Featured photos by Alicia Cory from ShoTcha Photography.
If you were to drive through Berne, MN you would probably miss it. And, if you did notice the little church that makes up the town you wouldn’t think anything of it. But, on a Wednesday in the summer starting at around 4pm, you’d be hard pressed to find a place to park anywhere near that little church.
With deep roots transplanted from Switzerland, Zwingli United Church of Christ in Berne, MN is home to Berne Wood-Fired Pizza on Wednesday nights in the summer. About 1,500 people descend upon the church grounds weekly to enjoy music and devour roughly 500 pizzas.
But, before there was pizza the church was best known for its Swiss Fest; which, of course, celebrated all things Swiss.
Naomi’s grandmother was actively involved in Zwingli’s Swiss Fest before it finished its 58th and final year in 2009. Her parents were married in Zwingli UCC, and Naomi, herself, was baptized there. Deep roots.
“Are you Swiss, then?” I asked her curiously.
“Well, yes, a little. Though, I don't know my exact ancestry.”
It was a Saturday in early November Saturday when we gathered over tea and coffee to talk. The weather seemed too cold and snowy for the time of year. Winter was budging its way on stage before Fall could take a final bow.
Those Formative Years
Since Naomi’s home church is literally in the middle of Southern Minnesota farm country it seemed natural to ask if Naomi grew up on a farm.
“My parents had and still have a hobby farm - about 180 Acres. My dad has always worked off the farm, as well. There's just enough to keep him busy after work,” Naomi explained.
“Where did you go to high school?”
“What’s a favorite memory from Pine Island High School?”
“The first thing that popped into my head was painting our senior wall. Every person had a square brick to paint along some sort of theme.”
“What was your brick?
“Is it bad that I don't remember?” She laughed. “I know it hasn't been that long, but I don’t remember.”
Going back a little bit I asked Naomi what came to mind when she though of her childhood.
“Oh, I think of my cousins.” The answer came easily.
“Okay, tell me about that.”
“My mom’s sister was divorced and she had four little boys who were basically the same age as me and my siblings. They would come over every other weekend and stay with us in our single-wide trailer. We had the best time and we were really, really close.” She smiled as she spoke. “We’d pile into one vehicle - this was 1983 - and go grocery shopping. It was chaos, I’m sure.” Her laughter filled the room. “It’s been fun to watch them get married and have families of their own.”
“What did you do after high school?”
“I went to RCTC for a little bit, but ended up quitting. I just really didn't know what I wanted to do. I felt like I was wasting money taking general classes. During that time I was managing the Maurices here in town and I really liked working retail…”
“You're the only person who's ever said that ever in the history of humankind.” I interrupted. Having worked retail in the past and with my husband currently working in retail, I know what its like out there. Y’all ain’t pretty when you’re shopping.
“What do you think you liked about it?” I asked.
“I liked the people I worked with a lot. And, I liked when people came in and, you know, they were looking for something specific and then we would help them find it. Helping people feels good.”
“So how long did you work for them?”
“I would say like six-ish years. Yeah, six years. After Maurices I got a nanny job and I loved that. I loved taking care of kids and watching kids grow up and being a big part of their lives. I loved it.”
I didn’t say it out loud, but in my head I was wondering how it is a person could love both working in retail and taking care of someone else’s children full-time. Both of those jobs would be the end of me. This woman should be sainted.
Kids: The People Kind
“Did you always love kids?”
“Yeah,” she replied. “I remember when I was probably 11 years old babysitting a newborn maybe three weeks old in the country till 1:00 in the morning. It wasn't a big deal but now I wonder what were those parents thinking leaving their 3-week old with an 11-year old. But I mean it worked out fine. I love, love, love babies.”
“But, then they grow up,” I chided, “and, eventually, you had babies of your own, right?”
“Yes and I was able to nanny until Daxton (her second child) was due to be born. They let me bring Bram (her oldest child) with and I didn’t have to put him in daycare or peel away from him. That was such a huge blessing.”
Naomi has four children now: Bram, Daxton, Hazel, and Cass. And, she’s married to her husband, Eric.
“I always knew I wanted to be a mom even though somewhere as a kid I kind of felt like I wanted to be a nurse. And, I remember my mom saying to me when I was really young that I should be a pediatrician. I didn’t know what that was, but I told people that’s what I was gonna be. But, being a mom is amazing to me. It's amazing.” She said with dramatic emphasis. “But then I was like, okay, there's got to be something else. I had Bram and then I had Daxton and then I feel like I lost myself a little bit. I remember looking in the mirror and saying ‘wow’ in disbelief. We were financially tight with two kids and a third on the way, and I just didn't have time or resources for self-care. And, I felt like it showed.
“I remember thinking there must be more for me than just to be a mom - even though that was fulfilling. Being a mom was still like the greatest joy in my life, but I felt like I lost myself a little bit. So much of being a mom is constantly putting everybody else first.
“So, I was introduced to a health and wellness product when I was pregnant with Hazel. I remember thinking it was the worst timing ever since we had zero money to do anything and I wasn’t looking to do one more thing. But, it has proved to be a tremendous blessing in my life and changed so much of who I am. Now, I like who I am inside and outside, and I feel like I can help other people.”
The product Naomi is speaking of is Isagenix. And, she’s also become a network marketer with the company.
“So yeah, my sister had started the program and she convinced me to try it. I started and immediately felt so much better. Like WOW so much better. I felt like I was just a tiny bit taking care of myself, you know. I was happy to see my husband when he came home. I was happy to play with my kids and run around and chase them where I wasn’t feeling like doing those things before. Now, I won’t go a day without it.” Her confidence showed.
“Tell me about your children,” I prompted.
“Hazel is our only daughter. She just turned 5 and has so much fun energy. She's one of those people that's going to have so many friends because she's nice to everyone.
“My oldest is quiet. He's definitely like a firstborn; really, really loves the outdoors and being with his dad on the farm and he loves to fix things. He sees a problem and finds a solution.
“Daxton, our second, is very…uh, flighty. He’s kind of just in his own world and does what he wants. Not much bothers him. He's…he's stubborn and strong willed. I feel like he's gonna go places someday if he doesn't go to jail.” We both laughed. “If he can steer away from jail that’ll work out really good. But, he's also very like easygoing and I do realize how funny it is to say those two things together, but he's like a free spirit.
“Cass is the baby though he’s not really a baby anymore since he just turned 3. He's still pretty young so I think it’s too early to tell.”
In the midst of our conversation I discovered Naomi went through all four of her labor and deliveries without pain medication.
“Was that planned?” I asked.
“No. Bram was almost born in the car.”
“Your first? How is that even possible?”
“Well, I woke up in the night with contractions and we ended up going in and after they checked me they sent me home. It was my first baby so they assumed I didn’t know what was going on. I mean it was 10 days before my due date, so what did I know. As we were leaving to go back home, I stopped to go to the bathroom and felt like a little trickle, but again, my first baby. The nurse checked me again and said it was nothing.
“So we go home and I'm sick. We lived a good 25 minutes from the hospital and I'm scared to go back even though I’m feeling awful. I’d only been home two hours so I figured they were going to be like ‘lady, really get a grip,’ right?
“In the meantime, my husband makes this greasy breakfast while I’m about to throw up and then my mom called while I was rocking back and forth on the couch. After I explained how I was feeling she told me I needed to go back to the hospital. So, I finally decided to go and Eric decides he needs to go to bathroom.
“I told him to get in the car and there I was on the the way to town in the backseat of our Toyota Camry on my hands and knees not strapped in. I remember having contractions and telling myself that I couldn’t push even though my body wanted to. In my head I was screaming, ‘don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it.” You can control some of that, but not all. So, we got to the hospital and they're all like wanting to get me in at Family Medicine to see my primary. They had me put the gown on and I told them I had to push. They were like ‘oh, we should probably check you.’ I was like ‘YEAH! YEAH you do!’ Turns out I was complete.
“I remember asking about an epidural and the woman was like, ‘oh sweetie, you’re too late for an epidural - you know, this is gonna hurt really bad, but it's going to be quick’. 20 minutes later I had a baby. After that, for my other babies, I was like, well I can do this. I loved how I could get up, walk around, take a shower, and I really had good recoveries.
On Being Married to a Farmer
“So why did you marry a farmer?” Speaking of the guy who had to use the bathroom before heading to the hospital.
“I know right? That's a good question. When I met Eric, he was just home from the Navy.”
“Where is he from?”
“So, how did you meet him?”
“Me and a couple girlfriends would go out after work to a couple bars in Stewartville and that's where I met him. He was there with some friends.”
“Did you see each other across the room or who made the first move or…?
“I think maybe somebody introduced us. It wasn’t a big deal, at first, but then I really sort of liked him. He was definitely rough around the edges; more rough than I was used to. He was working at Crenlo as a welder (still is), so he was all dirty and that’s just not my jam. But, I don't know - there's just something about him.
“After that, I don't know how it happened. I feel like we just saw each other more and more and then maybe just started hanging out more and more. I remember thinking that I was falling in love with him after two weeks and how crazy that seemed.”
“How long before you were engaged?”
“I met him in April of 2007. We got engaged the summer of 2008 and then we got married in September of 2009. Bram was eight months old when we got married so we had a little bald baby in the wedding.” She smiled at the memory.
“So, your husband works full time and farms?”
“Yeah. His grandparents, mom, and uncle live on the farm - about 700 acres - and his uncle runs the farm full-time. Eric lost his dad about six years ago. We live about a mile from the farm on about six acres and then Eric rents a little bit extra. It's intense. In fact, he's probably wondering when I’m gonna be home so he can go out and combine. He loves it and my kids love it and I love that my kids get to see that hard work pays off.”
Squishy and Not-So-Squishy Questions
“Tell me about your tattoo.”
“This is my first one. I was turning 35 and wanted to live on the edge a little bit. Honestly, I looked at women’s arm tattoos on Pinterest and found something very similar to this and I just, well, liked it. It really doesn't mean anything to me - it doesn’t have a deeper meaning.”
To me, it takes more courage to get a tattoo simply because you like it than to get one with meaning behind it. In 20 years you can always blame that deeper meaning for the choice you made, but without that you only have yourself and your taste to blame.
“How would your family describe you?” I asked.
Her answer came slow and deliberate.
“I think they would describe me as…
Naomi, like many people, became a bit uncomfortable when asked to speak positively about herself. Talking about her internal self was difficult and almost excruciating. These squishy questions - the questions that dive into the invisible things that are able to slip through our physical boundaries - are tough to process. Things like dreams, feelings, spiritual matters, personality traits, strengths, and one’s character.
And, like many people, shifting the conversation to concrete questions (like what’s 2 + 2) helps to discover more about that person.
So, I asked Naomi about the earrings she was wearing. Scroll down and take a look. Aren’t they great?
“I like to be like a little unique but yet approachable,” she told me. “I bought them from a woman who has this little earring making business. She used to live in Stewartville, but she’s moved to Texas now.”
Her answer told me that Naomi values realness. Her earrings weren’t bought in a store - they were bought from a person. She likes to stand out in a crowd, but not overwhelm. She is unique and fun.
Those earrings told me a lot about her without her having to answer any of those squishy questions.
“What do you like most about your outward self?” I asked; keeping the focus on visible, tangible things.
She thought about it for a while before answering.
“My hair probably. Yeah, some days it's a hot mess. Yeah, a lot of times.” She paused. “It’s hard to like something about myself.”
“Oh, absolutely.” I agreed.
“It’s a bit…it's terrifying.”
“Yeah, but it's true. You have great hair,”
“Well, thank you.”
We finished up our time together and headed to our respective mini-vans. Mom vehicle for the win! As I was driving home, I processed through our time together. One word that kept coming up in my mind was the word “nurturing.” That definitely describes Naomi. A person just enjoys being around her as her nurturing spirit sends out its caring vibes.
But, a side-effect of being a nurturer is that the nurturer often goes without care herself. And, Naomi described some of that in our interview. When I asked those squishy questions, Naomi was visibly uncomfortable answering them. But, when I asked about her earrings she opened up without even realizing it.
So, the moral of the story? Ask questions. Nurture the nurturers in your life. Care for those who care.
And, when in doubt, ask about their earrings.