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Aunt Olla never looked happier than when she was visited by Bunny, right, here accompanied by Michele, his helper. Bunny was one of the pall bearers for Aunt Olive's service at the Hilton.

"Who's that guy out at the lake?" Olive asked me about a month ago. 

"Bunny?" I said. 

"Bunny! Yes!" she replied as her face lit up. "I'd marry that guy in a minute."

Bunny did as much as anybody to make Olive's final years in the nursing home some of the best in her life. 

Regular readers will remember the story of when Olive was found unresponsive on the floor of her room at the Hilton several years ago. A nurse administered CPR. The paramedics arrived. After being strapped to the gurney, Olive came to and announced, "I am going nowhere without my eyebrow pencil!"

Last night I went through the box of her funeral plans. She had filled out one book with all the basics (she outlived most of the people she had designated for roles in her funeral at that time), and one one page in all capital letters she wrote: "USE EYEBROW PENCIL!" Alas, it was too late for us to take those instructions. 

It took so long for Olive's body to give out, probably because her spirit was so strong. 

We held one service at the Hilton and another in Twin Valley. Both were well-attended. Thanks to Cousin Tina for flying up from Phoenix to officiate. She can cook up a funeral sermon in no time––but only because she has thought it out months, perhaps years, ahead of time. 

I am going through the thousands of letters and cards Olive kept. Some have historic value, and those I keep. I don't throw pictures. The process brings me back to graduate school when I dug through letters as I researched my thesis. However, I have the same problem I had then: I am allergic to the old, musty paper. So, I have to quit when the misery of sneezing overwhelms the quest to find some historic nugget. 

Last night's nugget: A letter from Olive's older brother Roy. Because all of the principles are gone, I feel okay sharing it here. Roy is writing from Minnesota to Olive, who is in Las Vegas. 

Thursday I drove to Twin Valley to pick up the Lady of the Lake to take her to Canistota. I have been aware for some time that Twin Valley is not competing for even the second place paradise prize, but never have I heard the "Meloncholy Blues" or "It's Over the Hills to the Poor House" sung with such heartfelt gusto as this trip. No need to bore you with the prevalent economic pinch and its crucifying nervous repercussions.

The number one concern is your welfare and well-being, so it was a great relief when your letter arrived before we left and we knew you were still alive and kicking. I was scared stiff that some movie scout had kidnapped you and dragged you off to Hollywood to star with Marilyn Monroe.

You could do more for Ma with a quick letter in care of the Ortmann Hotel in Canistota than all the doctors in China, provided you assure her that you are on the mend, the skies are clearing, etc., etc.

Lance immediately recognized the "Lady of the Lake" reference was to an Arthurian legend. Apparently, that was the code word for their mother, or Mama as Olive called her lately. This letter conflicts with Olive's recent claims that "Mama never complained!" 

Canistota, SD is home to a chiropractic retreat center which is still in operation today. It was the favored way for the Bergesons to deal with their various disorders, most of them having to do with nerves. My grandmother Olga spent at least one week there for nervous exhaustion and called it "the best week of my life." 

One of the themes in the older letters is the constant battle against attacks of "nerves." In other words, depression. Pretty much the entire family was afflicted, including a few in-laws, and there weren't the remedies we have today. 

Olive was fond of "nerve pills," which I later figured out were valium. 

She and her sister once tried to go off them, Olive said, but after one night of suffering, her sister called.

"Are you thinking what I am thinking?" she said. 

"Yes," Olive said. 

Sister came over, they each took a nerve pill, and "we looked through photo albums and laughed all morning!"

Olive would get a year's supply of nerve pills and distribute them freely to her friends. 

"If they had a funeral or something, I'd give them a nerve pill and whoosh, they'd sail right through!" 

"Now if you ask for a year's supply, they look at you like you're some sort of criminal!" 

I think the nerve pills stopped in the 1980s. 

However, letters from Olive's friends are replete with references to long down periods. "It's been three weeks since I have felt like living!" wrote one friend, cheerfully, in 1947. You could interpret her claim as an exaggeration, but the details indicate people would just plain take to bed for long stretches. One spent two weeks in a "rest home" in order to get over a spell of nerves, and this person was in their fifties at the time. 

The language was different, but the struggles were the same.