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Tove Holmer

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Tove has kept a diary most of her life.

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Tove Holmer interviewed by Maggie Bishop Nov 2008

Where were you born and why did you leave? I was born in Michigan, where my parents who had emigrated separately from Denmark met through the introduction of a mutual Danish friend, got married and had me two years later. In December 1932, shortly before I was three years old, we returned to Denmark to be near my mother’s mother who was incurably ill. I forgot whatever English I knew and learned Danish instead and then when I went to school, I learned English.

What started your journaling? We lived in Denmark during the Second World War when Denmark was occupied by the Germans. Those were pretty hard years because we lived on a small farm without electricity or running water. When the war was over, my parents decided to go back to America with my three younger siblings and me. So when I was 16 years old, we arrived in Massachusetts, where I started high school. It was such a tumultuous and exciting time for me that I felt a need to write about it, and that’s when I started keeping a diary. I call it a diary because it was always a black leather book with the word "diary" and the year written in gold in the upper right hand corner.

After high school, I went to a junior college and graduated as an executive secretary. Then I was hired by the State Department and moved to Washington, D.C., where I lived for half a year. Because I spoke Danish, it was decided to station me in the American Embassy in Copenhagen for a two-year tour of duty. Since both my English and Danish were fluent, I soon started working as a translator.

But then I made the mistake of getting engaged to a Danish man.

Why was that a mistake? Because it turned out that the only way I could keep my job with the American State Department was if my Danish husband was willing to move to the U.S. with me, and he was not! So I had to quit my job and stay in Denmark.

What did you do then? First I helped a Danish cousin of mine write his medical doctor’s dissertation on hernias. Then I got a job running the office of the Danish Medical Research Committees. While there, I helped edit a Danish book on medical research that they published. Later I proofread a doctor’s dissertation written in English on C. G. Kratzenstein and his studies on electricity during the Eighteenth Century. It was all quite interesting.

Did you and your husband have any children? Yes. Finally after having gotten permission to adopt a child, I got pregnant after seven years of marriage and gave birth to a lovely baby boy, Hans. His sister, Nina, was born 1 years later. They kept me plenty busy for a long time, but I also found time to take an interior decoration course.

However, our marriage was not going very well, and I spent several years debating whether to call an end to it or not. Since my mother and my best friend lived far away, I used my diary as a confidant and spent several hours writing in it every evening.

When Hans and Nina were in their early teens, my husband and I were divorced. I didn’t want to tear the children totally away from their father, so I stayed on in our house in Copenhagen for another two years, but I had a hard time finding suitable employment.

Then with my former husband’s approval, I (at age 48) moved back to Washington, D.C., with Hans and Nina (17 and 16 years old respectively) with Nina protesting the move vehemently ("You are taking me away from all my friends.")

You didn’t have a job there. What did you do? Through old faithful contacts I was able to return to work at the State Department, as a translator again.

I made a down-payment of the $14,000 I had from the sale of the Danish house on a house in Falls Church, which Nina and her husband now own. Both children were enrolled in high school.

I had always had an interest in Italian – had visited Italy several times while living in Denmark – and had studied Italian. So I was more than happy to accept an assignment in Rome, Italy, a couple of years later.

What did you do about your children then? Hans was attending Mary Washington College in Virginia, studying international relations, and Nina, who was a medical assistant, had just gotten married, and she and her husband rented my house.

How was life in Rome? It was a very exciting city to live in, and the work was interesting because so much was happening. That was when there was an assassination attack against the Pope, and the Red Brigades were going strong. Obviously I had plenty of stuff to write about in my diary.

How long did you stay there? Until the end of 1982. Then I started working back in D.C. until I was able to retire in late 1994.

When and why did you move to Boone? That’s a long story. Sometime after I came back from Rome, I met a man who worked in the Defense Mapping Agency. He was born in Egypt and was a physicist and mathematician who had immigrated to Tennessee at the age of 26 to continue his studies. He had been married and had a son and was, like I, divorced. We dated for four years after which we finally decided we were ready to share our lives. Mohamed sold his condo in Fairfax and moved into my house in Falls Church.

When Mohamed, who was five years younger than I, was able to retire, he wanted to move to a university town, and since I had been in frequent touch with a former colleague who was a painter who had gone to Boone in her retirement and praised it to the skies, that was the place we picked. We moved to Boone in September 1997 and bought a nice big house and met several other former government retirees – and lots of other nice people.

Mohamed was a very sweet and kind man, and we were happy together, but his health was not good. He spent several years undergoing dialysis, and then in December 2002 he had a severe stroke, which was followed by a heart attack two days later, and he died.

That must have been terrible for you. It was. Suddenly I was all alone in the big house, with only a cat for company. The cat had come to our house as a kitten and adopted us two years earlier. But one day when I came home, I found my dear cat lying dead by the front door. There was no sign of how he had died.

So now I was truly all alone living in a big house without any neighbors. After a while, I went down to the Humane Society animal shelter and found a sweet furry brown cat, which had been found out in the woods with two kittens although she was estimated to be only 11 months old. They had named her Stella. When I told Nina about my adoption of Stella, she said I ought to get another cat to keep Stella company when I was out, so a couple of days later I went back to the shelter and picked up a male cat, which looked almost exactly like our first cat. He was named Tucker and had been given up by his owner of five years because she didn’t like to clean the litter box. Stella and Tucker took to each other immediately and are good buddies.

Now you are living at Brian Estates. How did that come about? Although I had hired help to clean the house and mow the lawn, it was still a big responsibility to own such a big house. Then around Christmas 2007, Nina asked if I had ever thought of moving into an assisted living place. I screamed that I wasn’t that old, but she explained you didn’t have to be old and helpless and said she knew of several couples in their 60’s who lived in such a place. I started thinking about it and found that the only place in Boone that might fit the bill was Brian Estates. I went there and learned that my annuity would more than cover the monthly rent, which included three meals a day and weekly cleaning of my apartment. And then of course I wouldn’t have to shop for groceries or cook, and I wouldn’t have to take care of a flower garden. And to top it off, I could take my cats with me. So on 12 March I moved into Brian Estates and put my house up for sale.

Why didn’t you move somewhere near your children? They both live in the Washington, D.C. area, where I no longer have any friends, and I didn’t want to be a burden to them. They both have busy successful lives and are happily married. Hans followed in my footsteps and works in the Foreign Service, and Nina, who worked as a respiratory therapist for many years, got tired of it and started studying law. She is now a tax and estate lawyer.

What is your current writing project? None. I have been so busy moving, getting rid of most of my furniture, furnishing my new apartment and selling my house. So when I have had a spare moment, I have been reading, doing crossword puzzles or doing needlework.

What are you reading? I subscribe to The Economist, National Geographic, The Smithsonian and the New Yorker which all take some time to read. And after I have finished writing my diary at night, I usually relax with a good book, currently "The Reluctant Tuscan" by Phil Doran, which brings back sweet memories from Italy.

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