When Mom Was My Age (#9)

Lucy Emery

Lucy Emery (age 34) | Lucy Emery (2010)

“When Mom Was My Age” is an interview series between daughters and mothers. New interviews appear every Monday. If you would like to participate, contact Jane.

The following interview is with Lucy Fugiel Emery, interviewed by her daughter Dorothea Emery Duenow (age 34).


Where did you live?
We lived in Charleston, South Carolina, in Edgewater Park on Emory Drive.  I was happy to be living near my family. We had returned to my hometown for your father’s first job teaching the History of Language and the Anglo Saxon at the Citadel.

The Citadel is the military school for South Carolina. When hired, a faculty member is made an officer in the South Carolina Militia, so your dad was made a Captain.  The faculty is also offered housing at the Citadel; it is like an army base. Your housing is based on rank, i.e. apartments for new faculty and houses for senior faculty. You move into better housing as your rank rises.

As I had grown up in Charleston, I knew I didn’t want to live on the base. So, we bought our first house. Citadel wives were like army wives, also given a ranking. Fortunately, though I did have to make some cakes for functions, since we did not live on the base, I was not asked to do very much in that role.

The year I was 34, my parents’ home burned down to the ground. Fortunately, although everything was lost, no one was home, so no one was hurt. I remember it was a Thursday, because on Thursdays my mom and dad came to our house for dinner. That evening, your father and grandfather drove out to see the smoldering ashes and then returned home to eat. Your father asked my father, mother and sister if they would be staying the night. My dad laughed and said he supposed so.

They all moved in and lived with us for the next year. It was hard fitting three adults into a three bedroom home with four children, but we did it. The baby, your older brother, lived in our room in his crib. Your three older sisters moved into the attic, which we made into a makeshift bedroom by knocking out a wall and putting in a window, plus flooring, etc.  It was pretty crowded.

What did you do each day?
I was a stay-at-home mom at the time, pregnant with you. My sister went to nursing school, my dad still worked, and your two older sisters were in Ashley Hall School. Your father drove them to and from school each day.

My mother stayed home with me and the younger two children. She was mentally unstable, and just before you were born, I had to put her in the local hospital’s mental ward as she had been trying to kill herself and the doctor wanted me to concentrate on the pregnancy. She came home after you were born.

I also ran Birthright, a charity for unwed pregnant girls that helps them have their babies. I was lucky as I had great volunteers and we managed to help many people.  I could do a lot of the organizing from home.

Each day was packed with activities and calls. I cooked, shopped, cleaned. Somehow, I managed to keep up with the laundry. I had no dryer, so I had to hang cloth diapers and everything else on the many clotheslines in the back yard. Fortunately, my dad liked to help when he got home and he took care of the yard work. My sister also helped when she wasn’t studying. I remember being perpetually tired.

What did you worry about the most?
I was most worried about my mother. I was afraid she would hurt herself. I think she really wanted to be discovered and saved, as her repeated suicide attempts were often pretty comical, while still terribly sad, of course. Once, I found her kneeling with her head in the oven and I had to remind her it was electric. She would also lie down across the road in front of the house, to get run over. Fortunately, few cars, if any, ever drove down our street.

I worried about managing everything. But as each day was so full of tasks, I only really had time to worry at night, and by then I was honestly too tired to think.

What did you think the future held for you?
I thought I would always live near my parents and sisters, raising my family with my family surrounding me. It was easy in so many ways with all the help and love. But after your younger brother was born, your father got a job offer at the University of Dallas and we moved to Texas. I never thought I would get to travel, which is strange because we travel all the time now. I love to experience new places and I have been most fortunate in this, both thanks to all you kids and thanks to your father’s work.

I still love to act and paint and read.  Would I like to have done more? Yes, but I have also done enough. I continue to have adventures all the time and life just gets more and more interesting.

How do you look back on those days now?
I was happy and busy then. I have always had a can-do attitude. If I were 34 now, I would probably live the same way, raising a big family and working hard. I know that my life choices were never based on what the world was like around me, and for the most part, I’ve remained pretty off-trend. I believe in living each day, trusting in God and my faith, and it has worked out pretty well so far.

Posted in When Mom Was My Age.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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