As February is traditionally the month for expressions of love, Wanda Puleo’s labor of love, a gift to her mother, seemed to be an appropriate valentine story this week.
Meet Wanda Puleo and her extraordinary 100-year-old mother.
As the 100th birthday of Wanda Puleo’s mother, Ethel Pittman, approached, Wanda wanted to give a special, meaningful, gift to a very special, alert, mentally active and up-to-date lady.
Wanda said, “Last year, when my new granddaughter, Honora, was born, my Mom said, ‘How many does this make now? I hope you are keeping track.’
“I assured her I was, and then in the back of my mind, I thought that maybe I should find an easy way of being able to tell her immediately how many children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren she had.”
Wanda wanted to provide more than a simple list of names for her mother, who is so mentally active that she keeps up with current events and can give her views about national and international events and situations. She enjoys reading and looking up information in the newest World Almanac, and has said she tries to learn something new every day. Her favorite subject in school was orthography (the way letters and diacritic symbols represent the sounds of a language in a spelling system).
Although 100 years old and certainly entitled to simply rest, Ethel usually sits in her favorite chair with her telephone, her Bible and reading material next to her. Thus, Wanda wanted to make a special family genealogy chart for her mother to read and enjoy.
“I checked my genealogy software to see what kind of charts and reports were available to show family information,” Wanda said.
“I first printed off a four-page descendant report, which gave the names, birth dates, marriage and death dates of everyone in the family. But then I decided a genealogical descendant chart would be more interesting, since the chart would provide not only the names, but also be arranged in such a fashion as to make room for pictures of each individual.
“The chart covered five pages, with Mom’s picture at the very top, her children’s pictures in the row below hers, the grandchildren in the third row, great-grandchildren in the fourth row and the great-great-grandchildren in the fifth row.”
The competed chart was 52 inches wide and almost 9 inches tall. It holds 69 photographs, along with the printed information.
Puleo said that gathering the pictures was the hardest task of all.
“I searched picture albums, computer resources and boxes of loose pictures, made phone calls and was successful in finding pictures of everyone,” she said.
Some of the pictures had to be scanned and resized in order for them to fit on the chart, and Wanda became a little concerned that the chart wouldn't be finished in time for her mother’s birthday.
“The chart was completed two days before her birthday (January 28), and a frame was custom made to put it in,” Wanda said.
The finished labor-of-love gift was presented to Ethel Pittman. “She was very surprised to see how her family had expanded over the years,” Wanda said.
A Little History About the Recipient
Ethel Irene Hawkins Pittman was born the eighth of 10 children, in the farm home on the county line road south of Kell. She remembers the family surviving the 1918 flu epidemic that claimed so many of their neighbors.
She remembers one cold winter Sunday when she and some of her classmates who attended the Kell Baptist Church went to a large pond east of Kell. The ice was chopped through a big enough area that allowed the minister to baptize them. Ethel and her family walked down the railroad track a little over a mile to their farmhouse to change her clothes.
Although she couldn’t read a note of music, Ethel had played a banjo, mandolin, guitar, ukulele, ukelin and a piano. Wanda recalls that her mother could play the piano – especially “Tales of Vienna Woods” – with the embellishments of a concert pianist.
She also wrote poetry about nature and scenery, and short anecdotes about life in general, many of which were published in magazines, books and newspapers throughout the United States. She also read on radio programs and is listed in the “Who’s Who of American Poets.”
Wanda lives in rural Brownstown with her husband, Ken Puleo; her daughter, Debbie McDonald; and several family cats.
Her hobbies are genealogy, photography and traveling, and although she sews and plays the piano “a little,” she denies any comparison to her mother’s accomplishments.
Referring to the gift of the genealogy chart, Wanda said, “Now I was able to tell her, ‘You had five children, 11 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren, and 11 great-great-grandchildren!”
And…Ethel – who took up more intensive reading when quilting became too hard on her eyes and hands, is quite fond of books by John Grisham, and has read all 23 of his books, except the one about football – can simply look at her 100th birthday gift and read it for herself.