When your friend said to you, “You’re just like your mother,” did you cringe? Smile ruefully? Laugh with pleasure? When she continued, “I don’t ever want to be like my mother,” did you pause before you responded, thinking how much the two were alike?

Over the decades, I’ve been in both places: not wanting to be like my mother, and now, holding tight the comments that I’m like her.

My mother, a Kansas farm girl who ended up in Alaska with her farmer-turned-physician husband, was known forhospitality. It was not unusual for six additional people to gather around our Sunday dinner table. Missionaries flew in from remote villages to have a baby, or get medical attention. They would walk into our house, inhale the yeasty smell of baking bread, and feel a hug of hospitality. Our playroom was turned into a guest room, and we often shared one bathroom. At least it was indoors.

I’ve kept missionaries for a week or two and had friends stay a month. I’ve filled my calendar with dinners for church and neighborhood newcomers, and shared cinnamon rolls with anyone within arm’s reach. As much as I try to have freshly baked bread for company’s breakfast, sometimes I’ve served Costco quiche and store-bought raisin bread. Yet, I could say I’m known for walk-right-in, sit-right-down hospitality.

My mother loved her grandchildren in a down-on-the-floor kind of way. She had tea parties with tiny china sets, put together a zillion puzzles, and patiently showed them how to make sizzling spudnut doughnuts, all the while laughing, embracing, and listening to their frustrations and dreams. Dusting could wait, peeling logs could wait, but building memories could not.


I like a tidy house. Should I wait until my grandboys no longer leave green and blue playdoh crumbles on the floor? Or no longer do face-plants against my glass storm door, where I rub off sticky imprints of excitement and glee? When they understand that “dump the sand out of you shoes,” means, outside, and not inside the house.

Waiting would be too late to learn their favorite color, stuffed animal, and games recess, and their best friends. I’m towed along in my mother’s grand-parenting wake.


My mother embodied hands-on compassion. Praying for the sick and lonely, and giving money to the needy wasn’t enough. She rode with my father to deliver babies when the nurse’s car wouldn’t start at 40 below zero. She cared for women who chose alcohol to manage dark, cold winter nights, and husbands working out-of-town. She cleaned them up, feed them, prayed with them, and loved them to Jesus, and to better ways of coping.

My visits to a friend with MS were both heartbreaking and inspiring. Those visits motivated me to train my dog for therapy work. Together, we go to nursing homes. And, just like my mother, I send care packages and encouraging cards to missionaries in Alaska. Shoveling snow for an older neighbor can be viewed as “compassion,” even though for me, it is a pleasure to be outdoors.


My mother had a passion for life. Who else would joyously sing Christmas carols in below zero temperatures? Make a campfire in the middle of the frozen Yukon River, because roasting hot dogs sounded tasty? Wonder if leaving a can of homemade ice cream mix outdoors, in a frigid winter, would eliminate the need for cranking it with salt and ice?

Ruby and children making icecream on Yukon 1959

I’ve scared myself silly ziplining and rappelling. I’ve giggled uncontrollably when my grandboy and I made Slime – and got stuck in it. I’ve soaked in an outdoor hot tub with snowflakes flurrying on my face, jumped out to roll in the snow, and shouting exuberantly with friends.

Zip - Naomi learns to soar

My mother seized the moments, knew the value of building relationships – no matter how inconvenient – and embraced the goodness in life. I want to live well. I want to be like my mother.


Ruby Leppke Gaede driving a snow machine on the Gaede-80 Homestead, Soldotna, Alaska