Childless Mother of Nine
© Copyright 2023 by Abbie Creed
Photo courtesy of the author.
My mother died when I was not quite three years old, four days after giving birth to my baby sister Rosemary. My mother was well known at the hospital since this was her ninth delivery in 18 years. The baby was lovingly cared for by the good sisters who operated the hospital, for the next 8 months.
My grandfather James, who lived with us, immediately thought of Liza. She had helped him take care of my dad and his sister after their mother died. Liza was called into service and became the mother of nine children. She also was cook, laundress, housekeeper, chief law enforcement officer, homework supervisor, kisser of “boo-boo’s,” wiper of tears, and the world’s best “hugger.” She handled it all with the greatest of ease. At the same time, she was acting as mentor, healer and best friend to my aunt, my dad’s only sibling, who was slowly recovering from a total nervous breakdown.
Aunt Mary Agnes and Uncle John had lived in Chicago and had been financially well off. They had often helped my mom and dad during some tough times but lost everything in the stock market crash and as many families had to do, they moved in with my family until Uncle John could find work.
When Rosemary, the baby, started crawling and pulling up, it was time for her to come home from the hospital. My dad thought it would be best for my Aunt Irene and Uncle George to take Rosemary and raise her as their own child. Aunt Irene was my mother’s sister who had no children and had equipped a nursery in anticipation for the big homecoming. When the day came, Liza told my dad that “Ms. Aline, would not want her children separated.” He agreed with Lisa and baby Rosemary joined her eight siblings and extended family under the care of her big sister Margaret, who was in high school, Aunt Mary Agnes, and Liza.
When Rosemary and I were school age, it would not be unusual at all, on summer nights to see a kitchen full of neighbor kids bringing a cup of sugar or another ingredient needed to make candy. Liza taught us how to make pull candy. Any child could take home the amount of candy he or she could pull. Sometimes, the lesson of the night might be making chocolate fudge. We learned that it had been cooked enough, when a teaspoon dropped into a cup of cold water, made a small ball. Then it was quickly removed to a buttered dish for setting up and cooling. First servings were eaten, but kids always had a few pieces to take home to show off their talents.
Liza was known and loved by all the neighbors. She was supervisor of summer activities for all the children who played around our house. She taught, corrected, and sent home anyone who was breaking the rules. My aunt taught us how to embroider and Liza taught us how to knit using pick-up-sticks.
My dad had developed Parkinson Disease, so the doctor often came to check on him. The priest from our church came every Friday to visit him and he could always count on stopping by Liza’s kitchen for a cup of coffee and short visit.When I was 11 years old, dad died. My mother’s death at such a young age had taken a toll on my dad, and his sons
Photo courtesy of the author.
Liza decided that she wanted to join the same church where my family attended. The priest who came to our house was happy to help her get her wish. Uncle John was her godfather for the occasion. The entire family attended her baptism, and we had a good laugh when Uncle John told Liza that she had to behave herself because he was now responsible for keeping her on the straight and narrow path.
I had so many fears growing up. I was afraid of dogs, the dark, heights, death, but especially, terribly afraid of storms. Liza gave me something to cling to. She said, “If there is enough blue in the sky to make a man’s shirt, it is not going to storm.” I had missed many fun times because I was so afraid that because it was cloudy, it would storm. After she told me that, I can remember looking up at the sky and piecing the parts of a man’s shirt out of the blue, and I knew if there was enough blue, that I could depend on it not to storm, because Liza said so.
I was the 8th of nine children. After Dad died and the war was over, the Landlord sold the house to a returning G.I., and some of my siblings had married, my aunt and uncle moved taking me, my younger sister, the baby of the family, and my grandfather, who was her father, to live in an apartment. My brother talked Liza into retiring. She lived in a little shack with a friend.
The family stayed in touch with Liza and visited her in her little shack on stilts, many times. Liza died when I was a teenager. I will never forget her funeral. Our entire family went to the funeral home. My five brothers and my dad’s best friend were her six pallbearers. Liza was the first African American whose funeral was from our church. She was buried in the Cemetery where my parents and siblings are buried. Because she was African American, there could not be a monument on her grave.
Liza’s funeral service was packed. She was loved by everyone, and they came to show it. I think I forgot to mention that my family is white, and Liza is black. I am not sure we ever thought about seeing the difference in the color of our skin. Liza was one of the family. She loved us and we and all our friends and neighbors loved her. May she be forever blessed and remembered for the good that she did and for all the wonderful lessons she taught, but most endearingly, for being the loving mother of nine!
Note: Fast forward from 1949 to 2022. It was during the Pandemic that I wrote this story about Liza. I am the only living member of the family in this story. I am 92 years old and was the 8th of the nine children. My daughter has researched Liza and found her to have been born on a plantation in Columbus, Georgia and moved to Louisville as a young woman. Her father is listed as the plantation owner. My children and their cousins who are offspring of the nine children, have heard stories about Liza firsthand from their parents many times. After reading my version of the story and locating Liza’s grave, we are all fascinated to find that she is buried directly across the road from my parents’ graves. My son visited the cemetery office to inquire about putting a stone marker on her grave. He was told that someone must have requested that special space as that would normally not be where she would be buried. My son put a picture of a stone designed exactly like those of my parents, on our family ancestry page on Facebook. My children and many of the nieces and nephews eagerly responded and are funding a monument for Liza. When it is in place, the families are going to meet at the cemetery for a prayer service in her honor.