In-Dell-ible Memories, a chronicle of her mother Margaret's childhood at the Shady Dell in the early years of the 20th century.
Harvest of Tears
On a recent morning, Mother unwrapped her
York Daily Record, heavy with back-to-school advertisements. She remembers one of her own seasons as a school child, one that she would
just as soon forget if she could. On the morning
of September 5, 1922, when she walked down the
hill to Violet Hill School, little did she know that she would come back that day to a very different life that would take her home and carefree childhood away from her.
While Margaret worked diligently on her
lessons that day, her father George was in court, having been indicted on the charge of common nuisance. Something went horribly wrong over the years that they lived in their beautiful house on the hill, culminating in his arrest. Subsequently, in spite of a lawyer and his plea of innocence, George was convicted and sentenced to four months in the York County Jail. The three thriving businesses that gave his family such a good life for the past decade were now in shambles. During his absence his oldest sons would have to wind down operations in the garage and kennel and his family would eventually have to find a new home.
By that afternoon, Margaret's mother Allie was harvesting vegetables from the garden next to the Dell house. In my mind’s eye I see Allie, still attractive at 44, but weary and worn. She hastily and angrily fills her basket with ripe tomatoes, stopping now and again to rest her back and wipe her eyes, trying in vain to banish the tears and anxiety from her husband's imprisonment with characteristic hard work.
Margaret (standing in back), Allie and Mildred
Allie dreaded having to break the news to Margaret, who would soon be home from school and would not take this well. At 10, Margaret would want answers beyond her understanding. Allie’s grown children and older daughter were better able to take things in stride. Her two youngest had no grasp of the magnitude of the problem and it was just as well they didn’t.
Margaret was more sensitive than her siblings. She loved her father so much and always seemed to carry troubles on her own small shoulders – how could Allie ever explain to her the implications
of George's sentence? She felt helpless at having to add to Margaret's problems.
This intelligent middle daughter ranked third in her fifth grade class but hated school. At recess she stood abandoned by her classmates. The school's bullies made fun of her home with all the animals and barking dogs that kept them awake at night, in spite of none of it being her fault.
Soon Margaret was beside Allie, wide-eyed and breathless after a futile search for her father
in the garage and barn. "Where's Pop?" she asked. “They put him in jail,” Allie said. As predicted, Margaret cried inconsolably. She wondered why he couldn't have just paid a fine and come home like the last time.
Everything was so confusing to Margaret and nothing was explained to her - the burning cross, the diminishing numbers of animals, the missing Christmas gifts and the cars gone from the garage. She knew that something was wrong but she trusted her father to make everything right. After all, had he not saved her life by curing her influenza with his special medicines? How could he fix anything now, behind bars? What would become of her and her family and the remaining dogs that now napped peacefully in the sun beside their crates?
The next few months were some of the most traumatic and frightening in my mother's life.
In addition to the disruption at home, she clearly remembers visiting her father in jail. When she looks at the picture of the jail 91 years later, the humiliation and shame are still palpable.
She points an arthritic finger twisted with age
to the location of her father's cell in the formidable building. She remembers not wanting to leave after visiting him, and she says she will never forget looking back up at his face in the window and his hand reaching out between the heavy iron bars to wave goodbye to her.
This very old woman of 101 still carries within her the pain of that terrified little girl waving back to her dear father in jail.
Her story ends and her expression changes as we return to the 21st century. I see how she deftly submerges the bad memories where they can do no more harm. "Let's do a puzzle," she says.
The story continues in Pt. 2 with the reasons my grandparents lost their Shady Dell home. The tragic tale of history repeating itself, stubbornness and ill-advised risks is also the remarkable story of a deeply flawed but strong family that survived and moved on. It is Mother's story, it is mine, and perhaps the best parts will become yours.
Fighting City Hall
Chapter 6: The Dream Becomes a Nightmare
Winter Count: Margaret's 2013 Birthday
Happy Birthday, Margaret! Oldest Living Dell Rat Turns 101
Chapter 5: Home Sweet Dell
Chapter 4: Allie's Rats, Pt 2: Margaret's Pig Tale
Chapter 4: Allie's Rats, Pt 1: Hill and Dell
Chapter 3: The House on the Hill
Chapter 2: Margaret is Born...and So Is the Dell
Chapter 1: The Beauty and the Butcher
Introduction: My Shady Dell "Roots"