I'm Right Again Dot Com
An Online Publication of the Anonymous Anything Society — October 4, 2018
ODE to MOM: Ethel Maude Richardson
My father was a prodigious coal miner, beginning at the age of 12. He was a foreman (Face Boss) underground by the age of 24. By 1935, at the very depth of the great depression, he owned two coal mining operations; one a "strip mine, where the overburden that had collected over a rich "seam" of bituminous coal for eons in southern Illinois was removed by a giant steam shovel, brought from the Panama Canal by railroad and assembled in a field near our home. The other was an underground mine into which he took me on numerous Sunday inspections.
Our mother was the family treasurer, child psychologist and administrator of punishment. Had there been a National Organization of Women at the time, I'm sure that she would have chaired the local chapter. We were a large clan, with scores of young nieces, and Mom felt it her mission to explain the elements of birth control to each of them. No one dared to criticize her, for she often was called to assist the neighborhood midwife,"Grannie" Rutherford. .
My maternal grandfather was a Union Organizer for the United Mine Workers of America and a terminal alcoholic. Mom had to learn early in life how to fend for herself. She, her mother and two older brothers survived smallpox, but twin infant boys did not—even though inoculation against it had existed for over a hundred years—because her father spent all of his earnings on rot-gut whiskey. He eventually died in a drunken stupor. Grandmother Phillips came to live with us.
Mom was born to be a nurse and midwife. My brother Donald contracted Typhoid Fever. Two doctors said his case was hopeless, but by wrapping him in wet sheets to break the fever and with constant attention and homespun remedies (hot toddies and mustard plaster around the clock), she nursed him back to health. After this miracle, when anyone in our neighborhood became seriously ill, the family sent for "Aunt Ethel."
Mom went to college and was recognized by the State of Illinois to be a "Practical Nurse," She found employment treating elderly patients in nursing homes. The position had few competing applicants. She loved it, and they loved her.
You better believe that I remember the "shots" my sister, my bother and I endured, long before they were required in grade school. Nevertheless, I persisted in bringing home nearly every childhood disease: Mumps, Chicken pox, Diphtheria and swollen tonsils. Often, she had three patients to nurse: myself and two siblings.
Throughout, Mom attended every PTA meeting, play, concert and graduation in which any of we three children participated. Our father did not. It was not expected of men to attend such functions. Yet, he always followed mom's lead, and to my knowledge never objected to her choices.
I know this: He never abused her in way, and respected her judgment in financial matters. Beyond that, he and grandmother Phillips were close friends. She spoiled him terribly. A mention of any trivial preference (Dad preferred her biscuit recipe to Mom's), was her command.
I shall never forget a visit paid by a new political (Democrat Party) ward heeler who came to our door, intending to tell "the woman of the house" how she should vote. Mom explained in a very few, succinct words why this was unnecessary and set we kids to giggling for weeks over language we never thought she knew, let alone used. It was the only time we ever saw Dad embrace and (Heavens!) kiss her, when we mentioned the event at supper (The evening family meal). Dad was a lifelong Republican voter in a State that considered Democrat Party President Franklin D. Roosevelt, "the "second coming" of the messiah."
By the time we were born, Men had multiple millions of years to define their overbearing position in society. They are usually born with stronger musculature—the better to ward off enemies of the clan and take down woolly mammoths. Men need to recognize that the need for that talent is less than minuscule.
I have one familial instance in my memory about Mom: It was the fourth of July, Mom had gotten up before dawn to prepare two meals— breakfast for six and a large picnic lunch. We were going to Murphysboro, twelve miles away, where there was a swimming pool and small visiting carnival; and at dusk, a modest Fourth of July fireworks display. We three children had been firing off salvos for several days. Only mom's intervention prevented a resumption. "When you've lit the last of these, there'll be no more," she admonished us.
She heated water in a tub over an open fire and bathed each of us in turn, in a venerable number three galvanized washtub, using buckets of fresh water she raised from a well next to the kitchen steps. Second-hand bath water was to her, unacceptable.
She then dressed all of us in appropriate summer garments, then collected all of our swimwear and towels, before preparing breakfast: Coffee, with bacon, eggs, biscuits with oleo-margarine and molasses.
Meanwhile, our father sat in a lawn chair under the shade of his favorite maple tree, smoking, drinking coffee and reading The St. Louis Post Dispatch.
Never, never in my memory do I know of a man born of his generation (c1900-1940) who bathed and dressed his children and heaven-forbid, ever changed a diaper! OMG! Have mercy, please!
When dad purchased our first automobile, He allowed mom to accompany him, because he gave her the pay envelope, minus two dollars she allowed him for beer, every week. After paying the "bills," she squirreled the remainder away in U.S. Postal Savings. (I know, few have ever heard of it) She was to hand the cash to the local Model-T Ford dealer. When she did, the salesman gave dad two keys and dad kept both. "Women are not supposed to drive," said the Master of the House. .
The next day Mom called her brother, a bootlegger in Chicago (the sale of alcoholic beverages was illegal at the time). "Find an old kitchen fork" my Uncle Byron advised. "It ought to fit in the ignition switch just fine. I'll be there tomorrow to teach you how to drive "
He was. The kitchen fork in the ignition trick worked perfectly and when dad came home after work, mom was driving the car. She never stopped driving— we children to movies, to the swimming pool in Murphysboro and wherever else she wanted to go, including one time, 300 miles to Chicago, where Uncle Byron took us down to the basement. This is where he put the "white lightning" he bought in Alabama in neat, half-gallon tin cans, using a funnel. This all ended when Uncle Byron and the bootlegger's wife fell in lust.
But, I'll save that story for another time.
-Phil Richardson, Observer of the Human Condition and Storyteller
"He goes doddering on into his old age, making a public nuisance of himself."—Joseph Menchen
Our unending thanks to Jim Bromley, who programs our Archive of Prior Commentaries
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