Thursday, September 16, 2010

More on Birdie Ritchie

The entire family worked together herding and milking cows, raising gardens and canning. Work was hard to find, but Alf worked whenever he could--sometimes herding sheep. The entire family took time to play too. Alf and Birdie would put a dollar in a box and then wrap it with crumpled newspaper. They would then fill a large box with crumpled newspaper; the kids would search until they found the prize. Birdie even took time out of her busy schedule to wash Shirley's hair with lemon soap to try to keep its golden color.

Alf had inherited the gene for polyps, and gradually he got sicker. When he passed away, Birdie was left with six children to raise. The industrious little lady rose to the challenge. She and her family planted gardens, milked cows, canned everything available, and stored vegetables in a root cellar.At a time when many kids were going hungry, she made sure that her kids were well fed. Donna said she can remember coming home from school hungry and cold to find Birdie taking fresh bread out of the oven. She would make some excellent dishes including beans, her famous homemade cottage cheese, rice pudding, and potatoes. She would let the kids choose what they put on their plates, but once it was there, they were expected to eat it. Her children were in definite agreement on Birdie's wonderful cooking abilities.

Birdie managed her money carefully. Fred commented to me that she may not have known where she would earn dollars, but she always knew where she planned to spend them. She was a giving person. Fred recalled that when he was just starting out on his own, he was really needing some money. While he was visiting one day, Birdie pulled out five dollars and said she wanted him to have it. Another time she gave him some new shoes that she had a feeling she should buy. They fit him perfectly and at that time he really needed shoes.

Donna recalled Birdie saving soup labels for a long time so that one Christmas she could get Dorothy, Donna, and Ruby lighted snowmen.

As her own children grew up, married, and became independent, Birdie started raising a whole new generation of grandkids. We loved her little house and large lot in Ucon. Lynn and I spent countless hours perfecting the art of hut-building. She would let us use all the scrap wood about her house, but we did not have nails. We worked on our design until we could build a hut that would last for years without nails. We would pretend that we were pioneers, and when we got hungry we would head for the "general store." That was our nickname for Grandma Birdie's house. She would break out the Welch's grape juice and gingersnaps, and we would visit about the olden days.

After living through the depression, Birdie liked to save everything. She believed in recycling way before anyone else. She would let her grandkids use material that she had saved. For example, we would play store using old mail that she had kept--although we could never figure out why it was addressed to Wilhelmina.

When she irrigated, we would wade through the water and, in a particularly creative moment, found that we could use her old wash tubs as miniature boats and float down the ditch. After Nancy had Layne, he created a new name for Birdie--Great. When Nancy was attending school, Great helped tend Layne and Lisa--thus mothering yet another generation. Donie and Layne loved to tease Great, but she would tease them right back.

If Birdie had one unlucky area, it was in traveling. In 1963, she was traveling to Great Falls, Montana, to see her brother Will. Eva and Grace were traveling with her. The car slid on some oil and crashed; Birdie ended up in a strange hospital with a dislocated hip. She missed out on the entire visit. Annette remembers helping her when she got home. In 1970, Boyd was taking Birdie to Virginia to visit Dorothy. Birdie had gall bladder problems and ended up in a strange hospital in Kansas. When she was well enough to travel Joy, Harold, and Ruby brought her back home.

She did have some good trips to Montana and California to balance these out. However, in March of 1977 this traveling bad luck struck again. Birdie was in a serious car accident; nearly every bone in her body was broken. The doctors did not expect her to survive, but then they did not know about her determined spirit. One doctor, amazed at Birdie's will to live, said, "She must come from good stock." Birdie slowly healed and amazed the medical profession by learning to walk again. She lost some of her independence after this accident, but none of her love and determination. She made the best out of a difficult situation--making crafts and new friends including a checker pal maned Max. She loved to visit with anyone who came to see her. She commented that it was challenging to raise so many children but she was glad to have them as she herself faced challenges. Towards the last years of her life, she needed more care. Donna devoted countless hours to this, saying that she found it a source of comfort and that she gained true appreciation for her mother.

Some lines in Ecclesiastes read: To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven; a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to get and a time to lose, a time to keep and a time to cast away, a time to keep silence and a time to speak.

Speaking as one who love Grandma Birdie, I can think of no other woman who so fully has exemplified living through all the seasons of life.

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