A Walla Walla 60th Birthday Party Weekend

This past weekend we were in Walla Walla again. We were there previously in February but that was a tough trip—we were there for my Aunt Nancy’s funeral. This time around we were centering a family weekend around my Aunt Debbie’s 60th birthday. Although Nancy was still ever present in our hearts and minds, this trip had a few more smiles than the last one (quick video of the weekend).

We traveled to Walla Walla to celebrate my Aunt Debbie’s 60th birthday.

Sidney, Sloan, Beau, and I drove to Walla Walla on Friday afternoon. We met up with my parents, my sister, and her family at the Holiday Inn Express. After we checked in and got settled, we went out to dinner—well, everyone but my dad. The poor guy had caught a stomach bug and would be confined to his hotel room’s bathroom for most of the weekend.

Sloan and Beau arrived to our hotel room in style!

We ate dinner at a downtown restaurant called the Red Monkey. It was really nice for our mid-size group to sit down and enjoy a meal together. Sloan and Beau always love it when they can dine with their cousins, Mikayla and John.

At the Red Monkey in Downtown Walla Walla I had the ultimate grilled cheese and mac & cheese.

After we returned from dinner I took Sloan to the hotel pool where we met Miranda, Jay, Mik, and John. The kids played in the swimming pool while the adults relaxed and chatted in the hot tub.

The kids had a nice night swim.

The next morning all of us met for the complimentary (and very impressive) breakfast. Despite the junior college baseball team that had us beat both in numbers and overall appetite, we took advantage of the many offerings and had our fill. It was a good way to start the day.

Sloan and Johnny stoked for the Holiday Inn Express breakfast.

After our food settled, Miranda, Jay, Sid, and I took our kids back to the pool area for swimming and hot tub lounging. Just like the night before, both children and adults were content in their respective waters.

Sloan and Johnny jump into the Holiday Inn Express pool.

We changed out of our bathing suits for street clothes and the eight of us went to the Walla Walla Children’s Museum to pass some time. The indoor exhibits were all really cool but our kids really liked what awaited them in the outdoor back area of the center. The lot had a teepee, sand boxes, and an old Milton-Freewater fire truck that the kids could climb inside and on top of. That gave them a lot of entertainment.

Sloan, Mikayla, and Johnny play on the top of the Milton-Freewater fire truck at the Walla Walla Children’s Museum.

Once we left the museum, Sid, Sloan, Beau, and I went to Applebee’s for lunch. It was a nice, quiet, and relaxing time with just the four of us, the perfect break in what was a busy day.

Enjoying lunch at the Walla Walla Applebee’s.

After we ate we returned to the hotel and relaxed for about an hour before heading off to the main event. My Aunt Judy had reserved the indoor community center at the famous Pioneer Park for my Aunt Debbie’s party. About 40 Resers and friends were there to welcome my aunt to the 60 Club. Dang, it was a fun time. We had hot dogs, snapped photos at the photo booth, played games, drank beverages, and celebrated Debbie.

Sidney and I posing in front of my Aunt’s 60th birthday backdrop.

Oh yeah, there was also an Easter egg hunt for the kids.

Sloan looks for eggs during the Easter egg hunt at Pioneer Park in conjunction with my aunt’s 60th birthday party.

But back to Debbie for just one second. She turned 60 but doesn’t look anywhere close to it. I think it is a reward for having one of the sweetest souls you will ever come across. I was so happy to attend her party and celebrate what a spectacular woman she is.

My Aunt Debbie is AWESOME. So glad I got to celebrate her 60th birthday with her.

Because we have two small children, we bowed out at 9 p.m. and returned to our cozy hotel room. The next morning we woke up early and attended Palm Sunday mass at St. Francis of Assisi. I was actually baptized at St. Francis and attended mass numerous times throughout my childhood when we would visit my grandparents. It was my first time at the parish in about 15 years and although it has been renovated, I was proud to show Sidney the church that played a big role in my early life.

We attended Palm Sunday mass at St. Francis of Assisi, the church that I was baptized in.

After mass we returned to the hotel, ate breakfast, and checked out. Our Walla Walla weekend concluded with a visit to Bright’s Candy, the premier (and perhaps only) candy shop in Walla Walla. We purchased some Easter candy and hit the road for Spokane.

My mom, Sid, and Sloan inside Bright’s Candies in downtown Walla Walla.

The weekend getaway was perfect. Well, except for one thing: my dad didn’t get to enjoy it like the rest of us. But I can assure you that he is on the mend and will be ready to celebrate Easter with a full bill of health. Don’t Blink.

Losing Our Rock

“I got bad news, Brent.”

That was how my dad started the phone conversation. If you know my father, you wouldn’t be surprised if what followed was a humorous omission that he burned steaks on the grill or an update that Rite Aid was out of Hamm’s Beer.

But this was different. My dad’s voice was shaking. I braced myself.

“Nancy died.”

There was no amount of bracing that would have prepared me for those horrible words. My dad’s sister—my aunt, my godmother, the beloved great aunt to my kids—had died suddenly. The shock of such sad and unexpected news rendered me partially speechless.  Aside from my mom, my dad had just lost the one person he was closest to on this earth. All I could manage were a few words: I am so sorry.

My Aunt Nancy is at the front in this photo with my dad in the middle and my Aunt Judy in back.

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I am blessed to have a close extended family. My dad had seven siblings and with them came spouses and children. Needless to say, I grew up with lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins. The Resers have always been a close bunch and we have the memories to prove it. If you threw a dime at us for every holiday celebration, camping trip, poker party, firework extravaganza, cornhole tournament, park potluck, sports outing, and let’s-get-together-just-to-get-together shindig over the years, our wealth would be pushing close to that of the Kardashians. The only difference is that our family has a lot more fun. 😉

This photo shows my dad (far right) and his siblings. My Aunt Nancy is seated right next to him. Missing from this photo is my Uncle Mike who passed away in 2014. A lot of brothers and sisters made for a large Reser family with spouses, children, and friends.

Now certainly there is an organic component to the regular gatherings over the years. We all love each other and naturally gravitate toward one another. But make no mistake about it—there is still initiating, planning, and executing that needs to be done—and if you followed that trail to the source of who was doing the bulk of that work, it would lead to one person.

It takes a loooong restaurant table to sit the Resers. Sid and I sit next to Nancy during brunch a few years ago.

There was never a doubt that my Aunt Nancy was the glue of our large, proud Reser family. She had the passion and drive to skillfully bring everyone together and the energy and craziness to make sure everyone was having a good time. Yes, she was both the master planner and the life of the party! But to call my Aunt Nancy the glue of the family solely because of her coordination talents and knack for having fun would be selling our incredible matriarch way too short.

I stand with three of my 4 aunts, including my Aunt Nancy on my left.

Nancy was the leader of our crazy tribe because of her deep, genuine love for every single member of it. In Nancy’s eyes, everyone was special and everyone brought value—whether you had Reser blood or not. Our friends became my aunt’s friends. Our significant others became like her own children. Introduce someone into the Reser circle and Nancy would welcome them with hospitality and warmth. She was never stingy or hesitant about showing others what made our family special…and really crazy.

My Aunt Nancy with some of the people she loved including her daughter, nephews, nieces, and our spouses.

My aunt had a special spot in her heart for the two generations underneath her. She always had so much pride for her nieces and nephews and once we started having our own children the enormous capacity of her heart grew for them as well. When it came to her brothers and sisters, she consistently put love and loyalty above all else.

We had so many good times in my parents’ backyard. I love this photo of my Aunt Nancy, Aunt Judy, Uncle Dick, dad, Aunt Patty, and Aunt Debbie.

In our large family of bold personalities and characters, Nancy was always the rock.

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I was so fortunate to have Aunt Nancy in my life. She went out of her way to commemorate every triumph or tough time with a call, text, letter, or physical visit. We had some deep talks about life. We loved to reminisce together. We had inside jokes.

My Aunt Nancy and I have always been close. This is her in Myrtle Beach during my wedding week.

When I would describe my relationship with Aunt Nancy to my brother and sister, I would usually say, “We’re just close.” Perhaps it was that godmother/godson relationship that was established shortly after I was born but we definitely had something special. My aunt lovingly referred to me as “Brent Thomas” and there was never a time during my 35 years when she wasn’t there for me—even when we lived on opposite coasts.

My Aunt Nancy was my godmother (and my Uncle Bob is my godfather) and perhaps that explains some of our special bond. This photo was taken during my baptism at St. Francis Assisi Catholic Church in Walla Walla, Washington,

In 2016, Sidney and I got married. Nancy and her daughter, Abby, made the nearly 3,000-mile trip for the special occasion. They flew a rigorous itinerary that landed them in Charleston in the middle of the night. Dog tired and still 100 miles from their destination, they drove the final two hours in the wee hours of the morning, pulling up in Myrtle Beach as the sun started to rise. For the few days she spent in South Carolina, all she could talk about was how thankful she was to be there.

My Aunt Nancy and her daughter, Abby, sacrificed a lot to travel across the country to our wedding. This is a photo of me with Nancy and Abby on my wedding day.

The photo below, which is from that trip, is a glimpse of what made my aunt so special to me. It was also the image I immediately thought of when I learned she had passed. At the conclusion of our reception, wedding guests gathered below the steps of the venue to send us off. However, my aunt stayed behind and watched from a vantage point different from everyone else. That is her behind the white railing, hand resting comfortably on her cheek with a warm smile of joy and approval across her face—the literal epitome of her having my back—which she always had.

This photo is extremely special to me. It meant so much that Nancy traveled so far to see me get married. The expression on her face says so much.

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I am crushed that Sidney, Sloan, and Beau won’t have more time with Aunt Nancy but on the same token I am so happy for the time they did have. This past summer we were all at a wedding. I noticed Sidney was missing. I grew a little frantic trying to find her. After scouring what seemed like the entire venue and failing to get through to her via phone, I decided to head to the parking lot to search there. As I started to head that way, I noticed a couple shadowy figures walking my direction from the parking lot, the sound of laughter floating in the dark air. Sid and Nancy were walking lock and step, not a single care in the world as they happily chatted.

Nancy helps Sloan feed the ducks at Pioneer Park in Walla Walla.

The flow of tears streamed down the cheeks of Sloan when we told her the news, the first death our daughter has ever had to deal with. Once she calmed down a bit, I pulled out my iPhone. We watched videos of Nancy with Sloan and her cousins. In one clip, Nancy was dancing with them to “We Will Rock You” by Queen. In another, she was playing the role of orchestra conductor, wildly moving her arms in the air to encourage the kids to sing as loudly as possible to the “Days of the Week” song. Despite the best efforts from three young children jacked up on sugar, their combined enthusiasm still couldn’t surpass that of Nancy.

Nancy plays on the playground equipment with Beau at Pioneer Park in Walla Walla.

Just for the four of us, the loss of my Aunt Nancy is devastating. She loved us so much and would always make Sid and I feel so proud when she would look us in the eyes and exclaim, “Damn, you guys sure make beautiful kids.”

In August 2020, Nancy and I took the kids on a walk through Downtown Walla Walla. Nancy would always make time to do things with just me.

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For the incredible aunt and matriarch that Nancy Grudzinski was, her kindness was felt well beyond the Reser family. She was extremely generous and would never hesitate to use her own resources to help others. She supported her local community, cheered for the regional sports teams, and always showed compassion for others. Nancy was a sensitive person with a strong moral compass who took pride in doing the right thing.

Me with my Aunt Debbie, Aunt Nancy, and Aunt Judy. Please keep Debbie and Judy in your prayers as they deal with the loss of their sister.

Nancy leaves behind her life partner, Randy, and her beautiful daughter, Abby. When it comes to her siblings, she is preceded in death by my Uncle Mike, meaning six heartbroken siblings are left behind, including my dad. The relationship my Aunt Nancy and my dad had was truly a beautiful one so please pray for my father as he adjusts to life without her.

The loss of my Aunt Nancy is a big blow to my dad so please keep him in your prayers if you can.

I am eternally grateful for the investment of time and love that my Aunt Nancy devoted to me. I am a far better man because of her. When it comes to our big Reser family, Nancy is simply irreplaceable. But if we can learn from her kindred spirit and embrace her special attitude in our own lives, we will be able to move on while honoring the memory of a one-of-a-kind woman. Let us lovingly pray for the soul of my Aunt Nancy. Don’t Blink.