Once in a while, I will reprint my weekly column on this site. I kind of run hot and cold on this practice and my mood usually centers around whether or not I think I might eventually get up the energy to publish another anthology of this drivel. During those times when I think I will, I set aside anything I think might be included. But in this case, I decided to put this one out there for folks to read because I like this one and also because a couple of people have asked me to make it available. In any case:
The engine roared as the pre-war Indian motorcycle flowed smoothly up the hills and through the curves of Southern Indiana’s scenic Highway Fifty. The man hunkered down over the handlebars smiled at the throaty, powerful response of the machine. The wind was invigorating as it struck his face and flattened his hair back against his head. The sleeves on his flannel shirt billowed out and flapped at his forearms in the wind. Rounding the curve at the top of the hill, something happened, no one knows what, but the cycle skidded down the highway on its side throwing the rider off and over the side of the embankment. The man took his last breath on the way to the hospital, some fifteen miles from the accident scene.
Back home, his thirty four year old wife, eight and a half months pregnant, had taken advantage of the warm day and was treating her 6 and 4 year old boys to a washtub bath in the backyard . The boys, along with the couple’s thirteen year old daughter, were the light of the couple’s life.
She heard a car door close and walked around the house to see who was there. The couple that played cards with them every Saturday night stood in the front yard, both of them crying. In what seemed like only a few minutes, the priest arrived and the house filled up with friends and neighbors.
Three days, of which she remembered little, passed. There was a funeral and five days after that, a stillborn baby boy was delivered by the new widow. Now she had to bury another giant piece of her heart. Almost overwhelming the grief and sorrow that consumed her was a feeling of hopelessness. She felt like climbing into her bed and staying there but for the sake of her family, she had to go on.
She had three children depending on her and there was no money nor did she have any idea how to get any. What was she to do? She had never worked outside the home. She had only an eighth grade education and had never traveled much more than 25 miles from Martin County, Indiana. She had a brother and four sisters who could be depended on for moral support but they, like a lot of the people in the area, were doing good to provide for themselves. In this year of nineteen forty-six, social welfare barely existed but it would never have entered her mind anyway.
There was nothing for her to do but begin. She sold the family car because the sale provided a little money and because she didn’t know how to drive it anyway. She took in laundry from people in the town. She and her daughter planted the garden and prepared to do even more home canning than they had in happier years.
When winter arrived, she sold the house and moved eight miles west to her hometown of Loogootee, Indiana to be nearer to both her and her husband’s families. There was enough money from the sale to make a down payment on a house that provided a roof over their heads and little else. No running water or central heat but it was home and it was close to her siblings.
The two older kids were enrolled in the Catholic school. The woman fought a newly developed fear of something happening to her family. She worried incessantly. A fear of thunderstorms, along with other natural disasters, kept her awake nights. But she persevered, finding work cooking in a local restaurant less than a mile from home. For the next eight years, she walked to and from work at six o’clock every morning six days out of the week. Rain or shine, hot or cold, she made that walk. On Sundays, her day off, she walked her family to church. A year after the accident, a monthly check for fourteen dollars and ninety two cents arrived from Social Security to help provide for the children.
Eventually, she landed a job at the telephone company. It was a little farther to walk but the money was better and life got a little easier. Indoor plumbing and then central heat were introduced into the family’s life.
Her life went on. She never remarried, never gave it a second thought. She paced the floor with worry when her children were out. She never learned to drive and was to scared to try. She never learned to conquer her fear of storms and spent many a night waking her family, burning the blessed palm leaves and leading her children in a prayer that some approaching storm wouldn’t blow them all away.
But she never gave up, completing the task that fate had handed her. This timid, worry wart of a woman – her name was Rosemary – got her family raised and even managed to provide her mother-in-law with a place to live. She had a year of retirement before she died in her sleep at age sixty-four, possibly of that broken heart that had never completely mended.
Was she a hero? To her way of thinking, she wasn’t. A lot of people had endured as bad or worse and it never occurred to her that she had accomplished something out of the ordinary. But she did. It is for people like her that we celebrate Mother’s day this weekend and even though I’m sorry to say, she never heard it from me when she was alive; today I’m proud to say that she was my mother.
My mother died in 1976 and at the time of her passing, I felt like I should take note of her life and had this plan to write a letter to the editor. But of course, I never got around to doing it. Finally, in 2002, I had the opportunity and the platform to get something out there after the introduction of my weekly column . I am pretty sure a version of this was published then but I didn’t keep very good records of my writing efforts at the time. I left out some of the original piece this time around to keep it around 900 words but I could easily have written another 900.