Grandma Helen. The Orphanage and Clyde.

In my last post, I talk about Grandma Helen’s Early Years as part of “The Grandparent’s Series” in this blog, which I am doing throughout the month of March. Today I talk about the next phase in Helen’s life: “The Orphanage and Clyde.”

Helen was just beginning to learn cooking skills from her mom. But a tragedy occurred that would stop the lessons in their tracks and unalterably change Helen’s life.

The United States was in the midst of a terrible flu epidemic. Helen’s mother Elsie Marie caught the flu, and then pneumonia. Elsie died in 1922. Helen was nine, sister Margaret was five, and sister Pauline was three.

This is Elsie Marie Johnson holding Helen.

“I remember my mother being surrounded by white lilies after she died. I hated the smell. To this day I can’t stand lilies.” Three little girls were too much for Homer Lowry to handle, so Helen lived with an aunt for a few years. But at the age of twelve, Helen– and her sisters– were sent to the Oesterlen Home, an orphanage in Springfield, Ohio.

The Orphanage

The orphan’s home “wasn’t too bad,” Helen says. They provided a bus to take her to and from school, so she didn’t have to walk five miles to and from school anymore. And it was at the orphan’s home that she met Clyde Norman. “Clyde’s mother died when he was young. There were eight kids in his family, three girls and five boys. Martha, his sister, was in the orphan’s home too; she was a good friend of mine.” Clyde and Helen met in the orphanage’s basement. “The older girls would make peanut butter sandwiches for all the kids in one room, and the older boys were in wood shop in another room. Somehow or another we met each other.”

Dating Life

Clyde and Helen never went on dates, because the boys weren’t allowed to see the girls. “The closest thing to a date was one year on Christmas,” she says. “The orphan’s home took us on a bus to go caroling. On the bus Clyde held my hand.” But Clyde didn’t let the orphan home’s rules keep him from seeing Helen. He would sneak out of the boy’s dorm and climb to the 2nd story of the girl’s dorm and sit on her windowsill. “That was our date.”

This is Clyde and Helen (middle and right) with a friend, in front of the Oesterlen House in Springfield, Ohio. 1930.

No Proposal

The late night windowsill “dates” would eventually lead to marriage. Helen says, “I don’t remember any proposal. We just decided to get married after college. Both Helen and Clyde received academic scholarships to Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio.  After Wittenberg, Clyde went to medical school at Ohio State University. “He lived in Columbus and I lived with a family in Springfield and we wanted to be together. So we just decided to get married,” says Helen. They went to a Justice of the Peace, and there was no wedding dress. Helen moved into Clyde’s place, which had one room and a kitchenette, while he went to medical school. “He was a really good student.”

Helen’s Secret to a Successful Marriage

Does Helen have a secret to a successful marriage? “Patience,” she says. “You need to put up with someone who’s different. Be patient with all the things they like.” During their marriage, which lasted until Clyde’s death in 1972, Clyde “ruled the roost. Whatever he wanted to do was what we did.” She admired one particular quality: he was reliable. “You could always depend on him. If he said he’d do something he’d always do it.

That was important, “because life was difficult back then.”

Coming up in the next post: Work and Family Life.


Filed under College, Family, Grandparents, Marriage, Parenting, Uncategorized

4 responses to “Grandma Helen. The Orphanage and Clyde.

  1. suzy

    I loved seeing your new pic. of Helen and Clyde! They were a beautiful couple.

    • Thanks Suzy! Several years ago my sister Laurie put a collage together featuring Grandma Helen, and because of Laurie’s hard work we have all these wonderful old pictures. She labelled the pics with names and dates and framed it; it is now on my stairwell wall. It was a FABULOUS gift!

  2. Maggie Vaughan

    I really enjoyed reading about Grandma Helen & can’t wait for the next installment!

  3. Vivian Thanos

    I lived in the Oesterlen Home, along with my sister and two brothers, from 1938 to 1941. I was there from age six to nine. I’m researching it to put in a memoir for a writing class I’m attending, and was excited when I saw your blog. It’s wonderful reading about your grandmother. I was hoping I had known her but I think she’s 19 years older than I am so she would have been gone when I arrived.

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