Eulogy for Mother
Length: 1142 words (3.3 double-spaced pages)
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Death is not too high a price to pay
for having lived. Mountains never die,
nor do the seas or rocks or endless sky.
Through countless centuries of time, they stay
eternal, deathless. Yet they never live!
If choice were there, I would not hesitate
to choose mortality. Whatever Fate
demanded in return for life I’d give,
for never to have seen the fertile plains
nor heard the winds nor felt the warm sun on sands
beneath a salty sea, not touched the hands
of those I love – without these, all the gains
of timelessness would not be worth a day
of living and of loving; come what may.”
- Dorothy N. Monroe -
It is hard to give a eulogy for one’s parent. More than the death of a classmate or sibling, the death of a parent is not only a loss, but also a reminder that we are all following an inevitable path. We are all “Outrunning Our Shadow” as her friend Fred Hill so provocatively titled his book.
As Dorothy N. Monroe’s poem, printed in your program, says: “Death is not too high a price to pay for having lived."
When my father died, I was too young to participate in a meaningful way, so at some level this is my eulogy for him, too.
Mother was born on November 7, 1917 in Louisville. Her mother was an unmarried 17-year-old and Mom was put up for adoption. That may be a surprise to you. It was a surprise to me when I learned about it as an adult. As an infant Mom was adopted by Clyde and Maude Johnson, who named her Doris Eileen.
When Mom was about ten Clyde abandoned his family, and she and her mother moved in with Maude's sister in the Port Fulton neighborhood of Jeffersonville. My Unc and Aunt Smith became Mom's surrogate parents, and she lived with them until she married. A few years later Maude was institutionalized at Craigmont, where she lived for the rest of her life. There is a third marker on the cemetery lot where Mom and Dad are buried for our Grandmother Maude Johnson.
Mother never talked much about this or other aspects of her life. Nor did she want to know the details of other’s lives. She practiced “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” long before it became a catch phrase.
This made discussing intimate topics with her difficult, and I have to say I sometimes felt isolated from her while I worked through the difficulties in my life.
Mother graduated from Jeffersonville H. S. in 1935. In 1936 she met and married my father, David, who had recently graduated from U. of L. medical school. Dad struggled to start a practice in the shadow of his father. Grandpa was always "Doctor" while Dad was "Doc Dave". After a few lean years Dad went to Univ. of Michigan for a post doctorate in Public Health, thinking he might take a job in that field. I was born in Ann Arbor in the spring of 1939 just before they returned to Charlestown. Mother told about attending the movie of George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion" as she was having her first labor pains.
When Mom and Dad returned to Charlestown in May 1939, a family decision was made. My grandfather and his sister were in their 70s and needed support in their old age. Uncle Park and his wife Harriet owned the house on Harrison Street and were building a new house on Main Street. Aunt Nora sold her small farm at the edge of Charlestown, and that money was used to help Dad and Mom buy the Harrison St. house, with the understanding that Grandpa and Aunt Nora could live there. So Mom and Dad and a new baby moved into a ready-made extended family. Mother said she never felt the kitchen was her own until Aunt Nora died in 1958.
Charlestown grew in W.W.II because of the Indiana Arsenal, and Dad's practice boomed. Because he was so busy, it was a special treat to have Dad around, while Mother dealt with us children on a daily basis. At times I resented her control, but later I came to appreciate the discipline she gave. Moms do a lot of the tough work in a family, and I think it takes an adult to really appreciate a mother’s love.
Dad started getting ill in the early 1950s. He suffered from ulcers, broke his leg, and had heart problems. He was not able to run his practice full time. Money became tight, and Mom went to work at the Arsenal. This was a sacrifice for a smoker - no cigarettes or lights were permitted in a gunpowder plant - but in the 5 years she worked there she was sent home only once for forgetting and leaving her cigarettes and matches in her lunch bag.
She was laid off twice from the Arsenal, and took what work she could find. At one time she clerked at the dime store and another time at Bacon's. Dad died in 1957, and Mom got a job at the U of L medical School working for Dr. Emil. This became a permanent position from which she retired in 1981.
Mother remarried once, to Byron, a U Hospital pathologist she met through medical school colleagues. I remember having to make a sudden stop while picking up the wedding cake, damaging it on three sides. We turned the one good side to the audience and hid the other sides with foliage. The marriage only lasted about a year, but they remained friends until he died.
Her last good companion was Charlie and they "dated" many years before his death. Although I was away and busy during that time, I know Charlie was important to her. She often reminisced about him in later years. They often went out with my first in-laws, Chet and Mary Hazel. Chet, by the way, celebrated his 90th birthday last Christmas.
Mother's love for travel is a gift she gave all her children. She had to scrimp and save to do it, but Mom managed to take a major trip every few years, with Toby Tours in the US on the alternate years. Someone said a proper memorial would include viewing all her slides. She loved the travel and her travel companions - Hazel, Nina, Earline, Edna and Ruby, to name a few.
Her other big loves were reading and bridge. She preferred serious reading to fiction - histories and biographies - and the library often had to special order books in for her. Her bridge was much more social than serious.
Mother was a remarkable woman who lived life fully. And did it her way, even when she stepped on other people's toes. She was not a perfect person, she was human. She will be missed.