I was in Minnesota for a week the end of May to spend time with family and make daily visits to my mother at the memory-care facility where she resides. One of the ongoing tasks has been to sort through the boxes of Mom’s stuff that have accumulated at my brother Rodney’s house, the result of Mom’s downsizing over the past few years from her apartment, to assisted living, and a year ago to one-half of a nursing-home room.
I knew Mom had kept diaries for many years during my parents’ retirement years. I’m not sure what compelled her to write in detail about the mundane happenings of each day, but she did.
These are not intimate diaries in which she’s confided her inner-most thoughts. Quite the contrary. Her diaries reveal the routine tasks of her life during those years, with not a hint of emotion. In a manner-of-fact style, she describes what happened, day-in and day-out — going to church, going to the doctor, going out to eat, mowing the lawn, getting the washing machine fixed, taking my nephews to school.
Here’s are a couple of samples:
Oct. 13, 2005 — “My back was bad. Rod gave me a table massage. It got much better. I fixed some screen windows for the barn. Was foggy and dreary most of the day.”
July 4, 2006: “We had dinner at Village Inn. I bought a pair of slacks at Herberger’s. We visited Virgie in the p.m.”
I took one of the diaries with me, one that spanned the years 2005 and 2006. As it turns out, these were pivotal years for my folks. Dad’s health was declining, and by Christmas of 2006 he was hospitalized with pneumonia and then went to a nursing home in Barnesville, Minnesota, to convalesce. I had to smile at her Dec. 21, 2006, entry, where she notes she went to the hospital to see him, but “picked up the lefse first.” (A Norwegian gal has her priorities when it comes to lefse, especially during the Christmas season.)
There is no fretting or worrying that plays out in her prose as my father battles pneumonia, at least not in her diaries. She simply notes on Dec. 23 of that year, “Rodney brought Gus (my dad) to nursing home. I met with Jerry Branson, social worker, at 8 a.m. I left at noon.”
I and my three brothers gathered at the farm in the fall of 2005 to paint the century-old barn, and Mom’s diary details the mammoth job in some description. There’s no gushing about how great it was to have the whole family together. But there is information about what she fixed for supper every night.
The entry that comes closest to showing emotion is one on July 19, 2005, when my folks took the pickup out to a field apparently some distance from our house and got it stuck in the high grass.
“Had to walk home,” mom wrote. “Rough deal! Long walk!!”
Dad didn’t get around very well in those days, and Mom walked with a limp for decades after breaking her ankle in 1963, and her back has always been bad because of scoliosis, so I imagine it was a long walk home for the two of them.
Now that Mom doesn’t remember any of her life with my father, these daily entries are poignant snapshots of their lives in those “golden” years. And I can’t tell you how comforting it was for me to read those day-to-day capsules and remember how they shouldered on through life together, always there for one another. I’m so glad she took the time to write a few lines every day.
The years 2005 and 2006 were their last two years together on the farm. They didn’t know it at the time, but the following year Dad would go into a nursing home for good, and continued to decline until he passed in 2009. Mom was left to tend the farm household by herself for about six months before she moved into an apartment in town.
On the last day of 2006 Mom visited Dad as he recovered from pneumonia. She wrote with hope: “He seems better and stronger.”
These sentiments, now, are what we have left of Mom’s memory, and we will treasure them.
News Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or firstname.lastname@example.org.