Friday, April 15, 2011


This is the story of Marian.

I've said before how deep the generation gap is in our family. It's so deep that my grandmother was born before the last century. She was the result of an affair between a man and his Irish maid in New York City, or so we hear, the records have always been a little cloudy. After the baby girl was born the mother took her to a Catholic orphanage. At this time Charles Loring Brace had already set up his famous Orphan Train which placed children into homes across the Midwest from 1854 to 1929.

From all estimations Marian was still an infant when she left on her campaign and was adopted by a German Family in Taos, Mo. Taos was a pretty hillside town, long on fields; a white country church with high reaching steeple sat up like a throne. It was in this town that Marian spent her childhood. She worked hard doing chores, even occasionally pulling bulls in from the field for mating.

Adopted children at this time were sometimes thought of as extra help. You earned your keep, or in other words, you were taken in as an indentured servant, though this type of thinking was not vocalized as such. Marian's adoptive mother used her as a servant, and having emotional issues, became abusive perhaps from regret of time spent having to care for the girl when she had a baby of her own. Regardless, Marian suffered beatings, iron burns to her forearm, she was even thrown down a flight of stairs at one point which resulted in a broken arm. Marian maintained her sanity by going out to the fields and screaming, singing at the top of her lungs. Finally the husband, a quiet man, allowed his sister in town to take over the care of Marian. This woman, who was later to become a nun, raised the child with peace and a gentle hand.

Marian with Sister Mary

Yet young, Marian left Taos in her teens and traveled to Kansas City where she learned shorthand and secretarial skills. An early job matched her up with Cyril Brown, a gentleman fresh from a tour overseas with WWI. Cyril's family had ties to The Younger Brothers, akin to Jesse James, he'd even hopped trains once. It was to be a double date—both of them with different partners. But in a happy twist of fate, Marian and Cyril ended up together. It happened at Kansas City's infamous, and now a mere ghost, Fairlyland Park.

They married. Cyril became a lawyer, Marian remained a secretary.

They had four children, though one died of illness at a young age. Grandfather used to sit and look at Ramona's picture on the mantle. She had been the first born.

Marian holding Kathleen

More hardship was to come, The Great Depression, The Dust Bowl. Though Grandfather was somehow able to procure a house from an ill-fated client. Through one man's misfortune Cyril kept shelter for his family of females.

My mother describes Marian as musical, happy, thrifty, generous, kind. She knew how to play piano by ear, and would often play long into the evening. She loved movies, and would often walk up the hill with her three daughters to attend a show at the city theater.

Work called my mother to New York, and it was while she was there that Marian died after suffering from colon cancer.

Years later, I followed Mom and my Aunt Kathleen to Taos. We climbed the hill and walked inside that old white church with its sharp steeple. We just needed to know; there was so little information. No pictures of Marian as a child, it had left such emptiness. The parish priest took our group down to the church basement so we could look through a few photo books, surely there had to be something. I opened a thick ledger, began to sift through picture after picture of school gatherings with children half-smiling, teachers with tight buns in their hair holding chalkboard squares with dates: 1913, 1912, 1911 . . . My eyes scanned every face, just hoping one would pop out as familiar. And then it happened. I found a picture with a young girl of about seven or eight dressed in white, thick hair and beautiful irish face. Marian. I called Mom and Aunt Kathleen over and heard them gasp.

There she was. All these years later we had come to claim her. No one had ever wanted that child, loved that child. And finally, we were there. I could almost feel her with us, looking over our shoulders. We made copies of the picture and left, quiet.

Marian in Taos, Mo, December 17, 1907

And that's the story of Marian. Survivor. Mother. Child.


  1. A very sad tale Amy. I suspect we all have a 'Marian' somewhere in our families. People were so cruel; and still are!

    She would have loved your tribute.

  2. What a wonderful story of persistence and hope. The end left me in tears.

  3. Thank you for reading this, both of you.

  4. This was such a beautiful piece to read. I was completely captured by Marian and her life. Thank you so much for sharing her story.

  5. What a wonderful story Amy, and what a beautiful woman she was. I have heard of the Younger Brothers. What a heritage you have. Thanks for that.

  6. Amy that was an amazing, beautiful story. it feels like it ought to be part of a book. I love the way you wrote it. It felt like living life alongside her.

  7. Sommer- I"m so glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for the compliment.

    Tom- I'm happy you read it! Glad you liked it.

    Molly- I knew I"d write her story out someday, and if I can get more information I might do a longer piece for publication. I've even considered doing a sort of Anne of Green Gables inspired series for YA with her as the character. But it would be sad in so many spots. I'd have to embellish and fictionalize it. Maybe someday I'll get on it . . . Love you! xxxx

  8. What a wonderful story you wrote about your grandmother. I feel blessed to know of this strong, brave woman.

    You come from good stock.

  9. Thank you so much! Very nice words that I take to heart.

  10. Are you writing memoirs about your family? I have 2 friends in my critique group that are, and yours would be so interesting.

  11. Wonderful post about your grandma.

    Nice to see you in A to Z blogging challenge.

    I am following your blog from now.

    Please stop by my blog and if you like, follow my blog. I love your valuable comments.

    With warm welcome,

  12. I see you in her eyes. You have inherited more from Marian then an amazing physical resemblance.

  13. Marshall- I think that's why I've always loved her so much, despite having never met her. I always knew we shared many things in common, could feel that connection, and it's probably why I write and sing, because I'm voicing something she had to suppress.

    Hope things are well today. Beautiful Sunday to you . . .


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