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.