This week I have decided to share some of my Mother’s stories, in honor of Mother’s Day. She has been writing them down for some time now, and I would like you all to know what an amazing woman she is!
She grew up in Central Wisconsin in a family of 9 kids, she being one of the younger bunch. They were poor and had no electricity or modern conveniences, including an indoor bathroom for much of her life. Grandma was deaf and so there are lots of interesting stories about her-quite frankly, she is a legend in my eyes! She raised 9 wonderful kids, despite her, what many would call, handicap. We never considered it a handicap however. At least I never felt like it was. It was just who she was.
She passed away about 12 or so years ago and is still greatly missed.
My mother learned a lot from her as did her brothers and sisters. Ok- I will stop here and let you read the first of my Mother’s stories. This one is sort of a synopsis of her life.
The year before I was to start school, I was so excited. I got to go visit near the end of the school year, with my sister. The only thing I can remember about that day; I sat at her desk with her, and had to go to the outhouse. Afraid to go to the outhouse by myself, I wet my pants. To this day she will tell me about the time I peed on her at school, right there at her desk!
That was the last year at that school house. The next year there was a new one room school house, just down the road, across from the church. I absolutely loved school! I had 3 kids in my class and since they had trouble reading, I was asked to help them with their studies. I thought I was a teacher! To this day, I wish I had gone to school to be a teacher.
We went to this school until I was in 3rd grade. After that we could no longer go there. The reason we could not was that my Pa worked for a farmer who paid him wages in tuition for us to go to the school. It was a private school, at that time there were 7 of us going there. I don’t know what the tuition was. That summer, my brother was driving the farmer’s tractor, my Pa was standing by the fender. He tipped the tractor over and it fell on Pa. After that, he could no longer work as he had been badly hurt. The farmer no longer paid Pa as a result and we could not attend that school. Pa hadn’t told us, and it was not discovered until we went to register for school. We were curtly told, you cannot attend this school any longer. Many of the parents of the other kids did not like us as they thought we were heathens, because my mother was Catholic.
At this school, I met my friend who has remained my friend for life.
That year we started at a public school in a town 2 miles from home. There was no bus, so a car came and picked us up and brought us home. It was a small school, the first 3 grades on the lower level and the older grades on the upper level. The year I graduated from 8th grade, this school was closed and a new school was built, where my younger brothers attended.
In around 7th grade, I started staying away and working for the summer. I had already been babysitting for the past few years, now I lived at a farm 45 miles away. There I was to take care of 2 girls, cook and clean. That is what they told my Pa I would be doing. Instead I did chores, mowed lawn and pounded in fence posts. I had to stand on a wagon to reach because I was so small. I was always very small for my age.
At the end of that first summer, they told me that if I came back the next year I would get paid. Dumb me, I did come back. After that whole summer of doing the same things, they took me to a second hand store and allowed me to pick out a winter coat and told me that would be my pay. Damn coat probably cost $5 and that was all I was paid for 2 long summers of work! A hard lesson learned!
From there I went to work at a farm about 10 miles from home. At this farm, I took care of 4 girls, the oldest just a few years younger than me. I was to take care of the girls, clean house, make beds, do laundry, (there was no dryer, I had to hang them all out), cook and make sure the one girl going to school, did her homework. I also took care of the chicken coops and gardens. For that, I was paid a whole $15 a month. But I could go home on Sundays.
One Sunday, the lady did not want to bother to take me home. She told me to just take her car. I had never driven a car before, I was about 15 at the most. Our family had never owned a car. So off I went. When I got to the hill going into town, I lost control and rolled the car all the way down the hill and into the ditch. I just missed our neighbor’s house. He liked to remind me that he was on the “crapper” and looked out the window and thought “Look out! She’s comin in!!”
Luckily, I was not hurt, but the lady had to go to court and pay a fine for allowing me to drive.
At the time, I was not aware of the reason she wanted me to come to work. She took the money my parents were to get for my support from the county. She did not use it for me, she kept it and paid me $15 a month which I had to use to support myself.
The second year I was there, I suspected something so I decided to quit. However, when I went home, my Ma couldn’t support me and my younger brothers, so I had to get myself another job. My Pa had passed away the summer before. I took on cleaning and cooking for a family on weekends and after school. In the evenings, I would babysit.
The day I graduated from high school, I packed all my clothes in a suitcase and a brown paper bag, hitch-hiked to the bus stop about 35 miles away and went to live with my sister in southeastern Wisconsin. The first thing I did was find a job. Which I did at a local restaurant. I stayed there 2 years and then decided to move back home. I could not move back home, but instead found a job as a bookkeeper. I had no experience in bookkeeping. I talked my way into getting the job and was hired. I taught myself how to do the job. In those days, everything was done double-book style and by hand and I caught on quickly. I was 2 cents off the first month. I stayed with that job until I married and my first baby was born.
My Mom taught me a lot about the value of working hard. Her life was hard, that is for sure. But she is not bitter or angry about it. It was just the way things were back then. She took it all in stride. As she does with everything that comes her way, even now. Those lessons she learned have helped her throughout her life. She learned that she was an important part of taking care of the family, and the families she cared for. Each member of her family, had a responsibility to help support the whole family. She simply did what was needed.