My mom raised three families. She was perpetually someone’s mother. She also worked hard throughout her life.
The first family he raised were his younger brothers. There were actually five of them, but the 13-day-old baby left behind when his mother died suddenly was raised by an aunt. Her older brother was being held as a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II.
Her hopes and dreams of becoming a school teacher were dashed as she had no choice but to drop out of school at sixteen so she could run the house and allow her father to support her.
Times were tough, but people were tougher. They stepped up and did what needed to be done rather than shirk responsibility. Difficult times demand sacrifice. His workload increased.
Cleaning alone required much more effort in those days than it does today. Each meal was cooked from scratch; every drop of water used was carried in a bucket from the well in the side patio.
Doing laundry was a matter of at least two days, longer in the winter when wet clothes were stretched out and hung all over the inside of the house to dry. Almost all the pieces had to be ironed. At last, electricity was available. They could run a refrigerator, radio, and iron plugged into the socket hanging from the ceiling with a single light bulb in it. Those modern conveniences were wonderful and welcome.
Literally keeping the house fire burning was a way of life. The only source of heat and cooking was a wood fire occasionally supplemented by charcoal spilled from the wagons and picked up along the railway tracks.
Despite the apparent luxuries, nearly every morsel they ate was raised on site. He spent a lot of time planting, nurturing, harvesting, and preserving food to get them through the long winter months. On top of that, most of his clothes were sewn from feed sacks at home on the old Singer pedal.
Add cooking, cleaning, milking the cow, feeding the chickens and cattle, etc. and it is easy to see that there was not much free time.
With four younger siblings to care for, Mom was always busy, but she was robbed of some of the best moments of her life as she transitioned from a young girl to a grown woman. It’s a miracle that I found time to get to know my dad.
He rarely spoke of those days. She saddened her.
When his younger brother was eight years old, he married my dad and presto, I was born. In ten years she gave birth to four more children, so, tirelessly, her motherhood continued for her.
When I, her firstborn, got married during my senior year of high school, she still had four others to raise. When the youngest graduated from high school, she adored her grandchildren and soon began raising my sister’s three children after a divorce.
The details are complicated and don’t really matter, but the fact is that she went from sixteen to retirement age raising children, her own and others’. He also worked full time for most of those years.
She rarely sat down, even to eat, she was always busy doing something, usually in the kitchen. Despite her difficulties in her life, she often hummed or sang while performing her solitary tasks. Of course, the youngsters were always there to share the load, albeit a bit reluctantly, but she had a habit of going after them and getting it right.
Papi was no help at all in doing “woman’s work.” As king of his castle, he was actually picky and allowed money to slip through his fingers while Mom juggled making the minimum payments on his eternal debts. Getting ahead is a struggle when you continually buy interest.
Mom worked outside the home for years before she managed to put together enough money for a down payment on her first house.
In all, she raised twelve children over five decades: four younger siblings, five of her own children, and three grandchildren. His influence is still felt. While he’s not always the ideal role model (but who is?), he did his best with his limited knowledge and skills.
Rocking a snuggled baby on her arm and singing an old-time lullaby always lit up her face. During her last years, when her mind was ravaged by dementia, I gave her a life-size weighted doll. Wrapped in a blanket I offered it to him. She smiled as she reached for him happily as her countenance literally changed.
She would often sit and stare into his face, rocking her upper body and singing chords to “Bye Oh Baby Bunting, Daddy’s gone hunting.”
Her influence helped shape each one she raised, as well as others. Yes, she really was the mother of many.
The daughter of a coal miner born in Appalachia and educated in Michigan, Hill currently lives in rural Athens. She describes herself as a cook and cookbook author, jack of all trades and master of none, Christian mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She shares her house with her pampered dog beyond belief, Molly.