The Needle And The Thread

Many of my constant readers will remember that it was just two months ago that I had to ask your indulgence in allowing me to write a non-political post about the death of my father.

Well I must once again ask for your patience with me, as I now find myself writing about the passing of my mother.

My mother passed away on Monday the 13th in the care of the Hospice Center in Milford after a long battle with failing health.

I thank all who have expressed their condolences, and those who would, I will however be closing comments on this thread as I did with my father’s. For those who would, the family is asking that donations be made to Delaware Hospice. Thank you.

My mother was born in 1929, and like my father lived through the Great Depression, though from what she told us about it, there was nothing great about it.

Mom was one of six children and is survived by my two aunts. Her father was a blacksmith, a man I never met, but I guess like a lot of fathers of that time could be a hard man at times. Of course with six children, my grandmother had little time to be anything but a mother. I do have memories of my grandmother, though I was very young when she passed away.

My mom loved to tell us stories about how hard things could be for her growing up. The way they had to make do when it came to clothes and food. But in the end she would always say, “we never went hungry”. She would tell us about eating lard sandwiches sprinkled with sugar. Maybe going hungry wouldn’t have been so bad.

One of my earliest memories of, and with my mom, were the weekly Saturday morning trips into Dover to get her hair done at Miss Pauline’s on White Oak Road.  I would play outside in the parking lot with some little toy truck or tractor I had brought, while my sister Janice would go inside, this must have impressed Janice since she became a hairdresser herself later on.

I never remember a time that my mom didn’t have a job until late in her life, and even when she stopped working for other people, she for a time made custom cakes. She also for a time owned along with my sister a hair salon of their own. My mom had also at times been a cook in restaurants, but what I remember is that she sewed.

I remember her working for a company, Leeds Travel Wear, that produced suitcases, golf bags, and bowling bags. Leeds later became East Winds and in addition to travel wear, they had a government contract to produce rain ponchos for the Army and also chemical suits. By this time mom had moved off the line and was working in the R&D, or research and development department. As R&D would develop new patterns for whatever product it was designing, it was mom’s job to sew the prototypes. This means that her work would be tested extensively to make sure that it would hold up under whatever conditions were necessary.

Whether that was some golfer on the back nine, or a soldier in the rain. Not sure if my mom cared that this was a testament to her skills as a sewing machine operator, or if she just knew it paid more, to help keep her kids from eating lard sandwiched with sugar sprinkled on them. But looking back now I can, as an adult realize that my mother must have been one hell of a sewing machine operator. For a short time she even worked for ILC, the company responsible for manufacturing the suits worn by the astronauts, and was one of many who sewed parts of the whole. Again a testament to her skills.

Unfortunately for a kid going to school in the 60’s and 70’s, she did not limit her sewing endeavors to only her job. You see my mother also was known to sew at home as well. My sister Janice was the recipient of many home sewn dresses, and I had to endure wearing home-made shirts to school, and even a couple attempts at pants. And while my mother had great skills at sewing, well let’s just say that those shirts and pants were not always “in the fashion of the day”.

I look back today however and again realize that this was her way of doing what she could to make the family work, and to make sure we never went hungry as she would have said. And what I would give now to be wearing one of those God awful shirts today.

You see it often, if not always, fell to my mother to hold together the family. Dad worked crazy long hours on the farm, and in his younger days tended to drink too much, some of you may remember the phrase, “rounder”.

So mom was the one who got us up in the morning to go to school, she was the one who made sure the clothes we wore, were clean, even if not fashionable. She cooked and cleaned and did all the things that wives in those days did, all while holding down a full-time job, one at which she was very good at and well-respected by her peers. It couldn’t have been easy, she had a husband that could be hard and drank too much, and two kids that may have been a little too much like their father, she had her hands full.

Still she was always there, doing what it took to make it work.  I believe that my mother’s one greatest goal was to keep her family close to her. You see I also have a half-brother, Jimmy, who I knew as a kid, but didn’t get to know until we were both adults. My mother had made a choice that saw him raised by one of my aunts. I truly believe that this decision deeply affected my mother, and I know she regretted it for the rest of her life. It was why she worked so hard to be there for myself and my sister, and later for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

My mother endured many hardships in her life, growing up in hard times, the separation from her first-born, an alcoholic husband, a daughter that was too wild for anyone’s good, and a second son who took after his father. And yet, she held us together, she never stopped loving us. When we needed her she was there. When my sister made some of the same mistakes my mother had made, my mom stepped up and took on the raising of her grandchildren, and when that legacy was passed on, she and my father took on raising one of their great-grandchildren. It seems as though my mother never stopped raising children.

I’ve had three real jobs in my life, one was working with my father on the farm, not easy. Another was working at East Winds, not so much with my mother, but around her certainly. Even at work she was my mother, while others were eating lunch out of vending machines, I would go up to the R&D room and often have a hot lunch of leftovers, that she would have put in the “hot box” an hour before lunch. Okay, sure I was a mamma’s boy, but hot leftover meatloaf and potatoes beats a microwaved cheeseburger any day.

This experience also gave me a first hand sense of how respected and liked my mother was by her co-workers, she was even able to later get me my current job due to the fact that she had worked in the past with the guy doing the hiring, I basically got hired on my mother’s reputation, I hope I never let her down.

When my sister Janice passed away, I thought the hardest thing I would ever have to do was to tell my parents that she had gone before them. Parents should not have to bury their children, and it was hard. But not as hard as seeing the effect that my father’s passing had on mom. They had been together for fifty-eight years. They had fought, they had seen tough times together, but they never separated, and they had always been there for each other. Considering my mom’s already failing health, it really is no surprise that she has gone to be with dad again.

If people could have seen the things that happened within the family, from the outside, surely they would have thought that the family should have fallen apart, and most would have. But you see, my mother was the needle and the thread that held the fabric of our family together. It wasn’t easy, and she got no pay for it, and it may not have even been fashionable, but she did it with her usual skill, and she did it with love.

My mother’s final days were not pleasant, and I want to thank my niece Andrea for the sacrifice she made in being there to care for mom on a daily basis, Andy, you have repaid mom many times over, may God Bless you.

Luke, 20:38;  For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.

I believe that my mother is now again with my sister Janice and my father, and that they are made whole and perfect, and that we will all see them again, this is my faith and my strength.




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