Commentary: A 90th birthday is a day to celebrate a lot of living
Today is my mother Ruth’s 90th birthday. We are happy to see her celebrate this milestone.
It was on a cold December night in 1923 that her mother Grace gave birth to this fourth child, with her grandma Susie serving as midwife and aunt Gladys assisting.
Ruth has lived a challenging, interesting and inspiring life.
She grew up in southern Cass County among the jack pines, sand and poverty. She has lived in this area all of her life, except for parts of 1942-43 in Kellogg, Idaho, and a couple years in the mid-1950s trailer-housing around Minnesota, when my father worked for a high-line construction company.
One of her first memories as a young child was watching the sparks rise as her parents’ house burned to the ground. History repeated itself in January 2010, when she narrowly escaped her own house as a chimney fire engulfed and burned it to the ground.
It did not stop her. By her 87th birthday, she built and moved into a new house.
She has seen her own share of tragedy within her life.
Ruth has lost four men she loved. In her early 30s, she lost her father, Jack, due to a traffic accident. In her early 50s, she first lost her husband, Budd, to a fire accident and three years later her eldest son, Jim, in a construction fall. In her early 70s, she lost her long-time companion, Troy, to heart disease.
In her late 60s, she developed macular degeneration, which eventually reduced her eyesight in both eyes. When she could no longer pass the vision test for her driver’s license, she bought a four-wheeler and went off-road for her own transportation.
The youngest of four children, she has outlived her two brothers and her sister, along with most of her first cousins and many friends. Today she is consider the family matriarch and historian.
While she could have turned bitter, she remained optimistic, loving life and always remained the teacher.
She began her teaching career in an Osakis area country school in 1941. When she retired from Brainerd Public Schools in 1987. Then she was a substitute teacher for another decade. She still tutors her great-grandchildren.
For the past decade, she has been one of the volunteers maintaining a local library in an old school house in the Leader area.
Throughout the decades, she has served as a family adviser, provided a helping hand when needed and encouraged a generation of cousins and their descendants to pursue their dreams.
While she moves a little slower nowadays, she still mowed her own lawn this past summer on her John Deere riding mower. She looks forward to stopping up at the local tavern regularly to see friends and family. And she is still planting a tree or two each year on her acreage.
She is not as patient as she once was. She doesn’t like having to depend on others to take her shopping or to the doctor appointments. She values her independence.
She has always been an independent individual. She traveled by herself in 1942 by train to Idaho to marry our father. Her father was not too thrilled about her traveling alone. She hasn’t slowed down since, traveling to Ireland and Northern Ireland, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in recent years.
Following her initial teachers training in 1940, she continued her education through night and summer classes. She eventually completed her associate and bachelor’s degrees and, by 1980, her master’s degree, all from her beloved Bemidji State University.
She first listened to history only by radio, then watched history unfold upon a television screen and now uses the computer and the internet to follow world and family events.
She has lived through historic times, growing up in the Great Depression and then watching her husband and brothers go off to World War II. She’s had relatives serve in post-war Germany and Japan and fight in wars in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan. She’s lived through 15 presidents and plans to vote in the next presidential election. She’s traveled first by Model A Ford and later a jetliner.
Her greatest joy has always been her family. She raised my brother, my sister and I. She has watched as all her grandchildren developed their own lives and now her great-grandchildren are growing up. She even has one great-great-grandson sprouting up. Her extended family of nieces and nephews have expanded for three more generations.
Today we celebrate mom’s 90th birthday and wish her many more.
Kelly Boldan is editor of the West Central Tribune in Willmar.