A while back we put together Stories of A Lifetime, a series of stories by and about my Grandma, Doris Jean O’Brien Clarke.
This piece, written for her children about her mother-in-law, wasn’t included …
It seems fitting to share this particular treasure today:
It occurred to me on this Mother’s Day 1979, that some of the children to whom I am mother do not remember Grace Lilly Clarke.
Grace was forty before Philip was born. She had married late in life and had lost two sons in miscarriage before your father. Obviously she loved children. She had been a first primary teacher in small towns in Nebraska and Colorado. She was a good mimic and story teller and had a treasury of first primary experiences from which to draw.
It would have been natural and probably forgivable for her to have spoiled her only son. She not only avoided it, but prevented his surrogate parents – Uncle Benny, Grandma Lucinda, and later Aunt Clara from doing so. (Well, almost!)
Grace was a woman ahead of her times.
Although she possessed an abiding and vibrant faith in Catholicism, she was an Ecuminist. During her teaching years she lived with a variety of people and gained an appreciation of other religions and their hymns. It is a a compliment to say that she sang like a Protestant – with spirit.
She took some pride in being one of the first lady drivers in Denver — certainly she was an anomaly among her set. She – not your grandfather – did the driving for the family. She used to pile your father, the neighborhood children, plus Clara McConaty or Catherine Reardon in the car for a day of swimming (floating in her case) at the Lakeside Park Pool. Years later she continued to fill her car, a convertible now, with her grandchildren, their neighborhood friends and go for picnics or treats at drive-ins. She was a chauffeur for nuns, priests, and her friends – driving to card parties, meetings, whatever.
If you have an image of a white haired apron clad grandmother fussing in the kitchen — forget it. She never allowed her hair to become white, but rinsed it to keep its “Natural” brown. The hair was frequently covered by a variety of scarves, nets, and crazy hats to protect it as she drove her convertible top down through the city and across the nation.
She may have been apron covered, but she was not a good cook. She had a few specialties, but considered a cold hamburger sandwich to be a good pick up meal. She predated the McDonald’s chain, but she would have loved them. Although she enjoyed entertaining, she preferred having a “girlie” to cook, serve, and clean up. (Editor’s note: Don’t we all!)
Because your grandfather had to travel a great deal, she was more independent than most housewives of her day. Perhaps this prepared her to take over the business after his death. She was too generous and trusting to be a truly good business woman, but she managed to keep a business going, increase sales volume, and negotiate a property trade. Her goal was to have the store available should your father want to take it over when he became of age. The opportunity was there, but never pressure. She exemplified true love of her son by wanting him to pursue what he wanted to do.
Because of the church goods business and their strong church affiliation, and their many friends among the clergy and religious, many expected, hoped, and prayed your father would follow his uncles, on both sides of the family, into the priesthood. (Aren’t we glad he didn’t?) Not so, Grace. She prayed that he would do God’s will. When he asked me to become his wife, your grandmother, whom I called Lady Grave, welcomed me as a daughter.
It says something about her disposition to know that she lived happily with an aging mother, a crippled brother in law, a frequently absent husband, a long awaited son, and Super Dog Rover.
If you would ask me for a one word description I would say, “Joyful.” She was a signing, whistling, loving grandmother, mother, and person — and I loved her dearly.
Happy Mother’s Day to my mother, mother -in -law, God-mother, grandmothers, great grandmothers, aunts, great aunts, mother friends …
As I read this I can’t help but think how lucky we all are to be part of such a legacy, to play the role of mother, and to think about how I will someday be remembered. “Joyful” certainly seems a worthy goal. Now to start looking for a convertible.
Happy Mothers Day, Mothers!