Thursday, May 26, 2011

Memorial Days Past

Memorial Day is a day for the remembrance of fallen soldiers; however, it has turned into a day that not only honors those who served our country in the military but also remembers our deceased family members.  This can be seen throughout many cemeteries in the country whose graves are decorated with flowers and trinkets in addition to flags.

Memorial Day for me in the past consisted of one of two activities, depending upon my age.  When I was a child, I accompanied my mother to the Pine Island Cemetery located in Pine Island, Goodhue County, Minnesota (not far from Rochester, Minnesota).  There we visited the graves of various family members.  We would leave potted plants and flowers in plant stands provided by the cemetery.  My mother continued this tradition with my oldest son, Matthew; and, she would explain to him his relationship to the various relatives.

Pine Island Cemetery Gate
My other Memorial Day activity that happened with any regularity occurred when my youngest child, Patrick, was in middle school and high school.  Patrick was in the band and played the trumpet.  I, of course, believed he was the best trumpet player in the band, particularly in high school.  Every Memorial Day his school band would march in the Memorial Day parade, stand at attention at the local courthouse during speeches honoring the local fallen soldiers, and then march to the cemetery for another ceremony.

The cemetery ceremonies for me are the most vivid recollections of my Memorial Days Past.  It was here that Patrick and another trumpeter would “disappear” (somewhere in the cemetery).  One of them would play taps, and the other would echo back with taps.  To say it was a moving experience does not do it justice:  The performance of the two trumpeters brought tears to some of the onlookers and, I am sure, goose bumps to all the onlookers.  Whenever taps is played in a cemetery, that is a true honor to the fallen who have served our country.

Patrick in full-dress uniform ~ 1991

Memorial Day is about remembering past and those who have fallen; but, it is also a time to make memories that we can carry into the future.

Friday, May 6, 2011

In Honor of Mother's Day: A Pioneer Girl

Her name is Florence Marie Swinburne Newhouse, and she is my mother.  She was born in 1907 in Wales, North Dakota, which was founded in 1897 in the extreme northeast part of the state; it’s almost in Canada.  In 1900, the population was about 350 people; 1910, 790 people; and today, 30 people.  Today, it is what we would call a “spot in the road.”  It is approximately equal distance from Winnipeg, Canada, and Grand Forks, North Dakota.  Living in North Dakota in the early 1900s certainly made one a pioneer.

Florence was the oldest of six children:  five girls and one baby boy who died on the day he was born.  She lost three of her younger sisters during different flu epidemics.  She would talk about how her mother sent her running to get the doctor when one of her sisters became sick and then going to her room to pray to God to save her sister because she had been taught that God answered prayers.  Despite her prayers, her sister died.  She said she had a hard time believing in God after that because he had not answered her prayer.

Her father, Richard “Dick” Swinburne, was what we would call today a commodities dealer:  he bought and sold potatoes, cattle, etc. in North Dakota and later in Minnesota where the family lived in Bagley, Minnesota.  In Minnesota Florence’s father also had the only gasoline service station which she helped to run.  In fact, when working one day at her father’s service station she waited on my father, Frank Newhouse, who was on vacation with his brother in northern Minnesota.  He told her to look him up if she was ever in Rochester (the southern part of the state).  When she eventually got a teaching job in Rochester, she did look him up; and, as the saying goes, “the rest is history”:  They were married in 1938.

She was a “pioneer” in working in her father’s service station; maybe that’s what made her so handy—she could fix just about anything.

During the Depression, her father sent her to Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota:  It is consider one of the finest liberal arts colleges in the nation. As a stipulation of being able to go to college, Florence had to help the next sister go to college, which she did out of her teacher’s salary.

It turned out that my mother was not able to have children.  So at the unheard age of 42, she and my dad adopted my brother, Douglas (1½) and me (almost 3).  Today, not much thought would be given to an “older” mother, but in 1949, this was certainly a “pioneer” step to take. 

I do believe she loved being a mother and doing all those “motherly” things we think of mothers doing during the 1950s:  she baked, canned, and froze food; she knitted me two sweaters every year with matching wool skirts (to my friends envy); she served our favorite foods on our birthdays; she introduced us to pizza (which my brother and I were not too sure about eating); she let me ride my bike wherever I wanted to go; she let me play outside until dark; she let me go ice skating after dark at the local skating rink; she let me have friends over when I asked. 

Florence was a daughter, a sister, a wife, a daughter-in-law, a sister-in-law, but most importantly, a mother.  I know that she always wanted the best for me, and she wanted me to be the best that I could be.  

 Linda, Florence, Douglas Newhouse
Florence Marie Swinburne Newhouse (1907-1997)