I suppose it started with a list of no-nos—a catalog of subjects that were not okay to talk about, especially in mixed company (anyone not part of our immediate family).
My memory of its origin began around the dinner table where most essential discussions were garnered, passed right along with the casserole dish of meatloaf. The conversation probably went something like this:
“We need to talk about manners,” my Mom likely said. I probably had assumed the lesson would be no elbows on the table, or we needed to say please and thank you, or the classic reminder that we must use a fork while eating.
My brother, Rick, was the reason for this rule. He loved smothering peas with butter and then, with his fingers, load them into his mouth like he was a human PEZ dispenser. He never used a fork when eating peas!
I remember such a dinner when my Dad brought up the list of no-nos. Whether my memory blended several talks about the forbidden topics or if this was the only time he brought it up, I’m not sure. It was unusual for my Dad to bring up manners to us kids while sitting around the dinner table. That was my Mom’s job. My Dad was usually an observer. But this night, he lifted his hand in the air so he could tick off the no-nos on his fingers.
“There’s five things we should never talk about,” my Dad said, “We don’t talk about money.”
“We don’t talk about Politics or Religion.”
“We don’t ever talk about Health.”
“And we never, ever talk about sex.”
And tick—the final tick having a slight exclamation point to it, due to my Dad saying the ‘S’ word right in front of us.
It’s amazing the varieties of sub-topics that could ostensibly fit into one of those five bad classifications. My parents never punished us for bringing something up, but they drew the line of things that made people uncomfortable, and anything else was an assumption to silence.
This list became our family culture, the code in which we conducted ourselves, saw ourselves in the world and saw others within our world. Do you like talking politics? You probably aren’t trustworthy. Are you complaining about a nasty cold? We’d sympathize, change the subject, or walk you to the door. Do you want to convert us to some other religion? You can’t. We won’t talk about it with you. You (while dropping your voice to a whisper) want to talk about sex? Well, we’ll have to meet later, under cover of darkness for that.
I’m sure the reason for the topic-line my parents drew was in the name of polite conversation, an ode to not rocking-the-boat (anybody’s boat). But the result was an established cone of silence, exchanges thick with ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ implications that extended far beyond those five categories.
So, knowing that we had an Aunt who was “crazy” was almost as much information as we got, though sometimes the word crazy was switched out with schizophrenic—and who knew what that was? We didn’t ask.
A secondary side effect to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was that my curiosity was a bit sluggish throughout my childhood and even into adulthood. Long after somebody gave me information, I wondered, why didn’t I ask more about that?
Over the years, I’ve started questioning things, everything, anything. It’s thrilling. I feel a bit like a rebel—a giant question mark gleaming (invisibly, of course) over my head like a cartoon light bulb. I’ve learned to dissect anything that intrigues me. So, of course, I’m drawn to Glenna and her story!
The lore surrounding my Great-aunt Glenna was that she was riding in an automobile with friends when they crashed when she was young. Everyone died except Glenna, which brought out her schizophrenia and led her to the Insane Asylum. However, was this what happened? Can a traumatizing experience lead to full-blown schizophrenia?
Nervous about broaching the subject with my Mother (the health no-no emblazoned in red-hot letters in my mind), I decided to look into it first. There would have to be a record of such a horrific event, wouldn’t there? Perhaps in an old newspaper?
According to the 1940 Federal Census, my Great-aunt was an “inmate” at State Hospital South. This date would put her at twenty-four-years-old. The Census also stated that Glenna completed one year of High School.
I wondered why Glenna never finished High School. Her older sister had, so had her youngest brother, my grandpa, so why hadn’t she? Was Glenna fifteen or sixteen years old when the terrible accident happened? Or was it much later when she was twenty, twenty-three, or twenty-four? If the accident occurred when she was in her twenties, where was she in her mid-teens?
On Ancestry.com, the site offers archival newspaper articles. All one has to do is type in a keyword, and they’ll do the rest. So, I began combing.
The newspaper network within Southern Idaho up through Montana was thick with gossip during the early 1900s, making the region feel like Mayberry from the Andy Griffith show. Article after article named people who were living seemingly uneventful lives.
On November 17, 1922, The Bingham County News mentioned my Great-grandpa and grandma (Glenna’s parents) twice. Under the subheading, Springfield:
“Mr. and Mrs. Vince Marriott motored to Blackfoot, Monday.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Claude Beasley were pleasantly surprised Thursday evening, when a number of their friends gathered at the Beasley home, bearing cakes and sandwiches. All had a lovely time. Cards and games were enjoyed. The guest were [six couples named] and Mr. and Mrs. Vince Marriott.”
Page after page, article after article, and newspaper after the newspaper said nothing about my Great-aunt or named a horrific car accident where a carload of people died and left a lone survivor. I searched the period from 1930-1940 to no avail. Then I discovered a clip with the title “Two Girls Injured Near Aberdeen.”
Aberdeen was another town close to where my Great-aunt had lived, and the name, Glenna Marriott, was highlighted. The article explained that two females were injured when the car they were riding in missed a curve and flew off the road.
The females, a Glenna Marriott, who was thirteen at the time, and a sixteen-year-old, Alta Burton, were both taken by ambulance to Schiltz Memorial Hospital in American Falls. “The Burton girl” was said to have had “a leg laceration and a bruised hip.” The second, “the Marriott girl was hospitalized with head abrasions and contusion of the left eye.”
A couple of issues disqualifying this article as being THE horrific car accident was that the crash happened in 1960, twenty-years after Glenna went into State Hospital South, which meant that she couldn’t have been thirteen years old. Also, nobody died in the accident. This Glenna Marriott wasn’t her!
After hours upon hours, days upon days, exposing my eyes to the computer screen’s blue glare and the fine and faded newspaper type, I decided to ask my Mom about the accident. She told me the same story. I asked her if she might pin down when it happened, but she couldn’t.
Later, I asked my Aunts about the story. They repeated the same legend as my Mom’s, so did my Uncle. None of them knew more than that, which also means I’m going to have to figure out another strategy!
I’m going to find you, Glenna! I’m going to tell your story!
We’ll never know the true story of Aunt Glenna. Something that needs to be known is that her mom and siblings loved her! I remember watching my dad play with her, bringing her out of her shell…buying her new clothes…..taking her on rides. Aunt Priscilla loved her so openly and sweetly. She knew that she was loved.
Just to get the record straight for those reading this post. The only off limits at the Ellis table was the word BUTT and throwing your food. With a crowd like ours, a chance to talk about anything was plain lucky…..just keep it clean!