by Jeff Salisbury
Here’s to strong women in my life. Some who were mothers. Some who were not. Some who mothered me. Some who did not. But each one taught me, willed me, genetically endowed me with what I call the three Ps of patience, persistence and perseverance.
• Mary Adelaide Robinson-Hood — my maternal great-great grandmother who died in NW Michigan just weeks after giving birth to her daughter, Violet. Leaving Violet to be raised by her father Dr John J. Hood, who a few short years later would die from pneumonia in Mancelona. He fell after making a winter house call and walking home in a snowstorm after his horse and carriage got stuck in a drift.
• Violet Mignon Hood-Knudson — my maternal great grandmother who died in NW Michigan less than a year after giving birth to her daughter, Gladys. Violet was raised by a stepmother, a wonderful woman, Letta Caroline Andrews-Hood from the Detroit area.
• Gladys Adelaide Knudson-Harwood — not only did she break the pattern but her patient, persistent and perseverant godly Spirit lives on in me today, at least I like to believe so. Widowed in 1962 at age 61, she managed to learn to drive, earn a retail sales job in Howell, never having done either in her life, never drove a vehicle, never worked outside the home and live an independent life and opened her house until the end of her life in 1977 to countless relatives of mine including her own children and grandchildren over those years, who need a “port in a storm” as the expression goes.
Penny Bain-Salisbury was taken in by her and loved and cared for and mothered from January to June 1969. There are no words to describe her many kindnesses. She was a dedicated volunteer in her church and various community groups and clubs. For years and years worked in the church nursery and would bring her own cloth diapers to church where once children were dropped off, she would change every child’s diapers using her own cloth diapers just so she could put the “clean” ones back on before parents picked up their youngsters. Then she’d take the soiled diapers home, wash them in her old ringer-washer, hang them on the line to dry, fold and stow them away for use the next week. I doubt anyone ever noticed and certainly to no acclaim for such a small kindness until the her pastor told that whole story at her funeral service.
• Lucy Bates Rowe Salisbury — my paternal grandmother who was orphaned and came to Detroit alone as a teen-ager via Canada in the early 1900s from Great Crosby, Lancashire UK (near Liverpool) along with her siblings too one by one — several sisters and one brother — enrolled in a nurses training program, met a young doctor William Kyle, who before he died way too young, was the father of her first child, Molly. She was affectionately called by me, Grandma Huckleberry — for a reason that escapes me — or just “Lulie” too along with most everyone else in my family. Never lost her Liverpoolian accent and could do a rough and tumble cockney accent that mystified me as a youngster. Separated (okay abandoned) by her husband, my grandfather Charles Gibson Salisbury (a “rotter” my aunt called him) who’d forced her to “send away” little Molly when they married and either drove off, alienated or in the case of my father “stole him away” from her at age 11, nonetheless, she did the best she was able to raise five children and lost another in childbirth.
• Ardith “Ardy” Elaine Harwood-Salisbury – my own mother – who in many respects quietly and silently fought emotional demons much her adult life — perhaps through childhood too — married, eloped with parental permission, my father (who was almost 22) at too young an age – just eight weeks past her 17th birthday and only one month out of high school. But she was determined. Stubborn. Headstrong. Willful. Obstinate. Witty. Intelligent. She was a brilliant vocalist, pianist and even played the flute too in her youth. Loved tennis and wished she’d had the opportunity to play as an adult. Oh, and golf. Loved to watch and no doubt wished she’d been afforded the opportunity to play. Oh, and a gifted writer too. I suspect she longed to go off to college but was simply too timid, shy and prone to anxiety and panic and mood swings to ever have done such at thing in 1942. My parents struggled in their relationship to be sure. They waited six years before I arrived in 1948. Then it was not until 1956 until my brother was born. And finally they separated for a number of years until the divorce decree arrived, dated on my mother’s birthday, May 11, 1967. But you know, my mother – with help from my incredible brother and her own mother Gladys, just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Got a retail sales job. Managed to buy her own car. Sold our home and started fresh. Albeit several times over the year – what with being one-step-forward and two-steps-backward at times – even late in life moving away from Michigan to North Carolina where she began to rebuild her life, at after the age of 60 trained as a physical therapist’s assistance and after volunteering at a retirement community received a humanitarian and volunteer of the year award from a local TV station where she lived. Ironically the retirement community actually became her final stopover so to speak for the last few years of her life until she died at age 89 in 2014.
In more recent years though I would be remiss if I did not mention the strong women in my life as well.
• My wife Penny Bain-Salisbury‘s mother Carrie Ann Konopaski. As strong-willed a woman as one would ever encounter. Between Penny’s Polish/French Canadian mother and Scottish/English father it’s clearly where Penny derives her own willful nature. And I mean willful in the most positive sense. There was not an obstacle Carrie (“Ma” to me) couldn’t or wouldn’t overcome even if one might say the obstacle was partially if not wholly of her own making. She was a Pisces in terms of birth sign and they are known to either swim mildly, gently with the current or lash and flash and bash back and forth against it. But in either or any case or situation Carrie was a fighter. My imagination pictures her as a child as I have seen images of Shirley Temple in movies — stubborn, obstinate, almost defiant against all odds and forces, hands on hips, chin out, head slight tipped up and a stern expression as if to say, “Oh no you don’t!” I know that look. It runs in my family.
• And my wife Penny Bain-Salisbury has donned the expression in any number of circumstances in her life from childhood marred by loss of her nuclear family at age 8 to myriad other obstacles in her life — personal, business, family. Nothing stops her. Nothing. Not once she’s made up her mind to the contrary. Fiercely loyal to family since as she says, “…at the end of the day, you may gain and lose friendships throughout your life, but your family is always going to be your family. They come first!”
• Which brings me to my daughter, Shelly Salisbury Whitley, and my daughter-in-law, Jill Buchanan Salisbury, (whose own mother Judy Buchanan is a marvelous wife, mother and retired health care professional) — and I would be utterly remiss if I didn’t mention how each of their mothers, Shelly and Jill’s, were so devoted and so dedicated and so determined that these two women become the best helpmates and partners and parents and persons they could be in their own lives. And they are and their children, my grandchildren are simply blessed – truth be told I am envious – to be in their loving care and instruction and guidance.
• My own sister too, Jenny Salisbury Norvey I know by all accounts to be a devoted and dedicate mother to her two children and they are just as blessed to have her in their lives as is their father, Larry.
Finally I’ll touch on — last but not least — the woman who while not being a mother herself, never gave birth to her own children, never even married , but who touched my life in so many ways as most mothers do — the best ones anyway — my dear sweet Aunt Betty Lou Salisbury, a constant and present (especially the final years of her life when she came to Wayland to live) force in my life. She mothered me even when I didn’t realize I needed mothering. I miss her every single day. And she was then and remains now the most remarkable woman I’ve ever know. Devoted daughter who lived with and cared for Lulie all her adult life – “Rosie the Riveter” during WWII at the Willow Run bomber plant – music store manager – vocalist – model – world traveler – Newspaper Guild labor leader at the Detroit Times at a time when women rarely got so involved especially at the bargaining table – later worked at the NY Times’ business office – travel agent for Northwest Airlines for many years – visited every state in the US and numerous foreign countries – made friends literally all over the world – her holiday and birthday card list was a mile long. And she extended remarkable kindnesses to others without any expectation of a favor being returned almost literally to the end of her days.
One story: Not long before she died, she longed to be able to return to NYC one last time to visit some of her favorite cafes and restaurants. One evening she was feeling especially melancholy and called up one in particular. She asked for a maitre’d who as it turned out was working even though it had been many years since she’d been there. She asked him all sorts of questions about how he was doing. How was business. And on and on. Then before she hung up she asked, “Who’s there tonight? I’d like to buy someone’s dinner. Look around for me. Do you see a person alone or a couple perhaps? I want to buy someone’s dinner. Really I do.”
He put down the phone and when he came back he replied that yes, in fact, there was a rather young couple who didn’t seem to quite fit the normal clientele. They might do, he explained. All right, Betty Lou said, I’ll buy their dinner. Take down my credit card. But you’re not to tell them. And he agreed.
“Guess what Jeffrey?”
Weeks later Betty told me received a lovely card and note, which she let me read, from a young lady who on behalf of herself and her husband were the recipients of Betty Lou’s kindness and she expressed in glowing remarks how much it meant to them as they were really splurging and the restaurant was not someplace they would normally dine.
Strong willed women. Each and everyone.
Their children and friends and family members and other loved ones were fortunate to come to know them one and all.
And I am the better person for sharing their gene pool and being in their lives. I am what I am because of each of them bestowing in some way shape or form the three Pillars of my life… Patience – Persistence – Perseverance.
Happy Mother’s Day to one and all of them and to you and your mothers too.
PHOTO: Jeff and Aunt Betty Lou salisbury