Monday afternoon I stood at my dining room table, flipping through a splayed out copy of the New York Times, when an obituary caught my eye and made me lean in to better read it. It reported that a ninety-eight year old woman named Ernestine Gilbreth Carey had died. My heart squeezed in a moment of grief as I realized who she was.
When I was growing up, one of my very favorite books was “Cheaper by the Dozen.” Sadly, the name and story have been bastardized in recent years by two god-awful movies starring Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt. The book and it’s sequel “Bells on Their Toes” are the story of the family of a dozen children (although only 11 children lived to adulthood) that Frank and Lillian Gilbreth bore and raised in Montclair, NJ in the early part of the 20th century. Ernestine and her brother Frank were the authors of these books that chronicled their early family life.
For me, these two books opened a window into a world that was 75 years and vast expanses away from the childhood I had with my one sister in Los Angeles and Portland, OR. I read them repeatedly, until my paperback copies were tattered. When I stumble upon them on the shelves a thriftstore, I buy the copies and pass them along to friends. I’m not able to entirely articulate the reasons why the Gilbreth family so captured my attention, but their story is one that I cherish.
So I wish Ernie (as she’s known in the books) well as she makes this transition out of this life, sending my thanks for the many hours of enjoyment her writing gave me.