Picking Flowers off Wallpaper

The photo is torn,

repaired with a trace of damage,

not enough to spoil

My Grandmother Marion Allers a complexion as satiny as ribbon-roses

adorning the effortless styling of

ringleted hair.

Playfulness in a profiled pose

and a smile that seems to be thinking

of something more than

light layers of hand-sewn chiffon

girlishly high-waisted.

The artistic bend of an arm

pointing to possibilities at hand,

a picture of loveliness

even as petals drop

before their time.

I’m marking my 62nd birthday (July 6) by remembering my beautiful and talented maternal grandmother, Marion Allers DiCesare, a recent interview question prompting me to consider – once again – her promising but frustrated and abbreviated ‘story’. She died long before I was born, but has always been a strong presence in my life, especially my sensory and creative life, through the memories of my mom who absolutely adored her – and as you’ll ‘see’ as you read on, she wasn’t the only one who did.

Her family was long established in Oak Park, Illinois, a village on the west side of Chicago that was the haunt of Earnest Hemingway’s family (my mom having babysat for his sister Sunny’s little boy – but that is a tale for another time). From a family history prepared in 1978, it is confirmed that my grandmother’s grandfather William Allers, a cabinet maker, came to the US with his wife and four children from Budby, Nottinghamshire, England in 1848; two more children including my great-grandfather Henry were born in the US. Henry married Ida Shreffler, and my grandmother Marion, their sixth child, was born March 24, 1893. She was only about 4 years old when her mother died in childbirth.

Marion Allers Age 5 resized

My grandmother (with a cousin) is on the right

My grandmother (with a cousin) is on the right

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My grandmother showed musical promise, specifically as a pianist, at an early age.

Marion Allers Age 18 or so resized

She received her entire musical education at the Illinois College of Music, which was established in 1900, graduating when she was eighteen but continuing there as a teacher.

Illinois College of Music Ad-page0001_pe

My mom managed to rescue the 1924 faculty booklet from family records in danger of being discarded as clutter. It states that Miss Allers’ pupils idolized her, “she made an extensive study of Expression (voice training, breathing, recitation, dramatic training, impersonating, dialect, etc.) and was very “clever” as “Pianist-reader and Monologue entertainer” who “became known throughout the city (Chicago)”, and was “original and versatile.” Her repertoire as a concert pianist included Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, and Tchaikovsky (which I can verify from the sheet music that has come down from her). My mom also recalls her mother playing and singing popular songs from the twenties and thirties, and watching her entertaining, even comical, skits.

Marion Allers Illinois College of Music 2a

The story becomes most fascinating and fateful when my grandmother was approached by the American impressario Florenz Ziegfeld, who was from Chicago, to take part in a European tour with the Ziegfeld Follies.

ziegsplash

Her family wouldn’t allow her to go as “good girls didn’t travel alone or do things like that”.

Ziegfeld Sheet Music - Ziegfeld Follies of 1917 (I'll Be Somewhere in France)

Who knows what career opportunities were missed and whether the disappointment contributed to her suffering a nervous breakdown. There is a scene in To A Strange Somewhere Fled that was inspired by her attempting to pick the flowers off the wallpaper in her bedroom during her mental and emotional collapse.

Marion Allers in 20s resized

She had several offers of marriage she turned down. Then, in her thirties, my Italian blue-eyed grandfather Pierino, who was attractive, cultured, charismatic, and a bit of a scoundrel—not unlike Alessandro Stradella—came on the scene when mutual friends took him to see her perform at the Chicago Civic Opera House.

lyric-opera-of-chicago

In 1995 the Lyric Opera of Chicago began a complex renovation of its home, the Civic Opera House.

 

 

Chicago Civic Opera House front

 

 

 

 

 

 

This time she defied her family to marry him—unaware he was still married to a woman in New York City—finding excitement but also hardship in her decision to do so, because, besides being a bigamist, my grandfather was an unreliable provider and often absent, engaging in dodgy real estate deals with the gangster element in 1930’s Chicago. He was very interested in aviation (my mom remembers going up in one of his very small scary airplanes), took out at patent on a new propeller blade, and became Vice President of a propeller company. You can see the photos of the propellers and factory here.

On the left is Pierino DiCesare, Vice President of the Maynard-DiCesare Propellar Company,

My maternal grandfather Pierino DiCesare is on the left, probably around 47 years old at the time of this photograph, Vice President of the Maynard-DiCesare Propellar Company. Although he lived until I was around ten, I never met him. After my grandmother died, he remarried, then divorced, and fell on hard times, becoming a destitute alcoholic and dying from sclerosis of the liver in Philadelphia.

After my mom and her eldest sister were born, her parents split for a while, got back together and had two more daughters, but the marriage was a rollercoaster for my grandmother, causing financial and emotional hardship. She continued to give piano lessons, until  she became very sick with breast cancer which claimed her life far too soon at the age of forty-six, my mom ten, her youngest sister only four.

My grandmothers obituary

My mother was heartbroken, wouldn’t go to school for months, and to this day can’t speak of her mother without tears. What a joyful presence was lost from the mortal world, but, fortunately, I have felt and continue to feel her spirit around me.

My grandmother getting her hair washed by a cousin. In the twenties she sold her beautiful long auburn hair for $50 - her family was outraged!

My grandmother getting her hair washed by a cousin. In the twenties she sold her beautiful long auburn hair for $50 – her family was outraged!

“Well, wouldn’t you like to come inside and pick some (flowers) off the wallpaper?”
~ from the film, Harvey, based on the play by Mary Chase

 

 

donatellasmallest©All Artwork and writing on this site, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back tobardessdmdenton. Thank you.

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20 thoughts on “Picking Flowers off Wallpaper

  1. Diane,

    This is a treasure! It makes your novel, “A House Near Luccoli’
    even more precious to me.

    I am taken by her beautiful tresses, and equally so by those
    long slender finger which proclaim that she’s a musician.

    What a delight to find this entry.

    Thank you!!

    Sarah

    Like

    • Hi, Sarah. And thank you for your lovely comment. Yes, she was so vibrant and artistic and, of course, musical. She certainly did inspire A House Near Luccoli, and, also, her vulnerability in its sequel To A Strange Somewhere Fled. Lots of love to you. XO ❤

      Like

  2. I forgot to mention that the poem is a joy!

    And to you, my talented friend, I wish the happiest of birthdays
    and many, many more to come! Have a beautiful day!

    Like

    • Thank you again, Sarah! It was a quiet but loving day with my mom and kitties and the natural world all around me. What more could one ask? Blessings, MY talented friend! Will get over to your blog very soon – your poetry always caresses my soul. XO ❤

      Like

  3. Hi {{{ Diane }}}, happy birthday again! And what a lovely posting, with a beautiful poem and so interesting to learn about your grandmother! She had a life like a novel… I hope you will have a lovely day today. Love you. ❤ xxx

    Like

    • Thank you, Ina. I’m sure there are many stories to come out of hers … if I live long enough. 🙂 Thank you also for your birthday wishes. Another year older and deeper in wrinkles. XO ❤

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  4. Diane, this is an amazing post and a fabulous poem. What a wonderful tribute to your very gifted grandmother, and what a family story! Wow! I read it almost as if reading a novel. And I have to say your grandmother was a beautiful looking young woman. The photo of her at the top of your post is just exquisite. But what a sad ending for your grandfather. How hard this must have hit.

    A very happy birthday to you! ❤️ Xxx

    Like

    • Thank you, Christine. Haven’t written much poetry (well, in poetry form) lately. This post was going start differently, but then I gazed at this photo (my favorite of hers, with the hair-washing one a close second) and voila! As far as my grandfather – my mom didn’t know what had become of him. Then one day I heard her scream after getting the mail. His NY city relatives had sent her a picture of him in his coffin without any warning that he was sick or had died.

      Thank you for the birthday wishes. XO ❤

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    • Thank you so much, Jackie. Yes, so glad my mom got these photos (and there are more), as the rest of her family hasn’t taken that good care of such treasures of their history. Thank you also for the birthday wishes. Blessings to you and yours. XO ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Diane, this is a wonderful post and tribute to your grandmother and your poem is lovely. I was thrilled when I read about her offer into the Ziegfeld Follies even though she wasn’t able to accept. It was also very sad to hear about her nervous breakdown, how profound picking flowers off wallpaper, then to hear of her not so happy marriage and later, her cancer..she was a beautiful woman, though, and I can see how her presence is still very strong in your life. Wishing you a wonderful birthday, my friend. Hugs xo

    Like

    • Thank you, Lauren. I have been thinking about sharing her story for a long while … of course, it has been already here and there in my novels, and I know, if I live long enough, there will be more stories out of it. She must have been so very special for my mom at 86 to still remember her so vividly and feel her grief so freshly. Thank you for the birthday wishes, and hope your summer is proving lovely so far. Lots of love. XO ❤

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, don’t worry, Martin – as you did send you wishes a little ahead of time. Glad you came over to read about my lovely grandmother. Blessings and hope you enjoy your time off … soon? XO ❤

      Like

  6. A very belated happy birthday from me Diane; please accept them despite my slowness to get online and post them. And what a wonderful post – I read it the day you posted it, but didn’t manage to get online to share how much I appreciated your sharing of this unique life, which led to your own… Much love x

    Like

    • Thank you so much for your birthday greeting, Lauren! And apologies for my belated acknowledgement. So glad you enjoyed the post. There are lots of stories within Marion Allers’ story. Soon about to embark on one … probably in the form of a short story. Sending my love and hugs. XO ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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