198. One Cool Chick

This is the 97th birthday of my amazing Aunt Mary. As the last living member of our father’s generation, my sister Joan, brother Leo, and I keep hoping we’ve inherited some of her genes.  I wish we could clone her in order to propagate her DNA, and keep her around permanently.

Mary Florence Gorman Rawson was born in Plato, Iowa on March 23, 1914.

She was the 8th child born to my grandparents, James Michael Gorman and Elizabeth Yedlik Gorman.

The year Mary was born, World War I began, The Federal Reserve Bank of the United States opened, and the Ford Motor Company announced an 8-hour working day, paid at a minimum of $5 per day.

If my aunt were to have a personal logo, she might share it with this chick. About the time Mary was born, the chick appeared as a logo for a new cleaning product which came on the market.  (It’s still available today as an earth-friendly cleanser.)  As I tell you about Mary, I hope you’ll figure out what she and this little creature oddly have in common.



Mary’s early childhood years were spent on my grandfather’s farm – 320 acres in Cedar County, Iowa. Besides general farming, he raised Duroc Jersey hogs and short-horn cattle. Our grandmother and all the kids worked hard on the farm, as was the custom among Iowan farm families.


This is the farmhouse in Tipton, Iowa.




The Gorman Gravel Pit was located on one corner of the farm.



The family acquired two Ford Model T cars, but they still continued to use a horse and buggy for most of their transportation.


As one of those childhood memories she can’t forget, Mary remembers how hard the work was.  Our grandmother, Elizabeth, would lead the way through the field as she and the kids worked.  Mary remembers one day when she followed a trail of blood down a row in a field of oats. Grandma was suffering one of her miscarriages.  And she painfully remembers how Grandma buried the remains in the field and went on working.

Mary attended school completing 8th grade at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Tipton, Iowa.  The Great Depression commenced when she was about 15 years old, and during the economic disaster which followed, her family lost their farmland and along with it, their livelihood. We can only imagine the desperation a large family without income faced in those bleak times.

All the kids worked as soon as they were able.  One of Mary’s first jobs was at a dry goods store.  She made $5 per week. She gave Grandma $3 each week and kept $2 for herself. It was while working there that my Aunt Elsie asked her to go to Ross Ice Cream shop one day in order to buy some ice cream; and it was there that she met Leslie Rawson.



Following a bumpy courtship, Leslie and Mary were married in Dubuque, Iowa on May 18, 1934.  Leslie had been briefly married before, and in spite of the brevity and circumstances of his prior marriage, our strict Irish parish priest wouldn’t marry them in the Church, or baptize any of the children they were to have.

Their first home was a tent in a field.  Later, Leslie built their first house.  While he was at work, Mary dug the footings for the house.  And did the farm chores, tended the chickens, delivered and cared for her babies.

Leslie and Mary had three children: Jimmy, Beverly, and Patty.  They were married for 58 years before Leslie’s death from a stroke and kidney failure.

Besides her one stillborn child, all of Mary’s children died while young.  Jimmy grew up to be a brilliant and successful inventor and engineer, but he took his own life by gunshot when he was 47 years old.  Their youngest daughter Patty, 20 years old, died of a brain tumor, following 14 months in a coma.  Their daughter Beverly died of cancer a few years ago.  Only Mary’s two granddaughters remain among the living – Karen and Catherine.

Today, Mary – at 97 years old – still lives alone in her own apartment, but she is slowed down somewhat by her treatments for dialysis. She also suffers from macular degeneration so her vision is not the best. In spite of these inconveniences, however, Mary is as lively, full of fun, feminine, soft and gentle, as she’s been all her life.

But don’t let that unruffled, kindly exterior fool you.  She may be small in stature, but you’re looking at one tough lady.  Life hasn’t been kind to her, but Mary has faced every hardship, disaster, and heartbreak that came her way with an inner strength and grace that will awe us forevermore.

Now to explain why my Aunt Mary reminds me of a chicken – the Bon Ami baby chick to be specific.  The Bon Ami chick’s slogan was – and still is – “Hasn’t scratched yet”.  The product is tough, practical, effective, and hard-working – but it’s nonetheless soft and gentle.

It seems to describe my Aunt Mary perfectly.  She too is tough, practical, effective, hard-working, soft and gentle.  And, hey, she’s going on 100, but she hasn’t scratched yet either.  She’s a cool chick!

Happy birthday, Mary!  Time to party!

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5 Responses to 198. One Cool Chick

  1. Joan Fitzpatrick says:

    I loved to go to her house when she was freezing corn. She went out into the field and shucked the corn right on the stalk. She cut the corn off the cob, and par boiled in boiling water, and then put it in plastic bags. What was left on the cob was delicious. Is was so sweet.

    Mary is a wonderful cook. Her Chicken and Dumplings are to die for. She made it from her own capons. She sold all her produce at the Farmer’s Market in Bohemie Town.

    I miss not being near her in Cedar Rapids. I loved to listen to her stories of the old days. She was so bashful when she was little. In fact she still does always want to be in the background when she is in a group.

    Happy Birthday Mary !!!!! GO OUT AND PAINT THE TOWN RED !!!

    I love you.

  2. Chris says:

    Last summer Mary was at a family reunion in Cedar Rapids that included many of my parents contemporaries. After the event my dad asked a group of us who had made an impression on us. Interestingly, Mary was on each list! She moved more gracefully than those 10-20-30-even 40 years younger, and continued to show that quiet cheerful spirit I remembered from years ago. I can only hope to be as fit both physically and mentally as I age (which appears to be happening much more quickly than I anticipated!)

    We saw Mary frequently as we grew up, and then as adults she continued to be a part of many of our family gatherings. I remember fondly an anecdote involving René ‘s son, Joshua. He was quite young, maybe 5ish and had visited with his Great Aunt Mary quite often and regularly. One day he asked his mom when he would see his ‘Bestest Aunt’. Joshua sure captured her essence with that descriptor – Mary is the ‘Bestest’

  3. Gretchen Covey says:

    Happy Birthday, Great Aunt Mary!

    I’m so glad to hear your inspiring encouraging life stories. They bring hope and encouragement to my journey. Mom, thank you for these blogs! I’m learning so much about my heritage. Where did you get those incredible pictures of Mary’s upbringing?! You are AMAZING, Mom.

  4. Cathy Coffman says:

    I’m Mary’s granddaughter, Catherine. Mary passed away yesterday on 4/28/12. She had four bouts of pneumonia since Jan 2012 and unfortunately they took their toll on her. The dialysis also was not working like it was. She spent the last week at the Dennis and Donna Oldorf Hospice House in Hiawatha, IA. She will be greatly missed by her family. Thank you for writing such a great blog about her. I really enjoyed reading it.

  5. Pingback: True Blue « YesterYear Once More

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