By Helen DePuydt
Saco Stories 

Karolina's Role as a Butte Nanny


Karolina’s most recent employment in Butte, Montana, during the early 1900s was turning out satisfactory, each position different from the previous one. Life in Montana was more diverse that she, a Croatian-born young lady, could have ever anticipated. Each position added to her understanding of some facet of this culture.

Karolina opened the ornate handkerchief box which sat on the edge of the dresser in the master bedroom. Mrs. Hellstern, wife of Dr. Hellstern, had instructed her to air out this box upon completion of bedroom cleaning.

An uncontrollable shriek escaped from Karolina’s lips upon seeing the contents. The box held more than lacy, monogrammed handkerchiefs. “Whatever is wrong?” inquired Mrs. Hellstern, panting from the quick trip up the stairway. “Surely, there’s not a mouse in this house?”

“Oh, no, no, but look!” Karolina pointed to a little glass vial which had dropped on the rug. She was visibly shaken as the plump lady picked up the vial and turned it around in the palm of her hand.

Tears were coursing down Mrs. Hellstern’s rough cheeks. Without any encouragement on Karolina’s part, she proceeded to relate a chapter from the Hellstern family history.

At the birth of Marilynn, their blue-eyed baby girl, Dr. Hellstern and his wife were delirious with happiness. What a difference a child had made in their home; frilly little dresses, embroidered sun bonnets, teddy bears, and a music box playing Brahm’s Lullaby added to this new enchantment. Dr. Hellstern, so delighted with the cooing and smiles, appeared to be somewhat reluctant to return to his office. Their lives centered on Marilynn, and now their joy was complete. In their adoring eyes, Marilynn was a heaven-sent little princess with her blond curling hair and blue eyes framed with long lashes. Why her eyes looked like stars in her dear, sweet-smiling face.

Home life seemed like a veritable paradise on earth. Marilynn was nearing her third birthday when the loving eyes of her mother perceived a lethargy so unusual in the vivacious little girl. Her concern was kept in her heart, not wishing to upset her busy husband. It wasn’t long before Dr. Hellstern, with his professionally-trained eye,”took the bull by the horns,” and examined his child at home. He then insisted that Marilynn be taken to his office enabling Dr. Hellstern’s colleague to give their daughter a more thorough exam.

The retelling of this chapter of the Hellstern family proved a bit of an ordeal for the distraught lady. After a pause, she emphasized that the travel and consultation has turned to be an exhausting ordeal. The disease was not named by Mrs. Hellstern, but Karolina guessed by what had been explained that it was a very wasting malady and terminal. The truth had to be faced. It had been an endless search for a cure yet undiscovered.

Although two sons were born to the Hellsterns, there seemed to be no letting go of the memory of Marilynn. The vial, so treasured by Mrs. Hellstern in her handkerchief box, contained a tiny finger of their beloved daughter, Marilynn.

Author's note: "Names are fictitious except Karolina. This early century event is true – Karolina was my mother."

Helen DePuydt is a regular contributor to the Courier and a member of a homesteading family in the Saco area. All of her stories are true.


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