Tuesday, March 1, 2011

SISTERHOOD: Etta and Dottie Mae, A Remembrance of Cousin Anne

Muriel Etta Wills and Dorothy Mae Wills were sisters. "Dottie Mae" older, by 15 months was born in 1916.  Muriel Etta, called "Etta", born in 1917.  Etta and her husband, Arthur St Hilaire, are pictured here on the Orchard, Cohoes on their wedding day. Dottie Mae and her husband Arthur Homer Mylott are pictured here in Green Island on their wedding day.

By all accounts, these two sisters grew up emotionally entwined and were often thought to be twins by others. They shared clothes and shoes, school and girlfriends.  They grew up proud and poor - but always  together.  The death of their sister Elizabeth (January 9th, 1937) profoundly affected them as well as the deaths of their mother and father all within fourteen months during the Great Depression.

Then as adults, they married...Etta to Art St Hilaire and Dottie to Art Mylott.  In the beginning of their marriages, Etta and Art  had beautiful children. Dottie and Art had none so they became very fond of their niece and nephew, Ann and Arthur III.  Then something happened, exactly what and when it was we will never know because both sisters were pretty vague when retelling her version of the story.  Whatever it was caused Dottie and Etta to stop speaking to one another and having any interaction with each other and with spouses, children for ten years with one exception.  Dottie Mae and Arthur attended Etta 's daughter's wedding.

From the left: Dorothy, little brother Larry, Etta

First Communion at St Joseph's, Cohoes

Etta and Dorothy

from the left: Dorothy, Etta, and Joan Cranney

With Lilacs in Spring
Dorothy on right, Etta on the left, Unknown in middle

Dressing Up for Fun
Dorothy on the left, Etta on right

Celena Beauvais, on the left, holding her grandson, Arthur III
Etta holding her daughter Anne

Anne St. Hilaire
 It all changed after Etta's daughter Anne, now married, was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. After Ann became paralyzed and could no longer use stairs, it was decided to move into a house in Green Island where both Etta and Art could live and care for Ann while Bill, Anne's husband, went to work.  There was never a wheelchair in the house; Anne could not walk at all and had to be carried everywhere she went usually by Bill.  During the daytime, Anne would sit in a chair by the front window in the company of her mother and the frequent visitors who stopped by the house on the main street on their way to the market or bank across the street.  There was always a neighbor or cousin sharing time and Anne was never alone while Bill was at work.  Etta always started to prepare supper in the afternoon, starting with peeling potatoes.   She served dinner to her husband Art, son Charles, daughter Anne and son-in-law Bill and anyone else who was there at supper time. After dinner Bill would carry Anne up the stairs to their flat above.
Bill, on his wedding day

Bill and Anne on their wedding day

Rallying together to care for Anne was a natural thing for the family to do so it brought the sisters, Dottie and Etta, back together.  They forgot, or choose not to remember, whatever painful events tore their sisterhood apart.  Throughout the remainder of their lives Etta, the homemaker, and Dottie Mae, the "wheeler dealer" business woman, remained close and united.  Unfortunately for Anne, her brain cancer raged on but she was able to complete one of her dreams. Although she was a paraplegic and fighting off cancer, she completed a healthy pregnancy with a healthy living child one year before she died at the age of 27.  Etta and Dottie's friendship never wavered nor waned ever again.

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