Molly is One Tough Cookie
I’ve sat and watched a whole lot of baseball games in the past 13 years, with both of my boys playing on numerous teams. But one game in particular stands out from the rest – the day I met Mary Rose Naab, better known as “Molly.”
About a month ago, I sat next to this older lady wearing a pink baseball cap during a game at Billericay Ballpark in Fishers. She came to watch her grandson, Joel Naab, who is on the Hamilton Southeastern 13U Travel Team with my son, Justin.
We started talking, and I quickly realized that she wasn’t just any ordinary 84-year-old lady. Instead, her words of wisdom made her an incredibly strong, witty, inspiring character, from whom I couldn’t wait to hear her next utterance.
Molly grew up working on a farm in Evansville with her six brothers (four younger and two older). Together they would get up at 4:30 a.m., milk seven cows, feed them (along with the pigs, chickens, ducks, and turkeys), eat breakfast and then walk two and one-half miles to school. (Many of us have trouble finding time to walk one mile on the treadmill.)
After school, she would do more chores until dinner, clean up, then study until bedtime. As kids, she and her brothers never had time to do anything for themselves, such as playing organized sports, or taking dance or piano lessons. They would can fruits and vegetables in the summer and can beef and pork in the winter, in addition to making butter, selling eggs and produce. Her family owned an orchard, made their own wine and dried apples by laying them out on the roof in the hot sun.
“Whatever the boys did, I did,” says Molly of her six brothers. (No wonder she is so tough!) They would walk on top of fences and make baseballs out of twine string from feed sacks.
And that’s where the conversation ended at the conclusion of our baseball game. But before saying “goodbye,” Molly kindly offered me five yellow squash seeds. I was so grateful for the seeds and planted them in my back yard that night. I have always wanted to learn how to grow a vegetable garden but never had the confidence.
I couldn’t wait until the next baseball game… so I could sit next to Molly and learn more about gardening and about her life.
At the next ballgame, Molly continued her story: On Saturday nights, her brothers would escort her to the dance hall, which was their main form of entertainment. Incidentally, she met her husband, Elmer, at a dance in Evansville and got married at age 21. She and Elmer moved to Vincennes, Ind., rented a farm and eventually had three boys. With two farms 50 miles apart (one in Evansville and one in Vincennes), they had plenty of work to do.
They lived on a “Pea Ranch,” a name given by the family because they had so many peas (a whole acre) that they couldn’t sell them. They “dressed” 300 chickens every other day and butchered hogs in the wintertime. Also, they would pick vegetables, clean them up, arrange them in baskets and sell them in the market in Evansville.
Suddenly, in November of 1963, Molly faced her biggest life changing moment. Her husband, Elmer, had a terrible, tragic tractor accident and died on their Vincennes farm during harvest time. He left her to raise three boys all by herself (ages, 7, 10 and 17). She had never worked outside farm life before. So Molly went back to school to get her G.E.D. and eventually found a job with the Indiana Department of Transportation, where she worked for 25 years. She and her boys tried to maintain both farms for three years after Elmer’s death but eventually decided to get out of farming altogether.
Listening to Molly laugh after everything she says, I am in awe of her easy-going, free-spirited yet wonderful outlook on life. I am mesmerized by her words in much the same way as Kathy Bates is in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes when she listens to the stories of the elderly lady (Jessica Tandy) in the nursing home to whom she becomes so attached and inspired. I, too, feel somehow I will become a stronger person from knowing Molly.
Molly has always given of herself to others. For years, she prepared and served meals at the Knights of Columbus. She volunteered at the Newman Center at the University of Vincennes, where she painted the entire interior of a three-story house. It was also there that she acquired the nickname “Molly.”
The priest there, Father Lutz, was mighty thankful for her services but could never remember her name (Her real name is Mary Rose). Getting frustrated that he didn’t know her name, she finally asked him one day, “Why can’t you remember my name?” He responded, “I don’t know, but you look like a Molly anyway.” From that point on, her nickname has always been Molly.
Over the years, Molly has endured the loss of four brothers to cancer and one to an automobile accident. However, one brother is still alive today, and they remain very close.
Molly still holds her head up high even after facing six serious surgeries. Most recently, in March of 2007, she found a lump in her neck which proved to be Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, a non-aggressive cancer. She has had five rounds of chemotherapy with one more to go.
“She comes home after her chemo treatment without ever feeling sick and mows her entire lawn. Then she mops all her floors by getting down on her hands and knees,” says her youngest son, Mark Naab, better known as “Peanut.” He beams with pride as he stands behind his mom, with his hands on her shoulders while they watch the game.
Nothing seems to get Molly down. She always wears a genuine smile. The nurses at her doctor’s office are stunned by her positive attitude and perpetual strength. They constantly refer to her as “one tough cookie.”
Molly remains incredibly independent as she drives to and from Florida by herself each November, staying until March. She visits with Larry, her eldest son. Her other two boys, Roger and Mark (Peanut), live here in Indy. She is close to her entire family and has seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Along with gardening, her hobbies include knitting and crocheting, and she has an old player piano that she plays when guests are over.
“When my nieces come to see me, we play on the piano, and we party,” exclaims Molly with a chuckle, adding, “I’ve had a great life. I really have.”
She would never want anyone to feel sorry for her. To me, she seems to have been through a whole lot in her life, and yet there are still so many stories I haven’t heard. I’m not so sure I could handle half of the turbulent fate she has encountered.
I respect her and feel honored to have gotten to know her in my life. And, thanks to Molly, I now have yellow squash growing in my garden! I will always admire Molly, for she truly is one tough cookie.