I began this series about my Mother with some trepidation. I was concerned about the reflected glory issue: “How utterly selfish!”, I thought. And then I found myself stricken with the fact that her story would never be told without some help from this quarter, nor her story of her evolution as a modern woman, nor, perhaps most importantly, how she has impacted the lives of those around her and those lessons she gives as a result.
As a teacher, she naturally influenced hundreds or, better yet more likely thousands. I know her reputation and it was universally fairly stellar. She stuck to business, had her favorites, tried to understand whether they understood and she had the reputation as the rarest sort of “color-blind” person and teacher. She loved when people became successful – it was always one of her proudest moments, to relate some success achieved by someone she had taught. Like any great teacher, I think, for her “success” was a mutual thing, won with the help of others.
Here is the central Illinois – near Mattoon – house she grew up in, now-sold and ‘improved’. The railroad tracks which so accompany any memories here are seen under the tree branch to the left. That’s the line that connect New Orleans with Chicago. To say it gets traffic is an understatement.
Growing up in rural Humbolt saw Mom joining the first classes at the “new school” there, I believe which included grades 1-12. She and her little friends were equal parts darlings and semi-devilish and they had the run of the town in a somewhat safe, definitely family-centered town. Yes, the Depression saw many travelers as the railroad tracks which border their house sent car loads of “hobo’s” and “hillbilly’s” north to Chicago during the early 30’s. It was the Depression and, to make matters merely 5 times worse, we suffered a climatic event of the Century at the same time – the Dust Bowl. Etta Rogers and Paul were sometimes “guilty” of feeding those who stopped in Humbolt to try and find a rare bite to eat. The times were exceedingly grim for everyone, even in Humbolt.
Her best childhood friends, Lucille and Betty lasted as “best friends” for their entire lives. Our trips always included visits to both ladies’ homes where we were as accepted as family as can be imagined – without hesitation. Amazing things happened some times. My brother Tom once had a dog bite nearly through his head off the porch of a neighbor of Lucille’s. A huge and vicious German Shepherd only restrained by a chain on the front porch, Tom figured it was yet another animal he could win over as a complete animal lover and as someone who rightfully was considered more than just a little “good with animals”. Wow – the amount of blood pouring out of his little head was incredible as he ran, screaming and so disappointed back to “home base” where we all panicked and where Dad went to “take care” of the dog for good. The rips were huge – Tom wore “clamps” instead of stitches for weeks afterwards and – for the record – the dog was put down by its owners.
Betty Edgar was a woman whose heart was beautiful to me. Like Lucille Abel, Betty and Mother were as thick as thieves as kids. She made sure we all visited her family and children who had moved over to Charleston on a regular basis and they would also scheme to hook up with us at Lucille’s big farm out in the flatlands. Betty lost her husband, Cecil, in 1953, in a car accident, and never remarried. I think that tragedy made my Mom and their friend Lucille that much more necessary and close. Of course, she had 3 strapping boys to raise, so it’s somewhat understandable. And she did a marvelous job of that – by all means.
This is actually not Betty’s original home, up the street from Mom’s place. I was reminded of this by Mom’s younger sister and my beloved Aunt Jody. But it is at least typical and it comes from my own camera lens. I would move in there in a New York minute, lol. I just love the architecture.
Here is a shot of the younger Mom – I mean, like, way, way younger, lol – I am assuming Betty is on the left, Mom on the right. Like everyone, I feel totally lucky finding childhood pics of my Mother. She can, after all, still be blackmailed. 😉
The famous Humbolt Post Office in it’s raw glory:
A good look at the local Illinois environment? Right here; not a lot of mountains:
The good news for us was that Betty and Lucille both had children who were generally our ages and with whom my brothers, sister and I enjoyed play and a general take on the stuff around us. Jim, who was more my age, eventually became the first downstate Governor in Illinois for some unGodly number of years and is still regarded – to this day – as a very popular and successful governor. Jim Edgar. (Wiki Link included). He and his older brother Tom were favorites of ours and they were fun guys we would see almost every visit at one point or another. Plenty of Mad Magazines, comics, toys and such were shared, along with walks in the corn and the explorations of Lucille’s big broom corn farm. We buried ourselves more than once in dried corn, lol.
A look at Arcola, Illinois’ big corn silo’s beside the tracks – nearly exactly the same as Humboldt’s:
When Jim was inaugurated as Governor, the first ladies invited were, of course, his Mom and mine. Lucille worked harder for him than she did at golf – at which she was something of a fanatic. She made the scene also because she was such a mover and shaker in politics. She would have been invited anyway, lol, and needless to say, she worked tirelessly in behalf of Jim.
Later, during my family’s diaspora to everywhere in the world, my younger brother, Tom, used to visit Lucille’s son Jeff and ride horses. It was something I missed out on but they evidently made it work like nobody’s business. Huge barns, great big silos, cattle, odd animals of almost any stripe could be found all over. These were big farms, all broom corn and now soybeans, alfalfa and even sunflowers. We visited them, Tom and I, when I had first returned to this area, in 2009. As warm and friendly as ever, in many ways it was as if 45 years had moved quickly between visits.
Here’s Mom and I at Jody and Joe’s wedding. Jody is Mom’s sis. Jody is in the middle and Mom is to her right. I’m not altogether sure what I was doing in this shot, lol. But all I know is, my sister Diane’s dress is the greatest ever!
This little triumvirate of lasses made differences in their worlds and they – as much as My Father, it often seems – impacted Mother’s and our own lives forever. All worked for a living and all made splashes wherever they found themselves. I think they were all a part of an emerging modern day type of woman and they were each quite successful in incredibly diverse ways. When one considers their shadow and their impact, one is humbled by how such humble beginnings could lead to such amazing accomplishments.
Here Tom and I visit the graves of our relatives and the Edgars and Abels in Humboldt’s township cemetery. It was incredible moving for us both – my first visit to Humboldt since 1982.
Lots of folks know Jim Edgar as this guy, celebrating his election victory as Governor of Illinois:
But – Ha ha, man – this is my memory of Jim, the youngest here with his brothers Fred and Tom:
This is the grave of my Grandfather and Grandma. Such a peaceful and gorgeous setting:
Upon graduating from Eastern Illinois University, my Mom made her way to Springfield, the state capital, to experience life on her own. Her relationship with my Pop, Fred – or “Sned” as she called him, just like so many of my current friends call me – was always important and they were in love but she decided she needed to check things out, nevertheless. They put rushing into the Big Decision on hold. Dad had graduated and had gotten a gig teaching and coaching basketball at a high school in Franklin, Illinois, not too far away, so he was committed. Mother found herself asked to do a bit of modeling, did some severe secretarial work and lived ‘the life’ until Dad became essentially too hard to live without. He was a persistent man, my old man. Finally, they tied the knot.
Just in time for a War.
Our Father joined the Navy and ended up being posted to San Diego. There is some long story about how an important Colonel or General liked him, but Dad had a background as a shooter and as a teacher, so he began as a Drill Instructor on a rifle range and stayed in that position for the entire war effort. He has oodles of pictures of a few hundred guys posing at a time upon graduating, all with Dad in the middle of them. I hate saying this, but having had my own version of Drill Instructors in the Army, I regret to say I can picture him doing this. 😉 Most importantly for them, it not only kept the family together, the family expanded.
The above is Dad with Mike who is apparently practicing an early oral argument on the yard in San Diego. Note the sweeping hand gesture, something we witness on a daily basis to this very day.
Well, the War ended and the Big Build began and our father became a contractor, moving after 8 years in San Diego and the birth of 3 kids including yours truly, to various construction projects. Mother would sometimes work with him as his responsibilities began including some projects of his own as a subcontractor, and, in a version of “The Help”, we had numerous Nannies, almost always African American ladies of the sweetest dispositions, as we careened around the South, from New Orleans to Jackson, Mississippi to Biloxi and thence to Paducah, Kentucky. It all culminated in a move from Toledo, Ohio to Louisville, where Dad found his own business and constructed what was then Tanglewood subdivision (now Wildwood) off Shelbyville Road – a single family housing development of upper middle class representation.
Dad’s business failed then – he got back on his feet, no sweat – and Mother’s career began. She began teaching high school. From this point on – with the notable exception of helping Dad yet again as he attempted another business, Mother taught either high school or college for the next 52 years. Having already borne 4 kids, dealt with oodles of moving and relocating, worked as Girl Friday/secretary/accountant for Dad and others, she began her career again at this tiny 1-12 grade and high school in a tiny Kentucky town outside of Bowling Green called Alvaton – where I encountered my very first 16 year old true hillbilly 4th grader. 😉 There was a poverty there which we rarely spoke of, Mom and I, on our trips out to that place. But it was most certainly there, including one of my classmate’s homes, hard by the school, that you could literally see through. And it wasn’t because of the windows.
The social exclusions and cruelties I witnessed there were very sobering to me. Economic Social Reality hit me with the force of a Sun. I found more out about the world around us than I did at any other time in my life outside of the Army, and it was as bittersweet as it ever got. I cried at times, thinking of how poor some of my acquaintances in that class were. Shoes with holes and no socks, dirty faces, weather at sub zero temperatures, small holey jackets made a tableau which formed much of my later politics without my even knowing how or why. It may well have been the most influential year of my life. Mother, meanwhile, became known as a “cool teacher” among the kids who attended there.
(Random shot of Mom and her Great Grandaughter, Quinn.)
And here is my Mother with my own little munchkin, when we lived in Reno. 😉
Mother – seeing the handwriting on the wall – decided to get her Masters Degree which she eventually completed at the University of Louisville for the purpose of upgrading her profession – in Math.
Still later, 3 years, we relocated to Owensboro. Mom taught high school there for 3-4 years then got the opportunity to join her good friend Joe Voyles at his new edifice – Owensboro Business College, where she taught accounting. The shorthand she had so assiduously learned (and still uses) which enabled her to take dictation, she found edging its way to the scrapheap as the new world emerged – of technology and filing and transcribing progress. Finally, in 1970 all that changed with Dad’s business going South and they moved to Louisville.
Since then, Mother taught at Sullivan, Spalding and McKendree Universities as well as providing Accounting classes for the management and workers at the huge Ford Motor Company plant, during evenings. I and she run into her former students literally all the time – at Louisville basketball games in elevators, at Doctor’s Offices and on the street. For someone as used to independence as myself, and with my own levels of popularity where I have lived for various reasons, it is sometimes sheer crazy how many people she has impacted. She’s one of them there Wholesale Impactors.
Yet another family picture with my brother Tom, his girl Meagan, Quinn and Mom. For some strange reason, the Snedeker boys issue some amazingly gorgeous females. I’d like to take credit for that.
Mom taught until she was 84. She would come home and rip back out to take walks – often covering 3 miles. Her health caught up with her in that year and she has had what I suppose is a somewhat predictable round of health issues since that time. Her heart problems caused her to not renew her contract – in spite of being pled with by the University faculty and staff to take some time off then return. When I say they missed her, I honestly mean that.
We decided not to take the Pimpmobile on this particular day. 😉
Since that time, Mom has lived the life of a retiree. She has been a regular at the Louisville Symphony and at University of Louisville basketball games. We attended both events together at times and her knowledge of the game of basketball is superb. We have developed a nasty superstition for my social life. She is pretty certain the Cardinals have a better chance of losing when I don’t watch with her in her room. Unfortunately, it appears she may have something there. Bye bye, microbrews!
And she never – ever – and this is not an exaggeration – misses a game when the St. Louis Cardinals are playing. She had to have watched 50 games last season. Her great disappointment in life may be that I became a Giants and A;s fan while living out West. In this family, that is nearly unforgivable, lol.
She attended darn near every sporting event I ever played. Her devotion was exceptional, as was my Father’s. Make no mistake, we are talking an average of some 200 events a year. Our baseball team played a high school schedule of generally 50-60 games, then the American Legion season commenced. That was usually around the same. And they did the same for all the boys’ sports. They had tickets to every town’s college games, no matter where we lived – Bowling Green and Western Kentucky University’s Red Barn, Owensboro and now Louisville. Naturally, Dad was the mover concerning all this – he played football at Eastern Illinois and did well until a knee injury in his incarnation as “Freddy The Flash” – 😉 – he was truly a talented player and he had that nickname laid on him in local newspapers of the era – a nickname my friends were merciless in using around him after I busted him.
These were not stay-at-home parents!
In summation, Mother spends these days at a mellow clip. She has great good friends she sees now monthly for a luncheon group which has been around in one form or another for 30 years – ex-teachers and girlfriends who she used to go to games with or with whom she attended the orchestra, but that option has dwindled at 97. She reads voraciously and her acumen seems as solid concerning the world around her as it ever has. Her distant kids, Mike and Diane call weekly and she looks very forward to each call. Her sister Jody is equally devoted and she calls and sends pictures of her clan – our cousins Sam and Rachel and their children – in Galesburg, Illinois. Now Meagan or Hannah will call increasingly often. I can see in Mother’s expression the rare and severe delight she relishes at these moments. The advent of free long distance has been a boon to my family of positively tectonic proportions. It sure makes her days. She absolutely relishes being up to date.
Random shot of Tom’s daughter Hannah with she and Jimmy’s young kiddo’s:
And Jenny – his other daughter we don’t see enough of – with the gorgeous smile at around 16:
We speak of spiritual matters at times and of private confidences as well. She is very liberal politically, probably as a result of dealing with so many disadvantaged kids, from every walk of life. Her grandfather and his father were preachers in Decatur, so she has had the underpinnings of a Christian education, to say the least. But she is a modern woman who also believes the best stuff in the world happens in front of our faces. She has a life.
From my end, it is bizarre living with her again. It seems so strange, after all these years of living 2,500 miles away – 40 of those years, actually – to reunite like this in such an every day manner. There are those days I wake up and feel incredibly lucky to have her around. My role in providing her later years with some extra oomph gets its reward in climbing the stairs and seeing the size of her smile every single morning. One can only wonder at the reservoir of happiness which motivates such a gorgeous take on the day and in the simple pleasure of seeing #2 Son walking by. Having a child of my own does, however, give me insight into the world of Unconditional and Total Love – and she gets to multiply that by 4. So, what the heck. It makes sense after all. What I am saying though, is that she makes it a 2 way street. She gives rewards – simple and cleansing ones, still.
My life will still be the same stupid set of mistakes, loves and losses, interspersed with a few major successes, I hope. But the one thing I most certainly do NOT regret is in returning to this family.
Love ya, Mom.