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Writing on these Sundays in July, I decided to go back to my childhood on an Iowa farm and all the treasures I learned from my parents.

When my mom grew up, her family was poor. My grandpa, like so many Iowa men in the 1930s, tried farming as expected. Unfortunately, farming was not his gift, and he eventually  lost the farm. Raising his family of ten became a struggle. Mom told us how they ate rice often and cut out cardboard soles to make their shoes last longer. However, she never framed her childhood in a negative light. I most often heard about the fun they had. 

I’m guessing these childhood experiences contributed to my mom’s pragmatic, look-forward approach to life. Mom focused on the basics. She kept the house clean, cooked and baked with skill, and spread her generosity and good will to anyone who crossed her path. She seldom stewed over regrets or blamed others for her hardships. 

A great cook, Mom perfected her skills on the meals that fed my dad, brothers, and uncles when they came in for dinner (the noon meal on the farm) while baling hay or combining oats. Every meal included dessert, often fresh pie or a layered pudding creation. No one went hungry, but by 3:30, they were ready for afternoon coffee where dried beef sandwiches and brownies or banana bars appeared. When someone in the neighborhood died, Mom brought a homemade tea ring. When she came to visit our family, she always brought cookies and applesauce. 

Mom used basic Wearever pans and melamine dishes for most of my childhood. Nothing fancy for Edith. One Christmas we gave Mom delicate sherbet glasses for desserts on holidays. The only time they were used was when we got them out.

Mom also perfected her cleaning skills, no small feat on a busy farm with hogs, cattle, and chickens. Mom and Dad seldom quarreled, but I do remember a path of old towels to the phone when Dad had dirty boots and Mom had just scrubbed the floor. A few words flew. Mom wanted to keep the floor clean, and Dad did not want to take time to remove his boots.

After I moved out of the home, Mom wrote me a letter every week. Recently, I read a few I had saved. She talked about cleaning the windows and grilling hamburgers. No complaining, no gossip — just a record of her everyday life.

Even Mom’s theology flourished under a practical, no-nonsense approach. She believed in careful study of the Bible and commentaries. When my brother became a pastor, Mom often called him for guidance when she taught the Willing Workers Ladies Aid lessons.

One of my favorite memories of Mom took place in the nursing home. A woman in hospice near Mom’s room had doubts about her salvation. Mom marched over with her Bible. Mom told her if she believed God had chosen her as his child, there wasn’t anything to worry about. She read John 3:16 aloud.

Sometimes growing up, I wanted Mom to be someone else. Imaginative and emotional, I wished for a mom who talked about her feelings and sat and listened to me, not a mom who kept peeling potatoes while I talked. I wanted her to help with creative writing, not just correct my grammar and spelling. When I came home from school anxious about grades and insecure about friendships, I wanted sympathy and empathetic tears, but Mom gave me fresh cinnamon rolls.

Not until after I graduated from college did I truly start to understand Mom’s love language and appreciate her practical approach to life. Just before Lee and I married and I started teaching, Mom took me shopping. “You and Lee won’t have much money and you need nice clothes as a teacher.” I remember well those colorful bell bottoms that set me up for my first year in the classroom.

When Mom came to help after Sarah’s birth, I gratefully accepted her cooking and cleaning, leaving me to care for our newborn. Although I often wished she was a grandma who sat on the floor and played, I knew she stitched those dresses with love and baked the Christmas treats everyone loved because she cared. I still felt disappointment at times. I wanted to talk about the joys and challenges of parenting, but she wanted to talk about recipes. 

Mom’s practical life view did falter when my sister died. Suddenly, clean floors and cookies seemed non-essential and practical theology made no sense. In some ways Mom and I grew closer then. We both struggled to face each new day, but gradually found some comfort in mundane tasks. I remember folding laundry with Mom while tears rolled down our cheeks. 

I often wonder if Mom shed more tears over the years while she cooked and gardened and sewed. Now I bustle around the house when my worry list grows long and sometimes see myself cooking when the grandchildren visit instead of playing. I remind myself to play and act a bit silly at times. I tell my children I believe in them and listen.  

When Mom lived in the nursing home, I really began to understand how much she loved me, and I finally accepted her no-nonsense view of life. I miss the look on her face when I walked in the room to visit. I miss her telling the nurses, “This is my daughter from Pella. She is a special education teacher.” I realize that she was proud of me even though she never really said it. When I left for home, she always said the same thing, “Thanks for coming.”

When Mom was dying, I made several weekend trips to see her. Towards the end, I said good-bye one Sunday when I was heading back home to teach, wondering if I would see her alive again. I tried to talk about her passing, but she wanted her crochet hooks. Her parting words were, “Thanks for coming, Helen. It was great.” 

I wanted to yell, “No, Mom, it wasn’t great. You are dying and I’m scared to leave. I might not see you alive again. You are in pain and you can hardly eat. How can you say it was great?” 

I did see her again the next weekend, but she could no longer communicate. I think she could hear me, but she could not speak. However, I find it fitting that her parting words were just what I expected from Mom and want to say right back to her, “Thanks for coming. It was great.”

Helen Luhrs

An Iowa woman to the core, Helen Luhrs is a retired high school teacher who lives in the country near Knoxville, Iowa. Helen and Lee have four married daughters, eight grandchildren, a graceful prairie, and a square foot garden.


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