Fannie and the Kids, c1926
One of my mother’s oldest friends died last week. My mother will soon be 89. Eloise had just celebrated her 100th birthday.
I don’t know how or when they met. I became aware of Eloise in the mid-1950s, when she and my mother ran the kitchen and dining room at a conference center near our home. Looking back, I picture them as Lucy and Ethel, cheerfully over their heads, but determined to do it well and with gusto. A few years later, Eloise and her husband bought the house next door to us.
If you were born in 1909 and live to be a hundred years old, it’s likely that you will have outlived most of your contemporaries (not to mention having seen the world go from horses and buggies to automobiles to space ships). Eloise’s husband of seventy-one years passed away almost twenty years ago. Most of her friends in the latter years of her life were the friends of her children and the children of her friends. She embraced them all.
It’s a cliché to refer to someone as a force of nature. But the cliché was created for people like Eloise. She was a tall and striking woman. In her presence you could not fail to feel her energy and enthusiasm. She was once one of the nation’s leading female professional bowlers. She refused to be held back by customs that discriminated against women. Life threw a lot of curve balls at her, but she stood up to them and knocked most of them out of the park. She owned and operated a popular bowling alley when most women not only didn’t work outside of the home, but also didn’t own businesses. She was the first woman to be president of a state bowling association, and the first president of the Virginia association to be elected twice. She later worked in the corporate world, promoting the sport of bowling around the country. She and her husband raised two strong and capable daughters and were involved in the lives of their grandchildren and great grandchildren.
At her memorial service, several of Eloise’s grandchildren spoke of her good humor, her good example, her generosity and her unconditional love and support. They wondered how they will get on in life without her deviled eggs and salads. The congregation chuckled as each claimed to be her favorite. But mostly they told us how very much they will miss the safe harbor of her physical presence in their life.
My mother wasn’t able to attend the memorial service. News of Eloise’s passing set her back more than any broken bone or weakened heart has. She and Eloise were polar opposites in some ways. But they shared the experience and confidence of having been strong-willed, independent women at a time when it wasn’t easy to be a strong-willed, independent woman.
As for Fannie and the Kids, above, the photographer is unknown. It could have been my grandfather. The woman in the upper left is my maternal grandmother. My mother is the little girl at the left in the front row, partially obscured by the double exposure. That's her brother beside her. Her sister stands in the middle of the second row. I assume the other kids were neighbors, happy to ham it up for the camera.