This is a rambling of thoughts regarding my mom’s life as I knew it to be. It is only from my perspective. It Is wholly for my benefit as it is therapeutic for me to write. So this was really a selfish act on my part. I have spent zero time on editing, as you will find the sentences clunky and probably full of typos. Probably too much information too, but I didn’t say it all.
My View of My Mom
My mom, known to many as Ruth, Ruthie, Mother, Mom, Mama went to live with Jesus on Mother’s Day. This was an appropriate day for her to be led off the dance floor to join the other relatives and friends that have gone before her to meet Jesus and return home. She liked holidays and she was a good mother so it was fitting that Jesus came to get her on that day.
When she was young she had dreamed of being a big band singer or a photographer. It seems like she met her goals. She sang with many, many small polka bands which for me equals that big band and took many pictures. Her love of singing carried on to some of us and her repertoire of songs was extensive and often memorized. I know songs from drying dishes with her that are only found on 38s.
She guided me to the right times to play “my music” so as not to disturb our dad. She never negatively commented about my choices. I found that to be amazing as Dad had much to say about our choices.
Mom was plagued with health issues all her life and it started when she was little. Her sicknesses, school set-backs due to this, and having a brother with challenges made her into a person who was sympathetic to the vulnerable. She went out of her way to go to businesses whose owners were meeting the challenges that polio had brought their way, and spend extra attention on mentally challenged people in our community. Good example to us.
She graduated from high school despite her dad being against her doing so. She always said that he thought it was good enough for her to learn to fry potatoes, there was no need for her to graduate from high school and if she went she would have to get her own way there. She did that and carpooled with someone who became a Wisconsin Legislator.
During those years she apparently went to every known dance party and did the jitter-bug with her sister Donetta and all the dancers who asked.
After high school she moved in with her dad’s cousin’s family in Berlin where she told me that she learned more ways of cooking and entertaining. She always held Frank and Agatha close to her heart. She boarded with them while she worked at the phone company. She was making money to get married.
She married my dad on a night when the roads were icy and it was dangerous to drive. Grandpa went to the church early to get the fuel in the fire so it would be warm for the service. Little did he suspect that it would be one of the causes of it getting a little too warm and my dad fainting at the altar. The cake got there by my aunt holding it as best she could on her lap in the car. The icy roads made it difficult to hold and her thumbs went into the bottom layer. During the service the heat and the reality of marriage must have gotten to my dad and he fainted as my mother’s Aunt Pauline cried out, “He’s dead!” Mom and Dad ended up sitting in chairs during the remainder of the service. They went off to the Grange on Hwy K for a night of dancing. Mom said that they served hot dogs as no one knew after the war what to feed a wedding crowd. That mortified her in years afterward and no hotdogs were served again at a wedding celebration or anniversary party that she was in charge of…and there were many. Although that did not stop her from feeling guilty for serving them to us as an easy meal when she had given all at a church function. That gave her great pause that she had done that. We on the other hand did not give it a second thought.
Housing was short after the war years and they moved a few times. They lived at Grandma and Grandpa Spiegelbergs…not fun, then to a farm they worked on owned by my Grandparents Knutzen…also not fun, then to Appleton. Mom loved it there as they had their baby Jack with them in that apartment and she got to hang out with her sister-in-law Ardene. Then they moved to a farm on the south side of Omro and then bought the farm they lived at for the bulk of their marriage. By then they welcomed baby Chuck. After that it was the purchase of and move to an 80 acre farm on O’Reilly Road then called Dirt Road. Mom was not amused with the house in the condition it was in. My Grandpa Spiegelberg came to disinfect it with a Sulphur smoke to disinfect it before they moved in. Mom made it a home after as she always did.
Trouble struck on an extremely windy April Day when a spark from the tractor ignited the barn and house, burning the barn and animals up and causing extensive damage to the house. Fire became an even bigger cautionary subject in our home as we grew up due to this trauma. Our parents always had their bedroom as the smallest one only because it faced the barn and main yard so smoke or flames could be detected quickly if it should happen again. The small burn mark in the wood flooring in the living room was never repaired, but covered up with a rug as a cautionary tale to the history of fire in that home.
I cannot imagine the terror of this episode. Mom said that she was washing clothes with little Chuck at Grandma’s and as she came closer she saw smoke. Her first concerns were the whereabouts of little Jack and my dad, then after she saw that both were safe she regrouped. They moved into temporary housing on the other side of the block in an upstairs accommodations as she commandeered food prep for the volunteer builders every day and arranged for her little boys to be seen to. They got community help for some of the food or this huge work crew feeding schedule from the local Co-op that was always her first choice for groceries before and after that.
All their house possessions were saved by the volunteer firefighters, although, her wedding dress took a beating. All the help from the community rebuilt the barn and fixed the house with volunteers from their friends and neighbors. Some city elders came to Dad (why not Mom, but hey, it was 1955) to offer him a way to set him up into selling insurance. That was not in Dad’s plan to work for another so they would remain farmers.
Mom’s main role was to be a homemaker. She always said she was a homemaker not a housewife as she wasn’t married to the house. Dad always said that he married a wife not a hired hand so their roles of duties fell along the line of mom in the house and garden and dad in the barn and the fields.
Mom’s joy was doing things at church and having others do things at church. She taught Sunday School for many years, sang in the choir, headed up Ladies’s Aid and Mission League at Grace Lutheran and was involved in all aspects of all events there. This is where they had gotten married, got Dad baptized, got all their kids baptized, confirmed and married all at that same family of faith. It was a full time job for her to be involved there. Her faith sustained her and although her children love Jesus in different ways she did a good job of instilling that portion of faith.
She went to horse shows, had dogs…even one inside, even though that was probably not her first choice of moments for herself. She even let us have baby ducks on the open stove door to try to revive them and even let me bring in a cat one time for a photo op.
I remember her helping to comfort on the death of a beloved horse of Jack’s, on how I discovered her crying so loudly when Jack’s civilian clothes were sent back after he had arrived at boot camp during the Viet Nam War. Of how she tried to think of things to tell him to do as he lay in a hospital in another state recovering from surgery and happy to know that may keep him from having to go to Viet Nam to die. She was always telling me how he had the most potential of all of us. Gee, thanks, Mom.
I remember how she was confident to send me with my reluctant brother Chuck to swim in the neighbor’s quarry. He was and is always dependable. She appreciated his loving and kind way of not stirring the pot and trying to get me out of the way of the next tornado that was sure to come through our house. Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall inherit the Earth. After a kick boxing match between Chuck and myself I landed a good one on his lower back causing him some issue. When she found out, that little person she was, started chasing me, caught me and body slammed me on the living room floor for punishment. I had it comin’.
When we were discussing the way some parents have favorite children I asked about her thoughts on that. She said that her favorite child was the one that needed her most at the time. I liked that very much and I guess that means that no one can really compare the Sun, Moon and Stars as each is its own thing, with each its own way.
She taught us all how to eat properly with utensils and say please and thank you. She taught us how to greet people and answer the phone properly. She taught us with dad to make due with what was on hand. She said that at one farm there was plenty of milk and apples and milk was from their cows so potato soup and applesauce were on the menu a lot.
She took us to Lake Poygan to swim and although she was terrified to swim she overcame that fear and let her kids go while she sat in the car lamenting over her varicose veins. If we went out too far she would come to the shore and call out telling us to come in closer.
She taught us to come when we were called by retelling the story of how Jack and Chuck had a tent under the big tree in the front yard. A big storm came up and she called from the front door for them to get in NOW. They came on the run and just when they hit the front steps a big branch came down crushing the tent.
She was a champion cleaner and was always aware that we lived on a farm and there might be a smell if she didn’t get to it. She was always concerned about the dust from the road and before it was paved my dad called the road people to put oil on it to knock down the dust. The line was always full of clean white clothes and the neighboring farmer joked with us saying, “I am not sure if she is the cleanest woman or the dirtiest woman I know. There is always clean laundry hanging.” The clothes lines were long and tied from house to cotton wood tree and made a good line to get hung up on and tossed off the Shetland pony that I was riding around and around the yard with my friend Terri on the other. Terry was a much better rider than I and she ducked in time.
She taught me how to walk with a book on my head, that old curtains were a viable option for dress up, how to make a food display and allowed me to learn for myself why it wasn’t in my best interest to make double batches of four different types of cookies all at the same time. She even hunted down a person who grew mint so she could teach me how to garnish a sugar frosted edge fruit cup for 4-H. I wore her out and she gave up arguing with me about my hair for Jack’s wedding so I could wear it like a stingy mess. She told me a cautionary tale about what happens to girls who don’t turn the top sheet correctly over the blanket when making a bed. I learned to check myself to make sure there was no lint on my clothes, to be aware that skinned knees would prevent me from being Miss America (turns out that works) and that I should not talk casually to a teacher and never neglect my underwear. She also sucked the love of sewing, but not the knowledge of it out of my head under her instruction. She was exacting. She had a little record player in the kitchen for me to play little records from Concordia Publishing House with religious songs for children. Many years later when the record player could not be fixed by my dad one more time it ended up being my oil and acrylic paint case in college.
She created a lovely Valentine Party at our house with my classmates from elementary school with heart shaped sandwiches, napkins with each person’s name painted on, a branch painted white with paper hearts as a centerpiece. There were other parties and one where someone got their toe stuck in a fan and another where we made mud pies from the woods. At the same time we weren’t allowed to have a birthday party with friends with gifts or go trick or treating as she thought it was begging although it was fine to attend another’s.
She loved planning our wedding and I let her because it was the wedding she wanted. I got mine later when I planned our 30th.
Probably the hardest thing for her to do was to give me to her cousin Milly for a few months when she was too sick to care for me when I was tiny. Milly and family took great care of me and apparently we also bonded as I think of that family as my own too. I often wonder what the brothers thought of all this. No worse for wear am I.
When I went off to college there must have been a relief as they hooked up with a whole additional social group and danced their way around Wisconsin, Arizona, Minnesota and on a polka cruise in Florida with the famous polka master, Frankie Yankovic. During this time she played and sang with many bands, but also formed one with three others called the Polka Pals.
I am sure that she thought she didn’t expect to fall in love again once she was in love with Dad, but she found out differently when she had grandchildren. John and Chad were the first. She rode bikes with them and they called her the gum grandma. Then along came Kevin and Beth. Then Erin, Steven and Kyle. Mom had great comfort with the birth of our daughter Erin as her own mother and father were declining in health at that time and it was a good distraction. There are only two people who call our son Steve, Steven and one of them was Mom. Our son Kyle turned out to be the baby of all of the grandchildren and she enjoyed playing paddle ball on the floor with him and in later years called him her hugger. She was able to dance with both Steven and Kyle at their weddings. That made her extremely happy to dance with them and they with her.
She was a champion ironer and although she didn’t teach me ironing on my dad’s and brother’s shirts she began with the hankies and the pillow cases. We even had a mangle that ironed the sheets!
If you looked up the word “particular” or “just so” in the dictionary her picture would be the definer. She set the bar high for most things, which often left us deficient, but that only propelled us to do better or cry. She set the same for herself.
She endured praise hymns and hymns from the supplement, but preferred the old ones from the hymnal which she played on her piano frequently up until she left her piano. One of our most recent and favorite stories is when she was recently so weak and had been moved to a temporary care facility, my brothers who had arranged and taken care of that particular Mom move were talking outside the door of the place when the care manager came out to have them listen as everyone could hear that my mom was playing the piano when just moments before we thought that was her last day here.
Her favorite foods were Belgian waffles with strawberries and whipped cream, sherbet, lemon or Key Lime pie, and strawberry shakes.
Her most famous saying was, “You should keep that as it will be worth money someday.”
She always had a tissue in her sleeve or pocket, a breath mint in her purse along with a fabric swatch to match some outfit, a tiny measuring tape and a rain scarf. When the kids were little she would have an empty mint container and an old necklace chain that they would put in and out of the container to distract them in church. Much like the feather she gave baby Jack in his high chair with a smidge of honey on his little fingers to distract him long enough to cook or clean up.
She was known to roll down the windows and shut off the radio while crossing a road, take yearly pictures of the same family tombstones, make sure we were doing our duties and put an index finger on a small grandchild’s cheek to remember to have them chew properly.
Who would ever suspect that the three of us would be so different coming from the same parents could come together so well through the death of parents? It is clear that we learned hard work, love, fun, grit and humor from our parents. I am thankful that I have brothers.
We knew her time was coming to an end, as the signs were strong, yet no one knows. She seemed to be more content when the Hospice nurse told her that she would not be getting any stronger, that her heart was wearing out and no, Mom wasn’t being lazy as Mom had thought. The last time a family member saw her she had about 86,000 heartbeats left. Sounds like a lot, but it is used up quickly. May our lives be a full and impactful as hers. Miss you already, but glad you got home where you belong. Good for you Mama, good for you.