Eleanor and Wilma

By: Jeanne Cameron

Wilma spent money on many things her husband disapproved of. Or he would have, if he had known. Eleanor did the same, both the spending and the secret-keeping.  And each woman developed her own special recipe for such deceptions. Wilma’s included a pinch of guilt; Eleanor’s, a sprinkle of rationalization [every purchase was really a savings somehow] and a dash of intrigue. Hiding spent money was, for Eleanor, a sport, and she was an Olympian. Extended family gatherings always included an Eleanor-led shopping adventure. As she’d fill her cart, she’d note that Bud/Grandpa/Dad/your father – depending on which female relative or friend was standing next to her – doesn’t need to know about this one. With her station wagon full of savings, she would time our arrival home mid-way through happy hour when Dad’s detective skills were not at their sharpest. She’d park in the driveway, spring the hatch, and three or four generations of female descendants, some as young as four, would spill out of her car and scurry to the back to engage in the re-shuffling process.  Each trip ended the same way – a small pile of packages meant for Dad’s eyes, a much larger pile he was not meant to see, and a keen sense of satisfaction among Eleanor and her accomplices. This was important work, and it seemed that only women could do it.

Eleanor taught many women her particular art of deception: her direct descendants, her daughters-in-law, countless friends, and my mother as well.  By the time my two mothers met, each had been deceiving their husbands for decades.  Turns out my mother liked Eleanor’s recipe much more than her own, deciding that pinch of guilt was too bitter.  Eleanor did not teach Wilma how to keep secrets, she taught her how to have fun doing so.

Author’s note: Eleanor and Wilma at John’s and my wedding, July 18, 1987. Wilma passed on June 9, 1993, and Eleanor on April 28, 2019, just shy of her 96th birthday. When she was dying, my mother said, I don’t worry about you. You married a good family. And just as my mother knew she would, Eleanor picked up right where she had left off. My two mothers were cut from the same cloth. They loved their families beyond measure, and these families extended far beyond blood. Anyone needing care and love was kin. And both spun a wide web of sisterhood. Such webs have sustained all of their children since birth, and they will sustain our children and our grandchildren as well. What a remarkable legacy.

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