In order to speak to you through the hues, shades and colors of his palette, an artist must layer color upon color to tell the whole story. In that same way, I must share the layers of my relationship with my mother so that you can fully understand the miraculous nature of our last sojourn. For me, the final layer held the best of times spent in my mother’s presence. So, to begin layering, I’ll start at the beginning with my mother’s story.
She was the middle of five children born in May of 1912 in Nashville, TN. Her father was twice her mother’s age, not uncommon in those years, and the little red-headed, green-eyed baby girl had problems from very early childhood. With poor eyesight and hearing, life would begin with those struggles already decided for her.
Nelle Mae Roper was named for a good friend of her mother’s, and the friend doted on this child long distance while living in St. Louis. She sent cards, gifts, and made sure that Nelle was registered on the cradle roll of her church in St. Louis. But despite all these efforts on the part of such a good friend, life wasn’t dealing a fair hand to this little family or this little girl.
Two other children followed, and when Nelle was 6 her father died suddenly leaving her mother with five children and no means of income. In the early 1900s women weren’t as visible in the workplace and finding work wasn’t easy. The family went on welfare and depended on the Big Brothers, a local Nashville assistance group, for food at the holidays. The two older children were in school, and eventually finished and went to work.
However, graduation would not be in Nelle’s future. She just barely made it through the eighth grade, when her mother chose to take her out of school to stay home and care for the two smaller children, a girl and a boy. Nelle’s mother found a job as an elevator operator in a local bank building, and desperately needed the income this job would provide. Nelle didn’t have the first clue as to how to care for these children much less how to discipline them.
As young children will do, the two would become unruly, running through the house, not staying indoors, and making messes Nelle had to clean up. Stories have been shared that in an attempt to discipline Nelle would grab handy kitchen utensils, most often large knives, and chase the younger two threatening them if they didn’t behave. Poor Nelle! If only someone would help her see what her role really was supposed to be. After all, she was only 11.
Time went on and Nelle was offered the opportunity, without a high school diploma, to attend business school. By now, the younger children were in school and this would work out for all concerned. Nelle’s eyesight and hearing, however, made learning difficult for her, especially with her lack of schooling thrown into the mix. Luckily, from time to time, she was hired by an attorney in her mother’s office building, but these jobs never lasted. Obviously, her skills were not well-honed and her ability to cope not well suited either. Why didn’t someone see? Why didn’t someone give her advice?
(Copyright 2011 – Sherrey Meyer)