Margaret Ellen Wilson: Whence She Came – 52 Ancestors (Ancestor 3)

Each blade of grass has its spot on earth whence it draws its life, its strength; and so is man rooted to the land from which he draws his faith together with his life.
~Joseph Conrad

“There are no mistakes in life, Elizabeth. Everything happens for a reason.” With her Bible on her footstool, surrounded by her blue and white collectibles, and sitting in her blue chair, this is what she would say to me. She had an awful lot of faith for someone who had been through so much.

Mom in her blue chair, surrounded by blue and white glass, and her books.

Surrounded by things she loved, circa 2000.

She loved simple things: like Teddy bears, roses, colored glass, blue and white dishes, teapots, babies, Christmas, Winnie the Pooh, her friends, and church. She was many different people, just in my lifetime. During the 39 years I was blessed to have her, I saw her go through so much and start over several times. She rarely seemed dissuaded, and she seemed to take life’s bumps, or potholes as they sometimes were for her, as her cue to move in a different direction.

It started when she was five years old, and she fell out of the back seat of the Model A Ford that her daddy was driving. “Mother and Daddy were in the front seat, and Brother Roy, Brother Bill, and I were in the back seat. I was sitting in the middle. I don’t know how, but I fell out of the car. Brother Bill probably pushed me,” she would joke. “I rolled down the road.” Her left arm suffered nerve damage, and her eyes changed color, going from two brown to one green (left) and one yellow (right). She always said that she didn’t remember anything before that day. Come to think of it, I do not remember her telling me any stories from before she was five. Not that many of us remember much before that age, but my mom had a very good memory. She was sharp.

Her daddy, Brother Bill, Brother Roy, and Queenie (the dog), with the Model A Ford in the background, circa 1931-1932.

She was born the youngest of three on an early April day during the The Great Depression. The house was on North Walnut Street in Muncie, Indiana. It no longer stands, but I could take you right to the spot. She pointed it out many times.

She wrote once:

Mother always said that I was an accident. The two times that Daddy veered from the safe birth control method, she became pregnant…. Mother always said she wanted a little girl after having two boys. Granddaddy Wilson had died and Daddy had gone to Indianapolis for the funeral. Mother went into labor but refused to have me until Daddy returned.

Old Dr. Clay Ball, Grandma Van Duyn, and Mrs. Crist, a neighbor, were there to deliver me when Daddy got home. Mother always said that Dr. Ball told her, “It’s another boy!” She said, “Mom, is it?” Grandma said to Mother, “No, Hon, you’ve got the prettiest black haired baby girl I ever saw!” [1]

Margaret Ellen. That’s what she was called by her family – she was always Margaret Ellen. In friendship and work, she was Margaret. To me, she was Mommy, Mom, Mama, Mother, and for some reason, in the last 15 or so years of her life, I called her Ma. As a child, my son called her Mamaw, and as he got older it became Grandma.

My mother and her mother, circa 1937-ish.

My mother and her mother, circa 1937-ish.

Her daddy and mother were Roy and Carol. The family didn’t suffer during the Depression, at least not financially. Roy was a printer at the city newspaper, a job he got probably around 1925. He earned a steady paycheck, and Carol made sure that paycheck came home, even during the times when Roy would be prone to drink or gamble it away. Usually, that required a trip downtown to the newspaper office. I imagine she walked the many blocks. As my mother would say, “You gotta do what you gotta do.”

On December 12, 1939, when my mother was eight years old, her daddy died. He had been sick for several years, and after his death, she and her two older brothers were left to be supported by Carol, who took quick action to make sure her little girl was looked after. I suppose she could have left the city and moved back down near her parents in the country town where she was raised, but she intended for all three of her children to go to college, and there was a teacher’s college in the city where she lived. So she stayed and ended up working at the meat packing plant “linkin’ wieners,” my mother would say.

Roy, Jr., was at that point 17. He was a pretty easy fellow, and as far as I was told, he didn’t cause much trouble.

Roy, Jr., aka, "Brother Roy," date unknown. My mother's older brother (also known as "my older brother").

Roy, Jr., aka, “Brother Roy,” date unknown. My mother’s older brother (also known by her as “my older brother”).

Bill, the middle child, was a whole other matter, and I think he’d admit that. Carol had her hands full with him. He was eleven and had lost his dad. He was already a little mischievous, but as would be expected, at that age in that situation, he needed attention. Lots of it.

My mother's middle brother (or really, the middle child), aka, "Brother Bill." Circa 1937-ish.

My mother’s middle brother (or really, the middle child), aka, “Brother Bill.” Circa 1937-ish.

So Carol sent Margaret Ellen down to live with her parents, Grandma and Granddaddy Van Duyn, in Wilkinson, Indiana, and my mom had wonderful memories of her time down there. For five years, she lived in the country town, went to school in the country town, went to the church of Christ, and was spoiled mostly rotten. Which is what I imagine I would have done with my granddaughter in the same situation. She had lost her daddy, and she was a little girl.

Obe and Minnie, my mother's maternal grandparents.

Obe and Minnie, my mother’s maternal grandparents.

She didn’t cause much trouble. She asked her grandma a lot of questions and was fascinated by things like when her grandma would ring chickens’ necks and make butter. It wasn’t like that in the city. Mom had a bedroom upstairs in the back left corner of the farmhouse, and outside her window was a large oak tree. She used to love to listen to the breeze blow those leaves. Oh, and the outhouse! The outhouse was necessary, and it was tolerable until the time there was a snake behind the door when she closed it, which began her fear of snakes. We respected that, though. Scaring her with a toy snake was something we never did. At least I’d like to think we never did that! Toy spiders, maybe. But not snakes.

She had dollhouses, paper dolls, baby dolls, stuffed animals, pretty clothes, and a lot of good home cooking. Family would visit, because they all lived down around there. There was this one toddler girl, her little second cousin, who was 9 years younger than my mother, and my mother absolutely adored her. She thought of her as a baby doll. She’d hold her hand and walk her around; she’d talk to her and play with her. I would imagine the adults were glad those girls stayed occupied while they visited. I know I would have been.

Elementary school days in the country

Elementary school days in the country.

Oh, I would imagine there were problems. I suspect she misbehaved and got into trouble at times. All kids do. They’re not normal if they don’t. She used to say to me, “All kids are cut from the same cloth.” Ain’t that the truth? (She also used to say to me, when I was being particularly spiteful, “Someday, you’ll have a daughter just like you.”)

When she was 14, her mother took her back to the city to start high school. By then, Brother Roy had graduated and Brother Bill was 17. My mom studied Home Economics, Latin, and English. When she was 17, she started college, triple majoring in those same subjects. She was marketable, and was almost always employed, although at times, she did have to move.

High school age, in an instant photo booth

High school age, in an instant photo booth

Her favorite experiences were with her mother. She adored her. She idolized her. The depth of feeling she had for her mother exceeds anything I think I’ve ever experienced. She would tell me of how much fun they would have. “We would just giggle!” I never heard a criticism of Carol from her children, or anybody else for that matter. I think she was well-loved, and she raised my mom to be that way, too. Strong, loving women seem to breed strong, loving women.

My mom and her mom, circa 1953

My mom and her mother, circa 1953

Circa 1950s

Circa 1950s

College days

College days

Circa 1950s

Circa 1950s. Notice my mom’s left hand and how she held it. This is from falling out of the car when she was five.

My mother became a teacher, primarily in high schools teaching Home Economics, Latin, and/or English, whichever was available. I have seen signatures in the yearbooks from her students. They seem to have adored her. She was smart, and as far as I remember, she was very good at many things. Years later, she became our teacher, and specifically I remember how much she taught me. I took it for granted, but at the same time, I knew if I asked her something, she’d know the answer. (Except for advanced math. She did not know advanced math.) If she said she didn’t know, she either didn’t want to answer, or she was thinking of something else. To this day, it still surprises me when I realize that something I just seem to know is something she taught me years ago. How blessed I am to have had her as my mother.

It was June 1, 1959. Her mother Carol had a doctor’s appointment to which my mother took her, because Carol did not drive. “Old Doc Ball” had taken Carol off of her blood pressure medicine because her blood pressure had “gone back down.” She and my mother were in the doctor’s office when suddenly, Carol cried, “OH, MY HEAD!”

She had a stroke. She fell down. And she died.

It was tragic. Both my mother and her mother were far too young for this to happen. Carol was only 57, and my mother was 28.

Her life changed dramatically on that day.

To be continued…

  1. Wilson, Margaret E. Undated manuscript writing. Possession of the author.
This entry was posted in 52 Ancestors, Mom's Side and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Margaret Ellen Wilson: Whence She Came – 52 Ancestors (Ancestor 3)

  1. Pingback: Twenty-Five Genealogical Things That I Know Today Which I Did Not Know on 01 January 2014 | Diggin' Up Graves

  2. Pingback: Margaret Ellen Wilson: Without Her Mother – 52 Ancestors | Diggin' Up Graves

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