When she was 9 years old my mother's mother was sold into slavery by her parents not for money but for the implied promise that their daughter at least wouldn't starve.
My grandmother Florence Fey was born in 1896 in Taylor, an affluent suburb of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Her father was Pierre Lubignac, a wealthy French businessman who emigrated from Paris to Canada in the late 19th century, and from Canada to the United States where he settled with his wife Virginia in Taylor and where he became a joint owner with two other men of a silk mill, probably the Victoria Silk Mill.
Pierre, Virgina, and their six children lived in a palacial home with five servants, a Saint Bernard, and a fish pond on the grounds. Pierre was a profligate spender, showering his wife and children with gifts and regularly replacing the home decor with the best and newest of everything. It was a household of privilege and plenty.
But the talent that Pierre Lubignac had for spending money he lacked in running a business.
I don't know the exact details of how he went bankrupt: either the business was mismanaged and run into the ground, or he was fleeced by his two co-owners, or there was some other disastrous event or series of events; in any case, he lost everything and his family, once rich, became destitute.
It would have been around 1905 when one of the Lubignac's former maids desired to enter the convent, but the woman's mother refused to let her go. Her mother, a hard woman whose name was Nanny Stanton, was a widow raising the four children of her other daughter who'd recently died in childbirth. Nanny Stanton would not allow this daughter to leave home because she needed her help with the childcare and endless household chores.
I don't know exactly how it came about, but it came about that Nanny Stanton's daughter was finally permitted by her mother to enter the convent because she'd found a replacement for herself at home: little Florence Lubignac.
Nor is it clear why my grandmother was chosen over her older sister; but Florence, a pretty, happy child with wide brown eyes and a gentle disposition was the one the Stanton women chose.
My grandmother cried, begged, and clung to her grieving mother as she was handed over to Nanny Stanton; but giving up Florence would mean one less child for the struggling Lubignacs to feed and shelter, one child who would be provided for, however meager the provisions.
Once in a while Florence received a visit from her family - she recalled her father once bringing her some clothes and a coat - but eventually the family fled Taylor for somewhere in Kentucky and Pierre Lubignac changed his name, probably to give the slip to his creditors. Florence never again saw her family, though she later learned that her mother fell into a severe depression and spent several years in a mental institution.
So my grandmother, once loved and pampered, was plunged at 9 years old into a life of hard servitude. She was required to take care of the needs of the other children, do the laundry and hang it outside even in freezing weather, cook and scrub floors. She was allowed not one non-essential possession. Once Nanny Stanton caught her trying to curl her hair with a nail and took the nail from her. She was given what was left of the food after the others had eaten, and if there was some treat for the family it was not shared with her.
It must be remembered that back in those days there were no child welfare or protection agencies; my grandmother was given to Nanny Stanton without any legal transaction or intervention on her behalf; she had no guardian; there was no record. According to my mother, the teller of my grandmother's story, "Back then children could be passed around like playing cards." As was my grandmother.
When she was 17 my grandmother was sent out to get a job and was required to turn over every penny she earned to Nanny Stanton.
But there was a young man from a wealthy family who became smitten with the young working girl and she with him. They wanted to marry but Nanny Stanton's heavy handed intimidation kept them apart. "He's too rich for you," she scolded my grandmother.
But in truth there was another man, a relative of Nanny Stanton's, who had his eye on pretty Florence Lubignac. He'd seen the family's docile, obedient servant girl and decided he wanted her.
And so my grandmother was given to Nick Fey.
To be continued...