Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Remembering Mom on my first Mother’s Day without her May 6, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:02 AM
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One of the last photos I took of my mom. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021)

IN RECENT YEARS, as my mom’s health declined, I considered how I would feel when she was gone, when Mother’s Day would come and go without her. Now, four months after her death, I understand. I feel a deep sense of loss, but also thankfulness for the mother I loved and who loved me.

I love this sweet photo of Mom at age seven. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

Who was my mom? She was the oldest of five. (Her sister Deloris died in infancy.) She was valedictorian of her high school graduating class. She completed a short business college course thereafter and worked in an employment office before marrying my dad. Within a year of their marriage, the first of six children was born. I came next. And within two months of my birth, Mom’s mother died. Mom was 24, her mother only 48.

The Bode siblings, left to right: John, Rachel, Dorothy and Arlene. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

When I consider Grandma Josephine’s premature death, I wonder how Mom handled that. To lose her mother at such a young age is a profound loss. If only I had asked.

A portrait of Mom. I’m unsure of her age here, but probably around 20. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

Mom left behind a collection of notebooks in which she wrote daily entries. Journals begun in high school and continuing into her senior years. The short entries are documentations of her life from student to full-time mother/southwestern Minnesota farm wife and, finally, a grandmother.

The only photo I have of my mom holding me. My dad is holding my brother Doug. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I wish her writing held personal thoughts and observations. But that is mostly missing, along with journals from around the years she met Dad. Not a surprise given that generation’s aversion to expressing emotions. I don’t recall either of my parents ever telling me they loved me, or hugging me, during my growing up years. It just wasn’t done. Yet, I inherently knew they loved me. Only in later years, long after I’d left home, did love-filled words and hugs come.

Entries from one of Mom’s earliest journals. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Since my mom’s death, I’ve dipped into some of her journals as has my eldest daughter. Mom’s one-paragraph daily entries about the weather, everyday farm life and the occasional trips into town and social outings reveal a hardworking woman. I never doubted just how hard Mom worked to keep our family fed, the house clean and six kids in line. I read of gardening, harvesting, preserving. I read of doing laundry (in a Maytag wringer washer), ironing, folding clothes. I read of endless baking, including occasionally making her favorite Sour Cream Raisin Pie. To this day I have never developed an appreciation for that pie. But I loved when she baked homemade bread, shaping tiny buns just for us kids to eat hot from the oven.

This page in an altered book created by my friend Kathleen focuses on the animal-shaped birthday cakes Mom made for me and my five siblings. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I also appreciated that Mom made birthdays special by creating animal-shaped birthday cakes from homemade chocolate cake and seven-minute frosting. Those cakes, selected from a cake design booklet, defined our childhood birthdays. Because my parents couldn’t afford gifts, Mom’s cake was our gift. Oh, the memories.

This shows family photos on a board I created for Mom’s funeral. The card at the bottom is a Mother’s Day card. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

That I never realized our family was poor is a credit to my mom. There was no emphasis on material possessions, but rather on self-sufficiency and contentment with what we had—each other and land, our land, all around us. Sure, I occasionally longed for rollerskates (like my friends Jane and Robin had), for shopping clothing racks other than the sales rack, for getting whatever toy I wanted from the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog. But, in the end, I didn’t care all that much. I had enough. I still do. And I still don’t get gifts on my birthday.

My mom saved everything, including this Mother’s Day card I made for her in elementary school. I cut a flower from a seed catalog to create the front of this card. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Mom’s gifts to me stretch well beyond anything tangible. She exuded a spirit of kindness. Soft-spoken, except when we kids occasionally overwhelmed her, Mom always encouraged us to speak well of others, to serve with humility. She did. At church, in the community. I’ve been told she was much like her sweet and loving mother, my Grandma Josie.

Me with my mom during a January 2020 visit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2020 by Randy Helbling)

This Mother’s Day I hold onto the memories. The photos. The stack of journals. The lessons and qualities passed along to me that speak to a legacy of faith and kindness and love. Mom’s love. A love that endures in how I choose to live my life. A love that rises above grief to remind me how blessed I was to have my mother as my mother.

I printed this message inside a handmade Mother’s Day card for my mom back in elementary school. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

In my last visit with Mom before her January 13 death, I said my goodbyes, told her it was OK to go. She was mostly unresponsive then, heavily-medicated. But when I spoke the words, “I love you,” for the final time, her lips curved into a smile so slight I wondered if I imagined it. I didn’t. That was her final gift to me—an expression of love I will forever remember and cherish, especially today, my first Mother’s Day without Mom.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling