She Knew How to Love, Cousin Edna Weispfenning
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 factor.
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.
Louisa's 100th Birthday Party! Here she is with her children: Ray, Ted, Freida, Alma, and Edna