It was Ellen who gently spoke. She had no point to make, she only wanted to change the feel of the room, so she began to tell her story. “I lived eighty years,” the women looked at her when she spoke. She lived the longest of them all. She settled herself into her chair more comfortably, the women saw she intended to storytell, so they picked up their work and sat themselves to listening.
“I was born in Warren County, Kentucky on May 14, 1830. My father was Felix Grundy Wright, named for a Republican congressman. My mother was Ellen Wheeler, I was named for her. I had an elder sister Margaret, and younger sisters Mary, Martha, Louisa, Letitia and Sarah, and younger brothers Thomas and Nathaniel. My mother died and my father took another wife and had a girl Georgeanna, who was younger than my own children. That wife died and he took another wife and had another child Florence who was clearly also younger than my own children.” She spoke in a matter of fact tone about this. She had had years to acclimate to this, and there was only a trace of annoyance to her voice which told that she believed a man could take care of himself if only he wanted to.
“I married Woodson in 1845 when I was 15 years of age and he was 20 years of age. We moved to Pettis County, Missouri with parts of our families, and I had our first daughter Mary when I was 16. I was a wife, and was responsible for keeping a house and a family when I was younger than our girl out there. I was responsible for all manner of … wifely activities at that age. Now today the conservatives are all a twitter over what the young people are doing. It’s funny to me because they are doing the same things we were doing, only we were married and had less of an education. I’m not sure I can decide which way is better to tell the truth.” Several of the women gasped inwardly at this idea. The mere mention of “wifely activities” was more than their Puritan hearts could handle thinking of, but to intuit from what Ellen said that perhaps it was okay for the young people to have “wifely activities” when they were not at all wives was just too much. Only none of the affronted would say a word, however, a least one thread was broken and stitches were pulled out at this part of the commentary in the story.
“Mary was followed by Felix when I was 18, I lost a pregnancy at 20, had George when I was 22, and James at 24” She nodded at Belle, “That girl came to be when I was 26, then I lost another pregnancy, then another. Woodson joined the Union Cavalry and left for the war, I didn’t know I was pregnant when he left, Anna was born one week after he mustered out. I was 31, Thomas at 34. George died just before I had Sheridan at age 36, and he died before his first birthday. The winter was cold and he was tiny and ….” She stopped here. Waited for the lump in her throat to pass as she thought of her two boys, then gasped, “Then Mary died just 1 week before Samuel was born when I was 39. I was so upset over her dying that he wasn’t named until after the 1870 census. If you look at that record he was listed only as “No Name” and the poor boy was already a year old by that time. I had nine children over a span of 23 years. I lost three of them in a span of three years. While still birthing children, while still trying to be a mother and a wife.” She sat quietly. “I buried my husband. We were married 63 years. Imagine! 63 years with the same person. I was happy with him. Even when he insisted on wearing his war garb years and years after the war was long over. Even when his mustache was long and tickly. I loved the man, all those years. It was a good long life. I lived it well. It was not easy, and I won’t say that I wouldn’t have changed a thing, because it is clear that if I could have kept my children with me always, then I would have. Those are my only real regrets. The ones that still linger with me today. Never quite forgotten. No matter how I’ve ended up here in this place, I wish I would have had all of my children all of those years.”