My mother had the unusual ability to make each of her four children believe we were her favorite. I was an adult before I figured out that it was impossible for each of us to be “most loved,” but by then, she had already worked her magic.

Mom has been on my mind a lot lately as she nears the end of a long and productive life, and it occurs to me that this week is an appropriate time to tell a little of her story. 

Marie Evelyn Everly was born late in the day on Aug. 12, 1919, on a small farm outside Bondurant, northeast of Des Moines. As far as I know, the only hate she ever expressed was for her first name, which she never used and which I know she would prefer I not mention.

The day Mom was born was unseasonably mild, with temperatures in the low to middle 70s. I know it rained, because the Aug. 13, 1919, Des Moines Register said a shower the previous evening had ended an outdoor meeting of people opposed to what is now Keosauqua Way. 

The same newspaper reported that Ohio Gov. Warren Harding, who would be elected president a year later, spoke at the Hotel Fort Des Moines that evening, urging farmers to buy trucks and lobby for paved roads. 

I doubt my grandfather saw that newspaper report, but what Harding said connected with his lifelong dream of travel. 

In May 1930, Leslie Everly bought a new Chevrolet truck chassis with nothing on it, not even a seat, and built a mobile home. On my mother’s 11th birthday, Leslie loaded his wife and three children into the truck and set out on a three-month, 15-state tour of the West. 

More than 80 years later, Mom can still recall many details of that trip. One reason her memories are so clear is that just three months after their return, my grandfather was killed in that same truck by a drunken driver.

Because of that 1930 trip, Mom developed a love of travel, which my father indulged with annual two-week family camping trips that began when I was 10.

Grandfather’s early death may also have been the inspiration for Mom’s late-in-life fascination with family history. 

After she retired, Mom traced her own family back to Henry VIII’s 16th-century England and learned that her earliest American kin arrived in New Hampshire in about 1650. On my Dad’s side, she reported that my great-grandfather, Simon Elbert, organized the first fire department in Grummersbach, Germany, shortly before he sailed for America in 1881. 

Mom gave birth four times between December 1945 and October 1949, which means the 1950s should have been a blur to her. 

To keep her little ones busy and out of trouble, she employed various strategies, including one that my older brother lovingly calls the Elbert sweatshop.

It started when Mom got hold of some rubber molds into which you could pour plaster of Paris and create small figurines. After making a few batches, we set up a small stand, like kids use to sell lemonade, where we would stand streetside and shout: “Figurines for sale.”

We didn’t have many customers until one day, when an arts and crafts teacher stopped and ordered dozens of figurines for summer-school students to paint. 

His large order caused Mom to purchase some kind of liquid rubber that we then used to make our own figurine molds. 

Our entire basement was converted into a production factory, with tiny fingers mixing plaster, pouring it into molds, poking it to get the bubbles out and peeling off the molds the next day.

I hated it at the time, but it is now a priceless memory.