Hello again, my dear friends! Tom Anderson temporarily filling in for regular master of ceremonies Shady Del Knight.
In my last post I had the pleasure of introducing Margaret Elizabeth Brown Schneider, the oldest living Dell rat, as she celebrated
her 100th birthday.
during the World War I years along with awe-inspiring images of young Margaret and her large family.
Ladies and gentlemen at this time I am honored to present the preface to a gripping saga, an inspiring story of survival, Margaret Elizabeth Brown's In-Dell-ible Memories written by her loving daughter and my wonderful new friend, Kathleen Mae Schneider!
A familiar antique glass and wooden inkwell
sits right next to the computer on which I write.
I often pick it up, turn it over in my hands, and am struck anew by the irony of these two vastly different writing instruments sharing my desktop
(a real wooden one, that is, not virtual!), sepa-
rated in time by 100 years. The first is small, heavy-bottomed and humble in appearance. The
second is large and streamlined, humming away
as I type this.
The old inkwell acquired an eerie significance last spring as I searched for connections to the past that would help me write my family’s history. I took new notice of some traces of ink on the con-
cave wooden top of the well. These stains silently bore witness to a time long before the computer, and held clues to my origins.
It is easy for me to imagine a pen dipped into the black ink in the well and then briefly touched to the opening in the top to get off the excess. I can almost hear a delicate scratching sound as it carefully writes on a page in the front of a large Bible a century ago this week. It records the birth date and name of a 12th child welcomed into the family - Margaret Elizabeth Brown.
The writer I envision is the baby’s father, George Andrew Brown, the man who fulfilled his dream of building the house that would someday be-
come The Shady Dell. He is long gone as are his two wives and all but one of his 14 children. That one remaining child is my mother, now an amazing 100 years old.
She was an original Dell “rat,” having lived in the house her father built from infancy to age 12. She still remembers growing up in this mythic place. Ironically, all these years later, scores of people revere it as an unforgettable part of their growing up and coming of age. George would be proud that his beautiful house is held in such esteem and that it is now preserved for the future.
Long before hundreds of teenagers enjoyed lis-
tening and dancing to rock-and-roll at The Shady Dell the house was simply known as 1501 Starcross Road. Instead of Elvis Presley or Buddy Holly its rooms were filled with the sounds of my ancestors’ voices as they discussed the day’s events or sang along with tunes such as “Over There” and “We
Don't Want the Bacon (What we want is a piece of the Rhine)” from an old hand-cranked Victrola and player piano.
They lived and loved one another in that house and worked long and hard to make their home the anchor of their lives. Although I never went there to hang out in my teen years (I was preparing for
a career in classical piano and I was forbidden to go there anyway…), what transpired at my mother’s original home, and after the Brown family left it, has been an important influence on my life.
In spite of her advanced years, Mother’s mind is alert. Having survived many rough spots in her long life she is now challenged by her slow recovery from a broken hip which she says is “the worst thing that ever happened” to her. She is frail and tires easily. However, except for occasional frus-
tration, she deals steadily with the difficulties she faces as she has done her entire life and her family before her. She is an inspiration to all who know her.
She is well aware that she is the oldest living link to the Dell’s origins, relishing the notoriety given her. After an interview with a newspaper reporter and knowing about my posts here she tells everyone she is now on the “Inner-net”! This week we celebrated her centennial which is nothing short of miraculous.
It’s incredible that someone so old is able to vividly call up so much about her childhood, but she willingly indulges my curiosity. She tells me her memory is bad, but then enjoys surprising me with a story I never heard before. With a tricky sparkle in her eyes she’ll say, “Didn’t I ever tell you that?”
The recollections she shares with me are frequently funny, sometimes sad, and more often than not, mysterious. My ancestors and their life at the Dell house seem to come alive again as she describes their time there. I’m given a rare window on the past because there are so few people around whose lives spanned so much of the 20th and 21st centuries let alone someone I know and love so much.
Some of my questions about her early years are met with a quizzical expression and a shrug. She tells me that she merely “grew up”, trusting that her parents were taking care of her. Long before the advent of child psychology and the fear of
damaging tender self-esteem, the Brown children weren’t told a lot by their parents. Any trauma
or misfortune the family faced (and they were considerable as future chapters here will show) were met with cautions “Not to dwell on it”. Then they were not mentioned again. Discussion closed!
Because of this I have to mine details of some parts of her background from other sources. It isn’t that she doesn’t remember, she was quite simply never told those details. My venture into
my maternal family’s history many times seems like a job for Hercule Poirot!
Margaret at 100!
I look at Mother’s face now - lined, wrinkled and tired, but showing wisdom and acceptance that was hard earned from a century of living.
Margaret at age 4 or 5
Portraits of her as a young girl show her with an innocent and trusting expression. I feel such respect and tenderness for her and this remar-
kable family as they all look back at me from their old sepia-toned photographs.
They courageously adapted to difficult times and persevered. My life is tied to theirs, including the house in which they lived. Both genetically and using the oral, pictorial and archived histories, I am entrusted with their legacy.
I am so very privileged to learn about and be inspired by these resourceful and resilient people whose genes I carry. I am incredibly proud to preserve their story for future generations. As I share it with you in coming posts, may I do Mother, and her family, honor!
Following next time is the beginning of Margaret’s story, starting with her parents.
With love to Mother and to All,