Archive for May, 2012

A Legacy of Endurance

 “I’m here; the party can begin!”  So declares Erma Florentine Reiss, arriving at a large gathering of friends and relatives in 1999.  And indeed, she lights up the room with her entrance.  At 82 – with a beautiful head of curly white locks, a smile like sunshine, and the bouncing gait of a much younger woman – she has already been widowed three times and raised seven children to healthy, productive adulthood.  Some people wear hardship like a dented suit of armor, but not Erma.   

Born the first of five children to Paul and Lydia Engel in 1917, Erma and her siblings grew up in rural Minnesota during hardscrabble times.  The Great Depression overlapped drought conditions, only to be followed by World War II with its scarcities and the rationing of essential goods. 

“Love and sharing saw us through those difficult years,” writes Erma in a recounting of her family history.  There were extended family get-togethers for birthdays and special occasions, with homemade ice cream made with ice chipped from the family farm’s stock tanks in the winter months.  Visitors brought cakes and cookies, but no gifts were exchanged.  “We [children] didn’t know we were poor.  We were happy and healthy, as our Heavenly Father led us.” 

Much of that health and happiness derived from mother Lydia’s example of taking delight in helping others and in making the most of what you have.  At age ten, Erma would read bible passages to her grandmother, who suffered from cataract blindness, and watch and learn as her mother sewed children’s clothing and household linens from colorful cotton feed sacks.  “Sugar came in smaller white sacks.  They were softer and more absorbent and were saved to use as ‘Sunday dish towels,’ and to make petticoats and bloomers for the girls.” 

In that home, Erma learns that the basic, forthright offerings of time, grace, and talents are the true   acts of giving.  “All her life, my mother was quietly useful, gentle, and friendly.  She gave us all the simple pleasures to remember forever.”  Simple pleasures like perfecting the role of hostess with only the barest necessities at hand; giving parties for neighborhood children in an era when no one else did this; always having time for a game of checkers with her children; making mittens, doilies, and braided rugs for those in need; and filling long winter evenings with piano playing and singing. 

After graduating from the high school department of Dr. Martin Luther College in 1935, Erma moves to Larsen, Wisconsin, as a woman’s home companion for the disabled wife of the Reverend Weyland.  (more…)

May 9, 2012 at 9:47 pm 1 comment

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