In February, 2006, I lost my sweet mother, Hazel Margaret Johnson, to lymphoma. It was a particularly gloomy, cold February in Fargo, ND, where she had lived for several years. I’m sure it seemed even more so because of what I was dealing with at the time, the difficult realization that I was losing her and to witness her gradual failure.
My mother was a wonderful person. She was gracious and always showed an interest in people. She was a fun Mom and had a great disposition. She was an excellent cook and a casual housekeeper, as one would have to be with 6 children. She also worked part-time as a registered nurse, which suited her well as she was kind and compassionate. She took great pride in her immaculate white nurse’s uniform and crisp white starched cap. I loved to watch her get ready for work.
Mom loved people and you could always count on a hot cup of coffee (or two), some delicious sweet treats and great conversation when you visited Hazel and Ralph. Drop in’s were always welcome. She had a fun sense of humor and could be quite a character, especially when she teamed up with her identical twin sister, my Aunt Helen.
Mom and Helen as babies - this was a wall hanging I made for each of them for their 80th birthday.
I have so many fond childhood memories of the fun we had with them when we were back on the farm visiting my grandparents and aunts and uncles, and my bizillion cousins. I could write a book about the adventures from those days. Mom seemed to be her happiest when she was around her family and I know that is why she and Dad moved back to North Dakota after my father retired. It really was where she was most at home. She also shared a very close bond with her twin. I remember when we were living several thousand miles (and states) away from Helen, Mom could still sense when Helen needed her support and vice versa.
Mom (left) and her twin, Helen. at the train station
Mom loved to talk about growing up on the farm, which my Grandpa Sveen homesteaded in Edinburg, ND. (It is still in the family and currently farmed by my cousin, Danny.) She and her twin and their two brothers cross country skied to school; and many years later, that same school house became a wonderful home for my grandparents for their retirement years. My grandfather was an amazing carpenter and purchased the old schoolhouse building and converted it into a charming home. Both my grandparents were Norwegian, and that was the language used at home, until the children started school. Unfortunately, Mom did not teach us Norwegian, but instead used it as a means to discuss something she didn’t want us to know about.
My sisters Mary and Vicki, my brother, Mark, and me on top of the clothesline at Grandma's house, with our cousins' farm dogs. Hmm, not exactly the safest exercise.
Every summer, my grandparents would invite a pair of us (there were 6 children in my family) to come stay with them for a couple weeks. We would spend the majority of the time playing with our cousins, exploring down by the river, building forts in the hay lofts, getting the cows in the pasture for milking, and “helping” in the kitchen. My Grandma Sveen (Magadelena) was an excellent seamstress. Occasionally, she would teach us how to sew and embroider. ( She really nurtured my interest in sewing and taught me how to quilt when I was an adult.) Of course, there is no place like North Dakota to experience a real summer thunderstorm and pray a tornado isn’t part of it. We had a pretty free rein as long as we didn’t get in the way of the hired men and/or our uncles who were busy farming. I loved those summer days and being on the farm… and remember all too well all the mischief we got into (but that is another chapter…). It helped me to understand why Mom always seemed to long for her roots in ND.
Candid pic of Mom's family - My uncle Nick, Aunt Helen, Grandpa, Mom, Grandpa and my uncle, Ernest
It was from these childhood experiences and wonderful stories and memories that Mom shared with me that an idea culminated. After she passed away, there was a huge void in my life, that only she could fill. It was a very difficult time for me and my siblings. In time, I started to replace that sense of loss with an appreciation and recollection of all the wonderful traditions and memories she gave me. One day, while I was purchasing some thread at a quilt store, I came across a set of panels that depicted children on a farm, about the same time and generation of Mom and Helen. Some of the scenes were so reminiscent of the stories she told like gathering the eggs from the hens and getting chased by a rooster, etc. In addition, there was a collection of fabric that had many of the colors Mom enjoyed and it was designed from American Jane by Moda. All of this spoke to me and I felt it all came together for one purpose, to make a quilt for Mom.
A Tribute to Mom
I began to lay out the blocks, modifying a pattern of a smaller quilt I saw earlier at the Country Quilter. Gradually the blocks fell into place and the quilt began to come to life. The panels were so charming and made me smile. Here are a few…
Some of the farm scenes on the quilt
It was very comforting to be making this as a sort of tribute to Mom. I found it a very rewarding project as I really felt like Mom would have loved this quilt.
The quilt label
Once finished, the quilt found a home in our guest bedroom and I smile every time I see it.
The finished quilt
I look forward to when I can tell our grandchildren the story behind it and what a wonderful person their Great Grandma Hazel was and how she loved life on the farm.
Mom and Me in 2005
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