If you are an historian, you would very likely be able to give a strong defense for the value of preserving and interpreting history. If you are not an historian, I congratulate you for reading this blog anyway. And I also suspect that you are less concerned about the preservation and interpretation of things historical. Regardless, I trust both groups will find the following personal reflections somewhat interesting and maybe just a little bit helpful in understanding the importance of preserving stories from the past.
On January 13, 2012, my aunt Susie Klassen went to her eternal rest at the age of 101 years. At this week’s funeral service we celebrated her Home going and her contributions to our lives. She had obviously lived to please her Maker.
Those who knew Aunt Susie knew her as a kind, gentle and gracious person. She spent her life serving God by serving others. Her career as a housekeeper and cook took her to private homes, a children’s camp, a Bible school and a hospital. I have memories of her coming to our farm to help us pick strawberries and raspberries, preserve fruit and vegetables for the winter, slaughter chickens, and other similar chores. She was never afraid of either dirty or backbreaking labour if it was of service to someone.
I remember Aunt Susie as a person who always showed an exceptional level of respect for others. She lived with her older sister, my aunt Margaret, who in her later years needed considerable care due to failing health. Aunt Susie was there to support her. Aunt Susie tended to speak about people using their surnames. Her stories would mention Miss Wiebe, Mr. Loewen or Mrs. Klassen even when the person was much younger than she was. This was also how she tended to address people in face-to-face conversations.
Aunt Susie enjoyed a simple faith. She consistently read the scriptures, attended church, taught Sunday School and spoke with God through prayer. I suspect her life of faith and her prayers were significant in helping many of her nieces and nephews with their faith struggles.
As we know, one’s life experiences have the potential to shape who we are and how we respond to the hand we are dealt. So I’ve been pondering what earlier elements in Aunt Susie’s life may have contributed to the development of the gracious character and response to life that she exhibited in the years I knew her. Here are some clues:
Aunt Susie was born in 1910, the ninth in a family of twelve children. Two of the twelve children died as infants, leaving a household of two busy parents and ten siblings. It’s unlikely that she suffered from too much attention from her parents or anyone else in the home. She, like all the rest of them, had to learn to cooperate, to negotiate, to encourage, to protect boundaries, and all sorts of other fundamental life skills.
Although she was just a small child during the First World War, Aunt Susie was certainly aware of what was happening during the Second World War. Perhaps more significantly, she experienced firsthand the impact of the depression of the 1930s. When the family couldn’t afford butter or meat, the children’s school lunches consisted of lard sandwiches. When coffee was not an option, they roasted barley to make “prips.” Even fairly recently, Aunt Susie recalled and told us stories of experiences during the 1918 influenza pandemic. Over the years a number of her siblings lost children in infancy.
As mentioned earlier, she spent many years living with one or more of her sisters. Her parents became infirm before there were nursing homes, so she and her sisters cared for their parents in their family home as they aged and eventually passed away.
Obviously hardship and death were no strangers to Aunt Susie. But how did this difficult life ultimately create such a gracious and giving character? I believe Aunt Susie understood what it means to be thankful for small mercies and small pleasures in life because she was familiar with hardship. I think Aunt Susie understood what it means to care for one another because that’s how they survived in the absence of social services. I think she developed a strong faith because she understood that the alternative was despair.
Surely we all do well to remember and repeat the stories of the past and learn as much as we can from them. That is our mandate here at MHV. Please join us in that effort by becoming involved in what we do, or perhaps by preserving your own stories for your own future generations.