Sing and make music in your heart to the
Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father
for everything, in the name of the Lord Jesus.
With thanksgiving I remember my mother-in-law, Kathrine Bender Schulz (Mom), who was born in Balsar, Russia. My father-in-law (Dad), Heinrich (Henry) was born in the states, but just barely. My in-laws were German Russian. Their Prussian grandparents went to Russia when Katherine the Great was Czarina. They lived in the Russian Steppes near the Volga River and were known as the Volga Germans. Many German Russians immigrated to the states and settled mostly in Eastern Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, North and South Dakota and Minnesota - lured to the states with the promise of free land. Dad's uncle immigrated to Argentina - again the lure of making good. Mom and Dad grew up speaking German. Their schooling was sparse. Dad had four years of schooling - Mom had six years. Mom helped her dad learn enough English to become an American citizen. Because of the Americanization Movement, at that time, if the father of an immigrant family became a citizen, the whole family was granted citizenship.
Debts were sin. The family had borrowed money to come to the states and that money had to be paid back. Grandpa worked for the railroad and Grandma took in washing. When Mom was 12 she went to live with a family as a house-keeper. She cleaned the house, washed the clothes and cooked. She made a quarter a week. On Sunday Mom would go home to her family and lay that quarter on the kitchen table.
When I was 18 years old, I married Tom and became part of this extended German-Russian family. One week after I married, Mom took me to meet "the family." No English was spoken. At one point, Aunt Theresa said, "Let's speak English so Dottie can understand." but aunt Idt said, "Ach, Let har larn somesing." I was finally able to understand conversations after I had been in Holland. (Dutch is not German, but I can understand German. Germans, however, usually cannot understand Dutch. It is too gutteral!)
Christmas was a nice holiday time with the Schulz clan. It was never extravagant, but the food was always luscious. Mom was known as the best cook in the county, even when she only had a wood-burning stove to cook on. We ate kraut runzas and vereniky and hoolapsi and kugen. I learned to fix all the dishes and now my girls cook them all, too. When we lived overseas, I bought a German cook book, but none of the dishes Mom cooked were in the book. I found them in a Russian cook book, though. What Mom couldn't do with noodle dough!
One time Mom told me that as a child she had always wanted a teddy bear, but there was never enough money for such an extravagance. That year when we went shopping for Christmas, I remembered what Mom had said about always wanting a teddy bear. I found a medium size, soft cuddly bear at a department store and on a whim, bought it. I always knew Mom liked me and approved of me, but when she saw that bear, she jumped up, grabbed me, hugged me and kissed me - a pretty spontaneous act for a stolid German woman whom I never saw cry! From then on, that teddy bear had a special place in the living room. It moved with Mom and Dad from the farm to town. When Mom went into the Care Home, the bear went, too. Giving Mom that bear changed Mom's and my relationship, too. From that day on, I was Mom's dear friend. I got to hear special secrets and the hugs seemed to be more special.
I wonder if we appreciate Christmas like Mom and Dad did. Getting an orange at Christmastime was a special treat. At my house growing up Mama and Daddy saw to it that we had an orange and some nuts in our stockings. Under the tree was a special treat - a real cocoanut, which my Daddy would crack open on Christmas day. What special memories.
Those special people are all gone now. Mom was buried seven years ago today. My happiest memory of her was seeing her face when she got a teddy bear at age 80. Thank you, Mom, for teaching me what gratefulness looks like.
Many of you who read this blog will experience a multi-cultural Christmas. Treasure that time. I know many of you will adopt many of these customs and pass them down to your families. I hope your Christmas memories are as happy as mine. Use this special time to make a memory you can recall with joy someday!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.