Today would have been my mother's 97th birthday. When she entered this world she was given the unwieldy name Millard Harriet Ford. (The "Millard" was a combination of her parents' names, Mildred and Bernard, and not a nod to president Fillmore.) Luckily her parents decided to call her by her middle name.
She had an unsettled early life. Her father was killed in a gas company explosion when she was seven. Her mother (a rather flighty type) felt she could not handle two children by herself so she headed south with her baby (Betty), leaving my mother with the woman who raised her. This was in the days when families were really flexible; for reasons unknown to me, the woman I knew as my great-grandmother took my mother's mother -- who was some sort of relative -- and raised her. My great-grandmother also insisted that she take care of Harriet while Mildred headed off with the baby. Confusing, isn't it? The few times Mildred came back to Massachusetts, it was not see my mother but to borrow money.
My great-grandmother, Celia, was fairly strict but loving in her way. She was a schoolteacher who placed a high value on education and was one of the first female members of a town board of education in Massachusetts. My mother was raised in the Depression. No one had money, but this was a farming community and nobody went hungry. Celia, a widow, had remarried to a jolly man with a grasp of the English language that would make a sailor blush. The two of them, along with her two sons and one daughter, provided a safe haven for my mother. She grew up to be a pretty, popular, giggling teenager.
She was nineteen when she married my father, a farm worker, and moved into the farmhouse. My father eventually became a partner to the bachelor farmer and, as the older man moved toward retirement, began slowly to enter the home construction business. But when first married, she shared the house with the older man's two aunts, Kate and Emma (and, perhaps, his mother -- I'm not too sure whether she was still alive when my mother was married). Anyway, it was an awkward time for her.
It was a small town. My father eventually became a respected businessman in the community and my mother began to fit in. I think her early experience with rejection colored her life. She always seemed afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing and other people's opinions mattered a bit too much. She did her best, was a good mother, and had a fairly good life despite her rocky start.
When she was in her late sixties or early seventies she legally changed her name, ditching the dreaded "Millard" and changing the spelling of Harriet to "Harriette" -- "with two Ts and an E." (She had been using that spelling of her name for years and I don't know when or why she changed from the more usual "Harriet.")
Anyway, when we were kids, we thought it was a hoot to sing this song to her. In honor of her birthday, here's Red Foley. I hope she's listening in heaven.