When you walk into my living room, the first thing you see is a tapestry that my brother John gave me many years ago. It is called “Many Strong and Beautiful Women” by the artist KIKI. It is a bold, contemporary design that bears taking time to study deeply. One of my favorite scripture passages is Proverbs 31, which is often called “The Valiant Woman” or “The Worthy Wife”
As we recall Mother’s Day today, I am aware that my whole life, I have been surrounded by strong and beautiful women, and I pray in thanksgiving for the way they have shaped my life in the past and continue to do so.
Let me introduce you to a few of them.
First off there is my Mother, Rosemarie Murdy. Mom was sixty going on twenty five when she died, and there was little she couldn’t do! Mother was a registered nurse whose specialty was pediatrics. Long before there were things like neo-natal ICU, everybody knew they would call in Rose to special a sick baby, or to start an IV where no one could.
Mother decorated cakes for everyone in town, sewed every dress I had till 8th grade, and even burned a whole in one of my prom dresses while she was doing the final ironing. She was a marvelous cook, and had a huge garden that provided her family with plenty of wonderful things to eat through the winter seasons. Recently I had a few folks over for a big dinner. I spent a fortune in time and money preparing it, and was exhausted afterwards. Mother cooked like that a couple of times a day on a tight budget, while caring for four kids and working full time!
Mom taught Religious Ed Classes, helped with the Blood Drive, the Boy Scouts, the Cub Scouts; did a stint as Blaine County Republican Chair, and helped where ever needed. Mom definitely was a strong woman, in abilities and in personality. When she had an opinion on something she was not afraid to share it or stick up for it.
In a day when the folks didn’t have much, she was always willing to help someone else in need. I recall the camping trips where we took some poor kids under our wings, or the Thanksgiving the band in town to play for the dance the next night ended up at our place for dinner. Mother had many pieces of hand beaded Native American jewelry. Often someone came into the hospital with a sick child and need some money, so Mom would buy a necklace from them. A few folks would stop at the house to sell her beaded jewelry as well. She always kept extra gloves and hats in the car, and picked up plenty of hitchhikers, and made sure they had warm things when they left……just like they were another one of her kids. There was always an extra plate and place ready at our table.
She was a woman with a strong work ethic, and a deep faith. There is the story of the prophet Elisha asking to have “a double portion of Elijah’s spirit” I often think that if I could be half the woman my mother was, I would indeed be blessed Would that I were.
Grandmother Margaret Murdy was another strong soul. She was an art teacher for many years at Sacred Heart School in Miles City, Montana. My grandfather Lloyd Murdy often worked as a hired hand on for other ranchers and was away for months at a time. Grandmother had to make all the day to day decisions and discipline. From what my Father has told me, she was a master of reverse psychology. I don’t have many memories of her. One time we made a project together with flat stones and glue, making it into walls. She came to visit us the summer of 1970, and died on the 4th of July in the big gold chair in the living room. I have the picture of us playing Yahoo, but not a lot of other recollections.
I have little red cardinal knickknacks that were hers, and a few of the “How to” art books she loved. I recall getting a lemon custard cone at the “Penguin” Ice cream shop once when we visited.
I never met my grandmother Walburga Schmidt, but have always felt as if I was a bit of a kindred spirit with her. Grandpa Schmidt came over as an immigrant, and homesteaded in Eastern Montana. He returned to Europe and married my grandmother and brought her over to the US. She went from the beautiful, lush regions of Eichstatt, Bavaria to a dismal dugout in the barren regions of Eastern Montana. Mother told me she loved music, and when I was singing arias in college, she recalled hearing her mother sing some of them. It is amazing to look at pictures of the tar paper shack, and the harshness of that life, yet one can see she made curtains, turning it into a home. She was an excellent cook as well, and always found a way to provide for her family. She died in March of 1962 and I was born in April of 1963. I was lovingly called, “My grandmother’s child.”
A friend of mine has daily and weekly access to her grandchildren. The closest thing to this I had as a young child were a couple of neighbors. Grandma Grayce and Smokey Sandford lived next door, and they were as close to family as one could have without being flesh and blood. There was no fence between our yard and theirs, so our world and games stretched forth into both yards.
In the evenings we would all sit in the back yard and they would do stuff like humor me and time how long it took to run around the house. Grayce and Smokey knit us beautiful wool mittens, and taught me how to play Cat’s Cradle, and numerous card games. They helped keep an eye on us a lot as kids. Grayce made a paprika salad dressing that was simple but good. She was a teacher from Morris, Minnesota when she met Smokey. They spent most of their lives on a homestead on the Missouri River. My dad was always fascinated with the River, and learned much from them about it. When the family went to Grandma Murdy’s funeral, I stayed with Grandma Grayce. They drove a blue rambler with plastic bubbly vinyl seatcovers, and had those amazing bubbling tube Christmas decorations. (Years later, Grandpa Schmidt came to visit us and stayed for several years, so I did get an intense experience of live in Grandpa with him, but I was older then)
Grandma Morgan lived down the hill two blocks away. As a little girl, I heard her playing the pump organ and pretty much knocked on the door and made myself at home. With her we blew soap bubbles through wooden spools, played Old Maid and Crazy 8, and she made these cut out animals out of milk cartons. It was another regular place on my stops.
Growing up in a small town, there are so many people than influence. Lucia Leeds, Nancy Inman, and Gladys Burkhartsmeyer were my introductions to music and vocal production as I sang with the church choir at a young age. Evelyn Schubert, Rita Langford, and Maggie Moffat were all some of my heroes from church choir, and women’s softball. JoAnn Meyer was the stay at home mother of six who moved into town about my 5th grade year. There were always fresh cookies there. She and Ruth Sowers were the adult friends that were not your Mom that you could talk to and ask questions.
Then there were the mothers of all my friends. Mary’s mom Mockie, Sue’s Mom Muriel, Teresa’s Mother Melinda, Micks’ mom Aurelia, Rob’s Mom Ruby…..and so many others…. They all had a hand in raising us. Anybody’s mom could kick your butt if you needed it when we were out playing. Betty Sattleen, Cora Hellman, or Jean Erickson would remind you how to behave too.
Let alone those influential teachers, Janet Olson (and her sister Elsa) Mildred Doney, Anne Dannis, Mrs. Kimball, Mrs. Obrien, Mrs. Jellum, Mrs. Perry, Miss Swant, Mrs. McKay, Mrs. McKivor, Becky Stuker,…. Carla Rask is the only person who ever made me feel like I could succeed when it came to sports, and was kind when my natural clutziness kicked instead.
The women I met during my years at Sacred Heart Monastery taught me so very much about faith, about religion, about life. Ruth, Brigid, Renee, and Annella were my spiritual Ammas. Emily and Jean were my guides. They had such deep devotion to our Lord, and such patience with me. They were so formative in my life, and I am always grateful for that time, and that whether I am inside a Monastery or not I still have the spirit of St. Benedict and the Sacred Heart of St. Gertrude. It has led me in my ministry and my whole life.
When I speak of Strong Women, one who need special mention is my Dad’s wife, Donna Neibauer. She lost her own beloved Neil at young age, and has been through many hardships with My Dad’s brain injury, Tom’s Accident, and Jodi’s illness and passing. She has ever been kind and generous, going out of her way to make us feel welcome in her home. On one side of the hallway hangs the Neibauer picture’s baby and graduation picture, and the other side has the Murdy kids. It is not easy to meld worlds and families when everybody has all moved away, but she has done a wonderful job, and has taken such good care of my Dad all these years.
My aunts and cousins are amazing too. Everyone has their own bit of wisdom and their own life experiences. I’ve been so grateful to live near my Aunt Donna, when the rest of family is so far away. She has been a strong voice of reason and compassion in my life, and a sounding board when life is complex. When I am near her, I feel close to my Mom. It has been amazing to watch my cousins become wives, mothers, grandmothers…….of course sometimes I think “How did they age when I have not?” for I still feel rather childish at times. It is amazing to see their families, and my brothers and my sister in laws too, and how proud I am as I watch the people my nieces and nephews are becoming.
Then there are those of you whom I have not named: My friends, my confidantes, those women I have walked through my life with: the grade school friends I still connect with, people I went to college with, choir and parish members with whom I worship, those whom I make music with, those I know professionally, those whom I have met through modern technology but have yet to hug in the flesh. It is these women that I have learned the sacredness of a cup of coffee or tea, the sharing of a quick bite, a simple text on a busy day, special moments of music, and of silence. Times of great joy, and great despair. The bonds of friendship can be just as strong as the ties of blood. I am ever grateful for you.
So yes, Mother, I love you and miss you this day, but I also celebrate with deep gratitude, You and all the strong women like you that have been a part of my life, and those I have yet to meet. You have formed me. May I draw upon your wisdom, and may I follow your examples today and every day. Amen