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Remembering Mom, a woman ahead her time

I planned to start this out by saying I lost my mother last week but anybody who knew Mom might think that is actually what I did. My mom constantly moved at warp speed, and there was many a time when I did lose her at the mall or on the street or at a family gathering. Alas, this time she's gone for good.

This was the first time I participated in a "wake" for an immediate family member. My brother Mike died several years ago, but his service was a memorial Mass in Aspen and didn't include the traditional visitation.

My Mom and Dad attended a lot of wakes and funerals as they got older, and my mother was something of an aficionado on what made up a really good one. I knew she would approve of her own because of how good it made me feel.

By the end of the evening I was feeling positively uplifted, and who wouldn't? For three hours, relatives and friends kept coming in telling all of us all the things they loved about Mom, how remarkable she was and how they loved coming to the farm where we all grew up. With the exception of one woman who chose the occasion to tell my Dad that she disapproved of what I write in this newspaper, people focused on how good my mother made them feel, how much fun she was to be around and, of course, all the great food she fed them over the years.

Kids and parents don't always see or experience each other the way outsiders do, but what a comfort it was that night to hear all those happy memories.

My turn to remember Mom came at her funeral, and it came easier than I thought to find the words to honor a woman who gave it her best shot for 87 years.

From the very beginning of her life, Mom was surrounded by children.

She was born the ninth of 10 children and grew up surrounded by her brothers and sisters. Together she and Dad had eight children of their own. And every fall for 33 years she looked forward to a roomful of fresh young faces in the classrooms where she taught.

My brother Will described her as a woman ahead of her time. And that would please Mom to think she got something done ahead of schedule. Being a farm wife was a job in itself and she was good at it. A lot of her work there seemed to center on food, and nobody did that better than she did. Nobody ever made better fried chicken or potato salad or homemade biscuits than Mom. And long before there were microwaves she could take a frozen solid beef roast out at 4 p.m. and have it ready with mashed potatoes and gravy by 6. And her baked beans kept my husband Kevin around through those first hard years of learning to live with me.

As much as Mom liked to cook, she didn't feel the same way about housework, but it was unavoidable, especially when company was coming. She had a phrase, "OK, let's fly at her," which we hated, but it got us moving. The response was always the same. We'd ask who was coming and she'd say, "Does there have to be somebody coming for us to clean the house?" and then she'd tell us who it was.

Mom loved Christmas. When we were young, she would coax Dad out of the barn and have him put on this Santa beard and pound on the living room windows just to let us know we were being watched. She Christmas shopped all year-round and when it came time to open gifts on Christmas Eve, she never failed to gasp as we opened gifts and she realized she had forgotten one from the top of her closet where all real treasure was stored.

On Easter, our baskets always included a new pair of tennis shoes and were generally hidden in places like the bathtub, the dryer or the oven. And on Labor Day, we would head to the State Fair to see our cousin Jerry race and win, and feast on Mom's barbecued ribs.

Mom's other kids were almost as big a part of her life as we were. Daily stories of what went on in the classroom were a big part of the dinner table conversation. Mom liked to describe herself as a "firm but fair" teacher. But she was also a lot of fun. One year for Stillwater's winter celebration, Mom and her fifth- and sixth-graders at St. Mary's School, with Dad's help, built Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox more than 10 feet tall out of snow on the playground. She loved all those plays and programs and competitions. It was the one time she told me that it was OK to show off a little.

After Mom retired, there were lots of times when I was with her and someone would approach her and say "Mrs. Schultz, do you remember me. I was in your class," and Mom would always say, "Of course I do. You were quite the student," and they would fill her in and walk away happy. I'd ask who it was and she often had to say, "I don't remember," but what did that matter?

Mom loved her grandchildren. They never quite reached the numbers she hoped, but she doted on them, especially when they were babies and toddlers. In her eyes you were the most beautiful and the smartest babies to ever be born, and all of you looked like us when we were little. And if that praise wasn't enough, she also treated each of you to her special hair style - a unique round-the-finger curl at the top of your head, held fast by Dippity Do.

Mom also had a special way of getting her message across when she felt we needed some tuning up. She never came at it directly but rather employed what Dad always called her "psychology." It worked a lot of the time, but this one time it backfired. When my kids were about 3 or 4, I mentioned to Mom that Cory had been just hauling off and hitting his sister, Katie, every once and a while for no reason. She didn't say much then but the next time she was over, she sat next to Cory at the counter and said kind of quietly in his ear that a little bird had flown over to her house and told her he was hitting his sister. She told the bird to keep an eye on Cory and let her know if he did that again because if he did, Grandma would have to stop bringing him a treat when she came. I watched Cory's face through all this and saw it darken a little before he turned to Mom and said, "Where's that bird? I think I'm gonna shoot him." A rare miss on Mother's part.

My sisters, brothers, and I all have memories that endear Mom to us, and we realize there are many of you who can say the same. Mom was the kind of person who drew people in, whether she knew you well or for just a short time. After she and Dad retired, they spent lots of happy times with their nieces and nephews and their families, and both old and new friends at church and at Sunnyside when they had more time to relax.

I am grateful for many things as I say goodbye to Mom:

  • That she had a long and productive life.

  • That she spent more than 65 years of that life in a loving relationship with Dad and that to the end they were devoted to each other. Together they left us a legacy of marital love that is an example to everyone who knew them.

  • That she gave us all life and a chance to build our own families and careers.

  • And for all the hard work and occasional hard times, that we laughed so much with her, sometimes to the point of incontinence.

    Those are the things that will lighten this loss. Today she is in heaven with my brother, Mike, who she always called her "precious golden boy," the parents she loved so much, her brothers and sisters, my aunt Mernie, her best friend Hazel McKean and so many others she cared for. Her only regret would be that she missed one incredibly good wake and funeral followed by an exceptionally delicious lunch with ham cut just the way she liked it and an incredible spread of bars.

  • Meg Heaton

    Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

    (715) 808-8604