Ode to Aunt Ginny, May 30, 2015

May 30, 2015

“Please don’t squeeze my Charmin, don’t squeeze her so tight…”

Aunt Ginny and Uncle Garland, 1978

Aunt Ginny and Uncle Garland, 1978

I still remember Uncle Garland singing that chorus at many family events. We all enjoyed it, but we all knew he sang it for Aunt Ginny. You could see the twinkle in his eyes.

What is it about her that he so loved? And what is it about her that so many of us cherish?

Virginia Pedersen Chaffee is my mom’s sister, her closest sibling in age, just a year and a half her senior. Plus they were best friends. In fact, Ginny and Gar introduced her to Dad. They were a foursome.

Some of my fondest memories of visiting Arkdale included staying at the Chaffee household overnight. Everyone there was always so busy. Aunt Ginny saw to that. She kept everyone going to get accomplished all that needed to be done around their farm.

She worked alongside Garland, cooked, and cleaned, but she also corralled her brood to keep them on task. She taught them how to work and how to have fun. If you know any of my cousins, Diana, Jerry, Nancy, Linda or Carol, then you know this is true. They are all hard-working, honest people who love to have fun.

As one of the Pedersen girls, Ginny has been known to kick up her heels with her sisters and brothers. She, Mom and her other siblings have always been known to get the giggles when they’re together. It’s one of my favorite things about them, and it’s infectious. But she–as is Mom—was shy when first meeting others. I remember one dinner at my former in-laws’ home when I thought she, another aunt (I think it was Care), and Mom were different people entirely. They were so very quiet, I could hardly believe it!

But perhaps she and her sisters had so much fun together because they felt so safe with one another, which was fostered by their parents, Hans and Hilda. While they may have had a few sibling disagreementa—as anyone with siblings does–they have always known that their love for one another is constant and strong. Their bonds have stood the test of time, of laughter and joy, of divergent paths and crossing lines, and of tragedy and grief.

Ginny lost Garland much too soon; more than 25 years ago. Yet she did not allow her grief to consume her or to keep her from sharing her bounteous love with her family. Instead she upheld all that the two of them built together. She continued to work around her home to keep it shining and productive. She was always working–until her physical being would no longer allow her to mow the grass, chop the wood, plant and water and weed, then harvest the garden, cook the meals, bake the cakes, clean the house, work in the community or volunteer at the Lutheran church.

In their later years, she, Aunt Care and Mom spent so much time with Dad chauffeuring them around that they became known as “Fred and his Harem.” They laughed about that. Dad always enjoyed their company, and he knew the joy Mom has sharing in her sisters’ lives. He may not remember much about that time now, but I know he still holds a special place in his heart for Aunt Ginny.

She’s always been easy to love, easy to hug. And now we find it hard to only hold her in our hearts and in our prayers instead of in our arms. She’ll live on in her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, of course. But she’ll also live on in good works, in her contributions to her church and community. But even more, she’ll live in our laughter together, and in our connected family. We have been given a legacy to keep our connection strong. In her name, as well as in the names of those who’ve gone before her, we will.

Meanwhile, we can all hear the last phrase of that song being sung from the heavens as Uncle Garland welcomes her and holds her again,

“She’s soft and she’s gentle, and sweet as can be,
And if Ginny needs Squeezin’, just leave that to me!”

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Please Allow me to Introduce Myself: I am my Mother

MOM in TexasHappy Mother’s Day

Susan's Path

How many middle-aged women have had the epiphany that they’ve become their mother? And how many have come to realize that’s not such a bad thing? When I was a teenager, I’d have been horrified at the prospect, yet I now find myself both relieved and pleased that I am certainly my mother’s daughter. (Ok, you can skim over the fact that I’ve admitted I’m middle-aged, that’s another subject.)

So who is my mother? Esther Helen Pedersen Stevens was born in 1930, the middle child of eleven children who blessed Hans and Hilda Pedersen, Norwegian and Danish Lutheran farmers. Their home in Arkdale, Wisconsin was a sandy patch of corn, hay fields, vegetable and flower gardens the family shared with dairy cattle, chickens and pets. She and her siblings were all born in the farmhouse that had belonged to Grandma’s adoptive parents, the Olsens. They weathered the Great Depression as…

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Please Allow me to Introduce Myself: I am my Mother

How many middle-aged women have had the epiphany that they’ve become their mother? And how many have come to realize that’s not such a bad thing? When I was a teenager, I’d have been horrified at the prospect, yet I now find myself both relieved and pleased that I am certainly my mother’s daughter. (Ok, you can skim over the fact that I’ve admitted I’m middle-aged, that’s another subject.)

So who is my mother? Esther Helen Pedersen Stevens was born in 1930, the middle child of eleven children who blessed Hans and Hilda Pedersen, Norwegian and Danish Lutheran farmers. Their home in Arkdale, Wisconsin was a sandy patch of corn, hay fields, vegetable and flower gardens the family shared with dairy cattle, chickens and pets. She and her siblings were all born in the farmhouse that had belonged to Grandma’s adoptive parents, the Olsens. They weathered the Great Depression as many farm families did; raising their own food and making do with what was available, fixing what broke and creating items they needed.

Grandpa worked the farm while Grandma fed and clothed them all. He was boisterous and fun-loving and she was quiet and shy. Mom inherited parts of each their personalities. She is introverted until she becomes acquainted with people, but if she’s among family she blossoms into a funny girl who loves to laugh and dance. (She and her sisters were notorious for dressing up in Grandpa’s clothes, giggling and dancing at parties.) Mom is musical. Some of her sisters learned the piano or other instruments, but she never had a lesson. She can’t read music, yet she plays the piano by ear. She is a smart lady who earned a high school diploma at a time and place many didn’t, as did all the Pedersen children. After graduation she worked in a doctor’s office.

Mom met Dad when she was 19 years old, and they married a few short weeks later. They had just moved to Minnesota when Dad received orders to report to active duty, so they repacked their home and returned to Arkdale. Mom stayed with Grandpa and Grandma while Dad was gone. She gave birth to my first sibling, Fred, Jr., while Dad crawled amongst fox holes near Korea’s 39th parallel. He sent letters home, never hinting of the danger he faced because he knew she worried. She and family took a plethora of pictures of little Freddie and wrote letters.

When Dad returned they moved 200 miles from home, and Mom was soon pregnant again with Ron. Polio struck both her and Dad, and they were quarantined while Grandma Stevens kept Fred. Mom told me nurses would walk down the corridor, closing all the doors whenever someone died on the ward. But they both recovered and returned home.

Ron was followed by Debbie, and then five years later came me and then brother Jeff. Our family was then complete. They bought a new home, and Dad worked while Mom watched over her brood. She managed to keep us fed and clothed on a limited budget, while serving as counselor, referee and sometimes warden.

In those earlier days, Mom would cook and clean, sew and paint. One of my earliest memories is sleepily wandering into the kitchen to find her on her hands and knees, hair tied up in bandana and arms working a scrub brush through a sudsy puddle. When she spotted me, she pointed toward the door and firmly said, “Out!” I backed up and sat in the bucket. She shook her head and fished me out and changed me. Seems she was always rescuing me like that. Another time she pulled me down from the neighbor’s slide where I was dangling when my sweater caught on the way down.

She baked bread each week. She’d hand me a lump of bread dough to knead and place into my own little pan. She baked angel food cakes. I recall them sitting upside down over a beer bottle on the counter to cool. She baked rhubarb pies. She braised beef pot roast with horseradish, just like Grandma made. She would let us help her make applesauce using a colander I now have, all five of us taking turns squishing the apple pulp through it into the bowl. At Christmas she’d cover the kitchen table with newspaper and mix colorful bowls of frosting and let us have at it with the stacks and stacks of sugar cookies she’d mixed, rolled, cut out and baked.

She took classes to become a keypuncher when business computers occupied entire rooms, and she returned to work when we were all in school. When the older kids were off on their own, Jeff and I would come home for lunch and after school on our own. I know she worried, but she was just a phone call away. I remember calling her whenever we fought, or to complain about the list of chores she left us to do, or to ask questions about the recipe we were trying for dinner. She taught us both how to bake cakes and pies and cook for the family.

Dad was always her back-up, but she was the one who disciplined us first. She commanded respect, even when we all surpassed her in height. She worried and loved us through our teenage angst, our failures, our anxiety, our broken hearts, our experimentation and our smart mouths. And we didn’t make it easy for her. One of her favorites to me when I gave her grief was, “I hope you have a daughter just like you!”

She is our heart, our compassion, our sense of fairness and our sense of humor. She’s the role model that I’ve tried to emulate. I once thought that a college degree and a great career would make me all I needed to be. I now know better.

I now know just how much she worked to allow us to be ourselves. When we camped on vacations, she worked tirelessly packing, prepping and throughout the trip. I still love to camp, but I do wish Mom could join us camping (I think she prefers hotels.) so I could wait on her this time.

I love to sew when I have a chance. I enjoy baking and cooking, but maybe not so much the cleaning, even if she did teach me the proper ways. I’ve baked bread, pies and cookies, and I still use the colander a few times each year for my own applesauce. I’ve gone back to school as my family’s needs changed, and I’ve worked at making a home.

I once called Mom after my own teenage daughter snapped back at me as any 15-year-old can do, just to tell her that I in fact do have a daughter just like me. She laughed, of course.

I believe I’ve gained her sense of humor as well as her compassion, her sentimentality, her music and her song. I only hope I also have the strength she’s shown in recent years, as much as she possessed earlier, only I didn’t realize it.

And I fervently hope my children see me as I now see my Mom. I can only hope that I am my mother.