ALTAMONT — Margaret J. Rau could darn the holes in socks as well as she mended the hurt in hearts. As a farmwife, she was frugal and hardworking, a woman of deep faith and compassion.
She died on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, at St. Peter's Hospital in Albany. She was 93.
"She was a great, caring, honest, giving woman," said her youngest son, Ken Rau. "She always put her kids before anything else."
Even as she recently lay ill in the hospital, when family would come to visit, he recalled, she'd say, "I'm OK. Go, get home."
"She was the old-fashioned pioneer type of woman," said her husband of nearly 74 years, Everett Rau. "She would make do with what she had —"
"And never complain," Ken Rau finished the sentence for his father.
"And never complain," Everett Rau echoed.
Mrs. Rau was born on April 29, 1923 in Rotterdam, the daughter of Blanche L. Jeffords and Frank Vedder. When she was born, her parents lived on the Vedder farm on Pangburn Road where her father worked. Her mother died when she was 3 years old.
"We both had tough starts in life," said Everett Rau. "Somehow, in each other, we found peace and love."
As a young woman, Mrs. Rau worked in the payroll section of General Electric in Schenectady and Mr. Rau worked in a nearby building. He punched his time card near the window where she worked.
"There was a change in procedure and I had to go to the window," recalled Mr. Rau. "She looked out at me and smiled."
Although the two other women working there smiled as well, Mr. Rau said, "I liked Peg's smile pretty good."
The romance progressed from there with some help from Mrs. Rau. "A nice older lady worked in our office. Peg got into cahoots with her. She invited me to her place and Peg was there," he said.
"I only knew her for a short time and I asked if she'd like to go to dinner with me," he went on, recalling the events of August 1942 as vividly as if they were yesterday. "We walked out to the GE parking lot after work. I had a 1937 Ford convertible. I always told her she married me for the convertible."
The couple dined at the grand old Governor's Inn on the outskirts of Schenectady. "It was the first time I'd seen a woman with a wide-brimmed hat. She was dressed to kill. This farm boy didn't know what was happening," Mr. Rau said.
Next, Mr. Rau took his girlfriend to meet his parents at their Settle's Hill farm. "I had taken another girl to our farmhouse. My mother cooked dinner but she didn't care for her. I asked her to prepare dinner for me and Peg and we came in the house and I introduced Margaret to my mother. You could see right away in the body language that they liked each other. My mother had seven boys — only three lived to maturity. My girlfriend had lost her mother at 3," he said, describing how the two women immediately bonded.
"I didn't stand a ghost of a chance," said Mr. Rau. "I was hooked."
He went on, "We were engaged in December of that year." The couple married on June 20, 1943. "Wartime was on; everything from gas to food was rationed," Mr. Rau said, so the wedding was "very small." An Adirondack honeymoon had been planned but Mr. Rau had hurt himself at work, cutting two tendons in his hand so the couple honeymooned in the family farmhouse instead.
Mr. Rau had a "big white bandage" on his hand during the church wedding in Schenectady, so he held his hand behind his back. Looking at wedding pictures years later, his son Ken Rau said he had just thought his father's hand-behind-his-back pose was "gentlemanly."
Mrs. Rau left her job when their first child, Jim, was born. "Jim was bathed in a bathinette by the parlor stove," said Mr. Rau, explaining that the only heat in the old farmhouse came from the cast-iron cook stove in the kitchen and the parlor stove; there was no indoor plumbing.
Three more children followed Jim. "She stayed home to raise the children," said Mr. Rau. "I didn't want her to go back to work." Mrs. Rau did return to work when the children were older; she worked in payroll at Schenectady International for many years.
"She was intelligent and a good mother," said Everett Rau.
"The best," said their son Ken Rau through tears.
"I think we learned from each other," said Everett Rau. As a married couple, he said, "We had the usual differences of opinion but we did one thing." He quoted a Biblical verse: "Let not the sun go down upon thy wrath."
"We never went to bed mad at each other," said Mr. Rau. "We always managed somehow to make peace with each other before we went to sleep."
Mrs. Rau developed all the skills of an accomplished farmwife. She became an excellent seamstress and pieced many prized quilts.
"She made our daughter's prom gown," said Everett Rau.
Mrs. Rau was good at knitting, too. She knit items ranging from baby clothes to prayer shawls.
Being frugal, she darned socks when they had holes rather than discarding them.
"I remember her sitting in the living room with a basket of socks," said Ken Rau. He recalled how his mother held her darning egg to shape the toe or heel of the sock she was darning.
Similarly, said Patricia Rau, Ken's wife, "She would turn the collars and the cuffs" — making the most-worn parts of a shirt look new again.
While Mrs. Rau had perfected these old-fashioned skills, she was practical enough to use modern tools, too. "She had a computer-controlled sewing machine, and she was Internet savvy," said Ken Rau.
"She stayed in touch through Facebook," said Patricia Rau. Mrs. Rau used her tablet to stay in touch from her hospital bed.
"She was orderly and neat with perfect penmanship," said her son. He described how his mother used her accounting skills to systematically file household financial records, marking the envelope of every bill with the date and amount paid.
Mrs. Rau was also an excellent cook. She used recipes from both her mother-in-law and her own mother, which were sent to her by her stepbrother's wife. For a decade, Mrs. Rau used her cooking skills to help her husband run Turkeyland, a custom turkey-roasting business. The couple sold boneless turkey rolls to area eateries.
"I would do the boning; she would do the roasting," said Everett Rau.
The farm took in summer boarders — starting at $14 per week for room and board and, over the years, increasing to $22 per week. To increase business, in addition to her excellent cooking, Mrs. Rau kept beautiful flower gardens, maintaining the beds her mother-in-law had tended.
"She had irises, tulips, daffodils, Civil War peonies, rose bushes that were hundreds of years old," said her son. Her favorite flowers were geraniums. She liked getting her hands dirty, he said, and missed that when she became unable to garden.
"She could get anything to grow," said Patricia Rau. "She had a green thumb. She loved her smoke bush."
"She made the house so beautiful," said Everett Rau.
As a farmwife, Mrs. Rau would help with the harvest, too. Mr. Rau recalled, when he was still working at General Electric, "She was pregnant with Jim and, on a cold day, she went and picked corn with my father."
She also picked the beans her husband planted, and their son recalls her saying, "I don't know why he planted rows from here to Altamont."
"She learned to drive a steel-wheeled tractor, vintage 1930, to help with haying," recalled her husband.
Mrs. Rau was also a leader among farmers, serving as the master of Gifford's Grange. "She donated many days at the Grange Hall at the Altamont Fair during Fair Week," said Everett Rau. Mrs. Rau was both a 4-H club leader and Cub Soout leader. And, her husband said, during the polio scare, she was on the Grange committee that helped boys whose diaphragms had been affected by the disease.
"We were the leaders of the polio rocking bed...The beds made it possible for the polio boys to breathe," said Mr. Rau.
Mrs. Rau knew how to play as well as work. "Although we weren't flush with money, we did manage to get camping and go on picnics with the kids," said Everett Rau.
Mrs. Rau loved Maine and the Adirondacks, especially Lewey Lake. When their children were young, the Raus camped out in a tent. In the 1970s, they got a pickup camper.
"We saw our children enjoying it," said Mr. Rau. "It meant so much we could give them an enjoyable weekend."
At home, Mrs. Rau enjoyed watching birds, especially the hummingbirds that would come to her gardens. "She would watch the migration on her iPad," said Patricia Rau.
"She kept a calendar of the weather, what it was like a year ago," said Patricia Rau. "She was very, very, very organized."
Mrs. Rau's family was the center of her life. Patricia Rau said that Mrs. Rau treated all three of her daughters-in-law like her own children "from day one." "There was never a cross word," Patricia Rau said. "She is my other mom."
Mrs. Rau adored her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, too. "She had Christian love coming out of her," said Everett Rau.
"The day she passed, Sarah walked into her hospital room," said Ken Rau, referring to his daughter, "and Mom gave her this big welcome. She was in it for somebody else. That's the way she was all along."
"She consoled people who were hurt," said Everett Rau.
"Right up until the night she passed," agreed Ken Rau.
During her time at St. Peter's Hospital, Mrs. Rau, always an animal lover, became fond of a therapy dog — a golden retriever named Ellie — who would visit her. Over her lifetime, Mrs. Rau had loved three cats, her husband said.
"Ellie spent every Friday on her bed," said Patricia Rau of her mother-in-law's hospital stay. "She'd pet her and they'd fall asleep."
Mrs. Rau was also sustained by her faith. "She had an exceedingly strong faith in God," said her Ken Rau.
"And in the power of prayer," added Patricia Rau.
"She brought us up in the way God wanted, all of us," said Ken Rau.
Everett Rau recalled that, in the early 1980s, his wife had told him, "We ought to go to Altamont's St. John's, the church you grew up in." He went on, with a smile, "When she talked like that, there wasn't much room for discussion." Before that, the Raus had attended the Messiah Lutheran Church on Guilderland Avenue.
"My wife and I, knowing our age, had talked about our last days," said Everett Rau. "We were not afraid of our last days," he said. Neither wanted family or friends to dwell in grief and loss but rather to celebrate what had been gained.
"Congratulations to them," said Ken Rau, "forcing us to move to the happy times that we shared."
"Hers was a lifetime of loving and helping others," concluded Everett Rau. "She left a great legacy to our family."
Margaret J. Rau is survived by her husband, Everett Rau; and by her four children and their spouses and children: Jim Rau and his wife, Patricia, of Felton, Delaware and their four children, Teresa, Sherry, Jamie, and Shawn, Mary-Jane Rau-Pelzer of Saratoga Springs and her two children, Meredith and Jason, Ernie Rau and his wife, Joyce, of Altamont, and their four children, David, Kelly, Erika, and Derik, and Ken Rau and his wife, Patricia, and their three children, Kristin, Sarah, and Timothy.
She is also survived by 23 great-grandchildren; one great-great-granddaughter; and by two nieces, Susan Tome of Georgetown, Texas, and Rae Rau of Guilderland.
Mrs. Rau's granddaughter, Laura Rau, the daughter of Ernie and Joyce Rau, died before her as did her stepbrother, Charles Vedder.
A celebration of Mrs. Rau's life will be held at St. John's Church 140 Maple Ave., Altamont on Sunday, May 28, 2017 at 2PM. A reception will follow in the church hall. Memorial contributions may be made to St. John's Lutheran.