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Nolan Family History
An Oral History by Margaret Nolan McGrann
recorded in 1995 for her younger sister Betty Nolan McGowan’s  75th birthday
Family members are free to cite this oral history with permission and proper attribution.
There is little information on Grossmama's [Bertha Theviot’s] father because he died before she was born. Grossmama's mother was a beautician in a health spa in Karlsbad, Austria. As the story goes she fell in love with a young man who vacationed there with two maiden sisters. He wasn't too well--he had some sort of respiratory problems and they felt the baths at the spa were good for him. Grossmama's mother became pregnant. They planned to marry but he died of pneumonia before they could. She married Mr. Peyer and they had two daughters, Mollie and Hattie. The marriage wasn't a very successful one because she eventually left Mr. Peyer and came to the states with her three daughters. Grossmama at the time was 17 years old. According to Ellie [Nolan}, Lucille [Nolan Holman] and Nonie [Nora Theviot Nolan], the maiden sisters of her lover paid their passage to America. They apparently gave her enough money to get established in St. Paul. She had a rooming house and Grosspapa [Henry Theviot] roomed there. He was a railroad mail clerk. According to Nonie, he and Grossmama were married in St. Paul.
There had to have been a lot of sibling rivalry between Grossmama and her sisters. When they were young and still in Germany, her father's maiden sister gave Grossmama lovely clothes, gifts and music lessons--lots of things Aunt Hattie and Aunt Mollie never had. I don't ever remember meeting Aunt Hattie, but Aunt Mollie did come to Brainerd to visit. Aunt Mollie was married and her name was Marden, and Aunt Hattie married Henry Theviot's brother John. They had a daughter Sophia who married a rancher from Chamberlain, South Dakota. Her name was Bartlett and after her husband died she and her two sons Roland and Frank and a daughter Grace came to visit us in Brainerd. [Note:  Sophia was the daughter of Franklin Pickler, and thus a cousin of Grossmama, and Aunts Malie and Hattie.]
My grandparents were James and Catherine McCormick Nolan. Grandpa Nolan died before I was born and Grandma Katie died when I was not quite two. I think they lived on a farm at the edge of Brainerd but I am not quite sure of this. Nonie's parents were Bertha and Henry Theviot. Grandpa Theviot died a few months before I was born. They were living with Nonie and Bumpa at our home at 615 No. Fifth Street when Henry died. They had lost their home.
Jim and Kate Nolan at home in Brainerd, Minnesota
I don't have pleasant memories of my grandmother. I feel badly about that. I resented the way she treated Nonie. Nonie was like the Cinderella of the family. I suppose today you would call it a dysfunctional family. I don’t know how my sisters or Henry felt about it, but as I analyzed it, when Nonie was only five years old, she had two brothers, Henry who was eight and Willie who was just a baby--under two years old. Henry was a delivery boy for a meat market and he delivered meat to a family that was quarantined with diphtheria. In those days there were no inoculations and they would quarantine people with communicable diseases. Henry caught diphtheria and brought it home to his baby brother Willie, and miraculously Nonie escaped it. It was almost as if Grossmama resented Nonie from then on because she lived and her precious boys died. I think Grandpa Theviot felt that resentment in Grossmama and tried to make up for it, making Nonie a pet of his. Nonie used to talk about it--she dearly loved her father. She told me that the day before he died, he was watching her scrub the floor. She was pregnant with me at the time and she must have looked awfully tired. He told her, "Nora, I wish you didn’t have to work so hard," and she said he died the next day.
When Grossmama was interviewed she said Nora didn’t finish high school because she was ill, but Nonie said it wasn’t because she was ill, she couldn’t finish high school because Amorita was born. She was 16 at the time and Grossmama just never stayed home and kept house. She had a housekeeper, but Nonie had to stay home and take care of Amorita and Nonie resented it. She told me a story about wheeling Amorita in a baby buggy. She met two of her boy classmates, and as they approached her they made the remark, "Here comes Nora and her kid." She went home and told Grossmama she was never going to take Amorita out for a walk again. Grossmama hit her so hard she fell all the way across the room. Grossmama exhibited tendencies when she was living with us that she was a difficult person to have around. I have thought many times that Bumpa [Jim Nolan] was certainly good to her. In fact Grossmama told me many times herself, "I have never had a cross word with Jim Nolan."
Grossmama was an unusual women--you would probably call her one of the first women’s libbers. She was a club woman and a business entrepreneur. She had a hat shop and had a lot of talent--she designed and made beautiful hats. In those days women used to spend up to $50 for a hat. In a hat shop you got a personal design and she apparently had a lot of talent for that. She also had a beautiful voice. When she was a little girl in Karlsbad, Austria, she was given singing lessons by two maiden ladies who were sisters of her mother’s lover. So she had a pretty well-trained voice by the time she came to the United States. Before she and Grandpa Theviot were married she was the leading soprano at the St. Paul Metropolitan Opera Company. After she got married she was in a lot of clubs, and she would often sing on their entertainment days. Adelaide, Nonie’s younger sister, developed into quite a pianist, and she used to accompany Grossmama on her singing dates. That made Grossmama a lot closer to Adelaide and I suppose that was another source of resentment that built up in the family.
Grossmama continued to live with us until Adelaide came back to Brainerd. Adelaide had married--she was Mrs. Charles Whittig--and she and Uncle Billy were divorced. When she came back, she and Grossmama got an apartment. They lived together until the apartment building they were living in burned down. After that Grossmama came back to live with us until she died, and Adelaide was living in an apartment by herself.
Amorita by that time was a nurse in Rochester, she had taken her training at St. Mary’s hospital. She would come back to Brainerd for visits on occasion and would stay at our house, because that became their home.
Grossmama and Amorita and Adelaide were very emotional and high strung people. Nonie seemed to be much more stable. Amorita and Grossmama were not as high strung as Adelaide, but Adelaide was ill. I don’t know if she was ever diagnosed as such but she was a pretty serious epileptic and used to have some pretty violent seizures. She always frightened me because I was always worried about being near her and provoking her and having her go into a seizure in my presence. I didn’t want that to happen. I remember one incident when Betty and I were shopping with Nonie in the dime store. Nonie apparently saw Adelaide and was trying to get out of the store before Adelaide came up to her, because she suspected Adelaide was angry with her for some reason or another. Before we got out of the store she approached us and started a tirade, about what I have no idea. I remember it was pretty violent and she just screamed at Nonie. She caught us just before we got out of the store and I looked at the girl standing at the cash register behind the counter and the tears were rolling down her cheeks. So Nonie had a lot to put up with in her life. I guess that’s why I resented Grossmama as much as I did.
Adelaide’s mental and physical condition were always kept in the closet. The family didn’t ever admit that she was an epileptic. Grossmama had told us--and Nonie had told us the same thing--that her seizures were caused by her walking in cold lake water about the time she was starting her menstrual periods. Epilepsy was never mentioned.
Our Home
The house that we lived in when we were growing up was an old home on the north side of Brainerd. It probably was built around the turn of the century. I loved that old house. It had three porches. One was off a third bedroom in the upstairs. Betty and I looked forward to the time when the weather would be nice enough, because the porch was only screened. When it rained in the middle of the night we could feel the rain blowing in, we'd jump out of bed and throw the mattress back so it wouldn’t get wet and we‘d go sleep in our regular bed. But we just loved sleeping on the porch, it was always so refreshing.
Our house at that time was in a very nice neighborhood. In fact our house today looks very nice. I go by it every time I am in Brainerd. The three porches have been enclosed and it looks well kept up. It gives me a feeling of nostalgia every time I go by 615 No. 5th street.
Gregory Park had tennis courts and was very close to our house. All of us were sort of athletic, and Betty and I used to get up real early just about every day and play tennis. We used to swim a lot too. Our swimming facilities were Lum Park. Our life wasn’t as structured as children’s lives are today. We had to make our own fun. A lot of times we would get up and play tennis in the morning and then go home and pack a lunch and hike out to Lum Park which had to have been about four or five miles and we would walk home. There were times when we were smaller that Kay and Eleanor used to drive us out in the old Model T Ford and we would spend the afternoon swimming out there. We did swim a lot and we were involved in Red Cross Swimming lessons and got our life saving badges. Later on I became a life guard for two summers at Lum Park after I got my instructor’s certificate at the University of Minnesota.
Our kitchen had two stoves in it--one was a gas stove that my mother used during the summer and the other was an old fashioned range that burned coal and wood in the cold winter months. Our home was heated by coal. I remember I could hear Nonie up on cold winter mornings shoveling coal into the furnace. She was able to keep it running a lot better than Dad was.
We always ate in the dining room with a linen table cloth every night. Betty and my chores were to set the table to clear and wash the dishes when we were through. We lived in that same house until we left home. We had a basement in the house. Nonie had a root cellar where she would store the winter supplies and all the goods that she canned from the garden and fruit that she would buy.
The Depression
We grew up during the Great Depression, but I don't ever remember that I felt poor. This past semester I audited a course in U.S. history from the Reconstruction after the Civil War through the Vietnam War. The Great Depression apparently was far more traumatic than I remember it. One of the reasons is because Bumpa (James Nolan) worked for the government. He had a paycheck every two weeks. I had friends whose fathers worked in the Northern Pacific railroad shops and also Northwest Paper Co. Those two companies were the big source of income for Brainerd and during the Depression they didn't work full time, maybe two or three days a week. On the whole we were far better off during the Depression years than a lot of our friends. I know money was scarce, but everybody was poor so you didn't feel deprived. I guess the reason it was so horrible certainly in big cities was so many wage earners lost their jobs. Women were in the home, they weren't working and when the wage earner lost the family income, they were desperate because there was no welfare state in those days. When Roosevelt was elected he started a Works Progress Association program which gave work to people who were out of work and that probably saved a lot of lives around the country.
Betty wrote that she always felt guilty about an incident that happened when we were children about standing on  rocker that went through the window. She apparently has had a guilt complex for years about that, but I remember it far differently. Betty and I were on the front porch and we had this two seated rocker and we were getting along fine. I was sitting in the rocker and she had her foot on the rocker part and was rocking me very gently and Alice came along. Alice was six and a half years older than Betty and a lot stronger so she took over the rocking end of it and she started rocking me very vigorously. I was really frightened and I told her to stop and she wouldn't so I jumped out of the rocker. With the force of my jumping out of the rocker and Alice's vigorously rocking it, it went through the window. When Nonie and Bumpa assessed the situation, they came to the conclusion that it was Alice's fault, and it was, and that's why Alice had to pay for the window. Betty really should stop feeling guilty about that.
I always felt very close to Betty and felt very protective of her because she was two years and three months younger than I was. One incident that I remember in particular when the folks took a vacation. They went out to South Dakota to see Nonie's cousin Sophia Bartlett. Our parents didn't take many vacations, and they couldn't take us all, so Alice, Betty and I were farmed out with Aunt Celia and Aunt Alice. Alice and I stayed with Aunt Alice and Marie at the lake and Betty stayed with Aunt Celia. At the time, there was a circus that came to town. Ione happened to be in town so she took Betty and Marie took Alice and me to the circus parade. Betty was only two years old--I was four and Alice about eight. Marie had gotten tickets for Alice and me and they didn't get a ticket to take Betty
because they thought she was so young she wouldn't enjoy sitting through the whole performance. I knew that Betty wasn't going to be able to go to the circus and I felt so badly. And Betty was so little and she was excited about seeing the parade and that seemed to satisfy her, but it didn't satisfy me because I just knew that she wasn't going to get to the circus and I always felt so badly about it.
I give most of the credit for being really happy in our home to Nonie. At times it was very difficult for her. Bumpa was good man, but he did have a drinking problem. There were times when he was drinking that life was probably pretty unbearable for her. I can remember the times that I used to become so angry with him I just wished he'd go away and not come back. I feel guilty about that, too.
For quite a few years we didn't have a car. After the old Model T gave out--they had that during Betty and my younger years--we didn't have a car until 1934 when I was a junior in high school, when they bought a new Chevrolet. Bumpa was so proud of it. Because the older kids had taken so many liberties with the car and wouldn't bring it back when they were supposed to--every time Bumpa wanted to use it, one of the kids had it--he would never let us drive the new car unless Nonie was with us. He would let us take her shopping and things like that. If we wanted to go out to the lake, Nonie had to be with us. So we didn't have the liberties with the Chevrolet that the older kids had with the Model A. Poor Bumpa. I didn't blame him for making rules and regulations like that because Eleanor and Henry and Kay used to abuse the privileges that he would give them with that car something horribly.
I can remember one time when Eleanor had the car and there was a circus in town. We went down to watch the parade and when she saw a break in the parade line we were parked and she started up the Model T and got into the parade and Betty and were so embarrassed. I hid down at the bottom of the car. I didn't want anyone see, but all the people thought it was funny. They were all laughing and hollering at us. Finally, the parade marshal stopped the parade and came back and made Eleanor get out the parade. She was really daring and did a lot of things that I wouldn't have had the courage to do. I still have fond memories of growing up at 615 N. 5th Street.
Brainerd was a nice sized town to grow up in. It was about 10,000 population. Growing up in those days was not nearly as structured as it is today. We made our own entertainment. We did a lot of swimming , a lot of tennis playing. If we wanted to do swimming we’d walk out to Lum Park or Rice Lake which was four or five miles from where we lived.
Betty and I had so many nice friends. A girl with whom I started kindergarten, Mimi Meyers, who lived at 615 No. 6th Street, just a block over, with whom I played all the way through school is still a very close friend of mine. In fact I'm going to my 60th high school reunion this summer and I'm going to stay with her the night of the reunion. We have had a friendship that has lasted and lasted. Its been simply wonderful. No matter how many years we are apart, when we get together, we can just take up where we left off from the visit before.
Betty and I were always close. We were closer in age and in the neighborhood we had mutual friends. Our best friends were mutual friends. In the neighborhood the Kampmans and the Cardles had children that were our ages that we played with a lot. Our next door neighbors were the Wises. Elaine Wise was my age but she was a friend of Betty’s too. Mildred Kampman was a friend of mine, and Nathalie Kampman was a friend of Betty’s. Lorraine Cardle was a friend of both of us. We usually just played in the neighborhood--we played a lot of organized games.
We had real good neighbors. There were some neighbors who lived on the corner, by the name of Wright. They had boys who were the ages of Betty and me and Mr. Wright used to take us swimming a lot of the time during the week.
About the only organization we really participated in when we were kids was Camp Fire girls. We were real active in that all our life. Our cousin Marie and her friend Eula Michael who was really a member of our extended family were leaders in the Camp Fire movement and they had an active group and that provided a lot of entertainment for us. We’d go to camp every summer and as I grew older, I'd go to camp as a junior counselor and I enjoyed that a lot.
We didn’t do a lot of sewing or crocheting, things like that simply because Nonie was an excellent seamstress. She made all our clothes. I don’t remember having a store bought dress until I was a senior in high school and got one for graduation. I marveled at the things Nonie could do with the sewing machine. I remember one time I was invited to a birthday party and I wanted a new dress and Nonie knew that I wanted a new dress. The dining room table was always her sewing room. The morning before I went to school she had a pattern laid out. When I came home at noon, she had the dress basted together and by the time I came home from school she had the dress all pressed. So I was able to wear a new dress to the birthday party after school and that always thrilled me. She was a wonderful seamstress. For some reason, none of us really like to sew very much. I think that one of the reasons I didn’t like to sew was because every time we got ready to eat--because the dining room was Nonie’s sewing room--we had to pick up a pattern that was ready to be cut out and the sewing always seemed to be so messy. I didn’t like the mess, and I guess that’s why I wasn’t too interested in learning to sew.
We didn't go out of town to visit our relatives. Amorita lived so far away in California. She was the only sister that Nonie had after Adelaide died in 1931. Adelaide had no children. Amorita used to come back on occasions to visit and brought Mary Kay and George back with her and we enjoyed those visits. We didn't keep in touch with them too closely until after we were all married. We used to go out to California and visit the Bushells. Nonie and Bumpa didn't take many vacations.
Most of our relatives--the Adairs and Rowleys--lived in town and Adelaide lived in town. Other than that, we didn’t have contact with relatives. Grossmama kept her contacts with some of her family and some of Grosspapa’s family. She did return to Europe on one occasion that I know of when I was about ten or twelve. (She mentions that in the interview that she gave.)
In the evenings, during the school year, we always had a lot of homework to do. I guess in those days the dining room was sort of the family room, because we would all sit around the dining room table and do our homework. Nonie always saw to it that if we had homework to do, we got it done. And if we needed help, she was always there to help us. I always thought that there wasn’t anything that Nonie couldn’t do.
In her later years, after she had given up her home, she spent a good deal of time with us. We shared the care of her with Eleanor and Melba. She would spend six months at our house and six months with them. She didn't like staying at the lake in the summer, because Eleanor always had so much company and their meals were always late. On Memorial day, Maury and I would take the kids and go up to the lake and we'd bring Nonie back with us. On Labor Day we would go up to the lake and take her back. She would spend the fall and stay through Christmas with Eleanor and Melba. And then after Christmas I would go up and get her and she would stay with us through the winter months until after Easter. And then I would bring her up the first part of April until summer again. So she was with Eleanor and Melba in the spring and the fall and with us in the summer and winter.
In our family Denny was the one who was closest to Nonie. He became an exceptionally good friend to Nonie. If Maury and I had occasion to go out in the evening, we didn’t ever mind leaving her because Denny was probably in junior high. He would go into her room and watch television with her and our little dachshunds dog Gretchen. He dearly loved Nonie.
Nonie and Bumpa always had a beautiful garden. That was the one thing he dearly loved to do along with fishing, which was a wonderful hobby for him. But he had a beautiful lawn and he took great pride in his garden. Nonie used to have a lot of wonderful vegetables. She did a lot of canning, so in the winter months, we had lots of canned vegetables and fruits.
I remember one particular incident in our house that really terrified me. It was before Betty and I had started school. I was about four and Betty was about two and Nonie and Bumpa had purchased some new furniture. They used to bring the furniture in a crate, packed in excelsior. After they opened the furniture, Bumpa and Nonie put the crates and excelsior down in the basement. Betty and I were playing down there one day while Nonie was washing, and I found a match. I struck the match and threw it into the excelsior to see if it would burn. It ignited in flames and I immediately jumped into the flames to try to put it out, but I couldn’t and I knew it was dangerous so Betty and I both ran upstairs and told Nonie. She got us out of the house and ran next door and called the fire department. I always felt bad about that because by the time the fire department got there the boxes that the furniture was packed in ignited, and they had to knock holes in the walls and run water in, so there was probably a lot of damage. That really frightened me.
Nonie did have beautiful vegetables, at different times she had corn and beans and peas. Betty and I would quite frequently take a wagon full of vegetables and go around the neighborhood selling it. Nonie was an excellent cook and she made wonderful donuts. Every Saturday morning, she would get up early and bake dozens of donuts, and we would take those around and sell them. We had regular customers we would service every Saturday morning. In those days, she would get 25 cents for two dozen donuts--15 cents a dozen.
Saturdays meant an awful lot to us, like they do to all school kids because we got a day off. But as we got older, Saturdays meant cleaning days. That’s when we really had to help Nonie clean the house. Alice and Betty were responsible for cleaning the downstairs, and I used to have to clean the upstairs bedrooms and the bathroom. On Sundays, we went to mass. I don’t remember ever going to mass as a family--I suppose we did on occasions, but Nonie always used to get up early and go to church, and Betty and I used to go to the children’s mass. Dad wasn’t a frequent attender of Mass. We went to St. Francis Church in Brainerd.
I felt the holidays were always a lot of fun. We spent the holidays with Dad’s relatives. On Thanksgiving, we’d have a traditional thanksgiving dinner with the Adairs, over at Aunt Alice’s and Uncle Sam and Marie’s. I can remember that if the weather was cold enough, we used to go skating out on Gull Lake, if there wasn’t too much snow. A lot of times it was either too warm or too snowy that you couldn’t skate on the ice.
We had Christmas Eve at our house. It was always a day of fast and abstinence and so Nonie planned a Christmas eve dinner that was usually stuffed white fish that was just delicious. She had worked prior to Christmas baking the holiday cookies and fruit cake. We loved that. We followed the German tradition because Nonie wouldn’t trim our tree until the day before Christmas Eve. When we would come down Christmas Even morning and she would have a sheet between the front and back parlor, because the tree was always in the front parlor. The relatives would congregate for a Christmas Eve dinner. I know Betty and I would always get so excited that we couldn't ever eat. Somehow or other Santa Claus always came during dinner and we could hear the jingle of the bells. Nonie always helped provide a wonderful Christmas. I am sure that with such a big family, we didn’t get lots of toys. The older members of the family bought our toys. I remember Henry bought shoe skates for both Betty and me. Marie sometimes would take our old dolls and clean them up and put new clothes on them. Nonie’s Christmas presents were always necessary items of clothing--pajamas, bedroom slippers and bathrobes. We didn’t have a big relative gathering at Easter, usually just our own family.
Our birthdays were quite an occasion. I can remember always really looking forward to birthdays because Nonie would order a case of our favorite pop and a big container of ice cream from Russell Creamery. That was real special. It would come packed in cracked ice and was so delicious. Sometimes she would have a little party for us, but many times we didn’t have. Our gifts were probably pretty traditional gifts of clothing.
Fourth of July were always nice too. Betty and I would have previously bought a few fire crackers and we would get up real early in the morning and shoot those off. In the years that we didn’t have a car, we weren’t able to go many places. But I do remember that our neighbors the Carlsons used to take us places quite frequently to a picnic. We would go out to Mille Lac Lake where there was an Indian reservation. The Indians would have a pow wow and that was fun to watch. They had a great big park at Garrison and we’d have a great big picnic table and we’d have a picnic at the park. Those were always lots of fun. We had a lot of picnics, particularly after we got the Chevrolet in 1934 we used to picnic a lot. Nonie loved to go on a picnic.
Our house was a big old house, and we kept fairly cool in the summer. We didn’t have air conditioning, but it was well shaded and it had those porches and Nonie used to draw the shades and keep the house kind of dark and so the house was always nice and cool. I don’t remember any floods or blizzards or tornadoes or anything that traumatic. We had some roomers in the front room Two men rented our front room and they had a radio. The house was struck by lightning and I remember the radio in the front room caught on fire. That wasn’t a serious accident, I don’t think there was a great amount of damage in the front room.
Our family just didn’t take vacations. They were costly and because we didn’t have a car. I remember one vacation that I really enjoyed. It was probably the only vacation that we really had together--Bumpa, Nonie, Eleanor, Betty and I. Alice wasn’t along because I think she was in summer school in St. Cloud. Eleanor was working in St. Paul at a bank and going to law school, and I think she had a few weeks off. We went up into Ontario. At that time, we didn’t visit Bumpa’s relatives, the McCormicks. I don’t know why we didn’t, we may not have been close enough to wherever they lived. We went to Kennebeck Falls, and on the way back, we rented a cabin on the Iron Range--Hibbing or Bemidji--near a real nice lake. We spent several days there. That was a real enjoyable vacation for us. Grossmother was still living with us at the time, but she apparently stayed home.
We all went to Brainerd High School and graduated from there. Lucille graduated and went on and took a business college degree. After she finished that she came back to Brainerd and worked as a secretary at J.C. Penney Co. until she went away and got married. Henry went to work right out of high school at the paper mill and eventually ended up working at the post office. Kay took nurse’s training at St. Mary’s in Rochester. Eleanor went to the University of Minnesota. She left there and went to New York for a while and worked as a telephone operator and went to night school at Columbia University. She came back to Minnesota and went to St. Paul and worked for a legislator from the Brainerd district. Then she got this job in the bank and went to St. Paul School of Law. Alice and Betty both went on to St. Cloud Teacher’s College and got teaching degrees. I went to the University of Minnesota into a five-year nursing program, leading to a degree. I had had two-years on campus and one year in the hospital. I had met Maury when I was in my second year. He was graduating in 1939 and we decided we would be married in January after his graduation. At that time I couldn’t continue on in nursing, because you couldn’t get married and be an undergraduate student if you were a girl.
I am sure our education created a burden for Nonie and Bumpa on his salary. It wasn’t a large salary, he did work for the post office. But Bumpa had graduated from St. Cloud and he fully believed in education. He wanted to give us all that opportunity if they could possibly do it. He had told the older girls that they would have to help Betty and me, and I remember Kay used to send me money every month. When Betty went to St. Cloud, Eleanor had opened her law practice then and she helped Betty out. I was always closest to Betty and Kay in the family. I always thought it was so wonderful--Kay used to send me $10 a month when I was at the University and I really depended on that. I always thought she just did it to help me out, which she did of course. I found out much later, years after she had gone into Alcoholics Anonymous that she really resented the fact that Bumpa expected her to help me out. The reason she told me is it's part of the AA program--one of the 12 steps--that you’re supposed to get all that hostility towards anyone out of your system. You're supposed to tell them about it. It wasn’t until after she moved back to Brainerd when she was 78 years old that she told me she always resented the fact that Bumpa and Nonie thought it was her duty to help me out. I was grateful she did, and I know that she was grateful she told me that she had been hostile toward me because she got it out of her system.
Marriage and the War
When I met Maury, he was in the School of Architecture. It was during the Depression and jobs were so hard to get. A lot of his fraternity brothers were working for nothing in Minneapolis if they could afford to do so just for the experience because jobs were so hard to get. But he did get a job, selling building materials for a company in Iowa. He went on the road and had all of South Dakota. So we were married of January of 1940 and went out to Watertown to live. He worked for this company until he went into military service in 1942.
Maury wasn’t drafted into service. When war broke out, we had long discussions about it. Because he already had his degree, he could get a commission outright in the navy and we decided that’s what he should do. We would be able to live better because at the time they were drafting men, they were getting only about $30 a month. He went into Minneapolis and got an outright commission and then he went out to Mair Island for an indoctrination course. I went out to San Francisco to live with him because he was attached to a mine sweeper that patrolled the coast. We lived in San Francisco until he was sent overseas, when I came back home. By that time, we had Tom and Kathy, and I lived with Nonie and Bumpa, while he was overseas.
Maury’s ship was a minesweeper and they were very expendable. Their job on an invasion was to go in and sweep Japanese mines. They would fire these mines and mark the channels that they had swept with buoys for the landing troops to come in on barges. Maury had already participated in three invasions in the Marianas--Saipan, Guam and Tinian. As they progressed further toward Japan, there was an island--Ulithi, that the U.S. felt was necessary because it had a perfect harbor in which they could assemble a lot of ships. It was off the island of Ulithi that they hit a mine. It was a small ship and it was blown in two. A third of the men were lost; a third were wounded pretty severely including Maury, and third escaped without injury. They were blown into the water and weren’t rescued for at least eight hours. Maury was knocked unconscious and he was in a coma for several days. He doesn’t remember anything. He was hospitalized in a field hospital in the Pacific for a while and then he was sent back to the states and was sent to Corona Naval Hospital. They sent him there to recover because he had lost so much weight, he looked like a prisoner of war when he came back. They kept him there and tried to build up his strength until they could do surgery. When he was ready for surgery, they sent him to Mair Island where they had a big hospital and amputation center. They had to amputate his leg. We joined him and were fortunate enough to find housing near the hospital He was wounded on October 1, 1944 and he was in the hospital until June 1, 1947.
When Maury was in the hospital in Corona, California, we lived with Kay for a while before we could get housing. Tom and Joe Wetter were just about four and five--Joe was in kindergarten at the time. We had a lot of fun living with Kay. They had a little house--Kay and Milt were just wonderful, but we really crowded them. Kay used to get over to see Maury. I couldn’t have survived without Kay and Milt. There was gas rationing then, and the rationing board wouldn’t give me extra gas, but because Milt was a policeman so he was able to get me all the gas I needed. Amorita and George were also wonderful. When Maury was sent up to the amputation center, I left Corona and had to find housing in Vallejo, California. I stopped off at their ranch for a while and Amorita took care of Tom and Kathy while I went up to Vallejo and got navy housing. If it hadn’t been for all my wonderful relatives during the war, I don’t know what I would have done. Those were pretty traumatic years for us, but somehow were survived them. In spite of them we had a nice life.
When we came back to Watertown, Maury went into the construction business with two of his brothers. At that time, the McGowans were living in Appleton, Minnesota, and Margy, Danny and Mickey were pretty little. I loved those years when the McGowans lived in Appleton, because we would always get together for holidays. We would always go over to their house for Christmas. Thanksgiving would be at our house and quite frequently they would come over for Easter at our house. Before Vinny or Denny were born, it would be a two-day affair and we would stay over night. Tom and Kathy just loved to go over to their house for Christmas. We had many fond memories. As their family members came along, we didn’t stay overnight, but we used to continue our Christmas visits and we did that until they moved to St. Paul. Denny used to love to come to Appleton after Tom and Kathy were away at school. We would come over to Dan’s basketball games. Margy and Mickey would be playing in the band and Dan would be up on the basket ball court. At that time the basketball court was the stage of the arena. Denny would sit with Vinny, and Kevin and Sean during the games and he had a great time. When Denny was here this weekend, he remembered so fondly the Christmases when Marty McGowan would get out the movie camera and show pictures of the previous Christmases and some of the Thanksgivings they’d have at our house. He said those were fun years. He loved playing with the McGowans.