My Aunt Florine, another of the key players in my life, was born in April of 1893, just ten months before my father. They were the tag ends of a large Corson family, prominent in Millville, New Jersey, their father a glassblower and politician. I loved to listen to Florine and my father’s stories of an idyllic childhood: running barefoot all summer until the first day of school; driving in the wagon with their father to Fortescue to buy oysters; gasping at the sight of their Christmas tree lit by real candles. They would tell of playing cards from morning until night, moving around the wrap-around porch to follow the sun. Most of the kids in the neighborhood were there, waiting for a turn, so when one had to go home, there was always another to take that seat. Their mother would not allow them to have cards in the house as she considered them the Devil’s Prayer Book, so Florine and my father kept the cards in a metal box which they buried in the yard at night.
Unusual for the time, Florine went to Trenton Normal School, living in a boarding house in that city. She would tell stories of the girls in the house, all of them in their late teens and training to be teachers, and of mealtime together. There was a rhyme she would repeat about beautiful soup of the evening which they sang at the dinner table, and you can imagine my surprise when, by chance, I found it in a book a few years ago and learned that it was written by Lewis Carroll. After the two-year program, Florine returned to teach first grade in Millville for twenty years. She enjoyed teaching, was well-liked by students and parents, and yet she once told me that every day after school she would go home and lie down with a cold cloth on her head because she had a headache. The September she was not returning to school because she was getting married, a little boy appeared on the doorstep saying, “Please, Miss Corson, can’t you stay and be my teacher?”
But there is more to the story of that twenty years than teaching. During this time my aunt was “keeping company’ with Israel Reiner who would not marry her until his mother died because she did not approve of his marrying someone who wasn’t Jewish. Soon after his mother’s death, they did marry, and although Florine wished she had had children, they created a good life. The story is told that when my mother gave birth late in life (at 48), Florine who was three years younger declared, “Maybe there is still hope for me.”
Florine was a just-so person. Her hair was always perfectly set, her nails manicured, her clothes stylish. Her house, with the help of a housekeeper, was always neat and clean, everything in its place. She was a good cook, and I still use a few of her recipes. My favorite is “Blushing Bunny,” a sort of Welsh Rarebit with tomato soup.
Florine was active in her church and devoted to her family: the three sisters and a brother who remained in town. She had a group of friends called The Fortnightly Sisters who met for luncheons, celebrated birthdays, and just generally enjoyed one another’s company.
Is (as everyone called him) was the superintendent of the bleachery in the Millville Manufacturing Company and as an executive with a substantial salary, he and Florine were considered rich in their small town. They owned not only a delightful house but also a wonderful summer home on nearby Union Lake. They had many friends and played cards with couples most Saturday nights.
Sadly, Is died suddenly at 59, while they were hosting a card party on a Saturday night. This ended yet another twenty year period in Florine’s life, but her story was by no means over. (More about Florine in later postings.)
© Dorothy C. Judd
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