Her story begins exactly 101 years ago today, during the tail end of the Spanish Flu.
With a century of life behind her, Vincennes resident Eloise Jones decided it was time to tell her life story, publishing her first book late last year.
“I was born on Sept. 8, 1920, during a pandemic — now I’m 100 years old and again I’m living through a pandemic,” she writes at the opening of her memoir.
Jones, a resident of Vincennes since the 1950s, says she set about the task of writing her life story nearly 20 years ago, originally simply hoping to leave a collection of memories behind for her five children.
Specifically, her book, “The Depression: I Know, I Lived It,” focuses primarily on stories of her life between 1920 and 1940 and highlights the challenges her family faced during the Great Depression.
“We didn’t have utensils to cook with or clean with,” Jones said Monday, sitting next to a stack of beautiful quilts she herself made. “There was just so much we didn’t have.”
But the young Eloise — born Eloise Corum in Beech Grove, Kentucky — couldn’t fully grasp just how poverty-stricken her family was.
“We were poor, but everyone else was too, so we really didn’t know we were,” she explains.
But, says Jones, losing her father at the onset of the Depression made things even more difficult, both emotionally and financially.
Her father, Lloyd Corum — who affectionately called his little girl “Toots” — fell ill with Tuberculosis in 1929.
For five months he lived in a sanitarium in Louisville, Kentucky. The hope was that sufferers of “consumption” could be exposed to enough fresh air, sunshine and rest that they would recover, but many did not.
As Lloyd Corum’s health deteriorated, he begged his wife, Agnes Mae, to bring him home to die.
“Mother was left a widow with three little kids and not a single penny to her name, and not a way to get one.
“The neighbors and some friends told her to put us in the orphan’s home, but she said ‘as long as I can make them food, I’ll never do it.’ And she didn’t,” Jones said lovingly.
At the age of 9, Eloise — the oldest child — was left to help with chores and chasing after her younger siblings.
“After Daddy died, my job was seeing after my brother and sister when mother had a job. I kind of roughed him up every now and then,” Jones said. “But he needed it,” she added with a little laugh.
Too, she said, by age nine she was also tasked with cooking meals for her family in an iron teakettle, which most days consisted of boiled potatoes and some lettuce.
“We ate that every day,” she said.
While Eloise stayed home and tended to the younger children, her mother would take work wherever she was able, but jobs were hard to come by during the Depression, especially for a woman in a small town.
“In a tiny town like ours, there wasn’t much she could do. She took in washings and ironing, and she would get 75 cents for both,” Jones said, adding that her mother also did odd jobs like house-cleaning, hanging wallpaper, and hoeing gardens.
“Anything to make an honest living,” she said.
Jones herself tried to find ways to make money to help her mother, once spending an entire 12 hour day hoeing the weeds out of a Kentucky tobacco field — all for a single dollar.
“But my hands were covered in blisters, so my mother wouldn’t let me go back the next day to earn another dollar,” she said, recalling the memory and holding up her slight hands as if they were still covered in wounds.
Despite the hardships of growing up in the midst of the worst economic downturn in the industrialized world, Jones also describes a childhood overflowing with the joys that come from appreciating the simple, but beautiful, things that surrounded her.
She and her sister, Joyce, spent hours making paper dolls out of Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs, often climbing up in the hayloft to create little paper families.
Jones was also fortunate to be surrounded by fruit trees and plentiful gardens, learning from her mother and grandmother how to tend to the plants and then can and preserve the fruits of their labor.
“I always picked the beans. I loved it, and I still do — We also had rhubarb, grapes, plums, apples, pears and most all of the good things,” she writes.
The timeline of the memoir ends shortly after Jones marries her high school sweetheart, Luther, and they begin a family of their own.
Jones, who now lives with daughter Sue Weiler, credits her wonderful and long life, in part, to rarely ever visiting doctors and a penchant for practical jokes and laughter.
On Monday, as Jones prepared to recount a number of pranks played on family members, a girlish grin started to spread across her face, and soon the room filled with laughter as the family shared in the memories of her many jump-scares and late night shenanigans.
At 101, Jones says she may take more naps than she used to, but she plans to keep writing — perhaps even working on a second book that picks up with the rest of her life’s story.
“The Depression: I Know, I Lived it,” published in 2020 by Westbow Press, can be purchased through Barnes & Noble or on Amazon.