Monday, December 11, 2006

Ellen Mae Woodford

Ellen Mae Woodford was born on October 28th, 1927. She had a difficult childhood, not only because she was raised during the depression, but also because she was from a broken home. I still don't know a lot of the details, but I do know that it fell on her to raise her younger siblings and that her sister Bev lived with her for some time after Ellen married.

I guess that the one thing that was discussed this past week was that she believed in family. In a big way. All told, she had 8 kids of her own (one of which was premature and did not survive beyond a few days).

She is survived by all but 2 of the eight children. They came in 2 batches with almost 10 years in between. There were 7 girls and one boy.

Some would say though that all of the kids in the neighborhood were hers too. She babysat for local families and ran the daycare at several churches. I'm sure you've all met someone who was great with kids, who could get them to behave and someone that they would listen to when all else failed. That was my mother-in-law.

I met Ellen in December 1984 3 days before I married her long-haired daughter. Before the day was out, she knew about my siblings, my parents, their siblings and parents; as well as how and where I was raised, etc. Her appetite for family history was voracious - and she remembered it all. If I mentioned someone was ill, the next time we talked (maybe months later) she would ask specifically about that person, their illness, etc. Her memory was amazing.

She rarely met a stranger. During a trip overseas to see us, she met a lady on the airplane that she had not seen since, but corresponded with for years afterward. When I was working swings and mids she would often get up early and walk on-base to get breakfast and would sit down with people (especially those with babies) and introduce herself and ask about them. For months after she left people would ask after my mother-in-law. Lee Greenwood came to Crete to put on a USO show while she was visiting us there. After the show MIL somehow managed to walk up and introduce herself to him and chatted for a few minutes. She didn't know who he was as she didn't listen to the radio and the only kind of music she professed any interest in was gospel, but she frequently mentioned in later years that she liked him and enjoyed the show. (I was in bed sleeping off a mid-shift at the time. She did this on her own.)

Her trip to visit us was an amazing thing unto itself. Ellen was a homemaker whose only income was her babysitting. But somehow she saved her money and made a trip to Crete to visit us after my daughter was born. She had made earlier trips to England and California, all by herself and all with her babysitting money. She did not have a driver's license as she was afraid to and had to be driven everywhere she went. My wife tells me that the only reason her dad bought her a car when she turned 16 was so that he could make her take Ellen everywhere she wanted to go relieving him of the chore.

Now I don't want to imply that she was a saint. I have mentioned elsewhere that I have had to mediate between my wife and my mother-in-law. Her magic with kids didn't always work with her own kids. Most of her kids have had some emotional problems of some sort and I believe that she did too. She also would often criticize the grandchild in her sight and praise the ones out of sight. (so, sometimes our kids were pariahs and sometimes they were saints!) Also, for many years if my wife complained about me to her mother, her mother would ask my wife what had she done wrong. My wife used to complain bitterly that she wished her mother would take her side in an argument instead of mine.

No one is perfect. I think that it is a mistake to deify someone after they pass away. You love someone despite their failings, knowing it takes all parts to make the whole. The wholeness of spirit that was Ellen lives on in each of us that knew her, and will continue to do so as long as we remember her. The following is quoted from the guestbook on Ellen's obituary in the Kansas City Star:

My family first met Ellen 3 years ago when we moved in next door to the Woodford's. At that time, our little girl was just turning 2 years old. We threw her a big birthday bash in our front yard and Ellen, who was joyfully being pushed over by Woody in her wheelchair, brought over a Fisher Price picnic basket full of magic markers to celebrate her birthday. Lauren was thrilled! To this day, she still talks about it and plays with the picnic basket nearly every day. Through the years, Lauren always got excited when we would see Ellen sitting outside on a pretty day and she would run up to her side and just gobble up the complements that Ellen would give her, telling her how pretty and smart she was. Most recently, Lauren and I dropped by to see Ellen when she came home from the hospital and Lauren didn't really know what to think of Ellen in her hospital bed. She asked me a lot of questions about why she was in bed and why she didn't talk to her like she use to. I did my best to explain to her about the stroke that Ellen had endured. Well, two days ago, after hearing of Ellen's passing, I had to find a way to tell Lauren the sad news. I decided just to tell her that Ellen had gone to heaven. Lauren's eye's lit up and she said, "Great, I'm so glad that she doesn't have to lay down anymore and that God gave her back her voice again!"

My wife broke down and cried for the first time since her mother died after having read that. So did her other sisters to whom she was reading it.

Ellen died on Monday, December 4th at 1:30 PM central. It has to be some comfort knowing she is no longer suffering and that (if you so believe) she is now where she can once more ask you about your kids and tell you about hers.

2 deeply creased, dogeared comment(s):

Anonymous said...

Ellen had an absolutely beautiful smile. I'll bet she smiled a lot, too.

Bob said...

Every chance she got!