When I reflect upon my mother, I realize what an enormous change has occurred in just a few generations. She was born the 12th child of parents who farmed in Illinois. They had no heat, nor electricity. Anything motorized was not part of their lives. They grew all their own food, milked cows, raised chickens, churned butter, worked the fields, walked to a one-room schoolhouse, and had their babies at home. It was a life that none of us can really relate to.
My mother is the only sibling left in her family. I try to wonder what that would be like…to be the last one left. Mom did not have an easy life, herself. She moved to Chicago to be a housekeeper as soon as she was able to leave the nest. She and her sister both worked there for wealthy families, for a pittance of pay. Sacrifice and hard work was her life. In my growing-up years, Mom still worked hard, and spent very little money on herself. She had shoes for housework, and shoes for church. She made both last as long as she could, and to have resoled shoes was taken for granted.
My earliest memory of her “wash day” was of a ringer washer. First she would put the white clothes in a tub of “bluing”water. This was to make sure that they would be snow white. It would not do for her children to have dingy clothes. I remember her feeding the clothes through a wringer washer. She told me of my grandmother running her hand through the wringer and breaking her bones. She showed me the safety lever, so that if needed, the bar could be hit and it would immediately release the pressure and save your hand. She didn’t have a dryer for the longest time. On rainy days she would hang all the clothes in the basement, and on sunny days they were hung outside. It has been a long time since I have slept on sheets that were hung in the open air. It is a neat childhood memory. You seldom see clotheslines anymore.
Just before the school year began, all seven of us were taken to the store and clothes where purchased. We also got new shoes. These clothes and shoes lasted us the entire year. My mother did not have a sewing machine, but I remember well that she used to mend a lot. After the washday, in the evening, she would sort through all of our clothes to make sure there were no tears that needed to be mended, or buttons to be sewn on. Of course there always were. She would sit in her chair with her mending basket and mend our clothes. We might have had patches and mending on our clothes but we never went dirty or unkempt. She was amazing, as I look back on it.
Seven kids, each of us coming along about every two years, and she took such good care of us, fed us, watched over us, loved us, and…something very important…read to us. TV’s were not a household item then, and she would always read to us in the evenings before bed. I think this accounts for the fact that all of us read and write well. She got “conned” into buying Childcraft books by a traveling salesman, and lamented that she had done so without consulting my father. I think it was considered a huge expenditure at the time. But the Childcraft books were the books she used to read to us. What an incredible gift she gave us by reading to us.
How times have changed. No woman with a high-falutin’ job today worked harder than my mother. She didn’t see herself that way, but I’m telling you, she was an amazement. To watch her iron would make your head spin. She ironed everything. That iron would hit the ironing board with such ferocity and speed it was a blur. She would say she had no time to dilly-dally. At that time there was no such thing as wrinkle-free.
Everything had to be ironed.
She took us to church every Sunday. I remember we all walked to the Waynedale Methodist Church, and we must have looked like a family of ducklings. After church we would come home and she would fix a big meal. Often times, my aunt and uncle would join us. It was, and is, a blessing to have a mother like her.
Thank God she was from the “old school.” She got us up and off to school after feeding us a big breakfast, and when we got home she was there. She was “there” for us throughout our whole childhoods. We never had to know the pain of divorce, or separation, or cruelty. We truly had a gifted childhood. How much we took for granted. How little we appreciated what we had, as I look back now.
I know that we are fortunate to still have her with us. She is still in the house where we grew up. She still has a green thumb and never has lost her appreciation for life. She is now in her low 90’s, and I know that we won’t have her forever. But what a gift she was, and is. How lucky we are to have her for a mother. You in Waynedale all know her as Irene. All of us and our friends just knew her as “Mom.” Of all the things in my life I am grateful for, she is right there at the top of the list. The world would be a much better place if all kids were as fortunate as we were. God gave us the best.
God bless all our mothers, Mae
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