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Toni (Ballwahn) Landis of Madison wrote the following piece describing her grandmother, Clara Arndt, who died in 2004. Clara and her husband, Hugo, who died in 1981, farmed outside of Wilton and raised 10 children.
By TONI LANDIS | Madison
My grandma was a widow most of the time I knew her. My grandpa died of cancer when I was about 9 1/2, so until she passed, when I was nearing 33, she spent a good deal of time on her own. I won’t say she was alone, because as most readers know, Clara and Hugo Arndt left a passel of us to carry on the card-playing, beer-drinking, and gardening, not to mention farming, hunting, and talking louder than necessary. We cover a lot of ground, literally and figuratively, and we did the best we could to keep her in good company.
Grandma Clara outlived my other set of grandparents by about 13 years — they passed just a year apart — yet she kept on. I love eating, so that’s what I remember well: she continued to make potatoes for any meal where other people were expected despite disliking them herself, she made sure the Schwan Man knew she needed more ice cream, and she ate a fried egg and some kind of doughnut nearly every morning. But she also managed the two wood stoves, heating the house with help from my uncles, who kept her in wood.
Grandma read, worked on crossword puzzles, and played game after game of solitaire, dealing each by hand without aid of the computer. She knew at least three versions that I can remember, and she taught many of us over time. Every so often, I make myself go through the shuffling and set-up of each of them to keep the memory fresh. I wonder how many hands she dealt over the course of those 23 years?
I thought nothing of a woman living on her own, taking care of what needed to be taken care of and living as independently as she could for as long as she could. She managed her household as she always had, paid the bills, drove to appointments, mowed the yard for the longest time — and did I mention the two wood stoves? She was a single lady doing what needed to be done.
While I realize she had help, and lots of it later on, her consistent and constant presence during my “formative years” showed me being alone doesn’t have to be lonely. Being alone fosters independence, creativity, and a sense of adventure, as evidenced by her willingness to allow me to drive her up Wildcat for hamburgers and shakes even though I barely had my temps.
Since I can’t fix our 1987 rider mower or determine the significance of the odd, but apparently important (oops, no electricity) cord I ran over with the push mower, I continue to be grateful to my grandma for her resilience, persistence, and ever-ready smile. Laugh at yourself, get it fixed, and move on to the next task. The novelty of approaching 50 is hardly worthy of an essay anymore, but when you realize the significance of a woman who was so important to so many, you want to spell it out.