I am blessed to have had three mothers. My first mother, of course, gave birth to me. My grandmother assisted in my rearing; I consider her my second mom.
Then there is my ‘finishing” mom.
I call her that because she finished the job of raising me. You see, I was 17 when I married her son and like most 17-year-olds, I thought I was pretty smart. In reality, I knew nothing.
Through her open heart, smiling face, undying service and unconditional love, she gave me many tools that have shaped my life.
We bury her today. This is my tribute to Mildred Olsen.
My grandma met Mildred through work. They became fast friends. Grandma started attending the church down the street and found the Olsens attended there.
That’s where I first met my third mom. I remember her incessant smile. I also remember sitting behind her and seeing her rearrange the sausage curl at the end of her hair.
I was 14 and had an immediate crush on her son. Three years later I became her daughter-in-law and she became my mother-in-law, a title she hated because of the negativity surrounding mothers-in-law and the ensuing jokes. She worked hard to dispel the stereotype and she achieved that.
She always treated me as though I were one of her children. My Christmas and birthday gifts were as generous my sisters-in-law’s gifts. She both praised and scolded me (gently) as if she were my own parent. I never resented it. In fact, I loved the feeling of family she instilled in me.
I imagine she was taken aback by my ignorance of keeping a home. As the oldest in my family, I was expected to labour outside on the farm. The extent of my kitchen skills were peeling potatoes, setting the table and washing dishes.
She taught me how to cook. Not so much taught, but allowed me to observe and ask questions. I often helped her do her Christmas baking. I learned how important food presentation is. The tomatoes weren’t simply sliced, but neatly arranged on the plate. I still serve tomatoes this way.
Her apple pie was legendary. In fact, Pastor DeMaere told me she made the best apple pie he ever ate and he had been served thousands of slices of apple pie over the years. A roast beef dinner evokes sweet memories of her Sunday dinners.
Not only did I learn how to cook in her kitchen I learned hospitality. Mildred loved nothing more than having company. Out would come the coffee and squares or cakes. Her reward for serving her guests was their company. That suited me well. I am thankful I learned hostess etiquette at her side.
In her kitchen I also learned how to clean. Her kitchen gleamed. Everything was wiped down daily and because of that regularity it was easy to keep it up. I will never claim to be as meticulous as she was but I learned how nice it feels to work in a clean kitchen.
Her message was consistent: whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability. Go the extra mile. Make it look beautiful just because.
I used to marvel at her energy. She was the first one up and the last to bed, always working, always doing, usually for others.
When my babies came, she taught me how to care for them. She was their second mom and I always felt comfortable leaving my children in her care. I knew she loved them at least as much as I did. I am forever grateful that my children got to have all those comfortable memories of time spent at Grandma’s.
She was our moral barometer. When the girls were teens and trying out racy language, they would claim it wasn’t so bad. “Would you say it front of Grandma?” They would hang their heads, “No.” Settled. If we were ashamed to do it in front of Grandma it was likely shameful.
She and I used to talk for hours on the phone or play games Sunday afternoons when the men were napping off their big meal. Those conversations shaped my thinking. Mildred also influenced me by sharing her self-help library. To this day my reading includes self-help books, which most people find boring.
Mildred had class, quiet dignity. She genuinely cared about people. She was happy in her roles of wife, mother, grandmother and homemaker.
Luckily, I see Mildred in my girls. R____ has her darker skin and hair and voluptuous figure. She reveals her pain through her eyes, just like her grandma. She is also meticulous in everything she does. H____ shares her openness, loving spirit and her innate sense of morality. She thrives on company too. My girls both appreciate having known this wonderful woman and they acknowledge her profound influence in their lives.
As I compile this, the memories of her love flood my mind and it’s hard to choose which should be included. The most indelible one is this:
My grandma and Mildred were neighbours and friends for decades and forever connected through their descendents. In the last years they were in the same seniors lodge for a time.
My grandma began to deteriorate. At one point she was unable to walk to the dining room for lunch. The lodge wasn’t exactly accommodating.
One day my sister arrived at the lodge in time to see this: Grandma was perched on the seat of Mildred’s walker. Mildred, bad heart and bad hip notwithstanding, was pushing Grandma slowly towards the dining room.
This image of my finishing mom supporting my second mom, regardless of the hardship it might cause her, is the statement of how Mildred lived her life. It is how I will forever remember her.
In service to others in her own quiet way. With a smile and great love.
“There is no greater love than to give one’s life for a friend.”
Thank you, Mildred, for finishing me, for being my grandma’s longest friend and for helping me raise my daughters. I could not have walked this way without you.