Mom and Dad had it hard, but they lived life to the fullest

The author recalls a time when the only thing that really mattered was putting food on the table and sharing it with others.

Woman in Kitchen MHS.jpg
Some gifts to Mom were just too nice to actually use, or so she felt.
Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Mother believed that the greatest gifts she received in life included God’s love, a husband who stood beside her for more than 50 years, and children who tried their best to follow in her footsteps.

The children gifted her tokens of their love at Christmas and to mark other special occasions. Mother’s too frequent response when she received a gift could be frustrating.

Some things were just too good to be used.

A tablecloth to replace the plastic one marred by cuts and cracks might be immediately put into service, but a new dress, blouse or other fine thing put away and saved for later use.

“It’s too good to use,’’ she would say more often than she should have.


“What good is it if you won’t use it,’’ was a common response back.

We tried without success to understand why those special things were hidden away in the crowded hall closet. Some thought it was the result of lessons learned during the Great Depression when the only thing that really mattered was putting food on the table and sharing it with others.

To read more of Mychal Wilmes' Farm Boy Memories, click here.

Men, she recalled, who lost homes and often their families, knocked on the farmhouse door to ask for a drink of water and work, which might involve hoeing or manure pitching. They asked for a meal and not money in return.

Mother's own house was not one of plenty. She said that her pantry was short those things that money must buy. Had it not been for a sow and piglets gifted by her parents, and a large garden, the growing family might have been in dire straits.

Bitter cold winters and hot and bone-dry summers plagued farmers across the Midwest. It cost more to ship livestock to market than what was returned in price.


The dust that sifted into the house settled on dishes and other household items, which made it impossible to maintain cleanliness.

World War II brought the outside world to the doorstep. Prison camps for captured German soldiers were opened in New Ulm, Kenyon and across rural Minnesota.

Mother spoke German, which gave her the opportunity to talk to the prisoners while they pulled and hoed weeds in neighboring fields. She carried drinking water to them, and they thanked her for it, and for being in America and not kept in a hellish Soviet Union camp.

Many were from farm families who appreciated the rhythm of the seasons.


War was always an unwelcome intrusion. At various times four sons were in the military. One was sent to Vietnam when the conflict heated up in the late 1960s. Tears fell when he departed and hope that he would return was found in prayer.

Mother cried once more when Dad died in 1973. The house was a much lonely place with him gone. The couple had survived crisis and good times with the faith that springs from both planting and harvest, and the hope that an eternal reward awaits God’s children.

Mother stayed on the farm until memory loss was too great to overcome. At its worst, she didn’t recognize her children. However, she recognized the power of love, which remained until the final hour.

Love remains the greatest gift of all.


It is easy to imagine — here on earth when the night is cold, and a billion stars shine down — how their reunion in heaven might have been.

Dad may have asked about the crops and the cattle, they might talk about dances, baseball and most certainly the children, and how remarkably blessed their shared lives remain.

The small house and farmstead are owned by someone else, but the memories are well kept in our hearts. The gifts that were thought to be too good to use are part and parcel to lives well lived.

Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minnesota, with his wife, Kathy.

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