Where is the Story?

Her palms hovered just inches from her ears, fingers-spread.  As if a metronome, my mother’s hands rocked back and forth as she spat, “You are JUST like your father!”  I never needed a decoder to understand that this phrase conveyed a mother’s disappointment; her eldest child, and only daughter, carried on the mannerisms and point of view of a barely tolerated ex-husband.  My parents’ divorce was amicable as formal separations go.  Since all the children were fairly grown up, no custody duels were overtly fought.  But the covert competition for our allegiance and love was ceaseless throughout my adult life.

You cope, when your parents are divorced.  You just cope, raising your own children as best you can, fending off the birth family battles with as much panache and courage as you dare, navigating the second marriages and blended family get-togethers without losing your mind.  And finally you start feeling a bit old, mortal, and you set out to reclaim your childhood, your birth family, your ancestors.  Or that is what you do when you get bitten by the genealogy bug.

I wandered the shoals of family memory, curious about how and why !?! my parents ever got together.  There was a college romance.  At RPI in Richmond.  Norman transferred to VPI (Virginia Tech) and they got married.  In Greene County, Pennsylvania. Then they lived in Blacksburg.  Norman got a job with General Electric, and they moved to Boston, where Lyn finished her degree at Tufts. GE transferred the couple to Roanoke.

I had to DIG for this stuff, people.

Finally, late in life, my father admitted that he would always love the girl he married.  Which plants the question: was Norman ever Lyn’s beloved? I would never hear the profession from her lips.

What was once lost has now been found

The letters

My father mailed a letter from Virginia Tech Station, Blacksburg, Virginia, to my mother’s dorm at 819 Franklin, Richmond 20, Virginia, every day from January 28, 1953 until May 28, 1953.

And my mother saved. them. all. *

The love letters chronicle the spring of their engagement; the Barnes Junction rendevous, unreasonable professors, wedding dates, and rambling musings of twenty-somethings. Sometimes the story is not left in the ink of a letter.  It is inferred by the mere presence of that artifact.  The words speak of my parents’ love for each other, once upon a time.  The preservation of this seven inch stack says my mother always loved the boy she married.

It matters to me that my parents married because they wanted to, because they were in love, and optimistic, and happy to be together.  It matters to me that I was welcomed with delight.  Perhaps, after all, my mother was a teeny bit glad that I turned out to be just like my father.

 

*Norman S. Strickland, Blacksburg, Virginia, 1953, Letters to Marilyn Minor; Marilyn Minor Strickland Collection, archived with the author.

This Day in Family History: September 21, 1952

Sixty-one years ago, my mother left campus life behind to visit a little town a couple of hours south.  In truth it wasn’t the little town she wanted to see, but the family of the man she loved.

Letter 2 September 1953Marilyn Minor was a junior occupational therapy major at the Richmond Polytechnic Institute that fall of 1952.  Her man, Norman Strickland, was a junior transfer from RPI to Virginia Tech, where he was studying electrical engineering.  Norman had been asked to come home for the weekend of September 20-21, because his brothers, Sidney, Clifford and Paul, were all coming to Chase City, bringing their wives and children.  A conflicted Norman must have told his mother of his commitment to see Lyn that very weekend, and, as one can imagine, his mother offered a compromise that no one could turn down: ask Lyn to come along home with you!

As Norman proposed in a separate letter, received under separate cover, he would pick Lyn up that Sunday morning and take her back that night.  They would be all together for church and lunch.  These plans were made  in early September as the young couple prepared to return to school, since Lyn would need both her parents’ permission and the school’s permission to leave campus. “I do hope you will come for the joy will be all mine,” wrote the Chase City boy.  

The fact that my mother kept these letters suggests that Lyn dashed to her parents upon receiving the notes, and accepted the invitation before leaving her family home in Greene County, Pennsylvania. That year the fall equinox marked more than the changing of the seasons.  The courtship of Lyn and Norman took a very serious turn.