Maude and Ellis were married the weekend after Maude’s high school graduation. Ellis left school a couple of years earlier, having learned everything he needed to know, and worked full-time on the family farm. Maude went to work as a full-time farm wife.
They did all the normal things – joined the Baptist church and sponsored local kids at the county stock shows. Ellis wasn’t going to get rich, but they were as well off as most of their neighbors. Maude wasn’t ever going to be a fashion plate or be asked to join the Ladies Garden Club, but she was treasurer of the local chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star.
They were happy and when Ellis died in ’48, Maude leased the farm land out to a nephew and moved into town. She was at a bit of a loss for what to do with her time. The war effort was winding down and she wasn’t the least bit interested in volunteering at the local hospital (blood made her puke) or the primary school (children made her itch). A friend invited her to a Thursday night canasta game as a way of introducing to new friends.
Maude took to canasta like nothing she’d ever done before. She and her friend, Minerva Marie Freeman began to enter canasta tournaments whenever they could find them in surrounding cities. One weekend, while Maude was on a roll through the final rounds of the Woodmen of the World bi-annual tourney in Wichita Falls, Minerva Marie picked up a flyer for a Canasta Cruise on a river boat leaving from New Orleans the next month.
As soon as she mentioned it to Maude, it was agreed that they would take the summer’s earnings from the Farmer’s Market and finance the trip.
Maude came in third in the on-board tournament and the ladies were hooked. Maude went pro and Minerva Marie became her agent and promoter. She booked trips to canasta conventions and championships all around the country and even got Foster’s Ford Dealership and Skating Rink to act as Maude’s sponsor.
The two women went on to become legends on the canasta circuit, and were invited to headline a tournament at The Sands in Las Vegas not long after the casino opened. After their first Vegas experience, they decided it was the only place to be for a dedicated canasta professional, so they packed their bags and left Flat Mound behind in favor of a permanent move to the Nevada desert.
Maude got a job giving canasta lessons at a small, family-owned casino in Laughlin, Nevada. Minerva Maria thought family-owned meant a nice little Italian family ran the business as a means of putting the kids through college. Maude never corrected her.
The ladies enjoyed a bit of the high life for many years in Laughlin. Upon her death in 1962, Maude’s body was returned to Flat Mound for burial next to her not all that beloved Ellis, amid a dearth of fanfare.
Thanks to Mindy for giving me the word canasta!