Sometimes My Name Is Eleanor
Mom and her sister Eleanor were five years apart in age. Even as a small child, this observation troubled me. I worried about when Mom might die. Both of my parents seemed part of a social climate more reflective of the 1950’s than the blossoming, technicolor 1960’s. In fact, my parents were older than most of my peers’ parents. Laying awake at night, I’d consider being the youngest of my entire extended family. The book John was reading, Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” or “And Then There Were None” spelled out my eventuality. When John shared the plot with me, I knew I would someday be Vera, the last one standing. Like Vera, I would hang myself in a trance. Until that day, mortality pressed upon my chest, making my heart heavy and serious.
“How lucky you are,” I’d consider my cousin, Maryann. Eleanor was five years younger than Mom. Five whole years. Mom would likely go to heaven five times 365 days before Eleanor. I wondered if they realized how lucky they were to have such young parents. I was seen as morose and weird.
As fate had it, Eleanor passed away years before Mom. I wish she had lived much longer than she did. I loved Eleanor. This proved to be a good thing because half the time I was called Eleanor. “Eleanor…” or “Eleanor!” or “Eleanor…?” Mom always used to mistake my name. Not always, but often. I stopped protesting after a short time and just went with it. “Yeah?” I’d answer. Then Mom would backtrack, “Oh, honey… I’m sorry… I always am calling you Eleanor.”
I didn’t mind. The reason Mom would confuse us is due to the fact that she nearly raised Eleanor as her own child. Grandma A was a working Mom, years before it was fashionable. She would head off to be a kitchen girl, service girl, or sometimes a cleaning woman for the wealthy Taggard family. Mr and Mrs Taggard employed Grandma and adored her. When Grandpa A was home sleeping during the day, after working nights on the railroad, Mom was in charge of housekeeping and in charge of Eleanor.
“I’d get so scared sometimes,” Mom would tell me, “Eleanor would want something. If she didn’t get it, she would hold her breath! She would hold her breath until she would pass out. Oh, I would be so scared. But she would get what she wanted, just because your Grandmother wouldn’t want her passing out at stores. Your Grandmother told the doctor, and he said to let her pass out. He said she’ll wake up again and understand that’s no way to get her way in things. But she would start to turn blue. It was a fright.”
“But you know, Eleanor was always sort of sickly as a child. When she was about three, she went on a diet. She was a tiny girl. She couldn’t have been more than about three or so years old, but she decided to lose weight. She stopped eating. All her beautiful hair fell out. The bone in her chest came out, too; it protruded. That’s why you still see that bone today. It wasn’t there before, but it showed up when she took the notion for this diet. She got so weak, she couldn’t walk. She wasn’t able to. And your Grandparents would each take her, one on each side, and they would walk with her, teaching her to walk again.”
Mom said Eleanor didn’t need to lose weight, that she was always thin. “She has those thin little arms and legs,” Mom would say. Then she would add, “Not like me. Eleanor could always- even as a teen – she could shop in these cute little shops. They sold cheap clothes, but they were the fashions. Eleanor could get dozens of things, because they were inexpensive, and they would look so cute on her. But for me, your Grandmother would have to shop at the department stores. I had broad shoulders and was just… bigger. Bigger bones. I couldn’t wear the cheap clothes, so I could only get a few things. We couldn’t often afford those department store clothes.”
I know how Mom felt, because I was the same way.
Sometimes Mom and I, and Eleanor and my cousin Maryann, would tease. We would say Maryann and I got switched at birth. Maryann is three years my senior, therefore it would need be a prolonged labor! Maryann loved ice cream like Mom, and I loved vegetables like Eleanor. I loved to shop and buy clothes on a whim, and Maryann was able to be more serious and save her money. Sometimes Eleanor would tell Mom that Maryann had bought a couple of new dresses, kept them in the bag, and had finally returned them. She could pinch pennies. I, on the other hand, would rip the tags off and change into a new dress in the car. I cried easily just like Eleanor. Maryann worked several jobs and was conscientious. I found it hard to settled down and be serious. I quit jobs easily. But just like Mom, I had those big bones, and Maryann has Eleanor’s tiny frame.
Eleanor loved to buy Maryann clothes. I remember going to their house after school. It was just a couple blocks from ours. Sometimes Eleanor would have a clothes bag from one of those cute teen shops hanging on Maryann’s bedroom doorknob. It would be packed to the brim with new clothes. I felt like Maryann was so lucky. I wanted to come home and find bags of clothes someday, too. Well, that wasn’t Mom’s way. But as the years passed, and after Dad died, Mom would often say to me, “Come on, let’s go to the mall and get you a new little outfit.” I loved that. I just totally loved that.
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