Saying goodbye: Trying to become Miriam Miller’s daughter

“It’s extraordinary how extraordinary the ordinary person is.” — George Will

 If you grew up in a small town, you might be able to relate: Throughout your school years, and even after, you’re often recognized or acknowledged by your family connection. Your lineage (or pedigree, for you livestock or pet folks) is how people know you.

In eastern Holmes County, I grew up as “Don Miller’s daughter,” or “Donnie’s daughter,” if the other person was from Walnut Creek. I grew up thinking everyone in the world knew my dad, and after he was elected Holmes County treasurer in 1968 — a post he held until he retired in 1989 — I guess every county landowner did know him, since they had to write his name on a check twice a year.

Even today, when I meet someone from that neck of the woods, I drop Dad’s name to make a connection.

When I started school, I had to tell teachers, yes, I was the younger sister of Mitch, Jean, Joyce or Carol.

And a couple years ago, when I spoke to the Tuscarawas County Cattlemen’s Association, I identified myself as John Stingel’s granddaughter, since he used to milk cows outside of Sugarcreek, and Voris Stingel’s niece, since Uncle Voris still lives on a farm near Dundee.

But I don’t remember that I’ve ever introduced myself as “Miriam Miller’s daughter” and I don’t know why.

* * *

Mom died in her sleep last Wednesday, March 27, 2013, and each passing day, people have shared stories of her life that have given me much greater insight — and appreciation and awe — of her character and deeds. I don’t think I knew her as well as I thought.

Miriam Miller

Miriam Miller

As an aside, we can’t be sad, for don’t we all want to die that way? — in good health at age 85, after a full life, just to go to sleep one night and not wake up?

If you want to know my mom, all you had to do was look around their spare room.

One wall is covered — and I mean covered — with her children and grandchildren’s wedding day photos, as well as black and white family photos of her siblings and Dad’s family. The other wall is dominated by a huge painting of a big buck along a mountain stream that she painted when I was young.

The sewing machine is open, covered by a pair of new Dockers khaki pants from a gentleman in the Walnut Hills retirement center. The back seam is carefully opened and separated from the waistband, ready to be taken in two inches. Every Monday, Mom went to the retirement center and nursing home and gathered mending. She turned ladies’ slacks into skirts, added pockets to clothing that didn’t have pockets, expanded waistbands with elastic, and hemmed and patched and took in and let out. Monday, she had collected this man’s slacks and by Tuesday night, had the seams painstakingly opened.

A closeup of a quilt created by Miriam Miller.

A chest of drawers holds her fabric scraps — bright fleece remnants of the Linus blankets she made and donated, and little calico and cotton squares ready to be pieced into one more quilted wall hanging or full-sized quilt (she had already given quilts to each of the 12 grandchildren).

Next to the sewing machine is a bookshelf with a well-used Bible, margins filled with handwritten notes; her church choir songbook; and at least one of her 30-some photo albums, labeled by year, with each person and place identified. A few bone china teacups hold a place of honor — for Mom was known for her tea parties with grandchildren and other young friends, including boys, complete with dress-up clothes and hats.

A card table holds some golden forsythia branches she had brought inside to force into bloom, and a few containers filled with seeds, ready to plant outdoors when the time was right. A shallow bowl of the bluebird food she concocted went outside during the day, and last Thursday we watched three beautiful males scold and chase each other from the goodies.

The computer is always on, with one browser window tab open to their email, another to Solitaire, and another to her Facebook page — yes, Facebook at age 85 — a new lifeline that connected her to far-flung grandchildren in South Korea, China, New York City, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Rhode Island, and Ohio. In fact it was a Facebook post from her lonely granddaughter living abroad (“won’t someone please come visit me?”) that triggered Mom’s trip to Brussels over Christmas.

It is a room filled with faith, family, friends, creativity, and a zeal for living and giving.

More than 400 people stood in line to share their respects Friday night, and hastily assembled folding chairs accommodated the more than 200 who attended her funeral Saturday. Our family is humbled and immensely touched.

* * *

Hi, I’m Susan Crowell.

And I’m trying to live up to being Miriam Miller’s daughter.

About the Author

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University.You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/scrowell and follow Farm and Dairy at http://twitter.com/farmanddairy. You can also find her on Google+ and Facebook. More Stories by Susan Crowell

6 Comments

  1. Sherry Kaufman says:

    Hi Susan…. I was so sorry to hear about your Mom. Born and raised in Holmes County also (The granddaughter of Dutch Horrisberger)… I see what you mean about being labeled as “someone’s relative” That is our identity. whether we are 5 or 55 !! : ) You know what they say.. .you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t the country out of the girl !! What a great article about your incredible Mom. I have many fond memories of coming down to your farm and playing and having Halloween parties in your barn for youth group. Lots of good memories growing up in Holmes County for sure. Please pass my condolences on to your family. Thoughts and prayers to you all during these difficult days. Sherry (Horrisberger) Kaufman

  2. Beth Miller says:

    Hello Friend, What a wonderful tribute for your Mom. A few years back I sat with your parents at my Uncle’s Birthday party. Your Mom was so proud of you and your Sisters.. She always had a smile on her face for everyone. My prayers and thoughts continue to be with your family . Beth

  3. Tracy Anne Nash says:

    What a wonderful tribute! We lived up the hill from your parent’s farm in Walnut Creek. She was a wonderful lady and I am so very sorry for your loss.

    Yes, it was necessary for me to tell folks my pedigree when I moved to Holmes County as a teenager but had to laugh once when I was home for a visit after graduation, shopping in the old Kandel’s Store in Downtown Berlin and overheard two Amish ladies talking about me! I heard Ike Hummel, da maitley” or some such words, I guess meaning that I am the maiden of Ike Hummel.

    I am the granddaughter of Ike & Irene and niece of Maynard, Bill and Randy Hummel!

  4. Kyle Sharp says:

    Awesome tribune, Susan. I love the pedigree concept. Very clever and oh so true! Sorry for your loss, but it sounds like your mom lived a great life. Oddly, I lost my mom in March too, so can relate to the words you shared. Beautiful.

  5. Rilla Gill says:

    Susan,

    Truly a beautiful person, I am so glad I had the opportunity to meet her. Your story was written just like a painter paints a picture of the spare bedroom. It described her and was a real inspiration to me. Love, Love, Love Thanks

  6. Diana Hecker Youngen says:

    Susan, I grew up in the Walnut Creek Church so I’ve always known your parents. But something special to share-I’m also a member of the WC Fine Arts Club and on Tues 26 we had our first meeting of the year.Your Mother shared with us the wonderful Christmas trip she had to Brussels. What a shock to us to find her gone from this world to heaven by the next morning.

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