In my last article I promised to write short bios of the strong ladies in my family, the history I have listening and observing them as I grew up: here’s the first.
This was my Aunt Marian. We always called her that. Never simply ‘Marian’. Had to be ‘Aunt’. It was that way in my mother’s family. Always ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’ before their given name. It was respect.
Marian Lullabell, born in 1905. It’s sort of a funny middle name. It suited her though, as she was my funniest aunt. My heart laughs a little every time I remember her.
She was the second child in a family of six. Even though the Great Depression hadn’t hit the country, she still grew up in real poverty. I’m not sure why. Stories abound about my grandfather’s poor heart, but those get mixed in with the Depression, and as none of them are alive now, there’s no one to ask. Wouldn’t matter. When they were alive they all had different stories to tell and bantered back and forth with each other as to whose version was the “truth”.
At any rate, the young girl Marian grew up really, really, poor. There were no frivolities to be had. One year she wanted so much to go to a costume party, but knew there was no money for a costume. Not to be thwarted, she got creative. Made her outfit from old newspapers, tearing them into strips to create the dress she is wearing in this picture. She won first prize!
And then…when she was about 19 or 20 she met Bill. He had a good job, “with the railroad”. That was a big deal in those days. An enviable job.
Christmas 1905 he gave her a diamond ring and they planned a spring wedding. Bought the house next to his parents in South Whitley. But, really! A diamond ring! And a house! And a good job with “the railroad”. Life was perfect, full of promises!
More perfect with their first baby, still good with the second baby. It was 1930 then, one year into the Depression. They didn’t feel it too much in their little town of barely 1000 people, not yet.
And then they did. The railroad laid off almost everyone. Bill was home, no job, no money.
Searching for another was pointless, fruitless. No one had a job, no one was hiring, everyone stood in long lines for government food and anything else welfare could offer. This proud man, who just a few years before had put a real diamond ring on his girl’s finger, now was a welfare man, on “the government”. Hours every day with nothing to do and nowhere to go.
Except the one place in town all the men gathered. The tavern. Every night they swaggered
home feeling really good and important.
I don’t know how she did it, but Marian kept her little family warm, fed.
The Depression ended many years later. The drinking didn’t. Bill lived until the 1980s and, to my knowledge was never sober one day.
This is not meant to be a story about Bill. But of my Aunt Marian, who married a dashing young man, full of promise, full of the future. A man who gave her a diamond ring. My Aunt Marian, a young girl whom I imagine was full of hope and carried dreams with her to bed every night. A girl who married her knight.
I cannot imagine the heartache, the death of those dreams. To be married to a man who was not sober for somewhere between 40-50 years. It never ended. Did she wonder often if it would change? I think so, cause she often told stories with humor, stories of the times she didn’t let Bill in the house, of once when she left him passed out on the floor, cut off his tie, and then took his picture! To show to him in the morning. Maybe she thought he might wake up and change. He never did. I never heard her complain. She approached life with an enviable nonchalance.
Kept her house and her family intact. Kept herself intact. Served Sunday dinner every week to the bigger brother-and-sister families, around her large dining room table. If she was
embarrassed by Bill, I never knew. It never showed.
What amazes me, is how she could be so cheerful all those years. How she could tell those
funny stories. They weren’t funny, really, just the way she told them made them seem so.
My Aunt Marian. This was her life: growing up in poverty, losing dreams, making do, loving,
laughing, serving. Because somewhere, sometime in her life she must have decided to see life from that perspective. She chose to be cheerful. I want to be like my Aunt Marian!