My mother died in 2012 after 89 years on this Earth. She passed quietly in her sleep at an assisted living facility where she had lived for the final years of a her life. We knew the end was near and I slept by her bedside, holding her hand, on that final night.
Amy and I spent Mother’s Day at her apartment with a dinner we prepared at home and brought. Sbe opened her gifts slowly and her mind, as it did often in those final days, wandered off. I remember thinking this could be her last Mother’s Day.
Those who knew Ethel McPeak Thompson Bolt recognized she had a varied, interesting and often exciting life. A native of Meadows of Dan, she graduated from Willis High School she and her best friend Gaynor traveled the country to visit places both had read about in school.
One of the places was a Mississippi River town in Illinois — Alton, where she and Gaynor spent the night at the Mineral Springs Hotel. Many years later, without knowing about her visit there in the 1940s, I would take a job as a reporter for the newspaper there. The Mineral Springs had closed but later reopened as an antique mall.
Mom worked at the Navy Yard in Norfolk during World War II. She was in charge of the gas rationing office there, handing out coupons and deciding on those who needed more than their normal allotment. One of those who asked was William Douglas “Tommy” Thompson, a young sailor and electrician mate, who wanted extra gas to ride his motorcycle home to Tampa, Florida, to visit his parents after his ship put into the yard for repairs.
Mom also rode a Harley Davidson and granted him the extra coupons. When he returned, he saw her with a date at a Norfolk bar that catered to bikers . To win the rights for that date, Tommy Thompson has to race her date, Joe Weatherly, a worker at the Navy Yard who raced motorcycles.
The young sailor beat Weatherly on the streets of Norfolk to win that date. Norfolk native Weatherly was a champion bike racer who later became one of the early stars of NASCAR. He died in a crash at Riverside, California.
Dates became love and Tommy proposed to Ethel right after the war ended. They rode their Harleys from Norfolk to Meadows of Dan to meet her parents, who were shocked when their daughter, dressed head to toe in motorcycle leathers, showed up at their home with a man they didn’t know about and would be their future son and law. They hadn’t known about her riding exploits.
The engaged riders planned to ride their bike together down to Gibsonton, Florida, south of Tampa, to meet his parents and be married by the Gulf of Mexico. To sooth their feelings, she told Tommy to go on ahead and said she would be down the following week. He told her to not ride down by herself but take the train instead.
Ethel McPeak, however, was strong minded and decided, without telling her future husband, to ride her Then she climbed aboard that bike and rode, by herself, from Meadows of Dan to Tampa to meet her future in-laws.
Tommy was waiting at the train station to meet her and up she rode, covered in dust from the road, after a long ride down on her own.
They rode together after their marriage and performed in motorcycle thrill shows.
I came along in late 1947 but never knew my dad. He died in an industrial accident at work in early 1949.
She loved my dad and I learned to know and love him from her stories. She also loved Harley Davidsons and one of my bikes became the centerpiece of her birthday celebration one year at her apartment at her assisted living facility.
Happy Mother’s Day mom. You are missed.