Today, May 1, is my mother’s birthday. Had she lived, she would have been 100 years old today. It’s hard to believe that this beautiful, intelligent, vibrant woman has been gone for fifteen years. I miss her still.
Elnora, a child of the depression, graduated from Erin High School in 1934. The next-to-youngest of nine children, who lost her father when she was only four years old, Elnora didn’t have much growing up. What she did have was imagination and a sense of adventure. In the late thirties when her older sister needed help, Elnora boarded a train in tiny Erin, Tennessee, and traveled to New York City alone. She made her way to her sister’s home in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn and while she was staying there she journeyed to Niagara Falls before returning home to Tennessee.
My parents married in 1938 and after a brief stay in Detroit, they returned to make their home in Tennessee. Then the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Daddy enlisted and after training he was assigned to the Coastal Artillery near San Francisco. My always-eager-to-travel mother again boarded a train and traveled across country to join him in California. She described the trip as an adventure. When she recounted changing trains in Bakersfield, CA., she said she had to walk a long way carrying her own bags to catch her next train. Some nice soldiers helped her and even years later she expressed her gratitude for their kindness.
During the war my mother followed my father across the country getting jobs wherever they were stationed. She returned to Tennessee when he went through his medical training in Illinois, then joined him at his first hospital assignment in Asheville, North Carolina. Later he was transferred to a hospital in Palm Beach, Florida, which turned out to be the converted Breakers Hotel. Before the end of the war, when Ream General Hospital (The Breakers Hotel) was closed, my father was sent to Lawson General Hospital in Atlanta, GA. That’s where my sister was born which necessitated my mother returning home to Tennessee to await my father’s discharge.
The love of travel never left my mother. As we grew up we didn’t have a lot of money so we’d go visit her many relatives who lived across the country. We visited her brother in Oak Ridge Tennessee and explored the Smoky Mountains. We drove to the coast of Georgia to stay with her older brother who lived right on the beach on St. Simon’s Island. Other times we went to south Alabama, the panhandle of Florida and Akron, Ohio, to visit her sisters. One of her sisters lived in Sitka, Alaska, and she always talked of going to visit her but sadly she never did. She did however, visit a cousin in Boulder, Colorado, with her mother and aunt.
As money became available we took family trips to New Orleans, Panama City, Washington D.C., New York City and Palm Beach to see the Breakers Hotel and where they had lived during the war.
When my father retired my mother had accumulated enough leave from her job at the local Post Office for them to take several long road trips. I was lucky to accompany them at least part of the way on one trip out west. We visited Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, and the Grand Tetons. She had me take her picture at the top of Yellowstone Falls to prove she was brave enough to go out there. She had a fear of heights but she wouldn’t let it stop her from going to the edge of the falls or from a bubble-top helicopter ride over the Bad Lands of South Dakota. I had to fly home but they went on to visit my aunt in Oregon, up to Vancouver and then back down the California Coast to San Francisco. Then they came home through Salt Lake City and Denver. On another trip they drove through the northeast all the way to Nova Scotia, across Canada to Montreal and back home. And another year went across Texas and the southwest to the Grand Canyon and then dipped down into Mexico. How I would love to duplicate any one of those trips.
My mother didn’t learn to drive until the late 1950’s. After my father underwent major surgery she decided she could no longer depend on others to drive her around. She was never the best driver but that didn’t keep her home. While we were in high school, she would drive us to Nashville at least twice a year to shop for clothes. She could make her way downtown to Cain Sloan’s parking garage and after a long day of shopping we’d exit the garage, turn right on Broadway and head out of town on Highway 70. I don’t think she ever learned to drive anywhere else in Nashville except to the hospitals.
Elnora loved her grandchildren, her flowers in her beautiful yard and reading a good book or watching an old movie on TV. She used to say she watched all the old black & white movies because when she was growing up she didn’t get to see any of them. They didn’t have the money for movies.
Later in life she bought her own car and drove it where she wanted to go. This might have been taking her grandson to Walmart in nearby Dickson or driving to Dover to the UDC meetings. When my sister moved to Mobile, Alabama, and I moved to Florida she made her final road trip. Since my father’s health was poor, she drove by herself. This adventure took her to Chattanooga to my brother’s house, down through Georgia to our home in Florida for a short visit, and then across the panhandle of Florida to Mobile to stay with my sister. She was seventy-two years old when she made that trip. I always thought she was so brave for making that long drive alone.
Only a few years later, Alzheimer’s had taken its toll. She came to Florida to stay near me. Her strong constitution and vibrant spirit remained almost to the end — just a month short of her eighty-fifth birthday. This post is dedicated to her loving memory.