by Susan Jelleberg

Editor’s Note: This was an entry in the “Who Inspires You” contest

When I grew up, there was an unwritten affirmation given by my parents that there was nothing I couldn’t do. Limits were non-existent. All I needed was hard work and dedication.

When I was six months old, I lost half my hearing to a bout of measles. The limits could have been established then, but I had the most extraordinary mother who believed in her children and our potential. And she would do anything for us.

Sadie Jelleberg, alias Mom, began working full time as a farmwife, mother, and part time as a registered nurse in nineteen fifty-four. She managed to raise four children, yearly gardens, and chickens. Although we ordered some of our dresses from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue, Mom made most of our clothes when we were young.

She was a perfectionist, a characteristic that was instilled in all of us. The difference between Mom and other perfectionist parents, she didn’t criticize us or put us down when we stumbled or fell. I always knew that my best was all she expected and usually, that’s what she got.

There are two sides to everything, including life. We take the good with the bad and hopefully in the end, the good outweighs the bad.

Life was a struggle during the early years of my parents’ marriage. The first year they were married they bought a farm, had my older sister Jackie, and were hailed out with no crop insurance. While we lived on the farm, Mom would work all night at the hospital. Then she would come home in the morning and with no sleep, take care of her three children and do her daily chores.

Taking dinner to the field was an event in itself. Mom would make huge meals and “haul” them to where Dad was working. She would set up a card table and cover it with a table cloth. On the trunk of the car would be pots and pans filled with homemade food. We would use real dishes and silverware. Dad loved pie and ice cream and invariably he would be treated with some packed in a thermos.

After we ate, she would either pack everything in the car to take home for clean up or drive truck for Dad. With my brother, Bob, my sister, and I sitting next to her – usually fighting amongst ourselves – she would put in several hours in the field.

In those days, people didn’t travel like they do now. For the most part, except for Saturday shopping in town and church on Sundays, Mom was home with the three of us. The North Dakota winters got mighty long. One day Mom decided she had enough of cabin fever. She bundled up and took the shovel out with her. The truck was near the house, a considerable distance from the main road. The determined Irishwoman took to shoveling anyway and after many breaks to warm up, she had cleared a path. She piled all of us in the truck and backed it up to the road. Then she drove to the neighbor’s for coffee and adult company. Needless to say, Dad was more than a little curious when he came home and saw the path to the road!

My younger sister, Sally, was born when I was twelve. Mom engaged in full time work the next year at the clinic. Shortly thereafter we moved to town. It was not long after that Mom was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She was told the deliberating disease would put her in a wheelchair within ten years. She was thirty seven.

The disease didn’t slow her down. If anything, it served as a challenge that she was determined to win. Today at seventy-eight, Mom is still walking on her own.

Living in town was a change for all of us. Some of the best times I remember are the parties I had in the unfinished basement of our new house. Several times a year I invited a group of my classmates over and we goofed around and danced. Jackie and I made hors d’oeuvres and served them to my guests. Mom let us entertain until we were in college. One of the last times I had company, she did ask everyone to leave at four in the morning because she had church at eight. Reluctantly, our polka lessons were over for that night!

Growing up without half my hearing was a challenge to everyone around me. I remember Mom sitting with me at the kitchen table, trying to help me understand and say the correct sounds of the alphabet. At around four years old, it was my first unofficial lesson in lip reading. The theme for that night was “sh” and “ch”. Mom went over the sounds continuously, but if a person can’t hear what is being said, they can’t repeat it. Finally, when she was at wits end, I looked at her mouth. I could see the different shapes of her lips. I was surprised and intrigued and tried it myself. Kind of pucker with the “sh” and a position for the “ch” with the tongue behind the top teeth. It worked!

During that same time I was diagnosed with migraine headaches. Whenever I got overtired or rode for more than a half hour in the car, I was guaranteed to have one of these vicious headaches. Mom would sit with me on my bed and rub my temples and assist me when they evolved into upset stomachs. She was there, every time. She never failed me.

Over the years her health began to deteriorate. Arthritis was her enemy, and in the end she had to give up golfing and dancing with Dad. In her fifties, she developed diabetes and with it came the complication of Peripheral Neuropathy. The coverings or coatings of her nerve endings in her feet have eroded to that point that she has pain in them every day, making walking difficult for her.
In the 1990’s, my dad started having health problems. Mom was due to take her Real Estate Exam and change careers when he had a heart attack. Two months later, he had surgery and began to recuperate. It was after Dad was well on his way to recovery that she took the test and passed the first time. She sold real estate until her body couldn’t handle it anymore.

One thing I learned from my mom was that no one, even doctors, can diagnose determination. Mom entertains frequently with friends and family. “Let’s go to Sadie’s” is a popular phrase in town for those wanting coffee or freshly baked desserts or homemade buns. Her crocheted afghans decorate many people’s homes as do the wreaths and crafts she creates to fill her time now that she is retired. You rarely see her with idle hands.

When we were kids, Mom always made things right. Whether it was fixing my hair when I had a bad hair day or drawing smiley faces on cuts with red mecuricome, she knew what needed to be done and did it unwaveringly. Today when I have questions regarding my writing, my children’s health, or life in general, I always call her. Mom can make almost everything right now, too.

She has seen her four children grow up and have children of our own. She helped baby-sit seven grandchildren and is patiently waiting for her first great-child this summer.

There are givers and takers in our world. My mom is a class act giver. Even when she can barely make it out of bed, if someone needs her, she’ll try to be there. She rarely says no. Even with all the crosses she has had to bear throughout her life, she will put them aside in a second for someone else.

Someplace in heaven there is a special place reserved for her. In the meantime, she will continue to give to others and be there for me. What could inspire me more?

Susan Jelleberg is a self-employed artist and author of two activity books for young children from Mar*Co Products, now working on novels. She resides in Bismarck.