Eileene Jensen Nyhagen
Mom has been the rational, creative influence in my life all these years. She was my earliest, most enthusiastic supporter, and she's remained so all my life. It was my Mom's idea to get me into First English Elementary School with
Butchie Marincin up the street, and it was the best thing she could ever have done for me. Attending private elementary school was unquestionably the one opportunity in my life that set the stage for all that followed.
I'd been an
undeservedly gifted child early on, as was my sister after me. Walking sooner than normal, talking and reading sooner than normal, doing everything sooner than normal. It was Mom that was most sensitive to these things. And she pushed me. Mom and Butchie's Mom, Emily, pushed both of us to achieve more and more, and provided us with every opportunity to take the best advantage of the natural gifts we both possessed.
As it turned out, both Butchie and I were straight 'A' students all through elementary school, and both of us caught the attention of the Principal (who was the wife of the Pastor of the Church) and all of our teachers as well. Even earlier than that, she'd submitted me to the Los Angeles Herald
Examiner Newspaper's annual Pretty Baby Award, which I won when I was 2, and my sister won again when she was almost 2 herself. While at First English, I even got
my "15 Minutes of Fame" on the Art Linkletter Show,
Linkletter's House Party" (Loretta Snyder and I even got to ride
on a Fire Truck to the Studio and back. Don't all laugh, it was a big deal then, believe me. Ha Ha.) I wasn't really aware of having been singled out that way until a few years later in life, at Culter Academy, when I felt less challenged than I had at First Lutheran. I slowly became a classic under-achiever, while Butchie continued his academic performance at the same level as always. When Butchie moved away, the local rivalry ended and I guess I was a bit relieved. I was having fun in Junior High and High School, and my life felt more balanced.
Mom's natural reaction could very well have been to be disappointed in me, or to make me feel as if I'd let her down somehow, because academically at least, I certainly had. But if she was disappointed, she never showed it. Of course she always encouraged me to apply myself more, but I always had the sense that she somehow knew that I'd eventually apply myself academically again when I felt challenged again. As it was, she simply encouraged me in every other interest that shaped my life in those days, which at the time were sports, friends, my hobbies, and my involvement with our church (I was an acolyte for 7 years). She kept me focused on the important things in life, and truth be told, I think in some ways she was relieved at not placing me in a position of having to compete with someone academically any longer. I think that rivalry took as much out of her all those years as it sometimes did out of me.
Both Mom and Dad sacrificed so very much sending us to those expensive private schools. I had no concept of how much Dad made in those days. Seeing his pockets bulging with coins every morning, and watching him count it out made me think we were just swimming in money for the longest time. What I had no appreciation for then was that the very reason Dad was counting out his tips every day after work was because that's what he had to do to make ends meet and still send Patti and I to private schools. Mom never worked after I started school. I believe Dad wanted it that way as much as Mom did. Mom has always been a very talented and intelligent woman, and could easily have been professionally successful at anything she chose to. But the values they both shared--and jointly agreed upon--made it important to the both of them that she stay home as a caregiver and nurturer. She performed that task marvelously well, and has to this day.
Dad could have very well been a victim of his own success, providing all of us--Mom included--with everything we ever really wanted or needed. But Mom never took advantage of it. She kept an eye on the budget, went without when she had to, and always made Dad feel as he was doing the very best he could for us.
And they both always did just that.
I owe Mom all of my artistic talent. She was an accomplished artist in her own right most of her life. She could paint or draw almost anything and painted over a hundred richly detailed and colored oil paintings, most of which she gave away as gifts, and some which still hang in their house to this day. She had a rival then, but it was a friendly and respectful rivalry--with Emily again, who also took up oil painting about the same time as Mom did. It was good for both of them. They both had obvious talent and it kept them busy doing something tangibly creative, which must have been a welcome relief from caring for two children each all those years. She taught me a great deal about color, technique, and attention to the finest detail, and my own artistic pursuits in the years that followed reflected those same lessons. I was selected to illustrate my High School Yearbook my senior year (1965) with the
Sumi-E painting (Japanese Ink Painting) I'd been perfecting for the previous two summers. Seeing how proud she was gave me a sense of accomplishment I'll never forget.
Looking back on
Life I'm left with the impression of a presence just behind me and out of sight, nudging me ever forward, gently, but insistently. That presence was and is, my Mother.
Thank you Mom for being the 'Wind Beneath My Wings' all these years.