By Joselyn Watkins
It’s about time I wrote this down and honored my MOM Olive Adele Sullivan Joslin. Just how many readers are going to be saying this within the next two months, THANK YOU MOM?
At Mom’s funeral in 1989, a friend came up to me who had belonged to the, don’t laugh, Culture Club of Kenmore, New York, my home town and asked me, “Was it fun to live in your house?”
Oh, my, if I didn’t cry for Mom before, this question would have sent me in to orbit right there in the funeral home. Actually, I didn’t cry, I burst out with a loud laugh and said something like, “You betcha! My Mom was the most fun person in the world.”
When the four of us came in from school, the first words out of Mom’s mouth were, “What do you want to do for fun today?” Oh, there were days when we might be having company when I was tossed a dust cloth and told to get busy. But even then, the fun was just beginning with an interesting guest or two who the folks had invited for dinner. By-in-large, our fun might be roller skating, ice skating, skiing or a host of other fun activities that we could do even before homework.
In later years I learned from my older siblings that Mom donned her winter clothes and went sledding with them. By the time I came around she was quite lame.
Growing up for “Little Olive” as they called Mom was quite difficult. She had been born a healthy child and loved sports of all kinds. She said that she could out run any boy in the neighborhood, but when she was twelve she was stricken with polio.
It was in the middle of the night when she woke only to find that she could barely move and crawled to her parent’s room crying for help. The hospital was six miles away and they took her the next day to see Dr. Spaulding and Dr. Peters. Both doctors (she even remembered their names when she wrote her story at age eighty five) had not seen a case of polio except for one young boy in a community nearby. Mom said they gave her pills and her step-dad nursed her through the long painful ordeal and helped her to recover. She didn’t say much more than this, but our assumption was that she was sick about two months. Grandpa Miller, her step-dad, was a farmer, and although the doctors were puzzled as to treatment of her unknown malady, Grandpa reasoned that, “if it was a horse he would massage the horses legs with liniment. He did this three times a day. In hindsight, he probably helped her leg muscles from atrophying more than they would have without treatment.
I only know that as an adult her legs from the knees down were those of a twelve year old, like round pieces of wood and her shoe size was a five. But blessedly enough, her body from her knees up was quite normal except for the terrible limp that she always had. I could always hear her coming upstairs at night as she had a decided way of climbing stairs by putting her instep on each round of the stairs and pulling herself up by her arms on the railing. Amazingly, she was able to give birth to four healthy children. She was a person who never complained about anything except for my father’s voracious snoring.
Mom was the counter part of my father’s law practice with her ability to entertain in a lovely fashion despite her physical problem. Great-grandmother King lived with Mom’s parents for many years and had instructed the children in the finer things in life which probably enhanced mom’s entertaining skills. There was always a dinner party or, if there wasn’t one, she stirred up friends and made one happen. Dad was an extreme introvert and she was his social director. They didn’t start out that way but seemed to form a true bond when he went through law school in Buffalo. They built their lives on a shoe string. Their real connection was that they had given their lives to Christ at a Northern Baptist Church and their faith held them together. Quite a team!
Perhaps one of the most difficult things that my Mother had to overcome was her, what we would call today, abandonment issues. Unfortunately, her birth father, John Sullivan, although charming and witty, spent most of his good fortune entertaining his friends at the pub instead of providing adequately for the family. Monies were scarce and my grandmother, advised by the priest and her doctor, had the marriage annulled in the Catholic Church. Remember at that time in history divorce was only what happened to other people.
After the divorce, her birth father would come to take my mother and her brother John, on Sundays to visit the pubs so that he could show off his children. She related to me that one day he came to pick them up and she and her brother feigned that they could not find their shoes. Mom said that they knew very well where their shoes were, but they hated to go to the pubs. Loving a parent and having them be so disappointing is so traumatic to a child. To tell this story when you are in your nineties (when my mother was relating this to me) with extreme regret, was to hear a child so hurt that even at her age the scar of parental damage had never healed.
After my father died, Mom lived on her own for twenty years. Not wanting to be a burden on her children, Mom chose to sign up with the Christian Students Organization. Through this group she would rent out a room in our five bedroom home to students who were attending one of the Buffalo colleges for a small fee of $25.00 a week, or maybe it was a month. Anyway it was a nominal fee. Mom created a welcoming and comfortable home. The students called her “Mom” and were good company for her and above all shoveled the walks when it snowed. She loved the students from Viet Nam, Japan, China and South Africa like they were her own. She even let the Japanese keep their beer in the frig although she was a staunch tee-toteler!
Before our son Clayton went to Vet school, he traveled to Buffalo to be with my mother for a few days. Fortunately, he was there as mom fell in the foyer of her house and he was able to call the EMTs. When they arrived, they found her on the floor laughing. She was wedged against the front door of the house so that they couldn’t get to her. Of course she had the back of the house well secured so they literally had to break down a door to get in to help her. She had broken her femur bone on the leg where she had had a hip replaced so hanging in traction for ten weeks was the treatment decided upon. The healing never really took place so she was in a wheel chair for the rest of her life.
About this time we sold the family home and Mom went to Schofield Nursing Home in Kenmore, New York near where my brother lived. Again, she made the best of a not so good situation and made many friends in the home.
She decided that she would teach Sunday School to the residents and this was very well received. Also Mom was one of the few residents who still had her memory and was able to relate well with the staff. The nurses told me how much they enjoyed visiting with her.
During the course of her life Mom taught school starting at age eighteen and married when she was twenty-three. She held a secretarial job in Buffalo at a candy company to help put my father through law school. She was the life of the party. She was the friend you could count on. She loved her children and grandchildren beyond belief.
Olive Adele Sullivan Joslin taught me to laugh at my self, to be loving, generous, non-judgmental, kind and to always to look for the silver lining in dark clouds. I value the lessons my mother taught me and I live my life with these lessons in mind.
Later in life as a testimony to her sense of humor, Mom was asked if she flew alone when traveling to visit us in North Carolina from New York. Mom responded, “No, there was a pilot.”
Was it fun to live in my house when I was growing up you ask? YOU BETCHA, THE BEST!!