My mother was about a generation older than Mary Lou Cummings, but despite the age difference, they had something in common. They both gave birth to baby girls that hot August of 1949 at the old Orofino Hospital – you know, the big brown building that used to be located where Johnson comes into Michigan Avenue. At mid-life, my mother was having me, her last baby, while Mary Lou was just beginning her motherhood journey with her firstborn, Christine. Mother and Mary Lou had their separate stories of the labor of love, but both would mention the summer’s heat. (By the way, an oral history project to interview women who had babies in that hospital would have been a great idea!)
Chris and I grew up in a mid-century, small-town environment. You might know all about this time in history, or you might never have given it a second thought. It was after World War II and the age of the “baby boomers.” Mothers worked at home, raising the children and helping to economize in many creative ways. My mother did, and so did Mary Lou. Our town had a new elementary school to accommodate student growth, and up the hill behind the school was a new swimming pool. Oh joy! It was glorious!
Chris and I became fast friends in kindergarten, and then we were in the same first grade class. By that time, Harry and Mary Lou Cummings had moved their family into their new house on Walrath Addition, just down the street from the swimming pool.
I must have been six years old when Mary Lou called my mother early in the summer. She volunteered to take me to swimming lessons with Christine, and if I came back to their house in the late afternoon, she would take me to family swim with her family to give us additional experience in the water when it was quiet. We continued that pattern for several summers. I remember it as a wonderful time, and it wouldn’t have happened for me without Mary Lou’s kind gesture.
For years I had the privilege of saying that Harry and Mary Lou were the only people of my youth who still lived in their old home, but last year health issues forced them to move to assisted living. Harry left in November, and Mary Lou left us last week at the age of 91. As I drove along the familiar river road to my old home town to attend her memorial service, my thoughts drifted to that pretty young woman who was my friend’s mother. Mary Lou was actually a city girl who married a home-town guy, but you would never guess she was a transplant. She was outgoing, vivacious, and likable. She embraced our town as her own, and it returned the embrace. She was a strong community player, and we miss her. KW