MY FRIEND ELOISE
by Dennis Greene
Near the end of her life, Eloise Pina was recognized and celebrated by the City of New Bedford for her lifelong leadership and dedication to the community. Huge portraits of New Bedford’s historic personages hang in the grand meeting room of the New Bedford Public Library, and Eloise’s likeness is among them, the only woman. At her induction ceremony, Eloise said, “I don’t know all the answers, but when I was nine years old, I met Elizabeth Carter Brooks, and she said to me, I hope you grow up to serve God and the community.” Eloise fulfilled her idol’s hopes and then some. She was recognized nationally as a leader of numerous church and community organization as well as a loud voice for compassionate change. But I was only 13 when I first met her, and I just knew Eloise as my mother’s friend. Soon, she also became my friend.
When we first met, Eloise was a practical nurse at St. Luke’s Hospital. She was the de facto supervisor of her department, but because she lacked the requisite credentials, she was not officially recognized or compensated for her role. To earn extra money for her family of six, she helped my mother with housework a few days a week. I remember her as always energetic and optimistic, with a bright smile and a big laugh.
My fondest memory of Eloise is in our garage, near my weight bench. I was a freshman in high school and still only 5’ tall and 100 pounds. I loved sports and was trying to get big enough to be a high school athlete, but I wasn’t growing and was discouraged. Eloise sometimes did bench presses with me, and, sensing my concern, she assured me that I was perfectly normal and that it was her professional opinion as a nurse that I was about to grow. I trusted her and stopped worrying. Sure enough, I grew eight inches that year and was able to become a mediocre high school basketball player who earned a varsity letter, my proudest accomplishment.
Eloise didn’t work for my mother very long because Mom convinced her to take the courses she needed to get her nursing credentials. A year later, Eloise got her promotion, and we lost a housekeeper. But she remained our dear friend.
Over the years, I heard much more of her amazing story. As a young child, she lost her three sisters in a house fire. The only child to survive, she was in and out of hospitals for almost three years.
Eloise’s eldest child had a different last name and might have been born out of wedlock. I never asked the details, but Tony and Eloise raised her with the same love and care as their other kids, and Millie grew up to become a minister. One of Eloise’s sons was a superstar, but the other was a problem. When his crack addict girlfriend gave birth to Eloise’s granddaughter, she drove her old car up to Dorchester, forcibly took the baby back to New Bedford, and raised her. I don’t know about the legalities, but I do know that it was hard to stand up to Eloise when she thought her path was righteous.
Eloise was a prolific letter writer who frequently expressed her strong and well-reasoned opinions as “Letters to the Editor” in the New Bedford Standard Times. Through her letters, she became recognized as a familiar and powerful voice in her community. She believed that one person could make a difference, but she also knew that leading groups of voices could make change even more possible. She spent much of her life inspiring, organizing, and leading such groups.
In the late 60’s, packs of young rioters from New Bedford’s smoldering black neighborhoods were vandalizing the city’s downtown area. Eloise and her group of churchwomen stood in front of their beloved Grace Church, defiantly refusing to let the rioters approach. Grace Church survived the riots unharmed. When I asked Eloise how she had been so successful when so many other similar groups had failed, she told me it was God’s will. But, she added with a wry smile, she had known many of the rioters since they were little boys–and they knew she still spoke to their mothers.
Eloise was one of the most devout people I have ever known, and I loved her. I believe she loved me back–and forgave me for being a pagan.
Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie. He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.