My Mother, circa 1943-1944
To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power ~ Maya Angelou
If you’ve been around my blog for a while, you know that I love sharing my mother’s stories. Not only was she a remarkable woman of great personal strength and character, she had a unique perspective on life. At the center of that was her sense of humor and her Nellie-Forbush sense of cockeyed optimism. She could also tell the best stories, often at her own expense. I’ve been saving this one, which is one of my favorites, for just the right moment, and since today is J-day on the A-to-Z challenge, it’s a perfect fit. So grab a cup of your favorite beverage and settle in…..
I met Kenneth when I was fourteen at a church convention. He was tall, dark, and handsome, or perhaps I was young, naive, and easily persuaded. When I was fifteen, he asked me to go to a church skating party, our first date, and on my sixteenth birthday, he gave me an engagement ring. We were married when I was seventeen, in June 1942. Ken joined the navy, finished boot camp and entered radio school in Chicago. I got a free ride from home to Chicago, only to arrive at 11 p.m. to find lodging, a job, and my husband. We lived in Chicago six months.
While in Chicago, she worked at the Rock Island arsenal and earned extra money singing and dancing on stage for USO Shows, at veteran’s hospitals, and for private parties. After Ken completed his tour of duty in the Pacific at the end of World War II, the couple returned home to Iowa, where Ken eventually decided to continue a family tradition and enter the seminary, eventually becoming the fifteenth minister in his family. As part of his education, he became a pastor for various churches around Iowa, which meant that housing often came with the job.
Living in a parsonage is somewhat like living in a fishbowl. Everyone told me so. Especially if you “care” what the neighbors think and care and say about you, especially in a small town. It really never upset me. I always had wonderful neighbors, and they always knew my business, whether I wanted them to or not.
The couple moved around several towns as Ken experienced working for different churches. Finally, they were able to settle into the church at Corydon, Iowa, to enjoy a nice, peaceful service to the church and community. Or so they thought…..
When we applied for the church at Corydon, Iowa, we were told one of the events of the upcoming summer was to be their centennial celebration. We accepted the call in May, planning to move in the latter part of June. Ken immediately began to grow a beard, which I think he always wanted to do and finally had an excuse with the centennial. When we moved in, the congregation was so pleased he was interested in their ventures, they wanted me to be involved in them also.
The centennial celebrations lasted several days, and on the last day, they were going to have a style show of “old outfits.” Would I wear a gown and be in it? I said sure and got out an old full-skirted formal of mine. It had a red taffeta bottom and a black, tight-fitting top.
I gathered the back of the skirt, made of 15 yards of scarlet taffeta, up into a hoop and felt very “old” and “original” looking in this bright red bustle. When I arrived at the style show, I was handed a card and pencil and was told to fill out the following information: Name of participant, original owner of gown, date gown worn, occasion on which gown was worn, and any other pertinent information about the authentic gown.
Mom in her infamous Jezebel dress
I knew immediately I had not been properly informed, and we were to hand our cards to the announcer of the style show as we walked onto the stage. Not one to back out of anything I start, I simply wrote across my card: “Replica of the gown worn by Jezebel doing the town.” I walked across that stage with all of the authenticity I could muster. I ended up winning second place.
A newspaper reporter came to our home a week later to interview the new preacher and his wife, since I had “won” as Jezebel. He asked the usual questions, and we responded with the best and most honest answers we could. We thought everything had gone quite well, until we saw the headline in print the following week: Former Showgirl Is Now Housewife at Corydon. It took a few explanations to get over that.
As the reporter noted in the article, “up until this story gets out, they have been held in high regard by everyone in the community.”
[Note: This post is #10 of 26 of the April A-to-Z Challenge. Please see the button on the right of the page for more information.
Last year’s “J” post: Jabberwocky.]