It’s that time of year again when so many memories come to mind and I am reminded of the women who made me who I am. Birthdays do that to me. Today in meditation I found myself remembering birthdays past. I found myself thinking about that last birthday that I spent with my mom.
She was already quite ill by then. The cancer that had begun in her breast had spread. We were spending days in the hospital around her bed. I was turning twelve. I don’t remember who brought the cake in or what other presents I received. I do remember celebrating my special day surrounded by family; my parents, siblings, and grandma were all there. Mom and Dad gave me a beautiful little gold locket inscribed on the back with their love. I still have it in my jewelry box today. For a moment all sadness and fear lifted and I felt nothing but the deepest love. What a great gift to have had a mom who could do that, who could share a love so strong, so beautiful, that even in her deepest pain she could create joy.
Memories came of my Grandma Mondloch too. She was the only one of my grandparents that I had the good fortune to know. All the others passed on before I was born. Grandma died only a few months after my mom did. I had just turned thirteen, but I don’t remember her funeral or wake at all. I have some small memory of going to her house after she died, but it’s vague. I wondered why, but today it came to me as I meditated. There are no memories because I couldn’t take in any more pain. I had closed the door of my mind and heart by that time. It would take a long time to open that door again.
As I sat in meditation, I could see the old white clapboard siding of her little garage and the raspberries bushes growing alongside. Grandma was known for her raspberries and the care she took picking them. I can remember spending afternoons, as a little girl, out in the raspberry patch Grandma showing me how to pick the berries with gentle fingers and lay them carefully in the basket. This gentle process was to stop breaking and bruising the berries and to prevent the growth of mold. It did that and it also planted within me a memory of love that comes to life every time I eat berries. It’s funny how those little moments mean so much.
She was an amazing woman, Grandma Mondloch. She was born on January 18th, 1900. She would marry her husband, my grandfather, in 1925. Together they would have four children before Grandpa died ten years later in 1935. Just as the Great Depression was ending Grandma became a widow with four young children and a farm that would return the ownership of her in-laws a year later. She would move to town and take in her mother to help care for the children.
I don’t know how, since as a woman in the 1930’s Grandma couldn’t have gotten a loan or signed for herself and my great-uncles didn’t agree with her choice to buy rather than rent, but she bought a house on West Chestnut Street in Port Washington, Wisconsin. That little house would be home for nearly fifty years and the gathering place for children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. It was just a little place, nothing fancy, but there are so many memories filled with quilts being sewn, fresh cookies and kuchen, stories and laughter, and of course picking berries.
It’s hard to imagine the challenges of her life and empowering to remember her smile and sparkling blue eyes. A widow for most of her life, she worked multiple jobs. She was baker for the high school lunch program. She cleaned at the local power plant and took in laundry. I don’t know how many other jobs she took on while raising my aunts, uncle, and dad. I know there were many. Still, she found joy in her every day and always had within herself a reserve of personal faith that she could call upon. All the pain and the struggles she faced and she could look into the eyes of any of her children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren and the light in her face would simply shine like the sun with pure joy simply in celebration of their being.
This is where I come from. This is who makes me who I am. I am thankful. I am blessed.