One of the first times I met my farmer’s aunt was when she had invited us for supper. Married just two weeks, we were out west to help with the wheat harvest.
I don’t remember what else she served, but one of the vegetable dishes was stewed tomatoes. If my mother ever made that dish, it never made it on my plate. That night there was no way I could not take a reasonable amount when she handed me the dish.
Surprisingly it was good; the tomatoes, celery and onions topped with bread were delicious. It now appears regularly on my dinner table. Unfortunately, my children have the same attitude I had prior to tasting it. No matter the cajoling, even telling them it is a simpler form of pizza can get them to try it. (Oh well, some day their taste buds will grow up too.)
This aunt was born in northwest Iowa, and then moved to a farm just a few miles from where I live. Taking the emigrant train, the family transplanted to western South Dakota, where they set out to make a living.
When her sister passed she became the oldest daughter. She was her mother’s helper, tending to the younger ones and with other household chores.
The Great Depression taught them to make do (or do without), a principle she followed all her life. When food was short, lamb quarters began to fill the canning jars. (One certainly would not ask for assistance in those days!) Cardboard worked for making shoes last longer.
She completed eight years of school, but didn’t attend high school. Rather, she finished school through a correspondence course.
She had baked a cake for a young man’s 21st birthday. No one knows why they didn’t marry. He left for the CCC, and then joined the Fourth Cavalry in Fort Meade, before making the army his career.
In time, she made the decision to leave home. Taking the train she went off to the big city of Minneapolis for nursing training. Today, such a move is not so surprising; but remember, this was a young woman who grew up gleaning her knowledge of the outside world through reading newspapers. She surely must have felt frightened and lonesome in the big city.
She worked as a nurse with x-ray certification when the technology was still fairly new.
She and uncle remained alone in their careers, until she flew to Japan in 1953 to become his bride at age 37. That faithfulness and devotion to each other remained all through their married life. Together, one was seldom seen without the other. They took an avid interest in their many nieces and nephews. They had plenty as both came from families of twelve.
Her nursing skills were last used to take care of her husband the last few years of his life. She had a hospital bed placed in their living room. Carefully, she spoon-fed him, with gentle hands she saw to it that his every need was taken care of. He died at age 96 on Veteran’s day, one day after her 91st birthday.
The funeral was one week later. She was trembling just a bit when I helped dress her in the beautiful dress she had worn on their wedding day. My hands trembled when I fastened the pearls around her neck that he had given her. He was wearing his military uniform. Nearby was the picture of the young man who had captured her heart.
Last week she wore that dress one more time. At age 96 she drew her last breath. A glad reunion as taken place when she heard the words of her Savior as He welcomed her home, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
Essays from My Farm House Kitchen | Renae B. Vander Schaaf
Renae B. Vander Schaaf, freelance writer, lives on a real working farm in northwest Iowa, and authored a book titled "A Place Of Refuge".
To Contact Renae B. Vander Schaaf, please email her at [email protected].