Mom was a country girl, an Etheridge from Wanchese, a small fishing village on the south end of Roanoke Island in North Carolina. Named Cammie for a relative she never knew who lived far away in Kansas, she was a precocious tomboy growing up but realized early on that she wanted to be a nurse. She attended Manteo High School and played girls' basketball and had the knees to show for what was an outdoor sport in those days using clam and or oyster shells to mark the boundaries. She was by no means a genius but she worked hard to get the grades she needed for her goal of one day receiving the Registered Nurse (RN) degree. It was a a time when Florence Nightingale was in vogue in nursing and also wanted to attend the school that was the preeminent teacher of the Nightingale nursing curriculum, Bellevue Hospital in New York City, a part of the New York University program. First she worked for one year in a hospital in Baltimore, living with a relative, to prove the the admissions folks that nursing was what she wanted to do and had the stamina and desire to do.
Her mother, my grandmother Martha, didn't want her to go, saying that she would lose her roots in the big city and would never be down-to-earth again, but her father, my grandfather, James Albert, from whom I got my first name, said she should go and as she prepared to leave for the big and the unknown, he presented her with a crisp one hundred dollar bill, no small accomplishment during the Great Depression. He wanted her to live her dream and he had faith that it would not change her. As her son I can tell you it didn't, for during all the years that I had her in my life not only did her countenance not change, she also maintained the unique accent that was so common among Outer Bankers and she had it until her dying day. And so, she was off to Baltimore where she proved her interests to be true and then on to New York City.
A few years later when she was in a more advanced stage of her education and could see a nursing degree on the not too distant horizon, she met my father in a very unique situation that must have been fate. The nurses and the interns were regularly rotated into the different wards to have experience with all types of situations and on this occasion they were both on duty in the psychiatric ward. A partially disrobed mental patient, clearly not in his right mind, began to chase her down a corridor. Walking fast and seeking help, she went through swinging doors and ran directly into the arms of my dad. He saw what was happening, placed her at his back, removed the hypodermic needle from his breast pocket which was provided in case of just an incident and quickly put the patient into a fast sleep. From all reports it was love at first sight and they spent off duty time together. They were routinely given tickets to everything from shows to Yankee tickets, provided by New York's finest who always appreciated what the medical students did by providing medical care to the indigent of New York. And as graduation day for her and completion of Dad's residency drew near, they were married in the Little Church Around the Corner, witnessed by friends.
Dad accepted a position in his specialty as an ear, nose, throat and eye physician back in his hometown of Newport News and within just a few years started his own practice, adding an eye doctor since the demand was high. Dad had an uncanny ability to calm children and as a result mothers spread the word and his practice thrived. And when Mom found out she was pregnant with the first of three of us children, she decided to devote herself to full time motherhood. She always said it was the most important job she could have and she took it seriously.
A few years later, the plans to build a summer home at Nags Head entered the picture. Dad had learned to love it on visits with her back to her family and as the war years ended he knew he would need a place to unwind and relax from his busy practice. Mom's wish to have a place on the beach near home worked and you can learn more about it in my book, "Summers at Old Nags Head" available on Amazon. They were indeed golden days that all in the family loved and looked forward to each year.
Our family was now set with two loving parents and three children yet life doesn't always work like a storybook and in 195, things changed dramatically. Dad was stricken by a major heart attack and died within a week. We children now only had one parent, yet Mom took it all in stride and devoted her life to raising us and preparing us for adulthood. She filled whatever role was required of her, both when love and kindness was needed as well as discipline. All it took was one mistake on our parts and we all realized that we didn't want to tangle with an angry Mom and, as a result, we thrived as a family. While Dad had made some plans for just such a situation, his unexpected death did put some strains on our expectations and it was quite a step down in so many ways, yet Mom could balance a checkbook better than anyone I've ever seen and could turn a quarter into a dollar. Through it all she was able to maintain our cottage until I completed high school and went off to college. She gave us a good education, but she wanted us to work for any extras or any frills which we did eagerly, but we never had to worry about going hungry or having a shelter over our head and clean clothes on our body.
Years later, when I was a grown man I asked her, "Mom, did you ever think about marrying again?"
She looked me squarely in the eye and said, "Well, Son, there were a few men who called on me and wanted to court me. But i just shooed them all away. You see, even though your father and I only had the opportunity to enjoy life together for eighteen years, I knew I could never love another man. He is the only man I ever loved and that was enough for me. And I knew my primary obligation in life after he died was you children."
Mom lived on until the age of ninety-one, suffering in the last few years from Alzheimer's. The last time I saw her alive, she asked me who I was. She asked the same of her grandson who was with me and she smiled at our answers but I don't think she had a clue. She did, however, remember the names of all those she went to school with and I believe she was seeing them as she talked about them. I remember holding up well during the visit, but then breaking down in tears as I departed the nursing home. It wasn't long after that when I received the call that she had passed in her sleep. I drove up to North Carolina, joined my sister and brother-in-law and we made the trip to Newport News to say goodbye. Seeing her lifeless body with no expression on her face gave me closure and now it's all about the great memories that I have of a brave and strong woman who wasn't afraid to devote her life to us. I also look forward to seeing her later in a better place and holding a grand reunion with her and Dad as well. And I'm sorry if this was rather long, but I just feel that it is a good story for Mother's Day and I salute all mothers everywhere who have taken up the challenge like my mom in living the commitment to that most important job in their lives: being a good mother. God bless them all, past and present. And God bless you, Mom.