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April 26, 2012

Her Name Was Ollie: Memories of my Mother-in-Law

A Missouri native, Jane Myers Perrine earned her B.A. from Kansas State University and her M.Ed. in Spanish from the University of Louisville. She was a finalist in the Regency category of the Golden Heart Awards, and her short pieces have appeared in the Houston Chronicle and Woman's World magazine. A high-school Spanish teacher as well as an ordained minister, she currently lives in Texas with her husband, who is the minister of a local Christian church.

My mother-in-law is one of the reasons I’m glad I married my husband. She was truly a force in my life, an example, an inspiration, and an anachronism. I’ve always thought  Ollie --- yes, that’s her name,  just Ollie, named after her mother’s favorite uncle --- was born in the wrong century. She should’ve been living during a time when wagons crossed unmarked prairies and pioneers set up homesteads in sod houses. She didn’t like clothes dryers and insisted on hanging her sheets outside because they smelled so good. That worked fine in the summer but not as well during the cold Kentucky winters or the rainy spring but she persisted.

Ollie was tough. She planned to be a medical doctor, not easy for a woman in the 1930’s. She put herself through nursing school and graduated from the University of Cincinnati  with a BS in pre-med, unusual for a woman at the time. Then she met my father-in-law and spent the rest of her life as a wonderfully knowledgeable and caring nurse. Again an anachronism, she preferred taking care of people, emptying bedpans, nursing the old-fashioned way. 

And Ollie was a woman of deep faith who truly believed we show faith through our actions. She helped set up the clothes closet at her church, taught Sunday school for more fifty years, stopping only in her nineties because it was hard to get out anymore. As part of the church’s prison ministry, she visited a woman incarcerated for killing her daughter in a terrible accident. She was chosen the first woman elder in her church because the nominating committee realized they could not pass over a Christian like Ollie Perrine.

Did I mention she was tough? I’ll never forget the day she prepared dinner for the family. I don’t remember what we did but something made her angry and we dared not cross her. For dessert, she served homemade cherry pie. I don’t like cherries, not at all, but with Ollie glaring at us all, I ate every bite because I was afraid not to.  

Only five feet four and shrinking every year, Ollie was always a presence and a marvel. She died at ninety-six and I have no doubt she’s organizing heaven and caring for all the newcomers. 

When I wrote THE WELCOME COMMITTEE OF BUTTERNUT CREEK, I wanted to honor her because she always loved and supported me. One of the main characters in the series is Gussie Milton. Only  Gussie, not Augusta or even Augustine. Just Gussie, named for a favorite uncle.