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Alama Jean: A Woman's Estrangement from her Family

Alama Jean: A Woman's Estrangement from her Family

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Published by A. Rod Paolini
The estrangement of a young woman from her family takes place during the Great Depression. She becomes 'lost' to her family. Their failure to reconcile leaves both sides to consider 'forgiveness.'
The estrangement of a young woman from her family takes place during the Great Depression. She becomes 'lost' to her family. Their failure to reconcile leaves both sides to consider 'forgiveness.'

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Published by: A. Rod Paolini on Feb 22, 2013
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02/22/2013

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Alma Jean: A Woman’s Estrangement From Her Family
By
A. Rod Paolini
 
Alma JeanWe were in Iowa, but I didn’t know where exactly. Or why! We had driven from my mother’shometown in Minnesota. My mother, grandmother and I sat in the back seat of our car while my UncleRod sat in the front seat with my father, who was driving.We drove slowly down a neighborhood street, and my uncle said, “That’s the house!” Weparked several car lengths past the house. My uncle, grandmother and mother got out and walked tothe house while my father and I waited and watched in the car. Looking out the back window, I couldsee the three of them standing on the front stoop talking to a woman in the doorway. They talked onlyfor about five or ten minutes, and then returned to the car. Nothing was said, but Grandmother Ausyewas teary-eyed, and Uncle Rod was steaming. And we drove off.This incident took place in 1948. I didn’t think much about it at the time, being only eight yearsold. The memory of this incident was revived when I visited my mother’s hometown about forty-fiveyears later as I began to review my past and search for my roots. I was born and raised in Chicago, butas a youngster my mother and I visited the one sister who remained in the hometown. The relativesand friends of my mother and aunt were quite different from my father’s. His brother’s and sister andtheir spouses were immigrants and first generation Americans. I was fascinated by them: they spokeexuberantly, and sometimes I couldn’t tell if they were arguing or just conversing. Though kindly, theylargely ignored me. My mother’s relatives were quite the opposite. Not only did they speak rather slowand deliberately, they were so darn friendly–speaking to me and asking me questions--expecting me tocarry on a conversation. It was so unusual that I was a intimidated and a little uneasy. In later years, Iwondered what my life would have been like had I been raised in this small town.In the early 1990's, I persuaded my Aunt Bayonne and my mother to have a reunion, and as wewalked the streets of the town, they recounted their stories, and I began to learn the what happened totheir sister Alma Jean–partially, anyway.I was told that Alma Jeanceased communicating with familymembers: their letters were return“Address Unknown” and theyreceived no letters from her. Theydidn’t know where she was forseveral years, but eventually shewas found, and hence the meetingon her doorstep in 1948. Theywere given no explanation, butAlma Jean made clear that she didn’t want anything to do with herfamily; she had disowned them. The meager explanation that I was givenwas that Alma Jean felt, as Dicky Smothers often complained: “Momliked you [and the others] best.”
Bayonne, Rod, and AlmaJeanShirley, Alma Jean, & Bayonne
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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.
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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
1
birth.
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