Remembering Mother

Russell, Ellen, Eri, and Lala Tabor.

As Mother’s Day draws near, I have been thinking about my wonderful mother, my unforgettable grandmothers, and all the women that hold a place of honor in my family tree.

This week, I want to recognize two of the women in my family: Lala Tabor Banister and Ellen Surbrook Tabor. One of the great joys of family history is, after all, learning about our ancestors and paying tribute to their memory.

A few years ago, my aunt sent me several diaries kept by Floyd and Lala (Tabor) Banister. These were the “daily” diary style of journal, with space for a few lines or maybe a page a day.

In between notes about the weather, errands, friends who visited or wrote, family updates, and chores around the house, Lala remembered her mother’s birthday in her diaries.

December 29, 1969: “My mother would be 103 years old if she had lived till now. Today is her birthday.”

December 29, 1971: “This was my mother’s birthday. She would have been 105 years old.”

December 29, 1975: “My mother’s birthday. She would be 109 years old today.”

December 29, 1976: “Today is my mother’s birthday. She would be 110 yrs.”

December 29, 1980: “This is my mother’s Birthday today. She would be 113 years old today.”

One entry in particular stood out to me. On January 7, 1971, she wrote, “Mother died 51 years ago today… I guess I’m the only one who remembers it.”

Excerpt from Lala Banister’s diary. January 7, 1971.

“I guess I’m the only one who remembers it.”

Something about that phrase struck me; it hit me hard enough to stop me in my tracks and give me pause.

The meaning behind these simple words spoke to me of deep emotion; of love and loss, of a mother missed, and a devoted daughter, even half a century and more after the passing of her mother.

Ellen Surbrook Tabor was not old, by any means, when she passed away from apoplexy in 1920. Apoplexy indicates that she probably died suddenly from a stroke or brain hemorrhage after falling unconscious. Undoubtedly, given the cause, her death came as a shock to her family. Her death certificate says she was born December 29, 1865 and died at the age of 53 on January 7, 1920, but that is some fuzzy math and it appears that the birth date is off by one year in the death record.

(This is a good reminder that the information in death records is only as accurate as what the informant provided. They are more reliable sources of death info than birth info because they were recorded at the time of death, so there was less chance for errors. Also, it is easy for people recording the information to make mistakes! That’s why we try to verify info with as many sources as possible.)

Other records indicate that Ellen was actually born in 1866, which coincides with all of the entries Lala recorded about her mother’s birth, death, and age.

Death certificate of Ellen Drucilla Tabor. Available online at

Lala, who was a new mother in 1920, would have been just 22 years old at the time of her mother’s death. Now consider the fact that Lala lived to the “ripe old age” of 88. She lived three quarters of her life without her mother there to talk to, laugh with, and lean on. For most of her life there were no long conversations, holiday gatherings, time spent with the kids, or letters or phone calls from her mother. Lala raised two sons, enjoyed four grand-children, helped manage a farm, and went about the duties and joys of every day life without her mother there for most of it. She had to figure out her role as a mother without her own mother for support.

Perhaps that is why the line in Lala’s 1971 diary stood out to me so much. Here was a woman in her 70s, in her golden years according the worldly standard, but who was a young girl, missing her mother, at heart. Even sixty years after Ellen’s passing, Lala remembered her mother’s birthday in her diary.

Reading her words, I sense loss and pain, but I also sense a lot of love – the kind of love that transcends generations and lasts beyond a lifetime. It reminds me of how much I love my own mother and how thankful I am to have her in my life. Lala’s message speaks to my heart and it is something I can understand.

This Mother’s Day, because of that love between mother and daughter that we share, I have a message for Lala and Ellen.

I remember.

Full page entry from Lala Banister’s diary on January 7, 1971.