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Sally Egolf Wilson’s story shows power of faith and perseverance

Book cover painting is by Janet Green Jacobson. Photo shows Kate, Elizabeth, Amy and Patrick at Lake Summit in 1997. Book cover painting is by Janet Green Jacobson. Photo shows Kate, Elizabeth, Amy and Patrick at Lake Summit in 1997.

One might imagine Sally Egolf Wilson pitching her family’s story to a Hollywood producer — two sets of twins (one unplanned), two children struck by serious brain traumas, the emotional weight on the twin who didn’t get sick caring for the one who did, a close call on Sept. 11 in New York City, kids’ struggles with jobs, college and relationships as young adults, hurricanes and blizzards.


“Preposterous!” the producer exclaims. “All that couldn’t happen to one family.”

You have to read Sally’s book, “The Not So Average Family,” to find that all of that did happen — and more — and also to revel in how the family fights through the trials and tribulations and comes out on the other side of the storm into something very much like a blue sky. The spoiler alert is that they not only survive but that the kids and their children thrive today.

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Sally Egolf grew up in Aurora, Illinois, outside Chicago, where her father, John Farris “Bud” Egolf II, owned a car dealership. After she graduated from high school, she attended Indiana University and later worked as a stewardess based in New York City and in a brokerage on Wall Street.
After she met and married Bob Wilson, the couple settled in Hendersonville, where her dad had bought a dealership on South Main Street from Pete Folsom.
Sally was familiar with Hendersonville because of two important connections. An aunt and uncle lived here and she and her brother and sister would visit during the summer. And Hendersonville was where her family sent her when she became pregnant at age 18. She delivered the baby at Pardee and gave him up for adoption. The rest of the adoption story, which we’ll visit later, comes toward the end of “The Not So Average Family.”
Sally opens the book in the spring of 1981, when she learns she unexpectedly had become pregnant with a second set of twins, when the first twins, Elizabeth and Amy, were 5. The new set, Patrick and Kate, would give rise to the first and most lasting challenge, when Patrick becomes ill with a brain tumor and had to have a risky operation at Duke University. Although Patrick survived, behavioral problems would pose challenges for him and his family until his late teen years.
Throughout her story, Sally leans often on a mustard seed charm her grandfather had given her; his grandfather had given it to him. The symbolic seed and Sally’s heart and will are the motor that drives the narrative through 310 pages. With the tenacity of a sled dog and the good humor of a yellow lab, Sally forges through one crisis after another as the leader of the Wilson clan. She said in an interview she didn’t want the book to be about her, and she has gotten her wish in a way. It’s about Elizabeth and Amy and Kate and Patrick and the trials they overcame to become successful adults. But it can’t help but be about Sally, too, since she did so much to guide the ship through the storm and she is, after all, the story teller.

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About a quarter way through the book, Sally writes that she intuitively knew “something was harming our unique, beautiful family.” Only later, she says at that point, did she understand that Patrick’s behavioral problems at school were “smothering huge chunks of Kate,” causing to her “build an invisible shield around herself, protecting her from the unwanted responsibility of being Patrick’s twin.”
Shown at Amy's wedding Dec. 12, 2012 — 12-12-12 — are Nathan, Patrick, Kate, Elizabeth, Amy, Bailey, Sally and Bob.Shown at Amy's wedding Dec. 12, 2012 — 12-12-12 — are Nathan, Patrick, Kate, Elizabeth, Amy, Bailey, Sally and Bob.But at that time, in 1994, she only knew that she had to suit up.

“It was time to dig in my heels, put up my dukes, and face the approaching storms full on,” she wrote. “I didn’t think about it, I just acted. I didn’t question whether I could guide Patrick and the entire family safely to the other side of those storms. There was never an if in my mind — only a when.”

“I understand now that we need to dig deep to appreciate the strong genes we’ve inherited from our ancestors,” she writes of the Swedish Egolfs and her French Huguenot maternal grandmother. (Retired car dealer Jeff Egolf is her brother and current Brevard car dealer and School Board member Jay Egolf is her nephew.) “At the time, though, I didn’t give them a thought. I only knew I was not ready to give up. My resolve didn’t make the journey any easier but it did make it possible. What I didn’t realize was just how long I would have to rely on this source of strength and determination.”
Even the way the family acquired Cosmo, their beloved golden retriever, arose from drama and a near-death experience. The beloved pup belonged to a neglectful neighbor before it started hanging around the Wilsons’ house. When Cosmo got hit on Highway 64, it was the Wilsons who found and saved him, the Wilsons who paid for his vet bills and the Wilsons who then adopted Cosmo as their jolly, faithful, forever companion.

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Sally and Bob had become accustomed to Patrick getting in and out of trouble. His brain tumor and the operation that removed it made it hard for him to suppress his emotions. When his temper flared, he’d land in ISS — in-school suspension — at Hendersonville High School.
“The interesting thing is that now we have all this mental health awareness and it’s now accepted,” Sally said. “It wasn’t then. At Virginia Beach half marathon in September 2005, Kate, Patrick, Elizabeth and Amy.At Virginia Beach half marathon in September 2005, Kate, Patrick, Elizabeth and Amy.This was the ‘80s and the ‘90s. We had big hair and everybody was perfect and you did nothing but brag on your children and you wanted a lot of material things and we were way outside that loop.”
“Before, they just slapped Patrick in ISS,” she said. She still seethes when she recalls the second grade teacher who exclaimed, “If he doesn’t shape up, he’s not going to amount to anything.”
“I would love to go to her and say, ‘Look at him now.’ He was one year out of having his left temporal lobe removed, and they just didn’t understand,” she said. “I think they would be a little bit more understanding now.”

Patrick lives in Colorado, drives for UPS and relishes being single and childless, unlike his three sisters.
“He owns his own home, he’s got an Airbnb and rents out half of it,” Sally says. “He is busy every second of the day. He’s trying to work 60 hours a week so he can get his overtime.”

In high school Patrick might have demanded more of Sally’s time were it not for Elizabeth, who suffered a brain hemorrhage at age 22, in November 1999. She nearly died as surgeons struggled to stop the heavy bleeding and stabilize her. “Collecting myself, I willed my adrenaline to kick in and into fight mode,” Sally wrote as one more crisis blew up. Sally and Amy, when she could, guided Elizabeth through a months-long recovery at the Shepherd rehabilitation center in Atlanta. Elizabeth’s brain hemorrhage and long recovery left Sally and Bob dreading that they might have not one but two children with long-term behavioral or cognitive issues. Miraculously, Elizabeth fully recovered and, like her twin and little sister, ended up in a successful career, a happy marriage and a role as mom.
What makes “Not So Average” such a compelling read is the thread of optimism despite an extraordinary number of challenges and bad breaks. I was relieved to get to the 11 pages of family pictures in the middle of the book because — though they included hospital bed and rehab center photos — the visual documentation included happy photos of weddings and grandchildren. Knowing “the end,” though, did not make me less eager to find out how they came out the other side.

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I wanted to know whether Sally had training as a writer and whether editors had guided her through the story-telling process.
“My grandmother was a good writer,” she said. “My dad was a good writer. My grandfather was a good writer on my mother’s side. He actually wrote speeches for Everette Dirksen. I think I have some writing genes. I don’t have any writing training.”
Instead, she crowd-sourced friends who served as both cheerleaders, first readers and advisers — Georgia Bonesteel, Ken Butcher, Beth Beasley, Steve Kirk, Dr. Krishna Das, writing coach Diane Rhoades, writers’ club members Jody, Georgina, Joen, Nancy, Bonnie and Susan.
The writing group members encouraged her to press on and not to skip around from one episode to the next without regard to chronology.
“You’ve got to put this in order,” they told Sally. “You’ve got to start from the beginning.”

I wanted to know, too, whether there was conflict or negotiation between Sally and the kids in how much to disclose, because it would seem virtually everything is disclosed.
There was no reason for that because “I never thought I would publish,” she told me. “I never really talked to them about it.”
Bob and the kids, then grown, paid little attention while mom pecked away on the keyboard off and on for 10 years.
“They never really asked because I never really said I was really doing this,” she said. “I’d try to read some to Bob. Bob’s a hundred percent Irish and he’d just start crying. … I never journaled — of course now I wish I had. But somehow in the process of writing, it all came back. I knew I just couldn’t tell an honest story without being honest, because also there were four good outcomes. It’s OK to tell someone you were down at the bottom if you’ve gotten yourself up. It shows what they did accomplish.”
And how did she render in such vivid detail intimate family stories that span four decades?
“I started the story in ’81” when she got pregnant with Kate and Patrick, she said. “When I started writing, it just sort of came back. There are some tough memories in there, and they don’t go away.”

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The Wilson family and in-laws, shown in a 2021 photo, is made up of, from left, Nathan, Bailey, Patrick, Amy, Kate, Elizabeth, Mike, Sally, Bob, Bobby, Tracy, Adam and Max, and children Charle, Gauge, Benjamin, Darwin, Theo, Waverly and Maggie.The Wilson family and in-laws, shown in a 2021 photo, is made up of, from left, Nathan, Bailey, Patrick, Amy, Kate, Elizabeth, Mike, Sally, Bob, Bobby, Tracy, Adam and Max, and children Charle, Gauge, Benjamin, Darwin, Theo, Waverly and Maggie.In 2011, when the kids were grown, Sally bravely made the decision to try to unite with the son she gave up in 1964. When social workers made contact with him, he agreed and, soon enough, Sally learned that the boy, Bobby, had lived his whole life in Henderson County — and had a strong Southern accent! And he had two boys of his own, suddenly gifting her with two bonus grandchildren.
“It was hard to believe I was having dinner with the boy I left forty-six years ago, bundled in his baby crib at Pardee Hospital,” she wrote of their first meeting. “However, his eyes were mine, his nose was (his father) Nick’s, his bushy eyebrows were my uncle’s and his height was my grandfather’s — yes, the same big Swedish man who had given me my mustard seed.”
As she winds up the story in an epilogue, Sally shares the successes of all four children in their careers, their marriages, their children. All three girls moved home to Hendersonville from cities around the country. Darwin, Waverly, Maggie, Gauge and Theo are all in the same elementary school their moms attended.
“And this is the best news: our family is not so remarkable anymore!” she wrote. “We face no immediate life-threatening situations — only the ups and downs of an average family.”
Early on, a working title of the book was “Proof of Faith.” Sally and her advisers decided to discard that.
“I was trying to get around that because I didn’t want this to be a totally religious book. It’s not a religious book,” she said. “God has given you gifts. Don’t waste them. Have faith in those gifts. Don’t just say, ‘OK, God, you figure it out.’”
What does she hope the readers take away when they finish the book?
“Perseverance. Don’t give up on yourself and your family,” she said. “I think that’s the main thing. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. And every family has challenges. There’s not a family that doesn’t.”
The not-so-average family showed how Sally and her mustard seed faith empowered the children to sail through turbulence and come away the better for it.
Sally’s parting note of gratitude sums it up: “Amy, Elizabeth, Kate and Patrick, you are my proof of faith.”

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“The Not So Average Family” is available at Amazon.com and other online booksellers. To contact Sally Wilson email amightymustardseed@gmail.com.