Wife and Mother
(b. 27 Nov. 1889; d. 16 Feb. 1976)
by Helen Erwin Campbell


My mother did not have an outgoing, effervescent personality, but was quiet and somewhat passive. She did what needed to be done and didn't ask for fanfare. Mom was there when we needed her, at least as far as she understood our needs. She had been an obedient daughter, a pliant wife, and a devoted mother. She didn't complain about hard work or lack of money, at least not to her children. When one of us grumbled about not having enough money for something we thought important at that moment, her usual

 answer was, "Oh things will be better another year."

Mom loved babies and small children, as well as the very young of all the species: baby chicks, the new calves, the squealing piglets, the fluffy goslings. Once when she and I were out in the field, she picked up a small toad and handed it to me. "Helen, look at this. Isn't it cute?" I carried it around in my shirt pocket for a while and then let it loose.

She liked growing things, flowers as well as vegetables for the table, and she had a talent for raising chickens. I considered her a good cook, particularly considering her often limited pantry. I remember the wonderful pies she made, but her cakes usually fell, which frustrated her. But I think any cook would have trouble baking a cake in the oven of a wood stove with its uncertain evenness of temperature. I don't recall ever seeing her with a cookbook. She used the a-pinch-of-this-and-a-pinch-of-that method.

I think her children were more important to her than anything else in her life. Some of the hidden reasons for Dad's periodic verbal tirades might have been the jealousy he felt for the interest and attention she gave to one or another of us. Mostly she didn't fight back at Dad, but she did have her limits. Bud remembered an incident after they'd moved to California when Mom had just set a bowl of fried potatoes on the table for the noon meal during one of Dad's verbal temper tantrums. He kept up his string of verbal abuse. She suddenly picked up the dish of potatoes and threw the contents in Dad's face. He looked surprised and stopped talking. Bud said there was a longer period of time between that incident and his next temper spell.

After I'd had two children, I once asked Mom how she managed raising eight. She said, "With just two I was busy all the time, and with five or six more I was still busy all the time. No difference."

Mom thought of Mother's Day as an important holiday. We learned that we could slip up on her birthday, or even Christmas, but she was hurt if she didn't hear from each of us on Mother's Day. "You have only one mother," she would write. She wanted merely a simple card or letter - just an acknowledgment.

One of her great pleasures during her adult life was the correspondence she carried on with her children, various relatives, and her many friends. She wrote good letters. She didn't always spell correctly, but you could always tell what she meant. She kept us, her children, informed of events in the lives of our siblings, as we seemed not always to have enough time to write to each other.

When my brother Bud served as a Marine in the South Pacific during World War II, he wrote home at least once a week and got as many or more letters in return. She'd write a four-or-five--page letter about what was happening at home: the sow having little pigs, the new calf, the corn crop, or the chickens. He found her letters not only a welcome link with home, but entertaining as well, and she hadn't left the farm.

Mom liked to write letters, but she also liked to receive them. If she wrote to someone and didn't get a letter back, she'd quit writing and say, "If they don't have time to write, they don't have time to read, so I won't write any more either."

I think she made an exception to that rule with her children. Many of her letters to me started out, "Seems like a long time since I heard from you. I'm sure I wrote you last, but..."

One election day my brother Clifford offered to take Mom to the polls to cast her vote. She refused. Voting didn't interest her. She had turned thirty­one in 1920, the year the Nineteenth Amendment gave the vote to the female population, but she indicated to him she didn't think of this as a necessary privilege for women. Flossie believed she had made one exception when she voted for Dwight D. Eisenhower for President.

Mom didn't know much about world politics, the latest books, or women's fashions. Those things didn't interest her. She worked at being a good wife, mother, and grandmother, and I think she succeeded very well.