I am delighted to welcome back my friend and guest blogger Kathleen Mae Schneider, author of In-Dell-ible Memories, a chronicle of her mother Margaret's childhood at the Shady Dell in the early years of the 20th century. Today, Dell rats everywhere are toasting Margaret on her 103rd birthday!
I watch Mother sleep contentedly on this, the 37,595th day of her life. Her fragility and timeworn features belie the toughness and resilience that she still possesses at her age.
Today however, because it's her birthday, I imagine her napping at another place and time, held close in the warmth of her mother’s arms as a tiny week-old infant. My mind conjures up a fine spring day in 1912, with her sturdy mustachioed father along with his wife and eight other children standing on a wooded hillside envisioning their successful future.
The tragic news of the week before - the sinking of the HMS Titanic - was still fresh in their minds. However, with masses of wild violets blooming everywhere, the beauty of that valley stretching out below them and a stream winding its way at the bottom of a steep ravine, their thoughts were transformed.
at the Dell. This is Mother's childhood home as she remembers it.
Here my grandparents, George and Allie Brown, would fulfill their dream of establishing three business enterprises that would provide for tiny newborn Margaret Elizabeth and their growing family.
the new Dell house became her home.
Years later, long after the Brown family and other owners moved away, John and Helen Ettline transformed the site into the night spot of Tom's (aka Shady's) and myriad teenage Dell rats' youth. The new owners called it the Shady Dell after the locals’ name for the nearby woods and ravine. For decades, music would emanate from the buildings and colored lights reflected off the trees, some of which might have been planted by my grandfather.
But when Mother lived and played in this place as a child, the world was experiencing a time of momentous change. Post-Victorian and Industrial Revolution years saw my grandfather take advantage of a burgeoning middle class that had the means to enjoy all sorts of new inventions and luxuries.
My grandfather was a well-respected businessman. His kennel provided purebred hunting dogs and other animals that were in demand as pets, as well as carrier pigeons used for battlefield communication in World War 1.
hounds. Raccoon skin coats were all the rage in the 1920s.
George Brown's automobile business helped to outnumber the horse-drawn vehicles that had previously filled the streets.
automobiles. He is second from the right.
Before the advent of antibiotics, my grandfather George's homemade medicine (Turpentine was a main ingredient) helped Mother survive the Great Influenza, the world’s first pandemic.
It’s hard for post-moderns like us to imagine our world without computers, jet travel, cell phones and television, but Mother’s life spanned eras long before all of these were invented. Hearing her describe her long life is to witness living history. She sometimes expresses bewilderment at all the change she’s seen.
to vote are just one of many societal
changes since Mother’s childhood.
Bankruptcy ended my grandparents’ version of the American Dream. The family dispersed and became almost nomadic, finding work and a place to live wherever they could. Mother, traumatized by the lack of schooling (She only completed 6th grade because education was not yet compulsory.), the lack of a solid place for home (sometimes living in a tent), and family deaths (her father and sister), finally found lasting love and family life when she met my father Ralph.
25th anniversary portrait on her dresser
and comments, “I miss him so much…”
Mother likes to be productive and helps with chores when she is able. Sweets of all kinds are her favorite food, especially if it melts in her mouth.
Mother still remembers the Shady Dell house and wistfully tells me about her life there. The Dell will always be a part of her, and of me, because I’ve been given the legacy of her stories and was fortunate to visit the restored house before it sold the last time.
home, looks a lot like she remembers it.
As for Mother's frequent naps: Recently I asked her why she sleeps so much these days. “Don’t you know?” she asks. That’s just the way it is when you’re old.” I told her that after her long and productive life, she has more than earned the right to catch 40 winks whenever she likes.
beginning her nap.