I have been doing research on writing a blog for our family dairy farm. What better topic to write about than one of our founders, Mom/Ma. We will start with a little background history that is tremendously important to Mom’s character.
At the at age of three, Mom’s dad died suddenly. This was during the depression and Mom and her mom would live with relatives. When Mom was ten, her mom became extremely sick and was dying with uterine cancer. Mom witnessed and cared for her Mom over the next few years. I will not elaborate on the horrific details, but they are etched in her memory. Thankfully, Mom had aunts and uncles who helped take care of her. She had many first cousins and they became her best friends. Still to this day, they are extraordinarily close. But Mom never had one place to call home. After high school, she started working at Union Carbide during the building stages. She was on her own and determined to make it.
During the summers she would live with her Aunt Dell and family. There was a farm next door and a very handsome young man. Mom would occasionally see and talk to this guy. The young man went to serve his country, but he returned to the farm. Aunt Dell’s family was close to the farmers next door. Long story, but Mom married that young farmer next door in 1953. Now Mom was a Farmer’s Wife. They lived with her new in-laws and brother in-law (Uncle Fred who was about 14). But this was what she had prayed for a family and home. Dad’s Mom, Marie, treated Mom as the daughter she never had. Now Mom was becoming the farmer’s wife and learning from the best, Marie Elliott. Even though Mom had grown up raising tobacco, picking strawberries, working in the garden and anything else that needed to be done.
Mom and Dad bought their first farm in about 1954. Dad worked to “clean” the farm and Mom helped. She would drive the tractor while pulling up stumps and Dad chopped or sawed the trees. Dad was a very driven man who wanted the farm to grow and improve. Dad was working with his dad, uncles and grandfather on the family farm. They were still living with my grandparents when their first child was born, but also Marie’s dad (my great-grandfather) moved into the house. Then I was born in 1960 to add to the household, but Uncle Fred left for the University of Kentucky that fall. Unfortunately, Marie died in November 1960 from colon cancer. The dynamics of the family changed over the next few years. Dad and Mom felt it was time to start their own farm.
In March of 1964, Dad, Mom and their three children (9, 4 and 1) moved three miles down the road. Their “DREAM” was to have a family dairy farm. They had purchased a house and 120 acres and this would be home. Which is the currect location. Mom had her very own home. It wasn’t new, but that didn’t matter. It was home. They borrowed money to buy this and didn’t know how they would ever pay for it. But Dad was a very determined “work horse’. He had 17 milk cows and a truck. While Dad was working day and night, almost twenty hours a day, Mom was working just as hard. We had a huge garden, chickens and pigs. Mom spent most of the summer freezing and canning what would eat for the winter. She also made most of our clothes. In her spare time, she would cook breakfast every morning for Dad and Jimmy Rushing. Breakfast was eggs, homemade biscuits, bacon or sausage. She would watch the barn so see when they were almost finished milking to start cooking. She would also be getting us ready for school. Mom fixed my lunch almost every day of school for twelve years. After breakfast she would start on lunch. Not sandwiches, but a full course meal including dessert and would feed whoever was working on the farm. That could be anywhere from 3-8 depending on the season.
Dad was running three custom lime trucks, three custom hay balers and milking cows. In 1968, new milk barn was built and we were selling grade A milk. Mom and Dad paid for the farm and then starting adding land as they could afford. They were making the dream a reality. There was a time Mom didn’t have a car and had to drive the lime truck to the grocery. Mom even carried us to Church in the truck. It was important that we went to Church. Even though Dad was not going, he made sure we did. Thankfully in the seventies, Dad started to attend Church with us regularly. Dad always gave Mom the credit for saving him!
More examples of the Farmer Wife (she is the epitome of a farmer’s wife), she would drive for miles to get the parts that Dad needed. Sometimes that was as close as Mayfield, but as far as Illinois and Missouri. She would drive the pickup with the straight shift if needed. I cannot image how she accomplished the work she did. On days that the farmers were not at home, she would carry them lunch. This meant preparing a full meal. Which meant loading a folding table, glasses plates, silverware and food plus gallons of tea. Taking them home and washing by hand! Nothing was disposable. Mom always had a variety and plenty of food for everyone. She did this in addition to being a Mom.
When I was five, they found polyps in Mom’s colon and ovaries. This was before the colonoscopies or the easy prep. Mom was admitted to the hospital and major surgery was performed. During the surgery they removed her large intestines. The intestines were cut open and over 100 polyps were removed. This was the start of a battle that Mom would fight. Her doctor didn’t know what would happen in the future because she couldn’t keep having this surgery. Mom received a diagnosis that changed our world. She was told that she would never live to see me grown. One of Mom’s worst fears …. I would grow up without a Mom. This was the start of her battle that she has been fighting for 49 years. Mom would endure checkup every 6 months. The prep for this was terrible. She couldn’t eat for three days and would drink castor oil. Mom would be sick, but she still cooked and cared for us. For anyone who doesn’t get a colonoscopy because of the prep, they have no clue. The exam was not easy either. Thankful for medical advances in the area of the colon.
So every six months was checked for polyps. This was a painful and unpleasant experience, but Mom was fighting for her life and family. Mom had more surgeries to remove polyps and had to have her lower abdominal wall reconstructed with mesh which is still there. In 1984, cancer was present. She would have a large portion of her intestines removed. Plus she had chemo every week for a year. This was extremely hard on her, but now she had a new reason to fight. Ellie was only three and she needed her Ma! That year took its toll on Mom/Ma. But she never gave up! One of the cutest memories was when Ellie was playing in the room with Mom/Ma and Mom had fallen asleep. When she woke up, Ellie told her that it was alright to go back to sleep and rest.
Mom has a syndrome called familial polyposis and Gardner’s syndrome. This means that she would grow desmoids tumor and other lesions. Mom has had numerous surgeries to remove these. In 1995, she had brain surgery to remove a growth. This was a high risk surgery, but Mom did well and there were no severe complications. But cancer was back again in the large intestines and rectum. In 1999, Mom had an ilieostomy. All of her large intestines and rectum were removed. This was an extremely painful surgery and recovery with lots of complications.
Then cancer appeared again, this time in her small intestines and her duodenum. The ONLY answer to removal was a WHIPPLE surgery. She had less than a 1% survival chance. But the doctor told us that she wouldn’t live six months and it would be extremely painful. Mom’s faith and determination to live are her strongest assets. She is 12 years post whipple, which is a miracle. Each time we go to Vanderbilt, they are amazed! No one lives that long after a WHIPPLE surgery, but they don’t know MOM!
When I am facing a medical procedure and they say it will hurt, I think of Mom. Mom has endured and suffered more in her lifetime than I can image. In recent years, she said goodbye to her husband of 59 years. There is no quote I have never heard her say … WHY ME? Her faith in God has carried her through valleys.