Monday, August 2, 2010

The Woman Who Was My Mother

Who were the women who became our mothers? In appearance and lifestyle, mine was a completely different person from the hard-working farmwoman she became after her marriage and the Great Depression that changed lives all over the nation.
Eula Frances Lantrip was one of seven children, all of whom somehow got their teacher’s certificates, taught school and married school teachers. Except Eula! Eula did not marry until she was thirty-eight, making her an “old maid”, not the independent career woman as they are called today.
Mother’s first school was in Orange, Texas; the following year she taught in McAllen, far south near the Mexican border. The predominance of Spanish speaking students made the purchase of two Spanish language books a necessity.
Securing a teaching position in the 1900’s placed the young ladies very much on their own. Traveling was a serious undertaking; a trip of any distance was made by train accompanied by a large trunk holding everything they would need for the school term. They left home with no plans to return until the summer months.
Usually someone living near the school would have a spare room and would board the teacher. Some had enough space to provide a boarding house for three or four of the young ladies. In such living arrangements, friendships were formed, and personality differences developed. Mother never forgot one boarder who envisioned herself a talented entertainer, pounding away on the piano and giving her rendition of Sugar Blues evening after evening… It was not an event the others waited for with great enthusiasm
Mother spent her summers in Boulder, Co. She had a talent for painting and took art classes and enjoyed the area, hiking and taking tours.
Old photos show her very stylishly dressed for these trips in knee high lace up boots, pants, and a wide brimmed beaver hat. For trips to mountains such as Pike’s Peak a tour guide was hired and the trip was made in an auto with no heat and only curtains over the windows for protection from the cold. This was in the early ‘20s, so it was only the daring that undertook such ventures in such uncomfortable cars and using the gravel roads which were the highways of those days Are there still glaciers in the area for the really adventurous to cross as there were then? Mother once turned back alone from a trek across one because a snowstorm was forecast, I’ve often wondered what motivated that decision: to choose between being with a group in a snowstorm or hiking alone back to the starting point. Evidently, she trusted her instincts more than she trusted the judgment of the guide.
She took in the sights of the area, Royal Gorge and even farther west to Flagstaff AZ. Deep canyons didn’t daunt her daring spirit in the least. She walked across swinging bridges and looked down into their depths, something that has me shrinking back to a safer terrain at my first glimpse. I did not inherit that daring gene. Like Mom, if a job needs or must be done, okay, I’ll grit my teeth and do it. But a bridge over Royal Gorge does not need to be crossed so I’ll find other things to do. If it were absolutely necessary I would go…crawling on my knees, never upright.
When the depression hit, she dealt with it as she had with her past adventures; head-on, doing what had to be done, learning the best way and using her considerable skills developed over the years to cope with her family’s needs. When pressure cookers became available for home use, she agreed to an offer of half of a beef and new cooker if she would do the canning. With a canning manual and a erratic wood stove she keep the pressure correct and provided a good supply of canned beef for the following year. The early pressure cookers were not as safe to use as those of today, and I remember that she was a very nervous woman and although she used that canner and wood stove for most of the rest of her life, she never became comfortable with its performance.
When we had enough money for a down payment on a farm of our own, she took advantage of its cellar to store the entire food supply safe from the freezing temperatures that would exist in the old house. Then to her dismay she discovered the cellar filled waist deep with seeping water due to the shallow water level in that area. With the family’s food supply (including that precious canned beef) at risk, she waded in and brought out all the canned goods. What had to be done, she did it. The choice was easy; a dark cellar three feet deep in water or starvation.
The one thing she could not conquer was the rule against married women holding a teaching position. She tried and tried but it was not allowed. A woman teacher might become pregnant and the little kiddies thus be exposed to the facts of life. Mercy!
Even a severe case of osteoporosis did not defeat her. Although it became a critical situation after being knocked down by a running cow she and my father were trying to pen, she continued her farm work, the cooking and all the rest of the work that being a farmwoman involved in the ‘40’s and ‘50s. After the SS act included farmers, she and my father were able to ease their labors, but mother never relinquished her position as the one who prepared the meals and kept the house neat. She finally had to use a cane and to keep it close at hand; she tied it to her apron, freeing her hands for her chores. She swept the floors using the same technique for the broom and in later years, she tied what she needed to her walker and moved slowly with her walker from place to place, sweeping as she went.
I was allowed to do the laundry and prepare small frozen meals for her and my father but she always made the daily noontime pan of cornbread, and Dad, an early riser, was allowed to prepare his breakfast oatmeal.
As the saying goes: “The older I became, the smarter my mother became” and I am still discovering that the names she used in identifying flowers were the correct ones, that she correctly used common-sense treatment for injuries and illnesses, and that she apparently remembered every lesson she had ever been taught.
Once Dad had remembered the first line of a poem, Come Little Leaves, from his early years in school, and asked Mother if she also remembered it. At the moment, she only had a faint memory of the words, but later she correctly wrote four of its five verses, decorated its borders with autumn leaves, and gave it to Dad for his birthday. This, at 70, remembered from their 5th grade reader, 60 years before? I am still amazed.
So I remember Mother; that brave, smart, talented, determined and innovative woman, who went from stylish silk dresses to flour sack ones, who used her hands to hoe and scrub clothes instead of painting, who never gave up her teaching skills although I was her only pupil. With her abilities and background, I sometimes wonder why my dad always seemed to be the dominant partner in their marriage….but was he? I can only speculate.
What a variety of things make each life what it becomes.

1 comment:

  1. I love this!! It's a beautiful tribute to your mother and a nostalgic trip to another time. Great blog post idea, too!!