DAYS BEFORE MOTHER’S DAY, I slide a clear plastic tote from a closet in the bedroom where my daughters once slept. I unlatch the lid. An overwhelming musty odor rises from the spiral-bound notebooks layered inside.
These are my mom’s journals. The story of her life recorded on paper from 1947 until her final entry on March 4, 2014, with a few years missing.
Mom died in January 2022. She left this handwritten documentation of an ordinary, yet extraordinary, life. As her oldest daughter and as a writer, I cherish the words she penned. They are not flowery poetic or personal entries, but rather a record of life as a farm wife and mother to six. Days that revolved around family, faith and farm life.
With Mother’s Day only days away, I chose Mom’s 1955 journal, the year she became a mother, to begin reading. Mom invited her parents over for a Mother’s Day goose dinner that May, about two months before she gave birth to my oldest brother. I flipped ahead to July, reading her entries in the days right before Doug was born. Even at full-term, she kept working as hard as ever, freezing 24 boxes of green beans, canning a crate of cherries, pulling weeds in the garden and ironing clothes within days of delivering an 8-pound baby.
Fast forward to May 1956. Mom notes in her Mother’s Day and subsequent entries that her mom went to the “Heart Hospital” on May 10 and came home May 17. Some six months later, Josephine died of a heart attack. She was only 48. And I was only two months old. I cannot imagine the grief my mom felt in the unexpected death of her mother. But she never put those emotions on paper. Rather her diary entries are straight forward, almost of journalistic detachment. Notations of her mom’s December 1 death, a funeral and writing thank yous.
On the next Mother’s Day in May 1957 and through 1961, there are no references to any special way in which my mom was honored. No gifts. No special meal. Only that I had a bad case of the measles as a nine-month-old. In May 1962, my brother had the mumps. But I did give Mom a paper flower at a school Mother’s Day program.
In entries in the years that followed, Mom always wrote of attending the Mother’s Day programs at Vesta Elementary School. I hold vague memories of standing on the stage, reading a poem about lavenders blue dilly dilly in verse that now eludes me.
And although I don’t remember, I gave Mom plants and, in 1967, “a fancy flower,” whatever that means. But most meaningful to me, a writer, was the gift of a writing pad to Mom in 1964. Now, in return, I have the gift of her words written in perfect, flowing penmanship.
In May 1963, Mom got a Whirlpool dishwasher. In May 1968, she redeemed Green Stamps for two lamps. She also got an automatic Maytag washing machine with suds saver for $300 from Quesenberry’s Appliance in Redwood Falls. I can only imagine how these Mother’s Day gifts of dishwasher and automatic washer eased her workload.
I wish I’d realized while growing up on the farm just how hard my mother worked. That would come later in life, when I became a mom in 1986, raising three kids, not six like her. In her final years, I thanked Mom many times for loving and caring for me, for raising me to be kind, compassionate, caring and a woman of faith. I hugged her and held her hand and cried whenever I left her care center, each time wondering if it would be the last time I would see Mom.
Now, as I mark my second Mother’s Day without the mom I loved, still love, tears edge my eyes. I read page after page after page of her writing. Gratitude rises for this legacy she’s left, this story of her ordinary life on a southwestern Minnesota farm, this story of a mother who loved, labored, and lived a full and beautiful life.
© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling