A SMALL LIFE REIMAGINED
On this date in 1917, a baby girl they named Mildred was born to Arley and his first wife, Alta Burger Eaves. After having three sons, I’m sure they were very happy to have a daughter. She left a very faint impression on this world which she left just three months after her 15th birthday. I remember having seen one of her last school pictures—but that photo has vanished.
In 2017, to honor her memory 100 years after her birth, I compiled a family scrapbook with all the details of her brief life. This one photo remains—at least, I think it is Mildred and not her younger sister Tootsie. No one is available to confirm or deny that, so I’m saying it’s so. The man sitting on the porch I think is her paternal grandfather, Jasper Eaves.
I only have two items that were hers. One is a small purple book titled Prayers for Girls, inside which she wrote “Mildred Elizabeth Eaves. Athens Tenn.” The other is a lovely cross-shaped china container, the top section with green leaves and delicate purple flowers and a metallic cap looking like a crown. Arley always said it was Mildred’s perfume bottle. I wonder if it might have been a gift for her last birthday.
She had just finished 8th grade and was planning to begin high school in the fall. One Sunday afternoon in early July, they went for a drive in the country—perhaps the parents, Mildred, and Tootsie. Arley stopped by a spring where he’d gone to get water often as a boy. A cool drink sounded good to him—and Mildred also drank from the spring. They both contracted typhoid fever and one week later, Mildred died. Arley was taken to the hospital where he stayed 28 days fighting for his life. He didn’t know Mildred was gone until he recovered.
I have copies of Mildred’s newspaper obituary. Of the funeral, it was noted “the services were impressive, and attended by a large number of relatives and friends, including a host of young people, school friends and special friends of the deceased.”
A family’s grief, a father’s guilt, and two years later, her mother “died of a broken heart.” I always heard the stories about her illness and death—but so little about her life. It seemed to be too painful for Arley to remember. Mildred’s small life was a blessing, too.