Osteogenesis Imperfecta - LIVING WITH BRITTLE BONES - Audrey Ekdahl Davidson



 


Chapter 4

A Charmed Childood,
in Spite of It All

My mother claimed that I was born about 6:30 in the evening. “I’ll bet,” my nephew Peter said to her, “you didn’t feel like eating supper after that.” Peter was only nine years younger than I, the son of my sister Lorraine and her husband Hugo, a teacher who would be drafted into the army medical corps in World War II. Peter himself was fortunately, like his mother and his siblings, free of OI, which seems now, since none of the younger generations show any symptoms of it, to be no longer in danger of reappearing in the family. The alert young boy that I remember would eventually attend West Point, become a respected officer and professor at the military academy, and retire as a brigadier general. But in fact my mother’s memory was just a little inexact on the point of the time of my birth, and there was also a glitch in the way that my birth certificate was registered, for I was simply identified as “Baby Ekdahl,” later even more bizarrely changed to give me my sister Lucile’s name instead of my own, Jean Audrey. When I had the record corrected many years later, I had my name entered as Audrey Jean, the way that I had been signing it.

At my birth, my father had been hospitalized on account of his bipolar condition. When he was told that his new child had been named Jean Audrey he misheard it as “Gene Autrey.” A boy! Alas, I was to disappoint him, for I would be his fourth daughter, not his first boy. Gene Autrey would have been in imitation of the popular Hollywood cowboy, whose singing was widely heard on radio at that time, for my sisters had seen to it that our household had one of these devices, still regarded as fairly newfangled and potentially as costly as a washing machine.

As mentioned above, I was born with blue sclera, which my parents recognized as a sign of OI, and, in spite of the care with which I was normally treated, I was unlucky enough to have a fracture when my sisters were playing with the cute little child, who fell out of bed. This was my first fracture, at six months. Inevitably, my cast became wet after a time, as one would expect with a baby in diapers, and my father, objecting to the odor, asked Dr. Fiksdal to cut it down. This the agreeable doctor did, and then I promptly broke my leg again just above the shortened cast. I think I can recall Dr. Fiksdal’s appearance - a kindly and troubled face. I realize that this seems hard to believe, though I do have some other surprisingly early and detailed memories that were verified by my parents. For example, I recall a white threshold about which, when I inquired, my father said, “You couldn’t possibly remember that.”

As a child who had proven how fragile she really was, my sisters and my mother looked after me with the greatest care after I emerged from the leg cast. At first all three sisters were still in high school, and I think they must have regarded caring for me as a duty. I know that, on account of my parents’ age when I was born, they considered me an “afterthought.” I doubt if they thought of caring for me as good preparation for marriage, which would come to Lorraine when I was six. The others would wait much longer and in the meantime would help, along with assistance from uncle Lew, to support the family. My father was employed only fitfully, and at last not at all on account of his illness. These were Depression years, difficult for all. As soon as they graduated from high school, my sisters went to work. Lorraine found a job at Woolworth’s Five and Dime Store while waiting for her fiancé to finish his studies at Macalester College. Ione and Lucile clerked at uncle Lew’s grocery store that he had established in 1932 with the purpose of providing him with something to do after his retirement. My father also worked there when he was able, but it was my uncle with OI who had to go into the basement every morning to start the coal-burning furnace on cold days, sometimes very cold indeed in those Minnesota winters, on his way to his regular job so that the store would be warm when clerks and customers arrived. Later, the basement was made available to a very funny Dane, Martin Larsen, who, I assume, took over the stoking of the furnace from uncle Lew. All the children loved Martin, whose name had to be pronounced as if one had stones in one’s mouth. This is interesting because he was the antithesis of neat and clean. I wondered if he ever changed his socks. But he could make us laugh when he merely himself laughed, and any story he told would seem like the height of humor. He told how he and a friend Oscar Peterson were moving some lumber that they had been given on a wagon, and Oscar was sitting on top “like a bird in the nest.” For years we would repeat “like a bird in the nest,” using his strange Danish pronunciation of “bird,” as an occasion for laughter. The only story that made me laugh more when I was young was when my sisters Lucile and Ione told about hiding behind bushes and releasing a doll buggy into the path of an unsuspecting bicyclist, who responded after it hit him, “I’ll never do it again.”

The family grocery store, for that is what it was, had no refrigeration. Meat was available across the street at the meat market belonging to Jalmer Nyquist, who was married to aunt Mathilda’s daughter Martha. Milk was delivered to the house by the milkman. At home when we could afford ice, we would keep the milk in the icebox, and I assume that the same was true in many families at the time. (Refrigerators were not cheap and cost as much as eighty-five or ninety dollars - and required expensive electricity to run.) But the store carried canned goods, fruit, fresh vegetables in season, baking stuff, and of course cookies, candy, and pop which were favorites with us children. Farmers brought eggs to us, and very early my job was to “candle” them to see that they were all right for sale. Then they would be stored in the cool of the basement until sold. When I was able to do so, I was also allowed sometimes to ring up prices on the cash register for customers.

Prices in those days were low by today’s standards. A candy bar or an orange drink cost five cents throughout the Depression and until 1950, when inflation set in and the prices doubled. In 1936 one could expect to pay $1.09 for a bag of the best grade of flour, thirty-nine cents for a peck (fifteen pounds) of Idaho potatoes, nineteen cents for a box of Quaker Oats, twenty-five cents for a two-pound jar of peanut butter, ten cents for a pound of rice, and nineteen cents for a dozen tangerines when advertised. Unadvertised products tended to be slightly more expensive, though not inevitably.

The Crescent Grocery, affiliated with a supplier named Clover Leaf Farms, carried bread, though many people made their own. Box cake mixes were blissfully not yet on the market. Flour was thus regarded as a necessity for most families, and was available in two sizes, in twenty-five- and fifty-pound cloth bags, which could be made into clothing or even curtains. The flour sometimes had to be delivered directly to customers’ homes. This, particularly the larger size bag, was usually the most onerous of the things that needed to be delivered, but one of my sisters told how a woman made her return three times before she would agree that a box of peaches was satisfactory; then she did not pay when she received her bill. Obtaining payment was, to be sure, a frequent problem in the Depression. The store could not afford to demand cash upon purchase, and collecting the money was not always easy. There must be people in Willmar who still owe us money. But the most amusing instance was when Mrs. Whipkey came into the store, sat on a pickle barrel, and began eating an especially nice Delicious apple. “Will you sell me this apple for five cents?” she asked. “No,” my sister replied, “it costs us more than that.” But she did not have the dime, the asking price in this instance, or even a nickle.

Yet, for all our problems with the store, it kept us well supplied with food through the “hard times.” My little friends sometimes were jealous of my family, since they knew we were always well fed, even if my little coat was made from hand-me-down cloth from one of my sister’s cast-off garments. I did have two lovely dresses, so I did not quite fit the proverbial description of the Depression kid who had to go to bed when her one dress was being washed. I even had dolls that had nice doll clothes; one, which I named Carol, I still have. My mother, who had retreated into a kind of mysticism in the face of the family’s hardships, nevertheless was still very clever with a sewing needle and possessed a Singer sewing machine that she put to good use. The fact that, as a benefit of the strong support system provided by uncle Lew and my extended family all of whom lived nearby, we always could have food on the table was especially lucky in view of my father’s inability to hold a regular job. And for me, having a real need for protein on account of my bone disease, it was especially lucky. During World War II, I had extra meat rations.

The store was expanded in 1936, a year when it seemed that the end to the Depression was in sight. In fact this would not happen at this time, for the economy went into another slump. It was also the year that I enrolled in the first grade. I had not attended kinder-garten, as I had been judged too small and fragile, even though from age two I had been able to read. I recall vividly our dog Betty, a shaggy and uncombed Airedale which when I was three had to be put down. I can still see her sitting up proudly in the back seat of the car as she was taken off to the veterinarian and destined not to return. Fortunately, sad events such as this were soon swept away by the child’s experience of the simple excitement of living.

These early years did seem to me to be charmed, in part I am sure because I was very much the center of attention as a bright, ebullient, and “cute” child and as yet one that really required to be coddled. There were times that I am sure I was insufferable, as when I took it on myself to wash the hair of a neighbor boy of my age, Donny Jenson, in the birdbath, or when I cut off the straps from my sister’s shoes at a time when the cost of replacing them was no joke.

1936 was also the year that my sister Lorraine married. I was the flower girl, as her daughter Janet (DeeDee) was to be flower girl at my wedding eighteen years later. This was a loss to the family economy, but since her husband had a teaching position at Aitken, Minnesota, it meant that I could visit there - something to be anticipated as much as our family stays at uncle Lew’s cottage on Eagle Lake. Later, ’Raine would come to occupy the upstairs in our house when her husband was drafted, so the nuclear family would be brought together again, with the addition of Peter and Hugh, with whom I became fast friends. The upstairs had previously been rented out of economic necessity, and I do not know how my parents, sisters, and I managed in the limited space our downstairs provided. Half a large house is not necessarily large enough for so many. Others, who did not own property, fared much worse. How lucky in those days that a trip to the doctor could cost as little as fifty cents or a dollar! Things were changing even then, of course, and the store was closed in 1939 or 1940. Lucile then worked at a number of jobs, eventually landing at the radio station, WKLM, where she stayed for seven years. When Lucile married, Ione would set out for California by herself in our old Nash automobile.

Audrey Ekdahl at age three, with the family dog, Betty.

I had already begun my career in performance, for at age three my sisters lifted me onto the piano bench in the Baptist church and had me sing. They said that my singing was all right, but that in my nervousness I had twisted up my dress in my hands. Before too long I was a real trouper, on one occasion singing for the Elks club and receiving a doll as payment - a beginning, I suppose, as a pro-fessional musician. Music had always been present in our house, in the summer wafting in through the windows during band concerts in Rice Park across the street. Before her marriage, ’Raine, who had studied with a European-trained pianist, Miss Dahlheim, provided an example by her assiduous practicing and playing. She was an inspiration to me to learn to play the piano. I was enrolled at age six with Mrs. Stenberg, with whom ’Raine was secretly unhappy and rightly so. She used the John F. Thompson series, and would not let me go on to the next piece until I had thoroughly mastered the one on which I was working. I still remember one piece, “Lunchtime at the Zoo,” with its a-b-c-d-e rolled together to make the sound “roomf, roomf.” Only in the seventh grade would I change to Mrs. Sophus Larson, who, in spite of her own limitations, was a breath of fresh air as a teacher. Only then did I become really serious about my playing.

On the first day of school in the first grade, I still can remember after all these years how Russell Hillerman cried at being in his new surroundings, and how Donna Berklund put her arms around him to comfort him. My teacher was Miss Hazel Heini, who had a reputation for seeing to it that no child would come out of her class without being able to read. Needless to say, I was the most advanced at the beginning of the year and at the end. Yet for me school was a great help since she made us master the elements of phonics; when I graduated from the first grade there was no word I could not pronounce if it involved normal English pronunciation. As a fragile child, my fellow pupils looked after me, as one of them in old age reminded me not long ago, and my teachers, at least when I was in the first and second grades, often carried me when we walked any distance or up or down stairs. Whether or not I was compensating, I tried always to be alert and was very competitive so that, until I passed into junior high and had to confront science and math classes, I was always at the head of my class. Not surprisingly, I was accused of being teacher’s pet, which naturally is what I wanted to be. But another sign of my fragility was a freak accident that occurred as I was riding in the car with my father on a Sunday afternoon when I was seven. For some reason, perhaps a flat tire since this was common in those days, the car lurched out of control. I struck my nose on the dashboard and knew that something was broken. When we arrived home, my mother was very angry, hit my father with a dishcloth, and put him out of the house onto the porch. Then we set out for the doctor’s office.

My second grade teacher, Miss Cora Corneliusen, was promoted to the third grade, so I had her again for the next year. At Willmar, elementary school teachers, whether in their twenties or older, were always single women, for if they married they were expected to drop out and become homemakers, perhaps substituting in the classroom now and then if called upon. One day Miss Corneliusen had a very sore throat, and when it came time for reading the story that would end the school day, I prayed that she would ask me to read - and she did. Of course, I was the child who could read sentences, not just words. In the fifth grade, Ruth Johnson, who was more pale as a teacher than the others, taught about the Greeks and the Romans, whom I still found inspiring when I saw the Elgin marbles in the British Museum for the first time - and, for that matter, when I viewed the ruins of the ancient city of Rome on the one occasion when we traveled to Italy in 1983.

On Sundays there was church, both in the morning and in the evening. The morning service was fairly staid, with Swedish and American evangelical hymns predominating. At first I remember that only a piano was used for accompaniment, but then my cousin Latimer bought an electronic Conn organ, which my brother-in-law Hugo would call “Conn,” also the brand name of a harmonica. Today we call such instruments “toasters.” Of course, pianos and organs are tuned differently, which is why the use of these two instruments together sounds cacophonous to persons not accus-tomed to evangelical religion or to those with a good sense of pitch. Sermons were long, and communion, with leavened bread and grape juice, was added on the first Sunday of the month. This would add sometimes as much as thirty minutes to the normal hour-long service, but I always sneaked out as often as I could. I recall when Latimer complained because, he said, a lay assistant named Ekbom “put his hand in his dirty pocket and then handled the bread.” But the afternoons were for relaxing or reading. You weren’t even supposed to sew or mend. Sometimes my father took me to the ball game. This would have been the church baseball league in which the First Baptist Church to which my parents belonged sponsored a team, as I recall with the additional sponsorship to cover the costs by a local business. I had no sense of danger from a stray ball, but my mother, who was opposed to baseball on Sunday, was always angry. Now I understand that it probably was not only a case of her morality but also a concern for my safety.

Sunday evening services, occasionally reverting to Swedish, were quite different from the morning, and included a different kind of music. When I was very young, Pastor Alphin Conrad, whom I remember as a kind and gentle person, would sometimes play his guitar badly and sing songs such as “Let a little sunshine in; clear the darkened windows, open wide the door” in an untrained but pleasant voice. Hymns would not necessarily be from the usual hymnal, and would even include camp songs such as “Rolled away, every burden of my heart rolled away.” From the hymnal might come the following:

Throw out the Life-Line, across the dark wave

There is a brother whom someone should save;
Somebody’s brother! O, who then will dare
To throw out the Life-Line, his peril to share?
Throw out the Life-Line!
Someone is drifting away;
Throw out the Life-Line!
Someone is sinking today.

These services would often focus on prophecy, the Book of Daniel and Revelation. No one there had read John Nelson Darby on the rapture, now popularized by the books of Tim LeHay, but many had Scofield Bibles. Arguments were not unknown between pre-millennialists and post-millennialists. The end of the world and the Last Judgment were frequently the subject of commentary, with a spin that was out of touch with mainline biblical scholarship. It was not only the somewhat deranged Wallace Dahlheim who would stand up at the testimony services and talk about the Beast of Revelation which he identified with the Roman Catholic Church. There would be even more opportunity for the excesses of radical religion on Wednesday evening, the regular testimony service.

When I was nine, I was baptized. This was the usual age in our church, which did not believe in the infant baptism that had been practiced in the Church of Sweden from which my family had broken in the nineteenth century. To me this was a very dramatic and cheerful event, and, as expected, it meant being “saved” and having entrance into church membership. “Now,” my father said in reference to our close-knit extended family, “we are all one in the church.” In the ceremony, the baptistry, a tank that had been filled with water, was revealed to the congregation. Those who were to be baptized were dressed in white. As part of the ritual, the minister, in my case Pastor Horn, would ask a set of questions, the most important being whether you accept Christ as your Savior as part of the ritual. Then he would hold your nose and dunk you under the water, symbolic of a death to sin. Interestingly, the music accompanying the ritual might be “Children of the Heavenly Father” (“Tryggare kan ingen vare”) by Caroline Sandell, a Lutheran; this hymn was sung across the spectrum of churches and sects - and in Sweden is now even included in the new Roman Catholic hymnal, Cecilia: Katolsk Psalmbok. My friend Adina Lundquist insisted on being baptized outdoors in a lake, and her arguments for the authenticity of such a ceremony convinced the pastor to agree to transferring it to Eagle Lake, where her family and mine had summer cottages.

Our cottage, on the north side of the lake, was willed by uncle Lew to Arloueen Hanson Nyman when he died. She would sell it to Dr. A. M. McCarthy, the brother of Senator Eugene McCarthy who opposed the Vietnam war and made a run for the U.S. Presidency as an independent candidate in 1968. When we had it, the cottage was quite primitive, with a kerosene stove for cooking and sleeping quarters in the attic, which always frightened me because one went up the stairs and then closed the trap door behind one. I played in the water, splashed about, but never learned to swim. My friend Adina, who was somewhat of a madcap, happened to be related to Gunnar and Alva Myrdal, the great Swedish sociologists who did basic research on U.S. race relations before the World War II. They visited Willmar on several occasions, but I did not meet them. I was, after all, a young girl who only knew that they were very important people. Adina, very fair of skin, had a perpetual sunburn all summer. The short Minnesota summer nevertheless always seemed perpetual, as if the idyllic time would never end.

Audrey and her mother, Lydia, at the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Itasca, Minnesota, in c.1940.

Partway through the sixth grade, taught by Miss Aileen Sanborn, a vibrant woman who wanted nothing more than to become a Methodist missionary, I broke my ankle when I tripped and sat down on it very hard. This occurred just days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, so after that for the rest of the school year I had a tutor and studied at home. A cot was set up for me in the dining room. The next year would take me to the high school.

As for pets, which can immensely cheer an ailing child, I always had cats, many of whom had kittens. Because of the prevalence of feline distemper and the lack of more recently developed methods of treatment, cats tended to be short-lived, and I always grieved for my furry friends when they passed away. One of the most memorable was a cat that I named Senator Black, after the senator who later became Justice Black of the Supreme Court. The feline Senator Black, however, was revealed to be a female when she had kittens - on election day. Another favorite was Grace, and I will never forgive myself for giving her to my cousin Latimer to catch mice. I found her very ailing not long thereafter, and called the veterinarian. Instead of taking Grace back and nursing her back to health, as I should have tried to do, I thanked the veterinarian for his services and told him, “Send the bill to Latimer. It’s his cat.”

Then there were the chickens, Knobby and Ignatz. I bought them for five cents each, the going price for newly hatched chicks. They were not the greatest pets, since when holding them they were likely to commit indiscretions on my dress. Knobby would crow loudly every morning, much to the annoyance of Latimer, who lived immediately behind our house on Second Street. When it was time to kill them, I cried, and I cried all through the dinner when we ate them. Trying to keep us cheered up, Uncle Lew was very jolly.

At the high school there was plenty to worry about, since the press of students between classes could jostle even an ordinary student, and I needed to be especially careful. There were also stairways, and of course no elevator. Like many other girls, I would now be less competitive, and found subjects like science, of which I had no previous experience, silly. In math I had respect for Miss Polyblank and worked, though I laughed too much in her class. Nobody stepped out of line in Miss Emery’s geometry class, however, and the same was true of Miss Seamer, who taught German and Latin. Instead of being fully engaged in every subject, I would at this time focus much more on music, though my attempt to master the alto clarinet, which was really too large for my fingers, was essentially unsuccessful. I showed much more ability in the junior high choral group. I was singing, along with my friends Verlene Gauer and Shirley Collier, in a sextet by the ninth grade.

Music was a good source of comfort in a period when it was hard to insulate oneself from events in the greater world - events which included the deaths of so many servicemen, the destruction of whole cities, the revelations of the concentration camps in Germany, and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August 1945, almost like birthday presents for my fifteenth birthday. I was deathly afraid (and in this I know I was not alone) that somehow one of these bombs could set off a chain reaction that would ignite the whole world. In time and knowing what we now understand about atomic weaponry and the possibility of nuclear winter, the fear was not all that unrealistic.

The more advanced choirs in which I sang were excellent training, at first led by Miss Olga Buslee, who led us to the regional competition, where we received an A+ in my sophomore year, and the state, for the latter singing at Northrup Auditorium at the University of Minnesota. But the choral director who most influenced me - and remained an influence on me throughout my life - was a remarkable musician, Doris Larson, who was hired only before my senior year. Miss Larson was trained at St. Olaf College, which is still known as one of the best schools for choral singing in the United States, under the legendary F. Melius Christiansen. I was soprano section leader. The repertoire chosen by her that year was challenging, and included the Gloria, in Latin of course, from the Coronation Mass of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as well as several pieces composed by or arranged by Christiansen. This did not prevent her from including the folk song “Jeg er saa glad hver Jule kveld” (“I am so glad each Christmas eve, the night when Christ was born”), which, believe it not, was a big crowd pleaser in that Scandinavian community. Once again the choir went to the state competition and sang in the great auditorium at the University of Minnesota. Alas, Miss Larson, then Mrs. Olson, tragically died in an auto accident in 1962, the same year that I nearly suffered the same fate.

Along with piano, Mrs. Sophus Larson was giving me voice lessons. She was an Episcopalian and arranged that I should be invited to sing at her church. My mother, however, would not allow it, since she believed Episcopalians to be too worldly. Of course, in a small town word gets around quickly and rumors have a tendency of sticking. For years it was reported that one of the ushers at the Episcopal church had warned a parishioner or visitor “Watch out for the floor; it’s slippery as hell” on one Christmas eve. It is hard for me now to understand why this was considered so scandalous. Unitarians were in the same category as the Episcopalians, and so it was perhaps ironic that while living in my present city I once gave a sermon in the People’s Church, affiliated with the national Unitarian-Universalist denomination. Further, beginning in my forties I would attend and direct the music at an Episcopal church, and I am presently a member of St. Luke’s parish in my city. Nevertheless, I was permitted by my mother to sing at the local Swedish Lutheran church and at the two Norwegian Lutheran churches in Willmar. I also sang for weddings on at least two occasions at the replica of a stave church at Norway Lake. Years later I would insist that my husband should struggle my wheelchair up the hill at the Oslo folk museum to see an actual medieval stave church.

When I was twelve, I started playing the piano for Sunday school, and after I was fifteen I gradually moved into doing three church services, including the Wednesday night prayers during which people got down on their knees and prayed. For the Sunday morning service, I played the hymns straight, but in the evening I put in those delicious nineteenth-century flourishes that Baptists liked. Part of the trick was filling in all the rests with these improvised flourishes. For my playing I was paid the handsome sum of $9.60 a month, and now and then I would need to direct the choir as well. I would pick up and play whatever music I could find in Willmar, and my repertoire included works by Chopin, played slowly so that they sounded like religious music. I continued in this job throughout my high school years except when prevented by health, as when I underwent surgery at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul. I was still fifteen, and spent my convalescence wrapped in plaster in a small room off the kitchen that had once been a pantry. To cheer me up my sisters had placed stars that glow in the dark on the ceiling.

Audrey, at Willmar High School with fellow students Pat Ward and Charles Goff, having lunch and working on the school newspaper.

Though music was what I took most seriously, by this time I had many - too many - interests, to the point where my father asked, “Does Audrey run the school?” I had taken a journalism class and was involved with the school paper as well as the yearbook. I even went off by train to a high school editors’ convention in Cleveland. I acted in plays, including Cornelia Otis Skinner’s Our Hearts Were Young and Gay for which I dyed my hair black, and, as reported in the newspaper account cited in the previous chapter, I played the role of a French maid. Previously I had played a role in The Mousetrap in which I was required to imagine that I saw mice, to jump onto a chair, and to scream. This, and overextending my energies to such an extent, now seem to me obviously very foolish for a person with my bone disease, though I remain firm in my belief that one should achieve the maximum of which one is capable according to one’s abilities.

All this activity did not mean that I was popular in the romantic sphere. On the one hand, I was a bit of an egghead. There was the occasion when my classmates, phoning up on a Sunday afternoon, pretended to be doing a radio survey. “What are you listening to,” the person on the phone asked. I answered with a bit of pride that I was listening to the New York Philharmonic Sunday broadcast, and hoots of laughter went up at the other end of the phone line. On the other hand, I could also be very silly. But the fact that I never had a date all through high school stemmed from being physically different - the disfigurement that my frame had suffered as a result of OI, for this made me seem odd to others. My nephews later even would call me Oddball, a further fracturing of a college nickname Ekdry Aud-dahl. Yet in spite of some reverse snobbism that one might expect in a small Minnesota town, my talent, especially in music, was well known and respected. I was only asked to two birthday parties, which proved embarrassing to me and actually dangerous because one of the games involved turning out all the lights and teaming up with someone of the opposite sex. I could have been hurt, and no one wanted to team up with me. But I did have an easy non-romantic relationship with many of the boys in my class. We worked together in a friendly manner on the yearbook and the school newspaper.

If I have any advice for other persons with OI or a similar disease, I would say that the best strategy is to develop such friendships and hope for the best sometime in the future. Ultimately, I feel that I had learned, perhaps too well, to cope during this period of my life. Overcompensation can have its price.

As explained in the previous chapter, I had a serious fracture just before the end of my senior year, and slow recovery, in part due to a second fracture thereafter. These, as noted, prevented me from proceeding directly to college. Through my illnesses I was cheered by a bevy of girlfriends who came to see me regularly, and during the fallow year I also did a little tutoring. One student was a rather recalcitrant and impetuous boy, Roger Stromme, who had lost his leg and needed assistance to keep up with his schoolwork. I had worked previously for a time during the school year as a soda jerk at Howie’s Soda Lunch, also probably not wise considering the wear and tear on my already fragile leg and the low pay of thirty-five cents an hour. To be sure, this was better than the fifteen cents per hour one would be paid as baby sitter, also potentially hazardous duty. Then for one summer I had worked as a clerk in the law office of Roy Hendrickson, my second cousin LeRoy’s lawyer.

Audrey, age 16, at Girls’ State, representing Willmar High School.

In the interval while waiting to go off to college, I was invited by my sister Lucile and her husband to join them in a trip to California to see Ione, who had married Melbourne Wilson, a kindly widower who owned considerable property in Englewood. Lucile, whom we always called Tiny, had herself been married in 1946 to Clinton Knapp in a wedding that took place on a cold winter day at Aitken. Now I would go with them to a much warmer climate. I managed the trip by train to Los Angeles on crutches. We found Ione’s affluent new friends pleasant but somewhat superficial. One of the nicest was a widow, Claire Nilsson, who, with Ione, arranged to have me give a concert at a local church. She later married James Minor, a relative of Carrie Jacobs Bond, the composer of “I Love You Truly.” Life focused on one’s house and puppy dog, for Ione had a Chihuahua, hardly seemed fulfilling to me. At night the little doggie slept in my bed, and I woke to find him covered with fleas. We also experienced a mild earthquake while we were there. I was anxious to continue my education. State senator Harry Wahlstrand, who also had been my history teacher, helped me to obtain a scholarship from the Crippled Children’s Fund so that I could attend Bethel College beginning in the fall term of 1949.

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