Monday, January 23, 2012

Marvy Mom Monday: Val Houck edition

Bob and Val, Christmas 2009

A spare Mom. Almost every girl I know has one. Usually it's a best friend's mother who makes you feel like part of the family. She is probably slightly more tolerant of the nonsense of young girls when you're around, but you (and your parents) know you are safe in her home to be a little wild while knowing limits will be set.

For me, that Mom was Valerie Houck. Okay, DOROTHY Valerie Houck, but I didn't know her first name was Dorothy until I was 15 or 16... Then we incessantly called her "Dot" or "Department of Transportation" or "Polka" or... well, you get the idea. Bless her, she chortled at our relentless puns on her given name and never once did what I think I would have done: lost my sh*t and said, "ENOUGH!" See what I  mean about tolerant?

Val's daughter, Kristin, was my best friend from the time we were in Mrs. Telford's first grade class together. (Marvy Mom Monday fans may remember Mrs. Telford's daughter-in-law, Chris, from a previous post. Small town, I tell ya!) Kristin's life fascinated me because she was, for all intense and purposes, an only child. She had grown up half siblings (okay, they were probably like 18 or 20, but that was full-on adult to a 6-year-old!) who were out of the nest by the time she and I became friends. Going to her house was ah-MAY-zing because there was no one there to argue with about what channel to watch or who took whose seat on the couch or any of that stuff that comes from growing up with 64,000 siblings (give or take). Kristin, of course, also loved to come to our house for the same-yet-opposite reasons: the novelty of a never-ending supply of spare siblings was a nice change from what I suppose must have been a sometimes lonely Only Child existence.

Val and Bob (Kristin's dad) were always happy to have me or most any of Kristin's friends spend time at the house. Random flashbacks of times with Kristin that should have driven her parents completely bonkers include:
  • our mocking of their love of polka music, which we played loudly on their honest-to-God 8-track player 
  • identifying skeevy guys and referring to them as "loin burners" - a phrase which Val adopted herself and used with a familiar twinkle in her eye
  • dressing up in (and being horribly judgmental about!) Val's finest polyester pant suits for 70's day at school
  • finding Val's HS yearbook and peeing our pants over the comments from her peers... including the one from my Mom who wrote "I'll always remember our gay times in the woods." OH MAN! Obviously that didn't mean the same thing in 1960 as it did in 1989 or so. We never recovered fully from the hilarity of that one!
  • a birthday party in 3rd grade when one somewhat notoriously sensitive attendee began to bawl hysterically because her whistle-shaped lollipop broke; I can't remember exactly what Val said but it was akin to, "Oh, Janey, get over it!"
That last one shocked me and gave me an internal fit of giggles because I finally realized where Val's breaking point was: spoiled brattiness! Of course the list could go on for days, but these give you the flavor of the laid back and kind Mama we are talking about.

Val spent the last year-and-a-half or so battling cancer. She and her family went through hell with a frightening diagnosis... which would lead to unexpected recoveries.... followed by mysterious symptoms.... alleviated by surgeries and meds and good old fashioned love... Her medical team deemed that life saving options were all tapped out and she went to hospice. There, the atmosphere of "sleep when you want, eat what you want, get out of bed when and if you want...." was the exact "medicine" she needed. Yes, Val "graduated" from hospice and went home for several months! Those of us far away but following her Caring Bridge site (from whence I filched these photos and to which I am so indebted!) were in awe of her comeback, but not really surprised. I can't imagine how those in the thick of it must have felt.

Val's sister, Jean (right), had her own battle with cancer. Here you can see the good humor and strength which helps this amazing family cope. (I personally would have gone with a lime green boa and bright red wig but I suppose their options were limited!)
But, untreatable cancer is untreatable cancer. And this morning, Val passed away peacefully - back at hospice - with her family by her side. Her niece, Denise, reports that Val told the nurse on Saturday "I'm going home."

I am so sad for my dearest girlhood friend. I am so sad for Bob. I am so sad for everyone who knew and loved Val and whose hearts will ache for her always and forever. I am, though, glad to know that she is at last at peace and "home".

Val, thanks for the millions of laughs. The thousands of free meals. The hundreds of overnight accommodations. And thanks for creating and nurturing the best best friend a little girl could have.

Val, Bob & Kristin. August 2010. Kristin is expecting her first baby this May. It's a girl...

I wouldn't be who I am today without Dorothy Valerie (Strong) Houck. And I'm just one of thousands who can say that.

P.S. In case you didn't think my world was small enough, Val is the aunt of Kelly Ward Spivey, also of Marvy Mom Monday fame!


  1. What a beautiful tribute, Phoebe!
    ~Jo Ann Jantz

  2. oh so true! ... My own favorite memories are of of Kristin piercing her nose which today is very common place but in out own little town back then was so not ok and Kristin was forced to remove it because it was a sign of white trash ... and THE BEST was when talking to Kristin about virginity she said "Well Kristin, you don't buy a pair of shoes without trying them on first, do you?" and how mortified Kristin was to hear that from her mother. RIP Val. And many many hugs to Kristin and the rest of the family.

  3. Phoebe: Incredibly well done! I had no idea that you had this blog or that you were such a talented writer. Thank you for providing such wonderful insight into one of the " coolest" ladies I have ever known. I spent a lot of time around Val before she married Bob and even more after. . . . Every minute was a hoot! She could make me laugh without even verbalizing anything … just from the look on her face and the mischievous twinkle in her eye.
    She was indeed tolerant with the kids and when Kristen, Kelly and Kevin had me gritting my teeth she would do or say something that put it all into perspective.
    The world is a better place because she walked it. We have lost a wonderful, wonderful lady and we will all miss her. RIP Val. I'll be watching for the mischievous looking cloud and smile whenever I see it.

  4. I still remember you and Kristin making Mike and I laugh until I almost pee'd my pants on the way to Boston, all during the trip and on the way home!!! It is always obvious when friends belong together...lives and moms are shared!
    You have done a beautiful job honoring your friend's mom and your friendship.
    You, my friend, are A-MAZE-ING!