History... In Person

A World of Folklore

Keynotes & Workshops

Books & Downloads

Mary Ellis mom

My Mother's Eulogy 

 

Our mother was a hurricane of love!

 

Our mother was a twisting tornado of love!

 

Our mother was a tempestuous thunderstorm of love!

 

Our mother was a great wooly blizzard that could blanket the earth with her love leaving a deep, quiet, all encompassing pure, white blanket of love 

that would calm and quiet everyone within the cloud of her love.

 

We are here today to mourn our terrible loss, to shed some tears and grieve together, but we are also here to celebrate, 

to celebrate her love, 

to cherish her love, 

to share her love with each other and 

to carry that love deep in our hearts 

to share with the world.

 

My wife must know how much I love her, and I know she loves me, yet I think she also knows that no one else can ever love you as deeply as your mother, as completely and deeply as our mother has loved everyone in this room. If I had one percent of her love I would, I do, feel overwhelmed with that love.

 

Mary Lee Boden Ellis was everyone’s mother! While we were growing up, and long after her five boys left home, she was always welcoming stray children into her home. She often joked that she raised six boys if you include our dad, and I think Doug would agree that she actually raised at least seven boys if you include him! She was everyone’s mother, sister, friend, grandmother and was always there for anyone who needed her.

 

I will share with you some of my stories, my memories, and I hope you will hear a story that reminds you of a story that you will share.

 

She was born on February 6th, 1942 on the family farm in Wharton Ohio. She was the eleventh child… and sorry Aunt Mable and Uncle Bob, but your parents did save the best for last! Her parents, Quentin Boden and Edith Daum Boden were both of good German stock. Our family has been here since before the American Revolution, Our ancestors fought in every major war including the revolution and the civil war. Bodens and Daums crossed the Allegheny Mountains into Ohio to open the western wilderness when Ohio was that wilderness, from the days of Johnny Appleseed. As Grandma Boden once told me, mom’s great-great-great-great grandma was so hot Johnny Appleseed took one look at her and had to sleep in the snow to cool off! One look at these pictures of our mom when she was younger, or pictures of Grandma Boden when she was young, and you can believe it! Is that too weird that I think my grandma and my mom were hot?

 

I share this memory because it was not until later, when I lived with Grandma Boden near the end her life, and my mother was there almost every day taking care of her mother, it wasn’t until I had the great good fortune to spend so much time with both of them that I realized how much they were alike. What I loved the most about grandma was also what I loved about my mother. What was best and beautiful in our grandmother, also lived in our mother; my hope is that this strength and beauty will also live in my daughters, nieces and nephew… and this love will be passed on to their children.

 

One of the only stories I know from her early childhood, (and I am hoping her brother or sister might share another) is the story about her hatred of bananas. Someone was being mean to Aunt Reva, her older sister, and mom knew it was not fair. She was upset and whoever it was wanted to comfort her by giving her a banana. She refused to eat it. They tried to force her, she did not want that banana. She has not eaten a banana since then, but ironically she makes the best banana pudding you will ever eat! And she made that pudding the other day as one of the last meals she made for us.

mom on horse

There is also a great photo of her on a pony wearing a cowgirl suit. As a kid I loved that photo. I was a little disappointed to hear that she did not have her own pony, but there was this guy who travelled around and you paid him to take a picture of your child on that horse, wearing his costume. I have since seen that same pony with a dozen different little girls each riding it like it was their little pony.

 

When she was a teenager she met our father. There is a sweet story I have heard from both of them. My dad had high aspirations to be a basketball star. He played all through high school. Many nights while he was shooting free throws, mom would stand under the hoop and rebound, retrieve the ball and throw it back to him. I imagine the clanking of the ball against the backboard, the swoosh of the net when he hit one, and mom throwing him the ball 100 times each night. I can only imagine the conversation, the sweet thoughts, dreams they built and future plans they discussed, swoosh, while she rebounded 100 free throws every night. 

 

They were married in February 1959, and Bruce was born in July the same year, you do the math. Lee was born 11 months later. I came two years after Lee almost to the day and Gary was born less than 15 months after me. So you know what our parents were doing in the early sixties, changing diapers! Lots of diapers! Little Barry was born in the early 70’s and for years he believed he was adopted!

 

But our mom was everybody’s mom, Branson, Ray, Ellis, Gilliam, Tucker, Lee, Duvall, Campbell, Cunningham, Maddox, VanCamp, Harlan, it did not matter what your name was, if you showed up at meal time you were fed. If one of you adopted children have a story about one kindness my mother did for you I do hope a few of your will share.

 

We grew a garden that literally fed half the neighborhood. I remember one time we brought home so many watermelon that we completely covered the backyard with melons and invited everybody for blocks around to take home as much as they could carry. 

 

We canned and froze vegetables, cleaned fish and skinned rabbits, raccoons, and muskrats. We never felt poor, just the opposite, we knew abundance. We grew, hunted or fished for much of our food. It wasn’t until years later I realized how poor we were, (and you are supposed to say, “How poor were you?”) We were so poor… “How poor were you?” I wore hand-me-downs, of hand-me-downs that were handed down. Our Aunt Mable had boys about the same ages as Bruce and Lee so they received hand-me downs Tony and Mike had worn, they wore them out, then I wore them! We were so poor, “How Poor were you?” Many Friday nights we had beans and corn bread, and thankfully we ate beans on Friday night so we did not toot up a storm at school. We were so poor, “How poor were you?” We only got one pair of shoes each year, converse all-stars most years, and by the end of the school year they were so wore out we went barefoot most of the summer out of necessity. 

 

Again, we never felt like we were poor. It wasn’t until years later when I applied to college and had to fill out student financial aid forms that I realized that our dad made less than $10,000 a year when I was a teenager. I am sure it was less when I was younger. And then many years after that I learned that most weeks mom received only half of dad’s paycheck to pay all of the bills. I do not know how she did it! How did she keep us fed and clothed, pay the utilities and keep us healthy and happy on a few thousand dollars a year? Loaves and fishes, man, Loaves and fishes. Not a biblical intervention, but free day old bread from our uncles who worked at the Tasty bread bakery… and we caught our own damn fishes!

 

AND, AND, she somehow found a way to help feed half the neighborhood! She always began shopping for Christmas in January so she had lots of presents for everybody, many of them hand-made and most of them useful, needed items, like school supplies or blankets she had crocheted! For halloween she always gave out school supplies, though she always had candy around for the grandkids when they came to visit!

 

Last fall, my wife and I celebrated our 25th anniversary. After the party most of the family was hanging out around the campfire in our back yard, drinking and telling stories like these, as well as some stories about our drunken, drug-addled adolescents. (Stories I will not repeat here.) I was watching mom as we took turns laughing and telling one troublesome tale after another. Mom did not look happy. I asked her the next morning what she thought of the stories. She mumbled something about not liking them. When I pressed her, she said she hated the stories. I asked why? She said it made her feel like a bad mother. I said, “No, mom, just the opposite. We survived because of you. How many of our friends are dead, fried, or in jail? The only reason we survived was because you had our back, you were watching over us, you were our guardian angel. We survived those tumultuous years because of you.”

 

When the boys were mostly grown and starting to move out of the house. Mom got her first job outside of the house, YES, she is the best example of that old adage that a housewife does have a full-time job. Raising her boys was the most important job she ever held. Her gifts and skills as a mother was an inspiration to all who knew her. But with us grown up and gone, she went to work. First taking care of one sweet little old lady, Dorothy Disher. I would sometimes visit mom at work and read my poetry to Mrs. Disher, a retired teacher. Mrs. Disher once told me that she believed that in all of her years of teaching she thought more old souls were being born at this time. She also called our mother a bodhisattva, an enlightened soul who has chosen to delay her journey to heaven so she can help others achieve enlightenment. 

 

My mother eventually became a certified nurses assistant. My mother always struggled with school and was embarrassed about her spelling, yet she struggled and persevered to earn that certification. I remember I was a biology major in college and we discussed DNA, before most folks knew what it was, long before CSI made it a household word, and I was impressed that my mother knew it was deoxyribonucleic acid. I was very proud of her when she passed her test.

 

Her job and her car gave her a degree of freedom she had never known. She bought herself a washing machine and inherited a drier from her mom. She had hand washed clothes with her old wringer washing machine for many years and always hung them out on the line to dry.

 

She worked for more than 25 years taking care of the elderly. Many of the folks she cared for did not have close family and considered our mother a saint. They gave her flowers and gifts and she gave them a daily dose of dignity and love. The women she worked with quickly became family. And though my mom retired more than 10 years ago, many of those women she worked with are here today, they became family.

Mom and Dad w ford small

When my father left, it broke her heart, broke her spirit. She was bitter and inconsolable. I had been offered three teaching jobs that year and choose to come home, to give back to my neighborhood. My father played his cards well. He arranged for me to move in with his mother, just down the street, and knowing I was now there to catch her, he left my mom almost the same day I moved in. It was a very difficult year. I cannot count the number of nights I held my mother and she cried and cried on my shoulder. I thought I was coming home to teach, like Welcome Back Kotter, but I was really there to catch my mom when she fell, to hold her and help her understand it would eventually be alright. Honestly, without him to beat her down and lie and cheat, she truly was better off, but it took her a long time to realize that.

 

I love my father. I know that they were, for a long time, very much in love. But I will also say our dad was not always kind to our mother… and that is all I will say here. But the way he left crushed her. And it took years for her to recover.

 

She took in a number of stray dogs, I mean boy friends. When I called her on this, she said she did not want to be alone. When I said, you would be better off alone than with one of these fools. She did not agree.

 

Then she met Doug. We love you Doug. Well, Doug was different, he had been a part of the family for a number of years. His first wife and two children rented an apartment from our parents. Mom helped them establish a household and helped to raise little Dougie and Dawn. I baby sat Dougie and Dawny. Mom took them under her wings and more than renters, they became family. I wonder if the folks who rented from our parents realized what a deal they got, beyond utilities they also got another mother to help them along. A few years later Kim and Doug divorced. Dad left mom. A few years after that mom and Doug began to strike up something more than a friendship. It is hard to believe that was more than 25 years ago.

 

Racing through those more recent years, Mom and Doug got a boat out at Lost Peninsula. They got two boats. Mom became very involved with the River View Yacht Club. Every week she made dozens of bubba burgers for the yacht club and prepared all of their baked potatoes. Her boat friends from the Lost Peninsula were and are the truest friends anyone could ever want. If you were here for the Satin Gavel Service last night then you know how important these friendships were. I think it very significant that near the end she spent every day she was able out at the boat surrounded by the laughter of these friends.

 

Bowling was also a very important part of her life. From hitting 300 in the PTA league to the countless weeknights she was bar bowling. And these girls also became family. It was one of these friends who recognized that mother was not well and took her to the hospital. And another who crocheted a blanket that mom wore every day and every night until the end. Every circle our mother moved in quickly became family to her.

 

When mom was diagnosed with Cancer the outpouring of love, and food and caring and food and visitors and food was overwhelming. Mom had nursed several of her friends through cancer. She had seen the devastating effects of chemotherapy. There is one friend here today who told me how mom took her to every appointment and held her hand when the treatment was over. This woman’s family was not available, well, mom became her family. My mother and I were very much involved with the slow descent of Grandma Boden. We had often discussed how horrible it was for everyone around her to watch this slow decline, but it was especially hard for Grandma Boden to live as a complete invalid. Mom was very clear she did not want to linger. My daughter Lily did the research and showed us all how chemo and radiation might extend her life but it would not improve the quality of her life, just the opposite. An aggressive treatment would extend her life as an invalid while also reducing the quality of the life she had left. The brothers discussed this at length and eventually we all agreed with mom, palliative care. Let us make her comfortable, enjoy her final days and celebrate every day as if it could be the last. We went to the boat almost every day. We went fishing. We made tacos. We went out for ice cream for lunch. We cried. We told stories. We cried some more. Our mother had planned her funeral years ago. She is the poster child for dying with dignity.

 

But the real heroes here are our cousin Jai and Aunt Mable, mom’s older sister. They were already planning to come for a few weeks around the family reunion, as they do every year, but as soon as they heard about the terminal brain tumors, they dropped everything and came. Quickly, Jai became the primary care giver, managing every little detail, making sure mom got her meds on time, got to the doctors on time, got fed, dressed and bathed. We really could not have done it without you Jai. You are the angel here in this story. Because of you we could keep mom in her home until the end. Because of you we could make sure mom was comfortable and her final days were more than just pleasant, more than tolerable, but truly special. Mom was able to die in her home with dignity because of you. We can never thank you enough, but I will say it again. Thank you Jai. Thank you Aunt Mable. I will write it on the chalk board 100 times. Thank Jai, Thank you Aunt Mable.

 

One day while I was lifting mom out of her chair so we could get her to the bathroom, mom complained. She did like it. She did not like it that her kids had to take care of her in this way. I said, “Mom, if I took care of you like this for the next 70 years I could not begin to pay you back for all of the care you have given to others; the way you have taken care of every one around you, it is okay to let someone take care of you for a while.” 

 

Sadly her time was far too short. Glad that once the tumors were discovered she did not suffer long. Grateful that we were all able to spend much of the summer with her. All five of her boys were together more the past several weeks than we had been in years. She always said what she wanted most was to have her boys around her. We were all here most of the summer… until the end. 

 

Our mother has left us. Our mother is gone. No one will ever love you like your mother. Please know we love you. We all know how much you loved us. Our mother went to heaven to be with her Lord.

 

I know right now that the Bodens are having a party in heaven. They are telling bad jokes and teasing each other as Bodens are want to do, but I am sure that the first thing my momma did when she got to heaven was to give her momma a big warm hug. And the first thing I will do when I get to heaven, if I get there, is to give my momma a hug. We miss you momma. We will all see you in the sweet by and by.

 

Is there a place where there isn’t any trouble?

 

I believe there is…

You cannot get there by a boat or train,

 

It is far behind the moon and far beyond the rain… (start singing) Somewhere Over The Rainbow....

 

HISTORY... In Person

Invite history's greatest minds to your school or conference, Chautauqua or museum.

audubon1 darwin1 civilwar1
poe1 whitman1 Grimm2