By Susan Dromey Heeter, Joyful Musings
When my husband and I lived in officers’ housing on Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, during the late 90s, we had one child, a new baby girl. Our house had three and half baths, four bedrooms, a full kitchen and a heated garage.
When my friend, Julia Roberts – no, not that Julia Roberts – lived in housing in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, during the 60s, she and her six Lillard family siblings lived in a three bedroom house. Her parents had their own bedroom, her two brothers slept in their own room, and Julia shared a tiny room with her four sisters. There were five girls and as Julia recalls, “wall to wall beds.”
Something seems amiss with this picture.
Julia moved fifteen times before college, moving around with her parents and siblings from base to base. Her father was an army colonel, taking his first tour to Vietnam in 1963; her mother corralled her own troops on various bases both stateside and abroad.
Anneliese Maria or Liese, the third of the Lillard family, was born in Germany and received an exotic sounding name for the 60s. When Mother Marge Lillard was having her seventh child, a vote was taken among the siblings for her naming. Julia campaigned hard for the name Barbara, ultimately the name Joan won out. Even in the 60s elections did not always go the way Julia would have liked, perhaps lining the way for her strong interest in history and political systems.
Julia went on to be valedictorian of her Fort Campbell, Kentucky high school as well as a National Merit Scholar. Anyone who knows Julia, knows she’s the one to ask about anything from the US Constitution to early American flatware. I’ve seen her corral seventh grade boys into formation within seconds. I suspect being the oldest daughter of seven provided those life skills of organization and order.
Julia remembers holding Joanie on her lap as her mother drove – siblings bouncing around the back seat.
And in one of those moments where I wonder what I have to complain about, I think of the story Julia tells of when her mom went in to the base hospital to birth her youngest. Only days after, Mrs. Lillard had to pack up and move to the next base as her husband was going back to Vietnam. Six children, a day old baby, moving house and a husband off to Vietnam.
Mrs. Lillard wept.
I can’t even imagine.
I can imagine, however, when Julia wept after reading a note her mother sent while Julia was still in her first semester at the College of William and Mary. Julia learned – via the ancient art of letter writing – that “we took down your bed.” Of course. But Julia sat down in an Old Williamsburg doorway and sobbed – realizing she no longer had her own bed at home, recalling, of course, that “having your own anything” in a big family was a rarity.
The Lillard children have gone on to create their own successful lives and families and Julia got her Barbara in the form of a wonderful sister in law. Mother Lillard lives on her own in Tennessee and will celebrate her 97th birthday on February 8th surrounded by all of her children.
As I muse joyfully on big families I celebrate a military wife and mother to whom her eldest daughter boasts proudly is “truly a remarkable woman.” In fact, a few years ago, Mother Lillard was honored for her contributions on the stage as an actor and dancer.
She received the Full Circle Award “presented annually to a living Tennessean who has had a consequential impact on arts and culture in Montgomery County over many years of direct involvement through innovative work, philanthropy or leadership.” The award, affiliated with Clarksville’s Austin Peay State University, celebrated this “remarkable woman.”
A dancer, an actor, a mom to so many. I muse joyfully you’ll have a Happy Birthday, Mother Lillard. Enjoy. And thank you, Julia, for the memories of growing up in a plethora of beds and siblings.
Susan Dromey Heeter, a writer from Dover who recently let her hair go au natural white, writes “Joyful Musings” for InDepthNH.org. Dromey Heeter is a secondary Spanish Teacher at Dover High School and the mother of two teenage daughters. Writing has been her passion since her English majoring days at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Dromey Heeter has lived in The Netherlands, Alaska and currently basks in all things New England, including the frigid winters. An avid swimmer, Dromey Heeter’s great passion is to bring back body surfing as most children have no idea how to ride waves without ridiculous boogie boards. She also writes about thrift shopping and all things frugal in a column called “Budget Vogue” for the New Hampshire Union Leader.