by DW Olsen
A Father and Son August Adventure
|Michael Jay Olsen "His Smile Made All of Us Happy"
Blonde Hair and a Golden Horseshoe is a story that is full of my heart felt memories about my son Michael and the family reunion of the Wilford Harris Finn family. Most notably, within its contents, I recount the trip my boy and I made in our mini van in August of 1996 as we traveled to the Finn Fun Family Reunion near Felt, Idaho. Therefore, this book is dedicated to my son, Michael Jay Olsen, his mother, Jaylene Olsen, and to the Wilford Harris Finn family. I was inspired to write this story because of the tremendous joy God has blessed me with to have Mike as my son forever and to enjoy his marvelous companionship. In order to familiarize readers with Michael, what follows in this preface is a brief sketch of some of the highlights of his life.
Michael Jay Olsen was born April 11, 1982 in Idaho Falls, Idaho to his mother, Jaylene Olsen and his father, David Wayne Olsen. He came into this world April 11, 1982 as a beautiful round-faced, blue-eyed baby boy, who seemed to be born with a smile on his face that never went away. He grew and developed quite normally, walking and getting into everything like all toddlers do. Then he began to stumble and fall - first a little and then a lot. By the time he was 4 years old, he this happy, smiling little pooh bear. Then he and his family were able to go to Disney World and a couple of years later to Disneyland - and he had a wonderful time at both places. In fact, he was thrilled as Winnie the Pooh and many other Disney characters approached him during our trips to these famous theme parks. Mike was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and he held the office of a Teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood. However, when he was first made a Deacon he was so excited to pass the sacrament, which he would do in his wheelchair. Many of the members of our LDS ward, the Sandcreek Ward told me they were thrilled to watch him pass the sacrament and see his big smile. Even though he was limited to participating in young men's and other church activities, he regularly enjoyed attending sacrament and Sunday school meetings. That's what Mike did the best - he made the best of his circumstances and he endured his difficulties so well to the end of his life.
That last night of his life, he was hurting and could not sleep. As his Mother and I took turns being with him and trying to make him comfortable, he would tell us, "It will be all right Mom. It will be okay Dad." And I know everything is okay with you now, Mike that you can walk and run and do all things you always wanted to do.
Michael left this life quietly at home on April 14, 1997 - a round-faced, blue-eyed 15 year-old boy. I love you Mike, and everyone who knew you in this life will miss you. We thank you for sharing your special spirit with us for just a while and we look forward to seeing you again someday. We also thank you for teaching us some things about patience and long-suffering - and about smiles and the joy of living.
So with this short history of my son's choice life, I introduce my readers to the account of the marvelous adventure my boy and I experienced during our trip to the Finn Fun Family Reunion. My special thanks for my undaunted desire to write this book is given to my great parents, Wayne and Yvonne Olsen and my wonderful Grandparents, Alfred and Sarah Alvey. My entire life they have instilled in me the importance of family and the strong unity in the Finn family is the main reason I love attending the family reunion every year. I want to also thank the entire Finn family for much of the inspiration to publish this story - especially all of the marvelous fun times we have had at the reunions. My only hope is that as you read this story it will give you great joy and the peace my son still brings to me.
Michael's life sketch contributed by his Grandmother, Yvonne Olsen.
It was a beautiful Friday morning in August 1996 when my 14 old son Michael, and I began our great father and son adventure to the Finn Fun Family Reunion. This family reunion was the social highlight of the summer that is held every year as ancestors of Wilford Harris Finn, my great-Grandfather.
Many descendants of Grandfather Finn gather themselves together each year during the first weekend of August at the reunion campground near the town of Felt, Idaho. As one big family, several families such as Adams, Alveys, Browers, Finns, Moores, Tolleys, and others collectively rendezvous and celebrate our ancestry to the Finn family. So my boy and I were looking with great anticipation to making a trip to the reunion. The starting point of our trip was our home in Idaho Falls and our main destination was the reunion campground near the town of Felt.
As we left the City of Idaho Falls in our mini van, Mike had a big smile on his face and a sparkle in his eye. He was a very happy young man who truly enjoyed his life to the fullest, even though he had physical limitations, and it showed. Seldom had I ever seen him unhappy and without a smile, except when he had an occasional conflict with one of his two sisters or both of them. Throughout most of his life, he had a beautiful radiating smile that attracted other people to him. He had many friends because people knew that the happiness my boy displayed was completely genuine. I experienced much joy spending that morning with my son as I viewed his youthful enthusiasm. That summer morning my blonde haired teenage boy talked with great anticipation of us getting to the family reunion as soon as we could. Mike was also a very inquisitive boy who always asked everyone he knew a lot of questions about nearly everything he viewed in the World - especially things that fascinated him. That morning he was so excited he asked me many questions about the trip such as which towns we would drive through and what sites we'd see during our trip to the reunion. While we were talking, he also asked me many questions about the Teton Dam and if we could go to see the remains of the collapsed dam. I answered all of his questions and I told him we could go to the old dam site.
My son and I had a wonderful time talking as we traveled down the highway to the old road that lead to the dam. We drove up close to the ruins of what was left of the Teton Dam and we viewed its remains with fascination. As I mentioned, Mike was in awe of viewing things in the outdoor World, most specifically, he was thrilled to view scenery such as mountain ranges, lakes, and particularly dams. So I told Mike he story that on June 5, 1976, the Teton Dam failed, sending 80 billion gallons of water into Rexburg, Idaho and the valley beyond. Severe flooding and destruction occurred when 16 tons of debris swept down the Teton River. As a result of the flooding, 30,000 people were evacuated from their homes and eight people were killed. The communities of Rexburg and Sugar City, along with the large farms that surrounded the area, suffered disastrous consequences from the flood. Much of Rexburg was destroyed, but within two years the areas were cleaned up and rebuilt.
Mike was completely glued to every word of the story I told of how the earth dam failed and of the disaster that had ensued. We also had fun looking at the fallen structure and describing what we thought it looked like. After a moment, we decided the remaining mountain of dirt looked like a lop-sided Egyptian pyramid. As we looked to the Southeast, a short distance from the original dam, we could see a couple of large pieces of concrete from the structure the flood had washed away. When the dam collapsed, it was remarkable the spillway of the dam, a large all concrete slide for the purpose of overflow, remained intact against the East wall of the canyon. The Teton River was the only natural resource that remained from the large reservoir of water, which the dam once stored. We really enjoyed talking about every little detail we knew concerning the story of the old Teton Dam and its collapse. The moments we spent together at the dam were definitely high quality and quantity time - especially since we had so much fun there and it was extremely educational! But the minutes went by so fast that before we knew it, we realized it was getting close to lunch time at the Finn reunion so we needed to get back on the road again and travel to the reunion campground. Therefore, I drove the van back to the old road that had lead to the dam to the main highway. Then we traveled on the highway and we headed for the reunion campground that was located near Felt, Idaho.
The small community of Felt, Idaho is located in the Teton Valley, which is along the eastern border of Idaho and near the 13,000' peaks of the Grand Teton Range. With the jagged, snow-capped Tetons as a magnificent backdrop, my blonde headed son and I traversed Idaho Highway 33 in our mini van. It was beautiful August day and our next destination was the Finn Fun Family Reunion being held in a campground near Felt off of Highway 32.
Once we were on the highway again, we climbed higher in elevation, viewing large farms for several miles and then we began to descend into the Teton Valley. Across the valley floor, we saw scattered farmsteads and the town of Tetonia in the near distance. We were getting really excited because it was only a few miles until we turned off to go to our family reunion. Mike and I soon spotted the highway we needed to turn off on to get to Felt so I turned onto it and we headed for the small town. After a short distance, we arrived at Felt and then we traveled a little further until we turned onto an old dirt road that lead us straight to our destination, the Finn Family Reunion camp site.
As we arrived at the Finn Fun Family Reunion, many of our immediate relatives greeted us including my grandparents, Grandpa and Grandma Alvey and grandpa and Grandma Olsen, my parents. A special friend of Mike's, Mitch DeChamp also came over and talked to him for a long time. Mitch was an elderly gentleman who was 96 years old, but despite his age he displayed a youthful enthusiasm for life. He was an extremely friendly and outgoing person in public. It was evident to me his marvelous exuberance for living caused him to have some very close friendships with others at the reunion - especially my son. So he talked to Mike about where he went to school and what things he liked to do when he was at home. Then Mitch boldly told Mike he had a surprise gift for him and he told him he would give it to him after we ate our lunch at noon at the reunion. A huge smile came over Michael's face and he asked him what the present was he was going to give him. Mitch told him it was something special and he would find out soon! But then his Grandma Olsen came out of my Grandparent's camping trailer and she dished up on a plate some delicious food for Mike to eat. He ate a couple of sandwiches, some potato chips, and he had a pop to drink. His Grandma Olsen also gave him some treats such as cookies and a chocolate brownie to eat. So while he was eating his lunch, my fourteen-year-old boy's big appetite temporarily caused The Finn Fun Family Reunion him to forget about the surprise. After he was finished eating, my boy asked me again about when he was going to get the present Mitch had for him. I quickly glanced around the campground and I saw Mitch coming toward us with something bright that shined like gold.
As Mike saw Mitch approaching us, he became very excited and he had a big smile on his face. Mitch stood in front of the blonde haired teenager and he handed him a beautiful golden horseshoe. He told him the horseshoe wasn't really made of gold that it was only painted gold, but to my son on it was made of gold. Mike said he was the luckiest boy in the world as he held the horseshoe close to his body as if he was guarding his most prize possession. He then took a moment and he thanked Mitch for the special gift he had given to him.
After receiving his lucky horseshoe, Mike and I went over to the tent some of the family pitched for us to sleep in that night and we put our clothes and sleeping bags into it. We spent the rest of the afternoon having wonderful conversations with Grandpa and Grandma Alvey, Olsen family members, and other relatives at the reunion. Then in the evening, we roasted traditional American hotdogs over an open campfire and ate them in hotdog buns along with salads and other good foods.
The rest of the evening we stayed close to the warm campfire together with some other members of the family and a few people sat directly around the fire. Mike and I really enjoyed the campfire atmosphere and the conversations we had with other relatives. But as the evening grew late we became tired and we retired to our tent and went to sleep for the night.
The night passed quickly and we awoke Saturday morning anxiously looking ahead to the fun events planned by members of the Finn family for the day. The biggest event we looked forward that day was the horseshoe-pitching contest held in the afternoon. The horseshoe pitching competition is held every year at the Finn Fun Family Reunion at a pit constructed by family members, and it was no different that August afternoon. Although the majority of contest participants were men, anyone else could pitch horseshoes in the contest. There were often some women, teenagers, and children who also played horseshoes. It was a great family sport we played at the reunion solely for fun, recreation, and enjoyment.
Horseshoe pitching was an enjoyable sport at the reunion since most of us simply wished for good luck in pitching rather than counting on the merits of our limited skills. In my view and the viewpoint of others, I was one of these fun loving unskilled pitchers. There were times I was lucky and I threw a horseshoe or two that scored some points, but generally when I threw a horseshoe toward its target, the peg, it could end up falling anywhere. Since I was unpredictable, I feared hitting someone with a horseshoe and so when I tossed one, I would immediately yell, "Heads up everyone, get out of the way!" Thus, when I yelled everyone moved. But each year there was nearly always a couple of competitors at the horseshoe pit who pitched them skillfully and accurately. My Grandpa, Al Alvey was one of these people, although today he would claim it was merely luck and he would humorously deny his pitching skills.
Along with his son, Lavar Alvey, Lamar Brower, Jim Finn and many others, my Grandpa was a skilled and accurate horseshoe pitcher. Over the years he won the horseshoe-pitching contest many times at the reunion and its accompanying trophy. It is not important to me in this book to state the winner of the 1996 horseshoe contest or the years my grandpa won it. The main reason is because none of the participants appeared to be "totally obsessed" with winning the trophy -particularly since most of us pitched horseshoes for fun. To the majority of people, it did not matter who won the contest every year as long as all of us enjoyed playing. What was most important to me is that it didn't matter to me if my Grandpa won the trophy every year because he was always the winner to me.
After all of the dinner preparations were completed, the entire family gathered near the campground shelter and a family member offered a blessing upon the food. Everyone's appetite was bursting so we lined up in two long lines on each side of the huge buffet tables to choose from an enormous smorgasbord of dishes. Among the delicious foods available were salads such as traditional potato, macaroni, Jell-0, and green salads. There were also finger foods available for us to eat such as tasty little edibles like fresh vegetables and potato chips to dips, dressings, and toppings. Then there were the main courses: Dutch oven potatoes, baked beans, and roast beef. Finally, there were many desserts for us to choose from including cherry cheesecake, apple pie, and chocolate brownies. To Mike and me, every bit cherry cheesecake, apple pie, and chocolate brownies. To Mike and me, every bit of the food sitting on the table was mouth watering!
The big buffet dinner was also a very enjoyable time because I helped Mike get a plate of food since he could not maneuver his motorized wheelchair into either of the food lines In fact, when I was getting him and me our meals, it was very humorous to me when one of the family asked me, "Hey Dave, why are getting two big plates of food?" I started laughing hard and I said loudly, "It looks like I have more than enough grub for both Mike and me!" The person then responded, "Sure, we know all that food is mainly for you!" Indeed, this situation was an ideal time for me to get extra food to eat; furthermore, I had occasionally found myself in this blessed circumstance with my son at other dinners prior to this one at the reunion. But all that mattered to me right then was we were having fun: the food was plentiful and delicious and my boy was happy. It was quite evident my son was enjoying himself because as he was enjoying his meal and he had that typical glowing smile on his face. And that's all the assurance I needed.
With the annual horseshoe contest completed, the time was fast approaching when the entire Finn family would gather together and a big dinner. It was late Saturday afternoon as many women of the Finn family finished preparing as assortment of fantastic foods. Several member of the family subsequently transferred different prepared foods to a couple of large picnic tables located in the shelter area of the campground.
Another activity of the reunion that assured enjoyment to my son and many others was the entertainment program, which was held Saturday evening. It was early evening, only a short time after we had eaten a delicious dinner, as the entire family gathered near the campground shelter and around the campfire. But this time we met together enjoyed the entertaining talents of various members of the family. Talented family members would present songs, skits, dramatic readings, and a life history of Wilford and Sarah Finn. A family member presented the fascinating story of my Great Grandparents and how and where they met, married, and raised their children. Then other people in the family performed the talents to the group. Foremost in my mind concerning this special little talent show at the reunion of 1996 were the marvelous gifts of music, dance, and oratory several people shared with us. Some of the most notable performances of the program: Garin Brower recited humorous cowboy poetry, Dillon Finn displayed his guitar and singing talents, and my mother, Yvonne Olsen shared with us one of her great comical readings.
Down the Road Again and Reunion Memories Never End
It was a wonderful time for Michael and me as we thoroughly enjoyed the whole reunion program and all of its brave performers. We also loved being able to participate in many of the other activities I have mentioned the horseshoe contest, eating great food, and particularly, the times we spent with great relatives. I believe everyone who was at the Finn Family Reunion that August will remember having lots of fun, laughs, and a feeling of tremendous family togetherness. I know I did! But after the entertainment program was finished, the reunion activities of 1996 had been completed. There were some families who traveled returning to their homes and then some of us stayed over Saturday night until Sunday morning.
Sunday morning Mike and I left the reunion campground and I drove our van down the highway again with our new destinations as the Palisades Dam and the Ririe Dam. These sites would be fun to view and they were not too far away to travel to with the van. Besides, our big goal was to see everything fascinating in the world as we possibly could together. But although the reunion was over this year, it wasn't ever over for my boy and me. We talked at length about the awesome fun we had at the reunion as we traveled. We laughed about how much great food we'd stuffed ourselves with and we were happy about the many wonderful relatives we became acquainted with there. My son and I both agreed our adventures to the Teton Dam and the reunion located so near the majestic Tetons were the best times we had ever had as a father and son.
The Finn Fun Family Reunion that year has passed along in time with the last century, however, I will always remember the marvelous memories of the reunion and the great fun we had. But the thing I will never forget is going on an adventure with my son and seeing blonde haired boy with a big smile on his face and a golden horseshoe in his hand.
Final Thoughts To Readers
My hope is that this story together with special photograph of Michael touched your hearts. May the peace of Christ be with you wherever you travel.