was dying during those final days and hours, it turned out to be the most profound gift of love that anyone can experience. Together we pondered the mystery of being human; simply "being us"; being "Rod and Vi". She always demonstrated a dignity that seemed to flow naturally from her - a dignity that flowed first for a high school boy and girl; then for a man and a woman; and then, continuing through her final transition.

Now, as I read the many cards and e-mails received, I can easily see evidence of Viola's powerful impact on others - ranging from close family to new acquaintances. I want to share some of the comments that caused me to nod my head up and down, thinking "I know, I know":

"She was such a joy and a gift to everyone she met. She will make the Angels sing!"

"She mirrored the love that God has for each one of us"

"We saw Viola as the family mentor and cheerleader"

"Her hugs were genuine! We will remember her ability to touch our hearts"

"We are blessed to have Vi come into our lives"

"All through junior and senior high school, Vi was like a second mom to me - she was understanding, she listened, she was generous, she had a warm heart, and all that homemade bread!"

"Vi was always a spit fire lady. She never let her faith in God fade"

"Vi seemed to project happiness"

Peter making lefse

That last comment recalls one of Vi's fondest memories. Peter, a very young grandson, is helping Vi make lefse. She told me that at one point he stopped and said, "Grandma, are you happy to be here?"

Well, of course she was! She enjoyed having her grandsons "help" in the kitchen. But, truth be told, my lady was simply up to her old tricks. She was projecting a happiness that even Peter, though very young, could easily see and feel; she did the very same thing to me, many short years ago, at a roller-skating party.