Drusilla Eugenie Halderman is the name Charles Halderman wrote in his Bible to record my mother’s birth in Bisbee, Arizona, on July 13, 1920, as though she were the eighth child born to him and his wife, Minnie. In fact, Drusilla’s mother was Emma Halderman, Minnie and Charles’ daughter. Emma was nineteen years old and unmarried. Minnie and Charles moved from Bisbee with their family following Drusilla’s birth. Little is known of their decision to relocate, the facts having gone to the graves of the keepers.
Settling in Tulare, California, the Haldermans opened a new chapter in the family narrative, a curious mixture of fiction and non-fiction, managed by Minnie. Life before California was little, if ever, discussed. Drusilla grew up with the understanding that Minnie was her mother and Emma, her sister. Minnie’s fiction left Emma, a beautiful young flapper, free to entertain the attentions of the young men who pursued her.
Charles “operated a dairy in… [Tulare] for seven years,” stated an obituary published in The Fresno Daily Morning Republican on October 21, 1930. According to the obituary, Charles died at age 56 while “visiting a brother in Arizona.”
Emma married Albert Irwin on January 2, 1926. Sometime in 1936, Emma told Drusilla the truth of their relationship and of their (Albert’s and Emma’s) plan to adopt her. The decision to adopt Drusilla required Minnie’s and Charles’ consent for which Emma asked in letters to each of her parents in August 1936. Minnie gave her consent in a letter from Greenville, California, dated August 7, 1936. Charles consented, but his letter, dated August 10, 1936 and postmarked Courtland, Arizona, calls into question the validity of his 1930 obituary.
With her parents’ consents, Emma engaged M. C. Kerr, an attorney in Quincy, California, to proceed with the adoption. A letter dated September 10, 1936, from Kerr to Emma, enclosed a copy of the petition for adoption along with copies of the relinquishments for Minnie’s and Charles’ signatures. Kerr’s letter requested a payment of $10.00 to cover the petition filing fee and other “necessary cash fees.” In the depths of the Great Depression, $10.00 may as well have been $10,000. The adoption was never finalized.
“Their intention is as good as fact for me,” my mother said.
A fiction invented to shield an unwed daughter with a child as well as one’s family from social stigma and embarrassment may be justifiable, potential emotional and psychological damage to the child notwithstanding. The pressure of the social mores of the time may have compelled Minnie to publish a false obituary to veil her separation from Charles thereby ensuring her respectability as a “widow.”
“’That crazy old lady!’ That’s how Albert described Minnie,” Mom said. “And, he’d usually add, ‘She couldn’t tell the truth if she had to.’”