How many times has one small event set off a series of events that end up changing your life, your country or your world? Can you think of a decision you made that changed the direction of your life?
In the Guion family living in Trumbull, the one event that changed everyone’s life forever was the death of my Grandmother, Arla Mary Peabody Guion. She married Grandpa when she was 18 and he was 29 and they were blessed with five sons and a daughter, but let’s return to the beginning.
My grandfather, Alfred Duryee Guion, left school at the age of 16, after his father had passed away, to go out into the world and earn some money to help support his mother and younger sister. After several positions as a clerk, a stenographer, Private Secretary and positions in advertising, he joined the Century Publishing Company on the Advertising staff of St. Nicholas Magazine. As he writes in his autobiography:
Alfred Duryee Guion @ 1913
Up to this time, I had thought that someday, when the right girl came along, I should probably get married. but during these years, I had never
really fallen in love, perhaps because my standards of what an ideal wife should be were pretty high and I had not met anyone yet to seriously challenge that standard, although the young Peabody girl was frequently in my thoughts.
Arla Peabody as The Virgin Mary
Then one Christmas season the church or Sunday school staged a religious play with the Nativity scene and Arla Peabody was chosen to play the part of the Virgin Mary. She wore a soft white scarf over her head and carried a doll for the Infant Christ. That night as I watched her holding the child with tender contentment and a placid, dreamy look in her soft brown eyes, something inside me suddenly exploded.
I had read about “love at first sight”, but this wasn’t first sight. Here was a girl I had known and seen for several years, but apparently I had not seen her at all. This couldn’t be the same girl! Had I been blind? Here was the most enchanting person anywhere in the world. I didn’t know what had happened to me. I was in a daze. The room was crowded with people I knew but I didn’t see anyone else. I didn’t speak to anyone else. I didn’t dare speak to her: she was too far above me.
Somehow I found my hat and groped my way out the door and on my way home. It may have been cold outside. I didn’t know. All I could think of on my way home was how I could be worthy of even speaking to her. One moment I would be hugging myself at the thought that I knew her and perhaps she would notice me, the next moment I was in the depths of despair knowing that everyone who had ever seen her must have appreciated what I had been too blind to see and that I would stand a poor chance when such a wonderful girl had so many potential husbands to choose from. I prayed to God for help in making her love me. Never in my life, before or since, have I felt so overwhelmed as I did then.
Arla Mary Peabody c. 1911
I knew how St. Paul had felt on the road to Damascus when a bright light transformed him. In a word, quite suddenly, I was head over heels in love with Arla Peabody. She didn’t know it and I was afraid to tell her because she might not reciprocate and then life would just be a blank. The thing to do was to woo her with every wile I could command, fearful all the while that someone else would win her heart first. It was a far from happy time for me and I am afraid I must have seemed a bit strange to all who knew me.
My plan is to post segments of this story every Saturday and Sunday. Material will come from my grandfather’s autobiography, written in 1960 as he traveled around the world at a very leisurely pace on a freighter, the recorded memories of his children and letters of condolence written by their many, many friends after Arla’s death.