Today my grandmother Ethel Eleanor Humphrey would have
her own Reality Show. During her teenage years, she asked a fortune teller
about her chances of marriage and was told she’d marry three times.
Ethel was a beautiful woman and had many boyfriends
when she moved from Maine to Connecticut. She was seeing a Mr. Usher, her boss
in the factory where she worked, when Mr. Fox asked her for a date. Despite
both being involved with other people, Grandma agreed to go out with him. Mr.
Fox planned to marry a woman who rented the upstairs of the duplex his family
owned. When he took Grandma to his home, she saw his fiancé in the upstairs
window. The woman looked so sad, possibly believing Grandma was stealing her
betrothed. Not wanting to ruin this poor girl’s life, Grandma stopped seeing Mr.
Fox and eventually married Mr. Usher.
While the Ushers were a wealthy, prominent family,
Ethel came from very humble beginnings. They had four children and when my
Uncle Charlie was about six months old, my grandfather died of pneumonia. This
left Ethel in a dire financial situation, dependent on her husband’s family.
Front row Ruth, Bob & Pearl (my mother). In the back Ethel holding Charlie
Today’s online dating might seem as though it’s the
original way to hook up with a stranger for intimacy and possible marriage. Not
so. A hundred years ago, my grandmother accepted a proposal of marriage through
the mail and traveled from Connecticut to Montana to marry her second husband,
According to my mother, who was around six at the
time, it was a horrible experience. The widowed Mr. Ferguson also had four
children. He treated his own well, buying them ice cream when they were all out
together, but nothing for my mother and her siblings. He died after six months
of marriage. Ethel returned to Connecticut with her children, leaving Mr.
Ferguson’s with his relatives.
Ethel struggled, having at one point to put both boys
in an orphanage for a period of time, something they resented for the rest of
their lives. Grandma liked the country in the summer and preferred the city in
the winter. Their constant moves may have had something to do with an inability
to pay the rent, but it also meant my mother often started in a different
school each fall.
I have one memory of a man Grandma dated when I was
about four, a Mr. Pepper. He and my grandmother showed up one Easter with this
wooden doll cradle painted blue, filled with candy. Grandma could never afford
to give us gifts, so I knew it had to come from Mr. Pepper. When I learned
Grandma planned to marry again, I was delighted. They had been dating for a
while, so imagine my surprise when a different man joined her at the altar.
When Grandma learned Mr. Fox had lost his
wife, she contacted him and their romance continued where it had left off.
Mr. Fox, who had none of the warmth and friendliness of Mr. Pepper, became my grandfather. After approximately thirty years of a contentious marriage, the two ended up in
a nursing home. By then Mr. Fox was blind from sugar diabetes, and Grandma had
difficulty walking due to a car accident. Since men and women were kept in
separate quarters, I doubt if Mr. Fox even knew his wife was there. The last
time I saw her, Grandma told me she already had a new boyfriend.
What about your relatives? Do they belong on a Reality