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Nora Mirle Meeker Henry, 1935-2013

This is the obit we are printing as a program for my mom, who died a week ago on September 30/October 1.  We think it was just before midnight, because Mom had said she wanted to die by the end of September, but my brother found her at 12:10, so October 1 is what's going on the death certificate.

Ten years ago, my dad died, and I started calling my mom every morning at 8 to keep her company.  Over time, we became best friends, and my mom was the person I could be my truest self with.  Although she chose to go on hospice and was ready for death and our family was at peace and happy, her absence has struck me like a hammer fist to the heart.

Nora Mirle Henry was born February 26, 1935 to Dorothy and Joe Meeker. She was named after Grandma Nora Clowers (“fat grandma”) and Grandma Myrl Meeker (“skinny grandma”). (Spelling was never a strong suit in the family.) She joined older brothers Dick and Bill. Her Aunt Mary became a surrogate mother for her.

She grew up on a farm outside of Klamath Falls, Oregon, where she loved horses and dogs and kittens, but was also not spared from life’s harsher realities.

With no desire to go to college, Nora instead went to florist school. She got a job at a florist’s until the business faltered, and then worked at a record store. Hank Henry, a local radio personality, called and asked her to hold a record for him. He said his name as if she should know it, which kind of miffed her. They ended up going on one or two dates.

Nora YoungNothing more might have happened, except a traveling record salesman asked Nora on a date. She said she would go out with him when he was next in town if she wasn’t engaged by then. When he came back, she blurted out that she was engaged. Where, he demanded, was her ring? Claiming she needed to have it sized, she ran in the back and borrowed a coworker’s ring. The salesman asked her who it was, and Nora said Hank Henry. “I know Hank!” the salesman said. To make matters worse, at just that moment Hank opened the door. Nora ran up to him and whispered, “If he asks, tell him we’re engaged.”

They were married a few months later, on July 18, 1954. A t the wedding, Hank was so nervous he forgot to kiss Nora, until she teasingly said,“Aren’t you going to kiss the bride?” He was 31 and she was 19. She later said she married him because he was kind.

Their first years together were difficult, marked by poverty and mental health struggles (on both sides). Hank bounced around from job to job, as radio went through upheavals with the advent of both rock-and-roll and television.

In the early years, they couldn’t afford to heat their house. Nora later wrote, “ In the middle of winter I wore scarves, sweaters, and a coat all day in the house. And if someone knocked I did a striptease as I walked to the front door so that when I opened it I looked like anyone else.” For Christmas that year, the only gifts Nora bought Hank were a saw and a crowbar, which he used to tear down the garage so they could burn it.

About those times, Nora said, “Hank and I used to play solitaire sitting on the floor. We had no table. We’d listen to music and play cards. Often we would be wrapped in blankets to keep warm. Ah—but the music—classical, jazz, show tunes. To be without music is to live a very destitute life.” Some of the music Nora loved included Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Ravel, Brahms, and Arensky’s waltzes.

Their first child, April, arrived in 1959. “April was a newborn, we were having financial problems, Hank’s employment was uncertain, and Mother came through the front door deliriously happy. ‘Guess what!’ she joyously shouted. ‘Good,’ I’m thinking, ‘she’s thought of a way out of this mess.’ Then she opened her hand and proudly proclaimed, ‘Guess what! Look what I found—a round rock!!’

“‘My gosh,’ I think, ‘my world is falling apart and mother has found a round rock.’ She went home in a few days and left the round rock on my mantel. When I passed it, I’d occasionally pick it up thinking, ‘Well at least I have a round rock.’

“Then Hank got a job in Helena, MT, so we sold our house in Portland and I slipped the rock in my purse. Years went by, two more children were born and many times there was not much else in my purse but the round rock.’”

Joe was born in 1961. “During the Columbus Day storm in Portland I let Joe and April go outside to play. Honestly I had no idea the wind was blowing that hard. We were without power for days.” Melody was born in 1963 about the time of JFK’s funeral.

Hank finally got a steady job at KMED TV and the family moved to Medford and into a house where Nora would live the next 50 years. She loved to fly kites, taking her kids and then her grandkids. Once, she said, her kite went up and her pants went down—but luckily there was no one around to notice.

When Melody was still a baby, Nora was in the backyard hanging diapers on the clothesline. While she and Hank had been attending church, it had been more going through the motions. But this day, she said, it seemed like something shimmered down out of a corner of the sky and enveloped her in a feeling of being blessed. She said it was as shocking as if an angel had appeared in backyard. That was the beginning of a deeper relationship with God.

When was in her mid-thirties, Nora returned to working in flower shops. There she met women who would become lifelong friends, including Linda McDonough, Shirley Langston, and Nita Conklin. Decades later, they were still getting together for lunch, and called themselves The Flower Girls. Other life-long friends included Kathy Holt and Pam Hawkins.

Mom red hatNora believed in celebrations. Because she hated January, she instituted “Nothing Day,” a special holiday to celebrate nothing special. “January goes on for two months, usually in the fog. The problem with most holidays is that they are pre-conceived ideas about how they are supposed to be. What is to be eaten or who is supposed to do what. The glorious thing about Nothing Day is that what we ate was open for discussion and the day it could happen could vary.”

Nora loved garage sales, thrift stores, the Eastwood IOOF cemetery, and parades. “There is nothing better than a parade: balloons, clowns, kids, pop, bicycles, babies, old cars, and best of all, the American flag—still a catch in my throat!” She used to embarrass her children by yelling “Hooray for the pooper scoopers!” at the people following the horses with shovels. She also loved playing hide-the-bunny with her daughter-in-law Karen and her grandchildren, as well as seeing wild turkeys. Shortly before her death, a flock of wild turkeys showed up across the street.

She was! I am going to wear that red necklace today. She painted and drew and made beautiful things out of thrift store finds.
It's hard. I've found, in the past, that exercise helps -- both to tire out my body and to calm my mind. So does accepting that it'll take time, and trying to clear as many non-essentials from life as possible, until the healing has "taken"...
We did that for my dad as well. When Mom stopped all her drugs, she was actually worried that without her Prozac and prednisone she would not be as kind. Kindness was at her core.
I love the story about how your mother and father "got engaged"! She sounds like a truly wonderful person and a free spirit. I know you must miss her dreadfully, but how lucky to have had her in your life!
I don't think I knew the full story until I was interviewing her for this a few weeks ago. I was lucky to spend the last three weeks with her. I did not realize how MUCH I would miss her.

She was a free spirit, sometimes embarrassed by it, but it never actually stopped her.
I'm so sorry for your loss. She was an extraordinary woman, and you were blessed to have had each other.
Your Mother
Your mother's so pretty in that old black and white photo! I love their engagement story, it sounds like something out of a book or movie. I know how hard it can be to lose someone you care about. Remember all the good times you had together and know we all feel for you.
Thanks for giving us a chance to know her a little bit, April.
On my iPhone using Voice Memos I tape recorded a couple of our conversations. So precious to me now to hear the sound of her voice. Totally recommend that to others.
What a wonderful obit, and a lovely, romantic story about your parents. I'm sorry for your loss. I'm glad you shared this. In the wake of your mom's death, you've left some inpiring and beautiful words for us.
It gets a little better every day - at least if I don't think about it. Your mom is so primal!
What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful person. And such a wonderful line at the end there: "In Nora’s honor, please commit acts of kindness." Keeping you close in my heart today, April.
I wore that red necklace to a book event on Monday and got so many compliments. she was a genius at taking things like discarded buttons and making something beautiful.