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Along about civil war days or shortly thereafter, there lived in Columbia City, Indiana, a drunken hotel keeper by the name of Thomas Cleveland, who married Phoebe Thompson, a sister to the women who married my uncles John and Jesse (see The Arnold Family). His family4 consisted of five fine looking daughters and one son. Just about the time the children were grown, the worthy Thomas walked out on them all and was never heard from again. Knowing Phoebe, I never had the heart to blame him much.
The oldest of the girls, Anna or "Annie" as she was always called, married my Uncle Henry; the second one - a strikingly beautiful woman - was probably named Mary, she going through life as Mollie. Mollie got a job as a school teacher in Van Wert, Ohio, just over the state line from Bluffton. My father may have met her when his brother married her sister or when she came to Van Wert or later - I do not know. All I really know is that, when he did meet here, he fell for her with a bump. I, of course, knew Mollie some years later, when she was in her early forties, and my recollection of her makes my dad falling in love with her thoroughly understandable. She was not only beautiful, she was lovable, a combination that does not always go together.
But when my father got around to proposing, Mollie denied his suit, explaining that she was not yet ready to get married. Father, running strictly true to character, interpreted this to mean that she didn't want to marry him, pursued the even tenor of his way and eventually was attracted by a little Scotch lassie in Bluffton, by the name of Elizabeth (or Lizzie) Johnston. When his new romance had been carried too far to be treated lightly, he received a letter form Mollie, recalling their conversation on the subject of matrimony, and her statement that she was not then ready, and informing him that she had changed her mind, was now ready to get married and, if Jim were still of the same mind as he had been, she would welcome the re-opening of the subject.
There has never been any doubt in my mind where my father's heart directed him, but it was just as characteristic of him as could be to make the decision that he did. He wrote Mollie and told her that he had considered her claim of unreadiness for matrimony to be just her kind-hearted way of refusing him and that he had since carried matters so far in another direction that he did not feel that he could honorably withdraw. Save for this decision, I might have been more Welsh and less Scotch; I might have had a mother of stately beauty, instead of the pretty little dear that I remember; or I may not have happened at all, in which case a hell of a lot of other things would be different, including perhaps some of you.
Shortly after, Mollie transferred the scene of her activities to Marion, Indiana, just a few miles west of Montpelier, where my father was then located, and he used to find his way over there to see her. Soon a handsome young widower, named George Sweetser, appears on the scene, obviously interested in the beautiful Mollie. My father met him, liked him, and checked up on him enough to tell Mollie that, if George Sweetser wanted to marry her, she had better take him. On the strength of this advice, or for other good and sufficient reasons, Mollie encouraged George and during the courtship, my father continued to drive over to Marion occasionally to spend Sunday with her. George seems to have been a pretty decent soul5 himself in his youth, for he always kept in the back-ground and gave "Jim" his day.
What makes this little story really beautiful to me is that, after George and Mollie were married, they and my father remained staunch friends throughout their lives. I am sure that my father's heart never wavered in its devotion to her. Forty years later, long after he had lost his first wife and taken Mollie's younger sister Lettie as his second and Mollie had been left a widow, the following conversation took place - Lettie in turn being near death at the time.
LETTIE: Jim, when I am gone, I think you ought to get married again. You can't get along without a woman to take care of you.
JIM: But Lettie, I don't want to get married again; there is but one woman in the world that I would even think of marrying and I am sure she wouldn't have me.
LETTIE: You mean Mollie, don't you?
JIM: Yes, I do.
LETTIE: Well, it seems to me that Mollie needs a husband just about as much as you will need a wife.
But nothing came of it; they were both nearing seventy by then and I suppose the fiery ardor of youth just wasn't there any more.
41. Anna, who married my father's brother Henry, and was the mother of Charles Arnold, whom you all know. She was a nice looking little woman, very hard of hearing but as full of nervous energy as a coiled spring. Father said she ran more to heart than to head. 2. Mollie, whose tale we here unfold. 3. Augusta, an allowable exception to the term "fine looking" used above. She grew up as an old-maid school teacher and lived with the Sweetsers in Marion. 4. Lettie, (that was the name she was given and not a diminutive), who eventually became my step-mother and appears, here and there, in this tale. 5. Allie, who married one Frank Leonard and lived in North Manchester, Ind. when I was a boy, moving later to Vincennes and still later, I believe to some place I southern Illinois. 6. Henry, the son, who seems to have endeavored (with some success) to prove that alcoholism is hereditary. He married Addie Little in Huntington and finally wound up, via the Keely Cure, in the insane asylum.
5Be it recorded here that George's being a fine man was not restricted to his youth; he was all right all his life, a damned sight better - he and Mollie both - than any of their daughters. (Maybe the Sweetser family will yet get its paragraph, although not blood kin.)
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