Archive for Thursday, May 19, 2005

Many women help shape our lives

Reflections on Mother’s Day

May 19, 2005

As I recalled memories of my own mother and grandmother this past week with the passing of Mother's Day, I was also reminded of other women who have affected my life, many of whom are gone.

There were the nuns who lived down the street as I was growing up. Sister Clarentia tried her best to "refine and socialize me." Sister Cecilia was my protector from Sister Clarentia. Sister Lawrence wore tennis shoes and taught me to play baseball with her habit tucked up around her waist, and Sister Delphine tried to teach me the need for long division and fractions.

Sister Cornelia, our school principal, was similar to Mother Superior in the Sound of Music. She was tall, regal and dignified with a twinkle in her eye when she caught me reading such forbidden fruit as "God's Little Acre" in the school library. I'm sure the other nuns thought it was a devotional book. They were a big part of my life until I graduated eighth grade and left them.

For years I thought I might follow them into the convent and dreamed of joining their sisters in the mission field somewhere far away in Borneo or some other exotic country. All of that faded as I attended public high school. What remained was a good set of values and a deep respect for these women who gave so generously of themselves.

My Aunt Ella was another of my champions. She always came to my defense and thought most of what I did was funny. She took me to choir practice with her where I wiled away the time trying to see how far I could spit over the choir loft rail.

She was a bit of a rebel herself, as many in Eudora will remember from her days spent at Pinecrest. She retired here to help me care for my mother who had broken her hip.

She loved her family, crafts, reading romance novels, doing puzzles, painting flowers on white tennis shoes, Indian jewelry, and helping her boyfriend, Mickey, cane and refinish furniture. She loved all growing things and was also a gardener and a good cook. She was like my second mother, and I miss her.

Two maiden ladies, Marie and Elizabeth, who were sisters and friends of my family in Emporia, were also favorites. I thought they were fascinating because even though they were "old maids" they were very funny and always happy. They were independent, had good jobs and raised a niece who was orphaned early in life.

Their little home was decorated with antiques and always smelled of lavender. On summer evenings they read the paper on their screened-in porch. They threw wonderful parties and served homebrew they made themselves in the bathtub. They were part of my wonderful childhood growing up in what I often call a German Catholic ghetto where I called everyone aunt and uncle and believed they were all family.

Helen Sommer here in Eudora is another woman I have always admired. I first met Helen when we moved here in 1971 and attended Holy Family Church. Helen, who is now in her 80s, is a community treasure with her knowledge of local history.

I recall many of the stories Helen told of her life as a widow after World War II and raising two children on her own. She later married and with her husband, Dottie, raised three more. It seemed she knew everyone in Eudora as well as their family histories, and she could recall the history of houses -- and even trees -- in various parts of town. She has always been a strong woman given to being outspoken and to the point, but with a kind heart and a great generosity of spirit.

She was the first manager of Pinecrest and formed a close-knit group of women and a few men, who were the first residents of the retirement center. My mother lived there for a time, and I was always included in their festivities. Listening to that group made me aware of how much the older generation has to share with the next and how fortunate I was to know those ladies.

Many of them are gone now, including my mom. But I will always remember those days and evenings when I listened to and enjoyed their stories of times past. Helen is now in the hospital recovering from a broken hip as this is written.

Many other women come to mind but in this short space I have remembered some who I feel did much to shape my own life as well as to be examples to emulate. I don't remember their words as much as who they were and what they did.

Someone said once, and I paraphrase, "We teach in many ways; sometimes with words."

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