A Foreign Adventure
Mary Elizabeth Werner graduated High School at age 16 but at the height of the Great Depression the family could not afford to send her to college. Some seven years earlier, her older brother Rex had gone to the University of Ohio but for only one semester when the family finances also went dry.
So instead she worked in the family clothing and dry goods store which was less than two blocks away from home. She found that boring and hated the experience. She adroitly managed to shift many responsibilities for dealing with the pesky and annoying customers to her younger sister. Mostly she read and occasionally got to go to the movies.
Her lifelong ambition was to be a teacher and for that credential, she required an education. She finally managed the means and graduated Peru Teacher’s College in 1940 which was all of twenty miles from home.
I guess by that summer, she had saved enough to take a trip to Mexico with several friends who were also smitten with wanderlust and tales of a wider world.
The trip was a formative one. On the tour, the guide would periodically stop and shout to the passengers,
“Now I will show you more mir-ack-els…”
At Cathedrals along the way, the group was divided into Catholic and non-Catholic sections whose guides took separate paths. She always wondered what she wonders she had missed. But of the religious devotion of the people, there could be no doubt. She told of pilgrims prostrating themselves every few feet of a pilgrimage lasting many weary knee-sore miles. She told of stained glass and reliquaries and human skulls.
She took stunning black and white pictures of the desert through a special “yellow” filter.
On arriving in Mexico City, she caught a fleeting glimpse of the exiled King of Romania, Carl II, who had famously run afoul of Nazi ambitions and of his paramour Magda Lupescu. Carl II was rushing headlong into a church and his companion was trailing after him in an elegant purple dress when the tour guide brought the pair to their attention.
And she purchased artwork, one being a clay figure of a strikingly bold impressionistic bull fighter that became a familiar family icon. One friend wanted to remain in Mexico for reasons not discussed and had to be cajoled back to reality and the ride home.
But by that time they had seriously overstayed their budget. Mom once noted wistfully that they had no money left for food for the three day journey on the train back home to Nebraska. All in all, the glorious trip was a coming of age experience since passed into family legend. Where there is a will, there is always a way.
[ From Personal Remembrances of Mary Elizabeth Mruzik nee Werner who graduated high school in Nebraska City, Nebraska, in 1934 ]