The Interview Project:  Marie Osborn & the Salmon River Emergency Clinic

Chapter 1.   Indiana Childhood

John Osborn.  This is the first in a series of interviews with Marie Osborn held on February 26th, 2016.  We are sitting in Mom's townhouse in Boise and it's a beautiful late February day.  In this first interview, Mom will be recalling her early years – her childhood and family -- leading up to her entering nursing school.

Marie Osborn.  I was born in Russellville, Kentucky.  The only memory I have of Russellville from my early childhood was a Coca-Cola truck.  My dad had a job driving the Coca-Cola truck.  It must not have been full time because he was always looking for work.  We moved from Kentucky, where there was no work, to Indianapolis. 

The Depression

I remember Dad walking the streets in the late fall looking for a job.   It would be pouring down rain.  Dad would come home – there were holes in his shoes and he put newspaper in his shoes – and we would take the dripping wet newspaper out of his shoes. It was the depths of the Depression. Dad wasn’t the only one looking for a job. Some days he would find day labor for $0.25 an hour.  But we survived it.

Next door to us lived an Italian family. At home they only spoke Italian.  They took me in.  They had this huge German Shepherd dog who took care of me.  Mom said if she had to give me a spanking or switching, she had to do it inside.  Otherwise the dog would jump the six-foot fence to protect me.  Mom told me I spoke Italian before I spoke English (I’ve sometimes wondered if that was why Latin was so easy for me later on).

Dad eventually found a job with a company called Acme Lees.  The company made parts for machines. Dad was a die maker.  Dies are made out of steel. The work is precise. Dad was good at it – and he was especially good at math.  Dad knew more about steel than most metallurgists do, at least then.  Metallurgists would seek Dad out.

We moved to a little town called Daleville, Indiana.  I started first grade in Daleville.  We lived in a dump of a house – a big old house with no indoor plumbing.  We had an outhouse and a pump in the sink.  In the pump room is where we took baths, there was a big, old galvanized tub. Once a week we all took turns taking our bath.  

Dad had a huge garden.  Today I love to garden but back then I absolutely hated it.  I had to help him with it, and all the weeds.  But mostly what I remember is that it was fun – it was a great place to grow up. 

Dad and a friend who also worked at Acme Lees commuted back and forth, about 15-20 miles each way.  Dad decided he was spending too much time commuting back and forth.  So we moved to Muncie, Indiana.

Education comes first

In choosing a house in Muncie, Dad's only criterion was that we had to live in the best school district. Dad and Mom wanted us in the best schools.  Well, that was Burris Laboratory School associated with what was then Ball State Teachers College, now Ball State University

We were lucky enough to rent an old house -- but it was a nice house with indoor plumbing -- just across the field from the school. Burris was probably the best education anyone could get it. It wasn’t a perfect fit for our family.  In the area were a lot of very wealthy people whose children went to that school. Both Dad and Mom were Democrats. Dad was a Union official. The fathers of many of my classmates were bankers and lawyers and doctors – definitely not Union members.

Growing up in Muncie was a good time and a good education. I wish every child could grow up with that kind of an education:  where they taught you to think, not just to memorize and recite.  You can always look up something in a book but you have to be able to think.  Burris did that. 

When I was going into my senior year, Dad suggested we go for a walk.  (Dad never invited me just to go for a walk.  He took me fishing once – my sister and me – and swore he’d never that again because we talked too much.)  As we walked together across the field Dad said, “I can get you through school, through high school. You're the oldest of six and there's no way I can get you through college. I just can't do it.”  (crying) I knew that. I’d never seen Dad so affected. Usually he was the one who was in charge.  But he didn't have a chance to graduate from high school. Neither did my mother. They both made sure we all graduated from high school. 

Eventually I was lucky enough to get a scholarship. Unfortunately the scholarship turned out to be for teacher education and by then I had decided I wanted to be a nurse.

Soprano for the Synagogue, Nurses Aide

Through my Sunday school class in the sixth grade we started volunteering as candy stripers at the hospital. I really, really found I liked it. By the time I was a freshman in high school I was getting paid $0.35 an hour working as a nurse's aide.  I also was singing by then.

We didn’t have music in the house. As far as I know, Dad didn’t play an instrument.  Neither did Mom. In the sixth grade our music teacher gave me a solo. Afterwards one of the guys in the class (one of the least likely) came up afterwards and told me I had a beautiful voice. It so surprised me. I got interested. 

I ended up with jobs singing, not for bands but for organizations. I did solos for my choir. Then I got a job singing for the Jewish Reformed Temple. I sang every Friday night and for all the high holidays. And that was done in Yiddish.

The rabbi was absolutely fabulous. He had escaped from Nazi Germany. Remember this was in the ‘40s. He knew or spoke 15 or 16 different languages. The last language learned was English - he knew English, but didn't speak it very well.  He had a fabulous library in Europe.  His wife and children were all killed in the concentration camps.  That made a profound impression on me because he was such a nice and gentle man. It really made an impression on me that people could be so cruel.  And that they would destroy books. 

Love of reading

I loved reading.  Since we had a huge library in the laboratory school I set a challenge of reading every book in the library one shelf at a time.  I remember getting to the Hunchback of Notre Dame and being so disgusted because so much of it was in French. I wasn't smart enough to figure out why you'd be reading in English and then all of a sudden sections were in French.  That was their way of censuring what they didn’t think was proper for high school students to be reading. 

But I read most of the books in there – not all the way.  But I did get to Tolstoy and remember reading War and Peace on New Year's Eve babysitting for an absolute brat.

So between singing, working as a nurse's aide, and a lot of baby-sitting, I managed with Dad’s help (by then he was making more money, too) to get through college.  

High school was fun. I was short and heavy and wasn't socially adept. I had five majors and was a good student.

JO:  Majors in college?

Marie:   In high school. We had to choose majors and minors.   My majors were English, science, math, Latin, and history, and minors in music and physical ed.  And then it was required that in this school you had physical ed everyday for at least an hour. You weren't allowed to powder puff your way through it. I think it was the only time I ever got knocked out was playing shortstop in an indoor softball game. This gal, who was a powerhouse hitter, hit a line drive and I stopped it with my jaw. I don't even remember it.

More on Burris Laboratory School

JO:  Can you tell us a little bit more about the experience at Burris and how that helped you prepare for what was to come? 

Marie:  It wasn’t the type of education where someone got up there, read to you, and told you what was in the book.  The sixth grade teacher set up what she called contracts. You chose the contract, did the research, and wrote a paper or gave an oral report. You had to do your own research. 

Now math was a little different.  I had two top-notch math teachers – both men, who brooked no nonsense.  I loved math . . . I did not like geometry.  I loved algebra and trigonometry. I did not take calculus. But I do not have a geometric mind and that's what you have to have for geometry.

History.  Again the teachers felt there was so much outside of the textbooks, so the textbook became an accessory.  There was the whole world, the whole library that you could go.  It was fabulous. 

JO:  Let’s now turn to the Clark household. You were the oldest of six. That means when you started your life, you were the only child.

Marie:  I don’t remember being an only child, ever.

Sisters and Brothers

JO:  Can you talk about your sisters and brothers.  List and describe them as they came into the Clark household and tell us about the dynamics among the six Clark children.

Marie:  Nancy was 17 months younger than I.  Where I was short and fat, Nancy was slim and pretty with blonde hair.  Nancy was awfully sick when she was young, I think she probably had rheumatic fever when we lived in Daleville.

My oldest brother, his nickname is Bud, is five years younger.  He was a livewire, a naturally gifted athlete.  Bud was just full of the Old Nick.  He loved to tease his big sister. I can remember chasing Bud around dining room table - I’d get so mad at him - and never catch him. Never.  If mother made me take him to the grocery, I'm sure it was to get him out of the house for a little peace and quiet for her.  Bud was full of fun. 

Nancy was born in 1932, Bud in ‘36.  Betty was born in ‘39. There were eight years between us.  She was cute and blonde and so very tiny.  The kids teased her and called her “bird legs” but she grew into an outstanding cheerleader for Burris, which was basketball crazy.

After Betty, in ’41 came Jerry Norton.  Jerry was always a very studious guy.  Jerry planned to be a minister and was a sort of youth minister at the First Baptist Church that we attended.  He participated in a lot of the sermons.  Jerry was very, very smart.  He ended up with multiple scholarships – five, I recall – but he ended up taking the scholarship to Princeton. Jerry went to law school at the University of Chicago.  Eventually he served on the personal staff of Attorney Generals Elliott Richardson, William Saxbe, and Richard Kleindienst.

The youngest of the six of us was Susie.  She was born in ’43.  Susie became a teacher.  She is bright, and worked on her doctorate at Purdue and Indiana University, that she has nearly completed.  But with the twelve years between us (I was through college when she was in high school), we didn’t really know each other as sisters that well.

JO:  what about the transition from home to college?

Marie:  I took the four-year nursing program so I could get a degree.  The first year I lived at home.  During the second year, you took nursing classes along with college classes. I had to live in the dorm even though my home was two blocks from the nurses dorm.  But living in the dorm was great.

Life in the Clark Household

JO:  what was daily life like in the Clark household?

Marie:  We were all we were all expected to clean our own rooms and clean the house. No dishwasher in those days, and I remember washing, drying and putting away a lot of dishes.

Dad always wanted me to bake cakes (he wasn’t a diabetic back then) and he loved chocolate cake.   At least once a week I seemed to be baking a chocolate cake.  Mom expected us to do the cooking and dusting, sweeping and mopping floors sweeping. 

We helped with the laundry.  We had one of those old wringer washing machines down in the basement.  We ran the clothes through the washer, rang the clothes out, and carried them upstairs, and hung them outside on the line.  Mom helped me with the sheets, I wasn’t big enough.  My mother was an inch or two taller, probably 5 foot 3.

Alma Clark

Mom was shy.  She had not finished high school and perhaps that contributed.  You had to push her to go to school programs and exhibits.  When Dad came home from work, he would often go to the school except insofar as when Mom and Dad went together.  Mom did not like to go by herself.  She raised six kids and they all went to college.  But Mom would not go alone to a PTA meeting. She would not hold her hand up or stand up and make a statement -- that would be the last thing in the world she would do. 

Mom was a very pretty woman, very slim - I think she weighed 92 pounds when she got married.  She was born in 1912, the youngest daughter among eight children, and she had one younger brother.  Her father died when she was six, in the influenza epidemic of 1918.  He was a farmer and a contractor, and the family was well-off.  After he died, everything was lost.  They were poverty-stricken and then the Depression hit.  For Mom and her family it was an extreme life of poverty.

Mom quit high school.  She told me it was because she had no clothes, they were so poverty-stricken, and she felt like she needed to quit to help her mother out.  Her older brothers, Uncle Cecil, Uncle Tom, and Uncle Leroy had all left Auburn, Kentucky where my mother grew up to find work in Detroit.  Half of everything they made they sent back to help my grandmother out.  Up until the Depression really hit, they were doing okay.  Then, no one was doing well.  

Mom grew up in a busy household.  They churned their own butter.  They milked their own cows. They kept a big garden and the kids all helped.  That’s how Mom raised us.  We learned to iron.  We learned to wash clothes.  We learned to cook. That was the way she was raised.

JO:  you sewed clothes for your children.  Did your Mom teach you to using a sewing machine?

Marie:  Actually I learned to sew in my home economics class at Burris.  Our home economics teacher made sure we sewed and we ripped out where necessary.  Dad hated everything I made.  He said it did not look good on me.  Mom would have us hem, sew buttons on, and do some of the mending.

JO:  your mom grew up in Auburn, Kentucky.  Anything else you recall about her?

I know it sounds like Mom was really shy but she had a backbone of steel.  She held our family together probably in a similar way that my grandmother did as she had to hold her family together after her husband died in the epidemic. 

Mom and Dad met at dance in Auburn.  Russellville and Auburn are quite a few miles apart -- about 14 to 20 miles.  So Dad would have traveled to the dance.

Parnell Clark

My Dad’s father was in law enforcement.  He also worked on the railroad.  My mother told me that Dad's mother worked as a traveling saleswoman.  In the early 1900s women just didn’t do that kind of work, but she did.  Dad’s mother sold business machines such as typewriters, adding machines, cash registers.  Mother said she died of an infection following a miscarriage.

(She also told me that on her part of the family we were part Indian. She wrote down the name of the Tribe.  But I’ve never pursued it.)

Dad's mother died when he was 9 or 10.  From the stories that went around, she probably died in childbirth.

Dad’s father felt that his son needed to have a mother and he figured his wife's sister would be the best choice to take care of Dad.  So he married her.  And then he died of pneumonia when Dad was 12. 

Dad’s stepmother turned out to be one of the worst storybook stepmothers.  All the inheritance he got from his dad – he didn’t get it. His stepmother charged him room and board.  That’s why he quit school – and he loved school.

Dad may have had polio when he was younger.  He had a somewhat deformed foot that bothered him when he tried to do sports in high school.  His foot bothered him a lot.  He could never find a shoe that was comfortable, except for Thom McAns.  Dad really liked to buy those shoes because they felt better than anything else. 

When his stepmother started charging room and board, Dad had to go to work in order to pay the room and board.  Part of his inheritance had been a big hotel in the county seat, in Russellville, which she took over and ran as a boarding house.  She charged him to live there.  So he eventually quit school and went to work at the Coca-Cola factory. 

Parnell and Alma marry

Dad was driving the Coca-Cola truck when Dad and Mom married in August 1930.   I would guess that they dated for at least six months because I don't think mother Tatum would have allowed it otherwise.

Their wedding was in Auburn.  I remember her showing me her wedding dress.  It wasn’t white, which surprised me.  Since I’ve learned that a lot of girls from the time of the Depression didn’t wear white in.  Do you remember the Rembers in Stanley?  Betty Rember showed me her wedding dress and it was a brown, silky-looking dress and she had the same beaded purse that my mother had (although Mom’s was blue).  Betty’s husband Craig still had his wedding suit too – and he could still wear it.  Betty said she could still wear her wedding dress.

JO:  Anything else you would like to share about your Mom and Dad?

Marie:  My Dad was a strict disciplinarian.  He was 18 or 19 when he married.  He was too young to be married.  Dad had a lot of growing up - he had no one to show him how to be a father.  No one to show him how a mother acted either.  Dad had a temper for a long time.  And when he discipline it was with a belt, especially the younger kids.  Bud got the brunt of it because Dad loved sports.  He wanted Bud to be the best. If Bud didn't perform like he was supposed to, Dad would get upset.  He wasn't quite as bad with Nancy and me.  Bud got the brunt of it.  And then when Dad grew up . . . Dad grew up with us.  [crying] With all these strikes against him, he still had this one thing . . . I remember as a kid when we moved from Daleville to Muncie, driving around in this black Buick.  We drove around all over Muncie looking at houses.  Most of them he refused to even look at because they weren't in what he considered a good school district.  He had heard that Burris was the best school to be in and he was determined one way or another that we were going to go to school there.  Even though we weren’t the typical Burris kids, that’s where we went to school.  If he hadn't been so stubborn . . . .  I have a lot of respect for him.

Marie:  My mother was too young to be married too.

JO:  How old was she when they married?

She was 17 or 18 . . . I think 18 because she turned 19 right after I was born.  Mom had no one to show her the way except mother Tatum. 

JO:   That takes us from 1931 until you finished high school.

Marie:  That was 1949 when I graduated.

JO:  Anything else you want to say about those years? 

Marie:  They were fun. I never thought of us being poor.  We always had food on the table.  Most of the time we had dinner together.  We didn't eat in shifts.  Mom made us eat together as much as we could.  Even if we had to gobble our food, we still sat down together as a family. 

We went to church every Sunday morning. I sang in the choir.  It was always the First Baptist Church.  Dad was raised Methodist and he on Sunday morning he would go to the Methodist Church.  He came home fuming one Sunday.  It seemed the minister at the Methodist Church said – and I don’t know why he would say this in Church -- that Kentucky men kept their wives barefoot and pregnant.  Dad was livid.  He never went back to a Methodist Church.  He was from Kentucky and he had a lot of kids. That remark really hit him.

Both of my parents were very much FDR supporters. I think there was one time Mom said that Dad voted for a Republican.  She laughed and said, “That’s okay.  I cancelled his vote out.”

Mom always acted like she didn’t know very much.  But she kept up on things.  Math was her downfall.  She’d say, “I just could not get that math,” and she later quit high school.

I remember Dad trying to help me with math. He showed me how to do it and it was fine.  Then I would get to school. “Well that's not how you do it anymore.”  “You have the new math.”  I remember they came out with the new math when you kids were in school.  It was developed by professors from Ball State.  They wrote the book.  The teachers would get upset.  I would say, “You get the same answer.  Why does it bother how you got it?”  Except it does, I suppose.  

JO:  I assume you were at the top of your class or pretty close.

Marie:  There were a lot of really intelligent people in my class I think I was probably third out of the 72 in my graduating class.  I think all but three went to college.  It was pretty amazing.  The ones who didn't go on had parents who were blue collar who didn't have the advantages or their parents pushing them.  My parents wanted me – all of us --  to be better than they had.  Not better people, but to do better than they could ever do.