My late mother has been on my mind a lot recently. This past Saturday would have been her 108th birthday. She has been gone since March 13, 1985.
I am now at an age when the time mom has been physically absent from my life is almost more than the time we spent together on this earth.
She is a memory now — a pleasant one — but a memory nevertheless. It felt good to go upstairs, open up the old family picture albums and scrapbooks laden with memories, and spend a good part of her birthday thinking about her.
The picture of her as a young farm girl was a special one. The photo of the pretty, young woman graduating high school, and later business college, captured an innocent girl who had no idea what life held in store for her.
Port William, the smallest village in Clinton County, was definitely in her future. Port sits out-of-the-way near the Greene County line after SR 134 ends at the mill dam.
I grew up in Port in a house where raspberries grew and cantaloupe mellowed in a small garden my dad put in each summer, just a few yards away from my Uncle Patsy’s hunting dogs, Frank and Burger.
My mom wrote stories. She told how she was a member of the United States Women and Letter Writing Project in World War II, where she began some letters with, “Dear Boys.” She was also was an Air Raid Warden for Port William. I remember one of my whimsical brothers once remarking, “Mom, must have done a good job. Not one German plane invaded Port.”
Inside one of the scrapbooks I found a special story she had written. My parents were children of the Great Depression. They understood hunger, being down on one’s luck, and having little to go around.
When my mother thought I had spent too much money on something, she might say, “You are going to send me to the Poor House.”
I never back-talked to my mom or dad, but one time, not thinking, I asked, “Mom, where is the Poor House located?”
Her eyes narrowed as she glared at me, never blinking, and uttering not a word.
I never asked her again.
She wrote about downtrodden men who were also products of the Depression — vagabonds and drifters, who were the out-of-work homeless of today. They were commonly called hobos at that time in history.
I never knew what brought these men to Port William, but I understood what brought them to our house. Mom was a kind, giving lady who was more than likely on the list the hobos kept of friendly people they had met along the trail. Many times I remember looking out our front screen door and seeing a hobo walking up on our porch. They were all shapes and sizes, and all dispositions, which prevented mom from allowing them to enter the house.
She would fix them sandwiches, hand them apples and pears, and bring them the familiar small bottles of Coca-Cola. Sometimes she would let me take the food out to the men, as they ate quietly underneath the large, shade tree in the side yard.
My mother was a very devout person. She would frequently make the long journey with her sister to Our Lady of Consolation Basilica and National Shrine in Carey, Ohio that shined in the glow of votive lights, to pray for her family and others.
One early morning when I was little, Mom came into my bedroom, woke me up, and asked if I would pray with her for my brother, Jack, who had sustained a serious injury and was at Clinton Memorial Hospital. I remember we prayed together most of the night.
A week or so ago, a family member was facing some difficult circumstances. Although Mom has been gone for 33 years, I turned to her once again in crisis, and asked for her prayers. A few days later our prayers were answered. It made me realize again she’s been here all this time.
“Saint Peter, I’m Ellen Haley,” I could hear her say.
A smile must have lit up Saint Peter’s face. “Oh, yes, I’ve heard my Lord speak of you many times. He told me to tell you, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.’
“Do come in.”
Pat Haley is a Clinton County commissioner and former Clinton County sheriff.