Merial “Perk” Overlade
January 15, 1924 — November 20, 2022
‘Let me live in a house by the side of the road and be a friend to man’. This line, from a poem by Sam Walter Foss, was a favorite of our mother, Merial ‘Perk’ Overlade. It reflects on the human experience and subsequent journeys one takes while navigating through life. Her earthly journey now complete, Perk died on Sunday, November 20th. Throughout her life she was a fearless, petite, bustling force of endless energy, always striving to better herself, always moving forward and onto new journeys. She left with no regrets or untamed fears, just a varied selection of unopened bottles of orange toenail polish.
Perk was the daughter of Ella Viola Hafen and Clyde Eugene Perkins and older sister of Hafen, Waldo, and baby Kelly. She is survived by her four daughters: Candy, Stacy, Tracy, and Robyn, nine grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren.
Born at home while her father was away at school, Eugene’s classmates shared their congratulations, and concerns, learning that his new baby girl had yet to be named. With dozens of varying opinions, three names emerged, and Merial, much to our mother’s later dismay, was the keeper. Whether ‘Perk’ was a shortened version of Perkins or a definitive reflection of the spunky little girl, that is the name, through much persistence on our mom’s part, that stuck. At eight years of age, Eugene died tragically, leaving his three young children fatherless. Even then, herself so young and vulnerable, our mother’s primary concern was for the well-being of her siblings. Thus began a lifelong crusade as defender and protector of her two younger brothers, as well as many others who would ‘pass by the side of her road’.
Growing up in Overton, Nevada, her brother Hafen acquired a horse and would spend hours on end riding. After repeatedly being denied a turn, our mother suddenly jumped up onto the unsaddled steed squarely behind him. His response was to race the horse faster, in hopes she would fall off, but in true Perk fashion she proclaimed, “I know what you’re doing, and if I go, I’m taking you with me” and she did just that.
When she was nine, she and her best friend Louise, went tree climbing. My mother was first, with Louise not far behind watching as she went higher and higher. Teetering near the top of the branches, mom suddenly froze as she became aware of just how high she was, as Louise pleaded for her to come down. “I can’t … I cannot climb down. Go fetch my grandfather and tell him I am stuck in this tree” she lamented. As she clung to the treetop waiting, mom began to contemplate the outcome once her grandfather was forced to leave his chores, with ladder in tow, and come to her rescue. As his possible irritation crept over her frozen state, she courageously began a trepidatious decent, picking her way down and slithering off from the trunk as her grandfather crested the hill.
Taking a hiatus from her studies at Brigham Young University, mom worked for several years at Nellis Air Force base during the war. She and a gal pal had use of a boyfriend’s convertible and would use every drop of gasoline their ration coupons could supply, cruising the desert with the top down. Once coupons were spent, they repeatedly charmed sentries to top off their tank with jet fuel from the base. And while most families were carefully planning the best use of their coupons, mom felt she was living large. Using coupons that could be exchanged for food, clothing, and gasoline was above and beyond anything her humble upbringing had ever guaranteed, and she was thrilled with her good fortune.
She married her college sweetheart, Lyle Weeks Overlade, in 1949, and they started their family in Las Vegas, Nevada. As Lyle served in the Air Force, Perk, with a bachelor’s degree in English and Music, began her teaching career at Las Vegas High School. Not one to let an opportunity pass by, she accepted the only available teaching position by joining the physical education department. Her athletic prowess aside, she could read, understand, and relay rules and information from any sporting manual, and the rest she would figure out. In the evenings, she would often join fellow faculty members and climb onto the roof of the school to watch mushroom clouds implode and burst in Nye County, 65 miles northwest of Vegas, blissfully unaware of future misgivings.
She was a good cook, although not one to spend hours toiling away at the stove or waiting for dough to rise, opting instead for fresh air and sunshine. Even so, her spice cabinet was always full of exotic jars of black cardamom and saffron long before they became popular. We ate paella from Spain, sage and rice stuffing with giblet gravy during the holidays, homemade pralines from the south, and pots of hot soup and stews in the winter. She would regularly gather the weekly leftovers and throw the best of what was left into a pot on the stove. A bit of this and that, it was given the nickname ‘refrigerator wipeout’ and was slurped to the last drop.
After living in New Mexico, Spain, Louisiana, and Texas, dad’s retirement brought the family back to Utah and to the house with the bright orange doors. Orange popped up everywhere in our mother’s life, from toenails to counter tops; she said it was the ‘happiest’ color. Perk resumed her teaching career at Provo High School, this time in the English department, and strove to pass her love of literature, along with the required dangling participles, to her students. She was diligent and fair and dutifully read every word on every page of every homework assignment, often while sitting in bed with an electric blanket in a bright orange robe. Raising four girls she was simultaneously nursemaid, provider, caretaker and caregiver. She participated in Blue Birds and Girl Scouts and music lessons, supported choir and concerts, debate meets, drill team and track. She routinely stood, one knee on the bench with arms folded, counting out loud as we all practiced scales and learned new pieces on her piano. Herself an accomplished pianist and accompanist, she seldom refused a request to play, despite her own lifelong fear of performing in public.
She relished theater and traveling and classic film noir, held numerous church positions and was an avid temple worker. A passionate reader who always had a current ‘read’ within reach, she believed adamantly in the gifting of books and would spend hours in bookstores searching shelves for new stories and titles to be shared. She loved being a grandmother and adored spending time with her grandchildren, and incessantly marveled and was amazed at their uniqueness and individual accomplishments and talents. She was fearless and brave and lived a passionate life. There was no better ‘friend to man’; she will be forever missed.