Marion: Nine decades in the house her father built

by LuAnne Speeter

“I’ve lived in this house just about all my life,” said Marion, age 95. “My father built it when I was about 2 and it cost him $700.” The home, situated in St. Paul’s North End neighborhood, is a Craftsman-style bungalow, complete with deep crown molding and twin built-in cabinets still in excellent condition.

“My parents left me the house because I stayed and took care of them,” she said. “I never married.”

As a child, Marion was painfully shy, “especially around boys.” In grade school, she preferred walking around the block rather than eat with her classmates in the lunchroom. She lived out her life as a dutiful daughter. After graduating from high school, to help with the family finances, Marion received training through the National Youth Administration, a New Deal agency that operated in the late 1930s. She had a procession of jobs but nothing that really suited her. “The Catholic Digest was the best job, but the worst pay,” she recalled. She spent the majority of her working life as a switchboard operator with Northwestern Bell and other companies.

As predictable as her life became, Marion lunged impetuously into one memorable summer of rebellion in 1947. Taking advantage of an opportunity to travel west with a friend, she and her younger sister Lucille, nicknamed Ceilie, paid their share of the gas. They split from the friend and spent several months hitchhiking, seeing the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Manitou Springs, Hoover Dam, San Francisco and the missions of southern California.

“Ceilie and I paid our way by washing dishes and working in a laundry,” Marion recalled. “We were always scared that summer. We were lucky to be picked up by kind people, like the man and lady who brought us to Kings Canyon and fed us, but some of the truck drivers who gave us rides weren’t so nice. There were bears and cougars in the mountains. Still, we felt free! It’s the best time I ever had.”

As her parents grew older, Marion took on the role of caregiver. Her father passed away at the age of 70. “And my mother died at 87 – that was 30 years ago now,” she noted.

Marion admitted to feeling lonely, especially on Sundays. She enjoys talking to Ceilie on the phone and sometimes pays for service providers to come over just for the companionship. She doesn’t get around easily; confined to a wheelchair, she can be taken outside using her ramp, but busy Rice Street cuts her off from Tin Cup’s restaurant and Dollar Tree. She pays to have her groceries delivered, house maintained, lawn mowed and walk shoveled. “Crystal from the Block Nurse Program also checks in on me regularly,” she said.

Marion relies on LBFE to provide the friendship she craves and is matched with two Visiting Volunteers. “Kelly was here just the other day and she brought me those beautiful flowers,” she exclaimed, pointing to a vaseful of pink astroemeria. She also receives visits from Anna. “I love it when she brings along her two darling children,” Marion said. On Thanksgiving and Christmas, Marion receives home delivered meals with visits from LBFE.

With the sun pouring into her living room, Marion reflected on her life and acknowledged that she still has the ability to help others. “I can’t get around much, but I believe I influence people by talking to them. I can honestly say that I help people – that my life still makes a difference.”