Some time after my mom died, I received a wonderful present from my cousin Linda, daughter of one of my mom’s younger sisters. It may have been a phone call, or a conversation during one of my visits to my home state in the Midwest; I can’t recall.

JulieAnn Heinrich’s maternal grandmother with five of her six children at the farm in 1923; JulieAnn’s mom is second from right, behind her brother. Photo courtesy of JulieAnn Heinrich

Her gift of words about my mom touched my heart deeply. Linda is a no-nonsense kind of woman, a lot like my mom, so I was surprised when she told me, “I really miss your mom. I think of her so often. Whenever I had a question I couldn’t resolve, I called her. She always had an answer or suggestion for me. There’s no one quite like her.”

That is certainly true. It could be a tough stain on a cherished blouse, a recipe for a favored dish (not written anywhere but in her mind), how to fix something around the house, what to do with an indoor plant close to death, how to mend a tear in a pretty dress so it won’t show, caring for rosebushes, instructions for canning fruits and vegetables, and operating a snow blower. You get the idea. I took it for granted.

My mom grew up on a farm in a small town partway between St. Paul and Duluth. It used to be a stagecoach stop where they’d change horses and drivers before continuing north. Her family rode a horse-drawn sleigh to church in the winter when the children were small. Sometimes the runner closest to the edge of the road would veer a bit too far, and the wagon would sag to the right. Once it nearly tipped on its side. As the story goes, my grandmother let her angst be known to my grandfather, and he held the reins a bit more tightly thereafter.

On the farm, family sufficiency was part of the lifestyle in the early 1900s. The six kids learned the daily outdoor and indoor chores from a young age, rotating the jobs among them. My mom, second oldest, became an assistant mother early on. Her dad died when she was 11, and from the stories I’ve heard from her siblings, he’d been a benevolent second in command. My grandmother was the executive of the farm and household enterprise. My mom learned to do all that needed to be done and more, to help her. It was a hardscrabble life for them that was made easier by a community who offered help when they could, and a hand of friendship to my grandma and her children – the Petersons over the hill and across the back field, a cup of sugar at the ready, the Dickeys across the road and up toward the lake, and Uncle Henry, my grandfather’s brother, down the road “a piece.”

I cherish these stories and remember all that my mom taught me. I so miss having the chance to ask my mother any number of questions.

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