Today would have been my mom's one hundredth birthday. She never wanted to be that old. In her last few years she was in a lot of pain and breaking bones frequently due to severe osteoporosis. She wasn't able to do much of her activities, couldn't even knit or crochet after she broke her shoulder. She frequently needed to be taken care of and hated that. She was in and out of the hospital and "rehab" facilities, finally dying in the hospital of C-Dif, an aggressive viral infection. She spent her last few days in hospice care at Riverside, barely aware, most of the time, of what was happening around her.She was more than ready to die, had been for some time. So her passing was quiet and peaceful.
Reading her journal has been such an experience. I knew that much of her life was filled with challenges, but there was much I didn't know. I didn't know the full picture. She was a perfect example of the saying, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." A remarkable woman.
At twelve years of age she found a torn up letter in the trash that she helped her mom piece back together. It was a love letter to her father from some woman not his wife. They used it in the divorce proceedings after her father had left her mother with three daughters 14, 12, and 10, and no income of her own. The child support was intermittent and their lives became very difficult. Her mom took in laundry and cleaned people's houses.
My mom was always very close to her mother and always helped any way she could. She babysat for a bit of spending money but mostly gave it to her mom.
Never a good student, she struggled through high school, graduating from Central High School near downtown Columbus on the Scioto River. (The Center of Science and Industry [COSI] is there now.)
She says English was hard for her. In later years I think she would have been diagnosed with a learning disorder. But then there was little help available, especially to economically distressed families. And she had little help with homework at home with her mom working so hard.
When she finished school there were no jobs for her. Her best skill was Bookkeeping but with the Depression there weren't many jobs for young people just out of school with mediocre grades, even though her Bookkeeping grades were good. Her father surprised her by showing up and offering to send her to school, so she went to Beauty School and trained to be a beautician. She found work in a couple of small shops where she worked on commission, so earned very little. It wasn't long after that that she met my dad.
It wasn't love at first sight. He was handsome and charming and persistent. He spent every moment he could with her until she fell in love with him. Their's was not a match made in heaven, however. Like her father, Champ was a womanizer. All that charm and good looks attracted women to him and he loved it. He also turned out to be addicted to alcohol and gambling. So their marriage was rocky from the start. But he was the love of her life and she tolerated way more problem behavior than was good for her or the family.
Her life was filled with problems, challenges, heartache and pain. And yet she was always able to find the positives. She relished time with her children, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren. She loved beauty in nature and art. She developed skills in ceramics to the point that she had her own studio and taught others the craft. She mastered leather tooling, embroidery, sewing. She took up drawing and painting in later years, worked in oils and acrylics. She loved flowers and gardened anywhere she lived, for as long as she was able. Mostly she grew flowers. And she even raised tomatoes on her balcony when she was in senior housing. She loved to dance, beginning in her teens dancing to the big bands around Columbus. But Champ wasn't good at dancing and she gave it up. She took up dancing again as a senior citizen and loved it. Sadly she had to give up dancing after breaking her hip.
She raised two children almost on her own.She made it through the depression. She lived through WWII, worked on the airplane assembly line at Curtis Wright bucking rivets, while struggling to raise two small children with her estranged husband in the South Pacific. They were ready to divorce when he enlisted and she agreed to wait for him to return. Over the years she buried her parents, grandparents, sisters, and many friends. She spent countless lonely hours, days, weeks.
She had many medical emergencies throughout her life. In her twenties she had a bone tumor removed from inside her skull. They put a metal plate in her head. She suffered from frequent anemia, from severe hay fever, from several falls, had several kinds of surgeries, and developed very severe osteoporosis which resulted in many broken bones in the last decade of her life.
For several years she worked with retarded adults in the sheltered workshops - demanding and challenging work that she loved - until unable to continue for health reasons.
My mother, Mary Elizabeth "Betty"Houston Champ, would do anything to help someone in need. There were times she gave people her best clothing, took in folks with no where else to go, provided transportation for countless folks needing rides to doctors, grocery, etc. Eventually, she even gave her car to her neighbors when she decided she should give up driving.
She was strong-willed, independent, caring, smart, talented, loving, creative, and always beautiful.
Happy Birthday, Mom. I don't know if they have birthday cake in heaven, but if they do, I hope it is your favorite. Or, better yet, the blackberry pie that you loved.