FAIRMONT — For many, Mother’s Day is a quiet holiday intended to celebrate the unconditional love that comes with motherhood, usually in the form of a greeting card or a bouquet of flowers, but for Fairmont’s Connie Canery, Mother’s Day is one of the busiest times of her year.
“Sometimes my kids can’t even get me on the phone because the line will be busy all day,” Canery said. “Don’t get me started on thanksgiving.”
Canery, who serves as Center Manager for Fairmont’s Head Start program, when she isn’t working with You Love It Pizza, Hardee’s or the Parks and Recreation Department, has, in addition to her five biological children, raised 37 children in her home.
Canery began her long career as caretaker when she was just 17. Canery’s own mother, who was raising her without a father, was part of what historians refer to as “The Great Migration,” a time during the 1960s and 1950s when more than 6 million blacks moved out of the rural South, toward the urban Northwest so as to secure work that would otherwise be unavailable to them.
Once finding work in New York, her mother sent back money to Canery on a regular basis, who was still living in North Carolina, raising her baby brother Gregory.
“We didn’t go lacking for money,” Canery said. “All I had to do was pay the bills and make sure the kids went to school. I was 17, but back in the old days that was considered grown.”
Once her brother was grown himself and out of the house, motherhood wasn’t done with Canery. After 1966, Canery would go on to have five children, Valerie Thompson, Donald Moon, Danny Thompson, Dwayne Thompson, and Darrin Thompson.
At the age of 16, Darrin was struck by a car and killed.
The loss of Darrin wasn’t Canery’s first brush with tragedy. In 1969 Canery was in an automobile accident, in which she lost her left arm, from the elbow down and was suddenly faced with the prospect of raising four children while wrestling with her own disability.
“I looked at those four children and said to myself that there is no one who is going to raise my children but me, I am going to raise my own,” Canery said. “I didn’t like people telling me what I couldn’t do. Don’t ever tell me what I can’t do.”
Despite the pain she had suffered, Canery found that she was always able to throw herself into her cooking as a form of therapy.
Her cooking, she says, made her very popular with the friends of her children. Each day around dinner time a neighborhood child would show up.
“My house was — the — house. If you came to my house, you got fed,” Canery said. “I always had enough food for everyone. To tell you the truth, I don’t know how I did it. I guess I was just blessed.”
Some children, like a 10-year-old boy named Sunday Moore, whose parents had passed away and was staying with his sister, would ask to stay over at her house, and Canery found herself incapable of saying no.
“[Sunday] was getting ready to quit school, and his parents deceased, and he started staying with me. Spending the night, spending the weekend, next thing you know he was bringing his suitcase in,” Canary said. “Finally I told him he could live with me on one condition. He had to stay in school.”
Moore was far from the only child to make himself at home. In a case of history repeating itself, Canery was tasked with raising her three nieces while their mother sought work in New York and sent back money.
After that Canery raised two more of her sister’s children, as well as the children of one of her nieces, as well as the two children of Sunday’s girlfriend.
More recently, after the death of one of her sisters, Canery was willed her sister’s three sons, 6-year-old Malik Eury, 7-year-old Derrick Eury and 8-year-old Charles Eury.
Today the three boys are teenagers, and light up when asked about whether or not they feel Canery has done a good job raising them.
“She takes time to make sure that we can all have fun together,” Charles said. “One day, it will be her day, and one day it will be our day to do what we want to do.”
Though Canery has had her fair share of raising both boys and girls, she considers boys to be the easiest.
“Girls you have to be very protective over, and girls they mature faster than boys, they got those hormones,” Canery said. “With boys you can just give them a haircut and keep them happy.”
Canery credits her success with raising so many children with a bullet proof strategy: “Keep them busy.”
Ritalin, she says, has no place in her house. Children, she believes, need constant stimulation.
“With my own children, when they were growing up, they thought I was crazy, but now they understand what I was doing,” Canery said. “Basketball, school work, swimming classes, skating, bowling. You got to keep them busy. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”
James Johnson may be reached at 910-272-6144 or on Twitter @JJohnsonRobeson.