The author and her husband, Duane, own and operate a 550-cow dairy in Cochranville, Pa.

Marilyn Hershey
One of the greatest blessings Duane and I received this year was during one of the most difficult times. My mother had been ill for a few years, so her passing was not a total surprise. Her 91-year-old body had enough of this life, but watching her complete this part of her journey was not easy.

The blessings came after her passing. We received an outpouring of love from others during this time that gave us the strength to continue, as she would have wished. One of the cards we received summed up my mother perfectly. It contained a quote by Pablo Picasso: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

My mother lived out her faith every day. She truly looked at each day as an opportunity to serve others.

She had an enormous, overwhelming, and welcoming gift of hospitality. She loved to entertain others, and her kindness was known far and wide. She thrived on sharing her life with others. Her laugh, selflessness, and joy were infectious. Our farm, her church, and the world is such a better place because of everything she did for those around her.

My mom’s faith, our family, and the farm were a big deal to her, and she intermingled those three priorities in unique and effective ways. She loved people and doing things for others, and her ability to share did not know boundaries.

Before she was my mother, Anna Stoltzfus grew up on a small dairy farm and helped her family with the cows, garden, and work around the house and barn. Although she did not love working with the cows, she loved the farming lifestyle and knew that there was no greater place to raise children, instill values, and showcase her care for others.

One of those avenues was with her abundant garden. She always asked my father to finish his corn planting with sweet corn. He saved a few rows for her, and we would end up with hundreds upon hundreds of ears of sweet corn. She sold some but gave most of it away to friends and neighbors. For weeks we would bring in a wagon full of sweet corn, and I would hope and pray that someone would show up to take the ears away. I knew if they didn’t, we were making a wagon load of corn that day.

Giving back was her mission in life. Sometimes it was a meal for someone in the community, and other times she was a chauffeur for someone who could not drive. Often, it was a simple gesture of care.

I have vivid memories of her bringing cold meadow tea and freshly made chocolate chip cookies to the hay wagons when we were unloading hay bales in the summertime. She always knew when and how to keep us refreshed. This was long before we had cellphones to text; she just knew the right time.

I also have fond childhood memories of when we hosted homemade ice cream parties. After skimming the cream off of the milk, she put together a recipe for ice cream. Typically, the flavor matched the season of fruit.

Everyone would take a turn at churning the ice cream machine. My father always seemed to get the last turn as the ice cream got thicker and creamier. It was scrumptious.

When my parents moved off the farm, my mom turned her attention to helping me in any way she could. She loved to help me around the house, cleaning and doing laundry, giving me a hand with the children, and preparing harvest meals when I was not there to feed the crew. When we hosted a party, she arrived early to help with preparations, and she stayed late to make sure that the dishes were washed and put away.

With farms, vacations are not plentiful, but two places my mother loved to visit were a cabin in the Pennsylvania Appalachian mountains and the beaches on the Jersey Shore.

We all managed to get away for a weekend during the summer when our extended Kennel family would spend time around the campfire, floating down the creek and sharing family memories. The Friday morning of that weekend was always a challenge for my mother’s patience when my father ran into issues in the barn that delayed our early departure.

The other vacation she snuck in was a beach trip with her three best friends. For many years the children were included in this trip, and we had lots of laughs during that weekend at the Jersey Shore.

One of my favorite memories of my mother’s beach weekend was shortly after we were milking in the freestall barn. Expanding the farm from our tie stall barn to an expansive freestall was a big deal to my parents, and the morning she was driving her best friends to the shore, she took a detour and drove her car down the middle of the alley way in our new barn. It is good that the car windows were closed because I was afraid the laughter would scare the cows.

As always, we have numerous gifts to open this holiday season and boundless treasures to cherish. The gift I hold closest this year is the example that my dear mother left: The gift of giving away.