COLUMN: Celebrating in the Wundergarten – Legendary mothers


While creating the mother character, Frau Ruehl, in the folktale “WUNDERGARTEN,” I didn’t have to look far for stellar examples. I was lucky to have a “storybook wonderful” mom and so are most of us. Mothers, though rarely flawless, are regularly, magically wunderbar.

Frau Ruehl isn’t perfect but she’s perfect for the patient, hard-working, life-affirming, positive role model of motherhood she embodies. She is brave, nurturing and unconditionally loving.

As I imagined Frau Ruehl, I recalled the sweetly sentimental words of this classic Mother’s Day song that is credited to several devoted, songwriting sons, but was most popularly recorded by actor/folksinger Burl Ives.

                                      M-O-T-H-E-R  (A Word That Means the World to Me)

When I was but a baby, long before I learned to walk

While I was lying in my cradle, I would try my best to talk

It wasn’t long before I spoke and all the neighbors heard

My folks were very proud of me for “Mother” was the word

Although I’ll never lay a claim to fame

I’m satisfied to sing her lovely name:

“M” is for the million things she gave me

“O” means only that she’s growing old

“T” is for the tears she shed to save me

“H” is for her heart of purest gold

“E” is for her eyes with love-light shining

“R” means right and right she’ll always be

Put them all together they spell MOTHER

A world that means the world to me.

Brothers Grimm folktales were a major inspiration for “WUNDERGARTEN.” In their 200-plus stories, I found numerous, selfless moms like Frau Ruehl. That said, the centuries-old stories collected by Jacob and Wilheim Grimm were not so admiring of stepmothers, who were often portrayed as wicked and bullying. Modern versions of the Grimm tales have eased up some on step-parents.

LEGENDARY MOTHERS abound in children’s books, classic literature, films and Broadway musical storytelling. Here are some of “THE BEST ‘MAKE BELIEVE’ MOMS EVER:”

THE LITTLE RED HEN—a superb role model for being a team player, responsible and self-reliant; The LRH wasn’t a goofy, BFF for her little chicks, but she was a good and loving teacher and superb MOTHER—she put the “coop” in “COOPeration”

MARMEE (Margaret March) from LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott—kept the home fires burning while her husband was far from home, soldiering in the war; she lovingly, steadfastly corralled and uplifted her spirited daughters—as Marmee warmly beams, “The love, respect and confidence of my children was the sweetest reward I could receive for my efforts to be the woman I would have them copy.”

MAME DENNIS from AUNTIE MAME by Patrick Dennis is a sort of a fairytale, magical mix of free spirit and fortitude—Dennis based the character on his outrageously over-the-top aunt; ever-encouraging, through the rousing song by Broadway legend, Jerry Herman, Mame taught young Patrick and the rest of us to:

Open a new window

Open a new door

Travel a new highway

That’s never been tried before

Before you find you’re a dull fellow

Punching the same clock

Walking the same tightrope

As everyone on the block.

The fellow you ought to be is three dimensional

Soaking up life

Down to your toes

Whenever they say you’re slightly unconventional

Just put your thumb

Up to your nose

And show ‘em how to

Dance to a new rhythm

Whistle a new song

Toast with a new vintag

The fizz doesn’t fizz too long

There’s only one way to make the bubbles sta

Simply travel a new highway

Dance to a new rhythm

Open a new window

Ev’ry day!

LULU NANAPUSH from LOVE MEDICINE by Louise Erdrich is no demure, prim heroine—she is lusty and adventurous; the author shows us that desire both enriches life and also complicates it; this Ojibwe mother fiercely defends her family and her tribe—Erdrich has said, “You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart.”

MISS HONEY from MATILDA by Roald Dahl is Matilda’s school teacher and “mother figure” who is kind, respectful and admiring of Matilda’s giftedness; Miss Honey nurtures Matilda’s brilliance and in the final act, teacher and student form a “new family,” one which is positive and healthy for both characters

SUYUAN WOO from THE JOY LUCK CLUB by Amy Tan reminds me of an Asian version of Frau Ruehl in WUNDERGARTEN—challenges befall Suyuan Woo but she refuses to focus on the negative and strives to sow seeds of happiness for a successful future—Suyuan Woo would embrace this line from WUNDERGARTEN, “Plow toward sunshine and shadows fade behind you.”

CLAIR OLIVIA HUXTABLE (nee Hanks) was the elegant, eloquent sit-com wife of Cliff and mother of five children, so, including Cliff, six. She was a dedicated lawyer with a playful sense of humor and considerable “my mouth to God’s ears” assertiveness. Try this quote from one of television’s favorite moms: “Don’t you dare open your mouth when I’m asking you a question!” Uh, yes, I mean, “YES MA’AM!”

MRS. MURRY from A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle is a beautiful, brilliant scientist who lovingly takes care of her family while her husband mysteriously disappeared on government business. This novel has many life lessons, among them—“Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.”

“MA” from LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE by Laura Ingalls Wilder reminds me so much of my own, calm and loving mom, also a mother of five spirited children; “Ma” was a woman of faith who studied and valued nature, hard work and education; “Ma” taught these lessons: “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” and “This earthly life is a battle. If it isn’t one thing to contend with, it’s another. It always has been so, and it always will be. The sooner you make up your mind to that, the better off you ae, and the more thankful for your pleasures.”

Create your own “Mothers Hall of Fame,” and I hope like me, you are able to kindly and honestly include your own, tireless, dear, beloved mom right at the top of your roster. This Mother’s Day holiday salute is to fictional mothers like Frau Ruehl of WUNDERGARTEN but it’s also a good time to reflect on “real life” mom models like: Candy Lightner, a woman who turned her grief over the death of her child, into the life-saving cause, MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers); Wilma Mankiller, a modern day, Native American tribal leader; Melinda Gates, visionary philanthropist; Mother Teresa, Sojourner Truth, Lou Xiaoying, Nancy Edison, Maria von Trapp, Ann Jarvis, Josephine Baker, Lillian Carter, Barbara Bush and Erma Bombeck. These mothers and millions of others, taught us to LIVE, LAUGH and LOVE.

LEGENDARY MOTHERS, real and fantastical like Frau Ruehl, have a heart of purest gold and keep the lovelight shining.

CELEBRATING IN THE WUNDERGARTEN This storytelling culinary series mostly imagines tasty foods from the recipe box our fictional mom, Frau Ruehl, brought with her from Germany to present-day Cullman County, Alabama. This week in the WUNDERGARTEN, we have a dish from prairie pioneer, “Ma,” a heroine of THE LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE.




  • 2 lb. rhubarb cut into 1” pieces (about 7 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 pieces pie dough
  • All-purpose flour, for rolling
  • 2 tbsp. butter, cold and cubed
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1/2 tsp. water
  • Sanding sugar, for sprinkling


  1. In a large bowl, combine rhubarb, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and salt. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece of dough out into two 12” rounds.
  2. Fit one round into a 9” glass pie plate and fill with rhubarb mixture. Dot evenly with butter, then cover pie with remaining round and trim overhang to 1”. Fold edges of top dough under and crimp together.
  3. Using a sharp knife, make five 1” slits in a circle in the center of the top crust. Freeze pie for 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 375F with a rack in the middle and the bottom third. Brush top crust all over with egg wash and sprinkle generously with sanding sugar.
  5. Bake pie on middle rack, with a foil-lined baking sheet on bottom rack to catch juices, about 1 hour. Check to see if top crust is browning too quickly and tent with foil if necessary. Continue to cook, checking every 10 minutes to see if top crust needs to be tented, for about 30 minutes more, until bubbling in center and bottom crust is golden.
  6. Transfer pie to a rack to cool completely.


MOTHER’S DAY WEEKEND TREAT Saturday, May 13, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. is a FREE and OPEN TO ALL “Arts in the Garden” event at the WOODLANDS & WILDFLOWER GARDEN, “Cullman County’s Arts Garden” at Sportsman Lake Park. (only for print)

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