The night was full of lightning and thunder on August 5, 1920, when Marguerite Etta Boettcher, 22 years old, lay in her Guckeen, Minnesota bed after giving birth to Genevieve Fernetta, her first child.

Etta knew she was dying. She stipulated that the baby was not to be left in the care of Etta's own mother, Clara Fondry Boettcher. Instead, the baby was to be reared by Lydia Weber Gust, Etta's mother-in-law.

Etta died five days later, the result of an infection from a retained placenta, a condition that was allowed to exist unchecked in spite of the presence of two physicians at the birth. The script and stage were set for the rest of Genevieve's life--a play in which nothing ever turned out quite the way it should.

Besides a few photographs, Etta's confirmation ring, a set of silver spoons engraved with her name, and a window dedicated to her in the Lutheran Church in Blue Earth, little but whispers recall Etta. Because she died too soon, I know her only from third-hand memories and intuition as I study her photographs.

Etta's familyNobody has much to say about Etta's family. Etta's mother and Etta's grandmother, conversed in German, so they weren't too far off the boat from Europe. They were farmers, of course; that's what everybody was in southern Minnesota then (and now, too, for that matter). Even though the women tended to be short-waisted, the family was apparently sufficiently long on means for fine clothes and portraits. Here they are, left-to-right:

Back row: Etta's parents-Clara and Ludwig (Black Boettcher).
Front row: Etta's sister-Adelaide, Grandma, Etta.

Etta is about 11 years old in this picture. Some observers say she resembles Genevieve.

Etta's confirmation pictureEtta's confirmation photograph shows a long-armed, short-waisted girl wearing a ruby-and-pearl ring.

The ring resides in my fire-proof safe.

Etta's confirmation ring

Etta's long arms and short waist live on in Genevieve. Her short waist and overbite live on in me. My sister, Becky, has Etta's overbite and her silverware. We all got her big nose.