Thursday, April 7, 2011

One Hundred Years, A Life Well Lived

By Shirley Morris
©2011 All Rights Reserved
Edith and Eve Roark
My great aunt and grandmother were born one hundred years ago on this day, April 7, 1911. While I have fond memories of my grandmother, Edith Roark, it was my Aunt Eve who raised my mother and gave her strength, courage, will and moral clarity to live a happy, productive life. It was not an easy gift to give, mom was not always an eager recipient and my grandmother could not recognize the gift her twin sister was willing to give unselfishly and fullheartedly.

One hundred years ago may as well have been one thousand years. Life as we know it today was no less than fantasy, science fiction to the inhabitants of the Oklahoma plains of that time. Eve was a wonderful storyteller and told the story of her father building a home for himself and new bride on the family homestead, "It wasn't much more than a two room shack but mamma said he was so proud of it."

Twins were a novelty and the little
town of Mountain Park showed photos
of Eve and Edith at the local theater.
By the time I was wise enough to recognize the importance of these stories being handed down to me, Eve was well into her 90's and macular degeneration had for the most part, taken her sight. But when she spoke of that two room shack with the woodstove that simmered the steel cut oats all night, was cooled by the summer breeze with a dampened sheet hung in an open window and insulated from the bone chilling winds of winter with newspaper pasted to the walls, you could see the story in her eyes and feel it in her voice. This harsh, unforgiving time, this life without electricity, radio, television, internet, was embraced, cherished and missed.

The girls had not reached their second birthday when their father, Stanley Roark died suddenly of a ruptured appendix. Their mother, Pearl was a typical woman of her time and the plains; educated just enough to take care of the business of wife and homemaker. Left with twin girls, Pearl found herself in a similar situation as many women of that time, she not only wanted but needed to do more to survive.  She had to know more, earn more, be more, than women of that time had a right to be or do.

Pearl succeeded in raising the girls and to hear Eve speak of it, life was idyllic until illness struck unexpectedly. The summer before beginning her senior year in high school, Eve contracted Meningitis. It was touch and go for some time and the town doctor told Eve's mother Pearl she most likely would not survive. The will to live was strong and Eve gradually became stronger but it would be nearly a full year before she would learn to speak and walk again. One year later, Eve successfully completed her senior year courses and graduated with a high school diploma.

She loved ranch life, her favorite uncle, Joe Roark and granny, Laura Warren. Remembering the lessons they taught about honoring family, friends, honesty in business, following your heart and the merits of giving 200% to earn 100%, Eve eventually moved to Los Angeles, California were she met and fell in love with Dale Drake. She thought he looked like Clark Gable and was enthralled with the aviator, barnstormer, race car driver and eventual co owner of Meyer Drake Engineering, makers of the famed Indy racing engine, the Offy.

Eve tried her hand in hollywood movies
but didn't care much for the life. When she met
Dale she said "I met Dale Drake and he saved me."
While much has been written about the success of Dale Drake and the Offy engine, few knew that it was Eve who kept the books for Meyer Drake Engineering. Even though she was not allowed in the office to work because she was a woman, (Lou Meyer strictly forbid women working in his business) Dale would bring the books home at night and unbeknownst to Lou, Eve - not Dale, took care of them.

Beyond her secret life as unofficial CFO for Meyer Drake Engineering, raising her son John, my mother Betty Jean and her brother Rex, Eve became president of the Los Angeles Republican Womens Club, Los Angeles Speed Boat Association and chaired various events with these organizations.

I don't remember much about that part of her life. Much more important to me were the lessons she imparted regarding kindness, patience, equity, honoring friendship and family, her very strong western work ethic, the value of a handshake as your word and contract and acceptance of people as who they are and not who you believe they should be. I don't remember Eve Roark-Drake-Landers ever being mean spirited or gossiping about friend or foe. I think she must have been born fair-minded. Still, I aspire to emulate her in every way I can.

I visited her for the last time last week. Her days are now few. We have talked many times about coming to the end of a life well-lived. She joked about the party being on the other side. My mother, her son, all her friends and two husbands await her. This vibrant, strong, delightful, bright, witty centenarian is now confined to her bed and her memory is fading and failing. I asked her if there was anything left she must do or say to complete her life? She told me everyone was visiting for her birthday and she would feel complete when we all did. I am honored and hope she holds a seat at the party for me.

This is Aunt Eve's favorite poem, shared with me many years ago. It sums up her philosophy on life very well.

"Grandmother, on a winter's day, 
milked the cows and fed them hay,
Slopped the hogs, saddled the mule, 
and got the children off to school.
Did the washing, mopped the floors, 
washed the windows, did some chores;
Swept the parlor, made the beds, 
baked a dozen loaves of bread.
Split some firewood, then lugged it in, 
enough to fill the kitchen bin;
Cleaned the lamps, put in oil, 
stewed some apples she thought would spoil.
Cooked a supper that was delicious, 
afterward washed up the dishes.
Fed the cat, sprinkled the clothes, 
mended a basketful of hose.
Then opened the organ and began to play,
When You Come To The End Of A Perfect Day."

The first video biography I ever did was for my own family. This is a clip featuring Eve from that video.  

No comments: