Mom’s Eulogy – a story of a musical life

2014 Mom at the Piano

A Life of Music and Family – Bertha May (Oyen) Tyler, b. May 17, 1932 d. March 27, 2014

Bert, also known as Bertha May or Bem to her siblings and many cousins, was born in a log house in rural Baltic, SD on May 17, 1932. She was one of five children born to Adolph and Marie (Brendsel) Oyen and was 100 % Norwegian. We kids liked to remind folks that Mom shared her birthday with Norwegian Independence Day or Syttende Mai.

Mom liked to tell us that her mom made sure she knew her musical notes before she started Kindergarten. Mom was a beautifully accomplished musician, playing the viola, piano and organ, but focusing her true musical love on teaching kids to play and showing them how to enjoy the piano. She attended Augustana College for piano performance, as well as being individually tutored, both there and in Germany, where she spent time in Frankfurt with Dad when he was stationed there in the Army. Mom was talented enough that she actually had a choice and she chose her love of family and home over that of a professional performing pianist’s life. Until they retired, Mom and Dad lived in small towns, 34 of those years were spent in Baudette where she was enthusiastically, and sometimes ruthlessly, sought out for piano performance and accompaniment. In the end, her choice of family and home enriched the lives of many hundreds of friends, neighbors, church members, local community musical performance groups and countless piano students, not to mention her family.

There was not much that Mom liked better than looking at music. Living in a town of 1200 to 1500 (depending on when you counted) people in the boggy Northern Minnesota wilderness on the Canadian border didn’t allow her much opportunity to browse music stores. I remember her sending many, many letters to The Melody Shop in Bemidji requesting teaching books for her students and countless pieces of sheet music, as well as piano and organ collections. She tells the story of the day she went to visit them in person and she and the owner (I think her name was Janet) finally met. I’m pretty sure she was one of their best customers, even though for several years they only corresponded via letters.

Her music collection was awesome. It spanned decades and included every type of music you can imagine. She grew up on classical, as well as Lutheran church music, but dearly loved ragtime, love songs and pieces that challenged her. Two challenging pieces in particular that come to mind were Handel’s Messiah and Dizzy Fingers by Zez Confrey. She was the one and only accompanist for the Messiah for the Lake of the Woods County Community Choir in March 1980. They performed the complete Messiah (all 252 pages) and she accompanied each and every solo, duet, trio and choral movement. More than once she talked about the hours that she plunked out parts for all the individuals that had beautiful singing voices, but couldn’t read a single note of music. She was a perfectionist, practicing her accompaniment hundreds of hours for this performance, and was very proud of the fact that the two record recording of the performance was nearly flawless. Her copy of Dizzy Fingers was purchased in the late 1950’s from The Melody Shop and is held together with tape and love. This was a signature piece for her that she worked up again in the last year or so. She played it as a closer many times at the recitals she gave twice a week at her apartment complex in Roseville and, in fact, played it the Sunday night before she went into the hospital for what turned out to be her final earthly struggle.

Her love of music was second only to her love of her family. After their retirement, Mom and Dad lived within 30 minutes of all their children and grandchildren. During those 17 years nothing could keep either one of them from any suggested opportunity to get together with family or with close friends for any social event. All anyone had to do was say the word and she and Dad, or she alone in the last two years, would get ready to have coffee, play cards, go to lunch, make a Target run or take care of a grandchild for any reason. After they retired, my parents were never into the typical schedule of the elderly.  They stayed up late watching all the talk shows and Mom knew more about movie stars and entertainment than I ever did. I don’t ever remember a time when she declined a lunch date with me, although I remember plenty of times when I swear she didn’t really eat anything. Oddly enough, her very favorite meal with me was a hamburger with fried onions and mustard. About halfway through she would often say, “I’ve had a sufficiency. I guess I should have just ordered pie. I’m going to be too full to eat any now.” Many times we’d order a piece to go and she could have her two bites later at her apartment.

She struggled with her demons as well. Depression was one that had a significant effect on her in her younger years. After suffering a breakdown, she received what must have been excellent care for the late 1960’s. She came out of that situation with three things that I remember well. First was the walking. Her doctor recommended that she walk two miles every day and from that point on her and Dad were known throughout Baudette for their walks around town, rain or shine. Well, it was Baudette, so snow or shine is a better description. It didn’t matter if it was 25 below and a blizzard was howling, they put on whatever clothes they needed and went for their walk. Second was her journals. We have collected 24 journals so far (I think that’s all of them) and each one is totally filled. This was a woman that took her journaling seriously.

Lastly, of course, is the “little red book”. The book’s real name is “Something to Live By” by Kopplin. It was signed by the author and given to Mom’s mother, Marie, on her birthday in 1951. Marie gave it to her daughter, nearly 20 years later, hoping it would give her some peace. It certainly did. Mom kept it close the entire remainder of her life, sharing it with each of her children in turn, as it became their turn to be visited by life’s never ending torrent of challenges. Here are a few of her favorite passages from the Encouragement section (I know because they are paper clipped, underlined and caught in parenthesis:

If you think you are beaten, you are:

If you think you dare not, you don’t.

If you’d like to win, but think you can’t,

It’s almost a cinch you won’t.

If you think you’ll lose you’re lost,

For out in the world we find

Success begins with a fellow’s will;

It’s all in the state of mind.

Life’s battles don’t always go

To the stronger or faster man;

But soon or late the man who wins

Is the one who thinks he can. [1]

To love, and bear; to hope till hope creates from its own wreck the thing it contemplates… [2]

He who loses wealth loses much; he who loses a friend loses more; but he that loses his courage loses all. [3]

Positivity and kindness were Mom’s trademarks. She never had an unkind word to say about anyone and added joy, conversation and music to every place she went.

I miss her greatly and, put together with losing Dad, have felt miserably shoved into the stage of life post-parents. My joy is that they are both doing what they love again, Dad without the need to spend hours on end in dialysis and Mom without having to struggle into the braces on her feet that kept her mobile and mostly out of back pain during the last ten years of her life. Together, they have given me guidance, shared their learnings and made sure I strongly felt their friendship enough to last the rest of my life time. Mom will be forever more at peace. I won’t say at rest because I know that wherever she is, if there is an opportunity for family, music or fun, she will be from now on.

[1] “The Man who Thinks He Can. Walter D. Wintle

[2] “Prometheus Unbound. Percy Bysshe

[3] Miguel de Cervantes

About Bob

Bob has been a writer all his life. He has had to do many other things to buy groceries and make his car payments, but most of these things have involved writing, in one genre or another.
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