Eleanor Louise Sheldon


This month features one of my favorite 'Wise Women', Eleanor Sheldon, Mom. When I announced my plan to highlight her in April for her 82nd birthday, she wasn't sold on the idea. She felt that since the other guests were writers, she didn't belong. It's a good thing this is my blog. Happy Birthday, Mom!

On April 29, 1929, Eleanor Louise Owen first shook the bright curls that would earn her the nickname 'Red'. She was born in the boarding house her mom and dad owned on Marshfield and Harrison in Chicago. If you go there today, you'll find Rush Library and Medical College. My grandparents lost the building a short time after mom's birth when the stock market crashed and tenants could no longer pay their rent. They didn't have the heart to evict anyone.

What I remember most is laughter. Mom has a knack for not taking herself or life in general too serious. When I was in high school, the coach for our volleyball team had to drop out and we needed an adult to replace her in a hurry. Mom knew nothing about volleyball and her idea of exercise was raising four kids and dancing, but she volunteered. We were the worst team in the conference and had a very short season, but no team had more fun. After missing a relatively easy shot, I looked over to the sidelines ready to be chastised. Instead, I saw 'the coach' trying to hide her laughter and urging us on. What a great lesson for a fifteen-year-old—winning IS NOT everything—the joy is in playing.

As in all families, there were times without laughter. One of those was in May of 1968 when my brother Bill died in Viet Nam. Even now I cannot fathom the pain my parents felt losing their nineteen-year-old son. "You are not," Mom said through her tears, "supposed to live longer than your children."

Mom was a typical teenager in Chicago during the challenging years of World War II. Too young to work in the factories, she took a job as a waitress at the local drug store and spent her evenings doing what she loved, dancing at the USO. She and her best friend had another passion. For over 60 years, Chicago was home to one of the nations then largest amusement parks, Riverview. She and Charlotte would walk the 12 miles to and from the park to spend their day off ignoring the frightening news of the war, eating cotton candy and foot long hot dogs, riding "The Bobs", a roller coaster with an 85-foot drop, and checking out the servicemen there on leave.

It wasn't until after the war when her family made a brief move to Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania that she met the serviceman of her dreams. On her way to her aunt's where she was staying, she spotted William Sheldon on his front porch. He had just returned from the Navy. She knew at that moment he was the man she would marry and when her family returned to Chicago, 'Billy' followed. They were married in 1947.

Because of her family's move, Mom dropped out of school. Years later she returned to high school and graduated as valedictorian of her night school class. It was a proud moment for all of us when she gave her speech on the stage where my brothers and I graduated.

Dad worked as a computer programmer, so mom was no stranger to the 'new' technology. She took an entry level position as a key punch operator and moved up the ranks. Before long, she was writing procedure manuals for developing positions in the computer industry. An industry, which she often reminded us, paid women half the salary for the same job as men. Any wonder that I'm a feminist!

While writing this article, I looked through photos and memories and tried to see Eleanor Sheldon not as my mother, but as others saw her. A red-haired beauty who raised four children, worked full time both outside and inside her home, and now, an eighty-two year old woman, mother, wife, grandmother, friend, and perhaps many other sides I will never know.

As I looked back over the years, I remembered when my brother Bill at around age ten came home with blood pouring from a gash in his head. Mom stayed focused and handled both the crisis and her slightly hysterical daughter. I remembered when our faithful dog, Hoppy, had a seizure in the yard and mom knelt at his side, cooling him with water, talking to him, and soothing him until he recovered. I remembered her cooking, cleaning, keeping the books, washing and hanging laundry, dancing, singing, drawing, going to work, and oh yes, I remembered her laughter. The memories of those and other incidents make it impossible for me to guess how others might see her. That's okay. I see her as I always have—remarkable.

The other day, after I had written much of this article, my parents dropped by to help me hang drapes. It was comical as the three of us worked through our collective 'senior moments' and managed to get the rods and drapery hung fairly straight with few injuries. Mom kept track of where Dad and I left the tools, rulers, hardware, etc; she crawled on the floor to talk to my cat under the bed, less than pleased with the disturbances; and she quickly solved a problem Dad and I made far more complicated than it was, saving us additional work and frustration. Mom can do that. Mom can do an amazing number of things. A few years ago, after I had written my first mysteries, Mom, an avid reader, decided she'd like to try her hand at writing. She's working on her second story. You see, Mom, you do belong here.

 The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter. Mark Twain