Week 48: Strength

I come from long lines of hardy ancestors – people who emigrated to America to start a new life, who lived into their 90s, who trekked across the states to relocate their families and established farms that lasted for generations. But when I think of strength I always think of my Mom, Anne Louise Quist McDearmid Nehls.

Anne at 17

At age 12, in 1932, Anne was sent out in the world to be a maid/nanny to wealthy families and to send her meager wages home to help support her family. She managed to finish 3 years of high school then married my dad at age 18. In this picture I think Mom is holding a soft leather helmet that she wore when they went cycling. I’m amazed to see she is wearing a watch and has a pack of cigarettes in her pocket. I think she was always a “feisty broad”.

Early on they bought 5 acres in Northern Illinois and started to build a house which I think was a Sears, Roebuck package. I know they paid it off in weekly payments.

In those days there was no central sewage so they had to have a septic system. My dad, being a diabetic, was often limited in his physical activity. So Mom was the main one who dug out the big hole for the septic tank and the trenches for the sewage lines.

I came along early in their marriage. As no other babies were conceived they decided to take in babies as fosters until the baby could be adopted. Over the next 5 years they had 17 little ones in their care for long or short periods. Often there would be 2 babies plus a few children of friends in Mom’s daycare. This went on until I was about 8 when we adopted one of the babies, my sister Roberta and my Grandma Numsen (Dad’s mother) became ill.

Grandma had ovarian cancer. I don’t recall what treatments she had but my Mom was the one who cared for her, living with Grandma and Grandpa off and on for about a year. That was a highly emotional time as she tried to care for her own family and her in-laws. In the end, Grandpa Numsen found a woman to care for Grandma…he married her (Rose) soon after Grandma died. Relations with that part of the family became very strained!

Mom worked as a nurses aide at the county hospital for a few years. She was in the maternity ward and actually delivered a few babies. She often said she wished she had studied nursing. She did, however, complete her high school requirements and graduated from Waukegan High (no GED for her).

All during these times, 1940-1954, she had a garden, canned fruits and veggies, cared for farm animals, killed chickens, provided a home-away-from-home for several of her siblings, helped start a kindergarten, wrote poems and short storied and raised two daughters! As time went on my dad’s health continued to decline. Mom applied at Abbott for a job and was hired immediately because “she’s Jim’s wife”! Find her a job.

She started at Abbott as a purchasing clerk, got promoted to Purchasing Assistant and then transferred to the Engineering Research department where she was the first one to work with and develop the IBM computer project tracking system…stacks of hole punched cards that created a log of time spent on research projects. Mom retired from Abbott in 1977 as a highly regarded Executive Assistant.

I was always amazed at her physical strength and stamina but more than that her strength of character….her sense of right and wrong. She wrote letters to the editor regarding issues she cared about. Taxes, education, crime…she let her thoughts be known. Personally, I never wanted to argue with her because she had such strong opinions I felt I could never win! After she retired she bought a set of Encyclopedia Britannica which she’d always dreamed of having. She devoured books and information. She started reading the encyclopedia. It was not just for reference…she was going to read it all. She discovered an error – something about the dates of the war in the Philippines – so she wrote to the editors! They responded and assured her that they would correct the information. She loved books by Janet Evanovitch, always buying the latest novel. When she discovered a discrepancy in the plot or characterization she wrote to Janet who wrote her back and thanked her for pointing this out!

Mom was a force to be reckoned with. When she died at age 94 her memorial service was standing room only. She was highly regarded and loved by friends and family, I’m sure, in large part because of her strength of character.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s