What a life. Barbara lived life to it’s fullest and gave of herself every day.
She was the first child of Bessie and Glen Phifer. With a head full of blond curly hair (which was later red), she ran the Maple Leaf neighborhood of rural Stevens County. And down the road less than a mile was her best friend, Karen. Those two would often cover 5-6 miles while playing on a nice summer day.
Of course, her younger brother, John, was also likely to tag along. In fact, she once even took him to school in the first grade for show and tell. From the time they were very young, Barb and John had a special relationship. She loved him so much and he loved her too.
And Ginger came along shortly after. Between the three of them, they had a ball playing on the farm. What a beautiful family--a picture perfect family of the 1950s. It was a wonderful childhood…until their daddy died. Way too young, the grandfather I never knew was ripped from his children’s lives. And Barb stepped up. She was the oldest, after all, and she helped raise her younger siblings.
And the Aunts helped, too. Barbara had such a special relationship with her daddy’s sisters. They could get her to do just about anything when she was a little girl...and they would laugh and laugh. They were so much fun that Barbara, Karen, and Mom (Ginger) would play a game called “Irma, Wanza, and Gladys”. They would pick which one they wanted to be and act like them. Oh...if we had only had iPhones back in the day. What fun it would be to see them play and imitate the women they so admired.
The kids were always involved with the farm. John remembers vividly one day when he and Barbara were each on a fender of the tractor as their Uncle Glen plowed the field and their daddy rode on back. All of a sudden, Barb fell off and should’ve been ran over. But somehow, the tractor was stopped in time. It was a miracle. And John has always remembered that day and how close he came to losing his sister.
And when they were older, he has fond memories of hunting and dripping (kids, ask your folks what THAT was all about!) with Barb and their friend, Earl, in tow.
At 15, the young man she was dating was this handsome Earl Shelton. One day he picked up John in his car and they went to town. You see, Earl had purchased an engagement ring for Barb who was at a friend’s house. As they drove by the house, Barb was outside. Earl rolled down the window and threw the ring to her...and just kept driving. But he only drove around the block because he had to come back by to see if her answer was “yes”. The ring on her finger and the smile on her face was answer enough for Earl. They were married a month before Barb’s 16th birthday.
Barb and Earl were blessed with three ornery, accident-prone boys--Terry, Mike, and Rick. Poor Barb, that’s a lot of testosterone in one house!
One of Mike’s first memories of his mother was being rocked by her as she watched the news one day. Barb was upset and so were the people on the TV. Mike asked her what was wrong and she told him that President Kennedy had been shot. He was four.
Each of their three boys, at some point in his life, would break his leg--his left leg. Thank goodness Barb was a nurse. We were trying to figure out just how long Barb worked as a nurse. Although she retired from the hospital after 24 years, she had worked at Pioneer Manor as both a volunteer and then a nurse prior to that. And wouldn’t you know it, after she retired she continued to volunteer. In fact she fixed hair on a regular basis for the women in Pioneer Manor up until very recently.
But she was also a regular caregiver to her grandchildren whom she loved dearly. Those grandkids were as comfortable in grandma’s home as they were in their own. They loved to visit her, stay with her, and go places with her. And when she needed a caregiver, those grandkids were there to take care of her. The boys--Terry, Mike, and Rick--well, they have some pretty amazing kids. What fun it is to listen to those kids talk about camping with their grandparents, giggling fits where nobody even knew what they were laughing about, and road trips.
Speaking of road trips, Barb learned to drive young. Karen’s parents weren’t as brave. But one day she talked her dad into letting her and Barb go for a drive. Her dad gave them exactly 1 ½ hours. That’s it. And they could drive 15 miles per hour. So they headed out...and they felt so big in their manual shift International pickup that would often die when Karen had to release the clutch.
As they were making their way home from their long trip (I’m sure they got pretty far at 15 miles per hour!), the two girls got to gawking about something in the distance...and, sure enough, ended up in the sandy ditch. And that pickup was not moving.
“My dad’s going to kill me,” said Karen. “What are we going to do?”
“Well,” said Barb. “I guess you’re going to die.”
But a farmer came along and pulled the girls out with his tractor...and he never told Karen’s dad about the incident. So...she got to live.
Barb did know tragedy. Besides losing her father at the tender age of 13, she also lost her son, Terry, and her grandson, Jerimy, in an accident that forever changed her life and the lives of many others. One never gets over something like that, and she always carried them around in her heart. I wondered as I sat beside her hospital bed this past week, if Terry was waiting excitedly to welcome his momma home. To her real home, her TRUE home.
Mandy, Jared and Jesse were so young when we lost Terry. It hurts so badly to look at a child and know that they will never really know their daddy. Barb understood that. And she also understood how her own dad’s family made sure that she and John and Ginger always knew they were Phifers. And in the very same way, she reached out to Mandy, Jared, and Jesse to make sure that they always knew that they were Sheltons.
Those kids looked so forward to time spent with their grandparents, uncles, and cousins. Once when they were out, they got the idea in their heads that if they ate spinach like Popeye, they would be strong just like Popeye. Their goal was to get strong enough to go out and lift Grandpa’s pickup. So Barb made them spinach. And they hated it. But they ate it...and they ate enough that they were just sure they were strong enough to go out and lift that pickup.
So they went out to the shed. You know how you can lift up on a pickup and it will come up just a bit due to the suspension system? When those boys lifted on that pickup, it came up. And they were wide-eyed! The next couple of hours they spent lifting and lowering that pickup, enjoying their newfound strength.
And the other grandchildren felt just as special. Katie and Kinze loved playing at Grandma’s house. In fact, one day they just had a ball drawing at her house...in the bathroom….on the mirror...with lipstick...with every single color of lipstick that Barb had. The girls learned something important that day--Grandma could spank. And they never forgot it.
Barb was an amazing home-maker. In fact, Mike and Rick even remember their folks bringing steaks out to the field and grilling them up right out there in the wheat or corn stubble. Her laugh was magical. She hated raisins. She said they looked like little bugs. And if you ever ate raw dough in front of her, she would tell you that you were going to get worms! Barb loved playing cards. In fact, when scolding the grandkids for staying out too late, the kids could often scold her right back (lovingly) because they had seen her vehicle down at the Senior Center until after midnight.
About fifteen years ago, Barb fought and beat cancer. The courage and strength with which she faced that battle was inspirational. And her valiant fight allowed her to meet and spend time with her first great-grandkids.
Little Gavin was a special joy for her. I think many were hoping that she would get to meet baby Ady before she left us. Have no fear, she will watch Ady grow and she will meet her when the time is right. We have an amazing God who is reminding us of the joy of new life even as we mourn the loss of a life lived so richly. Katie and Diego, we will all help your daughter get to know their grandma by keeping her memory alive through our stories and through the impact she had on each of our lives. And that goes for every future great grandchild that God intends to bless this family with.
You may know that recently Barbara was named, “Woman of the Year.” But what you probably don’t know is how much her friends had to lie to her that night to surprise her with this honor! Barb and her girlfriends (including Karen) met for dinner once a week. And it just so happened that it was on their regular night. But they had a heck of time getting her to dress up to go to Nietos.
“Let’s dress up tonight to go out and eat.”
“Dress up for Nietos? Why?”
“Oh, it will be fun. We’re all doing it. Put a dress on.”
And she did...and they went out to Nietos. When they left, Barb asked, “Where are you going?”
“Oh, let’s just ride around for a while.”
They drove by the First Christian Church and Barb said, “I wonder what’s going on at the church?”
And Karen said, “I think it’s a craft fair or something. Let’s see.”
But once they got in, Barb understood that she had been duped. And she turned to Karen and said “You lied to me!”
Yep...Karen lied. All her friends lied to her that night. But they were so thrilled to see her receive recognition for her lifetime of hard work. You see, it had to be a surprise. Barb was humble. She didn’t seek recognition. She had a servant’s heart...a big heart.
Mom told me the other day, “When Barb and I would go away for the weekend, Barb would have to call three or four people to fill in for her in different places.” Then she looked at me, “There’s a lot of people filling in right now.”
Yes. Yes, there are. But we know that those shoes can never be filled, don’t we.
Thank you, Barb, for being an example of a strong woman, a caring woman, a selfless woman.
Mom and Barb’s toast on birthdays and every new year was always the same. And I hope you will all take it to heart, just as they do. “May you live as long as you want to, and want to as long as you live.”