Two weeks ago, Mrs. Maria VanderPutten, my mother-in-law, went to her Eternal Reward.
She suffered a fall, was taken to the hospital and the doctor gave her 24 to 48 hours to live due to a blood clot on the brain. The physician’s timing was right and now she is gone…..
Although Mom had been suffering with severe dementia for the last two years, her death was unexpected to us. Physically she was frail but she still seemed reasonably healthy, as far as we knew.
I remember the first time I met my future mother-in-law. Vincent and I, with a friend who was the chaperone, traveled from North Dakota (a Catholic Shrine where we had been working and courting) to the Missouri Homestead where the big and boisterous VanderPutten family lived. There were 13 children – 10 boys, 3 girls – and most of them still lived at home. They worked, prayed, and played on their 80 acres with gusto!
Mrs. VanderPutten impressed me from the moment I met her. She was a small but feisty woman who worked hard to keep her home fires burning. From sunup to sundown, she was cooking, cleaning, gardening, taking care of her flowers, telling stories, teaching the Faith, singing, praying.
At prayer time, she led everyone in the songs….many of them Latin.
She told stories of the saints, the end times, the war, the Olde Country (she was from Holland), the Catholic Traditions that she missed so much….
I remember Vincent telling me that she immigrated to Canada from Holland. I also remember him telling me that she was intent on NOT marrying a Dutch farmer.
John VanderPutten was also in Canada. He didn’t frequent the bars or the night spots. He worked hard and then went home. But he was 29 years old and wanted a family of his own. He asked the priest if he had to go to places like these to find a wife. The priest told him, “John, just keep doing what you are doing and pray. God will provide.”
He went to work on a door at a customer’s home. A babysitter was there….her name was Maria….it was a set-up by a friend. They sat and played cards together. The rest is history…..and he was a Dutch farmer who had also immigrated! Just what the Divine Matchmaker ordered! 😀
Their wedding picture:
Mr. VanderPutten was a supervisor of a very successful construction firm in California. They would go on vacation every year. One year they went to Europe with all their nine children for 3 months! John made very good money.
John and Maria knew the value of raising kids Catholic. And they saw the lifestyle in the city, in California, was not conducive to a wholesome atmosphere for raising children.
So, they left everything they had – job, worldly possessions….packed what they could into one vehicle and decided to move somewhere in the country where they could raise their children peacefully…..raise them Catholic, inside and out.
As they traveled around the U.S. they came to a sign in Ohio that read “Apple Cider, Free Samples”. They stopped to get a drink of the freshly pressed juice and John asked the old man if he would be willing to sell his farm to him. The old man hesitated, but only for a moment, and then said that he would. John wrote him out a check for $30,000 and they all moved into the 2 story, run-down old farmhouse that night and began pressing cider to sell the next day!!
Ah! Such Faith and Such Vision. What a willingness to do whatever it takes for the sake of their children’s souls! Talk about seeing the bigger picture!
Fast forward many years, more children……the final destination was FairPlay, MO, living on a beautiful farm with 80 acres where the family worked hard on the land growing melons and other vegetables and fruit to sell to the public…..
Though the season for Truck Farming was busy, working hard each day in the scorching heat for many hours, I remember the pleasant evenings of ice cream and conversation.
I also remember the winters, when things slowed down. Everyone still had their chores. Firewood had to be cut, goats were milked, meals were made, etc. But in between times there was skating, playing board games, lively discussion….
Maria was a strong woman. She was not afraid of sacrifice. And she taught her kids not be afraid of it either. Sympathy was not handed out freely. I remember Father VanderPutten saying that she would make a meal once a week that, on purpose, tasted lousy just to teach the kids how to sacrifice. Now, I think he was saying that tongue-in-cheek but the gist of it was….if it didn’t taste good….all the better, now you could offer it up!!
If the weather was hot (and it got HOT in Missouri) don’t expect to find comfort at Maria’s. Yes, she had a fan, but AC was out of the question.
November would roll around, cold weather had set in for a time and all the neighbors had been using their heaters, furnaces, etc. Maria used……a sweater, leggings under her skirt, maybe a scarf….. She hadn’t even started a fire yet in the old wood stove!
Haha…….a difficult place to visit! At least at night when you had a dozen or so kids in tow that you are trying to get to sleep!
But during the day….Ah! It was beautiful, those acres in Missouri! Rolling hills, ponds, goats, horses, raspberries, blackberries, cantaloupe, watermelon……
And so many blueberries!! My husband had planted 2 acres of blueberries when he was working, single and still lived at home. When he decided to move and get married he gave the blueberry patch to his parents.
They had a U-Pick Patch for many years and Maria was out there picking with the rest of them, in the heat, dripping sweat. She pruned, watered and looked after the berries with pride. She looked after the Selling Stand. She made jam, pies and many other dishes with the berries.
When we went there for blueberry-picking time, the kids would have a certain quota they had to pick before they could play. And it was not an easy quota. They all started early so as not to have to pick in the heat of the day. It didn’t matter if you were 5 years or 15 years old….you picked. With plastic ice cream bucket hanging on a string around the waist, you picked with a vengeance! And woe to you if you just jumped around from juicy looking clump to clump, from bush to bush. You would be admonished quickly and told to “Clean each bush!!” Were you feeling sick in the heat, no matter. Were you tired…tough! You got it done because you disliked those dreaded words….“You sure are lazy!”
Our son Giuseppe (Sep) with his grandma about ten years ago:
Mom and I visiting….
As I mentioned, these last couple of years have been hard for Maria. She knew she was getting dementia and it terrified her. And for the last many months she has not been with us mentally. It has often made me think of St. Louis Martin, St. Therese the Little Flower’s father, who suffered the same thing at the end of his life. It was his and the family’s greatest cross.
And now Maria is gone….a blessed relief for her. If she isn’t already, she will hopefully soon be with her beloved husband, who died about 18 years ago now, and with her very best friends, Jesus and Mary.
She was always, to me, a wonderful example of Strong Faith, Quiet Courage, and a great Fidelity to her Family. She leaves quite a legacy behind her – 13 children and over 100 grandchildren and great-grandchildren! We will miss her.
Good-bye Mom, Rest in Peace…..
Sign up for the drawing this evening (Tuesday, Aug. 8th) here.