Living with Miss Vivian


The lively discussion at the table halted when my son said, “That was when I lived with Vivian.” The nine-year-old’s eyes popped, “You lived with ..?”

He laughed and explained. “She was 89. I was driving Miss Daisy.”

“Driving Miss Daisy? Was her name Daisy?”

“No, that is the name of a movie where a man is hired to drive an older woman.”

She had never seen the movie. He tried again, “I was her escort. I paid $10 a week to live there. In exchange for the low rent, I drove her out to eat once a week, and she paid for my meal. I drove her to the hair dressers so she could keep her auburn locks.”

Miss Vivian and her second husband rented out apartments to students attending Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. After he died she cut back until she had two bedrooms upstairs that she opened to students for $10 a week with the understanding they would do a little house work and drive her.

Miss Vivian was born in 1910. Her father was one of the earliest to build refrigeration units in his area. He prospered and owned one of the first cars in their town. Sometimes she sang a song to my son from that era, ‘Take off your skin and dance around in your bones. She studied nursing at Northwestern in Chicago and worked there before she married. Usually nurses could not be married.’

My son reflected, “Miss Vivian was very proud of her ability to draw blood. She watched others and learned the techniques. She helped doctors deliver babies including home deliveries.”

“This was the era in Chicago of gangsters like Al Capone. One day Miss Vivian said that some men from a gang came to the hospital to let them know they needed a baby delivered. One of the gangsters’ girlfriends was about to have a baby. So Miss Vivian and the doctor climbed into their vehicle and raced after the gangsters as it drove through the maze of streets and alleys to the house.”

“When they walked in, everyone in the front room had a Tommy gun pointing at Miss Vivian and the doctor. The doctor said, ‘Put them down. We will do our business.’ And they did. Miss Vivian spread newspapers on the table and bed and told the men to get some water boiling. They delivered the baby, cleaned up and returned to the hospital. Later they returned for a routine check-up on the new mother and baby, but no one answered their knock. The house was completely shuttered. The curtains drawn. The door locked. No one was there.”

Miss Vivian continued to work as a nurse after she married until the day her husband gathered up all of her uniforms and burned them in the burning barrel. She never had any children. He was a sheriff and high up in the Democratic party in Chicago. She threw parties for him and the Democrats. He died of a heart attack after some 30 years of marriage. She then worked as a care taker for a married woman. By the time the ailing wife died, Miss Vivian had become part of the family and married the widower.

I lived with Miss Vivian three years. A couple other students lived with her after me. The last time I saw her, she was in a nursing home.” So, no one lives with Miss Vivian anymore, drives her around or listens to her stories of ‘back in the day’ but we all enjoy recalling our stories and memories of her.

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