X: It’s All about Mary/#a-to-z challenge/ X for Mary’s 10 Children

I will admit that the letter X has been a challenge. But this morning I had an a-ha! moment.  X is Roman numeral for ten. Ten is the number of Mary’s children.  So if you will permit me, I’ll introduce you to the clan she nurtured and raised to the best of her ability.

Ruth Thornton Caldwell: she is older of the twins — by about 10 minutes I think. Again, my memory is rusty and I wasn’t in the room at the time.  I would be along 20 years later. Ruthie is …a character. A woman who has brought into the world (with the help of her husband Paul) five lively boys who have matured into amazing men, husbands and fathers. Grandchildren are now “begetting” their own babies so the Caldwell tribe increases almost monthly.

When I was growing up, Ruth was my go-to sister. I went to live with her most summers. When I was in college, she was home base.  Her children have felt more to me like brothers than nephews.

Ruth follows mom in her ability to play the piano. She has a personality that attracts people. She has warmth that puts people at ease.  Trained as a nurse, I believe Ruth is one of the rare people in the health field who actually has the give of healing. I’ve seen her put her hands on a person suffering and observe the injured person relax, breathe easier and become calmer. Ruth talks fast, jumps from subject to subject mid-sentence. Loves to laugh,read, entertain, play the piano–well she did.  She’s 85 now and slowing down. She along with sister Alice have been the matriarchs since Mary passed away.

Alice Thornton Hees has left the planet and moved on to another dimension.  Her passing a few years ago has left Ruth feeling a bit lost. “I miss Alice so much,” Ruth told me the other day during a Skype call.  Alice Jane was the more serious, studious twin. She wanted to be the best, the smartest, the most helpful.  Alice had a huge heart yet she often struggled to know how to show it.  She held no grudges.  Wanted to please and help as much as she could. Like Ruth she was a nurse until she completed her PhD and began teaching at a division of Southern Illinois University. I hear her students loved her.  The nephews knew when Aunt Alice was depressed.  She wore extra more makeup and bling.  She was one of the original wheezers. Ken, her husband, was an accomplished carpenter who was also over the top intelligent. Thanks to their three red-haired, blue-eyed sons the world is all the richer in smart, kind, wise-cracking men.

Charles Gash Thornton, the oldest boy, left home in 1949, two years before I became reality.  Our relationship has been more getting acquainted than catching up during occasional visits. He and wife Janice raised six young ‘uns–three boys and three girls. They’ve traveled the United States, with Chuck pastoring churches in Washington, DC and Kenai, Alaska and parts in between. The twins have many tales to tell of Charles growing up surrounded by girls. He alone with four sisters make up the Japanese half of the family.  He writes his memories down these days, sharing them with siblings and his children.  His recollections brim with images of heat-soaked July days in the Missouri Ozarks, swimming and fishing in the Meremac River, picking blackberries, walking miles along dusty backroads with Elmer somebody or maybe it was Rebus Collier.  I’m not sure. Charles has pastored people for decades, he plays a ukelele, he spins tall tales and cares a lot. I wish I knew him better.  His grandchildren have grandchildren now.  He sounds old but doesn’t look it.  As he’s aged he looks more and more like Watson.

Elsie Lois Thornton Marquess — now here’s a woman who knew how to make people feel good about being themselves.  She went one year to William Jennings Bryan College in Tennessee but got too homesick and opted to stay home after that. “To help mom with the new baby Susan” was her excuse.  Which was partly true, but she had also spied a handsome coach in town which quickly lead to marriage and eight little Marquesses in a row.

Elsie loved her babies, loved all babies.  And all babies loved her. Babies and old people. When at last her youngest left the nest, Elsie turned her attention and lavished her love on people living in nursing homes.  She played songs and sang for them. She involved them in art projects.  She helped them come back to life.

The Marquess home never seemed to be quiet. A whirlwind of activity. Boys playing every sport imaginable. The girls, too, for that matter. As her babies started having babies, the weekends and the house stayed full of the second generation of Marquesses. Elsie and husband Vince made a place in their home for dad the last 10 years or so of his life. Watson was never bored with the steady stream of family and friends who visited him.

Martha Henderson Thornton Miller holds the middle position in the family.  And like many middle children, she is quiet and sometimes out of the loop.  She attended college for a year or two, but ended up joining the twins in nursing school. Early in her career however, she met Don and her life path changed. With a growing family, they moved to Germany for a number of years then back to California. And San Diego is where they have stayed. Four children (Scott, Heidi, Curt and Sara) have added a passel of grandkids from San Diego to North Dakota, Pennsylvania to Switzerland.

Martha carries herself with grace. She is the most quiet of the Thronton women (and has also been one of the most trim.) She missed the fat gene passed on through mama’s side.  I feel she fails to value herself and her gifts.  Martha has opened her home to dozens of people over the decades, offering their extra room to a student or an unemployed worker or a man dealing with a failing marriage or someone who has lost their home. She has the gift of  hospitality in spades. I find myself quieter when I’m around Martha. I want to be gentler. Kinder. Though she was distant geographically as I grew up, she has always been one with whom I felt loved and accepted.  And that is another gift she has.  Martha and I disagree on the biggies in life, from our faith to our politics, yet she is one with whom  I love to sit and gab and share my heart.


Three children shy of the full load of Thornton children. Kate, Susan and me were still a twinkle in someone’s eye.

Samuel Watson Thornton II is the middle son and I believe Dad had a special place in his heart for S.W. Thornton the second. Not that he loved others less…but Sam was his namesake and a farmer. Dad said if he hadn’t been a preacher he would have loved to be a dairy farmer.  I wonder if Watson wouldn’t have been happier in the barn than behind a pulpit. But that’s another story.

Sam is the lone Thornton who chose to stay in the hometown and never leave. He lives there still, close to his three grown children (Sam the third, Doug and Susan), grandchildren and even some greats. No longer a farmer, I think he has stepped into the role of helping keep the family connected. Mom would have wanted that. Sam and his wife Susan take off from central Illinois to visit Thornton siblings, from Illinois to California. He keeps up with nephews and nieces via Facebook and often encourages the young ones. He cares about his kin.  A pilot, an inventor of sorts, a story teller, a road commissioner and  retired farmer. He loved to be in the field and to work with his hands. Dad was very proud of Sam.

John William Thornton loved to laugh. He enjoyed so many things and brought joy to a great many people. Nephews and nieces loved Uncle John. He made fun of himself more than he made fun of others. His IQ was quite high but he had a rough time making it through college. He saw no sense in a lot of the assignments. John ultimately got his diploma but he didn’t really need to. His work ethic and way with people would take him far.

His death at age 35 cut deep and brought tremendous sadness to the family. John ended his own life and left Marcia caring for four little boys. Depression runs deep and strong in the Thornton clan and John dealt with it in the only way he knew how.  We still feel the shock and pain three decades later.

While he was with us, John was a blessing. He could light up a room with his wise-cracks. He was my idol when I was growing up. I loved being around him though I get aggravate him as much as I could.

I cried copious tears when he married Marcia, though I loved her, too. My brother was leaving me and I didn’t like it. A number of years after their wedding, I lived with John and Marcia. I witnessed my crazy brother leave the house one day and return home a changed man. Marcia delivered their first son, Jess and now John was a father.  Proud as can be of his first son. A few years later, he adored their twins, Matt and Aaron. And he was equally pleased with boy number four, Ben. Photos of John and his young family show only broad smiles and happy faces. We completely missed his deep grief.  We miss him still.

Mary Catherine Thornton Beebe now goes by Kate. Closest to me in age — four years difference– we really didn’t like each other until we were well into our 20’s.  Too close? Too different?  I don’t know but we saw little eye to eye. One fistfight comes to mind when she was in high school and I was not. She wanted to watch a movie with some short actor whose name I can’t recall but who in known for cop roles and I didn’t like cop shows nor for that matter short actors. I didn’t like him. I didn’t want to watch the movie and I said no. Fisticuffs followed in the basement on Sycamore. I do not remember who won.

Kate is a smart one. Far smarter than me (and really I’m not dumb).  She analyzes things and comes up with ideas.  Her most used phrases is “You should….” or “You could…”  Her mind never goes to sleep. For her entire career she directed airplanes in landing and taking off. Or else she taught people to do the same.  She keeps her cool.  Logic and reason prevail.  She’s retired now and quilts and creates beauty out of bits of fabric. She’s really good.  Her twin boys, Craig and Dwayne, say not to expect grandkids. We’ll see.

Nancy Agnes Thornton Vander Plaats — that’s me.  And by now you know enough about who I am and why.

Susan Wesley Thornton trailed me by 18 months.  I’ve written a separate post about so I will say no more.  Except that her death was the first in our the immediate family and we all profoundly felt her loss.

So there you have it.  Mary’s (and Watson’s) 10 children and where they stand in the order of things. We’re a family big in number, girth and personality. I’d want no other really. Though at times I admit it’s good we have a continent or two between us.

13 thoughts on “X: It’s All about Mary/#a-to-z challenge/ X for Mary’s 10 Children

  1. I was blessed to know Elsie and John during our short years in Nokomis, IL. Elsie brought joy wherever she went. I looked forward to seeing her in town or at The Round Table. Marcia and John hired me at the Meat Locker and I learned so much about just what is under the cellophane in the grocery store. But the lessons I really learned were gleaned from being allowed into the circle in Marcia’s life. I knew John for too short a time, but he also made a lasting impression on me. I do remember his smile and laugh. Marcia’s faith and strength to go on was a testament to all who know her. Your family has blessed people who you may not know until Heaven.
    We are here!

    Liked by 2 people

    • what a lovely thing to say! so glad you were able to know Elsie and John both. I dearly love Marcia…thanks for writing. I worked for Elsie one summer at the Round Table. Hardest work I’ve ever done! So glad to hear form you. Best wishes.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I too used X as the number ten. Good old Roman Numerals. I remember when I was a teacher the new Maths Syllabus excluded Roman Numerals because they were no longer considered necessary. What a ridiculous idea! I love the way you wrote about each off the ten family members. Now for Y and Z!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. How fortunate you are to have such a big, loving family who seem to take life’s punches and come back laughing and dancing. You totally intrigued me with that zinger about your brother John leaving the house one day and returning home a changed man. I can’t help wondering what changed him and whether it was a change for the good. Or did whatever happened to him that day somehow contribute to the decision eventually to take his life?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think the change was holding his new son for the first time. he left to go to the hospital and when he returned he was a papa. i think the depression that runs in our family hit him extra hard one day. i guess we will never really know.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah. Yes, that can change us indeed. I’m curious how you experienced that change, observing from a child’s vantage point, yet instantly aware that a different man stood before you.


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