By Marion Anderson “Mimi” Spear
When I first saw this diary of a honeymoon it was tucked under a pile of clothing in a chest of drawers in my mother’s house. This was soon after her death. At first I believed I had run across a well-remembered book of amusing stories about the Anderson children that my mother used to read to us from time to time, much as many families turn to old picture albums to revive and enjoy old memories.
After I had turned the book around and discovered page after page in my father’s hard-to-read handwriting, I realized that something none of us knew about had fallen into my hands. Later that year my brother John and I spent painstaking hours transcribing the material. It moved ahead so slowly that I, at least, failed to grasp what a priceless piece of early family history had been discovered. Only after Hilbert Campbell’s careful study of the material and his time-consuming research into each facet of the story as it unfolded in the diary was I struck by the sadness of this idyll of young love portrayed in a 1904 honeymoon that marked the beginning of a marriage that probably never should have happened.
But it did. And that is why my bothers Bob and John, and I reaped the reward and some of the pain of being part of a divided household like no other, yet one from which we derived much of our outlook on life. From Cornelia, who took over the support and rearing of us three children, we grew to know the value of reading, self-reliance, integrity, and the belief that life can be fun, even when you are poor and part of an unconventional household. Actually we were not conscious of how terribly poor we were, but believe me, we were. No one we knew lived as we did with a mother who taught school for many years at pittance wages, and who had a father in absentia who wrote books. Sherwood visited occasionally in the company of his second wife, Tennessee Mitchell Anderson, who early on became one of our favorite adults. Everyone knows the story of my father’s many marriages, and, in each case, the new stepmother turned out to be a person we came to like and admire.
Cornelia was once described by a country woman friend of the family as “very close mouthed.” No one could have said it better. She never discussed her married life with us children, nor with scarcely anyone else as far as I know. Her only comment was “Your father always married first class women.”
Being the youngest, I do not remember living in a household where my father was present. The split in the marriage occurred not long after I came into the world so I have no memories of being with my father except when he visited our house during my childhood, on a trip abroad when I was about 16 during which I saw little of him as I was in boarding school, and later when, as a young woman, I visited at his home in Virginia.
There have been times when I felt some bitterness. This happened after I was grown and had a clearer perspective on my growing up years. I counted myself cheated by not having experienced the good values that come with growing up under the tutelage of a father as well as a mother. When one of these “attacks” hits home strongly enough, I take down one of Sherwood’s books from my library shelves. In these pages I find the values that have become mine, and I am always reminded of what a lucky life I have lived.
One way or another, I think the Anderson children grew up strongly influenced both by our mother’s courage and strong intellectual approach to life and by Sherwood’s pioneering in the thinking of his times, plus his strong affection for and identification with people who are exactly what they purport to be — no more, no less — simply genuine men and women.
This spring of 1991 marks 50 years since the death of Sherwood Anderson at the age of 65, much too soon for a man who loved life and its adventures as he did. I can only believe that had he lived longer we might have come to be much closer friends. Cornelia lived for many years in a tiny house we built next to ours until only a few days before her 90th birthday. During those final years when we had her close to us, she became more than my mother, in truth the best friend I ever had.