Rural Georgia, 1954. Gas is 22 cents per gallon. Plaid dresses are the rage. Men still wear their trousers up to their armpits.
It’s a good year for America. There is a lot of money going around after the war. Cars are being churned out by factories, all painted bright and happy colors, with tailfins so big they could slice low hanging telephone wires. Everyone’s feeling pretty good about life. Cholesterol is still king.
Enter Marian. She’s not that old and she’s alone. She is a Georgia woman, and you know what they say about Georgia women. They are proud.
Her husband was killed in a Korean war, and she is childless. All she wants is a family of her own and to get in on all the good vibes going around in jolly ‘54. She wants a picket-fence. She wants two-point-five kids. She wants someone to love. And above all, she wants to ride in one of those huge cars with the exotic tailfins.
But alas, all Marian has is an old farmhouse that her late father left her. No family. And Marian suffers from the aftereffects of childhood polio. She has a pronounced limp. Her legs don’t work well. Marian has found that most bachelors in her era are not interested in a woman who limps.
So she is afraid she is turning into a spinster. An old maid. A fuddy-duddy. Arsenic and Old Lace.
On top of all that, her farmhouse is going downhill. The siding is rotting, the roof leaks. She doesn’t have the wherewithal to take care of this homestead, let alone to manage her chickens and victory garden. She could ask for help from her church, but Georgia women, as you’ll recall, have their pride.
Autumn comes. It brings crisp weather and new possibilities, which come in the form of two drifters. They are young, with fedoras and duffle bags. They are lanky, with Midwestern accents. Brothers. And they seem friendly.
The two offer to help take care of her place in exchange for three squares and a bed. Marian figures, why not? They look trustworthy and no other men in fedoras are applying for the job.
Marian cleans out bedrooms, starts cooking nightly suppers, and discovers that she really likes having company. And bonus: They are from Iowa and actually know how to work agricultural equipment. Even better, they know how to turn a profit with her land. It is a perfect match.
But all good things end. After six months of happiness the boys tell Marian they are planning on leaving for Iowa because they are homesick.
When Marian hears this she puts on a mock smile. She excuses herself and locks herself in her room to bawl into her pillows. She has grown used to hearing their voices, she doesn’t want to be alone again. She doesn’t want to return to sad suppers and paralyzing quiet.
Soon, the boys are knocking on the bedroom door, asking if she’s okay.
Marian swallows her tears and says, “I’m fine.” Because, like I said, Georgia women.
The next morning at breakfast, the two boys wear fish-eating grins. Marian says to them, “Just what’re you two grinning at?”
“We’ve changed our minds,” one boy announces. “We’re not leaving.”
“Oh?” she says.
“No,” says the other. “We wanna stay. We hope it’s okay, but we’ve invited our family to come visit. So instead of going home, they’re coming here.”
Marian is conflicted about this. On one hand she is glad they’re staying, but she doesn’t want pity. Secondly, she isn’t running a dadgum boarding house here. Then again—and I can’t stress this enough—she is overjoyed not to be alone.
In a few weeks the family arrives in a sky-blue Ford with huge rear fins that are so tall they interfere with commercial aircraft radar equipment.
Marian meets their middle-aged father, their two aunts, and their three sisters. The boys have no mother. Their mother died years before the war.
It is here that Marian is first introduced to their father. A tall man, with kind eyes, who—and this is my favorite part of this whole story—happens to walk with a limp.
That evening is filled with the joy of conversation and music from a radio. The house is alive with laughter and cheery voices and a kitchen full of giggling girls.
Before supper the boys’ father asks Marian if she would like to take a ride in his car. The music stops. This is followed by awkward silence. Everyone except Marian exchanges big smiles with each other.
The man escorts her into his car, and she falls in love with the machine. She’s read about these vehicles in magazines. The white upholstery, the spaceship-like control panel.
When the man climbs into the driver’s side, Marian takes a chance and asks him why he limps. The man lifts his pant legs to reveal a tiny, misshapen lower leg. A lifelong souvenir from a fight with polio.
Marian chokes back the saltwater gathering in her eyes. She shows him a pair of calves that look almost identical.
I’m running out of space here, but you already know where this story is going anyway. Marian and Clyde were married not long thereafter in a small rural chapel. Marian wore a white box-jacket suit trimmed with ivory fur.
Some people in town criticized Marian for wearing white since she’d been married before. And once upon a time, this disapproval might have actually bothered such a proud Georgia woman.
But as fate would have it, Marian was to become an Iowan for the rest of her life.
Until last week. When she was welcomed into a famous place where nobody limps.
Binnie - October 27, 2020 7:29 am
Love your column and writing style! I think you probably should have done a little research on cars with fins —- the tall fins were products of the later 50s, especially ‘57 and ‘58. I know because my dad’s ‘57 Chevy was the first car I drove! Sorry, but those kinds of details, when misplaced in time, just really bug me! Otherwise, enjoyed this one!
Deb Lockard - October 27, 2020 7:30 am
Nice one !
Grant Burris - October 27, 2020 7:51 am
That one caught me by surprise, Sean. I liked it s lot.
Margaret Ochs - October 27, 2020 8:54 am
Oh Sean, you’ve got me bawling this morning. What a sweet story.
Pam BISHOP - October 27, 2020 10:39 am
Love this story Sean!
Stacy - October 27, 2020 10:40 am
Sweet story-now I am going to have puffy eyes in my Zoom meeting.
Leslie in NC - October 27, 2020 11:27 am
“into a place where nobody limps…” What a sweet, sweet story! One of your best, Sean.
Virginia Russell - October 27, 2020 11:54 am
What a wonderful story! (cars in 1954 didn’t have tail fins though)
JoAnne Kimrey - October 27, 2020 11:56 am
NancyB - October 27, 2020 12:21 pm
Bonnie–I did do a little research. The first car with fins was the 1948 Cadillac. They weren’t the razor-sharp angled fins of the late 50s but compared to how cars had been designed before 1948, they were definitely fins. Other cars with fins and the earliest dates I found for their first ones include:
52 and 53 All-State
52 and 53 Buicks
48 and on Cadillac
53 and on for Chevys
49 and on for Desotos
52 and on for Fords
53 and 54 Packards
51 thru 55 Studabakers
52 thru 55 Willys
(This may not be an all-inclusive list, but does include many that I found.)
While these might not have looked like your father’s 57 Chevy, they were nonetheless fins. People in 49, 50 or 54 did not know that the razor-sharp, angled fins of the late 50s were on the drawing board. The 1957 Chevy had the most popular fins and are what most people today picture and oh and ah over when thinking of tail fins of the 50s. But they were by no means the first fins.
Did Sean take some poetic license in describing the 1954, or earlier, fins as “huge rear fins that are so tall they interfered with commercial aircraft radar?” Maybe. I’m guessing as an author and column writer he has done this many times in the past to add color to his writings and to paint an enticing picture for his readers. But then again, to a rural Georgia farm woman in 1954 the fins on that Ford might have looked that high and appeared that sweeping. They were her “dream” meant to sweep her away from a hard and lonely life of solitude.
A bit of advice, Bonnie. Actually two bits. First, don’t let minor details like this wording describing tail fins detract from your enjoyment of what you are reading. It’s just small stuff and life is too short to sweat the small stuff. The second bit is actually one of the first lessons my mom taught me 55+ years ago–if you can’t say something good, say nothing at all.
(By the way, it took me at least 40 years to learn to follow these two bits of advice myself. And still to this day I fail to remember them all the time. But my life is much more enjoyable when I do.)
Denise Walker - October 27, 2020 12:23 pm
What a sweet story. tears in my eyes, a lump in my throat. If only, all those lonely “Georgia” women had a happy-ever-after story. Keep writing, Sean. You touch my heart.
Virginia - October 27, 2020 12:33 pm
Enjoy your stories every day. Of course,I have my favorites but glad I have read them all. Keep writing.
Terri - October 27, 2020 12:48 pm
Thank you Nancy, my Mama taught me that as well!
Brenda - October 27, 2020 12:54 pm
Loved this, dreams come true!
Melanie - October 27, 2020 12:58 pm
I don’t know if Marian is real or not but now she is to me. You’ll never be alone again, Marian. The angels will be with you always. 🤍
Jan - October 27, 2020 1:11 pm
Love this story and all your stories!
Connie - October 27, 2020 1:17 pm
It’s too early in the morning for tears. Dang. I’ve got chill bumps. I love this.
Pondcrane - October 27, 2020 1:23 pm
I love Binnie/Bonnie.
sabriscoe - October 27, 2020 1:50 pm
Enjoyed the story- Touched my heart this morning.
Lisa Wilcox - October 27, 2020 2:45 pm
I love your storytelling so much. Thank you! And I hope Jamie got lots of birthday gifts besides nice sentiments 🙂 Can you please share her pound cake recipe?
Susan Jones - October 27, 2020 2:48 pm
LOVE, LOVE LOVE THIS!! What a truly wonderful love story indeed!! ♥️
Linda Moon - October 27, 2020 4:55 pm
When I was a kid, my friend MariOn (with an “O”) and I saw lots of ladies in white box-jacket suits. I “saw” Marian, her suit, and her story from pixels on my screen sent by a Master Story-teller, and I loved every word!
Jeffer - October 27, 2020 5:04 pm
Oh Sean, what a beautiful story. I’d love to see you turn this into a movie script and sell it to a movie producer.
Patsy Boshears - October 27, 2020 5:55 pm
Love a good love story, especially one with such a happy ending with no more limp.
MAM - October 27, 2020 6:36 pm
Sweet story! Glad Marian lived happily every after, and now without a limp!
Patricia Gibson - October 27, 2020 6:54 pm
Thanks for sharing 🙏❤️
Mary Louise - October 27, 2020 7:11 pm
How do you do it?! How can you do it every dadblamed time??? You touch my heart so much that it waters my cheeks. EVERY TIME! And I’m no wimp! You are the literary equivalent to a Hallmark Christmas movie. I hear you laughing. But you give people a connection. We’re not meant to be isolated people, and this pandemic has turned us into just that. But you crack a window, open a door, beckon us out into another life for just a minute. But it’s enough to remember for a while when we go back into ourselves. Thanks.
thouse1001 - October 27, 2020 9:26 pm
Dang it… My eyes are watering again…
carlinbrooks - October 27, 2020 9:32 pm
Another good one.
Pat McGilberry - October 28, 2020 12:53 am
Greg Gipe - October 28, 2020 1:36 am
Very good Sean. I enjoy your work. Other stories of yours I’ve read too.
Russell - October 28, 2020 2:20 am
Actually, Sean is right. Though the tallest tailfins peaked around 1955-59, the first popular car with find was the 1948 Cadillac. This was then copied almost immediately by other manufacturers. They were smallIsh at first but grew in height.
Rene Mims - October 28, 2020 2:46 am
Oh, how beautiful!! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
Marilu Sample - October 28, 2020 2:55 am
Love this Sean. I’m a sucker for a good love story.
Marilu - October 28, 2020 2:59 am
Yes they most certainly did.
Sue Capps - October 28, 2020 3:17 am
OH. MY. HEART. “Into a place where nobody limps at all.” I absolutely loved this little love story. Thank you. Again.
Robert M Brenner - October 28, 2020 8:32 am
Thanks Sean, my wife had polio and it has limited the use of her left arm. But her spirit and determination throughout her life has been nothing but incredible. Married 46 years and she amazes me every single day! ❤️❤️
Tammy S. - October 28, 2020 9:29 am
What a sweet love story!! 🤍
As always, great one, Sean. And those last few lines, they always get me.
Diane H. Toney - October 28, 2020 2:08 pm
Sweet story about Marian. Hope you’ll take a minute to read about a small town in the South during WW II and post-war in my book that you have (had), IT WAS WHAT IT WAS.
Janie Logan - October 28, 2020 4:12 pm
My heart sores to that place where people dance on golden streets. Our 23 month old is there now.
Thank you for sharing this wonderful word picture.
Nancy Baker - October 28, 2020 4:56 pm
Joy Dollar - October 29, 2020 3:14 am
Oh my goodness! Now I’m in tears! What a wonderful piece about a wonderful woman. Sure does bring joy to this crazy world we’re living in! God bless you, Marian, and He did and now the ultimate blessing! Thank you, Sean Dietrich, for a wonderful story!!!
shutterspeedmediaone - November 1, 2020 12:09 am
Loved this one as I did the others…..thank you!
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - October 10, 2021 4:41 am