COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS
My Years Between High School and Marriage
Dorothy M. Woodbury
Introduction by David A. Woodbury
I publish this for anyone acquainted with or related to my parents. My father was Victor Walter Woodbury, born in 1927. My mother was Dorothy Mae Miller, born in 1925. She is the author of this memoir. Married in 1950, together they were the parents of six: David 1950, Ann 1952, Heidi 1954, Charles 1958, Amy 1959, and Laura 1964. Dad was often called Vic, Mom often Dot. Among their children, I was never Dave, Ann was sometimes Annie, Charles was often Chuck, and Laura was often Laurie. Heidi and Amy were always Heidi and Amy.
Dad died in October, 1998. It was nine months later, in July, 1999, and four days before her 74th birthday, when my mother began writing what follows — the story of first meeting my father and what led to their marriage. Mom was living in a cluttered apartment in Millinocket in 1999. She had an old Mac computer and lots of time alone. Lots of time alone.
She had made friends in the apartment building and was active in the church a block away which Beth and I had already attended for most of 20 years with our children. About that same year, 1999, she had been recruited to organize Millinocket’s annual ecumenical (inter-faith) supper. That is to say, she was active and engaged, still drove her own car, and was, I suppose, as content as she could be, all things considered. She continued writing this autobiographical sketch, and the final date on the manuscript is June 17, 2000, a month before she reached her 75th birthday.
Six months after Mom concluded her reminiscence, in December, 2000, Beth and I moved from Millinocket to Lincoln, a mere 33 miles by car but neither an easy trip in ice and snow nor after dark. (I have crossed “Hit a moose on I-95” off my bucket list.) Mom repeatedly insisted that she was happy in Millinocket and wanted to stay after we moved, and so we accepted that for a couple more years.
Mom stayed active. In 2001, she came with us on a two-week trip to Ireland, the only time in her life that she had been to Europe. It was more than a dream come true, because never in her life would she have dreamed of touching the ground across the sea. She was enjoying her old age in many ways. During that trip, though, we noticed that she was slowing down in mind and body. One day a year or two later she called me at work and, with alarm in her voice, exclaimed: “David, it’s nine o’clock and the sun is still out.” I had to tell her that it should be out — it’s nine in the morning. She was momentarily confused and then explained that she had lain down for a nap at four in the afternoon and thought she was waking up that same evening. Instead, she had “napped” for seventeen hours.
We were noticing other signs that her mind was failing. She was regularly writing personal notes to Carolyn Davis at the Readers Digest. Carolyn Davis was merely the fake signature beneath the Betty Crocker-type face that adorned all the correspondence she was receiving from the Readers Digest. She was ordering every book that the magazine promoted in its daily mailings, not realizing that she was receiving multiple copies of many.
She stayed on in Millinocket for, maybe, another one or two years, and then we insisted that she move closer to us, so that was arranged and accomplished. And, although she continued to decline and although dementia took her over completely, she lived on, in body only, until 2017. She had passed her 92nd birthday.
I don’t recall when it was that she handed me the large envelope containing my copy of this memoir — about the time we moved from Millinocket, I suspect. I never thought to ask whether my siblings each received one. Seeing the length of it and not realizing what a treasure it was, I slipped it into a box with other family documents. Eventually I “retired,” which implies incorrectly that I was free to engage in sedentary pursuits. I have, however, gradually persisted in resisting the tyranny of other people’s urgencies and presumptions on my time and I have begun diligently cataloging those documents and making them available.
Here is what my mother spent a year composing. I have edited it slightly for clarity, abridged it only a little, and augmented it with a couple of passages that she had written at other times and which fit into this narrative. She begins by referring to letters that Chuck and I wrote. I don’t know about Chuck’s 1998 letter. Perhaps once he has read this he will recall and summarize it. Because I retained a copy, my 1996 letter will be appended at the end of this story once I have scanned it for OCR (optical character recognition).
COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS
JULY 22, 1999
Something set me to task today on a thing I’ve been debating with myself whether to do. I’ve just re-read a letter David wrote and gave to each of his parents as a Thanksgiving gift of love in November, 1996, and a letter Chuck wrote to me in February, 1998, and I knew the answer was “to do.” It has occurred to me off and on in the last few months that maybe our children would treasure a little history of how their father and I met and, to use a blasé yet pertinent term, our falling in love and founding the family you all share.
Those who have read her diary know how my grandmother, Kate Gardner, met my grandfather, Dan Miller. In my very young years their son, my father, Richard Ivan Miller, was a blacksmith repairing railroad train engines for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in Lima, and for a while at Ohio Steel Foundry in Lima, but most of my life, when he was older and less able to do heavy work he was a B&O crossing watchman in Dayton. He had been home from Dayton Easter weekend in 1943, just a couple months before my high school graduation, and did not feel well. He refused to go to the hospital and instead went back to work. I remember he was no longer in Dayton but don’t remember the town he was in. After the call on Monday that he was hospitalized I remember going to the railroad station with Charlie Bay to take a train. Glenna and I went with Mom and Irene and Charlie to the hospital where he was. The doctor advised he would never recover or live much longer, so it was arranged to move by ambulance to St. Rita’s Hospital in Lima. I didn’t know his condition was so severe and stopped on my way home from school next day to see him. Assuming he was sleeping I kissed his forehead, said “I love you,” and left. I told my mom where I’d been and she told me he would never recover. It was very few days until he died.
My mom, Ella May Dershem, was born in 1884 in a “mud hut,” she would say, or sod hut, in Kansas. Apparently the family went west seeking a better living and did not find it to their liking. They moved back to Ohio when Mom was a baby. She was the only one of her parents’ six children not born in Ohio. Some census data and other records incorrectly report that she was born in Ohio.
I do know that my father’s parents Daniel and Kate as well as brothers Earl and Vernon objected to my parents’ marriage. My sister, Irene, used to have a letter that my mother had kept, written to her parents James and Margaret Dershem, from my father’s parents, expressing their objection. They thought they were of a higher social echelon, I guess. They later adjusted to the arrangement.
Mom was a housewife, which in those days meant that my father brought home money from his job and she could turn that money into everything our family could need. We had to buy some things ready-made, like our shoes and coal for our heat, but she fed us and sewed our clothes and provided everything that she could make from the materials that could be bought. And she was always there for us.
In the past few years many of my mother’s sayings have regularly crossed my thoughts. Primary and secondary among them are: “Count your blessings,“ and “You’re never too old to learn.”
My earliest recollections of learning put me under the dining room table with a newspaper spread on the floor in front of me. My mother also has newspaper spread on the floor around the front of her ironing board so that if any large item she’s ironing touches the floor it won’t pick up dirt from the floor. I’m too young to go to school but have learned the alphabet and discovered that, if I spell out the letters, my mother will tell me the words. It wasn’t long before I was able to skip spelling many of the more common words and only had to spell longer ones or words not yet recognized, and I was reading sentences soon after I had reached five years of age. I know the year because my grandfather, James Milton Dershem, died in May 1931, two months before I turned six. He was my friend, and I’d sit on his lap before my bedtime in the evenings and read the newspaper to him, that is, what I could of what I’d been through with my mother earlier in the day. Sometimes instead of reading the paper to him I’d sew buttons on his shirt, but that’s another story.
I lost both my parents in the months just before and after graduating high school. My mother lived for about three months after Dad died. She just gave up living. That is a subject that I can probably never revisit in print. This is a happy tale, even though it has a few sharp turns and upsets. It’s the story of leaving the home of my childhood family and starting a family of my own.
Victor and I met on a beach. Why and how I happened to be in Sarasota, Florida, in the fall of 1949 is related to my personal ambitions and the obstacles to achieving them.
When I graduated at Otterbein College in the spring of 1947 I wanted to be a dietician. I discovered, after many applications, that I didn’t qualify for certification without a couple more years of education in subjects such as quantity cookery and diets related to specific health needs. Ancillary positions were available but were very low-paying and not well-respected jobs. Several of my cohorts suggested I check teaching registers, so I started applying for teaching positions and took the one offered that paid the highest salary, $2,000, in Deshler, Ohio, roughly 40 miles north of Lima. I could get the B&O train and go home on weekends whenever I was not tied up supervising some weekend school activity.
Before taking the job I was living with my much-older sister, Irene, and her husband, Charlie Bay. After my parents died they had taken over the house in Lima at 1149 West High Street that I had grown up in. I rented a room in Deshler then, which included my board (some meals and other needs), from a young widow who had a four- or five-year-old son. During the two years I was there, he loved to tie me up, arms and legs. Then he’d go to bed. But I always easily freed myself afterward. I paid her $10 a week. This seemed to put an idea into Irene’s mind that when I was living with them I should pay her $10 a week for room and board. That seemed reasonable to me; I was an adult. She’d been living at home and working in the cigar factory before she and Charlie were married, and she must have paid our mother room and board.
I had a savings account and hoped to accumulate enough during a couple years of teaching to get the needed courses to become a dietician, but became enamored with teaching, so during the first summer off I took two needed education courses at Bowling Green State University. Both summers after teaching I was unable to find a seasonal job. Too many people were looking for work, and no one wanted to hire someone in the summer who’d be leaving in a couple of months. I’d experienced that the year World War Two ended and I was in college. (I had to miss first semester my junior year, not having enough money for school that fall.) So we need to go back, to 1945.
In the summer of 1945 here is what happened: I took a job, paying peanuts, as a waitress in the cafeteria at the Ohio Steel Foundry in Lima. Not a tip-paying waitress job but one where I just served simple food or coffee from behind a counter. One day I saw an ad in the paper for a lab technician at Memorial Hospital and applied, hoping my science courses qualified me for such a position. The doctor who interviewed me said I may do very well but, lacking some necessary courses, could only qualify as an assistant, which did not pay much better than my cafeteria job. He was very gracious in also telling me that, if his daughter, who was going to Cornell, applied for the same job with the same credentials as mine, she’d get the job, even though she may not be as capable, because she went to a prestigious school and I did not. After putting that damper in place, he said he didn’t doubt that Otterbein was a fine college, nor did he doubt my capabilities or qualifications, but what he’d really like to do for me is help me get a better job, where I could earn enough money to get back in school second semester. Although I’ve forgotten his name, he’ll always be in my heart as one of the blessings in my life.
Who he knew or contacted at the steel foundry I have no idea, but one day I was called to the main office and told I was being hired as a technician in the lab, as per Dr. ?’s recommendation. The pay was at least double that in the cafeteria. The work was primarily “flunky” (too easy to do wrong) but very interesting. I ran tests, such as pulling small sample bars of steel in a machine, and if they broke, photographing the ends and recording results; or if they didn’t break, recording the length of stretch in the bar and force of pull. I also ran errands in the mill to various buildings, particularly where the huge furnaces were, picking up samples for lab testings, and shuffling in-house mail. A couple times I watched the orange molten steel being poured. Believe me, the men who worked at the open-hearth furnaces shoveling the coal were something to be admired. I mean because of their work, as on 90 degree days, firing furnaces that heated hot enough to melt the ores that made the steel. There were a couple of electric furnaces which did not require feeding fuel, but that area was extremely hot too when steel was poured.
Although I’m certainly thankful the Japanese finally surrendered and World War Two at last was history, my lab job also was about to become history. I’ll never forget that August day. The chief engineer in the lab had no relatives in military service and was happy to have the war going on. It was his means of trying new ideas in steel making at the expense of the U.S. government. One afternoon someone who had a radio in one of the buildings picked up a message the Japanese had surrendered. Word began to pass via phone to other buildings, and the radio news was put out over a loudspeaker that could be heard in a large quadrangle outside the lab building. Workers came from wherever they worked to verify the good news.
The chief lab engineer, suddenly realizing his funds were about to be withdrawn, as the need for much of what we were legitimately making, let alone what we called his “play money” making unauthorized steel experiments, no longer existed. He went barging out of the lab, shouting for those men to get back to work as “This is not a holiday!” A few returned to their buildings but most stayed, particularly ones with relatives in the service. Though she never admitted it, I believe it was the secretary in the lab (whose husband was in the Air Force) who called the main office building, and everyone except the men manning the open-hearth furnaces was permitted to leave their work and go to the quad to listen. The next day was declared a holiday with pay by the mill, whether the war was actually over or not. My job lasted only another few weeks.
I didn’t have the faintest notion of anything about bookkeeping but, after that, I applied for a job at Montgomery-Ward and became a bookkeeper. Pay was less but would be enough to get me back in school in January. Near the first of December my supervisor asked if I planned to leave in January, as he’d heard someone say I was going back to college. Since I couldn’t deny this, I pleaded it wouldn’t be possible if I lost this job. He was a kind person and said he needed a permanent bookkeeper, but, as Christmas was approaching and they hired extra help on the sales floor during December, he’d see that I could work on the floor. Actually that was a relief; no difference in pay but certainly more enjoyable, working with people rather than with figures.
Between my junior and senior years I worked in Atlantic City and made what for me was then a fabulous amount of money in a few short weeks, but that’s a story that will have to wait until a little later.
My senior college year, 1946-1947, I had a semester to make up from the previous year. I was told I needed foreign language credits to get a Bachelor of Arts degree. The Spanish teacher said if I could pass second semester in conversational Spanish he’d give me credit for both semesters. I did, with a C average, after four years away from Spanish in high school, and he did as he said. His name was Rosselot, and his daughter created a new way of teaching foreign languages soon adopted in most high schools in the country. I believe it involved using phonograph records.
Back to late summer 1949. My meager savings account had to be dipped into to pay my room and board and meet my other needs, so I didn’t have enough money to return to school. As I’d resigned my job in Deshler and waited until mid-summer, after not finding work, to seek a new teaching job, I didn’t have work for the fall, as teachers were now plentiful after the war.
A couple of Sundays before September started, my cousin and her husband, Thelma and Jack Meier, who lived in Florida, were visiting Irene and Charlie. As I was wondering what kind of job I could get and where, Thelma suggested I go to Florida with them, but I’d need to be ready soon as they had to take their son back in time to start school. They said there was plenty of waitressing work, and tips should be as good as my summer in Atlantic City. The next weekend they asked if I was ready, as they were leaving mid-week. Discovering they were serious, I packed in a hurry, and we took off for Florida, three adults and a teenager in a new four-door Ford. I don’t remember much about the trip or scenery. We drove all night and missed seeing the mountains in Kentucky and Tennessee. In those days there were no Interstates.
My first job in Sarasota was at a drive-in restaurant, The Smack, with a covered outdoor dining area and a huge parking lot down one side and in the rear of the building. I was a car-hop! Can’t remember the hours, but I worked the night shift. Sadly, the best places to work were near the street and in the covered eating area in front of the building. The spaces from about midway back and in the rear were usually occupied by young people whose interests were not in eating, but in making out in the cars. So turnover was slow, orders were minimal, and tips were often nil. The newest “hops” hired worked the back lot. When I complained, suggesting it would be more fair if we rotated work areas so we each had a chance at the better lots, the night manager said if I didn’t like my work space to find someplace else to work. This was a week or so before Thanksgiving.
A Mennonite couple from Pennsylvania leased a small restaurant space on the back of the Palmer National Bank and Trust, downtown at Five Points corner, and were going to be open just for breakfast and lunch, until about 3:00 p.m. They needed only one waitress. It was basically just a long countertop with about a dozen stools. Thinking I’d like the hours, as afternoons would be free for the beach and evenings for other activities, I applied and was hired. They launched the business around the first of November and decided not to be open Thanksgiving since downtown businesses would be closed. Then Thanksgiving morning they called me and said I should come in as they’d decided to open for the day. They eventually decided to close for the rest of the day, as people believed the “Closed Thanksgiving” sign they’d posted days before. This was about to blow my day. For the reasons why it didn’t ruin my day we have to backtrack a few weeks.
A FEW WEEKS BEFORE THANKSGIVING
Thanksgiving day I had originally planned to go with Thelma and Jack to Thelma’s parents’ house for dinner. Her parents were Sadie and Irvil Brentlinger. Sadie’s sister and husband, Mary and Alan Williams, would be there. Then later I would maybe meet some friends at the beach in the afternoon.
The friends I expected to meet up with were Helen Jay, Flo ?, and Maxine ?, all of whom were car hops at The Smack. They lived in an apartment too small for them and had a chance to rent a larger one in Terrill Apartments, but it cost more. They suggested if I moved in with them and helped bring the cost down for each, it would reduce their portions to about same as they now paid. I was paying Jack Meier and Thelma board and room, and being away from them and on my own was very appealing, although the apartment the other girls wanted to rent left a lot to be desired. The building, with downstairs windows only on the front, was in a long row of two floor apartments with back doors opening onto a sidewalk directly on a narrow street. Front doors opened onto tiny porches facing a shady, narrow, small, tree-lined area opposite another row of like apartments with back doors on another narrow street.
The apartment was scantily furnished, with a cushioned wicker chair and cushioned two-seater wicker divan, a floor lamp and small end table in the living room. On the left, if you were coming in the front door, were stairs to second floor. Although small, this was the largest room in the place. A wide archway led to the dining area with a small table and four chairs. A door near the center wall dividing the rooms front to back led into a narrow pullman-type kitchen not much wider than the stairway it backed up on. It had the essential sink and countertop with cupboards and a refrigerator on the long wall away from the dining room. The back door opened into the opposite side, where there was enough room to maneuver but hardly enough to pass another person. An apartment-size electric stove was on the wall back-to to the stairs. Upstairs were two bedrooms with closets and a bathroom. Each bedroom had a pair of twin beds and probably a dresser, but I don’t recall. Anyway, the apartment was within walking distance of The Smack instead of requiring a bus trip the couple or more miles from the Meier house.
Maxine was oldest of the trio, married with a husband in the service, and she seemed to be the one in charge, that is, we gave her our rent money and extra money for electricity, which she paid. I really didn’t have much to do with either her or Flo, but Helen and I became good friends, and most afternoons we went to the beach together. But the following took place while I still lived with Thelma and Jack and while the above trio lived in the small apartment on another street.
Afternoons at the beach often I took knitting with me, and Helen decided she wanted to learn to knit and make argyle socks (like I was then knitting) for a friend back home in Pennsylvania. So, the day I met Victor, Helen Jay and I were sitting on the sand at Lido beach in Sarasota, knitting argyle socks. It was wise to ignore the opposite sex on Lido Beach unless it was someone you already knew. So when along came two young men who stopped, I didn’t even look up until the shorter one spoke to Helen, and introduced the taller one to her. Then both men looked at me, still knitting away on my argyle socks. Helen suddenly caught on and introduced me to the shorter one, Earl Brown, leaving him to introduce his friend to me. Nearby a volleyball game was in progress, but short of participants. When a ball came flying into our midst (on purpose?) the taller young man picked it up and served it back over the net. This was actually what the ballplayers were hoping for, and we four were enlisted into their game. Earl and Helen went to one side of the net and the taller one, now with the name Victor Woodbury, and I to the other. You all know my lack of physical coordination and total ineptness at sports. I did not want to be involved and ruin whatever image my presence on the beach otherwise might present. Somehow Victor seemed to sense my discomfort and stayed close enough to me to reach the ball whenever it looked as if I’d miss it. He sort of saved my face, you might say, and no one made fun of my lack of athletic ability.
When we had a few minutes alone as a group of four, Helen explained to me that Earl Brown now worked days as a cook at The Smack and was off today. He apparently came from Maine to work there every winter. She didn’t know his friend. She didn’t have to work that night, and she and I planned to go to the movies. Parting ways, I took the bus home to the Meier house for supper and to shower and change, then to meet at her apartment for the movie. When I arrived, Earl and his friend, Victor, were already there. They had taken Helen home from the beach, learned of our movie plan, and invited themselves along. My dating experience in Sarasota so far had been nothing but disaster, constantly fighting off conceited males with over-aggressive hormonic behavior, so I was somewhat put out by this new development, but off we went in Earl’s little green two-door 1949 Chevy.
Helen and I decided we’d both get in the back seat and managed to do so for the ride to the theater. Afterward, the young men invited us someplace for a drink and sandwich. The car had no back doors, but Helen managed slip into the back seat and, as I was starting to crawl in behind her, one of the males suggested one of us sit with each of them. Helen was already in the back seat, and Earl owned the car and was driving, so we were paired Helen and Victor, Dorothy and Earl. Neither Helen nor I liked this arrangement. She rather liked Earl, but she was taller than he, and both were uncomfortable with that. I’d have preferred the nice taller one who did not make fun of my athletic skills.
I later learned it was through this contact that we four girls, no longer the original trio, obtained the larger apartment in Terrill Apartments. It seems that Earl and another young man from Maine, who also worked in Sarasota winters, had rented the apartment prior to coming to Florida. The other man, whose name I’ve forgotten, found a room in a private home, where he could also obtain board, and wanted out of the situation, but they’d signed a lease for a given time. Victor was already in a room he’d found in a private home cheaper than sharing an apartment. So Earl and the other young man convinced Helen, Flo, and Maxine, who convinced me to join them, to take it off their hands. I think our rent was paid to Earl, as they had leased it and thus sublet it to us. In those days I, who was born and lived in the same house except for my four years in college nine months each year, and another nine months each of two years teaching, had no knowledge of such things as renting.
BACK TO THANKSGIVING DAY 1949
Until the fiasco of my Thanksgiving, when I went to work and was kept there just long enough to miss the Brentlinger feast, I don’t recall seeing either Earl or Victor again. The busses weren’t running Thanksgiving day, and even though it was probably only a mile to the Brentlinger house and two or more miles in another direction to the Meier house, I chose to walk in the longer direction. Fuming in anger over the fiasco and shedding tears over the first Thanksgiving away from home in my twenty-four years of life only to be left alone wandering in a still-strange place, I was ready to tell whoever pulled up in a car beside me where to shove it, when I recognized the voice and looked to see Victor, driving Earl Brown’s little pale green Chevy two-door. So I guess I was a “pick-up” that day. I scooted in the car beside him and we drove south of Sarasota to see the beaches of other small towns.
SEPTEMBER 12, 1999
Tonight, as I am recalling our first car ride alone together fifty years ago, I’m realizing it’s now a year since the Sunday, (September 13, 1998), when Victor and I cruised all around the Wilton and Farmington areas on our final car ride alone together, reminiscing before he checked into the hospital next day. We didn’t know yet that he would spend the last month of his life there, surviving surgery for lung cancer only to be taken from this life by another kind of life, an infection that no antibiotics could defeat. On what turned out to be our last drive we even joked about some of the rough times we’d had, agreeing it would be impossible to appreciate all the good times in our lives if there were no bad times for comparison — sort of like “what a dull world it would be if everyone liked all the same things as everyone else.” And we counted off a few of our mutual blessings. It seems impossible that it was a whole year ago. I thought of him and that final ride together this morning in church.
Father Almeida delivered a very potent sermon, dealing with judging others, and forgiveness when we feel we’ve been wronged, as well as thankfulness for all the good things in our lives, and how we can’t just say we’ve forgiven someone then go on asking, “How could he (or she) do this to me?” But by doing unto others as we would be done unto, truly forgiving others’ transgressions as God forgives each of us for the hurt we do to him is how we will receive peace.
[Note by David: So that the next part makes sense it’s necessary to explain that, in about 1988, Mom and Dad packed most of their belongings, stored them in a barn attached to Chuck’s house in Dryden, and, towing a small camping trailer behind a pickup truck, moved from Maine to a campground in Punta Gorda, Florida. In the spring of 1992 Mom left Dad there and drove the truck to Millinocket, Maine, to spend a few weeks with us in order to help with Sam any way she could. At the end of the summer she declared that she was going to drive back to Florida and return with her personal belongings and move in with us. And she did just that and brought with her several cartons of Dad’s belongings as well that he wanted to send me “for safe keeping.” I never opened those boxes until after he had died six years later. Mom lived with us for about four years. When we began taking foster children in 1996 she moved to an apartment in Millinocket. Dad, meanwhile, had sold the camper in Florida and had brought himself back to Maine. He lived in Chuck’s house until the end.]
I’m eternally thankful we both lived long enough to see and forgive each other, as well as ourselves, of mistakes both real and imagined. We’d lived together long enough to know each other better than we’d each realized, recognized how much we each needed the other, and found ways we could each fulfill many of those needs of the other, whether together or separated.
An example: One day, when we were living in Punta Gorda, around 1990, Victor came in quite late from one of his long walks. Sometimes he’d walk the railroad tracks to the next small town north, approximately five miles one way, stepping off the tracks now and then to cross the ditch and lie down in a field to rest awhile. There were no ulterior motives in the meal I had waiting when he returned that day, but when dinner was finished and I was busy in the dishwater he snuggled up behind me with a big hug, and commented, “Sometimes just when I start thinking about taking a walk —“ (leave me is what I assumed he meant) “— I come in and you’ve made meatloaf.” And this: Many of his last hours at home were spent making tapes for me from old long-playing records we both loved. Not something I requested of him, but something he started doing while copying some tapes for himself that I had and he didn’t. And he didn’t copy whole records, but carefully selected the favorites of both of us from each. He actually wore out his stereo system so it was irreparable. I went with him to pick it up from the Radio Shack repair shop when he was told it could not be fixed because the part needed was no longer available. This was just a couple of days before he went into the hospital. And this is as far as I can go tonight. Back to Thanksgiving 1949 next time I get nostalgic.
FEBRUARY 21, 2000
Well, next time is here. I will get chronologically back into this eventually, but some thoughts running through my head need to be recorded after a call from David a bit ago. Primary among them is of holding a newborn baby. Anyone who has never held a newborn baby and looked into that beautiful, bewildered, yet trusting face and those eyes has missed the most miraculous sight and feeling in the world. The times I had those experiences are among the most memorable and precious in my life. I can close my eyes and see and feel each one of you, and have to say a prayer of thanksgiving for the most important experiences in my life. Along with that is hearing my mother’s voice saying, “Count your blessings.” If I tried to do that, naming them one by one, it would take more time than I’ve already lived, I think. And holding each of my grandchildren when they were wee babies was a reprise of the glory felt when holding each of my own six wonders.
MAY 30, 2000
Another bit of meandering into both the past and present. Today I had a semi-annual check-up at Dr. William Jenkins’s office. Before going I made a list of all my current “complaints” so as not to forget any that might be important. Just now, about six hours later, I was going over some of those things in my mind and wondering exactly when I began continually to be aware of so many different parts of my body. When did it stop for me that if I had some bodily discomfort it was the result of an accidental injury, or result of infection by a germ, viral or bacterial, any of which would be over with in a short time. Today I sit here with constant tingling in the end of my right pinky finger; last week it was in the left pinky. One or the other, or both, of my knees hurt when I first put weight on my feet each day, and when I go up or down stairs, and sometimes just walking. It occurs to me that my body is no longer as young as my mind would have it be. And I thought of my mother and how she must have lived with similar “complaints” much earlier in her life than I. I’ve lived seventeen years longer than she did and I’m still going strong.
JUNE 8, 2000
Thanksgiving day 1949, the day a change began in my plans for my future, or was it that other day previously on the beach? I think it was Thanksgiving day as second thoughts about that pair of males from Maine never entered my head after the movies on the night of the first encounter.
As we drove around in Earl’s car that Thanksgiving evening I told Vic about an elderly couple who summered at Chippewa Park at Indian Lake, south of Lima. They ran a store there May through September. I can’t now recall the Florida beach town where they wintered, but we actually found it and found them by spotting their unique automobile in a driveway. It was a Studebaker with a bullet-shaped front end.
JUNE 10, 2000
That Thanksgiving day started not necessarily our romance, but certainly our friendship. I learned that Victor met Earl when Earl was cooking in a restaurant in Portland where Vic’s brother, Woody (Wesley) worked. Not currently having a job himself, he decided to go along with Earl to Florida for the winter, hoping to find work there until spring. He eventually did, as a bookkeeper in Palmer National Bank, shortly after our Thanksgiving ride together. He would come into the little restaurant where I worked on the back of the bank building every day for coffee and a chat, telling me one afternoon he had an appointment for an interview in the bank at a time very soon after he came in, so I put a saucer on top of his cup and told him to hie himself into the bank — the coffee would wait until he came back. I think he really was apprehensive about his chances there and needed pushing, so I pushed. And then they offered him the job. By pushing I mean I expressed my confidence in him, which boosted him to believe in himself more, which is something I learned later in our hours together that he really needed. Because of his hearing handicap he already had learned to work harder than others to prove his ability and worth.
The restaurant was forced to close soon afterward for lack of customers and I was hired back at The Smack, working day shift. Occasionally an evening would occur when several of our “night-shift friends” had the evening off at the same time and we’d head to a beach for a cookout, beer, music from someone’s portable radio, and a good time, even dancing barefoot in the sand. On a really clear night we’d stay into the wee small hours, star gazing. Earl Brown must still remember one night when we saw what we believed was a UFO, way out over the waters of the Gulf. Sunsets on a beach over western waters such as the Gulf of Mexico or Pacific Ocean are extremely brief, but sometimes such a massive red ball appearing to sink into the sea seems unbelievable.
A cookout consisted of building a pit surrounded by rocks, found with much endeavor, and loading it with dry wood and sturdy sticks whittled to a point for roasting wieners and marshmallows. Portable outdoor grills did not exist then.
Together we spent many hours walking miles along the beaches in the Sarasota area. Sometimes we’d go in the water briefly, but my fear of water and limited ability made those activities few and far between, and brief. Longboat Key was a favorite location, but most of the open-to-the-public beaches no longer exist. Now the shorelines are all built up either with high rise apartments, hotels, or expensive winter residences of the very wealthy. Owners can’t actually prevent your walking on the beaches, [the littoral zone between low and high tide is public everywhere], but their shoreline lots do not provide ready access.
Sometimes at low tide, on our hands and knees, we’d dig out an area by hand several feet in diameter, then pack the damp sand very tightly around the outside before the tide next came in. It would leave a small pond when the tide went out again. We’d marvel at our catch when we returned. The only life we were courageous enough to pick out of the ponds were starfish in various forms. We’d been warned not to touch jellyfish, as some emit poisonous fluids in defense when touched. Once in awhile we’d brave touching such critters with a stick or some other object, and once actually experienced seeing one almost transparent life form disappear in a deep purple fluid which eventually was absorbed by the surrounding water and the jellyfish reappeared.
As we walked we talked. And in talking, we related our past histories to each other and our respective dreams for our futures. Vic often contributed food to be cooked, and we’d have supper together in the apartment, amazing my roommates when we were still sitting at the table talking when they came home from work or whatever their activities had been. It’s a fact, believe it or not, that Victor did not do all or most of the talking then. If we felt a little flush with money our supper would be onion rings and a mug of beer at The Smack, where we could sit and talk to each other as well as visit with others, including our working friends, when they were not busy.
If we felt really flush we’d include a hamburger, usually just one which we split. I don’t remember how long it was before we realized, almost simultaneously, that we wanted to share the rest of our lives together. Perhaps it started with Vic sharing his dream of wanting to build his own home some day, and we began comparing what we each would like in a home. And I came to realize something was going amiss in this independent-thinking female, who had told “Mom” Saeger, just a few months earlier, upon seeing her first grandchild, June Ann Bonecutter, that keeping house and babies and dirty diapers and baby vomit were not in my plans for the future — No thank you, Ma’am!!
Victor, who always needed to prove himself, not always to others so much as to himself, who always worked very hard at everything he did, who also was a perfectionist who didn’t approve of doing anything “about right,” grew on me. He taught me so much, made me see so many things — this because he taught me to really look at what I was seeing and doing, which reminded me of a young man I dated a few times in Atlantic City who asked me once, “What do you see when you open your eyes?” His last name was Smith, and using his first two initials he always wrote his name without capital letters. He planned to be a writer someday. I wonder whether he ever was. He’d just returned from a few years in the Navy in the Pacific, hitchhiking from the west coast to the east coast, landing in Atlantic City, trying to find a job. Discovering he couldn’t get a job without a Social Security card (something he’d never heard of), he borrowed one from another man and went to work under someone else’s name. At the time I didn’t understand what he meant, but Victor made me realize I often didn’t really see what I was looking at, either with my eyes or in my mind or both. He taught me to tread in new and different places, to try new and different ways of doing things, to try looking at things as others might see them, to realize there may be more than one answer or solution to a problem or situation, something he didn’t always apply to himself, though. Most of all he taught me to love, and be loved.
Don’t get me wrong! We didn’t always see eye to eye. We had differences that were not resolved. But God forbid that everyone like the same things, think the same way, do the same things. What a dull, dull world it would be if everyone were alike. We challenged each other in many instances, but to say one of us won or lost on those occasions would be wrong. We learned to accept this was the way it would be, and each of us either did what the other wished at any one time or went his or her own way.
JUNE 11, 2000
Unfortunately more illnesses than his ears interfered in our lives. The meningitis-encephalitis before Laura was born caused considerable changes in both his physical and his mental health. Laura missed most of the wild and wooly trips to Maine and back, camping in some fairly wild places at times, the challenges involved, and discoveries made. We travelled nearly penniless most times, and God saw us through some experiences that would have made most people never take another trip, particularly with children. Not that children were a problem; usually it was whatever antiquated vehicle served as our means of transportation.
I’ll never forget when Laura told me about going to Letchworth State Park, the Grand Canyon of the East, in New York state, when, grown and on her own, she lived in Rochester. Almost sadly I felt guilty for telling her we’d been there. It was as if I was taking something away from her. But when we were there on our first camping trip it was a newly developing state park, not much more than an open field above the canyon, with guard rails to prevent people getting too close to the edge and falling over. The view was only looking across or down into the canyon. Laura, when she was there, was able to cross a bridge over the canyon and actually hike down into it. I can’t remember how many children we had then — three, I think.
Vic’s health was always a factor in our lives, and a factor which later, along with losing his mother and grandmother within three months of each other, ultimately contributed to his becoming manic-depressive. His desire to achieve his goals was still there, but his physical capabilities interfered. In our pre-marital sharing days on the west coast Florida beaches his major desires in life were to build two things with his own hands — the house of his dreams and a boat.
Ironically, when Heidi was a baby, we lived briefly in a double house at 713 East Elm Street in Lima where the man in the other side of the house was building a boat in the basement. We didn’t have access to the basement, but he invited Victor to observe his project. He came back laughing because he could visualize no way the man would be able to get the boat out after it was finished. We moved before we ever found out whether he did.
As you may know, he achieved his first dream twice — built two houses with his own hands. However, on the second one, many were the days I’d come home from work and find him still sitting in the same place at the table with what appeared to be the same cup of coffee, long since gone cold, and unable to figure out how to do some things. One was putting the hood and cabinet over the kitchen stove. One evening when he cried, confessing his dilemma about this, we sat together and went through how he had done it in the other house, and eventually he finished that project. At the time he was already on leave of absence from work due to his mental health problems, and had been for quite some time. Then, one afternoon when he was on one of his “outings,” that is, actually getting out and dealing with people, I had a call from Marge Cooper that Victor was in the hospital in Augusta, having fallen down the stairwell in their camp (now their permanent home). After that, sitting at the table over a cup of cold coffee became a ritual again. Maynard and Marge’s homeowner insurance paid for Victor’s medical treatment and, even though he was already on leave of absence, they paid him so much a month for loss of work. Eventually they sent a letter saying they wanted to give him a lump sum settlement for what would equal the maximum the policy allowed, since his injured arm was going to keep him from employment for a long time. He went to a lawyer (a young man who lived down the road from us) who took a cut. Vic used the rest to prove to his doctor (and himself) that he would exercise that arm until he was able to raise it to more than shoulder height, which the doctor predicted would be maximum and would take lots of therapy for a long time.
His obstinance in overcoming obstacles all his life was taking over again! And, much to my consternation, he took the money and instead of building a boat, which would have been close to impossible with his crippled right arm, went to California, invested the money in a sailboat in which he could use the arm in steering and adjusting sails, while realizing his dream of owning a boat even if he could not build one. He did want me to go with him after he made the first trip to California, but in my own obstinance I refused to give up my job and move so far from family and be at risk again. I was born in, and called the same place home, for 24 years before I met him, and, by that time, we had already lived in 18 places since our marriage, with a couple more yet to come, and we had experienced many lean years.
If I seem to be digressing, when some memories come, it occurs to me that you all did not experience all the same things.
JUNE 12, 2000
Having gone way off track from beginning intentions of this composition, it’s time to go back to 1949 and into 1950. There came a time when, in our long walks and talks and long evening talks at the table over dirty dishes and cold coffee, realizing our developing mutual interests in life, our active hormones made us also realize we must be in love. Walking down the narrow street to the apartment late one night after a splurge with hamburgers, as well as our usual onion rings and beer, we were first just holding hands, then our arms went around each other, and Victor picked me up, swung me around in the air, and proposed to me. And I can tell you exactly the date David was conceived — January 7, 1950. Later I was somewhat ashamed over what we had done and sort of pushed him away, telling him I didn’t believe I was yet ready to decide on marriage, all the while knowing our sexual escapade occurred at the most vulnerable time in my menstrual cycle.
My last period started Dec. 24, 1949. When I missed my period at the end of January I was frantic, told Victor I was going home, and would wait to see whether I missed another period before consulting a doctor.
Helen Jay was also ready to go home, so we scheduled a train trip from Sarasota for February 14, 1950 (Valentine’s Day), with a stopover of a few hours in Washington, D.C., for each of us to change trains — Helen to Philadelphia, and me to Lima. It was a rainy day, so neither of us ever having been in D.C. before, we hired a taxi. The driver very graciously toured the city with us, showing us all the sights from the cab windows. When he left us at the station he told us there was a Chinese restaurant upstairs next door, where I tasted my first green tea. As I recall it was very inexpensive. I don’t know whether he was just being kind to us or whether that’s what his regular fee would have been for at least an hour or more cruising the capital. It was especially important to me because Victor talked much of his experiences there his last few months in the Coast Guard. On the train ride home I experienced my first, and only ever, bout of what was probably morning sickness. I told Helen, truthfully, that I always suffered “car-sickness” when traveling. I did not tell her of a possible pregnancy.
When I arrived home I spent some time crying, and Irene said she was surprised that I was so glad to be home. I told her I wasn’t; I was crying because I was so sorry I’d left. Later in the month, February, 1950, I made a trip to Deshler to see a doctor who had treated me when I was recovering from an experience in January, 1949.
In January, 1949, a couple friends and I were visiting a former Deshler friend who had married and moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana. Two of us were teachers and so we went to Fort Wayne on a Friday after school. Saturday evening we planned to go to the movies but couldn’t agree on which one, so we split up, with two of us going to one movie and the rest to another. We planned to meet at the nearest corner afterward. When my one friend and I came out of the theater it was pouring rain. The lobby was packed with people waiting for the next show, as was the sidewalk under the marquee in front. We squeezed through the crowd to the sidewalk and found ourselves on the wrong side from the desired corner. A car was parked in front of the theater, facing the wrong direction I might add, or so I thought. We didn’t know that two things in the situation were against city ordinances. First was the crowd under the marquee. The law stated that it was illegal for people to gather there. They must form a line to get tickets, not block the exit of people from the theater in case of fire or some other emergency. Second, it was illegal to park on that side of street.
Also we didn’t know it was a one way street, as next we squeezed between the parked car and the people under the marquee at curbside and then stepped in front of the car into the street. That’s the last thing I remember for several hours, besides literally seeing stars at the otherwise unfelt impact. I have no idea how many hours later I woke up needing to pee. I found myself in a strange bed in a strange place and with an unbelievable headache making my head feel many times its normal size, as if everything inside it was pushing with voluminous force trying to get out. As well, my whole head was full of noises, loud noises, unrelated to any familiar sounds. Just noise! Well, it didn’t matter what was wrong and why I was there, I was NOT going to pee the bed! Taking hold of the situation, I looked over my surroundings. To my left was a wall with windows. It was dark outside. A door to my right led to a long, lighted hallway. In the wall beyond my feet appeared a door to a dimly lit space I perceived must be a bathroom, and even if it wasn’t it would be a far less conspicuous place to empty my bladder than the well-lighted hallway. So I sat up, slid my legs over the edge of the bed, and gingerly lowered my feet to the floor. These things I well remember, but of getting to the bathroom and back to my bed, I neither then nor now have any recall. I just remember remarking to myself that the bathroom walls were pale orchid in color, which later proved to be of some significance. I also remember being disturbed when someone told me they had cut my girdle off of me. It was new. Even when I was skinny back then I wore girdles; they had hooks to fasten to your nylons to hold them up without garters, before the invention of panty hose.
The lapse of time before my next consciousness must have been several hours. When I became aware of my existence again, voices were talking somewhere nearby. A male voice was telling someone that I was in a coma, unconscious when brought in, and still so; they’d done little testing until they could get permission that I obviously was unable to give. He said I clearly had a skull fracture, evidenced by the purple area behind my right ear, and probably a concussion, which could account for unconsciousness. Then I heard my sister say she was my guardian before I was 21, and he had her permission to do whatever was necessary. At that point I opened my eyes, saw a strange man in a white coat, my sister, Irene, and her husband Charlie Bay. So I spoke up, telling them it was not so that ever since being there I’d been unconscious, that I’d had to pee and went to the bathroom. They obviously were startled that I was awake and had heard them talking. The doctor person said it couldn’t be so. I was unable to get out of bed, and couldn’t have gone to the bathroom. He thought I was hallucinating and hinted as much with words I clearly understood and knew what he was getting at. So I asked them if they’d believe me if I told them the walls were orchid. And do you know what they did? They all walked to the bathroom door and looked in, and believed. It so happens the walls were pale pink, and with the dim light at night must have looked orchid.
The man then told me he was my doctor and I was not to get out of that bed again under any circumstances until he said I could. He didn’t know what kinds of damage had been done to my body, and, until he did, if I had to use the bathroom, to ring for a nurse. She’d bring a bedpan! Did I understand? Well! I told him I’d been in a hospital before, when I was nineteen I had a tonsillectomy, so I was familiar with bedpans. Then he pulled the sheet off my body and told me to look at my legs, which, from a lying down position and without my glasses looked splotchy and dirty. He said I had other black and blue areas I’d be unable to see. He didn’t want me to sit up either until he told me I could. Hah! He didn’t know how completely literally I would obey his command. I’ve no other memories of that day or of most others while I was there.
Whether it was the same day or the next I don’t know, but I believe the next day, a young man came into the room, wheeling a gurney and told me he wanted me to try sitting up and help him get me onto that bed so he could take me for X-rays. I guess I startled him a bit too. I refused to be moved because, I tried to explain very nicely, the doctor told me I was not to get out of bed for ANY reason unless he personally told me to. This young man tried arguing with me, but I stood my ground. He asked who my doctor was, and I told him the man in the white coat. Off he went, and after awhile returned with a man in a white coat who told me it was all right for me to go with the one for X-rays. Whether that white-coated man was the doctor or someone picked up hiking down the hall and given a white coat, I’ll never know.
My memory keeps me in that hospital in a private room, where I was flat on my back most of the time except when wheeled somewhere for tests, for at least a week. I remember not believing the doctor when he first told me to step lightly onto the floor, hold onto the bed, and walk around to the other side, saying I’d be glad to get back in it when I got there. Until I was halfway around the bed I didn’t believe him. Neither could I believe the colors of my bruised legs when he pointed out the ways they were changing, now mainly ugly, grayish-yellow.
Eventually I was moved down the hall to a much lighter, pleasanter room with two beds but no other patient, where they began physical therapy. Before, only family were permitted to visit, and they lived 65 miles away, the distance from Lima to Fort Wayne, so my visits were nil except the next weekend. My friend who was with me that fateful night was the Fort Wayne resident, and she was let in. Her story of our plight was that, just as we stepped into the street to get around the crowd on the sidewalk, a car pulled into the space in front of the one already parked there and that one hit us both. She believed I was hit first and thrown farther out into the street. She was not hit so hard and walked by herself into the lobby before being taken to the hospital, then treated and released. Some people in the crowd actually picked me up, carried me through the then-thinning crowd into the lobby, and laid me on the floor.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, the young man who hit us checked with the hospital every day, and came to see me with a bouquet of flowers the first day they let him in after I was transferred to a two-bed room. He was really distressed over the accident. As he intended turning left at the corner, he started pulling in ahead of the parked car just as we stepped into the street. That’s the first time it came into my head that the street was one-way, making it more clear in my mind how it had happened. He was willing for anything his insurance company had to pay.
Today I realize that I could have sued the theater, the city of Fort Wayne, and who-knows-who-else, and I probably should have done so then. The police records clearly indicated the car illegally parked in front of the theater and that the crowd under the marquee was illegal. No one, I’m sure, would have admitted to moving me, but the police records probably could have identified who it was. At the time, a friend’s husband, an insurance adjuster, tried to get me to sue the driver’s insurance company for at least $50,000 to cover potential later problems from the accident, a standard thing to do, he said. I’ve often regretted not going for more than my actual costs because of the constant ringing and reduced hearing in my right ear. But I even felt guilty claiming payment for time lost from work, because most of the time I was off from teaching was covered by sick leave, which in those days at a salary of $2,000 per year wasn’t a great deal. I think it was called “double dipping” but my adjuster friend did persuade me to get that much.
When I went back to school my head still hurt a lot and the noise was excruciating. How long it lasted that way I don’t remember, but quite some time. Then one day it suddenly just nearly stopped. Like, if you were standing at someone’s door on a conversation and a big wind suddenly blew the door shut in your face. That’s the only analogy of suddenness of something cutting off sounds I can come up with. However, all the sound did not desert my head. The ringing in my right ear and decreased hearing is my lifetime reminder of that accident.
Thus, being referred to a physician in Deshler for follow-up care after missing my period in January 1950, and after missing one more period as well, I became acquainted with the doctor there. His name I do not remember. His daughter, Bernadette (called Bunny), had been one of my students. Some of my older children may remember a handmade wooden desk sign I had that said “Miss Miller.” Bunny made it for me for Christmas one of the years I taught there. It burned in the shed at the farm on Voter Hill.
Confirming my pregnancy, the doctor told me I had three choices. Number one, if the father loved me, regardless of whether I loved him, marry him and give the baby two loving parents and a decent home. He believed, if I didn’t already, I’d learn to love the father. If he didn’t love me but was willing to marry me, take my chances that he’d learn to love me. I told him I was sure the father loved me and thought I loved him but I was afraid. “Of what?” “I don’t know.” “So what is option two?” Go to a Florence Crittendon Home, live there and have the baby. Either put it up for adoption or pay them to keep the baby until I was ready to acknowledge and take it. And he explained Florence Crittenden and other homes like it to me. Option number three he would have nothing to do with, but would tell me where he considered a safe place if I insisted — abortion! That one I ruled out immediately. Number two I didn’t even have to think through as long as I was in his office. I would marry Victor and have our baby. And he sent me off with his blessing. Other than sending him a birth announcement I never contacted or saw him again.
Meanwhile Victor was calling me several times a week and wrote every day begging me to come back. By then it was nearly the end of March, and I made arrangements to ship my worldly goods (one trunkful) and take a train back to Florida within a couple of days.
Victor and I had been attending the First Christian Church in Sarasota as part of our routine before I left. It was a church Thelma Meier sometimes went to, as did her parents. Jack Meier was Catholic and went faithfully to the Catholic church. Victor and I went to the minister at our church, the Reverend Roy B. Johnston, and told him our tale. He told us he could privately marry us and mentioned a friend who was a judge who would make out papers for the month of January if we wished, and no one would ever know we had not secretly married then. But we decided we’d know, and we’d rather face the tongues wagging for awhile than live with the lie. None of my relatives knew of the pregnancy, although some may have suspected. I’d told Mom Saeger before I went back to Florida, and her response was that by the time the baby was born many wouldn’t remember when we were married, and most people would forget it before the next year rolled around anyway.
Then came the decision where to be married. We planned it for Good Friday, April 7, 1950, after the evening service in the church. The first service in what was to be the new church would be Easter Sunday April 9, 1950. Reverend Roy said we’d be the last couple to be married in the old church, which was to be demolished the next week. Somehow that seemed ominous. Since I was staying at Thelma and Jack’s until the wedding day, they suggested we have the wedding in front of the fireplace in their home, which we is what we did. Had Helen Jay still been there I’d have asked her to be maid-of-honor. Without her there I asked Thelma to be matron-of-honor, and Earl Brown was best man.
Thelma baked a wedding cake. Reverend Johnston and his wife came to the house at 9:00 p.m., and we became husband and wife, under the grace of God, in the presence of Thelma and Jack Meier, Johnny Meier, Earl Brown, Mary and Allen Williams, Sadie and Irvil Brentlinger, and Mrs. Roy Johnston. Ironically on Easter Sunday we learned that another couple had come to Reverend Johnston on Saturday, wishing to be married, and were the last couple married in the old church.
We’d already rented a furnished apartment, which Vic had moved into, and we’d moved most of my things there. From the wedding, after a brief sort of reception party with, cake and ice cream, Earl Brown drove Vic and me downtown, where we called Vic’s mother, Clarice Woodbury, from a pay phone and told her we’d just been married, then we walked to our first home.
And herewith I could say, “The tale is told,” and in essence it is, but I’m sure there’s more I’ll add before the book is closed. For today this is as far as it goes.
JUNE 13, 2000
The world was a different place in 1950 from what it is today. There was no television with exploitation of minds in advertisements to buy, buy, buy; or exploitation of innocent minds with scenes of illicit sexual activities, or horrible violence, commonplace experiences today even for small children. There was so much to do and see and much of that cost nothing beyond the effort to get there. We watched circus performers practice for their shows that would go on tour. We were involved in community activities, and during the filming of “The Greatest Show on Earth” we participated in crowd scenes, none of which were in were ultimately left in the final cut. I was even asked by one of the circus performers to become part of the home show, riding an elephant.
Sarasota had a yearly parade, a smaller version of the California Rose Bowl Parade, with floats, marching bands, marching performing groups. (Victor was in one of them, but I don’t recall in what capacity.) We went to a grapefruit orchard and picked our own fruit. The elderly owner cut a grapefruit in half, pared around the top a bit and gave it to David, who was not yet walking — (he did begin walking at eight months) — and we delighted in his joy in sinking his few teeth into that grapefruit and sucking out the juice, while much of it ran down his chin and soaked the shirt he was wearing and his father’s, who was carrying him.
At the time of our first Christmas as one, in 1950, we participated in a drawing in downtown Sarasota where each store had a prize for a lucky number holder. With the number you drew earlier you toured the stores participating, and the owners of course hoped that you’d buy from their stores while seeking their numbered gift. Our ticket won in a jewelry store, and I still have the string of Bells of Sarna we won, plus some more we collected over later years.
During the summer, 1950, while Thelma and Jack were in Ohio for the hot season, we moved into their house rent free — just paid the electric bill and fed the cat while Vic kept the lawn mowed and I thoroughly cleaned the house. Thelma was a very fat woman and a very poor housekeeper.
The Palmer Bank was good to us, particularly to Victor. They contacted a vocational rehabilitation worker who set up an appointment with an ear doctor in Tampa. By that time Earl had returned to Maine for the summer and we had no ready transportation out of town. So our good friend, Reverend Roy, made several trips taking us to Tampa to see the doctor. The bank paid Vic for days he was off work for the trips. Dr. Edwards scheduled surgery, in which he removed what was not already rotted away of both of Victor’s ear drums and middle ear bones, in a Tampa hospital in June, six or seven months after he went to work at the bank. They kept him on the payroll through his recovery.
We felt it necessary to inform Vic’s mother of the impending surgery, and she came by train to Sarasota. The good Reverend took us to meet her, and the next day took us all to Tampa. After he left us, before Victor was admitted to the hospital, we walked around awhile and found a place to get lunch. Earl had seen Clarice after his return to Maine and told her I was pregnant. At only that time, in all my pregnancies, at six months I barely showed and was still wearing my wedding outfit. While we were getting acquainted she took a small ring box from her purse and presented me with a diamond. She said it was small (although it was not all that small) but it was a perfect stone. She had offered it to Vic’s sister, Dorothy, but she preferred a larger one Clarice had that had been Grammie Jensen’s, even though that diamond was called a yellow diamond, meaning it was not perfect. Both Victor and I were astounded. She’d apparently made her assessment and approved of me after spending just an afternoon and overnight with us.
That diamond I wore until the band wore so thin that it bent and I had difficulty getting it off my finger. After that I kept it in a drawer in my dresser in its original box. When S.H. was with us, our exchange student from Uganda, she asked one day to see my jewelry, and I showed her what I had. I can’t remember why, some time after she’d gone to the other home for her next semester, I went to get that ring one day and it was gone. The box was empty. I’ve always suspected she took it. She told me once about how her mother had to leave all her jewelry in Uganda during the terror under Idi Amin. Her father owned a jewelry store and had to leave everything to get out of the country without being imprisoned or killed.
Clarice insisted she and I find a place to stay in Tampa until Victor was released. Hospital personnel recommended a rooming house at least a mile away, so a day after meeting my fiery little mother-in-law, six months after marrying her son, she gave me her diamond, and we were sleeping together in a double bed in Tampa, Florida.
Before Thelma and Jack Meier returned to Sarasota in the fall we made arrangements to rent a place two doors down the street from them, a three-room, cement-block, garage house, about 24 feet square, with a screened porch. It was partially furnished. The porch was loaded with junk and we were permitted to dump any of it that we didn’t want. Dump it we did — all of it. Our first few months rent (can’t remember how many, but I think September through December) were free for our time, labors, and money spent making it livable. We painted all the walls and ceilings. The living room, across the front, we painted Havilland blue with white trim on the door frames and window frames. There was no baseboard, so Victor painted a simulated one in white about 9 inches high around the bottom of the walls. The entry door from the porch was in the middle of the room. Except for that door and one from the porch to outside, there were no doors in the wall openings. In the living room a window was in the middle of each end wall. We painted all the ceilings white.
The kitchen we made a merry pastel yellow and the bedroom very pale green. There was a rather ratty but usable, fold-open studio couch in the living room which we covered with a nice spread someone gave us. We bought a small old-fashioned, stuffed platform rocker at what today would be called a thrift-shop, and I made a footstool out of a nail keg, padding the top with cotton batting and covering the whole thing with a piece of carpeting. We had two metal lawn chairs given to us which we sanded and painted red, and a wooden, outdoor, two-seater settee, already painted dark green, which we put on the porch. We painted the small drop-leaf table and two chairs from the kitchen white, and moved them to the kitchen end of the living room. We bought cement bricks, considerably cheaper than clay ones, painted them yellow, and used them beneath and between pine boards which we had we sanded and shellacked, for bookshelves. I think we also had a floor lamp.
The back half of the house was split into kitchen and bedroom. The kitchen was quite unique. Looking directly into it from the living room you saw an old-fashioned, single-bowl sink with side drain hanging on the back wall in the left-hand corner, plumbing exposed. Next to the sink, about midway across the back wall, a shower stall stuck out into the kitchen, a plastic curtain covering it. In the right-hand corner a narrow door opened, facing the shower stall, and inside was about the smallest toilet one could possibly buy. When we moved in there, about nine weeks before David was born, the only way I could use the toilet was to back through the door and drop onto it. Laura’s the only one of you who never saw me pregnant. The rest of you may remember that if you looked at me from the rear you wouldn’t know I was pregnant, or that I stuck out in front like a massive medicine ball. Next to that little corner “closet,” about halfway on the outside wall, was a window. To the right of the window sat a three-ring open gas burner, the same sort of thing my mother had in her basement to boil water for doing laundry and making starch. To the right of the doorway, on the wall to the living room, was a small electric refrigerator.
The bedroom door was near the center wall. In two steps you could go from the living room to to the bedroom. One step living room to kitchen, turn left, and in one step, bedroom. There must have been a window in the bedroom, but I don’t remember it. All I remember in there was an iron double bed and the antique crib we bought in the same place as the old rocker. The crib was painted an off-white and was slightly smaller than a normal crib. It did not have spool rod sides but flat panels in the sides, shaped and decorated with round holes about an inch in diameter. It also served as a cradle. You could lock it to stay still or swing the lock pieces aside and rock it like a cradle. I don’t remember a closet, but we must have had a place for hanging clothes, perhaps a rack. Neither do I remember a dresser, but there probably was one, otherwise where would we have put the seventeen pairs of sox, now clean, that I found dirty in Vic’s dresser when we cleaned out his room to move his things into the apartment? He wore his socks a day or two, then aired them a day or two, and put them back in the drawer to wear again. Or so he said, upon my discovery of them. We had to go buy him a pair of socks to have clean ones for our wedding.
I’ll not describe other places we lived, but this one had special meaning for us. With what money we could spare we made it suit our tastes and needs at a very crucial time in our lives. We even had friends there for Thanksgiving dinner right after David was born, and I cooked my first turkey. No, not on the three gas rings — in Thelma’s oven, as they would not be home, and she said I should.
JUNE 17, 2000
I just read through this and made some corrections. In the process, different things came to mind. One I managed to insert, about riding elephants in the circus. Another circus related thing deals with the Palmer Bank. To give Victor overtime, one winter the bank had him work a couple nights a week at the Ringling Hotel ballroom as cashier. The hotel was open only in winter months, and the nights Vic was there they had circus performances, mainly high wire acts. Once I went to see the show.
Another thing remembered was my first real trip of any consequence. My parents never owned a car. We — my parents and any family members still living at home, could travel on passes when Dad worked for the B&O. Where we couldn’t go by train we went with relatives, usually Byron Dershem’s family or Charlie and Irene after they married. I’d been to Dearborn, Michigan, by train, where Mom’s brother, Uncle John Dershem, and his family lived, and to Akron, Indiana, where her brother, Uncle Frank, and his family lived. To Defiance, Ohio, where her sister, Blossom Frysinger, and her family lived, and once to a park in Toledo, Ohio, to a “family” reunion Byron Dershem recruited us to be involved in. Somewhere in his genealogy search he connected our family with families named Waggoner, Wagonner, Wagoner, and Wagner. That occurred, as I recall, in my early adolescence.
Now I’ll get back to my first real trip of any moment. In 1946, between my junior and senior years of college, I went from Lima, Ohio, to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to spend the summer. I traveled on a Greyhound bus, stopping over for a couple of days to visit my great-aunt, Emma Miller, wife of my dad’s uncle, his father’s brother. I only knew of him as “Uncle Ike.” I don’t know what his name was, but until just now I thought probably Isaac. It suddenly occurred to me I’ve never connected my dad’s middle name or brother, Bernard’s, middle name: Ivan. And in my family, names were often repeated. Aunt Emma was an ancient (probably no older than I now am) woman who’d been widowed before I was born. She lived alone in a one-room-and-bath hotel apartment. She had a hotplate on which she could make tea and otherwise ate out, usually at the YMCA, where she could get a meal for about fifty cents. She was thought to be wealthy by my family. I don’t know what she had for assets or income, but when she visited our home she always made a point of letting us know her estate would go to members of her birth family, not her husband’s. I know he earned his wealth in the steel industry. They had no children. She had a couple of enormous diamonds, one of which, on the day she arrived for a visit, she lost from her finger while shaking a rug out an upstairs window and it fell to the ground below. Fortunately she was able to retrieve it before someone else found it.
The most fabulous things I remember about the trip were shutters and tunnels. It seemed almost every house, large or small, viewed from the bus in passing, had shutters. Even very dilapidated, desecrated-looking houses had shutters, often hanging by a single hook. We travelled on the recently built Pennsylvania Turnpike, the first in the USA, and it was both fascinating and frightening to find yourself many times actually riding under the earth. Some tunnels were long and some fairly short. The short ones were scarier because they were unlighted.
That year the Miss America pageant was held in Atlantic City. I could have stayed until it was over and been home in time to go back to Otterbein, I but was getting homesick and thought I had a good nest egg to get me through my last year of college, so I came home before the final event occurred. That was at least a week after all the entrants began arriving and various events were being held. One such was a Miss Atlantic City contest, to be held on a huge stage constructed on the beach. One day I was completely astounded when a lifeguard I’d never noticed before came up to me and told me each lifeguard had been asked to choose someone of his acquaintance to be his representative in the pageant. He told me he had watched me all summer on the beach and thought I was the most beautiful girl he’d seen. Wow, what a shocker! My friends were much more ecstatic than I. Me? I was scared to a shaking hysteria momentarily. But I accepted and went out to buy a new bathing suit and high-heeled shoes. All we had to do was walk around the platform in our swimming outfit, smile at the crowd and the judges, and exit, all gracefully. This I managed to do, and in that manner was a part of the Miss America pageant in 1946. I have since learned that Cloris Leachman, who represented Illinois and was later to become an actress, was one of the sixteen finalists in the pageant. I can’t say that I met her though.
These are my happy memories of my years between high school and marriage. I have counted my blessings and have not come up wanting. I am blessed beyond counting by my six children, my grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren. I am glad that God gave me the privilege of holding a spot in your family tree.
Dorothy M. Woodbury, for my children