Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Girl Graduate, Part IV: Chance or Fate

There are those occasions in life when fate and chance intersect at the perfect moment. On such occasions it matters little which element is fate, or which is chance. The reasons why this story should have been lost are many; the fact that it survived still bewilders me.

Looking back on my own journey, I believe that discovering the yearbook of the Class of 1924 was more of a catalyst to pursue this story than was Evie's journal. Whereas the journal piqued my interest; the yearbook gave breath to characters who would otherwise have been merely names in a diary. It was through the yearbook that I was drawn into these lives lived so long ago; even more, it provided me with small threads of information which, when knitted together and then pieced with other small threads, proved to be invaluable.

Whether the resurrection of the 1924 Radiograph was fate or chance, it only narrowly made it to press. The yearbook had been abandoned by prior classes due to lack of funding. But our intrepid seniors were unwilling to yield to such historical precedent (a determination that served some of them all their lives.) By way of dances, and bridge parties, bake sales, balloon sales, and advertising they inched toward the needed goal. By mid-year, it was clear that a major money-maker was sorely needed. Not only money, but time, was about to run out. Brilliant ideas are born out of desperate times. The "wiener lunch" was conceived as the last ditch effort to "save the Radiograph." And who was at the forefront of the endeavor, you might ask? Viola, business manager for the Radiograph, rolled up her sleeves and with the precision of a field marshal sending her troops into battle, coordinated the potato peeling, the cabbage chopping, and the wienie roasting to successfully serve 200 lunches to students and faculty, returning a profit of $40.00 - enough to publish the yearbook.

Pure and simple, Viola is someone who succeeded. I believe she did so quietly, and without fanfare, but there is no doubt she succeeded. As the top student in the Class of '24, Viola was offered scholarships to six colleges, including one to my Alma Mater. She chose to pursue a two year degree at the local teachers college (which would later become Winona State University, and which would play a major role in this story). It surprised no one that she graduated with honors in academics, and in athletics. Nevertheless, I was a little disappointed to learn she set her feet in that direction, for I do not believe Viola was following her passion in doing so. It is far more likely that she took the route which was most expected of her. She most surely had already met Joseph, the boy she would eventually marry, and his course was set in a particular direction. Her compass reflected his.

Joseph was, in his own right, an excellent student who attended the local Catholic school. Viola attended the Lutheran Church, and I often wonder if this dichotomy deadened both families' enthusiasm for the union. Joseph graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Law in 1929. By 1931 he was working as a lawyer in Rochester. A small article in the Winona Republican-Herald in August of that year notes that a "miscellaneous" bridal shower was given for Viola at the home of her parents. Since the evening was spent "playing bridge at three tables" it was obviously a small gathering.

In late August 1931, Viola and Joseph were quietly married at St. John's Church in Rochester. "The couple was unattended," read the newspaper. Those four words made my heart ache. The bride wore "a brown costume with accessories in harmonizing shades." I wonder if Joseph thought to present her with a small bouquet to carry, or if she might have at least worn a flower in her hair. Not everyone has, or indeed wants, a wedding of white froth and orange blossoms. That is not what saddens me about Viola's wedding day. The fact that they seem to have embarked on married life without the warm embrace of family or friends does bother me. The distance between Rochester and Winona is a little over 50 miles; and, even in 1931 would not have been a difficult journey, especially without the challenges of winter roads. Why was there no mother, or father, or sibling present; did the marriage cause a rift? Did Viola's family still suffer from questions arising from an old suicide? Were the families opposed to the marriage on religious grounds? I have no answers. If she had not been raised a Catholic, Viola certainly continued to practice as one after her marriage.

Viola and Joseph settled in Stewartville, where Joseph practiced law. He was apparently successful and opened a second office in Rochester; Viola stayed home to raise at least four children, 3 boys and 1 daughter. There is no evidence that she pursued any of her own artistic pursuits during this period. It would have been in her character, however, to fulfill her role as wife and mother with excellence.

There is an insurmountable frustration involved in telling some one's story with only a skeleton of a life to consider. I can tell you where Viola started, where she wandered, and where she eventually settled, but the essence of a person can only be the stuff of speculation with information that sketchy. Once again, as has happened so often in my pursuit of this story, fate or chance or something else intervened. I lose track of Viola as she lived out her role of wife and mother. I do not pick up any trace of her until many years later; but, I eventually do find her. And no one was more surprised than I was.

Grad: Viola, it is no surprise to me that what comes next is really the best part of your story.

Viola: Life must be lived...all of it. But, have you discovered what you were meant to learn yet?

Grad: About you?

Viola: No. What you were meant to learn.

Grad: About chance?

Viola: Oh, I don't believe in chance.

Grad: Fate, then? Like Shakespeare once said? The answer lies not in our stars but in ourselves, or something like that?

Viola: I don't believe that things are written in the stars, either. What would be the challenge in that? Keep thinking; you'll figure it out.

Grad: Well, had I known there would be a test involved afterward, I might not have started this.

Viola: Yes, you would have. You most certainly would have.


  1. I can't believe - CAN'T BELIEVE - you have left us hanging!! Who knew you could be so cruel?! Hey, Grad, can you please come to my place and teach me the art of suspense? I'm not sure my manuscript has ant, and it desperately needs some. You, on the other hand, and wielding this story like a pro. Is this what Dickens' readers endured???

  2. ANY, *not* ant!!

  3. Jesus, what is wrong with me today? I think it's my excitement reading this story and my agitation at its sudden suspension. Anyway, you ARE wielding this story like a pro. Sheesh. I'm going now before I type any more mistakes.

  4. I'm certain your manuscript has plenty of suspense and absolutely no ants...as IF I could teach you anything about writing. But thanks, your opinion is valued.

  5. No fair Grad! You can't leave us hanging like that! You had better post what happens PDQ!

  6. Beautiful! I too am dying to hear what happens to Viola! That is sad about their wedding being unattended.

  7. Stefanie and Janell, I'm going to try to wrap tihs up very soon. Thanks for tuning in!

  8. I'm longing to hear the answer too!! I feel exactly the same about the biographical stories I've tried to write about motherhood - so much information and yet the story remains elusive. But sometimes the structure gives a clue. Viola seems to me to be wonderful at recognising what she CAN do, a brilliant pragmatist, as it were. I'm hoping the ending bears me out!

  9. Where ARE you, Graddikins??

  10. Grad, are you on holidays? Somewhere warm, exotic, and so exciting you've forgotten us?! I hope so! But come back soon, okay, we miss you!