Sunday, March 27, 2011

An Ordinary Life: Women's History Month

(photo by alexanderward12,

Many people think about writing down their childhood experiences for their children, but few do it. Even fewer are those who publish those experiences and successfully sell them regionally. Ruth Garn Werner is one of those few. I knew Ruth decades ago. She sang in the choir and was a member of the women's circle I joined. The circle was one that made crafts, and here I was with 10 thumbs. Ruth and the other women were patient, kind teachers who taught me a lot about sewing crafts and faith.

I knew from Ruth's accent that she was originally from Germany. Aside from that, Ruth seems like any other middle class woman in the northern plains. Since reading her book, My Journey, I know the rest of the story--and how extraordinary Ruth is.
(Germany 1941,

Ruth writes about her growing up in East Germany during WWII and into the post-war era there. Her father was drafted into the army and was never seen again. Her mother was left in charge of her elderly father, Ruth, Ruth's older brother and baby brother. With Russian tanks and cannons firing, they packed necessities into a wagon and began a trek across Germany. They joined others who were fleeing and faced famine and physical deprivation of all kinds. She had told our women's circle that she never wanted to eat brussel sprouts again, because they stole them and other vegetables out of farmers' fields at night to keep from starving. Their hearts were full of thanks for every bite & every shelter.
Ruth's family traveled for awhile in wagons like this. (Photo Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-W0402-500,_Fl├╝chtlingstreck_in_Richtung_Deutschland.jpg)

Leaving their wagon, they continued on foot, in boxcars, and in army trucks. No one, much less a child, should see the horrors they saw. Ruth and her older brother were able to get papers to emigrate to Canada, and eventually to the U.S.

Through all this their family took care of each other, operating on love and faith. In spite of all those hardships, Ruth's personality remains kind and full of fun. She ends the book by thanking her "precious Mama," who got them all through it, and by advising her daughters "Bete und Arbeit [pray and work], and God will show you the way!"

This book is available at Zandbroz Variety in Sioux Falls. (Full disclosure: I purchased my autographed copy there.)

Cripple Creek, CO, 1893 (

Another memoir, this one set in Colorado's mining towns at the turn of the nineteenth century, tells of the hardships for women in that place and time. Reading The Life of an Ordinary Woman by Anne Ellis will show you that her life was anything but ordinary. Always at the mercy of mineowners; weather; disease and injury, and the mineral veins themselves, Ellis and others like her had to think quickly and creatively to keep food on the table and shelter above their heads. Times were tough, but Ellis was tougher, had a great wit and sense of fun.

Reading either of these two books made me swear off complaining forever and helps me see how extraordinary even an ordinary life can be. What extraordinary women do you know? What's extraordinary about the person you see in the mirror?

(Photo by Doug Waldron,


  1. Our local library TV has interviewed Ruth Werner, author of My Journey. See it here:
    The interview is the second segment; you can You'll need QuickTime installed to view.

  2. I begged my mom to write her life story. She was born in America but her family went to Germany to care for her dying grandmother. WWII broke out and then ended up having to stay for 10 years. She had so many stories of things that happened to them. So sad that she passed away before getting to write them down. Wish I had done it for her.

  3. Heidi, thanks for the comment, and I'm sorry for your loss. I encourage you to write down what you remember about your mother's life. Everyone else, get out a recorder when you go to visit your elders and get those stories down!