By NJ Clausen
Happy Mother’s Day to all those who lovingly tend to others! We all know someone who offers good counsel, a helping hand when needed, and a loving heart that listens and cares. This month I have the pleasure of introducing you to a woman of strength…. Melanie Feeney-Lewis.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Melanie was the seventh of nine children and had five brothers and three sisters. The family moved several times throughout her childhood, and despite being low-income, Melanie describes her childhood as carefree and fun. She remembers having two toys-a Thumbelina doll and a Barbie- but enjoyed climbing trees and riding bikes with friends. Melanie loved playing kickball and dodgeball in the schoolyard. She remembers having cardboard in her shoes as they only received one new pair of dress shoes and sneakers each year. With a smile Melanie spoke of her own loving mother who stayed home and took care of the children until later in life when the youngest was in school. One of her favorite childhood memories was having ice cream with her friend Lisa at Mrs. Graft’s (Lisa’s grandmother), as her family rarely had dessert. She also enjoyed trips with Lisa and her mother in their VW Beetle, a treat as Melanie’s family had only one car which her father took to work, so walking was the usual means of transportation.
The school years were challenging for Melanie, as she was not catching on to things and had behavior issues. Melanie did love to read, but never did get math. She added that when she home schooled her own children, she thought that this was a way she could have learned and understood math.
Melanie began working at 15 after school at Baskin-Robbins, as her parents were always insistent that the siblings pay their own way. If you borrowed money, you signed a contract with the amount borrowed and the pay back date… but no interest was charged. After a year, Melanie went to work at a steak house, where she stayed until she went to university for a year and worked in the bursar’s office. She enjoyed working in the office, and chuckled as she spoke of using what was then a ‘fancy’ fax machine, which at that time was a big deal. After leaving the university, Melanie worked in the Department of Housing and Urban Development as a clerk, which taught her the most about working in a job and allowed her to afford her own apartment and car.
At a college party, Melanie met Ken and 6 years later they married. Almost two years later they had their first child, Natalie, and they moved to North Carolina, renting in High Point. At 27 years old, Melanie discovered that she was losing her vision to Ocular Histoplasmosis, a fungal infection which made her unable to drive. Floyd, a co-worker of Ken’s, told him about Kernersville, and after finding a home they liked they moved here. Floyd’s wife, Sally, was involved in many activities and would pick Melanie and Natalie up on her way. Melanie’s vision was getting worse, and she would have to dress Natalie in very bright clothes to be able to locate her.
Under the care of an exceptional doctor, Melanie’s eyes improved. Although there is scarring, by the time her second daughter was born, she was once again able to see better and drive.
Four years after Natalie, Melanie and Ken welcomed a second daughter, Madeleine and the following year their third daughter, Rebecca. Following a bad experience with Natalie in kindergarten, the decision was made to homeschool the girls. Together they did a lot of 4-H with horses and different animals, various projects and community service in addition to teaching the academics. Pets were also part of their home life, including Cheese the goat who had a Facebook page.
Asked what she would consider were the biggest challenges of motherhood, Melanie thought for a bit then responded, “knowing how tough to be” and “balancing my time and the time I gave to them.” Her greatest joy (other than giving birth to them) was homeschooling her kids, especially as she was not the best of students. To new mothers, Melanie shared, “Don’t blink! Hold them close, hold them often. Tell them that you love them every day. They are so precious, and only young for a very short time.”
To her friends, Melanie says they have been a great blessing—faithful, generous, fun and kind, and she thanks them for their friendship. To her neighbors, those here and those who have moved away–you have been great! With a smile she added that you can still borrow a cup of sugar from them. Melanie thanks her siblings for giving her courage, patience (ten people using one bathroom!), flexibility, and love. To Ken, her daughters, and their families… you are the greatest joys of my life! Time together with you is one of the most precious gifts, and being with you makes me the happiest.