In 1948, she built her home on Randolph Avenue for a total of eight thousand dollars in labor and materials. Her bachelor brother came down from the farm to work on the house during the day. She joined him at night until it got too dark to see what they were doing. My sister and I played among the lumber and piles of dirt in the backyard as far as I can remember.
It was a good solid house that raised a family of three, gave me a place to call home and my Mother a symbol of her hard work and perseverance. All of it earned with a sixth grade education and the salary of a short order cook. For all of her shortcomings, my Mother was one hell of a hard worker.
Today the same home is on the market for $285,000. Go figure. It’s considered a starter home in the tony Highland Village neighborhood. My Mother would be amazed and amused. Mostly, she would feel vindicated and (if allowed by her staunch Catholic faith) a great deal of pride in what she had accomplished.
Reflecting back on that period in my life, I can see now that my Mother had a hard-knock life. She was raised on a farm outside of St. Cloud, Minnesota in a family of twelve. She adored her father but with too many kids to raise and a farm to run, he had little time for the youngest of his brood. There was jealousy and animosity among the sisters; who knows why. That discord among Mom and her siblings continued throughout my youth.
Put in proper perspective, my Mother was raised rural, German, and Catholic. Back then that said it all. She was undemonstrative in love and affection but had a tremendous work ethic. She sincerely believed that to praise a child was to spoil them and pride was a sin to be avoided at all costs. I wasn’t about to abandon my mother but I clearly remember mentally divorcing all of my relatives when I was in Eighth Grade. Years later, writing my first novel ‘Love in the A Shau’ was a cathartic exercise in purging those memories through my protagonist, Daniel.
Hers was a dysfunctional upbringing that she managed to survive and move on past. She clung to her Catholic faith even when her Lord kept kicking her around with a failed marriage, failed business, unsupportive sisters, disinterested brothers and enough drinking to go around for everyone. It was probably the norm of the day but hardly conducive to a solid groundwork for success in life.
Never the less, my Mother made sure her two kids got a good Catholic education then looked the other way when they let their faith shift and change into the self-directed colors and tones of their generation.
Her quirks were legendary.
A pet cottontail rabbit was a member of the family for over 10 years. Nosey had the run of the house, a comfy sofa to lie on, a window to watch the world go by, and a litter box in the basement.
For close to fifty years running, my Mother attended novena every Monday afternoon at St. Louis Catholic Church in downtown Saint Paul. It was Mass every Sunday no matter what the weather. There was a shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary in our backyard but not one damn book in the house for the twenty-one years I lived there.
A priority in her life was the love of dancing at least two or three times a week for over 20 years. The polka was her favorite. Her coffee was made and ready to go at least 23 hours in advance. She religiously put labels on all appliances indicating date of installation, repairs, etc.
She found love at an old age and made it work and it was good.
My Mother couldn’t love my sister and me the way other Mothers loved their kids. But I guess in the end her work ethic was a powerful lesson in drive and desire for more. It was a hunger she had all her life and one that drives me on to this day.
Learning the love and affection part of life came slowly to me but I’ve managed to pass it on to my family and my grandkids.
That circle has been broken.