EmmaEmma-Lindsay's Magic Wand

A personal view of Emma-Lindsay Squier

by Aileen Block

   

Since my fairy-tale days, a glowing picture of Emma-Lindsay has stuck in my imagination. I can picture her in her cradle, surrounded & blessed by Good Spirits who endowed her with all the gifts within their power: beauty, intelligence, a loving nature, imagination, talent in many forms, energy, determination, generosity, courage, & most dazzling of all, an incomparable zest for life. Of course, they had to let her keep a few very human traits too. Along with determination came stubbornness, with her loving nature came a hot temper, & with courage came recklessness. And with her love of life came an early death.

From the time I could understand words, "Aunt Emma-Lindsay" was a part of my life. Her books & personality were in the air I breathed, even though she was always in New York, or Peru, or Mexico, or at her home in San Diego, a thousand miles away or more. Letters came bearing strange stamps, & there were magazines with brightly illustrated stories that I was not yet able to read. Packages arrived containing souvenirs of the many places she & her husband, John Bransby, had visited.

Mother's stories about her charmed me so thoroughly that I decided very early that I wanted to have a life exactly like Emma-Lindsay's -- lots of romantic travel and story-writing. I should explain that she was Mother's aunt, though she was only four years older. The two of them -- Miriam Seley & Emma-Lindsay Squier, were as close as sisters. Emma-Lindsay had been a genuine Child Prodigy. From the age of four, accompanied by her mother, she had toured the country on the Chautauqua circuit, performing dramatic recitations. After a few years, she settled down to reclaiming her lost childhood, finishing her education & preparing for her grown-up life as an author.

She was always "Auntie" to us, though we seldom saw her. On one family trip to Southern California, my brother & I, both very young, were able to spend a little time with her -- then she whisked Mother off for great days of adventure in the San Diego country while my brother & I were looked after by friends of Auntie's. Nevertheless, the impression she left with us was of warmth, beauty & bright colors, a lively sense of fun, & an enveloping love. I was under her spell, as were many of the people she knew.

Another visit took place at our home -- a very modest log house in the Southern Oregon woods -- while Emma-Lindsay was en route from Seattle to Peru. There were days of story-telling, & an evening of dancing. Word went out over the sparsely populated area that there'd be a party at our place. The old-timers -- homesteaders like us -- came from miles around. We pushed the furniture back against the wall, & good old-fashioned square dancing went on almost until dawn. My father played the fiddle, Mother "spelled" him at the piano, & Aunt Emma-Lindsay was treated like the celebrity she truly was. When the rest of the community had all left, she collapsed by the fireplace & sighed, "Let me die this minute. I 'll never be happier than I am right now!"

She was much like a Fairy Godmother to us. It seemed that all she had to do was wave her magic wand, & something wonderful would happen. But not always. There came a time when my father and mother were planning to move our family to Berkeley, where my father would be teaching. Emma-Lindsay assumed that, as a faculty wife, Mother would need lovely clothing. I'll never forget the day when a large package arrived, & a gleaming blue-&-silver brocade ball-gown arose from the rustling tissue-paper. Silver ruffles at neck & hem, & a pair of perfect pumps -- also blue & silver -- completed the most elegant Cinderella outfit I've ever seen. This, when our folks could barely afford to keep us children in shoes, was just too much. Mother cried, then tried on the wonderful gown, & looked so beautiful that we just gazed in wonder. Then she took it off, folded it up again, & never wore it. Only a short time later, my father & brother died in a fishing accident. There would be no Cinderella parties. Not ever. There were some things even Auntie's magic wand couldn't do.

As time went on, the Depression deepened, & circumstances were bleak for us. Mother's bank account was wiped out, & we were left with few resources. She was now trying to run a small grocery store & gas-&-oil station, as well as some tourist cabins, for which she had to do all the laundry by hand. Auntie was so shocked to find out about this that she had things sent to us -- a washing machine, a mangle, & other practical items that were sorely needed. Then, under Mother's orders not to send anything more, except occasional gifts for me, she started sending me books & clothing. There were many letters, keeping us close to her even when she was far away.

Mother married again, & two little brothers came along. Auntie sent things to them, too, for a while -- then she became too ill to do anything but fight for her life. Books continued coming, as she'd subscribed to a Junior book club for me -- but we were aware that she was not going to get well. Even after her death in 1941, she was still very much a part of our lives. I kept the books she sent to me, as well as copies of some of the ones she had written. And I had lovely dresses that were altered for me to wear after she no longer needed them.

We lost track of Emma-Lindsay's husband, John Bransby, for many years. I was fortunate to locate him again, in 1980, through a strange coincidence -- I have no doubt that Emma-Lindsay's magic wand had been waved again. The discoveries that were to follow added a new dimension to my life. John told me a great deal about their years & travels together, as well as sending me his collection of her magazine stories -- he didn't have them all, but there were more than I'd ever dreamed existed -- & also gave me many photographs of her. He sent an oil portrait of her that had been painted by a well-known California artist. He added a large stack of saved letters that he had written to relatives while he & Emma-Lindsay were traveling, & some that she had written too. All of these gifts gave me a chance to get acquainted with her in a new way: the Auntie who had been a rather amorphous, shining cloud of memory & impression suddenly became a living, breathing, fun-loving person.

She wasn't a saint -- in fact, she was very human, had outbursts of temper, & didn't always make good choices. It's comforting to know that, as it makes her much more real. My early dreams of having a life "just like hers" weren't realized -- in fact, my history has been very different indeed. But she's still a vibrant part of my life, and I am enriched & blessed, & still under her spell.

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