My Momma, Ruth Dahlquist Lenz

My mother describes herself as a 'bossy older sister'. She was also a 4th generation teacher and Valedictorian of her Akeley Minnesota high school class, 1929. She was only 12 when she lost her warm nurturing father and soon went to work at the telephone company, after school and weekends. She often walked the mile home from town, even on dark cold winter nights.

They lived on a small farm in northern Minnesota.Her parents had chosen Akeley partly because it had its own high school and they wanted their brood of five able to live at home and finish high school. Mother's siblings included Glen, Mildred, and twins, Ralph and Clare, who were only six when their father died. It was a terrible blow to them all to lose Joseph, but the loss probably was most keenly felt by my grandmother and mother. Gramma Dahlquist came from Minnesota to live near us before I went to kindergarten. She lived in the upstairs apartment at 675 North Huntington Boulevard. Later when my father built the house on William Street, he also built a duplex on the back of the lot and my grand mother lived there the rest of her life.

Gramma was all business. She was warm-hearted, but it took some patience to get past her critical, practical, somewhat pessimistic nature. After I began teaching and bought my first new car, a 1962 Volkswagen bug, I used to take Gramma grocery shopping. We would get in, buckle up, and then I would tell her to hang on, and off we would go. There was a handle on the dashboard in front of the right hand seat. She would get a twinkle in her eye and grab it. She also used to like to play Chinese Checkers and was pretty good at it, too.

Elnora knew about Gramma's goodness, too. It was her idea to purposely leave the 'cream' out of the refrigerator when we went off to school. She knew that Gramma would come in, discover the problem, and then make sugar cookies using the cream. (We used to buy Scott Bros. "pasteurized" milk. It had not been homogenized and the cream would float to the top. We would pour it off into a creamer and then drink what was then low fat milk.

But back to my mother. As the oldest she took a great deal of responsibility to help keep the family together. They were quite poor, eking out a living with chickens, a cow or so and much hard work. Mother's work at the phone company was essential. As the children were old enough, each found work after school and summers. Mother recalls having saved $50 for college from her meager wages and then it was needed to buy feed for the chickens.

With some loans from from family friends, Mother was able to complete training at St. Cloud Teacher's College. Jobs were pretty scarce, it was the Depression, but she found a job teaching in Kellogg, Iowa's 3 classroom school. With her first pay check of $90 she spent $50 on a warm winter coat. She lived with families and

enjoyed taking walks and playing the piano during her spare time. In Kellogg she became friends with Elnora Lenz, and was taken out to the Lenz family farm for Sunday dinner. She met the 3 Lenz boys and became a special friend of Ernie, the middle brother.

She taught a total of six years before marrying Ernest and going to California as his bride in 1937. In 1938 Elnora was born and sixteen months later, I came along.

Both my parents had many talents. My father could fix almost anything and my mother sewed our clothes, canned fruit, jam, vegetables, painted walls, learned to drive a car, and oversaw our exposure to nature, literature and music. One of my early memories was when Elnora and I sang "Away in a Manger" at the Church Christmas potluck dinner. We brought our dolls, our rocking chairs, and Mother played the piano while we sang. It is dimly in my memory and I must have been less than five.

My first memories of my mother include the time she was out in the back mowing the lawn. My father was away at work. Earlier that day she had been cleaning out the medicine cabinet. Apparently, I already knew about Hershey bars and recognized that Ex Lax tasted like them. Elnora and I were free to be in or outside, and I found the ExLax, usually safely away up high, on the kitchen counter and I helped myself.

I donŐt recall if Elnora told on me or whether my mother figured it out, but the next thing I knew Dr. Richmond came to our house to pump out my stomach. I lay on the kitchen table while a tube was put down my throat. I still like Hershey bars but I believe that was the last time I ever had Ex Lax.

One of our early Christmas presents was a standing easel with a chalk board, a good gift to encourage creativity and literacy. She also read to us regularly. She herself burned many a pan when lost deeply in a book while dinner was cooking. Before she went back to work she was active at church. She was the Junior Sunday School superintendent at Trinity United Methodist Church. As I recall I had mixed feelings about her job. A higher standard of behavior was expected of me in Sunday School because of her volunteer job. I am sure that was not a burden to Elnora, but I didnŐt like to be reminded by my teacher than I should be doing things differently because of my mother's job.

I guess she has been a member there 58 years now. Some of the same people still go there and I guess they have either forgotten or forgiven me because they are most pleasant whenever I show up with her.

My mother wore her hair, which was somewhat wavy and slightly auburn braided and pinned up on her head . She braided our hair in French braids each day but

we could do our own bangs. I loved to use a lot of wave set on my bangs and clip them in a standing wave up from the front of my face. In 3rd grade I had my braids cut off and wore short hair most of the time for the next 40 years or so I remember sometimes she would buy large gum drops at the store and Elnora and I would get one of each color. We put them into jar lids but my seldom lasted very long. Another treat when my father was working on summer evenings, sometimes the three of us would drive down to the Foster's Old Fashioned Freeze and get a 5 cent cone. Once I even found a dime on the sidewalk in front of the store!

My father began to have severe back pain that went down his left leg. He was eventually unable to work or even sit! He was only comfortable when lying on his stomach on the floor or standing . It took many months and doctors before one decided that he had a slipped disk and that surgery could remove the pain. He spent ten months finding the diagnosis but was back at work four weeks after having the surgery!

It was during that time that Mother decided to go back to work as a teacher. She was a most unusual mother. Hardly anyone's mother worked outside the home in my class. I came to like the freedom I had after school. There was no one to come home to so I could decide about my whereabouts for an hour or so after school.

Mother began taking classes at La Verne College and eventually completed all the necessary credits to graduate and receive a regular credential. She taught kindergarten, junior first, sixth and eighth grades. We got a new car in 1948, a Special Deluxe Plymouth sedan and we drove to Iowa and Minnesota to visit the Lenz and Dahlquist sides of the family respectively. It was the first time they'd been back since they married. I remember having a wonderful time with my cousins Dwight and Dale who lived on the Lenz family farm in Kellogg, and meeting the Dahlquist cousins, Kent, Terry and Julie, seeing the lakes but I was miserable with all the mosquitoes that bit me in Minnesota.

Mother was a very independent, capable woman. Even though she was teaching, she still did most of the cooking, from the time I was in 4th grade until she retired in 1971, the year her second grandson, Jason, was born. She also took up being President of the United Methodist Women, baking all the bread, and knitting sweaters for everyone.

Karen Chapman Lenz
November 1995