Marking Mother’s Day: Memory of a dear mother

Editor’s note: Former Ontario resident Patricia Sullivan composed the following account of her mother, Adeline Pettigrove, who with her husband Clifford farmed in rural Ontario. Patricia Sullivan and her late husband Tom Sullivan ran Sullivan’s Log Cabin Bar & Grill in Ontario from 1980 to 1992.


As I sit in the comfort of my living room, the warmth from the fireplace washing over me, I begin to reflect on precious memories of my dear mother, Adeline. 

It wasn’t until I was blessed with children of my own that I fully realized the sacrifices she had made for my brother, Jimmy, and I during our growing-up years on a Wisconsin farm. 

Adeline Pettygrove

Mom married right out of high school and was a natural-born wife and mother from the start. True to the song, she was “Sweet Adeline.” She was tall and slender, with beautiful, naturally curly, dark-brown hair and blue eyes that defied definition. 

My father adored her. She made our house more than just a home. She cooked, canned, cleaned, raised a large garden, planted flowers, and baked the best apple pie ever. Mom was known for the whitest whites flying on any clothesline in Vernon County, with the help of Fels Naptha laundry bar soap and Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing! Many wash days she could be seen leaning over a tub on the porch, scrubbing clothes on a washboard if the gas-powered washing machine was in need of repair. Farm wives were not known for their smooth hands and manicured nails!

Growing up during the Depression years did little to dampen her enthusiastic spirit. She went about her daily chores in her pretty gingham apron, humming to herself as she cooked and baked on the shiny black Home Comfort wood-burning cook stove. The smell of fresh-baked bread and pastries greeted us when we would arrive home from school, tired and hungry each afternoon. A big smile, a kiss and a hug also awaited us. 

Even though we had no indoor plumbing or electricity, mom never felt that she lacked for anything. Food to be kept cool was taken to the cellar. We lived mainly from our garden and the farm animals we raised. She wallpapered and painted the rooms of our farmhouse and hung pretty curtains from the windows. The selling of eggs provided her with money for a few of the finer things she enjoyed, such as a lacy tablecloth, curtains and soft chenille bedspreads. She made do with what she felt fortunate to have, never complaining, and taught her children to do the same. We also were taught that they were benefits to reap by each member doing their proportionate share of the daily chores, UNCOMPLAININGLY!

There was a certain schedule followed throughout the week. Mondays, wash day; Tuesdays, ironing (done with a flat iron on the wood cook stove); Wednesdays, bread baking and mending; Thursdays, cleaning cupboards, washing windows and lamp chimneys until they sparkled; Friday, mowing lawns, gardening, carrying in wood from the wood shed and cleaning of the chicken coop (filling nests with fresh straw); Saturday, housecleaning and more baking; and Saturday night, our weekly bath in a galvanized tub set behind the Franklin Round Oak heater, whether we needed it or not. More than once we burnt our butts by bending too close to the stove while reaching for the soap. Sunday was God’s day, having aunts, uncles, friends or neighbors to dinner, or going to Grandpa and Grandma’s in our Model T Ford. Farm life meant that there were chores to be done Monday through Sunday. 

Our entertainment consisted of listening to the battery-run RCA console radio (putting our imagination to work with “Stella Dallas,” “Only the Shadow Knows,” Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Jack Benny and Fibber Magee and Molly), putting puzzles together, coloring in color books, reading, playing house or school, and riding in the Radio Flyer wagon pulled by our faithful collie, Jiggs. I treasured the hours spent cutting out paper dolls and dressing them. We lived on the ridge with a beautiful view of the surrounding valleys. In the wintertime, we would sleigh ride down the many hills on our Flexible Flyer and Speedaway sleds, getting lots of exercise walking back up the hills to ride down again. Our cheeks aglow and covered with snow, we would rush back to the house for hot chocolate and to warm our freezing hands and toes near the heater in the living room. Occasionally we were treated to a movie at the theater house in a nearby town. I believe the tickets were 13 cents and popcorn was 5 cents. 

How safe and cared for we felt as children. Mom was able to make each holiday and special occasion just that — SPECIAL! She was never too busy when we came to her for a hug or words of encouragement or to have her read a story to us for the 100th time. The boundless love she had for us has carried over into our own lives. What better legacy!

She also was my father’s helpmate. She could milk cows, drive the horses, help get the wood supply around to burn in our cook and heating stoves, and feed the animals. She took pride in her strawberry patch with its luscious, big, red berries and in the fluffy baby chicks she raised with the help of a gas brooder, supplying us with eggs and meat. She enjoyed cooking for the men who came to help thresh the oats on threshing day or for any of the men my dad had hired to work for us. After a day’s work, you would often find them sitting on one of the three porches we had, watching the sun set. 

There are so many wonderful memories, but one stands out from the rest. It was in late August 1947. It had been an unusually busy summer; vacation time flew by way too fast. I would be a fourth-grader. My brother Jimmy was eight years younger, so he was not in school yet. Usually by this time, my mother and I had gone shopping for school clothes or ordered out of the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Students usually started the first day of school with a new outfit, many experiencing a growth spurt during the summer months that left trousers and dresses a little too short. Money was always scarce, so I began a search through my closet for a dress or two to possibly wear. I was a tall girl, so I hoped I could find one where the hem at least came to my knees. Finally I found one that would have to do. It wouldn’t be new, but I consoled myself knowing it would be clean, starched and freshly ironed. Maybe my classmates wouldn’t notice that first day that my dress wasn’t new. 

About a week before school was to start, we had just finished our evening meal. My dad reached across the table, taking my mother’s hand in his, and looking in my direction, winked at me and said, “Patty, I believe your mother has a big surprise for you.” Mother, smiling, nodded at me and pointed to our spare bedroom located at the rear of the house. I led the way, with my mother, dad and brother following. As I opened the door to the bedroom and looked into the dimly lit room, I could not believe what I was seeing. Laid out upon the bed was an array of pretty dresses. When had all of this shopping been done? And, if that wasn’t enough, right in the center of them was a bright yellow raincoat with a hood, the one I had seen and wished for earlier in the summer from the Sears catalog! Happy tears began to flow, not only mine but the whole family’s. I hugged and kissed my mother and started trying on each and every one of them, whirling and twirling, modeling for my little audience. They were all different, dresses with big collars, some with smocking, eyelet or lace on the bodice, prints, solid pastels, and plaids. Each was a perfect fit. How overjoyed I was!

My mother had secretly bought material and patterns and for many nights had sewn each creation on her Singer pedal sewing machine while the rest of us slept. She again had worked her magic. I not only had a new dress for the first day of school, but for many days after. 

Our sweet Adeline passed away peacefully in 1999 at the age of 80. Through the years, I learned so many of life’s lessons from her. She truly was our angel here on earth. There are times when she visits me in my fondest dreams, and I hear her laughter and feel the warmth of her arms around me. She lives on in the many hearts of those who knew and loved her. Miss you, mom! Thank you for molding me into the woman I am today. 

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