On June 5, our mother Anne suffered a major stroke at 7 pm, at St. Andrew’s Village, where she had been living for the past 2 1/2 years. She never recovered and, while they kept her comfortable and pain-free, she died peacefully about 9 am, Saturday, June 8, at Indiana Regional Medical Center. She was 96-years-old. All six of her children stayed at her bedside through her final journey.
While she never wrote an entry for our blog, she was intricately involved in many aspects of it. She not only eagerly looked forward to reading each entry but if you scroll back through from the beginning you’ll see that she was the subject of many of our reminiscences and a reference for much of what we wrote.
The following, written by Kathy, Linda, and me, is a memorial to our mother. After a busy life we wish her an eternity of peaceful sleep.
From Black Shanty to “Easy Living”
Our mother Anne lived her entire life within 1-square-mile of the home in which she was born. And while this diminution influenced the person she became and the provincial life she lived for 96 years, she found many ways to escape the boundaries of her geography.
She began life in 1916, in Rose Valley, in the Black Shanty, a sort of boarding house for new immigrants, who lived there until they could find more permanent housing. The Dorazio’s lived in the Black Shanty from 1915, when my grandmother arrived in this country from Italy, until they moved into an empty company house on The Hill in Yatesboro shortly after Anne was born. The Black Shanty was crude, basic living; it truly was a shanty covered with black tar paper and was furnished with the barest living necessities. The house on The Hill was a short step up as it had four rooms, gas lights, no indoor plumbing, and meals were prepared on a coal-fired kitchen range. Anne would share this house with four siblings, her parents, and several boarders until she left at eighteen to marry our father.
When Anne and Joe married in 1935, they moved into an upstairs apartment on The Flat, a short distance from her home on The Hill. When their first baby, my brother Joe, was born they moved to a newly renovated apartment in Tipple Alley, just down the hill and up the road from her mother’s home. The buildings had been offices of the mining company that she described as having beautiful hardwood flooring and trim. I, their second child, was born in Tipple Alley and have several first memories of the simple life she and Joe shared there with their neighbors and friends.
Our little family lived in Tipple Alley until 1942 when we moved to House #9 in Yatesboro PA, shortly before my sister Kathy was born. This was a duplex and we lived in one-half: 2 rooms downstairs and 2 up. No bathroom, no central heating, no hot water. When the residents of the other half of our duplex left, our parents bought the entire house and then the fun began. One summer our dad dug out the clay basement, then one-by-one he installed central heating, hot water, and a bathroom, all firsts on The Hill. We lived in our luxurious castle with a large back porch and yard and surrounding woodlands to explore. Three more children would be born in this house: Ron, Linda and Dave.
In 1965, with most of their family out of the house, our parents built a nice ranch home in Rural Valley, just about one mile from our mother’s birth home in Rose Valley. And here she would live until at the age of 94 she moved to “easy living” at St. Andrew’s Village, a nursing home in Indiana PA. While she began life there in Assisted Living, she called it “easy living.”
Why am I going on and on about where our mother spent her life. Well, because she never wanted more. She was happy where she lived and where she was in life. She truly bloomed where she was planted. She loved keeping house, doing all the tasks required of a wife and mother of six, and taking on much more than just what that required. She baked, she canned and she froze fresh produce from the garden, she sewed, she did all kinds of needlework, she read voraciously, and raced through the house as though it was on fire going from one thing to another. I must say we often got in her way as she furiously busied herself with the work at hand. But in the process she taught us many things.
You may think our mother was a simple person. But let me reassure she was not. She was as complex as one can be. Although she completed her formal education with the 11th grade, she continued to learn her entire life by reading anything and everything she could get her hands on. Books arrived regularly in the mail because of the book clubs she belonged to. Magazine subscriptions were countless. And we always received a daily newspaper. So we all learned to read early, and by association, learned to write. To this day every one of her six children read books and magazines and write as easily as we talk. It just came naturally to us because of the availability and the immersion in reading material while we were growing up.
Anne also continued to learn from other women in our small coal mining town. When someone came up with a new idea, a new way to make something, or a new way to decorate, she always had to “get the directions” and try it. She was a visual person and noticed everything. If she visited someone’s home and liked something she saw, she would come home and low and behold! there would be a new way to display a doily, or pictures on the wall, or ivy across the kitchen cabinets. She would try anything she liked and most often succeeded or even bettered what she had seen. She constantly changed the furniture arrangements (much to Dad’s consternation) and tried new recipes in the kitchen. When anyone complained she would say, “Life is change. Get used to it!” A saying that still serves us to this day.
She was a strong-minded women who, it seemed to us, believed in a “my way or the highway” philosophy. She and our dad expected no less than perfection from us. Doing a good job was primary to them and that meant chores, school, or even what we did with our leisure time. And that lesson was well-learned and carried into our adult lives as attested to by the high-achievers that we have become. Nothing is ever finished. There’s always room for improvement. This can be a curse as well as a blessing but we are learning when it’s time to stop and let it be.
Anne lived her beliefs. While she believed in hard work she didn’t preach it. She just showed us. We all had chores to do from an early age and she taught us girls homemaking skills by letting us help her in the kitchen and with cleaning the house. When I was six-years-old she taught me to crochet lace around handkerchiefs one summer to give me something to do. I was also six or seven when I began to help her with the ironing. She layered the clothes in the bushel basket with handkerchiefs and pillow cases on the bottom, blouses and dresses next, and on top were the boys shirts and pants, and finally Dad’s work clothes. She would begin with the larger, heavier pieces, and I would finish with the pillow cases and handkerchiefs, gradually graduating up the layers until I did the entire basket by the time I was eight or nine. For someone who loved ironing she seemed more than willing to turn it over to me. When I was in high school I would mix a large recipe of bread dough before going to school in the morning and she would bake it so that when we got home the house smelled delicious and, as a special treat, a bowl of Johnny Bulls was waiting for us on the table.
When I was twelve or so, the kitchen became mine after the supper dishes were done. I would pull out the Betty Crocker cookbook and bake cakes, pies, or cookies. A couple evenings a week I would whip up something delectable for my brothers and sisters and Dad’s lunch bucket. I never got a compliment but everything sure disappeared. I still use the Betty Crocker cookbook for cakes and pies from scratch and enjoy that time in the kitchen knowing the enjoyment my efforts will bring.
And it wasn’t until after Dad died that we discovered Anne, our mother, had a sense of humor. Joe loved talking and visiting with just about anyone and everyone while Anne stayed in the background, serving drinks, a meal or snacks. She’d sit at the table and listen but didn’t say much. Once Dad was gone, she came into her own and we could talk to her about anything under the sun: family, emotional crisis, books, poetry, world happenings, or politics. And she saw the humor in things, often cracking her own jokes to break the tension of a situation. Even near the end of her life, she had pet names for the aides that cared for her daily and when she talked to them she made them laugh. One day she told me, “If I can lighten the burden of taking care of us, I will.” While it had to be hard for her to let them help her with the most intimate things, she did it with grace and they left her room feeling better about themselves.
Anne was an enigma in many ways, a study in contradictions. She either loved something or hated it, she loved you or hated you. And when it was the later she didn’t hesitate to let her opinion be known. You didn’t want to make her mad; the sting of her backhand or tongue lashing could last forever. She didn’t show affection (except to our dad) but she would buy you a new dress for the school concert or prepare your favorite supper for your birthday. She didn’t make a big deal out of it, she just did it. It wasn’t until near the end of her life that she would tell us that she loved us. While it sometimes seemed she didn’t have time for us when we were young and at home, in later years she was always there and eager to stop what she was doing to have a good conversation over something good to eat. When you stopped in for a spur-of-the-moment visit, she was always there.
In fact, now that I think about it in those terms, throughout our lives she was always there. For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, she was always there. She is, and always will be, missed.
Memories of Mum
As I was contemplating what memory I wanted to share about Mum, I got an e-mail from Joan and she said I think this will bring back a lot of good memories….in the e-mail was this poem about clotheslines.
A clothesline poem
by Marilyn K. Walker
A clothesline was a news forecast
To neighbors passing by,
There were no secrets you could keep
When clothes were hung to dry.
It also was a friendly link
For neighbors always knew
If company had stopped on by
To spend a night or two.
For then you’d see the “fancy sheets”
And towels upon the line;
You’d see the “company table cloths”
With intricate designs.
The line announced a baby’s birth
From folks who lived inside -
As brand new infant clothes were hung,
So carefully with pride!
The ages of the children could
So readily be known
By watching how the sizes changed,
You’d know how much they’d grown!
It also told when illness struck,
As extra sheets were hung;
Then nightclothes, and a bathrobe, too,
Haphazardly were strung.
It also said, “Gone on vacation now”
When lines hung limp and bare.
It told, “We’re back!” when full lines sagged
With not an inch to spare!
New folks in town were scorned upon
If wash was dingy and gray,
As neighbors carefully raised their brows,
And looked the other way .. . .
But clotheslines now are of the past,
For dryers make work much less.
Now what goes on inside a home
Is anybody’s guess!
I really miss that way of life.
It was a friendly sign
When neighbors knew each other best
By what hung on the line.
As I read this poem, I thought this is a wonderful memory to share. Mum loved using her clotheslines.
MUM’S BASIC RULES FOR CLOTHESLINES:
- You had to wash the clotheslines(s) before hanging clothes.
- You had to hang clothes in a certain order and always hang “whites” with “whites” and “darks” with “darks”.
- You never hang a shirt by the shoulders — always by the tail!
- Never hang clothes on the weekend.
- Hang the sheets and towels on the outside lines so you could hide your “unmentionables” in the middle (perverts & busybodies, y’know).
- Never leave clothes pins on the line……very tacky!
- If you were efficient, you could line the clothes up so that each item did not need two clothespins but shared one of the clothespins with the next washed item.
- Clothes off the line before dinner time, neatly folded in the clothes basket and ready to be ironed.
Mum would hang clothes the length of the yard, I believe there were four lines. Dad used old railroad tracks and made them into a “T” shape. He cemented them far into the ground so they would never lean. He made Mum several clothes props to hold the lines up when they were heavy from sheets or rugs. I am safe in saying, we had the best lines on the hill! They lasted as long as we lived at the old house in Yatesboro. When we moved to Rural Valley, the first thing Dad did was make Mum new lines. They weren’t as long as the old ones but they were just as sturdy. They are still there to this day. Mum got great joy from hanging clothes on the lines.
When we lived at the old house the trains would go past our house on their way to NuMine and sometimes the engineer would blow out a huge puff of black smoke and the soot would end up on Mum’s clothes. She would shake her fist at the train and rattle off an Italian saying that would make anybody shake……the train would just keep on going.
She had a certain way of hanging her clothes on the line. All the whites were together, all the darks and it seemed she hung our clothes in birth order. The clothes were always neatly hung to dry. When it came time to take the clothes off the line, she had a way of taking each piece off and carefully folding it and putting it in the basket. She would always tell us when she put fresh sheets on the bed. Crawling into bed with those fresh sheets was just about as close to heaven as you could get. The way they smelled and felt you knew that it would be a good night’s sleep that night.
Mum would be the first in town to have a dark sun tan and that came from hanging clothes on the line. It would fade in the fall but come the next spring, she would be a beautiful tan again.
When Mum was learning how to drive, we would take the country roads for her to practice her driving. She would always notice when people had clothes on the line. She loved to see the clothes blowing in the wind!
Today, people don’t seem to have time to hang their clothes out to dry. It is sad because they don’t know what they are missing. I plan to hang my clothes out to dry as long as my arms will reach my two little lines.
Rest peacefully, Mum………..kathy
My Mother; My Teacher
Although the umbilical cord is cut at birth, we’re tethered to our moms forever. Now that Mum has passed, I feel unmoored, temporarily adrift…still attached to the mother ship, but floating aimlessly. I haven’t quite accepted the fact that I won’t be able to ask her about recipes, tell her about the book I’m currently reading, catch up on family news, or make her laugh just to hear the sound. As much as I will always love Mum, she certainly could confound me; but, always, there was a lesson I gleaned from her words or actions, sometimes years later upon reflection!
When I was little (okay, younger), I never understood her practice of group punishment. I’d be minding my own business, swinging outside on a beautiful summer day. The next thing I knew Mum was summoning us all to the porch–now. I knew I was going to get a smack as I walked passed her, but I had no idea why. One day I remember asking her why I was getting punished when I didn’t do anything, which prompted her to give me an extra whack. I learned to accept my fate after that. Another thing that confused me was the group laxative. If one of us was constipated, we were all lined up for that awful tasting medicine, Castor Oil! To this day, I’m very, very reluctant to take any laxative despite the need. I learned much later to rely on the more natural approach.
Mum will never be known for her hair dressing skills as evidenced by most of my school pictures. She never missed an
opportunity to put a braid somewhere in my hair and only one braid never two. The worst, though, was when I was in seventh grade and Mum decided to give me a perm. Granted I was a pretty homely kid, and I’m sure Mum thought a perm would be an improvement; however, I had naturally curly hair already. I can still remember looking in the mirror after Mum styled (I use that word very loosely) my hair. That’s the first time the expression “oh shit” entered my lexicon. Not only did my hair look horrendous, the residual odor from the perm clung to me like…well, I’m sure you know an appropriate expression. Let’s just say that for almost two months at school the kids called me a very pejorative, unflattering racist name. After that incident, I took my hair into my own hands, so to speak. I may not have looked any better, but at least there was no one to blame but myself.
The one thing that frustrated both Mum and me was her inability to teach me to knit. As a lefty, I was hopelessly confused when Mum had me sit across from her to mimic her movements. I just could not translate what she was doing to my fingers. We would end our knitting sessions both of us upset with me. Finally, one wintery evening I decided that sitting across from Mum just wasn’t working. I sat beside her, took up my working needle in my right hand, and copied her movements. Success! The rest is my knitting history.
Mum taught me to value so much—the pleasure found in a good book, the beauty in nature,
the pride in a job well done, the satisfaction of cooking or baking to please others, the rewards of curiosity and persistence, a good laugh, a good cry, and knitting something warm and cozy for someone you love. The hardest lessons, though, came near the end of her life. When her eyesight was failing and she could no longer walk, without saying a word, Mum taught me patience. Her determination to accept the limitations imposed on her and yet move beyond them was a true testament to her grace and dignity.
Throughout my life I sought to understand Mum and to be understood by her; but I’m grateful to have grown enough that in the end the little things didn’t matter so much anymore. It was enough to accept each other, to love each other, and to laugh together.