Sunday, July 3, 2016

Dorothy Mae Wills 1916-1997

If alive today, Dorothy Mae Wills
 would be celebrating her 100th  birthday 
Composed on Mother's Day 2016

For as long as I can remember, my mother celebrated her birthday on June 15th.  When she was 65 years old, she tried to get a passport.  The documentation she found stated her birthday was June 7th. Being wise and fun loving, from then on she celebrated them both! 

She was born in Schulylerville, Saratoga County, New York where her father, who though himself a photographer, had a job in some capacity as lock tender on the Champlain Canal. She was the sixth of nine children.  Her parents did well when first married but even before the Great Depression came along, her parents and their family unraveled. Her father couldn't keep a job and was usually found at the corner tavern.  His alcoholism which would eventually kill him. Her mother suffered from chronic thyroid disease which eventually killed her.

Gradually the family fell into daily crisis mode. Dorothy went to work in a shirt factory when she was just 12 years old; her mother took in other people's laundry to put food on the table. Dorothy didn't finish high school, she may not have even finished 8th grade but she had ambition.  She obtained a GED diploma and a beautician's license issued from New York State.

She wasn't a natural beauty but she was beautiful.

One of nine living children, Dorothy was born between two sisters, Elizabeth and Etta.  She loved both and fought with both until one day, her Elizabeth died of a heart ailment a few days before her 24th birthday.  The year after her sister died, both her parent's would die.  In was the middle of the Great Depression and although she was only 19, she took over the care and welfare of her youngest brother, Bob Wills, who was just 12 years old.

Dorothy and Bobby

Bob joined the US Marine Corp and set off for the war in the Pacific. His carrier engaged immediate action on the seas and limped back to California.  When he went AWOL in the days before his 2nd  deployment and was arrested by military police, she sacrificed her marriage and job to take a week long train trip to El Paso, Texas to get and buy legal assistance for him.  

When she returned to upstate New York, Dorothy found her marriage on the rocks.  While her brother was serving time, she divorced her husband.  Meanwhile she expanded her hair salon and started small retailing on the side selling woman's lingerie, cosmetics and jewelry in Troy, NY.  She developed her professional name - "Dottie Mae" and was called so ever after.  Eventually, she married again and set up three retail business locations: Green Island, Cohoes and Mechanicsville, New York.

For all her ambition and drive to improve, her caring and her playfulness, there remains a large part of Dorothy Mae Wills that will always remain a mystery.   For for reasons I still cannot explain, 19 years after she died, it is still hard to write about her and to understand.

1 comment:

  1. Happy 100th Birthday in Heaven, Aunt Dottie! Such wonderful photos...and a even more wonderful tribute. I love the photo of her in the Western out - our family's version of 'Annie Oakley?!' She sure accomplished much... I hope she and my mom are catching up now. Beautiful job!