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3 Igrew up in a small, exclusive neighborhood of impressive homes with ­ magnolia-, ­ jasmine-, and ­ rose-­ filled gardens. The several families who had built these fine homes and gardens owned stock in the same companies, belonged to the same clubs, sent their children to the same schools, and attended the same church (institutions that ­ were segregated in those days). The presumption that long and enduring friendships would blossom among the beneficiaries of this elite segment of society was in my case never justified. In the de­ cades between two world wars, children—especially young women—seldom disappointed parental expectations, however often they might have wished to bolt imposed boundaries. My ­ long-­ suppressed rebellious spirit came close to volcanic eruption in Houston during 1936, my first year after college. Well-­ intentioned and loyal friends of my parents gave endless lunches, dinners, and dances, for I was considered a proper debutante in my Pa­ ri­ sian haute couture wardrobe. Not so. I had done nothing to merit the attention of kind hosts. I saw myself as a wild, ChaptER 1 Twin Vows 4 New Harmony, indiana alien creature who had been forcefully herded down from her native habitat into a glittering show ring and ordered to go through prescribed paces. I searched in vain for some loose planks in my imaginary enclosure but found none. Nor was there an acceptable exit from societal expectations after my engagement to Kenneth Dale Owen, the estimable man who would be my husband for ­ sixty-­ one years. My future role as an active member of Houston society and a promoter of good causes cast its long shadow­before me. My family background and education together with Kenneth’s own impeccable credentials would place me in a position of leadership in the energy and oil capital of the world. Would I take a bold leap over my enclosure, embarrass the people I loved, break my legs, and smash my foolish face in the doing? Happily, and I believe by the grace of God, I didn’t have to kick over the traces. A way out of confining expectations presented itself shortly after my marriage in July 1941 and opened the way for a second marriage. From my perspective today, I firmly believe that every first marriage can be preserved if a ce­ re­ bral and spiritual marriage follows. The rumblings of discontent in our hearts can lead either to strained relationships and divorces or to ­ life-­ enhancing breakthroughs. It is unwise to expect happiness solely from another person. Other women have saved their marriages by taking a law degree, answering a call to the ministry, or cultivating an undeveloped talent. Had anyone predicted that a sleepy, dusty little Indiana town would be my threshold to a higher consciousness, I would not have believed it. But something did happen in that unlikely place to redirect my life. That something began with a stopover in New Harmony one hot­ August day in 1941, three weeks after our wedding at Ste. Anne, my family’s summer place in Ontario. As we ­ were driving from Canada to Texas, Kenneth wanted me to see the town of his birth before pushing on to Houston. I had, of course, consented but not with enthusiasm. I had heard about my husband’s illustrious ancestors and had read Frank Podmore’s life of Robert Owen with my father before I met Kenneth. Daddy admired Owen for his factory and child labor reforms and initiated similar social benefits and an employee stock own­ ership plan for the Humble Oil Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Dale Owen. Blaffer-Owen family photograph. Blaffer sisters “Titi” (Cecil), Jane, and Joyce. Blaffer-Owen family photograph. 6 New Harmony, indiana Company that he helped found. For me, the legacy of Robert Owen and his fellow passengers on “The Boatload of Knowledge” existed chiefly in history books and biographies. Our car pulled up before an unusual ­ house known as the David Dale Owen Laboratory, which I soon learned had been built in 1859 (4 on town map on back endpaper). David Dale Owen was a geologist.1 David’s elder brother Robert Dale, who was an early trustee of the Smithsonian, had chosen James Renwick Jr. as the architect for that institution, America’s first castle of science and first national museum. David Dale had worked and taught in three laboratories before building this one: the Harmonist Community House No. 3 and the Harmonist shoe factory (both long gone from town), followed by...


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