On Nov. 8, 1938, Sophie (Shallman) Peterson gave birth to a little girl, Grace Marlene. Little Grace was born into a seemingly loveless marriage of convenience. Alfred (her father) and Sophie couldn’t even agree on their baby’s name. When Al went to get her birth certificate, she got the name he preferred, Grace Darleen. No matter what you call her though - Mom, Grandma, Granny Darleen, Aunt Gracie, or Mrs. Nelson, Grace is the name she likes the least but fits her best.
She’ll tell you that naming her Grace was like naming an elephant “Tinkerbell,” and she has gone by Darleen and kept the name “Grace” a secret. Try as she may to suppress it, she’s lived up to it all the same. She doesn’t seem to have been taught to readily assist others; it came naturally to her.
An unhappy childhood prompted her to move away from home at the tender age of 13, in 1951. With little more than the clothes on her back and a strong work ethic, she worked to pay for room and board while keeping her grades up until she could legally drop out of school on her 16th birthday. Fortunately, she had a strong bond with her older brother, Edward, who was able to help her by letting her stay with him for a time. Her other brother Freddie was dating a girl who happened to have a brother named Jim Nelson. Eventually Jim asked her to go to a wedding with him (little did she know it would be theirs) back in 1957 and they were married just over 61 years ago. About a year later, her dream of becoming a mother was realized with the first of her four “angels.”
Grace could’ve taken the easy route and followed in her parents’ examples, but she chose to be the best mother she could and teach her children the value of doing for others. Where she was not allowed to read for pleasure, her children could use reading as an excuse to get out of doing any chores. They all began reading very young thanks to her teaching. Where she was not allowed to take piano lessons, she taught herself to play along with providing teachers for all of her children and giving them a love of music. Whereas she had only a baked potato to keep her hands warm and to eat for lunch in school and so many fried potatoes for meals she still dislikes them, she made sure her kids had a homemade lunch each and every school day, stylish clothes and a family supper to come home to every day.
In the mid 1970s, when a young man here in Moab had nowhere to live but his car, she brought him into her home, fed him as much delicious homemade food as he could stuff into his 6’6” frame and–instead of sending him on his way, as many might–called him her son. To this day Earl’s the oldest, but newest official member of her widespread family. When Earl’s younger brother was fighting cancer in Denver, she’d go and stay with his five-year-old daughter in western Colorado. His widow says she was her “rent-a-grandma savior.”
When her millionaire brother-in-law was feeling overwhelmed with problems, his daughter says her dad “would call her out of the blue and ask if she was busy. She’d say ‘no,’ even though I doubt that is ever true of Darleen. He’d fly in and she’d take care of my Dad...until he could face the world again.” Another time, when a niece drove from Texas to Seattle by herself, with just enough money for fuel along the way, all she had to do was to call her mother, Jim’s sister, and it was arranged for her to stop over in Moab. She says she basically slept like the dead, ate, and got on the way again with just a “thank you.” She says she never would have made it without that restorative stop in Moab and the “kindness of your Mom and Dad.”
Dozens of missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators have stopped through Grace’s home. Many times just for a meal or two and a bed to sleep in before travelling on to the next destination. No payment needed other than perhaps pictures, a signature in the guest book and a big hug. There are innumerable ways Grace has given her assistance. Whether it’s driving a friend to a doctor appointment, helping to cut and/or sew a quilt or make repairs and alterations to clothes. She’s made cookies galore for gatherings, baby clothes for mothers she’ll never meet, and given away more food in her “no deposit, no return” containers than you can imagine. She’s organized and cooked for fund-raising dinners as well as entire weddings (including making the dress), and taught, here and abroad, students how to decorate cakes that went on to provide for their families with the skills she passed on. The list goes on and on.
Of all the people she’s “Graced,” six of us are the most fortunate. Jim, my Dad, was lucky to get her to go on that second date and we five kids are the very luckiest because we get to claim her as our mother.
So, next time you see her in City Market, the yarn shop or wherever, be sure to say “Hi” and perhaps “Happy Birthday,” and by all means, call her Darleen. But now you know, her real name is Grace.