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Eloise Messenger Mosley: A Century, A Life in Montgomery

History columnist Pat Torrance visits her aunt Eloise on the occasion of her 100th birthday, and learns some things about Montgomery history in the bargain.

When I learned that my aunt Eloise Messenger Mosley would turn 100 this week, I definitely had to pay her a birthday visit. 

I was a little apprehensive about it, since I heard that she would not open her door to visitors prior to moving to the Hillside Nursing Home, even discouraging her own brother from coming into her house. But I decided to take my chances, and I am so happy that I did.

The person I found there was a very sweet, gentle little lady, who was happy to see me and even talk to me. As we talked, I began to see that she was probably depressed living alone after her mother died, and became more fearful of outsiders. 

Before entering the nursing home, she lived in a small cottage in the 200 block of South River Street. When the Western Electric factory was operating at the end of the street, she endured the noise of the traffic coming and going. This bothered her enough to mention it several times. No doubt this was a factor.

That so few people remember her living there is not surprising. She is one of those quiet people who just fly beneath the radar, never attracting much attention.

When I told her she was a celebrity, having reached a great milestone that few people ever achieve, she just smiled sweetly. Her response was, “You just do what you have to do.” This was her answer to any questions about her life. I began to understand that acceptance was the theme of her life. It served her well throughout many difficult times.

Eloise Messenger was born on September 7, 1911. With her father no longer in the picture, her single mother raised Eloise and her brother Irv. She was married on January 19, 1938 to Richard A. Mosley when she was 27 and he was 31.

I wish I could say that I remember that wedding, but I was four years old and my memories do not go back that far. But I do remember visiting the newlyweds when they lived in a big red brick farmhouse on Aucutt Road. I remember the sunshine coming through the windows in the big front parlor with its flowered wallpaper.

Her blue eyes sparkled when she talked about her husband. Some people thought she should remarry after his death, but there was only one man for her, and he was an “awful good man.” Several photos of them in happier days hang by her bed.

No one could guess that in just five years, Eloise would find herself a young widow, one of the many tragedies of the Second World War.  The healthy young man that she kissed goodbye a year and a half before, died of pneumonia after a three-week illness.  It seemed like such an unnecessary death.

Eloise and her sister-in-law Ellen boarded a train and went to the base at McKinney, Texas to seek out some answers. Mosley had been serving as an orderly for an officer at the army base when he became ill. His condition gradually worsened until he was finally taken to the Ashburn General Hospital in McKinney, where he died.

The family was never satisfied with the answers they received as to why the military waited so long to admit him to the hospital. The base was over-crowded with men who contracted malaria overseas. Mosley was overworked and sleep deprived, and his body just couldn’t fight off the virus.

After a full military funeral at Riverside Cemetery, with honor guards and traditional gun salute and the playing of Taps, Eloise left his graveside with her mother. With the help of her mother, she mourned his death and began to make a life for herself. When I commented that this must have been hard, she again said, “You do what you have to do.”

Her memories of growing up in Montgomery are vague, but she remembered Riverview amusement park, and the boat ride concession that Gus Albright operated on the Fox River at the park. She remembered getting on the paddleboat and riding down to the bridge before turning around and heading back to the park. It was a favorite place for her and her friends, who she called ‘her clique.’

Her friends would gather on the front steps at the grocery store until the storekeeper chased them away because they blocked the entrance. Then they moved to the steps of the Methodist Church across the street.

I was curious about how she felt about her mother-in-law, my Irish grandmother. Since her two sons didn’t marry until after 30, I knew that Grandma had a hard time letting her boys go. Eloise confirmed this, saying that she liked telling her son what to do.

Her family attended the Montgomery Methodist church. She and her mother loved to crochet, and made beautiful baby things for others. Her brother Irv married Lucille Sampson, and the Sampson’s became her extended family. She was content staying home and taking care of her mother all of her life. After her mother’s passing she lived alone for another 20 years.   

With help from her army widow’s pension, she lived comfortably and eventually bought a small cottage at 212 South River Street. She never drove a car, but her brother Irv took her anyplace she needed to go. Her life was very simple.

The morning that I visited, she sat on her bed, looking out the big picture window at the pretty little yellow finches that were flitting about on the tops of the hedges.

She said she has had a nice life. She likes living at Hillside Nursing Home, and has adapted to her situation with grace and dignity. Her only nephew, Rich Messenger, looks after her affairs and makes sure she is well cared for. We can all learn from her. 

As I left the nursing home, she smiled and said, "Be sure to come back again." And I will! Thank you Aunt Eloise for just "doing what you had to do."

Dina Messenger September 07, 2011 at 09:51 PM
Nice article!! She is a lovely person. Thank you for remembering her.
Martha Swanson September 08, 2011 at 12:31 PM
Nice Party yesterday. Thanks Rich & Dina for setting it up. She looked great for 100. Have sent this article to the West Coast Neill's.

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