Every Wednesday readers of the LVN get a treat from Edna Van Leuven, writer of the “Then and Now” column. As her son, Doug, I get to enjoy her wit and humor all week long. I’m frequently discussed in her articles. There’s more to this remarkable lady.
Mom was born on a hot and humid day on June 20, 1924, on Beechwood Street in Philadelphia to her mother, also named Edna (Pearl), and her father, Ambrose. Her older sister Jeannie also welcomed her. Her father at that time was a homebuilder, and her mother taught piano. Both of her parents were great dancers who instilled in her an appreciation for the arts. Times then for her family were very good.
Then along came the “Great Depression.” For most living then, things degraded rapidly. Mom’s father lost his homebuilding business, never really becoming the provider he had been. Mom’s mother went to work at Strawbridge and Clothiers Department Store in downtown Philly to help make ends meet. Mom worked part time for an optometrist while in high school. Economic adversity only strengthened mom’s resolve that things would be different in her future family.
She met my father, Donald Hill, while working at Leeds and Northrup, an electrical instrument firm during the early days of World War II. Don’s mother, Adeline, once told my father before he got married, that my mother “was too frail, and wouldn’t be able to have many children.” My mother then retaliated by having five boys: Don Jr. (1944), Doug (1946), Dave (1953), Dean (1955) and Dan (1957). “Mom Hill” never questioned my mother’s health again!
In 1950, when our family moved from Philly to the suburb of Roslyn, mom worked nights at a pharmacy to supplement family income, after taking care of us during the day. She walked to work, eight blocks away, even on frigid winter nights. As she had learned from an early age, she taught us the value of working hard, and never to expect something for nothing.
I remember going door to door with my father selling “Fuller Brush” articles and homemade potholders that mom taught my brother Don Jr. and I to make. Every nickel and dime was squeezed to the max. After sons David and Dean came along, the two-bedroom bungalow in Roslyn with an unfinished attic where my brother Don and I slept, was bursting its seams. Mom convinced my father to move to Ambler when Dan was born.
Mom began working as a waitress at various restaurants, but the one that everyone wanted to work at in that area was the Blue Bell Inn. I was reminded of this, believe it or not, by a recent newscast from Blue Bell. Mom went into this restaurant every week, asking if there was any work? Finally, one Sunday afternoon the headwaiter called, asking if she could work the dinner shift?
Mom was there, seemingly before the phone call ended. Eventually, mom worked there full time. Then my brother Don and I worked in this restaurant on weekends, first in the kitchen, then as busboys. On occasion I worked as a waiter Sundays when liquor wasn’t served due to “Blue Laws.” As a result, our family prospered due to our hard work. In 1964 my parents divorced.
In a two week-long epic drive in a Volkswagen bus, mom brought all five boys from Pennsylvania to California with only $1,000. I firmly believe that the film “Vacation” with Chevy Chase was adapted from our trip. Arriving in Santa Barbara, Calif., after getting an apartment and secondhand furniture, we had less than $100. There were times that we played a game called “who can find the beef in the beef stew?”
We worked car washes, in restaurants and cleaned homes. But we made it, moving to Southern California in 1965. In 1967 mom married Ralph Van Leuven, a retired marine who sadly died in 1984. In addition to her fives sons, she has five grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. When she moved to Reno at age 72, she got a job with the Reno-Gazette Journal. In 1987 I retired and moved to Fallon.
Mom has been with me ever since. In 2014 she nursed me through a near-death illness. Mom has survived breast cancer, TIA (mini-stroke) attacks and now lives with a failing heart. But her mind is keen — she perseveres through it all — and she loves hearing how her readers enjoy her articles. She’s “a most remarkable lady.”