Sunday, May 10, 2009

Home, Sweet Home--My Mother


One day Daddy came home with two surprises—a used 1940 Ford and a job with an oil company. Both were significant because we had never owned a car and employment was hard to come by.
The year was 1944. We lived on a small, dirt farm in North Texas near Daddy’s parents.
An oil boom had hit Texas. It began in 1901 with the advent of Spindletop at Beaumont, Texas, and continued until the 1980’s when the oil industry “went bust.” Employment with an oil company was an open door to a better and more secure life, but to become more financially solvent meant leaving home.
For the next six years, we were transient and homeless. Mother could only take that which she could pack into the trunk of the Ford. She selected clothes for all five of us, plus bedding, a minimum of cookware, and a few dishes. There was only room for one more item—her new portable, single-stitch Featherweight Singer sewing machine.
At first, we moved two or three times a year. Oil fields virtually dotted all of Texas, but Daddy’s company covered parts of North Texas and the South Plains. Those first years, however, must have been excruciating for Mother. Housing was difficult to find, especially for a family with three children.
We first lived with an old woman who had built one slant-roofed room with a bathroom onto the back of her small house. At least we had our own toilet facilities, but we came and went through her front door. That meant tiptoeing through to go outside. Occasionally, she invited Mother and my little sister and I to sit in her living room and visit. My older sister went to school, so she escaped that intolerable time. Mother admonished us not to touch anything and don’t kick our feet. A two-year-old and a four-year-old suffered under those conditions, but I’m certain Mother suffered more. She had no living room of her own.
For a very short time, we stayed in a converted boxcar, generally called a “cot house.” Single men usually inhabited them, but they were a godsend when Daddy could find nothing else.
When I was five, we lived in one room in a big two-story boardinghouse. All kinds of people lived there and we ate family-style at a long table. I thought it was fun.
In more than one town, we lived in a motel, known in the South as a “tourist court.” Again, all five of us lived in one room. Here, I first remember how we ate our meals. With the exception of the boarding house, Mother improvised to feed us. She bought breakfast and lunch from the grocery store. She selected food that did not need refrigeration or cooking. That meant frequent trips to shop, and we walked because Daddy took the car. Common meals were oranges and grapefruit, bananas, small cartons of milk, and bologna or pressed ham sandwiches. We especially favored saltines and cheddar cheese. But the most wonderful thing about living there was that we all went to a cafĂ© every night. Daddy ordered for all of us and we dined lavishly. I remember chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, apple pie with melted cheddar cheese on top and cold glasses of milk. Once a week, hamburgers and French fries were a reward for being good little girls.
I thought we were rich.
During the later years on the road, our family moved up to one side of a duplex—two entire rooms. While it seemed spacious, it was the coldest place we had lived. My little sister and I would lie on our stomachs at night and peer through the bars of the iron headboard and the cracks of the wall to look outside. Icy wind and dust also blew through those cracks. But Mother had a small kitchen and Daddy was a happy man to come home to Mother’s good cooking.
Daddy wanted us three girls to look pretty, no matter where or how we lived. He polished our white high-top shoes every night, and Mother kept our hair curled and combed. But that was not enough. We might have been transient, but we never appeared to be. Mother sewed on her prized Singer while it sat on an apple crate, a chair, a dresser, or a suitcase. She often had to sit on the floor while sewing. She bought patterns she could use repeatedly by altering, changing, or transforming the basic pieces. She chose pretty, inexpensive fabric and cut out the pieces on the bed or floor. Adept with any kind of needle, she embroidered collars, bodices, and hems with little flowers. Rickrack edged necklines and sleeves. She even made little red corduroy coats and hats that matched. Everywhere we went, strangers commented that we were pretty.
I thought I was beautiful.
When I was in the third grade, we lived in a real house with four rooms, located on the South Plains, near Lubbock. Even though the furniture came with the rented house, we had a real home again. All of us were happy that year, especially Mother. She cooked, cleaned, and dressed us up for church and school exactly as she wished. She placed the Singer sewing machine on a table and left it there all the time. My sisters and I made friends of the neighborhood children, and played outside with them and walked to school. But at the end of the school year, Daddy was to move to yet another oil field.
By this time, Mother was tired in body and weary in mind. She longed for a permanent home for her girls and a big house she could call her own. Daddy agreed and asked the company to station him in one place and he would commute each week, wherever he was required to work. Weekly separations faced us for the next twenty years. He loved us all so much, he built a nice, roomy house, and Mother never needed to pack up again and move down the road.
I’ve often wondered which of my parents sacrificed more during my growing-up years. Both were required to give up something valuable for the sake of their children. Even though Daddy had to live alone during the week, Mother and we three girls always waited in the comfortable home he built for us. He was happy, even though he was often tired and lonely. Mother, on the other hand, needed a home to satisfy the inborn human yearning to build a nest and to nurture her young.
Mother lives in a nursing home now, and my sisters and I are senior citizens. Her mind wanders, she forgets, and she lives in a world all her own. She forgot our names and other family members. She never recalls her six grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren. But one thing she remembers is “home.” She always asks if she can go there.


  1. Celia,
    What a lovely story about your childhood! Great details, I could practically taste your restaurant dinners. I hope you are having a happy Mothers Day, and a relaxing trip. See you soon!
    Congrats on the blog, BTW!

  2. Celia,
    I'm so impressed by the level of detail you can remember about your childhood. I remember next to nothing.

    Your story's so touching. Although edged with sadness, you were surrounded by love.

    Happy Mother's Day! Congrats on taking the blog plunge!

  3. You brought a tear to my eye, Celia. I hope you and yours had a wonderful Mother's Day

  4. Celia, congrats on the new blog, and the wonderful entry.


  5. What a touching story filled with vivid details of years gone by. The world is such a different place today, isn't it?
    Happy Mother's Day, Celia.

  6. What a lovely remembrance of your childhood, Celia! I have two older sisters and they would have lived through this time. I was the "baby" of the family. Our mom just recently passed away at 94. Our mothers were amazing women, were they not? Happy Mother's Day to you and your mom.

  7. Thank you all for reading my first blog. I do appreciate it. Celia

  8. Oh Celia, what a wonderful story. Thanks so much for sharing and congratulations on your new blog :)

    Happy Mother's Day!!!! Ellen

  9. Celia, I really enjoyed reading this. Even though I had heard you talk about much of it, it somehow appeared more touching and "real" than when listening to you.

    I look forward to reading more of your entries!

    Glad ya'll made the trip up ok. We just returned from Audrey's christening. Mothers Day was a very fitting day for it.

    Enjoy those boys!

  10. Celia,
    How lovely that you've written all this down for you family. They will cherish it for years to come. I was deeply moved as I read your words, especially the part about the riches in your heart. Hugs my friend!

  11. Hi Celia,
    This was so nostalgic and reminded me of the stories Mom would tell about when she and Daddy did the same thing in the early years of their marriage. He worked for the oil company, too, (Baroid) and they lived in boardinghouses and all, too. But by the time I came along, everything was MUCH more settled. It's amazing the sacrifices parents make for their children. This was a beautiful story. My mom always wanted to go home, too, even when she was living with my sister in her last year. Happy Mother's Day!

  12. Dear Celia, I've just read your blog, the first, I assume, and want to say congratulations. And what a fitting tribute your story is to your mother on this Mother's Day. Her strength shines through, as does the love of your parents for each other and their children.
    Ah, I remember. I remember. I, too, grew up poor in the same time period. Not the same location nor the same occupation but poor is poor. But like you, I never felt poor for we were rich in love.
    Thanks for the poignant memories. You have done your mother proud even if she can't be aware of it now.

  13. Celia, I remember you mentioning these memories before, and I've been hoping you'd write them down in a slightly more "formal" manner so they'd exist on the page forever.

    Like many others who have commented here, I also became all tearful while reading your beautiful words. There's so much love in your heart. You are right when you say "I thought we were rich." Because you were (and still are) rich. Rich with what really matter: love, compassion and generosity.

    Lots of love,


  14. This is wonderful, Celia, so nostalgic and well written. You have a terrific style of writing.

  15. Congrats on getting your blog started! A fitting story to start your musings!
    Donald James Parker
    Author of Love Waits

  16. Celia,

    What a lovely post.

    You have helped me to understand my favorite uncle's family. They were transient workers, picking fruit like strawberries, watermelon and such. In those days, our people did that kind of work instead of people from Mexico.

    It had to be a tough life for their mother, but, they finally settled down in our small town.

  17. Very touching and your mom made it all good, no matter how bad it was.

  18. A great first blog, Celia! Congratulations.

    Bess McBride

  19. Beautiful story, Celia. Your writing is so engaging, I didn't want the story to end! What a lovely tribute to your parents. Although your family faced difficult times, the love and values you share here makes me envious. You were blessed indeed.

    Thanks for this!

    Chiron O'Keefe

  20. Hi Celia,
    Lovely post. It brought back a lot of memories for me. I can remember Mum putting our hair in rags at night so we would have long ringlets/curls in the morning.
    We didn't have much in those days, but were happy with what you had.
    You did a great job creating your blog too. Very nice.

  21. Beautiful story, it brought tears to my eyes at the end.


  22. Oh, Celia. I love this post. Your traveling experiences remind me of those of my mother and father-in-law. He was a welder and they moved around all the time, living in boarding houses, etc, but I don't think housing was as hard to find as what you experienced. Their jobs were in more populated areas. In later years, he also left the family at home and traveled. It is a lonely life.

    Congratulations on your new blog and thanks for sharing such a wonderful story.


  23. My mom used to sew for us also. I've tried, but I'm just not gifted in that department. I even hate sewing buttons.

    Morgan Mandel

  24. Celia, it seems to be working today! Lovely entry. I'm so glad you've set up a blog where you can share your stories. :-)

  25. What wonderful memories. Thanks for sharing. I loved hearing about what it was like earlier on in the century. There's a touch of history that's inspiring in your post.

  26. Hello Celia. I think your blog is terrific. What a poignant entry for Mother's Day! I'll look forward to future posts.

  27. Celia Ann,

    What a pleasant suprise to run across your new "profession". I am running short on time right now, but I will be in touch later on your hotmail adress.

    What the hell has happened to the last 52 years?