Friday, February 26, 2010

More than Gold

This week my family buried our Mom. She was a rich 94 years old. Our Dad passed away almost 8 years ago and Mom kept going and going, more energy than the Everyready Bunny. She was always there. She had always been there. And I guess we assumed she always would be.
We were wrong and now she is gone.
However, we don't sorrow as others who have no hope. We will meet again!
God did amazing things in my Mom & Dad's life, especially during their last 20 years together. I would like to take this opportunity to honour both them and the Lord through sharing some of these with you. I was privileged to be able to read both their eulogies at their respective funerals, so essentially what follows are those transcripts with a few relevant changes.

The following exerpts are primarily taken from my Mom's (Agnes/Neta/Aganetha Schmidt nee Enns) personal Journal written in the Menno Home, Abbotsford, B.C. during summer 2009, compiled by her granddaughter, Jackie Miller. I felt to keep it as much as possible in her own words; it is much more personally effective. However, at times we switch from the 1st to 3rd person. You'll be able to make the transition.

I was born in Furstenwerder, a village in the Molotschna Colony of South Russia on July 17, 1915. I was the 4th of 7 children born to Jacob & Helena Enns: Helen the eldest, then Peter, Jake, Nick & Tina. Another sister, Katerina, died when she was only a baby. Our village was very small so we would walk to Rukenau, a nearby town. It had stores. I had pneumonia when I was about 6 or 7 and they wrapped me in a heavy blanket and took me to a doctor there by horse and buggy. We farmed very fertile land: grew watermelons & grain; raised horses, cows, pigs and sheep. Our house and barn were all in one building and one night we came home and the sheep were gone. I think we got them back!
WWI was happening then. I remember my Uncle Peter had a pocket watch and gave it to my brother, named Peter after him, when he went off to war. He didn’t come back. He knew he wasn’t coming back. In those days it meant so much to name a child after the uncle – that is why so many had the same name. I was named after my dad's mother, Aganetha (Dueck). Cannons on top of the hills surrounding our village shot down on us below – I remember sitting in the cellar/basement of our house and being scared.
The German army traveled through our village: the war was finally over, they were going home with their cannons and all the kids went out to watch them. One time they shot our neighbor dead right there on the street and everyone ran over to see what happened. (Grandma saw him lying there; she was probably only 3 or 4 years old and this must have greatly affected her. She didn't talk very much about her years in Russia, but when she did, she mentioned this incident.)
My Grandparents on mother’s side were wealthy – nice house and fruit orchard – turkeys walking around. I would go into their garden and fill my apron with fruit until I could hardly carry it back to the house. They stayed in Russia when we moved to Canada. Never saw them again.
My Mother did a lot of knitting and sewing. She was always busy. She got old clothes from the army and made new clothes for us kids out of them. I was very proud of the dress she made for me. My father sheared sheep and Mother cleaned the wool and got it ready for spinning – her spinning wheel was always going early. She knitted a dress for herself, brought it to Canada and wore it while working in the sugar beets. But it rained, her dress got wet and then it weighed her down so much she could not walk – it got all stretched out. She made shirts for the men and pants too. She was a hard worker.
My family came to Canada 1925. We took a big cedar chest, really heavy, filled mostly with clothes, but with a secret compartment in the bottom where we hid some money. We traveled by a small ship from Holland and then a bigger one from England to St. John. I liked it best on the deck of the ship. Everyone else was sick on the deck. We ate roasted buns (roeschte zweiback) on the ship – ones Mother had made.
We were then told to go to Alberta by the Canadian government & CPR(Canadian Pacific Railway). We bought a farm without a down payment: 100 acres of sugar beets – but we sold it after a year. Then the government gave each family 80 acres. My family built a house in Stirling on the barren land and planted sugar beets there too.
I turned 10 years old shortly after we arrived here in Canada. My uncle came and gave me peppermint candies for my birthday. (That's the only birthday she remembers celebrating.)
Leaving all my friends in Russia was hard – then to make new friends: that was harder. We didn’t know English when we arrived – we had special lessons in school. We couldn’t talk proper English even when I was 16 or 17 – we didn’t stay in school long enough to learn anything. I don’t remember making plans for the future or dreaming of what I wanted to be when I grew up!
I remember going to a Christmas concert and I wanted to take all the decorations home. I had never seen something like that before. We didn’t go shopping, we ordered from the Eaton's catalogue – all our shoes and everything. They would send it to us in the mail; we could do it all from home.
I went to school in nearby Readymade. All the different ages were together – up to 8 grades in a room. I only went to school for 3 years because our family needed us to work. We all worked hard in the sugar beets, raised grain, chickens, gardens of vegetables and fruit: a busy life.
(She doesn’t remember getting any money for this– she thinks that all the money she would have made working went into the family fund.)
I was a champion beet-thinner – they even took pictures of me.
(She was told they made these into films and showed them on the boats that were bringing people over to Canada to tell them about working in the sugar beets.)
We moved too many times: from Stirling to Coaldale. We didn’t have electricity, or hot water or even running water.
My sister Tina died in February 1931. Her horse fell over backwards on her when she was 11. She had all her Valentines ready for school, but wasn't able to give them to her friends. (Grandma remembers she had a swing on a tree and it had to be taken down to put tents up for Tina's funeral.)
As a teenager she related best with her Mom. They were close, but.. Mom wasn’t well. She worked really hard. Mother used to raise cucumbers: she picked and pickled dills in wooden barrels. Then we put them on a wagon pulled by 4 horses and took them to the train station. (here's the source of our family favourite dill pickles recipe we've all eaten and loved! Store-boughts don't even come close!) We worked in the fields and Mom was at home working in the cucumbers. It was too hard work for Mother; she had an enlarged heart. It was hard for her to breathe; her lips and cheeks were so dark blue. Hard to believe how hard she worked for being so sick. I loved our mother. She died in 1938 at the young age of 49. She was too young to die; we missed her very much.
I had no other boyfriends before Grandpa: too busy working. On one of our first dates, he took me out to a Chinese place for dinner and the pie was mouldy. We went to the fair once: he had a friend who was showing cattle in Lethbridge – but I didn’t like that because he asked me to go there and then he worked with the cows.
I went on a train to BC by myself at about 17 to visit cousins. This was a special time; maybe I was gone for about a week.
Jake and I were married in Coaldale on June 27, 1935. My parents got married young too – so they were OK with me getting married at 19. It was hard starting up. I was not well. We lived up on the dry land north of Readymade.
In June 1936, Eric was born. But there was no crop; it was a hard start. We had to do some changing; my health was not very good and Jake had trouble with his back.
Ernie was born in June 1937; very hard wind, dirt blowing, could not see very far.
Lucy was born in 1942. Jake went and checked things out in BC and wanted to move there – I had a little baby and I was busy. I was OK with moving to BC. You always have to look ahead, not back at the past, and try to do better. In late October/early November, we moved to Abbotsford by train.
They bought a chicken farm on King Road; had cows also. At first no electricity – just gas lanterns; the house was on stilts. They had quite a strong earthquake while there – shook the whole house. Grandma ran the farm: they collected eggs and then the boys packed them in boxes and nailed them shut when full. This was a prosperous business for them and they were able to pay the farm off. Tragedy there also though– the barn burnt down and they had to turn the cows loose and give some away. Then Dad began bulldozing in 1946 while Mom still worked on the chicken farm.

The family then moved to Aldergrove in 1946 or '47. Grandpa’s idea, Grandma not impressed. Traded chicken farm for 60 acres on North Jackman, north of Aldergrove. Had 3 floors of chickens, raspberries and cows also. They also raised baby chickens. Grandma had to learn to do things she had never done before. It was hard to keep the chicks warm in the winter when the NE wind blew for 1 week straight! Lived here also during the 1948 flood. Then Henry was born.
They traded the 60 acres for a house + 11 acres on Peardonville Rd in Abbotsford in 1949. In the early '50s they rented their farm out for a year and moved up to 100 Mile House because Dad had a contract for bulldozing – stayed at the Golden West Lodge near 93 Mile House. It snowed so much that year that the cow barn collapsed. They had about 1000 chicken (layers) in another 3-storey barn. That chicken barn later collapsed as well!
Eric, Lucy, and Ernie all got married within 11 months so the house was suddenly empty. Grandma worked at Lilydale (again with chickens) for 7 months. Grandpa was away a lot bulldozing because there was no work locally for him.
We were at this farm the longest of any – well into the '60s. Grandma's Dad built a house next door and Mom & Dad moved there when he went into the Menno Home. The day after they moved in, the basement flooded with all their stuff in it – the drains didn’t work. They later built and moved into a new house - their first - on Lilac Street in 1970. During this time, they traveled quite often: across Canada, to the southern States & Mexico in their trailer; even flew off to Hawaii and Europe. In 1989 they moved into a new condominium on Gladwin by Mill Lake.
In 1998 Dad's health wasn't good; Mom tried her best to take care of him herself, but finally couldn't do it anymore and Dad moved into the Tabor Home and then Menno Hospital. They sold their condo and Mom moved into the Menno Home. During the next 4 years, Mom never missed a visit with Dad; sometimes even 2 or 3 times a day she would drive her 'electric chair' across the parking lot to make sure Dad had company and got his meals right. Dad passed away on Oct 17, 2002. They had been married 67 years together.
Mom made Menno Home her home for the last 10 years. She always loved flowers and gardening. She could nurse any dead plant back to life, so she made it her job to keep the planters and hanging baskets around the Home well-watered.
Then Mom took up knitting....she made blankets, touques, and dishcloths....and more dishcloths!
She didn't believe in doing nothing. Her mind remained clear for all her 94 years. She could remember details about friends and their families from years ago: names, dates, places, even the colour of one of her nurses' grad dress who had graduated with me in 1966!

Grandma responsed to a questionnaire as follows:
3 things I was good at: looking after children, cooking & sewing
The most important bit of information you want to pass on to your children: Have children
What is your secret to happiness and living a good life?
It wasn’t about what we had – health is most important; I like to be around lots of people.
What are the most important life lessons you have learned?
Losing a husband is a hard lesson – when sickness comes in, you don’t know what to do.
What would you like to see future generations accomplish? Health is most important
What would you like to be remembered for?
I had to have a lot of responsibility for grandchildren and great grandchildren.
What are the best ways to handle crisis times in life? What have you done?
Keep busy – it keeps your mind on what you are doing.

Mom was a hard worker and as you can tell from her story, her life was not easy. 'It was hard,' is a phrase that turns up many times in her story. Our family was culturally Mennonite, but you don't get to heaven by eating borscht and speaking Plat Deutsch (Low German). Alcohol had brought a lot of hurt and pain into our broken life-picture and Mom had held our family together and kept us going as best she could. She was a giver and gave her life for our family. Finally, when Dad was born again in 1980, things began to turn around. But Mom found it hard to trust what Dad said had really happened. She needed to see this change with her own eyes, so she determined to watch him closely and find out if he was truly on the level. He was not going to get off so easily by just saying he was now a Christian and everything was fine: he'd been forgiven by God. Mom was going to make sure this was real before she trusted God enough to make any kind of similar commitment. True enough, Dad became the spiritual leader in our family: he would pray at family gatherings, buy Mom flowers and cards; things he'd never done before he now did, with gentleness and without any coaxing!
She watched him for 5 years until it finally came to a head. Mom came to the place where she recognized that all her hard work could not accomplish what she spirtually needed and God wanted: it could only be received as God's gift. Salvation was one work she could not attain by hard work; she was now ready to receive God's work: to believe on the One whom He had sent, His Son Jesus. She was able to forgive Dad when she realized God had forgiven her through Jesus and the gospel's Good News. It was by God's gift; not Mom's work. She was finally convinced, phoned their church pastor to come for a visit: Mom made things right with God and received Jesus as her Saviour. John 3:16 became real to her. During those 5 years, I had asked Dad if he wanted to be water baptized, but he said he would wait until Mom was ready. After the pastor's visit, it was only a short while and they inivited our entire family to see them publicly baptized, bearing witness to their faith and new life in Jesus together. What an awesome testimony that was!

A few weeks ago, Mom finished a blanket and touque for some of her great-grandkids. She told a friend she was now finished; she had completed what she was supposed to do here. The weather had warmed, so Mom went out in the courtyard to enjoy the sun. She caught a chill, developed a chest infection and died within the week. Other than not being able to walk and other ailments with age, she was very healthy. She never really grew old in her spirit. Sometimes she even commented about all the 'old people' that lived here like she wasn't one of them. When she went to be with Jesus, it happened very suddenly: she died within a few hours after the hospital called us to come and say goodbye. We are so very thankful she did not suffer very long.
We want to thank the staff of Menno Home West 2 for their care and kindness throughout her 10-year stay here. She was happy and content here. She always spoke highly of the staff; she especially appreciated Marty's organizing those many activities. From her stash of potato chip bags, we figure she was the big winner at Bingo. Even in her little room, she always had a supply of food on hand (Smarties for the grandkids); she was prepared for the worst possible famine and made sure none of her family would ever be hungry. I think that carried over from living through the Great Depression of the '30s.
Mom was 94 when she died on February 16.
Unlike her sister Tina, she got to deliver her Valentines to so many of us for so many years.

She outlived all of her brothers and sisters.
The day after she died, our family was cleaning out her room, going through her things. From previous moves from house to condo to one room at Menno Home, Mom had winnowed out the chaff of things pretty well to a bare minimum. We didn't have to dig through much to find wheat.
One thing was totally unexpected: a birthday card I had given her 34 years ago, shortly after I had become a Christian. I had written her a poem inside and used the theme of the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics to describe how she had out-medalled the athletes. Just that day after her death I'd even been thinking along this same theme, but now in light of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. I was pleasantly shocked by how its words bore even prophetic relevance now! Here it is:

Today they begin the Olympics
Back east in Montreal,
But run or jump, they'll never beat
The World's Greatest Mom of all!

'Cause you've outrun, outjumped 'em,
And brought us into this race too.
May you rest in your blessings – so great in abundance:
More than gold God has given in you!

Agnes, Neta, Aganetha, Grandma, Great-Grandma... Mom
will be lovingly remembered by her 4 children & their spouses:
Eric & Sandra, Ernie & Carol, Lucy & Dave, Henry & Erica;
also 9 grandchildren + 11 great-grandchildren.
As she said, her priority was to look after her children and she did that with all her heart. She has left her family and many friends a rich inheritance.