May 20 • 11:44 AM

A memorable life of quiet resilience

March 12, 2008
Catherine Mulder was a woman of simple means, humble words and what we might view as a seemingly modest calling in life—to provide and care for her family. With little fanfare she went about doing what she did best: Baking bread, hosting family birthday dinners, keeping correspondence with loved ones near and far, washing carrots in the shade of the poplar trees and serving tea on Sunday afternoons.

It was important to her that our bellies were full. She didn't seem to mind that tradition relegated her to the kitchen, it was a familiar space she maneuvered well. There were hearty meals of goulash, shepherd's pie and freshly baked rolls and nut breads spread with margarine and a well-stocked cookie jar.

She let Grandpa do the theorizing, debating and talking. I very rarely heard her raise her voice. Her most memorable expression had to be her laugh, more like a full body chuckle, that usually worked its way up to her eyes where tears would form.

Considering that life wasn't always easy for Grandma, she had an aura of quiet resilience.

Her family, the Van Doeselaars, emigrated to the United States when she was only six years old. They never permanently settled anywhere until arriving in Imlay City in the early 30s. Previously, a flood had forced them from their muck farm near the banks of the Mississippi River in Quincy, Illinois. From the boat that plucked them off their front steps, they watched their home float away. Only a few years later, Grandma herself was married and starting a family with my grandpa, Peter Mulder. They raised six children and went on to be a presence in the lives of their 14 grandchildren.

Sometimes money was tight, but she worked hard even into her later years without complaint. With friend and business partner, Kriena Jager, she painted and wallpapered dozens of homes. With Grandpa, she packed produce and headed to farmer's markets in Armada, Lapeer and Port Huron.

Despite only having a fifth grade education, Grandma loved to read and was a proficient and gifted letter writer. She knit us countless afghans and doilies.

It can be easy to let her last six years, characterized by dementia, overshadow what had been a productive and full life, but I don't think we will let that happen. There was just too much good food, heartfelt laughs, old photos and warm memories to ever let us forget.

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Castle Creek
Milnes Ford
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