Some people called her "Auntie Eileen."
I called her Mom.
She came from a time of strife. I was always told she was born in 1912, however, the 1920 and 1940 census say she was born in 1913; who really knows? She was a young child during WWI. Married at 19 to the husband who would be the father to her twelve children (the first child died as an infant), he remained the only man in her life even after many difficult years and a separation.
Each day she baked, cooked, and, or, washed clothes. It was necessary to be inventive when it came to cooking. Eleven hungry mouths to feed meant she needed a lot of food. A lot of food that she didn’t have. She grew some in a garden. She raised chickens for the eggs and for the meat, even serving her children the chicken feet boiled and served on a platter. She didn’t hesitate to remind us this was a delicacy in some areas of the world.
When her sons, my brothers, were old enough some of them would hunt pheasant, duck, and, even rabbit at times. I remember some meals where there was buckshot still left in the meat. Boxes of donated food would arrive at our door occasionally. It seemed like a holiday to have fresh fruits and vegetables in the kitchen. The house would hold a wonderful aroma of steaming soup or stew in the pots on the stove. In some of the houses in which we lived it was a wood burning stove. The boys were put to work for that, too; gathering the wood, I mean.
She kept after her children as best she could, but for the most part the older ones tended to the little ones. There were just so many of them.
She was a woman of few words. There were several sayings, or mottoes, reiterated over the years. The more memorable ones being:
“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
“Never give up.”
And one my children remember me repeating -
“It will get better before you get married.”
She lived through the Great Depression, and I wonder if it made any difference in her life when it ended. I wonder what she would think of the current American situation.
My mom tended to hold positive thoughts about everything. Even when she shouldn’t. Only as she grew older did I ever see her sit and stare out the window. Of course, her
children had grown and started their own lives by then. Except for me, I was the last one home. She probably hadn’t had the time to actually sit and think about her life. I don’t know that I ever saw her cry, or have tears well up in her eyes.
People said she was a good woman, and, “a tough old bird.” She continued to get up, put one foot in front of the other, and kept moving. It seems to me the best part of her life came after her children were grown. She acquired a stable secretarial job. She worked and lived a quiet life, one I imagine she appreciated.
I have mixed feelings about my mother’s life. On the one hand, I loved her and continue to do so. On the other hand, I can’t help but ask, “Why on earth did she have so many children?” Of course, I know some of the possible reasons why, and I realize if she hadn’t had all of those children I wouldn’t be here. In reality though, I was just one more mouth to feed.
How the woman handled difficult situations is questionable. I imagine it is because of how she was raised. Did she remain the same; unchanging, because she didn’t know she could? Or should? I have felt a lot of guilt for how my children had to experience some life events. Divorcing their dad, for one. Did this mother of eleven grown children ever feel guilt for what her children experienced? It makes me wonder if the answer is no to that question. If it is, it would be because she hadn’t been allowed to acknowledge her feelings as a child and young adult.
Mom wasn’t perfect – who is? I do believe she meant well in all areas of her life. If she was lacking it came from a lack of self-worth. Maybe she thought having children would fix that. And maybe it did temporarily.
Many children brought many grandchildren and great-grandchildren onto the scene. I know for a fact that they brought her great joy. Being a grandmother myself, I am glad she got to feel that and be a part of most of their lives.
I had forgotten she was called Auntie Eileen. A short time back I reconnected with a cousin from my mom’s side. When she spoke of her she called Mom, “Auntie Eileen.” It warmed my heart, and it still does.
In a world where you can be anything, Be Kind.”
Don’t count the days.
Make the days count.
Until next time, dear friends,
© Doris Clark, February, 2021