Friday, May 6, 2011

In Honor of Mother's Day: A Pioneer Girl

Her name is Florence Marie Swinburne Newhouse, and she is my mother.  She was born in 1907 in Wales, North Dakota, which was founded in 1897 in the extreme northeast part of the state; it’s almost in Canada.  In 1900, the population was about 350 people; 1910, 790 people; and today, 30 people.  Today, it is what we would call a “spot in the road.”  It is approximately equal distance from Winnipeg, Canada, and Grand Forks, North Dakota.  Living in North Dakota in the early 1900s certainly made one a pioneer.

Florence was the oldest of six children:  five girls and one baby boy who died on the day he was born.  She lost three of her younger sisters during different flu epidemics.  She would talk about how her mother sent her running to get the doctor when one of her sisters became sick and then going to her room to pray to God to save her sister because she had been taught that God answered prayers.  Despite her prayers, her sister died.  She said she had a hard time believing in God after that because he had not answered her prayer.

Her father, Richard “Dick” Swinburne, was what we would call today a commodities dealer:  he bought and sold potatoes, cattle, etc. in North Dakota and later in Minnesota where the family lived in Bagley, Minnesota.  In Minnesota Florence’s father also had the only gasoline service station which she helped to run.  In fact, when working one day at her father’s service station she waited on my father, Frank Newhouse, who was on vacation with his brother in northern Minnesota.  He told her to look him up if she was ever in Rochester (the southern part of the state).  When she eventually got a teaching job in Rochester, she did look him up; and, as the saying goes, “the rest is history”:  They were married in 1938.

She was a “pioneer” in working in her father’s service station; maybe that’s what made her so handy—she could fix just about anything.

During the Depression, her father sent her to Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota:  It is consider one of the finest liberal arts colleges in the nation. As a stipulation of being able to go to college, Florence had to help the next sister go to college, which she did out of her teacher’s salary.

It turned out that my mother was not able to have children.  So at the unheard age of 42, she and my dad adopted my brother, Douglas (1½) and me (almost 3).  Today, not much thought would be given to an “older” mother, but in 1949, this was certainly a “pioneer” step to take. 

I do believe she loved being a mother and doing all those “motherly” things we think of mothers doing during the 1950s:  she baked, canned, and froze food; she knitted me two sweaters every year with matching wool skirts (to my friends envy); she served our favorite foods on our birthdays; she introduced us to pizza (which my brother and I were not too sure about eating); she let me ride my bike wherever I wanted to go; she let me play outside until dark; she let me go ice skating after dark at the local skating rink; she let me have friends over when I asked. 

Florence was a daughter, a sister, a wife, a daughter-in-law, a sister-in-law, but most importantly, a mother.  I know that she always wanted the best for me, and she wanted me to be the best that I could be.  

 Linda, Florence, Douglas Newhouse
Florence Marie Swinburne Newhouse (1907-1997)

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