This account is a composite of numerous rough drafts of an essay written apparently to begin a course in writing. As the various segments have been woven together, we will see a shift from first person to third person and back again. I have not come across the finished paper, if one exists. RMW
The Insight of Dorris Esther Wells
Hello, I hope you are having pleasant weather also. I’ve been asked to tell you about Dorris Wells, that you may better help her to become a writer. I might sit here and answer your questions in short one, two, three order. However, I will feel more at ease, and you will gain a better insight into the woman if I answer those questions while telling about her in my own way.
At this writing I am 44 years old, married to an electrical engineer with Union Electric. My husband is 62 years old. I left college, after 1½ years of study, to marry him and help him make a home for his two sons, ages at that time 6 and 10. His first wife had died. We have two more sons and one daughter. Currently the two older boys are happily married with 3 children each. The daughter has just graduated from college, Valedictorian of her class with Bachelor of Music, Summa Cum Laude. The 4th child is married and plays with a Navy band on the carrier Saratoga. The youngest is still home and has just finished Freshman year of high school.
I’ve known her since she was born at Keokuk, Iowa in Sept. 1915. Home for her has always been either Keokuk, or Hamilton, Illinois, which is just across the Mississippi river from Keokuk. In fact, her parents, grandparents and greatgrand parents were all United States citizens also, although their roots were either in Germany or the British Isles.
Dorris Willows went through the twelve years of Keokuk, Iowa public schools. She made the National Honor Society and graduated from Keokuk High school in June 1933. With a scholarship, a job in the university chemistry laboratory under the depression time Student Relief Employment, and lodgings with her aunt a mile from the campus, Miss Willows completed three semesters of Liberal Arts at Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa.
Although college finances were difficult for her to meet, the primary reason for leaving college was to marry John Wells and provide a home atmosphere for him and his two motherless sons.
I’ve lived only in Keokuk, Iowa or Hamilton, Illinois--with trips to South Carolina, Oklahoma, southern Wisconsin, and NE Iowa. Since the daughter has been attending a college in Kansas, we’ve had many trips to that state. I’ve hopes of visiting California and South Dakota, since the two older boys live in those states.
My interest in natural history stems from early childhood. My memories of my Mother’s bachelor uncles and bachelor cousins might have the making of a book with some such title as “The Laggard Frontier”. It was on their farms that I first learned trees, birds, wild flowers, and rocks.
This mid-Mississippi valley has not been written in all its delightful aspects, as has other sections of the U.S. I’d like to try to do that.
Dorris Wells has had rather interesting religious background. She was an only child, whose parents did not attend any church. She, at about age 14 started attending Methodist Sunday School and church with a girl friend. She became quite active in that church choir and youth program for two or three years. Then her interest in science conflicted with literal interpretations of parts of the Bible. The minister happened to be the wrong one to answer her problems, so after two years of summer church camp, she left that church and shopped around, finally finding a congenial place in the Unitarian church. It was there she met her husband who has family background of Quaker and Episcopal, but we met and were active for a time in a Unitarian church!
They were active Unitarians until that once strong congregation dwindled away. With youngsters of Sunday School age, she felt the need for a church home for them. Feeling it would not be a real church home unless a parent also took part, she joined the Hamilton Methodist church. Still more or less an Unitarian in thought, the Methodist connections have been mutually beneficial. Mrs. Wells has become a leader in the local church, president of the Womans Society, chairman of the church education activities, youth counselor, member of pastoral relations committee and other committees. She has taken various Methodist correspondence courses and attended conference school missions and lab school for church school workers.
Her daughter attended church camps regularly, and this spring graduated valedictorian from a Methodist college in church music. The daughter is now a youth director in a Kansas Methodist church. A navy son spent all of his shore leave, when on cruise in the Med. Sea last winter, visiting and helping in a Methodist sponsored orphanage, Casa Materna, at Naples, Italy. All of that from a Methodist with Unitarian leanings!
She seldom insists upon asserting her beliefs, or even her definite knowledge unless it is asked for. Perhaps this is one of the points which makes her something of a diplomat. And any rate, several of the church leaders call upon her to iron out the ruffled feelings of other sensitive souls whose feelings are easily upset.
She has a failing of procrastination. It seems to take the push of a time limit or dead-line before she settles down to any special job. The most pressing jobs are done, but sometimes it is nip-and-tuck when several responsibilities must be met at the same time. Then quality necessarily suffers.
I’ve enjoyed photography ever since winner of a brownie Box camera in a “Label Saving Contest” at about age 11. That hobby was whetted... ...the last of the bachelor uncles gave me a good folding camera as I finished high school. (He had loaned someone a dollar on it, though the camera was one of the best made in the 1920’s) In the last 10 years, with money from newspaper writings, I bought a Graflex for sheet film, and then a 35 mm camera for color slides.
The photography hobby has grown to three cameras: 35 mm Argus C4 for color slides. Extra gadgets help her take either telephoto shots or as close as 5 inches. With it she records nature, family, neighborhood, church, school, civic, Mississippi river, and travel. She delights in a wide variety of subjects, from the once-in-a-lifetime to that so routine it is unnoticed until too late to capture on film.
An old but excellent folding 120 roll camera and a 3¼ x 4¼ sheet film old Graflex take black and white pictures for news work. Maybe she should remember the black and white more often for future writing which the New York School will develope in her.
With color slides now a major hobby, I have over 2400 slides on all sorts of subjects: family activities both routine and special; church activities, routine and special civic happenings, people, and places; school events; travel; college; neighbors; Mississippi river; trees and tree bloom; wild flowers; insects; birds; sunsets; in fact, a little of everything except perhaps the ‘glamour shots’.
I’ve enjoyed correspondence with foreign pen-pals. That with a woman in South Australia has developed to the point where I’ve sent some 70 slides and a script two different times for a club program “Down Under”. I am to send another such program this summer.
My neighborhood is full of young children. They all call me “Grandma” now. I’ve taught myself to knit, so I could make good use of the time I spend with my family watching TV. If I thought I possibly could, I’d love to write for TV, as most of what is presently shown is very low grade!
I would guess, from my background, that I might have material for numerous "human-interest” articles or stories; photography and family and natural history articles. I must confess I’ve not read many recent books of fiction--except as Reader Digest condensations. Also I may be handicapped in that news writing is rather slap-dash---necessarily done in a rush and brief.
Aside from one trip to South Carolina and back through Philadelphia, and a childhood trip to California and Utah; all her travels have been in Mid-west states. Finances rather than desires have curtailed distant trips. Through her children, she has entertained in her home a student from Indonesia and from Chile. A world globe on the TV, and large maps of both the United States and the World on the living room wall, give one clue to her world interests.
World interests are also indicated by her correspondence with penpals in England, South Australia, and India. The South Australia friendship is the most interesting. She is currently planning a third set of color slides to send there for a church women’s program there in August. She selects slides taken by herself, and weaves them into a script telling of life in Mid-West U.S.A.
Dorris Wells’s reading habits have suffered in recent years. She has read practically no books of fiction, recently. She treasures books such as “Words to Live By”, compiled from the “The Week” magazine. She does read the condensed books in Readers Digest, Dr. Marcus Bach books, and Methodist church leadership and study books. Also she makes considerable use of nature reference books, although not yet finding one she likes on wild flowers. Perhaps the book she treasures is the Life Magazine “World We Live In”.
She reads regularly the Methodist magazines such as “Together”, “Christian Home”, "Church School”, “Methodist Woman”, and “World Outlook”. She also sees regularly the “Saturday Evening Post”, “Life”, “Camera 35”, Modern Photography, Readers Digest, Popular Mechanics, Kiwanis Magazine, Woman’s Day, and Work Basket.
Dorris told me once that the height of something or other would be to have her writing accepted by the Saturday Evening Post. However, she is quite open to suggestions as to what magazines might accept her topics and style. Chances might be best in one of the Methodist publications, photography magazines, or children’s nature publications.
She has had no formal study of writing. Her work in college freshman English was considered good. She had more trouble there with the short story type of writing than she did with article type.
When offered the job as Hamilton news reporter for the small Keokuk daily paper, she grew interested in journalism and enrolled in a reading course with the Illinois State Library. Later she teamed up that course with one on photography. One of those books was interesting enough that she now owns a copy of “Writing and Selling Feature Articles” by Helen M. Patterson. She meets with a small group called “Creative Writers”. It is sponsored by the American Association of University Women, and led by the English department head of small Carthage college.
For the past nine years, Dorris Wells has been writing news for the Keokuk daily. Some have been feature articles and included her own photos. Many have been credited to her by a “byline”. She is usually bored with writing club notices and the small personals about the Smiths visiting the Jones’s. However, the sparetime home job has been interesting and the extra money has furthered the photography hobby.
She was editor of the small Hamilton weekly paper for nine months. Although she gathered and wrote practically all of that news, she felt tied down for the paper was subservient to the commercial print orders, and the printers were very careless about errors or appearance of the weekly. She does look back with pride to the issue she managed for the town’s centennial.
Currently, in addition to the news sent to the Keokuk daily, she writes a column about Hamilton for the Hancock County Journal, the excellent weekly put out at the county seat. She finds that fun, for the editor encourages individuality in both content and style. Thus you see, she has had things published--by news papers, but not by magazines.
Mrs. Wells is primarily a homemaker, though her husband sometimes disagrees, when the house becomes too dusty and cluttered. Even when she was local editor, the job shared time with cooking, dishes, children, and laundry.
Her husband is 18 years older than she. Just think, he graduated from Germantown Pa. high school the June before she was born. He is an electrical engineer with Union Electric. He expects to be requested to retire when he reaches age 65 in three years from now. That will mean that his salary of now will be drastically reduced. They have been so busy raising a family of five children, and sending them to college, that a retirement nest egg has not been built up. In fact, the youngest will just be graduating from high school and looking toward college the same month his dad is scheduled to retire! Since she is so much younger than her husband, it would work out wonderfully if she could make a substantial amount with her writing. She would be with her husband. The extra funds could allow more travel to visit the scattered children. And those extra trips, in turn, could provide more material for writing.
Perhaps Dorris Wells would be a better housekeeper, if she had fewer hobbies. Hobbies include stamp collecting, clipping poems, pictures, and short articles for scrap books, rocks, wild flowers, birds, rock garden and flowers, trees, insects, small wild animal and reptile life, knitting, letter writing, neighborhood children, and photography. Her 35 mm color slides tend to weave all the other hobbies together into one.
Astrology: Means nothing to me. I concede a remote possibility that the same conditions that control the stars and planets (namely God) also controls humans; but I doubt that we have any basis for fortune telling or predicting our futures by reference to the position of the stars and planets.
Amos and Andy: That was a dandy radio program. It lost it’s best quality when transferred to TV. All of a sudden I wonder if my reaction to Amos and Andy is supposed to show racial bias or lack. I think that is silly to try to any one piece of literature, or and one actor or program to a whole race of people. People are people. No one race or nation has a monopoly on either the best of the worst.
James Branch Cabell: I’ve not read his books. I would resent being called a prude. But at the same time, I resent the cheapen, often vulgar presentation of some of the nobler aspects of life--of which sex and the marriage relationship is one. And yet he may have been needed to help literature back from a false world of angelic heros and heroines.
Marilyn Monroe: Being a woman myself, Marilyn Monroe and other sexy movie actresses nauseate me. To many movies, TV programs and advertisements are overemphasizing physical, beauty and sex, thus helping to swell the divorce courts.
Hitler: It is appalling the holocaust that can be stirred up with the leadership of one such fanatic. Could the thinking, God-loving, God-fearing people make as great a mark for good if we went into it so whole-heartedly?
Clark Gable: Not much reaction here. A few movie stars bring a response primarily because of the outstanding movie they appeared in.
National Defense: Let us keep working on better and better means of defense (Nike sites, Sac, etc.), but lets stop boasting about these defenses if they are not actually on an operational footing. Back in the 1930’s I read about the elaborate setup which would immediately convert industry to a war footing in time of need, but when war came it seemed that those Mobilization Day setups were basically pipe-dreams! We must be realistic about possibilities of atomic war---but not so scared we fail to live each day to its fullest.
Harold Bell Wright: Ah, the good old lazy high school summers, when I devoured every book he ever wrote! Especially “Shepherd of the Hills” and Winning of Barbara Worth.
H.L. Mencken: Perhaps, indirectly he influenced my thinking, giving a certain stamp of approval to my youthful questioning of the status-quo.
This, then, is the attempt to explain something of the type of person Dorris Wells is. As a child and adolescent, she was very much of an introvert. Although outwardly more mature and settled than her school mates, I fear it took her longer to mature emotionally. She likes to think she is intelligent, yet has had occasion several times recently to laugh at herself for smugly smug ideas which she suddenly discovered were not quite so cut-and-dried afterall!
Numerous phases of her life might have material for writings.
1. Her marriage, with the problems and advantages of marrying an older man. The accompanying problem: in what generation does she live and find friends. The happy side of the step-mother situation.
2. How world-mindness came to the Mid-west. (with her pen-pal experiences and her daughters church camp and college experiences.)
3. Religion, with her varied background and the Methodist work.
4. Her childhood of many contacts with bachelor farm relatives--wonderful individualists.
5. Her long years of living and exploring this part of the Mississippi river.
6. Her work as small newspaper correspondent.
...appreciate it more and more as the years pass.
Dorris will always be writing, or planning to write, for she has so many thoughts and ideas she wants to share with someone--children, or friends, or others. And of course there are so many pleasant uses for money! One hard part of writing for her will be to establish a time and routine for writing, while still tending to her many other family, neighborhood, church, newspaper, and other responsibilities.
..and two more boys) are Dorris’s pride and joy. They all did well scholastically and otherwise in school. Both she and Mr. Wells feel the five children have had a far more normal childhood than had either of their parents. Three of the children are now married, Happily. The older boys have children who seem to love Grandma Wells as she loves them. However they live in South Dakota and California, so visits are infrequent.
Financially, Mrs. Wells’s life as a child was catch-as-catch-can. Since her marriage her husband has had a steady salary, although they felt the pinch of providing essentials for growing children while maintaining protection of various types of insurance. It has never been a family of two cars, summer cottages, motor boats. But there has been sturdy clothing, substantial food, good magazines, an encyclopedia set, Boy Scout or church camping, and music instruments.
Projects she has attempted in the past have produced no remembered failures. Some projects she has been quietly proud of. Others are not exactly successes, but have been quite worthwhile.
Obesity is the nearest thing to physical deformity she has. Her health is good except for that. Perhaps that fatness is her greatest problem, and it must be corrected. She had major surgery, hysterectomy, in Dec. 1957. There was cancer, caught remarkable early, according to the doctor. She seems to have made good recovery from that.
Perhaps there is a nagging fear of more cancer before she can control her weight and bring it down. Other than that her only other fears for her own person are that old age, when it comes, might affect her mentally so that she is unpleasant to be near. Other things she might fear, she leaves to her trust in God to take care of when the need arises.
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