Dear Michael, Steve, Jim, Bill, Joy, Jill, John, Rob, Kipp, Joel, Precious, Mark, Grandchildren, and Great-Grandchildren,
I have written this story to share my memories, wisdom, wishes and love for each of you. While it is not of great length, I believe it will provide you with some insights into my life and our family history. I also hope this story serves as a reminder of my love and gratitude for having each of you in my life.
Mom, Grandma, and Great-Grandma
My Parents and Grandparents
My parents were Alvin and Bernice (Volk) Kopischke. They were Polish and German, but born in the United States. They lived and raised my sister and me in Clements, Minnesota, a small town, and a nosy community. I liked it, though, probably because I had never experienced anything else. My dad was a carpenter and my mother was a housewife. They first lived on a rented farm, but later moved into town. Dad became a carpenter and was very good at it even after he cut his thumb off using a table saw.
In thinking back, I wonder, how did my parents make it? Did they live a hard life?
My father Alvin only spoke German until he went to school, where he learned English. Alvin had 16 brothers and sisters! They were Lutheran, and attended Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Clements. My sister Joann and I were both baptized there. Money was tight. I remember getting spanked with my dad’s hand because I brought the wrong groceries home. At Christmas Dad did extra jobs to pay for our gifts.
My mother’s parents were Edward and Anna. They were farmers for a while, but then moved into Clements. Grandma was a stay-at-home mom, and so was my mother Bernice. She married Alvin on May 23rd. Though she “always wanted more,” Dad was good at providing. Mom always did a huge Christmas feast. Mom had a temper, and she would punish by spanking, but she was also funny. She played cards and embroidered.
Originally, my grandparents lived in Redwood Falls, but then moved to Clements, across the street from my family. They were very nice. Grandpa had red hair and was 5’8” and heavy. He was very funny. He liked to sic the dog on the cow. He also liked to tease Grandma. Grandma was pretty with white hair. When they played cards, Grandpa would tell her to take down her hair, comb it, and put it back together – maybe she could play better then! Grandma always wanted me to stay at her place. I liked to help Grandma in the garden, and sometimes I didn’t want to go back home after a day of making apple pies with her!
As I think back on my maternal grandparents, I wonder, did they ever have fun like young married couples nowadays have fun?
Mother always washed, ironed and starched everything. Dad built our house, so we didn’t have any water for a while. We had to walk across the street and get water from a pump and carry it through the barn. Dad was always tinkering with something in the house. He built it by turning an old garage into a house. It took a long time. It was a one story house with two bedrooms. They kept it very clean because that was important to Mom.
My childhood chores were scrubbing the floor, washing dishes, cleaning the house, and gardening. I worked hard. Our family was probably middle class — I didn’t think about money too much, and we always had enough. My sister Joann was eight years younger, so I had to babysit a lot. Joann did lots of things that our mother never knew about. She was babied and got new things, while I felt like I got old things. During World War II, many things were rationed. We had to go uptown with our stamps to get sugar, butter, etc. Clothes were made over, and we had to go easy on gas — it was rationed, too.
One time my parents went to a drive-in movie in Redwood Falls and Ma won $100! That was so much money for them! She just about had a catfit – she had never won anything before! She hung onto that money for a long time. Christmas was always good for Ma. Pa always asked me what Ma wanted for Christmas and she usually got it! I liked spending time with my Dad. I would go along with him anytime. He was a very good cabinet maker. My family had good physical and mental health, and I had 12 healthy kids. Ma said to knock on wood because they were all lucky.
Education was important to both my parents. I always had to do catechism and get my school work done. I was a good student. Church for Ma was more to see what clothes the other women were wearing, but Pa was there for church.
Christmas was the most celebrated holiday and we were together with immediate family and grandparents. My grandparents were poor, so I usually got a handkerchief and a bottle of cheap perfume, but I was thankful because I knew it was all Grandma could afford. My parents usually gave me clothes. On Easter, we got baskets of treats. We all went to church on these holidays.
Mother taught me how a house should be kept, not to let it go. After I had a family of my own, she didn’t understand that I couldn’t keep up my house with 12 kids. Ma didn’t approve of a lot—she didn’t like my friends, and I was not allowed to go to any school events. She was very strict. However, my sister could go to everything! They even bought her a car! I think I was too easy with my own kids because I didn’t want to be as strict as my mom.
My Courtship & Marriage
My husband Delmar’s family was completely different. They had parties, lots of liquor, went lots of places. Our families didn’t get along, and I felt torn. My husband was good in his own way, and I ended up living more like my husband’s family. Delmar was drafted into the service. He was on his way to the Twin Cities for a physical and the recruiter picked him for the Marines. He never talked about his time in the service. He was in Korea where there was lots of combat. When he got back, he did grunt work that most people didn’t want to do. He shingled barns, dug graves, etc.
I met Delmar in Clements while roller skating. I liked him right away. He lived in Sanborn, but he started to hang around me. I was 13 when we met, and Delmar was 18. He had joined the Marines and moved to California, and was on furlough when we met. After he left, we wrote letters to each other. Delmar sent me a ring from California. He proposed through the mail! I was surprised because I was still in school, but I was happy and called him to say yes!
I was a senior in high school when I got married. I was going to have to quit school, so my dad went to talk to the school board members and they decided to let me finish. When I had to take my exams, I had to do it in a locked room by myself. Then I went to California to be with my husband. The school sent my diploma to my mother.
When we got married, we drove to a Lutheran church in Brookings, South Dakota, and we didn’t tell anyone. His parents were upset that we didn’t tell them. My parents were okay because we had dated for almost five years. Delmar’s brother and sister-in-law were the only ones at the wedding. My sister liked Delmar so much that she would cry when he would leave.
I lived in California temporarily when I was first married. It was completely different than Minnesota. I like the seasons here in Minnesota, they are more exciting. However, the ocean was nice! When I went to California for the first time, I was 16. I rode the bus all by myself, and was extremely afraid I would get lost. But I overcame my fears because I wanted to see Delmar.
My Adult Years
It was hard adjusting to life as a wife. I had to gain confidence to do things myself. I soon found out that in some situations I had to say no. I was driven to do the best that I knew how. I would have risked my life for any one of the kids or for Delmar. Money was tight because the babies kept coming! I couldn’t work because there were so many kids to take care of. Delmar was a carpenter. Starting out, things were very tight on a carpenter’s wages, but we made it. We always managed to have “enough.” I became used to stuff happening unexpectedly. I did not plan to have 12 kids, but it was meant to be. The good Lord knows the best way. I never had a hired girl to help me, although I could have used one! But instead the boys learned to do things to help out. They can even make meals!
All of the kids would pitch in and help out — even the boys helped clean house. My first four kids were boys, and they are all good carpenters. Michael is the oldest, the quiet one. I like that he will sit down and talk to me. He is responsible. Steve is 11 months apart from Michael. He used to be more rambunctious in his younger years. He loved loud cars, and I always knew when he was coming home by the noise and speed of his car! Jim is a quiet, nice guy, respectful and talks with me. Bill is the smallest, a funny guy who likes to have a good laugh.
My daughter Joy got her name because we were so happy she was a girl! She helped me a lot, and is good at laying down the law! Jill can take a joke and not let it bother her. She keeps mostly to herself. John goes with the flow. He is independent and likes to do his own thing. Rob likes to work on cars, and is a very good carpenter. Kipp, whose nickname is Bucky, also likes carpentry and working on trucks. Joel was a challenge to raise, but he is good now! He’s very good with his hands. Precious was spoiled because she was the first girl after four boys. She got lots of attention when she was born. Mark gets his work done. He is a good carpenter.
The kids are what made my family special. The best time as a family was the whole Christmas season. We got to see people we didn’t normally see. We had lots of good food, and my favorite was the sour cream raisin pie that Ma made every year. I always tried to put thought into picking out presents that everyone would like. I liked buying the boys metal trucks that could be played with outside and fun stuff they wouldn’t normally get. We would put up the tree after Thanksgiving. In town, though, we had an artificial tree. Ma always did the baking and would bring cookies over for everyone. She would have the kids help her decorate the cookies. They made chocolate chip, roll-out sugar cookies, thumbprint cookies, and more. I hope the family will remember these traditions and that everyone will get together on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
My funniest memory was one Halloween when my parents came to my house dressed up. Ma had bib overalls and an old work cap of Pa’s. She had a shovel and nobody recognized her! I still like to laugh about it! Ma was a fun grandma, she would get on the floor and play with her grandkids.
As a mother, my worries were to have enough money to buy groceries and pay bills, as well as for the kids to stay healthy and do well in school. I was proud when the kids did something that deserved a good pat on the back, like getting good grades or getting all spiffed up for prom. My sad times were when the kids graduated because I knew how much I would miss them. I had to rely a lot on myself. I had to do most things all on my own, but I also got good advice from my limited number of friends. They would encourage me and speak truth.
My kids started out at parochial school. One time at recess a kid was on the swings and my son pushed him higher and the kid started crying. My son called him a snot-nosed kid, and the whole family had to go to the church to be forgiven. The kids then switched schools and went to public school!
My Life Lessons
I don’t ask too much from the church. Sometimes ministers come and visit and that is enjoyable and comforting. One person I would like to thank is Pastor David John. He spent a whole afternoon talking and listening to me during a visit. It made my day and I felt so much better and more at peace.
There are some things I would have done differently. For instance, I would have not had my mother mad at me. After I had my own kids, I wished I would have sat down or went for a walk with her and talked about it. And I would have liked to have been able to go to school functions. One year I was one of six girls up for homecoming queen. I wasn’t able to be in the parade. At the last minute, Dad took me to the coronation and the football game. It was the only game I was ever allowed to attend.
If there were one person I could apologize to, it would be my sister. Right now we are not speaking over a silly matter. I said something and foolishly let it drag on. As a child, my sister tried to rule over me and get better things, but now I would like to apologize and make amends. I would love to have a cup of coffee with her.
My kids taught me to take it easy, there is always tomorrow. My grandkids and great-grandkids have taught me that there is joy in the little things. Just being outside with them or hearing them talk brings me joy. I love watching them. I get a kick out of the little things they enjoy. When I’m gone, I would like my kids to know that sometimes I was wrong and sometimes I was right. Sometimes I wanted to shake them, but most important, I want them to feel safe and to know they are loved.
My Life Reflections
I treasure my kids, grandkids and great-grandkids, and I don’t know what I would do without them. Having healthy kids was more important than money. I’m thankful for minimal family problems. I think people should take marriage more seriously. Sometimes people have too much other stuff going on to make their marriage work, or they haven’t grown up to understand their priorities and are selfish.
In my later years, I enjoyed seeing the kids thrive on their own, supporting each other from a distance. It was nice to be able to have some peace and quiet and sit down to read a book! One year, I wrote a letter to each kid and told them how much I loved them. My son Joel carried that letter in his pocket for a whole year. I like to know what is wrong in my kids’ lives, because it can always be fixed. The best thing the kids do is spend time and talk. I love hearing about them and the grandkids and great-grandkids. I hope they will remember me as someone who sat down and listened to them. I do wish that I could have had more one-on-one time with each child, especially Joel. Every child is different – some needed extra help and some didn’t. I hope my kids will read this book and that my family will understand why I am the way I am, and why I did some of the things I did. I want them to know that I would not want to relive my life any differently.
It is difficult for me to share my feelings, but it is easier to write them than to say them. I was like my dad in that way, who was one of 16 kids and didn’t know how to express himself. Unlike my mother who knew how to speak her mind, I could show my true self more in actions. I am thankful for my family because they have sometimes given up stuff for me, and let some things go. For my kids, grandkids and great-grandkids, I hope they will have their heart’s desire. Life is hard, but hang in there!
Here is my favorite hymn:
Just As I Am
Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot;
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt;
Fightings within, and fears without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind;
Yes, all I need, in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
I wrote the following poem for my family.
There once was a garden with two apple
trees and two weeping willow trees. The
garden had lots of flowers, a pond with
fish in it, picnic table and chairs, and rock
paths. The garden had been started a long
time ago with a lot of work and hopes
and dreams. Everything in the garden
had been new and shiny with no marks or
scratches. But over the years the marks of
love and life showed itself. One apple tree
had withered and left the garden and the
remaining tree was bent. The branches
were gnarled and the blossoms were not
as bright as they used to be. The willow
trees were sad looking, their leaves were
not as shiny as they used to be. In the early
mornings, the dew on the leaves looked
like tear drops. Their branches were
starting to droop and were getting weak.
The garden was filled with flowers of all
kinds, sizes and shapes and colors. In the
center of the garden was a round bed of
carnations of all different colors like red,
pink, lavender, yellow, light green, purple,
multicolored, white, peach, burgundy,
coral, and light blue. There were 12
colors. There was always some action
going on in the flower bed – birds of all
different colors and kinds, butterflies,
bees. Hummingbirds to gather the pollen,
carry it off and spread it in all different
directions, like branches spreading out to
keep the flowers growing. It took lots of
work and prayers, tears to keep the weeds
and thorns away, from taking over the
flowers and destroying them, and leading
them down the wrong path. Each flower
took a different kind of care to keep
growing. Some were rebellious and left
the garden. The tears that the apple and
willow trees let fall to the ground looked
like jewels or the stained glass in church.
All of the flowers were different, some
grew fast, some slow and some liked to
tease. They were different, but each flower
had a special place and special love from
the trees. They were loved equally but in
different ways. All over the garden, little
flowers are growing, a sign that over the
years the garden will never completely
die, but will keep on growing. The apple
tree looks over the garden and says to
himself that he did the best he knew how
to. It was not always the right way, but he
tried. Now that he is old with scars on his
twisted body and parts of his limbs gone,
he is lonesome and very tired. He looks
to the willow trees and hopes that they
will not feel guilty about how they raised
the flowers. They had a hard road to walk
and a lot of the battles of the world to
overcome. One thing the apple tree is sad
about is he never knew to show his love
and understanding with words. The only
way he knew how was to work and show
his love that way. The willow trees are sad
lots of times, their branches droop more
every day and the branches get weaker.
When they look at the 12 flowers, all they
hope is that the flowers understand that
they are loved and will always be loved.
The willows hope that the flowers always
remember that it takes a lot of work
giving up things, being tolerant of other
people, and that everybody is not the
same and do not all think alike. It takes
all kinds of people to make the world.
That is why all the flowers in the garden
are all different colors. The willows hang
onto one thought, and that is, you must
have respect for yourself first, and if you
have that everything else will fall into
place. It is not easy. There will always be
the rocks and thorns along the way trying
to pull you in the wrong direction. To put
a frown on your face takes more energy
than it does to wear a smile all day long.
Mom & Dad
I am writing this from heaven,
Here I dwell with God above,
Here there’s no more tears or sadness,
Here is just eternal love.
Please do not be unhappy
Just because I’m out of sight,
Remember that I’m with you
Every morning, noon and night.
When you’re walking down the street
And you’ve got me on your mind,
I’m walking in your footsteps
Only half a step behind.
And when you feel that gentle
Breeze or that wind upon your face,
That’s me giving you a great big hug
Or just a warm embrace.
And when it’s time for you to go
From that body to be free,
Remember you’re not going,
You’re coming home to me.
And I will always love you
From that land way up above,
We’ll be in touch again soon.
P.S. God sends his love.
Poem read at Bonnie’s funeral. Author unknown.