Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Eleanor raised ten kids in the 1100 square foot home where I live. Just poking around the kitchen and garage gives clues to how hard she worked just to maintain her home and the people who lived in it.
There used to be a double-sized deep freeze in the garage; Eleanor and her husband raised and butchered their own pigs, chicken and cattle for meat. After she gave the house to my husband and went to live in an assisted-living facility, I finally unplugged the freezer and removed the 5 boxes of old veggies for which she kept it running; the electric bill went down by half.
There are butter molds, cream separators, cabbage slicers, de-horners (for cutting bulls’ horns!!), washtubs, wooden laundry baskets, rocking baby cradles, berry baskets, egg crates, butchering kettles and a host of garden implements in my garage. The kitchen still holds countless gadgets and tools, many of which I don’t recognize. I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of them.
Eleanor hoed around the veggies, kneaded the bread, churned the butter, picked the raspberries, milked the cows, baked the pies, dug the potatoes, pruned the cherry trees, and plucked the eggs from under the hens all to feed her family. She darned socks, made blankets, mended sheets and made her own soap. She wouldn’t have dreamed of buying pie crust; I doubt she even knew that you could.
Nine of Eleanor’s ten kids were boys. She saw just about any injury you can imagine. Her sons cut off their fingers, wrecked their trucks and shot out their eyes. By the time I met her she was in her 80’s and nothing fazed her. When Butch and I were in an accident and both of us had cut open our knees and foreheads, the difference in response from our mothers was laughable. We left the emergency room and went to his home at 7am; Eleanor saw us bloodied and bandaged, with our clothes ripped open. She greeted us with a dry, “What the hell happened to you two?” That afternoon, we went to my mom’s, bathed and freshly clothed. Mom, who raised two daughters, looked at us and cried, “Oh my God! My baby’s been in a head-on collision!!”
Eleanor prided herself on how tough she was. She once fell while gardening and couldn’t get up; she waited hours for my husband to come home, but didn’t think it was a big deal. She said she was fine, since it didn’t rain that day. I once heard her threaten to take her cane to one of her grandsons. We took her to the emergency room when she fell and cut her head; we really had to argue to get her to go. My husband told me that his dad, after an evening of drinking, literally did throw his hat in the kitchen door to check her mood before he went inside.
Eleanor really liked me and I her. I think it made her happy that someone finally settled her youngest, wayward son who never left home.
There wasn’t a lot of room or time in Eleanor’s world for beauty just for the sake of beauty. This row of daffodils is one of the few pleasures Eleanor allowed herself. I find myself missing her each year in the spring when they bloom.