by Ron Cook
I wrote this piece as a memorial to my mother (of six children) who passed away six years ago in March. She was a classic example of the Great Generation.
The Great Generation had a lot of interesting common characteristics. Many of them were raised on farms, and then moved to the cities or villages. During the postwar years of the late 1940’s, and through the 1950’s, many worked in factories. Television sets were becoming common. Rotary phones were the only type of phone with party lines. Wood-like paneling and shag carpets were the vogue. While I was growing up we had all these things going on … Often, mothers stayed home and ran the family … that was my mother. Strong willed and full of energy. The Betty Crocker of the 1950’s and 60’s…
Marjorie, Margie, Marge, Margie-Jean, Lola … our mother was known by many names according to who was speaking to her, but she was always just “Ma” to us children. Her parents, as I recall, addressed all of their 10 children by their full given names. I think Louise and John thought nicknames, or shortened versions of given names, were like an abomination? Not sure, but I do remember Grandpa John sitting at the head of the meal table, near the front door, ruling his family with an “iron fist” in his lace-curtain Irish way. I always got a kick out of Aunt Mary (Margie’s youngest sister) and her naughty ways, cackling at Grandpa with that hilarious laugh she always had.
Ma and Dad (as we called him), were a lovely young couple. Although they were both raised on farms, after they married they moved to a small village, and bought a three dwelling apartment building for $8,000.000. My father’s parents loaned them the money. My earliest recollections (as oldest of the six) placed them still working at the Barley-Earhart factory. This had been one of the many factories during World War II that had been converted into a grenade-making facility. As children I remember looking for grenade blasting caps in their factory dump. That was crazy!
The folks would go dancing every Friday night at the VFW or the American Legion or somewhere. Mom loved to dance (and continued dancing right into her 80’s). Julius was a very good dancer as well. In later years, I remember Julius and Margie dancing at my bother, Roger’s, and my weddings. I do remember they must have danced at all their siblings weddings as well (us kids were always playing, and trying to sneak beers from the kegs).
Ma had us two older boys first, and then she had four more with difficult pregnancies. Remember how stay-at-home moms used to get involved in hobbies or community activities? I think Margie Jean might have started her hobby-habit during those pregnancies.
She sewed, she made fabric flowers so real people would bend down to smell them (so she started putting each flower’s scent on the petals to further enhance the mystery). She tole-painted, she took art classes. Mom was a consummate artist. She was a perfectionist. Whatever she tried, she did it masterfully. Her paintings were, and still are, treasures. My favorite was the broken down fence and barn with the chicken in front. It hung over Ma’s faux-fireplace in the “new” living room where we would start with the old tubed black and white tv (remember smacking the top to get the picture to clear up?). Then we got a color television. Wow, was that great! On the west wall was her The Road to Emmaus painting. How many times did she replicate the Grace painting???
Then, between popping out six of us, she loved to get together with her sisters and paint a whole room or wallpaper, staying up way past midnight to finish. Ma liked to finish what she started. I remember spring cleaning … oh my goodness … all the storm windows had to be taken down, washed (with stinky vinegar water and newspapers), then put neatly away … maybe in the second garage or upstairs in the garage attic? Not sure … then the screens had to be sprayed and dried; the inside windows had to then be washed. In the basement, we took everything off the canning storage shelves, dusted and cleaned. The old basement had to be swept and mopped. We even had to clean out the nasty manhole drain under the outside steps to the basement. Remember those accordion doors that opened to that drain, Rog? Mom was a clean freak!! Haha!
Many of the women of the Great Generation were from farms, and not afraid of hard work. Margie Jean was certainly one of that breed. They were classic housewives and ambitious, creative women.
(This is an excerpt of a quite lengthy piece of recalled history I shared with my family in March. I hope it touched some of your memories of parents, grandparents, and Great Generation folks you knew back then. Thanks for coming along.)