My mom, Eleanor May Black O’Neill died 40 years ago today on November 4, 1973, the victim of metastasized ovarian cancer. She died way too young. When I was younger, I missed her not being part of the milestones of my life. More recently, I miss her in the quiet, ordinary moments.
This is my Mom, Eleanor Black O’Neill in about 1948, shortly before she married my dad, Edward T. “Bud” O’Neill.
I have a great love for the natural world. As I look back, that love started and continued to grow because of the many experiences with nature and living things that my mom provided. We always had pets while I was growing up. Along with the typical dog and cat, we also watched chickens hatch and found a baby tortoise that had hatched out in our back yard.
The chickens hatched in a table top incubator that my mom had probably purchased from Sears. Once we had the incubator, we made a trip to a farm near Fresno to buy fertilized eggs. The incubator was small and sphere shaped, less than a foot in diameter. The top half was clear and lifted off. We incubated just two eggs. We had to turn the eggs a couple times a day for the three weeks that it took them to hatch. Those three weeks seemed like forever as we waited for the chicks to hatch out. This past summer, at the Museum of Science and Industry, I stood with my grandson and we watched a chick hatch in a much larger incubator.
That moment with my grandson brought things full circle for me and got me thinking about all the wonderful experiences my mom had provided for me. It appears that I don’t possess the courage that my mom did because my kids didn’t get to watch chickens hatching on the kitchen table!
Once the chicks hatched in our kitchen incubator, my mom fashioned a brooder from a cardboard box with a light bulb shining into the box to keep the chicks warm. It wasn’t long before the chicks grew too large for the brooder and so my mom built a pen for them out of 2 by 4’s and chicken wire. The first time we took the chicks out to the backyard and put them in the pen, to our horror, our dog grabbed one of them in her mouth and headed back into the house. She didn’t hurt the chick; she just evidently thought the chicks belonged in the kitchen and not in the backyard! And so my mom added a roof to the pen so that the dog would leave the chickens in the backyard. It wasn’t long before that chickens outgrew that pen too and we were living in town; so my mom found a friend with a farm who would take the chickens.
We also had a pair of desert tortoises. We had a pair so that my brother and I could each claim one of them. We never expected them to mate and have little tortoises! But after we had the two tortoises for a while, we went out into the backyard and found a third tortoise that was much smaller than the original two. We looked around in the backyard and found a sandy corner of the yard where something had been digging and realized that this was where the baby tortoise had hatched out. When the mating season came again, we watched as the female tortoise dug a hole to lay eggs. It was fascinating to watch, as she dug the hole with her back legs which she was also using to stand on in the hole. She balanced herself on one of her back legs while she kicked dirt out of the hole with the other back leg. It was especially great that it was happening right in my own backyard. The dog tried to play with the tortoises too but they weren’t interested in playing with the dog any more than the chickens were.
Here’s me with the dog and the tortoises. This picture was taken 50 years ago. Note my play-clothes is a dress!
The dog, as you can see, was a white poodle which I named Lady. I think we got her when I was about 5 or 6 years old. We had Lady the whole time I was growing up. When I married and moved away, I couldn’t take her because my new husband, Joe and were moving into an apartment. So I left Lady with my dad. She lived several years after I left. When we first got Lady, I really wanted her to sleep on my bed. She was comfortable there but I couldn’t seem to get to sleep with her there. So Lady’s sleeping place became a folded blanket that in one corner of our eat-in kitchen. My mom really babied Lady who didn’t like dry dog food. So my mom purchased beef stew meat and cooked and put it on top of the dry food and Lady would eat that. Lady also got a bowl of ice cream whenever we had ice cream for dessert.
My mom loved dogs but my grandpa, Sam Black didn’t. Mom didn’t get to have a dog while she was growing up. Once she was an adult with a job, even though she was still living at home, she bought a border collie and brought it home.
She named her Micky so as to not make it too obvious that she was female. Her father liked female dogs even less than dogs in general, probably due to danger of puppies. Mom figured if he got used to the dog before he realized the dog’s gender, things would go better. I guess the Eleanor’s strategy worked as evidenced by these photos of my grandpa, Sam Black, hand feeding Micky .
I remember Mom telling me that Micky hated the sound of fireworks, and so Mom spent every 4th of July up in the hills around Coalinga which was far enough away from the noise of the fireworks for Micky to be happy.
I have a great love of and fascination with the ocean and the beach. I love to watch the waves come rolling in, crash on the beach and flow back out. My mom provided me with the opportunity to spend countless hours near the ocean even though we lived in Coalinga which is in the foothills of the San Joaquin valley. She took any excuse she could find to get us to the ocean because she loved it too. One of the excuses was that she just couldn’t seem to find a dog groomer that was better than the one in Monterey, California. So every couple of months when Lady needed grooming, Mom would make an appointment with the groomer and we would spend the day in Monterey. We would drop Lady off at the groomer, go to the beach, go back and pick Lady up and head home. There isn’t much sandy beach at Monterey but the rocky shore provides space for wonderful tide pools. I remember spending hours, walking along the rocky shore and gazing into the tide pools. I found it so fascinating to watch the creatures that live in them.
My Grandma Molly O’Neill didn’t tolerate the heat of summers in Coalinga very well. Later in her life, she and Grandpa Cornelius O’Neill spent summer in a rented house in Cayucos, California. On summer weekends, my mom, dad, brother and me would go and spend the weekend with grandparents in Cayucos. Mom and I would get up early on Sunday mornings and head down to the pier with our fishing poles. We walked out near the end of the pier. As we walked, we peeked in other fisherman’s buckets to see what they were catching. I liked being out on the pier but I didn’t like walking on the sections of the pier where there was space between the planks. I hurried until we got to the section of the pier where the planks where closer together. I enjoyed looking over the side and end of the pier and watching the waves swirl around the pier pilings. Mom and I never caught many fish and almost none that were big enough to keep. When we did catch something big enough to keep, we dropped into someone else’s bucket as we left the pier. We weren’t really interested in catching fish. It was just fun to be together and near the ocean. We had to make sure we got back in time so that we could eat breakfast and get changed into our Sunday clothes in time for morning mass at the local Catholic Church.
Thanks for listening while I shared these memories of my mom, Eleanor Black O’Neill. I am really looking forward to seeing her again and spending eternity with her. If you would like to know more about spending eternity with your family, please contact me, I would love to share with you how it can be possible. I have a sure testimony that families can be forever.