Lady of the Lake

Mar 11th
Posted by shambo  as Growing up, History, Relationships, Women

Genny - circa 1941

Let me say this about that.

Genny, as she was called by her parents Ed and Pearle, was born in 1923 in Buchanan, Virginia, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.  While Ed was a muscular man, standing a few inches over 6 feet tall, Pearle was a short rotund woman whose world revolved around caring for Ed, Genny, her brother and two sisters.  Much of Genny’s childhood was spent during the ‘Great Depression’ in this backwater farming community where every waking moment was spent avoiding starvation.  There were no paying jobs available to anyone, so Pearle and the four kids spent most of their time tending the garden and canning what they grew there, as well as the fruit from their pear and apple trees.  Ed supplied wild meat with his shotgun and small fish pulled from the nearby James River.  It was a hard life, but manageable to anyone who was willing to work equally hard.

By the time Genny graduated from Buchanan High School, she had grown into a striking young woman, who had taken her statuesque build and dark hair from her father’s side of the family.  She probably could have had her pick of any available young male – had there been any around.  World War II was in full swing and most men were in Europe or the Pacific.  As most of the traditional labor pool was in uniform, women picked up the slack in factories around America, churning out equipment and weapons for the war effort.

Considering she was smart, easy on the eye, and had a work ethic born out of a depression-era Appalachian Mountain upbringing, she had little trouble finding work a couple of hundred miles up the road at the Martin Aircraft Company.  At Martin’s Middle River plant, Genny would bind up her raven locks in a kerchief, put on her leather gloves and build B-26 Marauder bombers, alongside a few thousand other ‘Rosie-the-Riveters’.

Genny – my Mom – and all those other women, defined the term ‘True Grit’.  She told me years later that the ladies were periodically marched from the assembly line to the tarmac to watch test pilots take one of the new Marauders up for a test flight.  She said the women would hold each other as the planes gathered speed down the runway, knowing that the life of the pilot was hanging on the quality of the work they had done a few days earlier.  “They didn’t all make it” she told me. When there was a crash, the women …were sent back to the assembly line, even as the plane and it’s pilot were still burning at the end of the runway.  Due to a poor design, the pilots had nicknamed the B-26 the “Widow Maker” and plant-side crashes were not uncommon.  My Mom told me that some of the women would become delirious when told they would have to watch another test flight.  She and the other ladies would stand aside as a few men in uniform would escort the hysterical women out of the plant, never to be seen again.

I was in my twenties when Ed, my grandfather, told me a story that epitomizes the character of a woman who had survived such a calloused life.  In 1946, my Mom and Dad had moved back to Buchanan.  Ed had  found a job for my Dad in the local rock quarry where he operated a steam shovel.  One day my Mom was at home preparing lunch and had put me, her one-year old son, in a crib next to a window.  There were only two rooms in the second-story walk-up, and as air conditioning was unheard of, the windows were open, although covered by screens.  One-year old boys like to climb – and climb I did.  Out of the crib, and up onto the windowsill, I found myself blocked by the screen.  With only a modicum of pressure, I pushed out the screen and proceeded to fall twenty-five feet into a rose bush next to the house.

My Mom ran downstairs and gathered up her unconscious baby and headed to the village doctor’s house a half mile down the road.  Initially, it looked pretty bad so the doctor instructed a neighbor to fetch my Dad and Grandfather from the rock quarry.  When my Dad arrived, I was still unconscious and there was blood everywhere – spewing from the hundred cuts produced by the thorns on the rose bush.  As my Grandfather tells the story, my Dad entered the room and turned an odd shade of grey.  My Dad was a ‘real man’, with equal parts red-blood cells and testosterone pumping through his veins, but when he saw the shape I was in, he passed out and dropped to the floor like he had been hit in the back of the head with a tire iron.

When the blood was cleaned up, the doctor found I had no problems, save a few hundred scratches from the thorns.  My Dad, however, needed more medical attention than I did.  As for my Mom, she simply wrapped me up in a blanket, carried me back home and calmly continued making lunch for me and my still-woozy Dad.

She was a chunk of granite, covered with a satin exterior.

Life got no easier for Genny.  A few years later she was diagnosed with the most crippling type of rheumatoid arthritis.  As years passed, her condition deteriorated so badly that she was frequently hospitalized, sometimes for months at a time.  My Dad tried to keep up, but after a few years, we were abandoned by the insurance companies and we lost everything.  We moved into my other grandfather’s house in Tennessee for a year until we were able to rent half of a small duplex a few blocks away.

My dad was working three jobs and my younger brother and I both had jobs after school.  This left my Mom alone and bedridden most of the time.  She was able to get through the very rough patches with the help of the lady who lived in the other half of the duplex.  Sister Lucy was an eighty-something year old Catholic nun who was one of the purest souls I have ever met.  She had spent her life tending to the needs of her flock’s mind, body and soul and treated us the same way.  One day she presented my Mom with an 1830 edition of Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake.  Given that the book was published three decades before the Civil War it was in rough shape, but meant a lot to my Mom who treasured it as a symbol of the kindness of a fellow human being.

The following year, my Dad moved us into a small house, made affordable due to the undesirability of the neighborhood.  My kid brother and I even began to feel everything was finally beginning to work out for us.  That is until just two months after we moved in, a large truck pulled up in front of the house, accompanied by a police car.  We watched as a group of men loaded every possession we had into the truck.  As one of the men loaded my little brother’s bicycle into the truck, my Mom lost it.

It was as if every bad thing that had ever happened to her – every bad thing that she found the courage to survive – came crashing down on her.   She had lost the will to fight a never ending river of bad health, poverty and hopelessness.  My Dad fared no better and passed away a few years later.  That day, we ceased to be a family.

Mom ignored my constant pleas to move in with me and chose instead to reside in a government assisted living facility overlooking the Cape Fear River in North Carolina.  She said she did not want to be a burden and was terrified that her medical bills would force me into financial ruin as it had my Dad. For years I would secretly send her money in cash so as not to lose her eligibility for medical benefits.  With this money, she was able to afford the few simple comforts she allowed herself.

Her condition continued to degrade until one day I received a phone call that urged me to get to her bedside as soon as possible.  I arrived to find her in intensive care.  The doctors had exhausted all options for treatment and were trying just to make her comfortable.  She was dying and she knew it.  I sat on the edge of her bed, holding her hand for her last few minutes.  Then she looked at me and said something I had never heard her say.  Through all her physical pain; through all her misfortune; through the Great Depression and a World War; through all the poverty, disappointment, and heartbreak I never heard her say it.  She said “I’m scared”.    And with that, she closed her eyes and crossed to the other side.

A few weeks later my brother and I  went to her quarters at the assisted living facility to gather her few possessions.  She didn’t have much - some pots and pans, a few photographs, a couple of books, and her clothes.  As we boxed her belongings, we noticed that a few dollar bills were falling out of some of the items.  A sauce pan contained two one-dollar bills.  One of her night gowns yielded three one-dollar bills.  On closer inspection, we found one dollar bills in pillow cases, under seat cushions, between the pages of books, in house slippers and under lamps.  This woman, even after half a century of destitution and hoplessness, was still saving for a rainy day.  Some of the money I had sent to make her life a little more comfortable was being saved so that she could leave her boys ‘a little something’.  My brother and I were the recepients of an inheritance of $23.

We  gave most of her belongs to charity but there was one thing I wanted to keep.  It was the copy of “Lady of the Lake” that Sister Lucy, the old Catholic nun had given her.  Soon after my mother’s death, I received an assignment to work in Asia.  I boxed up a lot of my belongs, including the book, and stored them away.  And that is where they stayed for most of the next twenty years.

Recently, my wife and I purchased a new house and we finally had enough room to unpack all of the belongings collected during our international travels and ex-patriot assignments.  We had amassed quite a collection of books since we both enjoyed reading and never disgarded a single book.  We converted one room in the new house to a library and had shelves built from floor to ceiling.  As we were unpacking the boxes of books, I ran across the old copy of the “Lady of the Lake”, which was in pretty good shape considering it had spent nearly a quarter century in a cardboard box.   I was telling my wife the story of how I came to own the book and was gingerly flipping through a few pages when a one dollar bill fell to the floor.

Twenty-three years after she passed away, this incredible woman who was my Mom was still trying to provide for her son.

And, that’s all I have to say about that.










  1. shadow hacker  15th September 2022  

  2.  18th July 2014  

    Thank you for the auspicious writeup. It if truth be told was once a leisure account it.
    Glance advanced to far delivered agreeable from you!
    However, how can we communicate?

  3. peggy barbaris  25th May 2013  

    WOW!! what a tribute from a loving son to his mom. Thank you for sharing this with me.

  4. vertragsfreie handys  17th March 2012  

    I take my hat off to the author of this article. Well done.

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