“She walks in beauty.” I used that quote from Lord Byron to start the tribute I gave to my mother-in-law at her funeral. Anne Driedger was a beautiful woman inside and out. This picture of her as a young woman is certainly clear evidence of her beauty. Mom had a trim figure, deep brown eyes and a ready smile. My father-in-law says he was so taken with her beauty that the moment he saw her for the first time, he said to himself, “She’s the one for me.”
Anne, who is sitting on her mother’s lap in this photo, was born in 1923 to Henry and Gertrude Enns in the village of Rudnerweide in the Molotschna Mennonite colony in Ukraine. Mom’s father was from a very wealthy family and after the death of his father and brother, he ran the family estate in Kowalicha, near the Mennonite village of Schoenfeld. Mom’s father was in charge of their large herds of livestock, many servants, orchards and vast acres of land.
During the Russian Revolution when terrorists began killing and looting, Mom’s family fled their estate and took refuge in a tiny house on her maternal Unruh grandparents’ farmyard in the village of Rudnerweide. During this time Mom and her older sister Gertrude were born. Mom’s family immigrated to Canada when she was one and a half years old. Her younger sister Agnes, now the only surviving member of her family, was born in Canada.
Mom went to school till she was fourteen and had completed grade eight, and then she had to get a job to help support her family. Although her years of education were short she loved to read and learn new things. When Dave and I began to travel extensively eight years ago she asked us to buy her a world map so she could follow our travels. She was always interested in each new place we visited.
After leaving school Mom was first a babysitter earning $3.00 a week and then worked at a greenhouse farm. Her next job was as a maid for the Jackson family in Leamington. Mom credits Mrs Jackson with teaching her how to become such an accomplished cook and baker. Mrs Jackson believed that maids had to keep their place. Mom started dating Dad while she was working at the Jacksons and Mrs Jackson got upset if Dad used the front door to call on Mom. The side door was for maids and Mrs Jackson told Mom it wasn’t proper for her boyfriend to use the front door.
Mom and Dad got engaged in the summer of 1942 and set their wedding date for September. This was during World War II and just before the wedding, Dad received a letter that he was being conscripted to join the Canadian Army. He took it to his uncle Nick Driedger who was the church pastor and he said he would apply for conscientious objector status for Dad. Mennonite church members were usually granted conscientious objector status because pacifism is an important tenet of their faith. Uncle Nick suggested that Mom and Dad go ahead with their plans to marry in the meantime.
Mom and Dad were married in the Oak Street Mennonite Church in Leamington on Saturday, September 26, 1942. It was a rainy day. Mom’s brother Dick and her sister-in-law Erna chauffeured the couple around in their car, taking them to church. They walked down the aisle as the congregation sang a German hymn Gott Gruesse Dich (May God Greet You) and they walked out of the church as the congregation sang Jesu Geh Voran (Jesus Still Lead On).
After the service, there was a meal in the church basement and then they went to a farm and gathered in the greenhouse to play circle games–the Mennonite alternative to dancing. On their wedding night, when they arrived at the little house they were renting on the farm of Cecil Stobbs, the rain had flooded the kitchen and made a mess of their brand new stove but thankfully the rest of the house was dry. The next morning they were going to go to church, only to discover their friends had let the air out of the tires on their Model A Ford as a joke. Dad had to pump up the tires before they could go to church.
In the lumber camp bunkhouse. Dad’s on the far left.
Mom and Dad both got jobs at the Imperial Tobacco Factory in Leamington and just a few months later in January of 1943 Dad received word he had to report to the conscientious objectors (CO) forestry camp in Montreal River. Mom moved into town before he left and rented an apartment with Margaret and Aggie her husband’s two sisters. A year later when Dad came home, he and Mom went to live on the Hadley Farm where they rented a house and worked for two years.
Mom and Dad moved to the Marsh Wigle Farm in 1945 and were sharecroppers there for seven years before buying their own farm on Highway 77 in Leamington in 1952. By this time they had four sons, Robert, John, Paul and Dave. They grew all kinds of vegetables on their farm and added greenhouses in 1959, so when their field crops weren’t as good they could depend on greenhouse crops.
Their son Bill was born in 1958 and they rented more land to grow tomatoes and burley tobacco. They seldom hired extra help but did all the work on their farm as a family. Mom worked out in the field and the greenhouse all day and then hurried inside to do all the cooking, cleaning and laundry that her family of seven required.
At her funeral, several of her nieces and nephews mentioned that what they remember about their Tante Anne was that she was always working. They also mentioned her delightful laugh and how they admired her for living in a house filled with six males. Another cousin talked about playing baseball with the Driedger family. Mom played too and had a wicked left-handed pitching arm.
Mom and Dad celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in 1967. They had a service in the church and ordered Kentucky Fried Chicken for the meal. A male choir sang at their silver wedding. Dad was a member of this choir. Dad wasn’t the only one with musical talent though. I remember going to church in Leamington after we were married and seeing Mom sing in the choir. She had a very nice alto voice. By now the boys were graduating from high school and leaving home to go to university. Here Mom and Dad are with my husband Dave at his graduation. By 1973 Bob, Paul and Dave were all married. For the first time, Mom had the daughters she had always wanted.
This is a picture of Mom and Dad at Dad’s pastoral ordination. Dad became involved in church work beginning in the mid-’60s as a pulpit assistant. He was also the Sunday School Superintendent and head umpire for the church’s Sunday afternoon baseball league. In 1970, he was officially ordained as a minister and in 1974 was installed as the leading minister of the North Leamington United Mennonite Church.
That same year Robert, Mom and Dad’s oldest son died of cancer. Mom dealt fairly stoically with this loss. She was never one to complain or feel sorry for herself. I know at her 50th wedding anniversary in my tribute to her, I talked about how courageously she dealt with her crippling arthritis and many people came up afterwards and said they didn’t even know Mom had arthritis. That is just the way she was–dealing bravely and quietly with the difficulties and sorrows life sent her way.
Dad would serve as a pastor for the next 15 years. During that time he married 140 couples and no doubt officiated at just as many funerals. Mom was always at his side during this time, attending all those weddings and funerals and other church meetings and events. At the same time, their family was growing as their ten grandchildren arrived. Mom was a wonderful Oma. In this photo, she is with our son. Mom babysat for her grandkids, made them quilts for their cribs and beds, loved to spoil them with her wonderful baking–her cabbage rolls and paper-thin pancakes and homemade doughnuts and she took a keen interest in each grandchild’s life, praying for them with dedication and remembering their birthdays. She played games with them–Dominoes and Scrabble and Rummycube.
At her funeral four of her grandchildren paid tribute to her remarking on her selflessness, the way they had always felt safe and loved with her, the way she really listened to them and was a trustworthy confidante and the joy she took in her family.
Mom and Dad sold their farm to their youngest son Bill in 1989 and moved into a townhouse in Leamington. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1992. The photo above was taken on the day of their golden wedding.
In 1994 Dad was offered a position as a chaplain at the Mennonite Home. He served in that post till 2008. Once again Mom was Dad’s ongoing support. She was always cheerful and positive and continued doing kind and caring things for her family. Never once in the thirty-eight years that I was her daughter-in-law did Mom say a critical word to me and I rarely, if ever, heard her say anything negative about anyone. In 1995 Mom had a serious heart attack and a quadruple bypass in 1997. Although her recovery was slow, the surgery allowed her to live another fourteen years during which she was able to enjoy the weddings of five of her grandchildren and welcome four great-grandchildren into the world.
The last two years of Mom’s life were not easy. She said to me numerous times that “growing old was not for cowards.” Dad was nearing his 90th birthday and had ongoing health problems that made it difficult for Mom to look after him at home. Of course, she was stoic and brave about this too and it took a long time for her to confess her struggles to us children. When she finally did, arrangements were made for Mom and Dad to move into an assisted living facility at the Mennonite Home in Leamington.
Before that move could happen however Mom had a stroke that left her paralyzed on one side and in a wheelchair. When she finally got out of the hospital she moved into the nursing home and was able to share side-by-side rooms with Dad. She was a very private person and found it hard to have to depend on the nursing staff for all her personal care.
Despite her struggles, Mom remained interested in the world around her, and just six weeks ago was able to attend her granddaughter Hannah’s wedding. In the photo above she is at the wedding, still looking as beautiful as ever.
As she lay dying in the Mennonite Home’s palliative care room last week many of her caregivers came in to say goodbye to her and tell her they loved her. She was one of our ‘favourites’ they told the family. Mom’s warm kind ways obviously were still evident even though she was dealing with challenging health problems. Mom died at 10 in the morning on Friday, October 14th with her family all around her.
All of Mom’s grandchildren were at her funeral and the ten of them carried her casket out of the church and to her gravesite. As a family, we sang Amazing Grace because Mom had requested that it be sung at her funeral. She once told me that it was her favourite hymn because she was amazed that even amid the difficulties of her life God had still blessed her richly and provided for her and her family so generously.
Mom had a way with plants, and the flower beds around her home were always awash with colour. She especially loved pink roses and each of her children and grandchildren placed a pink rose on her casket before it was lowered. I love this photo of Mom as a young woman sitting in the flower bed at her parents’ home.
Mom was a beautiful person inside and out. I count myself blessed indeed to have had her for my mother-in-law. I loved her very much and I will truly miss her.