Each time I sat down to begin writing mom’s life sketch; something would always pull me away. As I sat looking at a blank screen, all I could think was that mom is probably looking down and telling Grandma and Grandpa this is yet another example of Jeff waiting until the last minute to do his homework. Mom was one of the few people who could always see through my schemes and would gently remind me that it was much easier getting things done early rather than waiting until the last minute. She would explain that time spent up front would result in better grades and less stress. I never really learned that lesson very well so I’m sorry mom.
VelDean Olsen Summers was born on July 1, 1940. She was the first child out of four born to Dean Nyman Olsen and Velma Watterson Olsen. At the time they were living in Garfield Utah. Before long the family moved to Ammon Idaho where VelDean would spend most of her childhood.
Family was extremely important growing up. Grandma and Grandpa Olsen would take their kids nearly every week exploring. This love of the great outdoors would stay with VelDean throughout her life as she loved exploring the beauty of nature.
Mom would tell the story of when she met dad. She would tell me that Butch caught her eye from the very beginning and after their first date she just knew he was whom she would marry. Mom not only believed in love at first sight but she also was looking for someone who would become her eternal companion. On July 18, 1958 VelDean married Jerry Garth Summers in the Idaho Falls temple.
Theirs was a union that was blessed by God. Jerry and VelDean loved each other very much and were inseparable. After getting married Jerry worked for grandpa Olsen building houses and in fact built the house his parents would live in for most of their lives.
They wanted to start a family but had a difficulty in having a baby. VelDean went through some very trying times having several miscarriages and there was real concern that they would not have children. I never knew about that until years later when going through trials of my own.
In 1961 they had their first child, Jeffery D Summers. He was welcomed into this world with open arms and VelDean was an amazing mother. She loved books and reading and would read to Jeff every night. She would have stacks of books for him to choose from but he always chose The House That Jack Built. It would be a source of amusement throughout my life as she and grandma would recount how I would make them read the book over and over and correct them whenever they made a mistake.
Three years later Jerry and VelDean gave birth to another boy, Rodney K Summers. VelDean would take the boys everywhere and made sure they were taken care of. There would be swimming lessons, t-ball, little league, art classes, and a multitude of other activities but she never seemed to complain she just enjoyed having her boys with her. Mom was the first one to cheer when something went well and the first to console us when things didn’t go quite like it should.
Five years after Rod was born Jerry and VelDean had Michael J Summers, which completed their family. I’ll never forget when Mike was born. Rod and I woke up to find Grandpa Summers at the house baby-sitting. When we asked where mom and dad were Grandpa told us that they were at the hospital and that mom had a monkey and the doctor’s were trying to get him down because he was swinging from the lights in the delivery room. I hate to tell Mike this but Rod and I were really disappointed when we found out he wasn’t really a monkey.
For most of our childhood mom was a stay-at-home mother. I never realized how important that was until much later in life. There was just something magical about coming home from school and having her be there for us to share our day as we talked over an afternoon snack.
That is one of the things I remember most about mom; she was an amazing listener. She had a knack of getting you to talk about your experiences and somehow weave in a life lesson without ever feeling like we were being lectured or scolded. Given the personality of her three boys that was no simple task.
But it wasn’t just her own children she did that with. Our house seemed to always be the gathering place for all of our friends. A lot of that was because of mom. She would make everyone feel at home and comfortable. She had a kind ear and a sweet spirit about her that made her loved by everyone.
Despite having three boys whom she loved dearly we always knew she loved dad even more. They had a special bond that amazed everyone. They took time for each other and fell more deeply in love every day. We were continually reminded of how important a strong family is and how much work must go into it to be successful.
Throughout my life I heard about how wonderful my parents were and how rare and special their marriage is. I didn’t really understand it until I started dating myself. After each date I would come home to find mom pretending to be busy. I suspect she really didn’t need to be straightening cupboards or doing dishes for the third time. No she wanted to be there to hear how my date went and just talk. Those conversations are the thing I remember the most. No matter what else she was doing she always stopped and sat down to listen whether it was a shoulder to cry on or to share in the joy of what we had done.
We could spend a lifetime telling stories about mom and what she meant to us. Every person who ever met her has a story to tell. Whether it was making a super hero cape for a neighbor kid, taking cupcakes to a school class, helping a parent in Little League, or just being there to lend a hand mom touched so many lives.
Mike loves to tell the story of when he, mom, and dad went fishing. Mom was catching all of the fish and finally Mike had to ask what her secret was. He decided that it was because she was wearing smelly lotion on her hands and that lotion would get on the bait. He was tired of not catching fish so he put lotion on his hands and soon he was catching fish too. Dad refused to put on the lotion insisting that was just silly but at the end of the day it was mom and Mike who caught all the fish.
Mom was always one to challenge the status quo and think differently. It was one of her traits that dad both loved and made him crazy. He would come up with a problem that he was struggling with and before long mom would have analyzed ten different ways it could be solved. Dad would sit there dumbfounded and amazed.
They say that when a boy grows up they look for a companion that reminds them of the traits their mother had. In my case it was a very unfair comparison. In my mind my mother was the most amazing woman ever put on this earth. I would date girls but they never seemed to measure up to the impossible dream I had. During one of our nightly chats I talked to mom about that and she helped me understand that the perfect union was not a fairy tale and you don’t get whisked away like a princess at a ball. The key to a lifelong marriage that stands the test of time is to marry your best friend and always find someone who made you believe you were better than you believed yourself. It’s advice I’ve shared with my kids as well.
I believe that before we came to this earth we were with our Heavenly Father and we talked about the challenges we would face and the talents we would be given. We made a covenant with the Lord that we would do our best to overcome our challenges with His help and we would use our talents to spread love throughout the world.
As we look around at those we are close to we can see some whose talents are art while others can write. Some are good with their hands and some are eloquent at speaking. But sometimes there are those who seem to have an abundance of many talents. My mom was one of those. Every day I would be more and more amazed at what she could do.
Mom was an amazing cook. She was an artist with food. She could look at her pantry and come up with some of the most amazing things in the world. The best part was that she was meticulous at writing things down so when you found something you loved, you knew she would have the recipe. I cannot tell you how many times one of us have called mom asking her if she could send us the recipe for “favorite salad”, “mom’s chip dip”, or “favorite casserole”. The best part was that mom would know exactly which recipe we were talking about and it would soon be emailed or recited from memory. I do not envy the person who will become the “keeper of the recipes”.
After mom got sick she enlisted dad to help. I have to believe this was one of the more difficult trials she faced in life trying to get dad to follow a recipe. We could always tell when dad had been cooking, the spices were no longer in alphabetical order and the pans were not neatly stacked after washing. Despite my dad’s novice cooking abilities the two of them together continued to create amazing delicacies. From the hundreds of pounds of dried apple snacks to the coveted packages of homemade jerky these were the most treasured items at Christmas time.
This year was even more special. I have to believe mom was inspired to include something very personal for each of her boys. Amid the bags of apples, summer sausage, jerky, and peanut brittle in my box was a red container. Inside was a personalized note from mom along with raw macaroni and a dusting of Parmesan cheese. The note told how she remembered when I was growing up I would arrive at the baseball field and in my back pocket would be raw elbow macaroni and cheese that I would eat while warming up for a game. I immediately called her when I got it and we talked and laughed about a simple memory. I’ll forever treasure that gift and memory.
Mom was also a master with knitting needles. Some of my first photos were of me wearing a handmade sweater that she knit. Now three generations later mom has made sweaters for her grandkids and great grandkids. Each one is worn with pride. And sewn into the inside is a simple inscription, “Made with Love from Grandma”. These have become heirlooms that are worn then carefully put away so that they can be used again with a new generation. She was always busy with a skein of yarn creating something whether it be sweaters, scarves, or one of countless knit dishrags which have become as valuable as gold to anyone who receives one.
Of all mom’s talents, her sewing was the most amazing. Growing up I remember her making clothes for each of us. Not just simple things but elaborate outfits that made us the envy of all of our classmates. The most amazing part to me was the fact that she could look at something and create her own pattern. When I was in junior high school I remember a Christmas gift from mom that contained a box of fabric. I must have looked confused but she told me that her goal was to work with me to create whatever I could imagine. It was an amazing time where we sat in the sewing room. I would tell stories while she sewed and we would end up wiping tears from our eyes from laughing so hard.
Each item that came from her sewing machine was perfect and as I looked at the professional looking stitches I could count the love that she put into each item. I realized that these were not just articles of clothing. They represented the hard work and love that a mother has for her family. Every time I put on a shirt or pull on a pair of pants I look at the stitches and mentally I go back to those days in the sewing room where we spent so many precious moments as she weaved memories into fabric to remind me to appreciate what I have and who I am.
Those stitches and memories are strong. They withstand the wear and tear of daily life. Sometimes we try to stuff too much into those clothes likely a result of all mom’s wonderful treats. But things never come undone. She made sure she accounted for the stress. She double stitched the areas which would see the most wear. And in those times where a thread came undone, her masterful hand would pick up a needle and thread and the clothing was mended to be even stronger than it was before.
When I was younger I thought my mom was teaching me about sewing and design and art. What she was really teaching me was about family and about life. She would help me learn to follow a pattern, would give me the raw materials and leave it to my imagination to produce something great.
Early in our marriage Trina and I faced tragedy. Our daughter Lindsay died at birth. We were young and had never faced a trial as hard as this. Mom and dad were in Arizona visiting my grandparents. I remember making the phone call telling them we lost Lindsay. They drove all night to be here for us. It was the most difficult thing I have ever done to bury my child. Trina and I were an emotional wreck but mom calmly began stitching things back together. She was there every moment as we walked through the process. Afterwards she sent us away and told us to focus not on what we lost but to focus on what we have. The hole in our hearts was being mended by the love of a master seamstress.
Years later when we would send our son Dakota off on a mission I talked to mom the night before he left. She told me she had been fervently praying to her Heavenly Father to ask him to let Lindsay accompany her brother to Georgia to teach. She was again reinforcing those stitches making them stronger and minimizing the stress on the fabric. Dakota has been out for seven months and he has already had multiple opportunities where he could share his family’s experience in losing a child and relate a grandmother’s unconditional love and faith that has touched the hearts of people adding more stitches to the fabric of life.
When mom passed away I was devastated. She has meant so much to me. I knew I had to talk to each of my children and tell them a great lady had returned to her Heavenly Father. These were heartbreaking conversations and pieces of cloth seemed to be torn away but as quickly as a hole appeared it was stitched back together with the loving memories that she left for us.
The hardest of the conversations was with Dakota. As a missionary we don’t have the ability to call him directly. Instead I struggled to find the words that would relay the loss of someone he loved while expressing the love she had for him. It was an email I had hoped never to write. This would be the greatest test to the strength of the cloth my mom had sewn.
When Dakota could email he relayed the story of how he found out and what transpired. He was teaching a lesson when my email caught his eye. He briefly opened it and read the first line. Tears immediately welled up and he tried hard to keep from breaking down. After the lesson he and his companion went back to the apartment where he read the entire email and fell on his bed sobbing. He didn’t want to go on and just cried at losing someone he loved so much. After 20 minutes he heard a voice. Dakota said, “I know it was grandma telling me that laying there isn't going to bring people closer to God, that I need to fulfill what I was called to do and that I can look back on things later. I needed to "forget myself and go to work".” Even beyond the veil mom continues to strengthen the stitches she began so many years ago.
So as we sit here today to pay tribute to a wonderful wife, incredible mother, and amazing woman; let’s not focus on the holes and worn areas that come with losing someone so special. Instead let’s look closely at the craftsmanship of the work she has done and how she has given us a fabric of memories that we can wrap ourselves in and think fondly of that article with the simple tag that says “Made with Love by Mom”