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“And All Her Bearing Gracious” (1 of 2)

Written by Jeff Drake
8 · 19 · 22

This is a beginning, I think.

I imagine that I will be writing more about my mother, Mary Ellen Drake. There is just no way that I could ever tell you everything I know, remember, or heard about her in one sitting. She was the proverbial mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma.

Just kidding. I barely knew my mother, really. That probably sounds strange to hear a son to say, but I’ve said this before more than once. Still, I can’t shake feeling somewhat guilty when I say it, as if not knowing her is due to some fault of mine. If I’m honest, it’s understandable that I feel this way. To a great extent, we’re indoctrinated from birth to respect our mothers, to love them, and if you don’t feel that way, then you damn well better pretend that you do. Such is the strength of societal pressure.

My mother only had intermittent contact with me after I began living with my grandmother at the age of three months. As mentioned in a previous post, there was one time when I was around one year old, that she apparently came to Duluth, picked me up, and took me on a road trip. She returned me to Duluth some months later in poor condition, according to my grandmother. Fortunately, I have no memory of this, being so young at the time. Instead, my earliest memories of her all involve phone calls.

I can’t say that my mother called me and my grandmother frequently. I don’t believe she did. But it wasn’t a rare occurrence, either. I know it couldn’t have been a rare occurrence, because I remember feeling anxious whenever my grandmother got a phone call. I was worried it was her. That kind of anxiety takes years to develop. And I don’t know how many calls I got from her when she hadn’t been drinking. Now the years have passed and my memories of those calls have blended. Thus, today I can remember my the feelings I had when I got her calls more clearly than any individual memory.

I will admit that I grew up angry at her. I resented her periodic threats of coming to Duluth and taking me away. This only happened a few times, but they were memorable. A child is not going to forget that. And I didn’t.

Later, as an adult, after returning from Vietnam, I shut my mother out. Why? Because I could. And because I was still angry, I guess. It seems so fucked up now. You know, I’m not sure she ever saw a photo of Jason, although I remember once she called and asked for one. Yeah, it was fucked up. I wish I could get a do-over. I do bear some responsibility for not getting to know my mother.

As I sit here today, my feelings about my mother have changed. I don’t know why exactly. I’m tempted to chalk it up to age, being older, wiser. But that would just be half-truth, if you know what I mean. Maybe it’s due to my researching her military history, the things I learned about the struggle that women in the military had back then. Or maybe it’s my suspicion that she may have been in a very bad situation in Guam, a woman in a man’s world, working for General MacArthur. The last time I ever saw her, that she told me that at the time she was “at war with Army.” This rings more true to me now and leaves me with so many questions. What was this war of hers all about? She surely lost that war and paid a severe price because her life afterwards went into a tailspin that she never recovered from. Thoughts like these finally got through to me, I think. I began to see my mother, not as the object of my childish anger, but instead as someone much more human, more understandable.

I think of all the questions I now have that could have been answered by my mother. Now she’s gone and I know these questions will never get answered. It’s selfish, but it bums me out. Today it also bums me out that I never got to know her, to hear her tell her story in her own words.

I think the first thing I would ask her about is her time growing up in Wisconsin, because I don’t know a lot about her childhood.

My mother was born in 1921, in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. A very pretty, but sleepy, community. She had a younger sister named, Dolores. Growing up, I knew Dolores as Aunt Pat, or Patti. She also had two older brothers, one named Michael, and the oldest, Paul. My grandmother, my uncle Mike, and my aunt Patti, sometimes shared stories about their life in Chippewa Falls. I remember little, sadly. But, what I do remember is that they almost always were happy memories and tales.

I remember my grandmother telling me the story of my mother’s first date. Apparently, my mother was quite stressed about the date and wanted everything to go just right. She pleaded with her two brother to behave themselves. Soon, someone was knocking at the front door. After they greeted the young suitor at the door, they returned to the inside where her two brothers were on their hands and knees, on the kitchen floor, growling and fighting over the dog food bowl. I guess she was kind of mortified, but they thought it was hilarious. It is pretty funny, actually.

1934 First Communion

The only inkling I have about my mother’s grade school and high school experiences is a photo from her first communion and another from her high school yearbook found at the top of this post.

This is interesting. It wasn’t until this moment that I looked up the quote written under my mother’s photo: “And all her bearing gracious.” It turns out that this is actually a quote by a famous poet: Alfred, Lord Tennyson, called, “Idylls of the King: The Holy Grail.”

I’ve certainly heard of Tennyson and have read the Knights of the Roundtable, so I’m familiar with the Holy Grail, but I have never read the poem, that I can remember. I think these were meant as kind words for my mother from her classmates.

I wish I had been able to know my mother when she was happy and carefree. I didn’t realize she had been such an extrovert! And she was also known as, “Ducky,” LOL. She was involved in a number of school activities. She liked to sing, it seems, participated in a Christmas pageant, and several other activities that have abbreviations, the meanings of which are lost to time. Who knew? I’m glad that she had no idea what lay ahead of her.

It’s also interesting to me that she was a member of the Notre Dame News staff, which must be a Chippewa Falls high school publication of some kind. A portent perhaps? She would later be a court reporter in the Japanese war crimes trials in Tokyo.

I distinctly remember being told that after high school, my mother attended a business secretarial school of some kind. Here is where she would learn the skills that no doubt, later qualified her for being a court reporter and secretary. She supposedly set a typing speed record and won an award for her shorthand. It’s a coincidence, no doubt, but I could type circles around most boys in my high school typing class and I took to shorthand like a fish to water.

If my mother was born in 1921, she probably would have graduated high school in 1939. Add in 2 or 3 years of secretarial school, and it’s 1942 or 43. The dates fit. Because in 1943, she enlisted in the Women’s Army Corp (WAC).

Wow! How did this happen?

Part 2 will begin with my mother’s war years.

Let us know what you think…



  1. Kathleen Treb

    I am loving reading about your mother and your life. You are doing a great job sharing what you know to be facts with many feelings.

  2. Tom Steinberg

    Hi Jeff — Poignant. We’ve got to get together later this summer.

    • Jeff Drake

      Thanks, Tom. Yes, we should get together!


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Jeff Drake

Retired IT consultant, world-traveler, hobby photographer, and philosopher.