Monday, September 27, 2010

Marion Nellermoe

Marion Holst Nellermoe, seen here at my parents' wedding in Little Falls, MN in 1951 with her husband, Platt, seemed very exotic to me.  What I learned later in life, was that she came by it the hard way.

Marion was the daughter of my grandfather's brother and medical partner, Burton Holst.  Born in 1899, she went to the University of Minnesota, where she pledged Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.  When my grandparents married in 1920, Marion was the maid of honor.  Matt Werner, my grandmother's brother, who I've written about earlier, was the best man and Gaga (what we called my grandmother Regina) tried to fix them up but it didn't work.  Matt was destined for Sheboygan and Marion gravitated to the Twin Cities, where she eventually married Platt Nellermoe (also a Minn grad, member of Beta Theta Pi), who became an executive for one of the big grain companies in Minneapolis,

Marion and Platt did not have children.  They lived in a beautiful house in Wayzata, MN on an outlet of Lake Minnetonka.  The grounds flowed down to the water.  My mother told me that she and Platt planted hundreds of gladiolas every spring and dug them up each fall to protect them from the Minnesota winters.  Because they loved gladiolas.

I'm not sure what comes next.  But at some point in the '50's Platt disappeared. He just up and vanished. No forewarning, no word.  Marion might have already been working at the florist shop at this point, but for sure she was working after he left.  It was a large, successful florist shop and she became a very popular designer.  At some point, she wanted to leave and strike out on her own after Platt disappeared because she needed the money, but she had signed a non compete clause with the owner.  So she opened a shop in Wayzata that sold high end tchotchkes.  She named it Marion Nellermoe.  It was quite successful because Marion had an eye for beauty.  She went all over the world collecting initeresting, graceful things for her store.  Marion went to Japan before it became popular, and brought back screens, fans, porcelain and many other unusual trinkets.  Of course, she travelled to Europe as well, but the Far East was her special love, one she enjoyed regaling us about when she would come to visit during Christmas when we lived in Kentucky.  For by that time, she truly was all alone.  Platt had been found 3 years after he disappeared, in Mexico.  He had an undaignosed brain tumor that had completely altered his personality.  He was brought back to Wayzata and Marion nursed him until he died, but he was an invalid and the end wasn't long.

What I remember most about Marion was how she commanded attention with her upbrushed gleaming white hair and imperious presence.  Her fingers were always festooned with huge rings, many of which she had designed herself.  She had a charm bracelet made of a variety of jeweled hearts that she had found on her travels.  And then there was her needlepoint.  She had designers in New York make up the needlepoint designs to her specifications.  She needlepointed the runner that ran from her basement to the first floor and the rugs that were in front of her fireplaces.  She may have been alone, but she was never lonely or not busy.  Once when I was at Macalester, my mother took me to her house and Marion gifted me with a sealskin fur coat that had been hers back in the '30's.  All big shoulders and hanging straight down, almost to my ankles.  It was huge and so very soft.  I wore it with enthusiasm during the cold Minnesota winters and it kept me toasty warm, especially as I walked a lot since I was living off campus at the time.  Here's a picture of me at Macalester in the coat:

Sadly, Marion developed Alzheimer's and the last years of her life were spent in nursing homes.  She died in 1991 and the Marion Nellermoe shop is no more.  But I did find this label from a sweater she sold on the internet:

She was a character and an independent woman who made something of and for herself when it was very difficult.  I admired her then, but even more so looking back.


odp said...

There's something about Marions (as opposed to Marians). My cousin Marion (b. 1888) graduated from Smith in 1910, married her Dartmouth boyfriend, and went off with him to Boston to be a social worker. In my (very conservative) Philadelphia family (this was long before I was born), they were known as the 'parlor pinks.' She was the one who encouraged me to apply to Smith, and I still have one of her letters, with her distinctive large angular handwriting (much easier to decipher from about 3 feet away).

Thanks for jogging my memory.


Anonymous said...

Lovely, Moe. Selves are pretty fragile. A friend of ours was married to a city carrier who once suffered an epileptic seizure and fugued on the job. He drove across several states in his postal vehicle before he turned up in the Midwest somewhere.
It must have been terrible for Marion, not knowing what had happened.