The 'shy' twin, Christine Jensen opened her heart and home to animals
Christine Jensen loved all of God's creatures, big and small.
Once, while buying cat food, she discovered the pet store's mice, caged and waiting to be fed to the snakes.
"She couldn't stand it, so she bought all of the mice they had," said her twin sister, Andrea Jensen. "I think that story sort of exemplifies her soft heart for animals."
The mice shared a home with Christine's five cats, some of them sick strays she rescued and nursed back to health. And when she wasn't tending to her house critters, Christine liked to go to parks and feed birds, squirrels and rabbits — especially during harsh Iowa winters.
Christine's furry friends lost their owner this spring when the big-hearted animal lover died of COVID-19 in Des Moines. She was 67.
Growing up in Newton, Christine and Andrea — always known as "the twins" — liked causing a bit of mischief together.
They roller skated and rode bikes all over their small central Iowa town. They collected toads from their backyard and kept them as pets. They threw corncobs at bumblebees. And sometimes, they'd even take a baby bird from its nest, bringing it like a gift to their bewildered grandmother.
The "shy" twin, Christine would rather spend evenings with her pets than go out with friends. In addition to her frogs and turtles, she had a long-haired guinea pig that "looked like a walking mop," Andrea said.
A graduate of Iowa State University, Christine stayed close to home to take care of their elderly parents. She was a lifelong employee at Century Link in Des Moines and regularly attended Windsor Heights Lutheran Church, where fellow congregants often remarked on her soft-spoken kindness.
After she was diagnosed with early onset frontotemporal dementia, Christine moved into a long-term care facility. During meal times, she would kiss her hand before gently placing it on a painting of the Last Supper in the dining room. And she helped fellow residents with less mobility get seated around the table before digging in.
Whenever something nice happened, she lit up and said, "That puts a smile on God's face."
Even as her memory faded, Christine held onto her love of The Carpenters — the easy listening duo who "were definitely not cool" compared to the rock-and-rollers of their youth, Andrea said. The Carpenters bonded the twins together in the twilight of Christine's life, as they held hands and sang along to the band's heartfelt ballads.
Now without her twin, Andrea has found herself hanging on to the memories of 2019's holiday season, their final one together. Piling into the car, the twins drove the Iowa countryside, marveling at the rolling plains and clear blue sky as "We've Only Just Begun" played through the speakers.
This story is part of the Iowa Mourns series, a collection of remembrances about Iowans who lost their lives to COVID-19. If you've lost a loved one to COVID-19 in Iowa, let us know by filling out this form or emailing Iowa Columnist Courtney Crowder at email@example.com.
Isabella Rosario is a public safety reporter for the Ames Tribune. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @irosarioc.