Pauline Maryann Houser was born the oldest of two daughters in Mena, Arkansas, to Anderson and Kathlyn Houser. She dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. Instead, she was swept off of her feet at 19 by a handsome, WWII B24 gunner seven years her senior. Gordon MCleary was four years and one divorce beyond the war, though he never really left it behind. Their first son was born the year after they married; 13 other children followed over the next 24 years, a total of twelve boys and two girls. Sadly, they outlived two of them. After my own daughter’s critical illness last year, I have no idea how they survived their deaths.
Life was never easy for Mom, but she didn’t let it break her. Dad drank, to fight his demons from the war. With that many kids, the month always outlasted the paycheck. My husband remembers being hungry at the end of the month…leftovers were a new concept when we got married. You can’t really keep a house nice with twelve growing boys, since you never know when you’ll find freshly hunted squirrels or car parts in your kitchen sink. There was no way to referee all of their daily conflicts. I think that it’s nothing short of a miracle that she kept them all in one piece, let alone clothed and fed, until they reached adulthood.
But the most amazing thing about Mom was her disposition. Through it all–the poverty, the child loss, the shenanigans by her kids–she was the sunniest person I’ve ever known. In the 25 years that I knew her, I can count on one hand the number of times that I heard her speak ill of anyone. Those rare occasions were reserved for ex’s who had hurt her kids, her unforgivable sin. No matter what they did, she deeply loved and fiercely defended each of her children. She was the epitome of a loyal, loving mother.
I miss her greatly every day, but especially on Mother’s Day, her birthday, and Christmas. She loved me like a daughter, and I wish I could again tell her how much she meant to me. Mom – you are missed, you are loved, and you made a difference.
“The heart of a mother is a deep abyss, at the bottom of which you always find forgiveness.” –Samuel Taylor Coleridge