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My grandparents were known to me as PaPa and Ida. We never called my grandmother by any other name and it seemed to suit her. Frank and Ida Deville had eight children. My mother, born in 1927,  was one of those children. There were six girls and two boys and PaPa and Ida put five of those girls through nursing school, working as a rural route mail carrier position with the US Post Office.

One sister had different thoughts though and decided to become a nun. I always thought that was so neat when I was growing up. How many of my peers could boast they had a nun for an aunt? None that I know of, but as far as I can remember, that fact didn’t get me any special favors.

Having one daughter become a nun did not make a dent in the number of  grandchildren produced in the family. They all married, as did the two boys, and each family had five or more children each. That was a lot of grandchildren and a lot of cousins!

We were not as close to Sister Ida Marie as we were to Mother’s other sisters. There was that adventure to Alaska for one thing that kept us away from family for five years. Aunt Bee, also, never lived very close to Louisiana when she was off doing what nuns do. When she was home and we went for a visit, I was a little scared of her. That habit of black flowing robes was daunting and made her so unapproachable.  Later, when nuns packed away their habits and wore street clothes they could not be picked out amongst other women when in a crowd. Aunt Bee then looked like any other aunt of mine.

When I was older and my grandfather was once in the hospital, his doctor told him he didn’t have anything to worry about. He had five daughters to nurse him back to health and one to pray for him!

Aunt Bee’s given name was Hattie Elizabeth. It always baffled me that her parents and siblings called her Bee since my mothers name was Helen Beatrice and the nickname for Beatrice would be Bee. But she grew up as Bee and Mother grew up as Helen. Ida called everyone else by the name of Shirley. Maybe it was because there were so many children and she couldn’t remember all those names, or because Shirley was the baby and the name stuck in her mind. They all seemed to know when to answer though.

Ida didn’t only raise children. She also raised chickens. It seemed she was always in the kitchen frying chicken. Ida would send us out to the chicken yard to gather eggs anytime we went to visit. I wasn’t much help because I was afraid of those chickens. My cousins would go in, heads held high, and reach under those chickens pecking at their hands, to get the eggs. No big deal. Then they would exit through the gate calmly. I, on the other hand, would stick as close to them as I could with my heart beating wildly, watching every move of those chickens. I did not intend to get pecked. My father said it’s a wonder he didn’t turn into a chicken because the only thing my mother knew how to cook when they first got married was chicken or eggs.

I’ve often wondered why five of the  Deville girls decided to go into the nursing profession. Mother was sixteen years old when she left home for New Orleans to attend nursing school. The house she grew up in had only three bedrooms and one bathroom. There was a long screened in porch on one side of the house that was probably used as a sleeping porch in nice weather. If the weather was cold, I wonder where all those bodies slept!


My newest nonfiction book – ‘Coffee-Drunk Or Blind’

An Alaskan Homesteading Adventure

is out on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Pick up your copy today.


About Elle Knowles

Elle Knowles lives in the Florida Panhandle with her husband and off-at-college-most-of-the-time son. She has four daughters, one son, and eleven beautiful grandchildren. 'Crossing the Line' is her first novel. The sequel 'What Line' is a work in progress. Recently published is Coffee-Drunk Or Blind - a nonfiction story of homesteading in the Alaska wilderness with her parents and four siblings, told through letters by her mother and remembered accounts from the family.

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