Written by daughter Candy Gill
My Mother, Delores Carpenter died January 13, 2020. The special restrictions for Covid-19 meant that attendance at her “Celebration of Life” was limited and my part of the family was unable to be there. Many people who were special to my mother were unable to attend. I would like to share some of my memories.
Delores was born on September 14, 1929, and grew up during the Depression. She worked hard all of her life. It was always behind the scenes, carefully and well thought out. It was never a production or showy so many people never even realized how hard she worked.
She married my dad, Roger Carpenter when they were both 19 years old. She had a two-year teaching degree. After a short time in their home town of Sutton, ND, they moved to western North Dakota and started their family. Four children were born in less than 5 years. The last two were born after they settled in Prosper, ND where they remained for a few years.
She kept house and took care of her family, volunteered in the community, taught Sunday school, and worked as a bookkeeper at the Elevator. Like most parents, she wanted to make sure that her own children had plenty of opportunities, and she was determined that none of her own fears would hold her children back. Her deep-seated fear of water was well hidden and her children had swimming lessons and plenty of opportunities to practice. She regretted never learning to play the piano. Her children had piano lessons and went every week into Fargo for them. Because books were expensive and very limited in Prosper, she obtained a library card from Fargo and brought boxes of books home regularly for everyone in the family.
She loved reading herself, she told me once that she had thought she wouldn’t have time to read with children and all the other work, but she discovered that she could steal a bit of time every day and she taught herself to read incredibly fast. When we were growing up she paid attention to everything we read and always read those books too, so that she knew how to quietly find more books for us.
When I was around nine, she signed the four of us up for Spanish lessons. Years later she told me that it was because it bothered her how she saw the migrant workers treated sometimes and even though she knew six weeks of Saturday lessons was only a taste of the language, she wanted to make sure that we understood they were people deserving respect. I remember her saying often “just because you live in a small town, you don’t have to have a small mind; there’s a great big world out there.”
Despite money being tight, we went for dinners at a buffet after church once every few weeks. I once heard my father questioning this expense and my mother explaining that it was necessary because they were raising people, not animals.
We moved to Moorhead when I was beginning high school. She took advantage of this time to go back to college herself. With four children in junior and senior high school and a husband with a very stressful job, she managed to get her teaching degree and special qualifications. When I was in college, one of my professors had taught my mother and told me how impressed he was with her. Like everything she did, she was quietly competent and brilliant.
My mother loved teaching. She got hired in Hunter, ND, right after finishing school, and my father beginning work there. She was originally hired because she had qualifications in learning disabilities which was just becoming recognized and getting special funding. I loved hearing the stories about the kids that she worked with at school. She knew all of the children, and I was fascinated by the ways she developed to work with them. She was Mrs. Carpenter at school and outside the school she was Delores. This made perfect sense to the children. At school, “you are our teacher, but outside of school you are our friend!” She cared deeply about her colleagues and the students. She talked about them and continued to be interested in them years later.
These years, my mother not only went on to become the principal of the school. She worked outside of school, sometimes tutoring or helping a student adapt to high school. She helped others get their high school General Educational Development (GED) diploma. She taught parenting classes, something my husband and I are particularly grateful for as she had all the latest books and theories when we became parents. She taught English as a second language to new immigrants. I met one young Vietnamese couple as they stopped by to proudly introduce my mother to their new baby.
When my parents moved from their home in Moorhead to the company home in Hunter, they purchased a lot on Fish Lake, near Pelican Rapids MN, and began building a lake home. Having her own home was one of my mother’s greatest loves and each weekend that they could they went to the lakes and she painted and helped my dad with finishing the house. She also established lovely flower gardens. She said flowers belonged growing outdoors. She never really liked bringing them inside and instead was very happy when better artificial flowers became available, saying they were the best for indoors.
My mother continued taking extra classes at the university. She had many hobbies and somehow found time to take other classes. As I have been thinking of her and all the things that she squeezed into her life, I find it difficult to figure out how she managed.
Her own children began to be busy with their own families and lives. I, myself, was living first in Guatemala and then Indonesia and finally Canada. She managed visits to many of our homes. When she came she helped me with new babies and small children and with whatever I needed help to do. She showed me how to tie quilts and helped me put them together. When we would return to the USA to see my parents, there was a freezer full of pre-made meals and cookies and always buns. There were meals to feed us and my brothers and their families. There were places for everyone to sleep.
She found time to bring books and tapes that she made for my children. They could follow along and listen to her voice. She had done the same for children at school to encourage reading.
When my daughter needed major surgery, It was my mother who did the research and found the best specialist, at St Luke’s hospital in Fargo, and sat with me through the appointments and helped me ask the questions.
My husband still uses the sleeping bag that she made for him, and that same sleeping bag is now being used by her great-grandchildren, who are always told of its origins. When we came from the tropics with kids on our way to our next destination she had made me a down coat. I was never able to find another that was as warm. She helped us find boots and clothes for the kids. No matter how busy my mother was she had time to sit with me through appointments and to help me shop for my kids.
My father retired and they moved from their company house in Hunter to the lake house at Fish Lake. My mother was a bit sad. She had truly loved teaching in Hunter. She was deeply honored by the special farewell party held for her. She knew she would miss teaching and looked for other ways to continue using her talent. She became very active at the Zion Lutheran Church on Franklin Lake. She taught Sunday school. She taught and sometimes ran vacation bible school. She volunteered at the school. My parents managed to get in some travelling. For a few years, they went to AZ in the winter. She enjoyed many times with special friends there.
My mother was an inspiration as she encountered difficulties. She told me once that living past 65 was a special gift and no one got to do that without encountering some difficulties and it was just boring to complain about it. As we encounter our own difficulties with aging my husband and I both remember how my mother coped
Each time I returned for a visit, my mother would tell me about potential plans for teaching or volunteering. Some of them worked out and some did not. She volunteered to help with English as a second language because of previous experience. She enjoyed working with the woman who was in charge of the program. My mother helped to teach refugees and immigrants that were new to the community. She spent hours preparing lessons and she brought my father along in order to help some of the men be more comfortable and he also enjoyed the experience. They weren’t just helping people learn English. My mother saw these people and appreciated them. My parents were invited to baptisms and Christmas programs. I loved hearing about the new people they were meeting and how they were adapting.
My mother read the Fargo Forum and the Pelican Press. She would point out names. “Look here,” she would tell me, as one of her ESL student’s children had made the honor roll or was playing on a school team. She was very proud of how Pelican Rapids had accepted refugees and immigrants and talked about how valuable these people were in the community.
As her own grandchildren grew up, she made a point of knowing each one of them. As we sat reminiscing once with several of the grandchildren, each one jokingly talked about being “Grandma’s favorite,” and they all acknowledged that when they were with her they always felt like they were her favorite. She knew each one of them and appreciated them for who they were. There were many gifts, but I believe that is probably the best one. The fact each one of the 11 grandchildren knew they were loved and special to her.
My parents stopped going to AZ for the winter. They continued to be active at the church. My mother especially loved quilting with her friends at Zion and attending other church activities. Family continued to visit when possible. The house was often filled with grandchildren.
One of my brothers became terminally ill and passed away. Even with their deep faith, this was a very sad and difficult time.
The big house on Fish Lake became difficult for my parents to manage. They found a place in Pelican Rapids, close to the clinic and stores, and easier to manage. They worked hard to make their new house a home. My father fixed the pantry. My mother painted and made curtains. They got someone in to add a workshop and a garden shed. They put their name over the garage.
My mother loved many animals. There were many pets while I was growing up. My mother particularly loved dogs and there was always a family dog. Once all their children were grown up, dogs became even more important in my parents’ lives. My mother often said that dogs don’t have to grow up and interact with others so we can just enjoy them and spoil them. Bandit, their last dog, was probably the most loved of all and proved to be a wonderful companion for their last years.
After moving into Pelican Rapids, my parents began to have more health problems. My father suffered a serious stroke. My mother somehow managed to care for him, despite her severe arthritis.
Still, when they talked about problems, they always managed to tell the story with a laugh. She believed that a sense of humor was extremely important and the best sign of that was the ability to laugh at one’s self. The time one of them fell outside and the other fell inside and it took forever to sort things out was told with laughter. My mother rarely asked for extra help. Once when she needed shoulder surgery, she did ask if I would come. She asked for my father, not for herself, as she was worried about him managing when she was in the hospital. I came and I was again amazed by how she figured out how to do everything that she needed to do and to take care of herself and my father.
My mother suffered from COPD. Still, she managed, helping my dad get out and they continued going places. My dad told me once how my Mom insisted on going all these places. I knew that she understood that it was important to keep going and she was helping my father fight depression.
She had a system and a plan for how to manage everything. She was incredibly organized, and kept extra stock of everything.