Violet: Her Life Story

13 04 2013

Mem - mom child family portrait bw

Part One — Pancreatic Cancer: Our Story

Part Two — Living Well/Dying Well

Part Three:

My mom, Violet, was born in Steinbach, Manitoba on December 30, 1937 to Peter & Marie Kaethler, two people who loved Jesus and brought their family up to know and love the Lord. She was the sixth child, with two older brothers and three older sisters. One more brother would be born after her to make a total of seven children.

Mom’s actual name was Bertha Violet but she never liked her first name and went by her second. She was named Bertha after an Aunt, but she also knew several cows with the same name, which didn’t impress her much; besides Bertha never suited her, she was more of a Violet.

In Steinbach, the family lived on a bit of acreage with an old barn and a very small old house. It had no glass in the windows at first, no electricity, and no running water. They had a fuel oil lamp to read by, and a wood burning stove to cook with and to heat the house, a wooden plank floor, a well with a pump and an outhouse not too far away. The bath water was heated on the stove and emptied into a metal tub (round and not very large). All the kids took turns in that water, from oldest to youngest, which mom never found quite fair.

The house was cold in winter and hot in summer with no insulation in the walls or ceiling.

In the summer mom remembers terrible lightening storms and one time the lightening hit the tree behind their house and split it in two! Fortunately the house didn’t catch fire.

95bwThe family had a car in those days, but it was up on blocks because gas was too expensive; so in summer they went to church with horse and buggy and in the winter on a horse-drawn sleigh with a tent like structure on it. They would heat stones, wrap them up and put them near their feet to keep warm.

The family was poor, but so were most families back then during the Great Depression so it didn’t seem very unusual. If the farming didn’t bring in enough, mom’s father would go help other farmers with their harvesting to make an extra bit of money. As poor as they were, mom remembered feeling quite carefree in those years, unaware of the struggles her parents were having to stay afloat. They had no neighbors for miles and so her friends were her brothers and sisters, and what a great time they had!

When mom was five the family moved to British Columbia, just outside of Yarrow. Mom and her mother had gone on a pre-trip to scout out the land which mom remembered very well. They went by train and arrived in Yarrow to meet a whole host of relatives. Mom was very small for her age, petite with thick blonde hair. She was a tomboy as well and was not used to being passed around from relative to relative, being patted on the head and kissed and held. They always said mom was shy, which she hated!

The men had prickly beards and smelled like the barn and the women were, as mom wrote, of a size that had indicated they had borne many children. To have 7-10 children was not uncommon. Their laps were short and she wasn’t sure what to hang on to so that she wouldn’t slide off. It is funny what a person remembers.

The family did move to Yarrow. At first they rented a place, and then they bought a farm on Veddar mountain. It had a great view and 60 acres of land. Some was treed and on the rest they had a house and a double-decker barn, a chicken house a milk house with a concrete tank which they filled with water to cool the cans of milk.

They planted a huge vegetable garden, cherry trees, nut trees, apples, grapes raspberries, strawberries and more. They had cows, work horses, pigs, chickens, cats and dogs. Mom and her siblings had lots of fun in the barn. When the hay loft was about half full they would climb up as high as they could to the rafters, grab a rope and swing down onto the hay.

Mom remembered the day the telephone came to Yarrow and then to their home.  It was a multi-line telephone and it was not unusual for people to listen in to the conversations other people were having. Or sometimes people would pick up their phone and interrupt other people’s conversation telling them to hang up because they needed the phone!

65Mom wrote down many of her memories from their life on the mountain. She remembers feeding the chickens and collecting their eggs; she remembers her father killing the chickens, and how she had to pluck their feathers and clean out their insides. She remembers the day they got a Ferguson tractor. She recalled being very frightened of the bulls on the farm, the butchering parties when they made sausage, roasts, ground beef and bacon.  She remembers how she and her siblings had pellet guns and would shoot the unwanted birds out of their fruit trees.

I should add, mom was a very good shot. When we lived in Richmond when it was a little more rural, mom was so annoyed at how the dogs always got into our garbage. So one day she set up in the living room, aiming her pellet gun out the living room window like a hillbilly and pegged off any dog that got near to our cans. They went yelping down the street, and that did the trick!

Mem - piano bwBack to Yarrow…the family loved piano music, and choir music. When they were able to they bought a piano and one of mom’s sisters was given piano lessons first and excelled at it. Mom was next to take lessons (for 5 long years which mom remembers as being horrible. She had this older sister who was amazing and could memorize anything, and then there came mom…who said to me, “Let’s just say I was in grade one for a while.” None of her teachers expressed much hope for her playing).

As an aside, when I was a child I often remember my mom plunking away at the piano in the morning before I got up and I always loved it. I don’t know if she was a great player or not, I just found it comforting to hear her; it was a nice way to wake up.

Mom also took one year of voice lessons in Chilliwack and began to sing in choirs and trios, this she did for many years.

Whenever possible mom’s family went to Sunday school and church. The custom in those days was men on one side and women and children on the other. The adults were very strict about children being seen and not heard and mom was always terrified that she would get a tap on the shoulder for being noisy.

At home, her parents impressed upon the kids that attending church and talking freely about God was a privilege not everyone has. Bible reading and prayer in their home was carried on regularly morning and evening.

Mom loved her father very much and would often say that he was the greatest influence in her life. Mom was never much of an indoors person, and her chores often meant working with her father. She saw how her father enjoyed life in good and bad times, had a lot of compassion for other people and a tremendous faith in God. When they experienced hardships or illnesses she always felt secure because God was very real to her dad and she trusted what he said, that things always would work out for good if they trusted God.

Mem - mom at around 16 bwMom says that she was keenly aware of the fact that she was a sinner and so at the age of ten, mom asked Jesus to forgive her and to lead her life. She was excited about this important thing she had done. She told her friends in school what she had done, but they just shrugged, “So what?” But to mom, she knew she had made an important decision, and that something had happened between her and God that would change the rest of her life. At 18 she was baptized.

After a while, the older siblings began to date and get married. Mom had some pretty funny stories to tell about those years. When a suitor came to court one of the girls, mom and her younger brother would go upstairs into his room which was above the living room. It had a grate in the floor for the purpose of letting the heat rise to the bedroom, but if they put their ears on the grate very carefully so as to not make any noise, careful to not be seen, they could hear everything!! What fun they had with that!

Though they were partners in crime, her little brother was also fond of making fun of mom. Any time he would see a single woman who was older and not married he said, “Watch out or you might become an old maid.”

Mom had plenty of time to find a husband, she was still in highschool in Yarrow, after all. Mom always had a hard time in school, she struggled with the inconsistencies in her friendships. One minute girls were her friend, the next minute not. It was so hurtful.

She says that her salvation was that her oldest sister loved her unconditionally and mom often dropped in at her home after school to help her or taste something she had just made. Mom says she was her sister’s guinea pig!

She always played an important role in mom’s life. Mom adored her and they spoke on the phone every week, and often more than once a week until now.

0013_###In 1956 mom was in her grade 12 year when the family moved to Vancouver. So mom never graduated as she needed to work when they got there. In Vancouver she found a job with a Medical Insurance company and worked for them for many years.

At that time she gave 90% of her income to her parents to help them. In order to afford clothing and bus fare mom did day-work on Saturdays. She says she never regretted giving her money to her parents because it helped them get into a house. She was glad she could do it.

One thing about mom, she was always a hard worker. She knew what had to be done, and she would do it. No-nonsense, hand to the plow, she would tackle any job and do it well. She was never afraid of physical labor, or the boring jobs most people procrastinate on. If anything, mom was not a procrastinator. She was an organizer, improviser, and if someone said it couldn’t be done…she would most often prove them wrong. 

Mom served both my brother and I and so many others in this way; helping, always helping to get tasks done whether in the house or in the yard or with some church work or helping a neighbor or doing something for the grandchildren. I haven’t hemmed a pair of pants or sewed a button in 15 years….oh no! Mom also did a fantastic job reminding me about things that needed doing, she had a list for herself and if she couldn’t do it, she’d make a list for you!

Mem - wedding carBack to Vancouver, Mom was attending Fraserview MB Church and it was there that mom met my dad, Harold. At that time the family was pretty involved in making sure a young lady would have a suitable match. Did he come from a good church-going family? Was he educated? Did anyone know his relatives? These were some of the things that mattered.

Mom had been dating someone she was very fond of, but he didn’t meet the criteria, and her parents discouraged the relationship.

With my father Harold, however, things seemed to line up. Mom’s parents knew dad’s parents enough to know they were a Christian family, serving as Deacons and Elders in the church, his father was a lay minister. Dad himself was educated, just completing his engineering degree. They dated for a year and then were married in March 1959.

Mem - wedding portrait1In 1961 they moved to Eastern Canada working there a while. They also lived in the Detroit for three months and then back to Vancouver.

So much of my mom’s story from this point to the end is affected by my dad’s story; dad was a complicated person. He presented himself one way to mom when they were dating, but when they were married, as mom describes it, three weeks in she saw a very different side to him. He was not the person she thought he was.

What a sobering realization that was for her but Mom had made a commitment and felt convicted that she needed to stick with that. She called out to God and would call out to God again and again over the years, for His help and guidance in her marriage. It isn’t that they never had good times, it’s not that dad didn’t have redeeming qualities, its just that in the areas that counted most, he fell short and this has affected us all. Still, they were married for 37 years.

In 1964 my brother was born and in 1968, I was born.

After each of us, mom required a major surgery and we were put in the care of relatives.

Mem - mom hold lloyd bwTwo months after giving birth to my brother, mom became violently ill and was faced with major surgery regarding her kidney and had to leave her baby boy to someone else’s care for three months. This particular surgery was still experimental but had some good success already. If it was not successful she would lose both kidneys. That really caused her to get on her knees and look for answers from God. She realized she had known God all her life, but she questioned at this point how well she knew Him. Did she really have confidence in God, did she really trust Him?

She vowed that if she came through this surgery and recovered, she would devote the rest of her life to really knowing God, loving Him, serving Him.

She has so many powerful stories that have come from fulfilling this promise to God, too many to tell here. If you are interested in reading her stories, we are currently publishing them and will include a link in this post at some point. They are beautiful and so precious to us.

Mem - beautiful2 bwGod became very real to mom through this surgery, another major surgery and all the hardships and challenges of life that would come. The surgeries left one of her kidneys severely damaged and the doctors said she might not live past 40. That’s one of the stories in her book of stories; God obviously decided He had more for her to do. Added to her own troubles, she walked through health problems I had, my brother had and has, my dad’s several heart-attacks, accidents, big financial difficulties, and more. Sometimes these things made my mom angry, but she could not be angry with God for long because he also gave us many good things which were tremendously encouraging, things beyond her dreams and expectations.

Instead of wearing her down, all of mom’s troubles made her a grateful person. As I wrote this, I thought, have I ever really heard my mom complain about her circumstances? No never.

Who knew that the girl that everyone said was shy was actually made of iron. My mom was made of iron. She had to have been…how is it that I had such a happy childhood when there were so many things going wrong in our life? My mom put on such a brave face and worked so hard to make sure my life and my brother’s was filled with opportunity and joy. Her family, my aunts and uncles stepped in and really were an extended family to us, showing us how moms and dads can love each other, how family life can be loud and fun and beautiful; they gave us both adventures we will never forget and mom blessed it all. We weren’t even aware of the burdens mom was carrying.

Mom was so selfless in these things and as I look at my own life, my own reactions to things, I am so challenged by how she handled it all. Her source of strength is clear if you read her stories. Not by might, not by power but by God’s Spirit she became this conqueror.

It is hard to put 75 years of experiences onto paper. Life is so much more than facts, places, where mom lived and the events she lived through. Mom’s story is so much about her walk with God. The lessons she learned, it’s the incredible answers to her prayers. It is the spiritual struggles. It’s the character building along the way. It’s the faith building and so on.

In one of mom’s testimonies she wrote, “If I were a writer, perhaps I could convey to you the depth and feelings of what is really in me. The extreme gratitude I feel to God for carrying me all these years.” The funny thing is, mom was a writer. She wrote pages and pages and pages about answers to prayer, about the facts of her life, about her siblings and their growing up years.

IMG_0010Our family moved from Richmond to Delta, and then Delta to Surrey and then Surrey to Abbotsford and of course many things happened throughout those years.  Mom was a stay at home mom at times, she worked in a Private School as a secretary, she helped my dad with his construction business, she worked for her brother for a time. She helped with a church plant, led girls clubs, volunteered in and outside of church in so many capacities.

In September of 1996 mom reached a place in her life where she wondered what her purpose was, what was the meaning of everything she had walked through and where was it all going. She felt discouraged and trapped and she cried out to God saying,

“Is this all you have for me?”

A short time later, that day in fact, mom got a call from one of dad’s co-workers. He said that dad had collapsed and she needed to come to the hospital in Burnaby. Actually, dad had already passed away by then.

So here she was at 58 and a widow…yet God did have something more for her.

Ten months later my husband Mike and I were moving to Kelowna with our four children and I said, “Do you want to come up and help us set up?”

Just like that, mom said yes. And mom never left Kelowna. She felt God’s call to be a missionary to us and in this community. She took her role so seriously and was a life-saver for us. She wanted to minister to our family, she wanted to free up my time so I could partner with Mike. She wanted our children to always have that feeling of stability, even when our lives became very busy.

Mem - mom and nateWhat a blessing mom was to us. I can’t even tell you. And what a lot of joy we had living together, it was meant to be. Mom enriched our lives and along the way she had a second life that was so different from the first part. She discovered new things about herself, she became part of our church family in such a significant way and so well-loved. She found her gifts, and used her gifts, and discovered even more gifts that she had.

She allowed herself to be stretched and she lived sacrificially and courageously in so many ways.

Mem - camping with momWhat great laughs we had, wonderful vacations together, countless meals, and a million conversations. She was so young, all the time physically and in her spirit.

That’s why it came as a complete surprise on December 10, 2009.  She was on the greyhound bus headed for Abbotsford when something truly remarkable happened. She had a little indigestion, nothing serious, but she clearly heard God whispering to her to get off the bus. Fifteen minutes later, when the bus pulled into the West Kelowna station, she got off the bus.

Roberta, her daughter in law came and picked her up and said, “Mom I think you should get to the hospital. This might be a heart-attack.”

It was a heart attack. At the hospital the cardiac unit had only been doing the stent procedure for two weeks and within an hour of her arrival, that stent was in. Everything went quickly from start to finish and she had next to no damage. By the time I got to the hospital she was sitting up in the bed joking and I said, “Did you really have a heart attack?” A couple of weeks later she was up at Big White with us, enjoying Christmas on the mountain. God had a plan and she was in it.

Collage 3 symbolsWhy now, only a few years later, did cancer take her? I don’t know. It is obvious when you see someone you adore, fading away because of sickness that sickness was not at all a part of God’s original plan and neither is death. We (humankind) brought this brokenness on ourselves as we have violated the earth and disregarded God’s instructions; it is so obvious that God would have rather had things perfect and death is not anything like perfect.

But as imperfect as it was, God made good out of it and these past two months were…to use a Violet word: tremendous. I will never ever forget the time spent together, the beautiful, honest words without any filter or caution. The hugs that were so firm now…so liberal. The soulish moments that have challenged me to the core.

As a family we met with mom at 10 pm each night to hear her stories of faith. It was redemptive and holy and right. Mom was not at all afraid of dying, she wasn’t depressed or discouraged, she was lovely and faith-filled and strong and this is how I will remember her, and this is what I will look forward to because I know who is the keeper of her soul.

I know that because she allowed Jesus to save her, to forgive her, to lead her that she is now in His presence, where she should be. And because of the faith she taught my brother and I our whole life, we too have received this salvation, and we will know where to find her.

Mom wrote, “I have done things and experienced things I never dreamed I would. Nor have I dreamed about all the places I have seen.” Now, I dream about the places she is seeing.

I close with Psalm 104:33-34, a favorite of moms:

I will sing to the LORD as long as I live.
I will praise my God to my last breath!
May all my thoughts be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the LORD.

— Teresa Klassen

Part One — Pancreatic Cancer: Our Story

Part Two — Living Well/Dying Well

Part Three — Violet: Her Life Story

Part Four — Mother’s Day Tribute




2 responses

13 04 2013
Living Well/Dying Well | OneBrownLeaf

[…] Part Three — Violet: Her Life Story […]

13 04 2013
Pancreatic Cancer: Our Story | OneBrownLeaf

[…] “Part Three” is her life story. […]

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