Six weeks ago I began my contribution to FAITH MATTERS like this: “Faith matters! Yes, but from where comes one’s faith. For me I look to what I will call those ‘God-moments’ that say to me there is something greater at work in this world than just you and me.” But I will also say, “Faith comes from family.” Last week my mother died. She had turned 93 in January; she had been in serious declining health for the past two years, confined to a wheelchair and suffering from the inability to say the words she was thinking. This caused her great frustration and completely wore her out when she tried to “visit” with anyone. She was ready for a “new life.” My mother left our family a wonderful legacy: she wrote a book. I remember the day it arrived in the mail-a 5×7 plastic-covered, self-published, 42-page priceless account of her life. I sat down and read it cover to cover as soon as I had pulled it from the padded envelope. Cows Don’t Bite! Memories of Growing Up on a Wisconsin Farm in the Twentieth Century, by Lorraine Gunderson Jackson. I will share some of this special book with you beginning with the “Introduction.” I am writing this not because my life has been so inspiring, but because I am the last generation to have witnessed the amazing changes that have taken place in the twentieth century-from 1922 when I was born, until 1999 when I began this writing.I lived on a farm with cows. I was terrified of them. I heard stories of how they jumped over fences, how they kicked, how they swatted you in the face with their tails, or peed at the most inopportune time-all while being milked. Worse yet, they made cow pies! Indeed, I experienced all of these things because I had to learn to milk cows. . . . Yes, all that happened, but, fortunately, they never bit me! I later learned that my parents decided I wasn’t a good milkmaid and thus they relieved me of that job. Mom goes on recounting details of her early life in chapters focusing on various aspects of the life she experienced:
- “Life on the Farm” . . . When I think of how hard my father and mother worked, it brings tears to my eyes. . . . My father plowed the fields behind a walking plow, pulled by horses. Day after day he walked back and forth across the fields . . . until suppertime around 5:00 p.m. Then, the milking and chores had to be done. . . My mother . . . hoed, picked the vegetables and canned them. She baked all of our bread, cookies, cakes and pies, using the wood stove. . . Oh my, what hard work!
- “Church and Religious Training“. . . Church was the center of our social life when I was growing up. Sunday was the Sabbath and no work was done, except preparing meals and caring for the animals. On Sunday, we all went to Sunday school. We then attended the regular Sunday service. . . .We belonged to churches [that] preached “Hell, Fire and Brimstone,” . . . Therefore attending church was never a happy time for me. . . When I married we joined a Methodist church. It was a small church with friendly people.
- “Holidays” . . . On Christmas Eve, I was allowed to listen to Santa Claus on the radio! . . . Easter was exciting because we could stop wearing long underwear. We got new summer clothes and shoes. We dyed Easter eggs, had Easter candy, and spent most of the day in Church.
- “Transportation” As far back as I can remember we always had a car . . . a Model-T Ford with side curtains. . . . When the weather was cold, we had blankets and robes in the car for warmth.
- “Clothes” My mother made our clothes until high school. . . I think I can remember my first store-bought dress. It was ordered out of a catalog and had bands of red, white and blue, with gold buttons around the neck. It was my very favorite dress.
- “Wash Day” . . . Mondays were always ‘Wash Day,’ when we did the laundry. Water was heated in a boiler on the wood-burning stove. Soap was added and the clothes were boiled on the stove. They were hung on clotheslines outdoors in the summer and the winter. In the winter, the clothes often froze and were brought inside that way. It was always funny to see my father’s one-piece union suit underwear frozen stiff as a board.
- “Going to School” . . . I attended a one-room schoolhouse on a country road. I was never sick and went to school in every kind of weather-sometimes walking in snow up to my armpits. I attended eight years without ever being absent.
Other chapters tell about health care, her summer job at a resort, training to become a teacher, dating and marriage. She concludes the book with an “Epilogue.” After reading my story, you might think that I had a very hard and unhappy life. Not true! We were a happy family. We enjoyed our siblings. We were disciplined, but never physically. Displays of affection that are common today were very seldom then, but we knew we were loved anyway.Our parents taught us to love God, to be respectful and tolerant of other people, to be honest, and to appreciate the things we had.My happy life continued after marriage. . . . We had five children between 1944 and 1960. I’m proud of each of them and am thankful that they are successful, well-adjusted adults.Their father died on our 51st wedding anniversary. . . . It was a very sad time.It would be interesting to read the accounts of my children’s childhoods when they are eighty-three. By that time, all of the wonders I have seen-of telephones, television, computers and transportation-will be obsolete. I hope that everyone enjoys the changes as much as I have. I have had a good life.Thank you, kids, for helping to make our lives happy.Love, Mom And thank you, Mom, for teaching us as your parents did you, “to love God, to be respectful and tolerant of other people, to be honest, and to appreciate the things we had.” And thank you for having faith in your children and to help them have faith.
Love, Dianne (Stephenson)