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Travels With Mary

Author’s note on Travels With Mary, The Journals of Mary Murphy Bitto

Mary Elizabeth Murphy Bitto was born in Hannibal, Missouri and raised in Chicago, but she lived for 52 years in the unincorporated subdivision of Wildwood, Illinois, where she and her husband Lou raised 12 children and two grandchildren. Mary spent 25 years at home with her children, without a driver’s license, but she never felt unduly confined. She was an avid reader, enjoying more than 100 books every year. She also was a dedicated letter writer who corresponded with dozens of friends and relatives throughout the United States. In the 1980s she began to make occasional journal entries that combined her personal recollections with a diary of her everyday life.

When Mary died in December 2008, she left a stack of notebooks that included hundreds of pages of her neat handwriting. Travels with Mary is a selection of the best passages from her writings. Although she didn’t write the journals chronologically, I have arranged the text to tell the story of Mary’s life from her birth in Hannibal to her last entry in October 2008. This collection includes her childhood and adolescent memories, her loving descriptions of Lou, and descriptions of her daily life raising two generations of children.

I have also included a selection of family photos to roughly correspond with each chapter of Mary’s story.  Mary had dozens of family members and even more friends, so I apologize in advance for leaving out people who were so important in her life.

Ron Bitto
March 26, 2011

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Mary Bitto, 1961


Maureen gave me this book to record my memories. Instead of facts and figures, I am going to write my reflections about my emotions, beliefs, hopes, accomplishments, and maybe disappointments.

I often wondered what made my Mom tick. She was a special lady, but she was private. To any of you who read this after I am gone, please know it is written so you’ll remember what thoughts went behind my deeds.  (March 6, 2003)

Mary Murphy Bitto

Last week on “Sixty Minutes” a segment explored the reason that the people of Denmark were considered the happiest population in the world. Lack of stress was one reason listed. Since citizens are cared for from cradle to grave with financial help for all basic needs including health (medical) and college (all education), the tax rate is 50%. They don’t seem to mind, as their cost of living is somewhat controlled. The students who were interviewed had visited the United States and believe that here we are dampened by unrealistic expectations. The Danes say they realize that no one can “have it all,” and because they know that, they are able to celebrate more freely the good things they do have.

I found myself to be in agreement with this position. My motto for life has been: “Contentment is the source of all joy.” The Danes observed that most Americans they met want more than is in hand. Bigger, better, more, faster, more luxury are goals beyond average reach so leave the “desirees” frustrated and unhappy.

Why am I putting this in my journal? Because I want you who read this to know what makes me tick. I really cannot remember wanting a thing in particular with passion. Looking back over the lean years, I know I had all I needed: Lou, a family to love, food, shelter, a clean, warm bed. We were free to have 12 kids as we did, we could earn a living, go to the church and school we chose, and we could vote without fear of reprisals.

Now I’m 76 and have more things than I’ve ever had, my checking account is in the black at the end of the month. My job at Prairie View invigorates me. All the years I did long for travel have now been changed for my opportunities to make those twelve trips in six years. My only regret is Lou can’t be with me in my joy. I am blessed and grateful for all the good things in my life: family, friends, church, school. Yes, I am content. I might add I love this old house and the memories that fill these humble rooms.

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