I was naive. Of course I had read stories of family conflicts and scandals, watched televisionshows and movies for which the plot centered about hidden family secrets. But certainly the Danielsfamily had nothing to hide. They were white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, born and bred in small-townAmerica. The Daniels and related families, the Merricks, the Brokkens, the Harstands, could trace theirheritage back to the settlement of America in the 1600s and beyond. They were friendly andneighborly, and they knew everyone in town, and everyone knew them. Could there be something thatwas hidden?Why had this one daughter become estranged from her family, which, by other accounts,seemed quite close? What had happened that was so hurtful to be unforgiven, and too painful to beexplained, for no one really understood why she had forsaken them and wanted to be lost to them.The story of Alma Jean’s estrangement from her family came to me only in dribs and drabs overthe next ten years along with some investigative research of my own. I still may not have the full story;but here is what I know.The Daniels family lived in Harmony, Minnesota–“out on theprairie” as Garrison Keeler would say–a small farming town of about a1,000 people, located just a few miles north of the Iowa border. Thefather, Herbert Alonzo Daniels, was a prominent and prosperousmember of the community. Herb owned the John Deere dealership aswell as being the co-owner of a flour and feed mill. He served twoterms as president of the town council. At age forty-nine, he hadmarried Ausye Gurine Harstad, age twenty-two. He was admired andloved by his wife and five children.
And then it went bad, as it did for millions of families during theGreat Depression. The mill became heavily mortgaged and was finallylost in foreclosure to the bank, the principal loan officer being his ownbrother. Though not as poor as some families, there can be little doubtthat the strain took its toll. Herb Daniels became ill with asthma forseveral years, and then he developed eye cataracts. He suffered someminor strokes in 1933, and he died of a cerebral hemorrhage andcardio-macular degeneration and renal disease on December 21, 1936.
Herbert Alonzo Daniels
The fourth daughter, Majorie, was born with spina bifida in 1920 and died two years after