“…a two-and-a-half-pound wisp”

Mona’s Handprint at Three Months

Of her fourth child’s birth on December 10, 1904, my grandmother Helen Richardson Espy) wrote many years later: Mona was born the night Albert was taken ill – a two-and-a-half-pound wisp – had 75 convulsions in 5 days when 5 weeks old.

According to family lore, she was nestled in cotton and placed in a cigar box on the back of the kitchen woodstove where she could be kept warm. When her grandfather, old R.H. Espy, stumped down the street to see her, he took one look and grumbled, “Not worth keeping!  Not worth keeping!”

I can’t begin to imagine how difficult this time was for the family. Five-year-old Albert died of stomach cancer on January 24, 1905 when Mona was just six weeks old.  Nevertheless, under the tender ministrations of her mother Mona endured: Up she came, frail, unstable, completely dominated by Suzita’s force and vividness. Twice during her fourth year she had pneumonia, and had to learn to walk all over again.  It was about this period, that she used to sleep with her hands over her ears “to keep the dreams out.” Always a pathetic hungry little creature unable to assimilate her surroundings. At four she used to sit by the hour perched on the fence accosting every passerby with “Hello what you going to do tomollow?”

Mona at 7 or 8 — 1911

Mona’s full name was Ruth Muriel.  I’m not sure where the “Mona” came from but I never heard anyone who knew her call her anything else.  She was the only aunt I ever knew and, of all my mother’s siblings, I probably knew her best.  That she was “different” from the others was certainly true — not so much in looks, but certainly in personality.  My grandmother said that she, of all seven children, was “the most Espy” and we all understood that to mean that she was not quite as refined or cultured as the Richardsons.  I’m not sure why that had a negative connotation since my grandmother was crazy about my grandfather for all their fifty-five years together — he could do no wrong in her eyes or in the eyes of his children or grandchildren.

Mona, too, adored her father and credited him with all the positive things she had learned and done throughout her life.  Even so, she considered herself the “ugly duckling” of the family – not because of her appearance, but because in a family that valued learning and education above all else, school was always a struggle for her. Nevertheless, she was extremely proud of both her precocious younger brothers and, if it bothered her that they easily surpassed her in school, she never talked about it.

Mona circa 1946

She became a Practical Nurse, eventually married — three times, I think, though the first is a bit cloudy —  and was politically active, especially during Eisenhower’s campaign. Years after her death in 1970,  Democratic State Senator Robert C. “Bob” Bailey told me that he had enjoyed working with her on various projects and that “she was one of the most sensible Republicans he’d ever known.”

My memories of Mona are a mix of fondness and regret.  She taught me many things — to drink my coffee black, the benefits of a rocking chair (which she gave me) to a new mother, how to sew French seams (on a sewing machine she later left me in her will), and shared with me the family gossip that my mother thought I needn’t know.  My regrets came too late, as they often do — would that I could have pointed out to her how valued she was — to all of us.  Or would she, could she have been convinced?

One Response to ““…a two-and-a-half-pound wisp””

  1. Marion says:

    How well I remember Mona coming to visit my mother to talk politics. She always fascinated me as a child with her strong opinions and chatter. Interesting lady!

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