My Mom was a nut. She died in 1998. My boys were 5 and 8 when cancer whisked her away from us. They are now 33 and 30; it occurs to me they barely knew her at all. I was 8 when my Grandma Tody died and over the years my Mom often remarked, “Oh you would have loved my Ma, and she would have loved you kids so much.” But my memories of her are pretty foggy.
So I thought it might be time to put some Mom stories on paper.
If you ask my husband, Karl, who is a fabulous singer and has recorded several albums, he would tell you that his favorite Darlene story is the time she asked him if he could do her a big favor and get her a copy of his latest album, “you know … just the music … without the vocals – no singing, OK? The music is just so beautiful.” Wait, what? What a nutty request; no one had ever asked him that before … or since.
If you ask my youngest sister, Solveig, about her favorite Mom story, she might tell you about the time they went to New York City together for a weekend of shopping, sightseeing, and theater. Just the two of them. Lo and behold, Solveig grew up to work in the theater business. Growing up in the burbs, Mom dragged us to every play she could. Against all odds, she was determined to make sure we got a little culture.
Or maybe Solveig would tell you about our family vacation to the Black Hills and Wyoming when she was about three years old. Mom made sure that Solveig’s imaginary friends, Misa NeeNee and Toke, were invited along but Solveig assured her they wanted to stay at home. We were all elated when they caught up to us on the plains of South Dakota in their red convertible. Solveig and Misa NeeNee and Toke hopped and skipped circles around us all the way around Devils Tower. Mom loved to tell that story, even though embracing your little girl’s imaginary friends may have sounded a little nutty to some.
If you ask my sister, Holly, she might tell you about Mom taking us girls to Flying Cloud Airport where my Dad worked, to watch airplanes take off and land, just for something different to do. In 1965, we had just moved off the farm where we were busy 24/7 and now had time on our hands. With lots of time and no money, Mom would invent free and fun things to keep us occupied. Holly grew up to work at the airport behind the desk for a time. She loved the action and energy of the airport and she loved working with my Dad. When our friends would say, “Why would you spend the whole day watching airplanes take off and land?” we’d say something like, “I don’t know, our Mom is sort of a nut.”
If you ask the grandchildren, they might say their favorite Grandma stories would include King for the Day or Queen for the Day which was a special day designed by Grandma where each grandchild would choose an activity and spend the day just one-on-one with Grandma. Movies, shopping, Mall of America, fishing, museums, lunch, manicures, amusement parks, or whatever their little hearts desired. On Grandma’s dime. Or they might tell about their 70-something Grandma driving all across the Minneapolis- St. Paul seven-county metropolitan area to watch a 10 pm hockey game in the dead of winter. She looked like the nuttiest grandma in the stands, blowing kisses to her grandson doing his time in the penalty box.
If you ask her friends, they would tell you that Darlene was always learning, learning, learning. We lived in Sunrise Hills, which was a sub-division with lakefront property and a nice swimming beach where all the kids hung out all summer long. She had never learned to swim as a child so she took swimming lessons in her 40’s so she wouldn’t be so nervous at the lake.
Over the years she saved a boatload of money by clipping coupons and one summer day when she had saved up enough, she purchased a little Sunfish sailboat, then she signed up for sailing lessons. She took her friend Myrna Carr and me to Lake Minnetonka where we learned how to launch, set sail, steer, and load the Sunfish back on the trailer.
Sometime in the middle of their 54-year marriage, she felt like she wanted to learn more about her husband’s profession, so she enrolled in Aviation Ground School so she could learn about flying.
When my brother, Dick, was building his business, she learned all she could about sales and sold vacuum cleaners on Dick’s team, and then took her commission money and started college funds for his kids.
When my oldest brother, Hans had horses boarded west of Chanhassen she would drive out on the weekend to help take cockleburs out of their tails. And years later when he was ordained at his church, she was front and center at the ordination service.
She loved working at Minnetonka East Jr. High helping kids learn and learning a lot from them along the way. Learning and growing every day, that was my Mom. Some of these things may have seemed a little nutty to us growing up, but I think I get it now. I think it was all about investing quality time in others, in her family, and in her kids.
Perhaps my personal favorite Mom story might be the one where we were shopping for clothes together and I tried on a low-cut tight-fitting sweater dress. It was fabulous and it looked like it had been custom-made for my young shapely figure. We were at Braun’s at 7-HI. I must have been 16 or 17 years old. It was so sexy, I knew it was out of the question but I had to try. She took one look, tears welled up a little in her eyes, and to my surprise, she said, “That is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen and you have the perfect figure for it. I can’t believe how my little girl is growing up into such a beautiful young woman.” She hesitated a moment longer looking me up and down … and came to her senses, “But you know honey, most men are quite a bit taller than you are and they might be able to see right down into your cleavage. Do you really want ‘Mr. So and So’ down the street to look at you like that?”
As you can well imagine, I could not get that dress off fast enough! The thought of that middle-aged dad down the street I used to babysit for looking at me in ‘that way’ made my stomach turn and it was back to blue jeans and flannel shirts for a couple more years. Mission accomplished! She didn’t say anything like, “Over my dead body are you wearing that out in public!” No, she got me to say that to myself. Oh, and she managed to tell me I was a beautiful woman, all in one fell swoop. Nutty like a fox.
If you ask my older brother, Dick, about his favorite Mom story, he might tell about the cold winter’s day she shot two deer on our Minnesota farm, while my Dad was away in Canada deer hunting with his buddies. Dick was 9 years old and was watching cartoons (“Ruff n Ready” to be exact) on a snowy Saturday morning. He was enjoying the lazy winter morning without chores when suddenly Mom burst through the door from outside all bundled up with sweat on her brow. “Come on, Dick! Get dressed! I need you to help me haul the deer I shot home so we can get them gutted.”
“Whaaat?” Dick lazily quipped, “There is no way you shot a deer. I don’t believe it.”
Our neighbor, Osborne, was right on her heels. “Oh yes, she did. Two of them! I saw them. A doe and a big buck. Now get dressed and help us. Time is running out. We’ve got to get them field dressed right away.”
My sweet little Mom had used a high-powered .30 06 (illegal by the way, for hunting on farmland because of the one-mile kill range) to shoot a small doe, but the doe had kept running and died out of her sight. She thought she had missed, so she took a second shot and hit a big buck on the ridge. She watched him tumble down the snow-covered ravine all the way to the creek at the bottom. She stashed the illegal .30 06 in the bushes and carried the more legal 12 gauge shotgun to the scene.
Once they got the carcasses back home – which was quite a struggle for my skinny 9-year-old brother and my 120-pound Mom – they gutted them and hung them in the machine shed where they remained frozen until my Dad returned from hunting up north … empty-handed, I might add.
In the meantime, one of the neighbors drove by and saw the deer hanging in the shed. He went into town and spread the word that a couple of deer must have wandered into Donny’s machine shed and the little woman had shut the door and shot them inside the shed. He knew my dad was out of town so that must have been what had happened.
Ha! We knew the truth. We still have that box of Rifle Club trophies around somewhere with her name on them. Not so many with my Dad’s name but LOTS of sharp shooting awards with my Mom’s name engraved on them.
If you ask my oldest brother, Hans, about his favorite Mom story, he would say it was that she always brought home more trophies than Dad from Rifle Club competitions.
Over the years when this story would resurface, she would quietly tell us girls that it was the last time she hunted. She said she just didn’t like the way it made her feel. She would run her mink traps for extra money, but she never hunted again.
That is until four decades later when a blue million chipmunks were invading her suburban Chanhassen yard. By this time she was in her 70s and early in the morning, she would sit at the dining room table, sipping her morning coffee. She would silently slip the screen out of the window and aim her pellet gun at those speedy little varmints. Every few minutes she would shout, “Donny, I got one! Run out there and put him in the trash before anyone sees!” What a nut!
If you ask my niece, Dawn, she might say her favorite story was the time that Grandma delivered homemade chocolate chip cookies to Prince’s house and invited him to church.
During the early 1980’s when my Mom was in her 60s, and Prince, riding the success of Controversy and Purple Rain, was newly rich and famous, he lived in my hometown of Chanhassen.
When Mom told us kids what she had done, we were mortified because we were Prince fans and we had heard the rumors about all the stuff that went on behind those gates. Oblivious to all that, my Mom had baked cookies, packaged them up pretty, hopped in her rusty old Honda Accord, and drove out to County Road 117 to the very same address where my high school friend, Ron Lybeck, used to live. The guard house at the end of the driveway was new since Ron’s family lived there. Whatever possessed her that morning we will never know! She pulled up to the gate and a huge and handsome and very polite black man with a ton of gold chains draped around his neck stepped out in front of her car. He slowly walked up to her rolled-down window.
“May I help you, ma’am?”
“Good morning, young man. Is Prince home?”
“Why no ma’am, he’s not. Is there something I can help you with?”
“Well, yes you can. I brought him these cookies I baked this morning. And a bulletin from last Sunday’s service at my church. I would like to invite Prince to visit my church sometime. Oh, and you are welcome to come along too if you’d like.”
Still chattering, she handed him the tin of cookies and the bulletin. “The name of the church is Lutheran Church of the Living Christ and I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s just south of Chanhassen out on Hwy 5. We really look forward to seeing you there. Service times are in the bulletin. Have a nice day.”
“Yes, Ma’am. Thank you, Ma’am.”
Well, I probably don’t need to tell you that Prince never did darken the door of my Mom’s fine little Lutheran church. But it made for a great family story, a story all her kids and grandkids love to tell each for their own reason. All the way from “My Grandma is so gutsy” to “Mom took every opportunity to share her faith with new neighbors” to “I think my Mom is losing it” to “Do you think that really happened?” I am sure the polite man in the guardhouse just thought she was nuts.
A few years later when my niece, Dawn, brought her new boyfriend over to meet Grandma, out came the ritual cookies and coffee. His name was Shawn and he was way too quiet. But in time the conversation meandered around to Shawn growing up in nearby Chaska. It turns out that when he was in high school, Shawn hung out with Prince’s bodyguard’s kids. Hmm, small world. “Big Chick” Huntsberry and some of Prince’s entourage provided a free and easy place for his kids and their friends to hang out, and Shawn was one of the crowd.
Dawn piped up, “Oh yeah! Hey Shawn! Did I ever tell you about the time my Grandma brought cookies to Prince’s house and invited him to go to church with her!?”
Relatively aloof up to that point, Shawn choked, nearly passing coffee through his nose. When he regained his composure, he said, “THAT WAS YOU!!??”
Dawn couldn’t believe her ears. Shawn recounted one day back in high school he was hanging out with the Huntsberry kids when one of the bodyguards had come back to Big Chick’s house with home-made chocolate chip cookies which he shared with everyone, saying something about a little old church lady who had invited them to church. They had all had a good laugh as they munched on the best chocolate chip cookies in Carver County. When he stopped talking, my coy little Mom quietly looked at Shawn and asked him, “Well, why didn’t he come?”
My Mom believed for the best in people and she met them right where they were. While she could always be counted on to be the voice of reason in any given situation, we learned early to expect the unexpected from her. I can’t help but think that my boys would have loved her and would by this time have their own favorite Grandma stories.
My Mom was a nut and we miss her so much.