Friday, July 19, 2013

About Mom

My mother's upbringing was very different from my father's.  Where Dad's family was just a bit rowdy, Mom's family was more reserved.  They say that opposites attract and I think in my parents' case, it was true.

Mom was raised in Blackduck where her father was the depot agent for the railroad.  My grandfather's first wife had died the day after giving birth to their daughter, Dorothy.  A couple of years later he married my grandma, Gladys Morehouse.  Mother had one brother and four sisters besides Dorothy, the fifth sister being stillborn.  She was next to the youngest in age.

Born in 1924, Mom grew up during the Great Depression.  The family was fortunate in that my grandfather had a job and was able to keep it during that time when so many were out of work, and was able provide for his family.  They lived a life typical for small town America with all of the children going to school and graduating from high school, where many other less fortunate children had to quit school and help out on family farms or look for other means to financially help their families.  Mom's family was not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but neither were they destitute.

My mother's family was musically inclined.  All of the children except the youngest played the violin and some played piano.  Mother learned to play violin, cello, guitar and piano.  I was lucky to have been born first in my family, for I was able to hear Mom play all the instruments before the crippling in her hands made it impossible.  My sister may have heard her play, but my brother who is 15 years my junior, never did.

In addition to my grandfather's work for the railroad, he was a lay minister.  To my knowledge he was never ordained, but he held church services in the nearby community of Nebish for many years.  My mother and her siblings, who all had good singing voices as well as a talent for playing instruments, went with him to provide the music for the services.  As a side note, my Grandfather Paul preached the funeral service for my Grandfather Matheny in October of 1936.

Sometime in the early 1940's, the family, with the exception of the two oldest who had married, moved to St. Paul.  Mom's father had problems with his heart (I don't know what the actual diagnosis was.  At that time it was just referred to as "heart trouble.") and because of his employment with the railroad, the logical place for his treatment was the Northern Pacific Hospital in St. Paul.  It was there he passed on in October of 1947.  I was only 16 months old when my grandfather died, so I have very little in the way of memory of him.  I once asked my Dad what Grandpa Paul was like, and his description was that he was a stern but fair man.

Mom and Dad were married in St. Paul in July of 1945.  Mom's father wanted her to wait until she was 21 years of age before marrying, so she honored his request by setting the wedding date for one week after her 21st birthday.  Mother was married to Dad for nearly 51 years.

My mother was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis shortly after my birth in 1946.  It began with swelling and pain in her hands and eventually spread to her entire body.  I find it sad that so much of her life was defined by pain and doctors and hospitals, ending in a nursing home.  We were so blessed to have her in the small facility in her hometown, where she was known and loved by family and staff alike.  Mom and Dad had moved to an apartment within a block of the home, and after she could no longer live there, Dad was able to walk over and spend his days with her.

Mom loved pretty things.  I remember watching her crochet beautiful doilies to adorn the backs of chairs or table tops.  She did fancy embroidery and taught me this skill.  Holidays were her favorite times.  She took a small tree branch, painted it white and attached red and pink paper hearts to the branches with gold thread, for a Valentine's Day centerpiece for our dining room table.  She did the same at Easter, using the egg shells that we had blown the insides out of and decorated.  She was always crafting something pretty out of practically nothing.  Christmas was her absolute favorite time of year, and there was hardly a surface in our home that wasn't adorned with pine bows, brightly colored glass ornaments and candles.  Even when she could no longer do the decorating herself and was in a wheelchair, I remember her sitting in the middle of the living room, directing the decorating of the room by the rest of us, like a queen on her throne.

I didn't realize how far Mother's love of pretty extended until much later in my life.  The family had gathered for the celebration of some event - perhaps a special birthday or anniversary.  For special occasions she would often serve as part of the meal a shrimp salad that contained tiny pasta rings, baby shrimp, diced celery and sliced olives in a dressing.  I loved the stuff.  When someone offered to get a plate of food for Mom and asked if she wanted some shrimp salad, Mom replied no, that she did not like it.  When I asked her why she served it for occasions if she wouldn't eat it, she said that the only reason she had made that salad was because it looked pretty in the bowl.

Over the years, the disease that ravaged her body slowly became worse.  She had surgeries to replace joints that had worn away and eventually had a permanent trach tube in her neck so she could breathe after bones in her neck disintegrated.  Where a cold is an annoyance to most of us, it often was the cause of another hospital stay for her.  Mom was a very religions person and I think it was her faith that kept her going when most would have given up.  After the surgery on her neck, the doctors told her to go home and get her affairs in order.  Twenty years later, she was still thumbing her nose at them.

I am so grateful to her for all that she taught me.  How she had the patience to deal with a semi-rebellious tomboy of a daughter, I will never know.

Mom died in April of 1996.  I felt great sadness, but also relief that she was no longer in pain.  I will always miss her.


  1. My mother fought years of constant pain, due to arthritis and past injuries.

    To a weaker person, it was debilitating. To my mother - who was cast from stern determination - it was her problem alone and she would never dream of burdening another with her problems.

    God bless her for teaching me to be strong. I was blessed.

  2. I think there is some truth to the old statement that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. I also think that the dogged determination shown by your mother and mine came from their time in life, where one just went ahead and did what one had to do without complaint. I listen to some of those around me whine and moan over trivialities and I just have to laugh. They have no clue as to what real courage is.