Thursday, December 29, 2011

Behind the Smile

"Always wear a smile. 
The gift of life will then be yours to give."
~Rabbi Nachman~

There's a lot going on in Mona Lisa's head. Don't you think? The same can be said of all women. (Not sure about men. I'm not one!)

After pondering the life of Hannah and Thomas Earles' eleventh and last child, Margaret, it hit me why I was having such a hard time getting into her head and figuring her out.

She and I, if we were to sit and to talk, and we have, could relate so well. When I looked at the details available to me of her life she seems like a very ordinary woman who lived a very normal life. But then I noticed two contradictory entries on the 1900 and 1910 census for her and her family with Michael Hussey, and I started to see, better yet to feel her soul; what's going on behind her eyes.

I won't bore you with the details of dates and names of children and where they were born and under what circumstances. But here's a brief overview:

  • Margaret and Michael were married and had their first child in 1882. Yes, the same year for both, nine months apart. Was it a shotgun wedding? Probably, say my instincts.
  • By 1900 they had eight children, only six of whom were still living. Besides Edward there was another death of another child, a little girl who lived a few days after birth.
  • The 1910 census says they have eight children with seven living.  

Either someone wrote down the wrong figure or a child was resurrected from the dead!

This discrepancy bothered me for over a week. Yes, I understand the possibility for human error. But the hand-writing is so clear on both records. My conclusion? 

Margaret was doing a Betsy! 

The more I contemplated her life and saw what she had to deal with the more sense her frame of mind made to me. She was answering questions while her mind was on other things, more important things. Catch her in a mistake and you'd get that look that says, "Wait a minute. What?" And she'd laugh at the private joke that if said aloud would prove to the world that she shouldn't be put in charge of things unless the outcome wasn't too important. But she'd take on more and more assignments, juggling all the way.

Our little talks, Margaret's and mine, have become pretty funny. They are just like all of my conversations with my women friends. We're not crazy, we women who mix up our children's names or stare blankly at you when you ask if we "remember when" when you recount a favorite memory of one of them, and for all the tea in China we don't know what you're talking about. We're just dealing with the incessant tornado in our heads that's whipping up and swirling around information that gets harder and harder to grasp as the winds of life deposit more and more of what others deem important and necessary for us to remember and to act on.

Margaret. I see her saying, "Bring it on. What more could happen?" as her husband dies a month after the Stock Market Crash of 1929. "Everyone has to die. Now's as good a time as ever!" 

She really makes me laugh with her and for all of the women of the world who seem so normal..until you sit down and they open up about how utterly ridiculous (and good) their lives are. They may be fulfilled or not, but one thing seems consistent with all of them. Those with a sense of humor, even though life throws them punch after punch, they eventually get to that place where, if you get them together with other women, they'll admit they're a bit nuts!

I had one final chuckle as I looked at the 1930 census, the only census that asked:

"Do you own a radio?"

Thank goodness Margaret did! I picture her sitting in front of it listening to updates on the War and the Depression. At least she wasn't in it alone anymore! Her world was expanded. There were people out there! There was a world outside of her little family. I liked that she was still "head of household" and that two of her children lived with her. They worked at the lumberyard. She didn't. I'll bet she wanted to, just to keep busy. But that would require bookkeeping or filling orders, both of which demand more than people skills. Funny how math and organizational skills fly out the window when there's someone interesting to talk to standing in front of you.  

I imagine Ruth and Thomas coming home, seeing her in front of the radio, rocking her 65-year-old body as she listened. They'd ask her what's new and she'd update them on the latest. 

But ask her where she put her glasses or if she'd checked the mail, and be persistent enough and WWIII would start in her head.

But she'd just smile her smile and ask, 
"Whad'ya say?"


  1. She sounds like my kind of Lady! I love the way you make them come to life like they are here now!
    You make me want to go back thought the genealogy list I have and ponder over the people I DIDN'T know in my lifetime..



  2. HAHA! Jane! I really look forward to getting to them better and in the end knowing myself better, too. It's very rewarding to me. But who to do next? The Earles are history now! We'll see.

  3. You do make the come to life, and that is what is cool about your passion with this.

  4. Bill, true, I have a passion for the work, but it has definitely morphed into something very meaningful in and for my life. You know I can't WAIT to move on to the next family! Thanks for enjoying them along with me!


What do you think? I'd love to know.