I won’t get into a deep post, because my brain is traveling a million miles a minute right now. Please keep our family in your thoughts and prayers. My mother-in-law unexpectedly passed away last night. Our family is in a tailspin.
My in-laws are part of a greater sub-group in the Mid West and other parts of America. They are known as “Volga Germans,” “Germans from Russia, ” and so many other titles. But they all settled in the midwest of America, usually in northern climates. There are many in Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, etc. All were escaping Communist Russia. And all the families had been brought into Russia by the Czarina, Catherine the Great. To sum it up, when Catherine, a German princess, was brought to Russia, she noticed how backward and simple Russian lives were. So she brought talented craftsmen and their families from Germany, to Russia, to modernize it. And that is where my husband’s family hails from. Along the Volga River in Russia, but originally from Germany.
For me, this pale-bread-British-girl, the colorfulness of this culture astounded me, and thrilled me. Brits can be pretty boring. But reading books about life on the Steppes of Russia was amazing. The hardships they endured, and the ways in which they adapted to life in Russia filled me with such pride, at marrying into this amazing group of people. And then learning the traditions they still held on to! Our wedding 34 years ago was filled with as many of these traditions as we could manage. The aunts did all the cooking. The food was all Volga German. We had mostly beer at the reception, too. The uncles took care of that. Our band was what I called an “umpa-pa-pa” band and they played only polka. My feet were killing me because I do not “Dutch Hop” and so my toes ended up under everyone’s feet who danced with me. My father-in-law was so patient with me. LOL.
After getting married, my husband would ask for dishes his mom made. I was not a cook. At all. The aunts had sat down with me around the kitchen table, with new index cards for me to write on, while we were in town for our wedding. I had tons of recipes that were all a part of their tradition. I felt prepared. But of course, the ones my husband loved, were not on cards. They were in the heads of all these women, who grew up making them. My mother-in-law would just sigh when I would call on a Saturday morning, asking how to make “sea-splinta” (still cannot spell or say it properly) or deep-fat-fried pancakes, or scrambled egg pancakes. Then there was “toad in a hole,” which is a family favorite. And all the dumplings I tried and failed over. My husband says they make good door-stops. LOL. So many times my mother-in-law would patiently explain recipes to me. She was a “just put a pinch of salt in it,” or “wait for the right consistency” sort of cook. I needed teaspoons and temperatures. LOL. She was so frustrated with me. But she reported instructions patiently until one day, probably about 10 years into it, it all clicked into place for me. LOL. Same ingredients in all of them – just vary the eggs, milk, and flour for how you want to use it. Measuring is meaningless. I got it! LOL!
My mother-in-law was not that happy her eldest son chose to marry me. But she was kind. She shared her faith with me, which meant a lot. I recall attending Church with my husband (we were just engaged at the time) and I sat there with his entire family, and took up a whole pew. I could have walked out at any time and none of them would have noticed, because their faith was that strong that their eyes were all on the altar. It was something I wanted for myself, too. She always played Christian music. I think I have remarked on this before. But when I asked her why, she told me it was because she was a poor Christian and keeping her faith alive in her music all day, kept her on track. I have never forgotten that, and now, I play pretty much all Christian music, too. She was right about that. We are what we eat, see, and listen to, as well as who we associate with. She inherently knew that.
She was a crafter and sewer. I am not. I often wish we could have spent time doing that together. When we visited I would often go to her sewing club, or quilting club with her, to keep her company. The art of quilting still amazes me. I loved just seeing all that talent and all the wonderful fabrics. But I just never got around to learning how to do that with her. I am sad about that. Her mother-in-law was an amazing crochet artist, and I often regret I did not learn that craft from her, as well.
My mother-in-law was a nurse. When I gave birth to my sons, she would be there. She would take care of all of us, so I could focus on being a new mom. It was invaluable and precious time spent. With our second son, I was ill with strep throat. I recall little of the post delivery, except waking up one time when she was placing him on my breast and her saying to me, “No matter how sick you are, he needs to nurse. Just sleep. I will keep an eye on him.” And I did. What care she gave us all.
And now it has been 36 years since we met, and 34 years spent as her daughter-in-law, and now I need to step up and help with all the burial things, and the things surrounding her life and death. In many ways, my husband and I are now stepping fully into the shoes of his parents. It is something I can actually feel descending onto us. The next few weeks will be filled with tears, prayers, and arrangements. We now have to care for the business side of when someone passes away, let alone our aching hearts. This is hard.
May her memory be eternal and her name among the angels. Rest well, Mary, rest well. Joined in eternal slumber, Joe and Mary Kaiser.