Tomorrow is New Year’s Day, 2020. It’s the moment we look around for some inspiring, motivating, or compelling insight to help launch our “new beginning.”
I wasn’t thinking about that a few days ago when I attended the funeral of a beloved aunt. But the life and times of a 100-year-old feisty, fiercely independent woman who chose to leave this earth on Christmas Day are worth examining for ideas.
In summary: This woman — barely 5 feet tall and 90 pounds — raised her four sons to be strong, moral, salt-of-the-earth men who gifted her with more than a hundred descendants. (Nearly all of them attended her funeral.) She raised her four boys alone as she left a difficult marriage while the youngest was still a baby in her arms. So she was mother and father, although she lacked a role model as her own father died of pneumonia when she was just two. She moved to a different city, set up a household, found a job, and moved on with life. One son reported he never heard her complain, but often heard her say, “You have to do what you have to do.”
She held her family together, never taking one cent of welfare or any other help. For decades she went to bed at 5 p.m. to get up for her pre-dawn job as a baker at a university food services kitchen. Her starting salary was 25 cents an hour. Her work at the bakery meant she turned out extraordinary cookies, bars, and cheesecakes. Most everything she cooked was made from scratch. She never owned a dishwasher or a car. She walked everywhere she needed to go.
She was the breadwinner, repairman, gardener, cook, and expert everything else because she had to be. She mowed her lawn, raked her leaves, and tended her gardens. At age 90, wearing big, black rubber boots, she was still out in the garden at midnight (because that’s when her irrigation water share came) directing anyone helping her as she hauled her shovel around. Her home was heated by a pellet stove, so for many winters until her boys were big enough to help, she loaded buckets with pellets stored in the basement and hauled them up the stairs to pour into the stove. Her swiftly growing sons helped with all this, not just because they had to but because they sensed they needed to. Their consistent, wise mom raised them that way.
Grand- and great- and great-great-grandkids loved going to her home. Sleepovers meant popcorn, games, stories, and trying to learn how to crochet. (She crocheted countless afghans in her “spare” time). Not one kid mentioned her great collection of movies or video games because she didn’t have any. But her devoted attendance at their soccer, softball and basketball games — always followed by hamburgers — probably played a part in their mutual affection.
Extremely frugal, she shopped around for the best prices. Later in life she agonized over buying a pair of jeans because she didn’t know if she was going to live long enough to get full use of them. She was also punctual to a fault; in her world, if you were on time, you were late.
Descriptive words that kept cropping up were “sense of humor,” “quick wit,” “sassy,” “hard worker,” and “independent” (sometimes bordering on stubborn). So independent that at age 90, legally blind, she still walked to her bank — 2 miles away. Tomatoes were her “super food.” She often lunched on tomato sandwiches washed down by a glass of tomato juice.
She was a believer. She faithfully attended church every Sunday, paid tithing, had faith in her Savior and believed in life after death.
Finally, family was her priority. Her son, calling the funeral a “great reunion,” told the audience, “You were her life. You meant everything to her.” The greatest lesson he learned from her was, “Brave doesn’t mean you’re not afraid. It means you do what you need to do no matter how hard it is.” His mom’s “warrior spirit” meant she wasn’t afraid to meet challenges because she saw them as something to overcome. She had a hard life, and she lived it well, he said.
So a potential New Year’s inspiration is a feisty, independent, hard working, speed walking, frugal, clever, punctual, quick-witted, stubborn, tomato munching, courageous, grandkid influencing, family-devoted, God fearing, warrior spirit mom.
We may need 100 years to pull this off.