She Knew How to Love, Cousin Edna
Mueller, Thomas G. "She
Knew How to Love: Cousin Edna Weispfenning."
14 January 2005.
It was 22 below this morning; wind chill was at 40-50 below. I
was getting ready to drive to Fredonia, N.D. to attend Edna Weispfenning’s
funeral. Edna was my dad’s first cousin. She was born on the
Weispfenning farm three miles north of Fredonia in a clay brick
house built by her grandparents in 1888 on their homestead. Edna
was the first born to Christ and Louisa Rath Weispfenning on October
13,1912. She died on January 10, 2005 at the age of 92 at the Wishek
Nursing Home in Wishek, N. D., where she resided since 1995. She
was born mentally challenged and had very limited vision; in her
last few years she was totally blind. I only met her once, back
around 1964 when I was a teenager.
Edna lived on the farm where she was born and was cared for by
her parents until her father’s death in 1962. Her mother stayed
on the farm until 1969 when they moved to Fredonia, N.D. Here they
had indoor plumbing and running water in the house and only lived
a few blocks from church so they could walk to church. In 1995,
they both moved into the nursing home in Wishek, N. D and in 1996
Louisa died at the age of 101.
Edna’s immediate family tells stories of her growing up
on the farm and being part of the family. Edna made many contributions
to her family. As a child she was able to do some chores like carrying
all the water into the house. I have personal experience in regard
to carrying water from the pump by the windmill where the stock
watered. When I lived with my Aunt Hulda Ehmann on their farm southeast
of Gackle, N.D., I also carried all the water to the house. There
were only three of us at Aunt Hulda’s; at the Weispfenning
farm Edna carried water for the family of eight. On wash day it
was a lot of work. Edna’s Grandmother Susanna Schneider Weispfenning
recited on a regular basis in German, “Work makes your life
sweeter”. Edna was also charged with the responsibility of
feeding the pigs when they had them and carrying out all the gray
water from the kitchen. Back in those days it was called the slop
pail. Edna’s sister Alma added, “She wasn’t able
to do everything, she just couldn’t master milking the cows,
but Dad and Mom found things for her to do”.
Alma tells me that as a child Edna started to keep all the church
Sunday bulletins in a drawer. She kept them straight, week by week
and if asked for a certain one was able to retrieve the right one.
She wasn’t able to read them because of her eyesight but memorized
the content such as baptisms, births, deaths and weddings from the
oral church service and counted back that many weeks and came up
with the right bulletin. Alma also said their mother worked with
Edna until she was able from memory to recite The Ten Commandments
and The Lord’s Prayer.
When Edna was in her early thirties, she slipped and fell and
broke her wrist. She came into the house and went to bed crying.
Louisa checked on her and asked her what was wrong. They took her
to Kulm and had her wrist set and bound with a piece of metal so
she couldn’t use the wrist until it healed. Alma said that
she never complained, even when she broke her wrist.
They had an Edison phonograph and Edna kept the cylinder records
in order so she could find what she wanted to listen to. Here again
she didn’t pick out the records by sight, but felt inside
the record feeling the grooves and by that knew which record it
was. Her sister, Frieda Weispfenning Buerkle, told me this story
two years ago and also said that she and their sister Alma, when
they were young, mixed the records up as a trick. Edna by touch
knew that someone messed with them. Frieda said, “Did we get
it from Dad”. Alma also told me this same story last night
on the phone.
During threshing, after Edna’s sister Alma married and had
babies, Edna helped care for the children when the women were busy
with food preparation. All of Edna’s nieces and nephews had
a strong bond with Edna. I have also heard stories that came from
her nephew Barry Weispfenning that he spent many hours playing with
Edna when he was a child. Over the past few years I have heard many,
many fond stories of Edna and how she found her way into their hearts.
Today sitting in the Martin Luther Lutheran Church during Edna’s
funeral, I felt a lot of different emotions. This church was built
in 1926 and the surrounding country churches over the years merged
into this church. Many of my dead ancestors have been served well
by this congregation over the years. Baptisms, confirmations, weddings,
Sunday services and a lot of funerals have been conducted on behalf
of many of them. I connected with all of this today, felt this sense
of history and felt joy, but the task at hand was to have a proper
funeral and burial for my first cousin once removed and I also felt
sorrow. Over the arch of the Alter these words are written in German,
“All that has Breath, Praise the Lord”.
Edna was also a great singer; she could sing many songs for you.
The last few years when her relatives would visit her, they would
always have her sing her favorite song in German, “Gott Ist
Die Liebe” which translates in English to “God is Love”.
Today we were treated to this very song sung in German from the
balcony of the church by a quartet of local people, Ray and Bernitta
Krueger, Mildred Zenker and Arven Janke. They also sang another
song, “Life’s Railway to Heaven”. Their voices
filled the church from the balcony and it was very powerful, like
a song from Heaven.
The pastor, Rev. Brandon Woodruff, besides having a nice sermon,
sang “Amazing Grace”, and provided a beautiful service.
One of the other things that Edna contributed to was her mother
longevity. Louisa lived until she was 101 years old and I feel that
part of her longevity comes from her desire to care for her mentally
challenged daughter. Louisa’s long life was a gift to all
her descendants. Having Louisa around until 1996 gave her grandchildren
a stronger memory of her. For that, I feel Edna was a contributing
Edna’s life story is just about ever day life, growing up
on a farm in a much simpler time, but her story needs to be told.
Not just to preserve her memory but for a lot of other reasons too.
What’s coming through to me is the fact that she never complained,
she was satisfied with what God gave her. I wish I could say that
for myself. In today’s world we all want more, want it now
and complain when we don’t get it.
The other thing that is coming through to me is that she was loved
by all the members of her family, her mother, father, siblings,
nieces and nephews and she knew how to love them back.
I asked my second cousin Jeff Weispfenning, Edna’s nephew,
if he would contribute something to this story. His reply blew me
away; his story is a reflection of who Edna really was and he relates
this delightful story. Jeff and his brother Barry, Ted and Mavis’s
sons, grew up on this same farm with Edna as a playmate and caregiver.
Barry and I were very fortunate in that we had a chance to live
next door to our grandparents as we were growing up on the farm.
Grandma would cover up for us, no matter what the latest mischief
we had gotten into. Sometimes we got to spend the whole day or spend
a night if we were formally being babysat. Although Edna was almost
forty years older than me, Edna was a great playmate. Some of my
fondest memories are of playing paper dolls with Edna. We would
build churches of people from old Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Ward
catalogs. We'd take the index pages, which I remember to be yellow
or green, and tear out a sheet, fold it in half vertically and then
fold it again to make a pew. Then we'd go to the clothing section
and cut out people in their fine clothes and fold them in the middle
to sit in the pews as members of the congregation. We built some
fine congregations in those days. And despite all of my formal scissors
training in first grade and practice in the next two grades with
a scissors, Edna was a much better cutter of paper dolls. Much as
I tried, I was never as good at cutting as she was. The images of
the great congregations that we had built on Grandma's kitchen floor
rolled through my mind last Friday at Edna's funeral.
Well cousins and relatives, what can I say, here
in North Dakota where our ancestors taught us how to believe in
God, work hard, respect our elders, respect other people that were
less fortunate than us, and make paper churches with pews and people
on Grandma’s kitchen floor.
Birthday Party! Here she is with her children: Ray, Ted, Freida,
Alma, and Edna