Jane Elder 1Jane Ruth Elder, my mother, grew up in Tacoma, Washington, during the Depression in the family of a teacher. In those days, teachers were paid little. It became apparent that her parents could not afford music lessons for her, even though that is what she wanted more than anything. How could she become a musician if all she had was the music instruction everybody got in public school?

Jane Elder Hough 1923-1995

Jane Elder Hough 1923-1995

She found a way, sort of. She majored in vocal music in college. But she realized that she wasn’t going to work as a music teacher because she couldn’t play the piano very well.

So she majored in physics too.

Interesting solution, huh?  She graduated from college and got a wartime job at Aberdeen Bombing Mission in Los Angeles. I don’t have her slide rule, but she had one. She and a hundred other women worked in a huge room computing bomb trajectories on their slide rules. She was a computer. A human computer. And when she married Eldred W. Hough and became Jane E. Hough at age 25, she became a dedicated stay-at-home wife and mom.

Her lack of music lessons at a young age colored her treatment of her own four children. She made sure that we had the training we’d need to become professional musicians, if we chose to. We started music lessons at the age of three, except for the youngest. He had some issues. But even he started lessons by the age of nine or so. What a blessing that training was, at least for me. And I know it wasn’t easy for her to manage, with her special-needs youngster. And guess who is the musician? Yep, the special-needs one. (My sister also continues to enjoy playing the piano.)

metronomeMy mother loved to entertain women friends with fancy plates and cups, tablecloths, silver, and all that. Her mother had instilled this in her. And so my heirloom for her is a cup and plate that she used for these events, and also a little clown to go in her kitchen window that I gave her once upon a time. When she died (when I was 42) it returned to me.

Also, there’s this mechanical metronome that kept time for us while we were practicing our music. You wind it up, like a clock. You adjust the speed of the ticking by moving the weight up and down. Very well used.

She sang church solos while I was growing up, and when the kids were out of the house eventually started singing opera in a small theater near Carrollton, Illinois, where she and my dad had retired. So she managed to become a known musician after all.

Short Story by Phyllis Wheeler

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