Mary Anne Nichols: Growing up in Delaware

October 25, 2010
Mary Anne Nichols, who has moved 21 times, shows off her new book in the porch of her Seaford home. NONE RON MACARTHUR PHOTO

Mary Anne Nichols has worn many hats during her lifetime, but she never thought she would end up an author.

The 75-year-old who has moved 21 times recently self-published the first edition of her memoirs, “A Nichols Worth . . .. Growing up in Delaware.” The first book covers her life growing up in Dover and Wilmington until the age of 18.

“The book was written primarily for my kids because they really never knew their family because we were moving around so much,” she said. “But I’m having a great time with it, and now I want to write everything down, and I only see things funny.”

That’s true, for Mary Anne, the lady with blue hair, was a stand-up comic for 20 years. “I was always the class clown and have a big mouth,” she said. She discovered she could deliver one-liners better than performing comedians, so she decided to give stand-up a shot. It became her vocation for two decades when most people were making retirement plans.

Today, the mother of four and grandmother of three has a passion for politics and still reads Rolling Stone and Mother Earth News. One of her shows was a hit in the Cape Region, as she performed with Brian Jones in an act they called The Plumber and the Old Lady.

Mary Anne said she grew up during a special time after World War II in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It may have been an age of innocence, but she was not always that innocent.

Her father, Daniel Sullivan, who served in both World War II and Korea, was among the second class of Delaware State Police troopers in 1924. In those days, they couldn’t afford cars so troopers patrolled on motorcycles.

He missed six years of her childhood serving in Europe and then in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He also served another two years following the war on an assignment that was even a secret to the family. Mary Anne said the family thought he was searching down Nazis in South America.

Her mother, Mary Hazel, was a special lady who loved fashion and had some atypical views on the world. Her mother rebelled against Santa Claus, for example, and surmised that every child past the age of 3 had already figured out there was no way he could make all those stops in one night. So at the age of 3, Mary Anne was informed about one of the greatest mysteries of childhood.

She has many memories attending Ursuline Academy in Wilmington as an elementary school student where she was one of handful of boarding students who lived at the school.

She returned home to attend high school in Dover. One of the stories in her book deals with her short-lived exploits as a basketball player for Dover High School, where she graduated in 1953. “All the girls on the team smoked like smokestacks. We thought it looked sexy because the big Hollywood movie stars smoked on screen,” she said.

She said they even smoked in the locker room because they knew they intimidated the gym teacher. But when they lit up before an away game at Seaford High School, the bottom fell out. All the girls were kicked off the team, and the girls’ basketball season ended abruptly.

She said while most girls were severely punished by their parents, she had an understanding with her mother. “She told me not to tell my father because he didn’t know that she smoked, too,” she said.

When she was old enough to drive, she figured out a way to disconnect the odometer wire so she could control the mileage being recorded on her parent’s car. “My mother always checked the mileage,” Mary Anne said.

Mary Anne has a love for the printed word. Her first experience with journalism dates back to her school days when she landed a position writing a column under the pen name Teenie in The Dover Index. In her adult life, she would end up a newspaper reporter and editor.

A military wife who lived all over the world, she moved from upstate New York back to Delaware in 2004. “I got tired of the cold and having wet feet all the time. I had enough of the snow,” she said.

The book contains vintage photographs of Delaware dating back to the 1930s, including a rare photograph taken by her mother of a public whipping in Dover.

“I thought it was against the law to photograph the whipping post in use, but mother only abided by the laws she liked,” Mary Anne said.

The book is available at local bookshops and at Lower-Slower Inc. on Main Street in Millsboro, Delaware Made and Forney’s Too on Loockerman Street in Dover, and Modern Maturity on Forrest Avenue in Dover.