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Thursday, 16 July 2009

Edelweiss

By Florence J. Anrud

“Can you read the names under the photo? Maybe some of Mother’s sisters and brothers are listed.”

My two sisters and I were squinting at a framed elementary school photo on a wall of historical photos at Crane’s Corner restaurant located at an intersection in the Cascade foothills of Mt. Rainier. It was an extraordinary northwest, blue-sky day. “Enough blue up there to make a pair of pants,” Mother would have proclaimed.

Here we were, prowling Enumclaw’s streets reclaiming her past when I suspect, if she were actually still with us, she would have wanted us to search for the elusive edelweiss that might have found its way from the snowfields of the Alps to Mt. Rainier.

“Look! Third row up. Second from the left: the names of both Uncle Rene and Uncle James. And they are laughing. Big grins! How old are they? Oh, why didn’t we ever find time to bring Mother here.”

We had no photos from her childhood, and her newspaper columns, found in the local library archives, documented the community’s social life more than her personality.

Mother once said she didn’t feel she was an American until she started high school. Her parents, Swiss immigrants, homesteaded in the Puget Sound region before Washington was a state. French was spoken at home and home meant hard work for a father coaxing the land to produce enough food to support a family and a mother raising thirteen children.

When her father bought a second farm and took the two oldest boys to plant the spring crops, Mother, age ten, went along to cook and clean and wash the clothes, and weed the garden, and collect the eggs, and milk the cow, and churn the butter. To me she was living a childhood fable. Did this family have any good times together? It made us happy to see our two uncles smiling in the photo.

Mother’s life changed when she moved to Enumclaw to earn a high school diploma. She was the only child in the family to graduate. Living accommodations? Employment? An ideal solution presented itself: she lived in the household of the editor and publisher of the town newspaper, took care of the two young daughters, helped with details of housekeeping and began working in the newspaper office. She was warmly welcomed as a member of the family and before long she was reporting and writing.

I held a copy of the tribute that George Hamilton, editor and publisher of the Enumclaw Herald had paid Mother:

“...possessing honesty, industry, and intelligence, a trinity of virtues...she should stand as a worthy example to the young people of this community.”

And to all future generations of her family. My sisters and I had hosted a buffet dinner on her seventieth birthday. Why hadn’t we arranged for a few testimonies and shared some memories of her achievements? She was gone before her seventy-fifth.

“It’s not too late to help the next generation know her goals and strengths,” we agreed, and as we drove back to Tacoma, we began planning a one-hundredth birthday celebration.

We still didn’t have much of an extended family. Those thirteen children first scattered and then disappeared without leaving many heirs. One cousin lived close enough to join us for the party. It was the grandchildren, now grown and married, to whom we wanted to re-introduce Mother.

Was the planning most of the fun? Would others savor every mouthful of a menu developed from her recipe file of our childhood favorites? Without a doubt, everyone found room for butterscotch pie seconds.

The scrapbook tracing her life through photos and comments provided both entertainment - and speculation. “Do you suppose she created that 1920's vamp look to meet our father?” Jackie winked and nudged cousin Frederick.

It was the basket of edelweiss, potted from my perennial border, that would have made Mother smile. Can a transplant thrive in another location?

As Jeane played the piano and we all sang, I could imagine Mother standing near the keyboard, poised in her favorite navy blue suit, the suit that still hung in my closet. Mother had purchased a piano with her first earnings after high school. Why a piano? That’s what educated, cultured people had in their homes.

She never learned to play, but there was always money in the budget for piano lessons for her girls. She had goals for us.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Loved your post. The 100th birthday party is a great idea to celebrate a parent who slipped away before we were ready. Our family piano was acquired in much the same way by my grandmother who got lessons for my mom. Your mom sounds wonderful.

I enjoyed your story! I think there is great value in your sharing the family history and heritage in the way that you are doing. The children will remember your enthusiasm and love for your mother when they need it and have the facts when they want them. Wonderful!

Your wonderful tribute to your mother illustrates why it is so important to document one's life by writing one's memoirs. After a parent is gone, we all wish that we had known more of their life.

Simply lovely......thank you.

Simply lovely......thank you.

Nicely done, Flo. Your mother would have been proud of you.

A lovely telling and sharing of family. What a splendid idea to celebrate a mother's life, to reintroduce her to the generations following. Thank you, Flo.
Jean

Hi Flo: Yes I went with a group sponsored by Buster Brouillet, but can't remember the year, but probably in the early 90's as I'd already been living in China for over 6 1/2 years and had just finished up a job teaching at BeiYi, the medical school in Beijing. I was home on a break, but without a future job, so decided to go with Buster's group and then find my own job once I got there. As it turned out I got sick on the plane going and was unable to take the job offered through him, went to the hospital for a week and then found my own job again in Beijing. I stayed in China teaching until 1999, then married a Chinese retired doctor and now we spend our time 1/2 in Seattle and the other 1/2 inChina. Really, the best of both worlds.

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