Three Generations of Inspiring Women

Today’s guest post comes from Clyde.

Generation One: Edith, The Bootleg Baker

Edith was widowed in about 1924 with four young children when her husband dropped dead at the age of 36 of a heart attack. Fortunately his life insurance covered the cost of the house, but only that. She survived with the magic she could do with the stove. She cooked for many rich families and made it through the Depression mostly by running a bootleg bakery, “bootleg” in the sense of unlicensed. And, oh, how she could bake.

Edith

She had a son shot down over Germany in WWII and another son came home deaf. When her daughter ended up in a bad marriage and badly crippled from arthritis, she took them into her home, now doing all her magic in a tiny kitchen she had built upstairs. She shared her upstairs bedroom with her two grand daughters, one of whom is my wife.

She was described as always upbeat, giggly, and girlish. In her early fifties she seemed to have developed a sort of mild senility, which made her delightfully, charmingly dingy. I could tell thousands of stories about this, such as the fact she long carried around a piece of paper with my name on it because otherwise she called me Claude. Here are a few stories, in which you will notice forty years of widowhood had made her confused about sex.

My wife, the world’s most beloved human being, was packing for our honeymoon, including all the negligees she had received in her 13 bridal showers. Gramma Edith kept pulling them out of the suitcase and telling her to save them for something special.

She once told my wife not to undress in front of me because one day we may get divorced and then my wife would be walking down the street and see me and say, “Oh, no, I undressed in front of him.” After that she called several times in tears insisting she did not think we would get divorced, including more than once in the middle of the night.

In our poor but fun college years we would go over to the house to wash our clothes and take my mother-in-law for an outing. Edith would fold our clothes and take out and hide all the negligees. So I called up Edith and told her that Sandy was sleeping naked. She demanded that we come right over and get them. She would also hide food for us in the laundry, and once hid butter in my wife’s purse, which fell out of the purse when my wife was paying for groceries on our way home. My wife did not even try to explain. The clerk carefully ignored it, perhaps because my wife was purchasing such a modest amount of basic stuff.
Edith once ran short of apples for her famous apple pie, so she substituted watermelon pickles. She did not think we would notice. She made a famous torte, the recipe for which she stubbornly took to her grave.

Generation Two: Mugs, the Crip

Marguerite became pregnant at age 19 and rushed into a bad marriage, giving birth in March of 1940 to my wife Sandy. Four years later after giving birth to a second daughter, she developed severe rheumatoid arthritis, which over the next 42 years dissolved the bones in her hands and feet and gave her terrible pain. But she refused to let it limit her and not once in anyone’s memory ever complained. She went to everything she could at the Courage Center, where she hung out with the other “crips,” as they liked to call themselves.

Mugs

She once took an assertiveness class, from which she was excused for her assertiveness. In my college years she spent many months at the U of M having her knees and hips replaced, among the first to have the operations. She and I had lunch together every day while she was there and became close friends. She spent the rest of her time there seeking out those who needed an encouraging friend.

It was my—is “pleasure” the word—to do her funeral, at which I told many of other inspiring stories about her I am not telling here.

Generation Three: Sandy, the Most Beloved Being on the Planet

In my wife’s yearbook,despite a very difficult childhood, it said by her picture “Everyone wants to be like Sandy.” Everyone loves my wife. Everyone. Loves her.

Sandy

Our friend Lori recently went to one of my wife’s many doctors and told the doctor that she knew Sandy. The doctor acknowledged that she should not talk about another patient but told Lori how Sandy inspires everyone in the office, that after Sandy had been there no one complains about anything for the next few days. My wife goes there with her progressing lupus and five other illnesses and greets everyone by name in her perky manner. Sandy asks about their joys and problems, about which she has learned over her many visits. The doctor has to argue with my wife to tell her symptoms because then she would be complaining.

Who inspires you and how?

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69 thoughts on “Three Generations of Inspiring Women”

  1. Good morning. There are a number of people who I have meet over the years that I found inspiring and I certainly consider my wife to be one of my biggest inspirations. In many ways my father is the one who has been the top inspiration in my life. My dad once said that it was important to do the best you can at anything you do. He said if the best job I could get was ditch digging, I should try to be a good one. This wasn’t just something he said. It was the way he lived.

    He was an electrical engineer who spent most of his career working on designing very large power plants. He was the head engineer on a series of plants and told me he was always able to stay within the budget for the plants and get them done on time. My career was nothing like my fathers. I was never told by him that I should have done better.

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    1. we all do it our own way and i think you are doing it your way just fine jim. your work in developing nations and the seed savers makes the world a better place. thanks. are there any nemotodes named jim?

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  2. my mom is an inspiration and always has been. she is artsy and studied fine art in college and independantly although she got her art degree tied to a teaching degree so she wouldnt be a starving artist. she started out getting a degree so she could be an interior decorator in fargo in the 50′s. (can you imagine being an interior decorator in fargo in the 50′s) she has always found the path that allows her to grow and to help others at the same time. it doesnt matter where you are if you make the most of it is what i have learned from her. today she has a life in the old folk co op near southdale where there are a whole slew of folks for her to enjoy her dayswith. thier art group dissolved this summer because their leader went to a different spot as her body went south, she is going to restart the group but there is a problem, she doent have any time in her day. she will make room but for now she needs to figure out how to do it. yesterday i talked to her and she was late for an appointment, i asked what it was and she was going to discuss the talk she was giving on how the education in america is leaving too many of our young with too little to go on. she was in education from the time she was able to ditch those 60′s kids and get them off to the school rooms. the day my little sister entered 1st grade (discovered her dislexia and got mombo started in therapy to help others with learning disabilities) is the day she went to the class room, she is a pretty good painter watercolor and oil, sculptor, jewelry maker, textile, and through her studies in art therapy (she started the art therapy group of professionals here in minnesota in the 60′s) her class rooms were a place people just like to be. she was perfectly suited for the independant study of the 70′s i went through school with. people hung out in the art rooms and got all the support for their interests to flourish. teach a kid to make art and you fill an hour, teach a kid to love art and you fill a lifetime is the way she taught.
    she has not had it easy but loves to be a caretaker so no matter whats going on with her she has someone to take care of who puts her little stuff in the back seat priority wise. i am elated to have her nearby after 10 years of semi retirement on leech lake ( she drove back and forth to the guthrie, symphony, art openings, friends little ditties so im was thinking the first 5 years she lived up there she spent maybe 100 nights a year in her own bed. my dad liked it when she was home but had a hard time remembering those no smoking in the house rules when he knew she wouldnt be around for another for 4 or 5 days. today she has hooked up with st joans the hippy catholic throwback church we have here in minneapolis, she is off and running everytime i check in with her. i dont look forward to the day (soon to arrive) when her drivers licence goes away but in reality it will downsize her world to a managable level. i met a woman outside central park a couple years ago who was 80 something and obviously noticed my tourist rubbernecking as i walked down the sidewalk with my daughter out side some marvelous museum . new york is the best plac ein te world to live because you dont have to drive anywhere. just get on a bus or a train or a subway and you are able to get anywhere you want to go and a everywhere you may want to go is here. i think my mom would love new york city but minneapolis is pretty good and for now she still gets around pretty good.

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      1. That would be lovely. I’ve got to figure out why I can’t get these here. I can open them from email or directly from any internet provider…

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        1. Have you tried right-clicking on the embedded box from the blog? That gives you some options such as copy URL, pop out into a separate window, etc.

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        2. I have no idea what Linda and tim are talking about, but my firm opinion is that Barb needs to click on that embedded box from the blog. And while you’re at it, Barb, what have you done lately to free John Bates?

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        3. Wow, there are a bunch of things possible with a right click. Will have to try it another time, choir tonight.

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  3. Thanks Clyde for the loving and intimate portraits of these remarkable women.

    People who have read my book about my parents already know how much regard I have for my father. But right now the person who inspires me most dramatically is my best friend, a sculptress and artist who lives in New Jersey. We’ve never met, but we have an intimate relationship based on seven years of candid conversations in emails and on Skype. In those years my dream has been to help my friend realize a dramatically new life for herself, a life only possible if she divorces her mentally disturbed husband.

    I don’t know how to express how difficult that was for her. She has loved this man for 35 years, and in that time she always put his interests ahead of her own. Always. Even when she saw how destructive the marriage has been, she could not imagine that she would be happy if her freedom came at the cost of causing her husband great distress.

    I’ve watched–fascinated, concerned–as she has evolved. A year ago she said, “I wonder if it is too late for me to grow a spine.” Half a year ago she said, “I know what I have to do, but I could never do that to him.” Two weeks ago she said, “I did it.”

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  4. inspiration comes in many forms. when i see a well acted play, read a well written line, see a well painted picture,or a well sculpted form or hear a piece of music that touches me or hear a story of a life that calls out, i am inspired. its a pretty inspirational world we live in huh?

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      1. That’s a cool Buddhist quote. Having been a teacher, I’m obliged to add: “When the student is not ready, the poor teacher still has to show up, give the lecture and grade the damned papers.” :)

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  5. Ah – so many wonderful inspirations – from you lot and from my family and other friends. My grandmother I guess is who I would choose if I had to choose one – mostly because she so shaped my mother and my aunt, two other fabulous women. She was a quiet, unassuming Minnesota Norwegian Lutheran – did not toot her own horn as that would be prideful (and pride was the highest sin in her opinion). That said, this is a woman who was the first in her family to go to college, who worked to help her younger brother go to college (she said later that she regretted some getting married when she did because it meant she had to quit teaching – she didn’t regret marrying my grandfather, just the timing as it took away funds for her little brother’s education…it was still an era when a married woman couldn’t teach in some districts, especially if her husband also taught in the same district). She worked other jobs off and on while raising kids and when she and my grandfather moved to Minneapolis (so Grandpa could start teaching at the new Bloomington high school), she took up teaching again after a few years. Taught junior high English during the 60s and early 70s in the Phillips neighborhood (during the era of race riots) – and I can’t imagine her classrooms were anything but orderly places to learn about the joys of poetry and good grammar, nurturing in a slightly stern Norwegian way. She outlived my grandfather by over a decade and developed new friends and interests to fill her time (including a love of the MN Twins – though one would never have called her athletic or sports-minded before). She stood up for those less fortunate, told off a fellow resident at her high rise who disparaged the GLBT community, grew to dislike her beloved Republican party (no longer the party for the little guy that it had been when she started voting, probably back in the late 1920s or early 30s) but continued to be a fierce advocate for the way our democracy worked and that everyone should go vote. Did she solve world hunger, create world peace or cure cancer? Nope. But she lived a quiet life that touched many others and made the world a little better in her almost 96 hears, and that, she showed, was enough.

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    1. if it werent for people like your gramndma the people who will solve world hunger a cure for cancer nd create world peace would not be able to function. we all have to have the ground work laid. that sht ebest you can do sometimes is leave the footprints that will be a stepping stone for those that follow.

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    2. You paint a wonderful picture, Anna.
      I agree that Baboons themselves are quite often inspirational. I won’t name names as I’d probably forget someone. The intimate stories that people share here often allow their courageous sides to shine through.

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  6. Love these stories. I have been inspired by both my mother, with her willingness to move here from Iowa and her determination to make that transition; and my sister, who started up a pre-school 3 decades ago in Berkeley that has grown to one of the best in that area. She also adopted a newborn 15 years ago and has survived well during some tough times.

    And when our son Joel died (5 years ago), one of the main reasons WE survived was the help and support from two families who had also lost an adult child. We were able to look out from our grief at people who had not only survived that, but (many years later) were thriving again. They guided us through some of the rough waters – invited us to gatherings and events, listened to us, encouraged our stories, just made sure we knew there was an open channel with them. Marianne plays the lyre for hospice patients; Diana does her bodywork and her art, encouraging others to do the same.

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    1. you have done amazingly well through the times of despair you must have felt in joels dying. it was only five years ago? it feels like a long time ago and yet just a little bit ago when we first met at the russian museum and first heard of joel in person( i dont remember if you ever mentioned it on the blog) since that time he has come to be a part of this group. you have made his memory one we all share and while i would never have wished it on you you certainly have brought an appreciation of those snot nosed little bastards we all deal with in a more loving perspective. thanks for your inspiring response to your personal tragedy and allowing us to be a part of it.

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  7. Thanks Clyde for the inspirational stories of these three important women in your life. Thanks also to the baboons who have responded with their own stories of people who have inspired them.

    Over my lifetime I’ve been inspired by a rather large, and diverse group of people; no single individual stands out in my mind. They have inspired me in different ways, for different reasons, and at different times of my life.

    There’s my friend, Philip, a retired priest who lives in an incredibly small, and modest house in St. Paul. He’s plagued with a lot of severe physical afflictions that dramatically limit his activities; he’s also dirt poor. Yet Philip never complains; he’s cheerful and has such a joyful outlook on life (much like Clyde describes Sandy). He is a wonderful baker, an avid gardener, a bee-keeper, and has 3 chickens in a back yard chicken coop. During this past year, Philip’s approach to living with a lot of pain and limitations has inspired me to quit my whining, get off my duff, and do things.

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  8. My art history professor left a lasting impression on me. Reidar Dittmann was part of the Norwegian Resistance in WWII, survived Buchenwald, and went on to pursue a lifelong career as Professor Emeritus at St. Olaf. He was driven to instill vision in his students for the love of humanities and the importance of helping and empowering all cultures. He was outspoken about the dangers of fascism and led other students while still in college in Norway. He was arrested twice by the Nazis but withstood interrogations, and survived Buchenwald, due to the courage of his convictions.

    He told me these stories when I was an adult student in his art history class. I sat in the front row and memorized his slide shows. He threw questions into his tests which could only be answered if you had listened to his lectures because they were not in any books but came from his own life. He confided to me that I was the only one who was awake in his class and that he appreciated my rapt attention. He showed sincere interest in me personally, and my education, and helped me carry my stacks of books back to the library (up that long flight of steps to the library before it was remodeled).

    If he was here today, he would be a leader in opposition to the two amendments that we must vote against this coming November. When I think of him, I know how important the fight for justice is, and I know that any efforts I have made to leave the world a better place are trivial in comparison.

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    1. The Norwegian Resistance was a fierce group doing some pretty harrowing stuff. Kudos to your professor – I bet he had amazing stories to share.

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  9. Thank you all for your stories.
    Edith lived upstairs in a small house with sloping ceilings and no AC, very hot place. Every so often she would say, “It’s so hot I could drink a beer. I wouldn’t but I could.” I told her sons she was hinting for beer. They said she would never drink it. So we put a six pack in her fridge. As it disappeared they restocked it. No one ever talked about it; it just disappeared. And when fall came, it still disappeared, about a six pack every two weeks.
    In the early 50′s PT and OT were in development. The U hospital asked Mugs to come in as an experimental subject. They tried to teach her how to do household chores with her limitations. They told her that she couldn’t do something and she would show them how she did it. For instance she could not put on the bottom sheet (before fitted sheets). She showed them how to do it with a yard stick. Mugs could do amazing things with a yardstick. But they did develop some other implements for her which they gave to other people, too. Her four grandkids loved playing with all those “toys” she had.

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    1. Thank you, Clyde, for the lovely stories. Mum’s the word but I will say to this select group that I love that picture of Sandy. I haven’t met her but you can just tell how lovable she is by that sweet smile.

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  10. Hey, gang. I will be off the trail for a few days. I just got a call that my dad had a heart attack and is being flown to Sioux Falls., so I am going home. Dale, I haven’t been able to get a hold of my knitting friend yet.

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  11. Been thinking about this all day now. Some more worthy of my admiration:
    - my friend Fern, formerly a co-teacher in Calif., who was a “career teacher”, had an old claw-foot tub in her room stuffed with pillows for a reading corner; would have popcorn for Friday afternoons. Has struggled with bipolar issues for decades.
    - Viola Scheutrum, a “little old lady in tennis shoes” who, early ’70s, showed me the ropes re: how to protest a freeway coming through our tiny town, by going en masse to the County Board’s (also CA) meetings.
    - Elie, an octagenarian who still teaches folk dance occasionally on (international) Friday nights – he mostly “shuffles” now, so it’s good if one of us can lead the line as he teaches and demonstrate what he is teaching. He has a blue tattoo, a six-digit number on his forearm that I’ve never asked about, but know it’s from a concentration camp.

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    1. Barb, I bet you remember the old Chinese man who danced with the now defunct Danebrog Dancers and was an enthusiastic participant at folk dances of all kinds all over the Twin Cities.

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  12. My last Edith story, or why I cannot figure out my in-laws. She was born in Chisago County, a Swede of course, Edith Johnson. After her brother was born, her parents divorced. Her mother married an Anderson. Edith had half siblings named Anderson, one of whom, Esther, who was another surrogate parent to my wife married a Johnson. Her brother named Johnson had a daughter who married an Anderson. My first year of teaching I lived in that area amidst all the Johnsons and Andersons and could never really figure out how who was who.

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    1. Back in the Old Country, there was a string of fathers and sons where they just swapped names – using the traditional patronymic. Can’t remember the exact names right now but it was something like Lars Svenson was the father of Sven Larson who in turn had a Lars (Svenson)…glad my family left Norway and took perfectly reasonable names like Løwer and Lokken (the farm/place names for the families).

      Thanks for sharing stories about three fabulous women in your world Clyde. Love the photos (and the history).

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