My aunt called me yesterday. She knew it was the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death and she wanted to know how I was doing. I told her that while I still think of my mother every day, my grief over her death is gradually being replaced with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for her presence and influence in my life.
My aunt told me she was looking forward to attending her granddaughter’s university graduation this coming week. That reminded me of my own university graduation. After high school, I attended college for two years and then completed another year of studies to receive an education certificate so I could start teaching in 1974. But I still needed seven more courses to get my Bachelor of Arts degree.
I took all those classes by correspondence, or during summer school sessions or by enrolling in evening courses. While I did that I was teaching full time and also parenting my young son. I finally finished my last course in 1980 and was eligible to take part in commencement exercises at the University of Manitoba to receive my degree. I decided it would be too much trouble to attend.
But my mother insisted I go. “You’ve worked so hard for that degree MaryLou. You need to celebrate it. I’m going with you and you are going to walk across that stage and get your diploma.” And so that’s exactly what I did. I’ve kept this photo my Mom took of me that day. She was so proud of me. My Mom was my number one cheerleader. I am so grateful for her endless support, her pride in my accomplishments and her constant affirmation.
Crokinole and Ping Pong
International Day of the Girl
This is my favorite photo from our family reunion weekend on Pelee Island in Ontario. One night as the sun was setting our children and their cousins made their way down to the lake front to sit by a large inukshuk someone had built. Watching them silhouetted against the sinking sun I got kind of nostalgic and sad. I remembered all the happy times these thirtysomething adults had as kids… playing together, celebrating holidays and having fun on their grandparents’ farm.
Their grandparents have died now, all these cousins have families of their own, and several live in other provinces, so it will be harder and harder to bring everyone together. Our reunion this summer was a whole year in the planning.
Later looking at this photo I thought of how lucky the Driedger cousins were to have been part of a family where they were loved so unconditionally by their grandparents and where aunts and uncles and cousins cared about them and were interested in them. One of the purposes of inukshuks is to act as direction markers so people can find their way. They are like northern compasses. I hope as our children look back on our many family gatherings over the years, they will have a sense that our time together served as a kind of marker or touchstone that helped them navigate through life.
The Path of Life
The Driedger Amazing Race
Name That Driedger
Spectators and contestants gather for the top junior chef hot dog contest.
Who would be the top chef? Another contest during our family’s Pelee Island reunion was designed specifically for the great-grandchildren. They each picked a mentor from the next generation to help them create and name a gourmet hot dog.
My husband Dave tests the Nacho Dog.
Our senior generation acted as judges which meant we got to taste each of the culinary creations and grade them on creativity, taste and presentation.
The Hot Taco Doggie team wore sombreros and had Mexican music playing during their hot dog presentation
The junior chefs and their mentors had used hot dogs in so many different ways. The Candy Crusher dog featured chocolate sauce and hard candies. The EggsZactly hot dog was served on a waffle with a poached egg on top and the Big Mac hot dog featured macaroni and cheese. After each hot dog had been tasted and graded the teams appeared one by one in front of Judge Uncle Dave who provided commentary on the strengths and weaknesses of their work. Here the creators of the Raging Oma hot dog receive their feedback from the judge. In the end the Holy Chipotle team was the champion because the taste of their hot dog with its homemade chipotle sauce just couldn’t be beat.
A team hugs as they await the judge’s verdict on their hot dog
The contest was lots of fun but also a great exercise in team spirit and cooperation as partners worked together in the kitchen to create their hot dogs, shared ingredients with other teams and cheered on their opponents.
The Amazing Race Driedger Style
A Dog Ate the Cabbage Rolls
Name That Driedger Family Game
The caboose tipped over! I was visiting my 94 year old Aunt Viola in Saskatoon on the weekend and she told me a story about a time her family was in an accident on the way to a wedding.
My aunt Viola and my mother Dorothy. Mom is on the right.
My aunt and my mother were asked to sing a duet at the wedding of their hired girl Tina. Tina was a recent immigrant from the Soviet Union. My grandparents had a farm in Drake Saskatchewan and my grandfather often offered to go to the train station in nearby Humboldt or Lanigan to pick up new immigrants from Mennonite communities in Russia when they first arrived in Canada. If they didn’t have relatives or friends to stay with he would bring them home till they could find work and a place to live. This happened with Tina, but she stayed on for quite some time and my grandparents gave her a job helping with the housework and yardwork. Besides her own four children my grandmother was also caring for her aging mother and blind brother-in-law, so Tina’s help was appreciated.
Eventually Tina met a man whose last name was Buhler and they decided to marry. My mother and my aunt were both very musical and Tina asked them to sing at her wedding. My Aunt Vi said this was a little unusual because normally their parents sang duets together while my mother accompained them on the piano, but Tina wanted Viola and my mother Dorothy to sing so they agreed. My grandmother would accompany them on the organ.
The Schmidt family poses beside their caboose. My Aunt Viola is to the left of her youngest sister Leila and my mother Dorothy is to Leila’s right. Behind them is my Uncle Earl and my grandparents Peter and Annie Schmidt.
The Schmidt family set off for the wedding in their horse drawn caboose, although my aunt said they usually referred to it as ‘the bus.’ The weather had warmed a bit and the roads were slushy and muddy and a real mess so my grandfather decided to go cross country across the land of their neighbor Hugo Bartel because his fields were still quite snow covered. As they sailed across the field the thin runner of the caboose cut into snowbank and the caboose tilted and then tipped right over. Everyone was thrown from their seats. No one was hurt too badly but my mother bumped her eye and it quickly became bruised and swollen.
The North Star Mennonite Church where the wedding took place.
The family righted the caboose and continued on to the North Star Church. My mother and my aunt still sang at the wedding, although my mother was sporting a black eye during the performance. Aunt Vi remembers that Tina had requested the song Keep On the Sunny Side a popular hymn written by Ada Blenkhorn in 1899 so that’s what they sang.
Later when the family looked back on the accident they remembered it with humour and often laughed about how they tipped over so suddenly and how my mother sang such a positive and upbeat song with a black eye.
A Passport of Her Own
Wash Day Tragedy
This is the third year in a row I’ve been a day late in recognizing my siblings for International Siblings Day. I love my siblings and they greatly enrich my life. I know just how lucky I am to have their support and friendship. At my mother’s funeral the four of us gave a speech together to share the story of our Mom’s life. At the end we promised to do our best to maintain the strong family ties Mom had worked so hard to nurture. I think we’re doing pretty well so far.
I Love My Siblings
One Day Late
“I held you before your mother did,” my aunt reminded as she hugged me goodbye.
On our way home from Arizona we stopped in Kansas to spend time with my Auntie Mary. I love visiting with Auntie Mary. She is such a good listener and interesting conversationalist. She is also a veracious reader. When I visit her I always leave with a stack of books she has already read and thinks I would enjoy. This visit was no exception. My nightstand is now piled high with books from Auntie Mary. Auntie Mary is an artist as well and one of her watercolors which was a wedding gift from her decorates our home. Auntie Mary is also a memory maker and creates the most beautiful books of photos and memorabilia that document the history of her family. She did extensive interviews with my grandparents before they passed away and her notes along with family photos she collected were such a valuable resource when we made our trip to Ukraine to discover our family roots.
I learned some new things about my aunt on this visit. She follows NBA basketball! She and my husband Dave had a great discussion about the various teams and players. She is right up to date. She says some of her grandchildren are basketball fans and following the sport makes it fun to text with her grandkids during games. Auntie Mary is also very tech savvy for someone in her eighties. She texts and e-mails and shops online.
Her comment that she held me before my mother did refers to the fact that Auntie Mary was in the delivery room with my mother. This was in the days before fathers were allowed in the delivery room and my aunt was a nurse at the hospital where Mom was having me. She provided Mom with support during the birth. While the doctors finished caring for Mom, Auntie Mary held me in her arms in the delivery room. My mother was so appreciative of Mary she named me MaryLou and told me the ‘Mary’ was for my Auntie Mary.
I was so glad I got to visit Auntie Mary. Like my other aunts she has always been caring and supportive.
I’m Her Namesake
Great Aunt Marie’s Books
High Drama at the Christmas Family Gathering