The Greatest Gift I Had Ever Received

By Len Harris –

He went to the big trout stream in the sky November 1967. He left behind a 39 year old bride and 6 children; five daughters varying in age from 17 to 3 years old and one son 10 years old.
This was not how Len Harris Sr. had pictured his life ending. He had always believed that he would live to be an old grandpa with many grandchildren. He could not even envision his bride being left alone again. Fate could not be that cruel twice in her lifetime.
My mother (Jane) was actually quite familiar with death and being left alone. At age 16 my mother was orphaned along with her 3 other siblings. My mother’s parents each died of illness within a couple weeks of each other. 
The Chestelson children were thrown to the wind after their parents died. The youngest Kurt was sent away to northern Wisconsin to an Aunt that needed a young male to help with the farm (Wittenberg). My oldest uncle (Sig) was away in WWII. The oldest daughter (Betty Ann) went out on her own and landed in LaCrosse where she lived the majority of her life. My mother (Mary Jane) lived with the local Drug Store owners (Ackermann’s) until she was 18. The Ackermann’s were the family’s closest friends and my mother did not have to move out of Gays Mills.
Photo – Len Harris
After my father died, my mother became Father & Mother to me. She stressed going to church weekly and it ended up that I went about 5 times a week from age 5 to 15. I was an altar boy. She set by example going to church at least that many times a week. Mom stressed that women should be treated differently than men and women should be cherished. Another thing she set by example was loving one person her entire life. My mother NEVER remarried or even thought about it. It would have been much easier on her with 6 children to have a husband … BUT … no one was taking my Dad’s place.
My mother had her hands full with 5 daughters, toddler to High School senior. She steered the Harris ship quite well and ALL of her children turned out as successful adults. I remember her stressing the need to manage ones finances and she instilled her work ethic in me. I spent many days in the ditches near the local high school picking up pop bottles for their 2 cent redemption. The nights in the rain with the flash light in my mouth and me crawling around on my hands and knees picking up night crawlers to sell to the local Sporting Goods store (3 cents apiece).
Photo – Len Harris
My father had given me the gift of loving the outdoors. My mother cultivated it. She made sure I had lures and decent fishing poles. She would go without so we kids could have decent clothing and were properly raised. She would drive me out in the country and drop me off stream side and pick me up just before dark so I could explore new trout streams.
I can remember being jealous of the kids with Dad’s and the toys the children got at Christmas and birthdays. My gifts were quite modest compared to the mini bikes and snowmobiles my friends received. As a child I did not understand it well. I didn’t see when I was a kid that she was doing well to just put food on table and clothing on our backs.
I can remember breaking 5 pair of glasses my sophomore year due to trying to play basketball. She always seemed to find money to get me a new pair. She was on the side lines for every game from freshman through senior year watching me play football. She was always terrified that I would get hurt. I was 6’3″ tall and 162 as a senior. A Bean Pole as my sisters called me. My favorite sport in High school was track. My father had wanted me to be in track so mom followed up on it and made sure i was there and she was there at every finish line cheering me on.
As an adult I have looked back many times and seen how truly good of a job my mother did raising me. She led by example when it came to work ethic. She juggled a couple jobs and was a full time mother and father to us 6 kids. I missed exactly 2 days of school from first grade through graduation. Both of those days were for funerals.
Mom gave me a ride to the airport when I left to go in the army. She told me how proud she was of me and that I really looked good in my uniform. Germany was very far away and she wanted to make sure I wrote her weekly and called ever so often. I sent home 250.00 monthly to her while I was in the army to help her make ends meet. The only two times I have ever seen my mom cry was at my dad’s funeral and when she sent me off at the airport.
I am retired now and have a 22 year old daughter that worships her grandma and showers her with kisses and affection every time she is near. Anna tells grandma thanks often for being such a good mom to her dad. Mom has so many grandchildren and great grand children visiting she is never lonesome.
Photo – Len Harris
Just recently my mother had an 90th birthday. We were talking and I told her about my thoughts as a child. She knew I felt that way and tried her hardest to provide for us. She told me she could see the disappointment in my eyes at Christmas when I got socks and underwear. Mom told me that my father gave me the best “Gift” of all, The Love of the Outdoors! I hated to disagree with her on her 90th birthday but I did.
I told her the greatest gift I had ever received was having “HER” as my mother.
My mother and father are together now. My mom passed away December 22nd 2019. I miss you Mom and Dad.