Anna at 90
“Live long and prosper” is more than a Vulcan salute. It’s an aspiration for most of our planet’s inhabitants, although it’s a goal that only a few attain.
My mother, Anna, recently celebrated her 90th birthday. Mom has been in assisted living for some years due to health issues, but her mind remains as clear as a full moon on a cloudless winter night.
Born in 1930 to Norwegian immigrants, Mom arrived just in time for the twin calamites of the Great Depression and the Dirty Thirties. She remembers her childhood on her family’s hardscrabble South Dakota farm as if it were yesterday.
“All of our crops dried up,” Mom recalled. “In order to make some money, Pa went to work for my uncle Arthur, who raised beets and potatoes up at Fisher, Minnesota. Pa sent money home every payday. When Pa came home to visit, he always brought a big bag of potatoes. They were potatoes that had been too small to sell, but we didn’t care. Ma could make nearly anything from almost nothing.”
The Second World War brought further changes to Mom’s life, and not just because her two elder brothers left the farm to join the service.
“There were shortages and rationing,” she said. “I remember eating a lot of rice and brown beans. We were given prunes that were so tough that they had be soaked overnight before we could eat them.”
By the mid-1940s, Grandpa had become prosperous enough to replace his workhorses with a John Deere “B” tractor.
“Pa had me drive the ‘B’ while he ran the binder when we cut oats,” Mom said proudly. “He taught me how to make good, square corners when I made the turns.”
After graduating from high school, Mom enrolled at General Beadle College in Madison, South Dakota.
“Pa paid for the first year of college,” Mom said. “But I had to pay him back after I graduated and got a job. I was able to pay him off in three years.”
Mom had landed a teaching position in a one-room country schoolhouse when she met a nice young World War II Navy veteran at a local roller rink. It wasn’t long before they became an “item,” and they soon became engaged.
Mom and Dad were wed in a small country church in 1953 and set up housekeeping on a 160-acre dairy farm. They would eventually have nine children, including two sets of twins that were born exactly one year apart.
“I had an operation when I was a girl and was told that I could probably never have children,” Mom recalled. “I guess the doctors don’t know everything!”
Raising a rabble of rambunctious kids on a small dairy farm had to be a challenge. But Mom’s and Dad’s upbringings during the 1930s had taught them how to get by, patch it up, make do. Which is fortunate because we never had much to make do with.
Even so, none of us kids ever went unfed or felt unloved. Mom made dresses from feed sacks for my sisters. Going shoeless was strictly voluntary and something that we only did during the summertime.
When grandkids began to arrive in our family, Mom put her well-honed sewing skills to work and made a quilt for each new grandchild. Like each child, every quilt was unique.
My wife and I dairy farmed with my parents until Dad suddenly died of a heart attack one April morning in 1994. Mom later told me, “Every morning, Dad and I would wake up and lie in bed and hold hands and talk until we heard your pickup pull onto the yard. Then we would get up, have a cup of coffee, and go down to the barn. The morning that Dad died was no different. I just didn’t know that it would be the last time we would hold hands.”
Global events continue to shape Mom’s life. The COVID-19 pandemic has made visiting Mom at her assisted living facility much more problematic. This is especially so when local cases are on the rise or when one of the facility’s employees tests positive.
But Mom keeps abreast of the goings-on in our family through Facebook. She has learned how to do Facetime with her grandchildren and now, her great-grandchildren. She continues to read, plowing through a paperback novel every week or so. She still enjoys crossword puzzles.
When I called Mom to wish her a happy birthday, I found it difficult to put into words what an inspiration it has been to know someone who has not only lived long, but has also led an enormously prosperous family life.