Margo was a looker, that was the word among the eligible young men in Manchester. After dating her several times, the label was ‘a looker, but snooty’ and ‘too expensive for what you get.’ Margo didn’t care. She was going places. Never really a flapper, she’d worn longer skirts to cover her boney knees but was never without a long scarf tied around her neck, floating out behind her when she walked. Changing her name from Margaret/Maggie to Margo was just the first step, so she’d be ready when the time was right.
She thought the time had come when she met Gus Brumback. She was twenty- seven, old for a single girl. He seemed nice, took her dancing wherever she wanted, took her to the picture shows as often as she wanted. ‘Why not?’ she thought to herself one night and suddenly she was pregnant. “Why not? What’s so bad?” He’d said when she told him. “Who cares what people say.” She was grateful. Gus was good-looking, a wage-earner, even in the Depression years. True, he was younger than she was, but he was taller and that’s what people saw, not his age.
The marriage was low-key, just a civil ceremony. The groom looked proud, the bride, pregnant. Margo imagined a sweet little baby, somehow already adorable, like Shirley Temple. What she got was a squirming, snotty bundle – always screaming, always hungry – a disappointment. She named the baby Dolores Amelia Louisa for three famous women: Dolores del Rio, Amelia Earhart, and Louisa May Alcott, but everyone called her Dolly, another disappointment.
Left alone for hours on end, heating bottles, changing diapers while Gus was off on a construction job, Margo remembered her life in the office. She hadn’t realized then how good she’d had it. She diligently brushed Dolly’s brown hair into corkscrew curls like Shirley Temple’s but there was little else she could do to make the child, stubbornly still a normal toddler, into a prodigy. Margo felt life was cheating her. She was unhappy.
Gus tried to distract her, cheer her up. The Depression was well over. He could afford the picture shows once a week, sometimes twice, if it was a picture she wanted to see again. Anything to cheer up his beautiful wife. Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck were her favorites – spunky, glamourous women who always triumphed against terrific odds.
Evenings, Gus would read his newspaper, shaking his head over the news – Nazis invading Holland, marching into France. She would read magazines about the stars – “Inside Hollywood”, “Secrets of the Silver Screen”. She was sure, given the chance, she would win against all odds too, just like Joan and Barbara. The war in Europe was very real for Gus, but Margo’s imagination stayed in Hollywood.
Her efforts to groom the child into a star were frustrating. Margo would lose patience; the child would lose interest and beg to go out and play with the other kids. Margo, left alone, tried to be the housewife she saw in the magazines, but making colored jello molds and trying new meatloaf recipes didn’t make her happy either.
When the United States joined the war, New Hampshire, like the rest of the country, erupted in a frenzy of patriotism – buying war bonds, saving cooking fat and sending loved ones off to fight. Gus, with weak eyes classified as 4F, volunteered for night shifts at the munitions factory.
The newspapers and magazines were full of pictures of troops leaving for the war. Magazines featured pictures of Hollywood stars waving to “our brave soldiers”, articles about the USO shows at military bases. Even the Manchester Tribune had a long article with pictures of “our local thespians helping the war effort.” Margo was interested. She joined ‘the local thespians’, collecting tins and old newspapers along with them, thinking nothing of leaving Dolly, a bewildered first grader, with a neighbor. When the theater group performed at nearby army bases, Margo went along – helping wherever she could.
Her sense of dedication to the theater group– at first volunteering for any job that needed doing, never missing a meeting or a rehearsal – stayed strong even after the war ended. When the Manchester Players staged “Ah! Wilderness”” she was one of the women, a walk-on; in “The Man who came to Dinner” she wanted the part of Lorraine, who would have glamourous costumes, but got the role of Miss Preen, the nurse. She spent hours at home boring Dolly and Gus with her Russian accent for the role of the Grand Duchess in “You can’t Take It with You”, but was cast then as Alice, the dull dancing daughter. She was disappointed but practiced Alice’s dancing at home, insisting Gus and Dolly watch and applaud. She felt she was ‘fulfilling her destiny’ and saw no reason to give up the theater group. Dolly was a twelve-year-old who could open a can as well as Margo could. Gus went back to work on construction.
The trouble began when teen-age Dolly was in high school. It was as if the tide had turned. The passive Dolly became someone else – impatient and independent -insisting everyone call her Dee. She was a dolly no more; there were occasional explosions. She refused to watch the scenes her mother practiced in the living room, pleading homework. A test the next day made attending performances impossible. Instead, she gradually took on her mother’s role, doing all the things that took weeks for Margo to finish or even attempt. Dee bought the food (cans mostly), heated the meals, solved the problems in the house – a burnt-out bulb, a new box of soap flakes, reminded Gus to pay the bills. This was all fine with Margo who became more involved in the theater group, her real world.
For the season 1949/50 the Manchester Players announced plans for a production of “Our Town”. Margo was, as always, excited. It was a group play with many roles she felt she could play – maybe the mother of the leading man. Or even better – giving her the chance for a tragic scene – Emily, who dies young but observes the town’s doings after her death, an important character.
She was driving to the audition, practicing Emily’s lines, the playscript open beside her on the passenger seat.
“Good-by, good-by World. Good-by, Grovers Corners …Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking……”. She couldn’t remember the rest of the speech – something about sunflowers. She looked over at the script lying on the seat beside her and never saw the milk truck coming straight at her out of the curve.
Gus was desolate. But how lucky he was to have such a helpful daughter, the neighbors said after the funeral, leaving their casseroles on the kitchen table. So helpful, such a comfort.