By Tina Portelli
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Emily was motherless at the age of three. There was no way that her father
could raise three children on his own without the help of a woman. He
could either hire a nanny or re-marry. His decision was to seek a new
wife, start a new life.
This search would take time, so in the meantime the children were split up
between relatives until Daddy could provide them with a suitable
stepmother. Emily was shipped out to Pennsylvania to live on a farm with
her Mothers sister and husband, who were childless. Jonathan and Rose,
Emily's two siblings, remained in Manhattan living with her Fathers
sister, Aunt Claire. Emily got the tougher deal. While her brother and
sister still got to see their father at least once a week, Emily had to
sometimes wait months for a visit from him. Without seeing her family and
without a phone on the farm, she felt desolate, lonely and abandoned. Her
only consolation was the animals, her favorite being Gertrude the pig. So,
for the start of this young girls life, a pig was her only friend. She
herself became a workhorse for her mean spirited temporary guardians.
It was 1913 and there were many war widows available in New York City
looking for a new mate as well. The father was a music teacher, he would
go from house to house teaching spoiled rich children their piano lessons.
Being quite a good-looking gentleman, when the news circulated that he was
"in the market", and "available" many ears perked up from under those big
flowery Fifth Avenue hats. As he would learn, while many women were
interested in him, they were not interested in his three kids. What
started as a search for a new wife and stepmother became a bachelor tasting
and enjoying life free of responsibilities and very much fun. His
intentions were pure at the beginning, then human nature took over and his
appetite for good times superceded his original goal. Henry had no idea
how this would eventually effect Emily, the damage it would do to their
relationship down the road.
The children would have to wait ten years before they were re-united as a
family. It took him that long to finally settle down and bring the family
together. Going back to that parental routine would not be easy for Henry,
he had gotten used to good times and a free lifestyle. But, he would give
it a try for the sake of the kids, this move long overdue.
Henry met Ruby at one of his assignments. She was the nanny of one of his
students. When the lessons were over, Ruby would invite Henry to stay for
afternoon tea, which led to evening walks and carriage rides. And then to
Ruby was in her late thirties and her charge was approaching an age where
he would soon not need a nanny. She had never been married and no
proposals were coming her way. The prospect of Henry and his three
children was more appealing than the fate of an old spinster.
For Emily, the ten year wait for this family being re-united had been too
long. At thirteen, she had missed the experience of being a little girl,
instead grew from infant to middle age in one big leap. She was happy to
be going home, hoping her life would finally be normal. She had no idea
what was to follow.
Now, back with her father, new stepmother and siblings, her life would
become more difficult than ever. She would never experience being a
teenager either; she was doomed to middle age. She would become the
spinster that Ruby so desperately wanted to avoid.
Jonathan was a year younger than Emily, Rose was a year and a half older.
While having three children in the household, Ruby, a new bride, felt she
wanted a child of her own, a love child from Henry. It was a big event in
the Powell household with the news of a new baby on the way. Ruby was the
perfect mother, doting on her new daughter, yet not neglecting the other
children. She tried very hard not to show favoritism and have them all get
along as one big happy family.
By the time the baby was a year old, Ruby was approaching forty and was
starting to get tired of the workload involved in mothering four children.
She had cared for children all of her life as a Nanny, she had enough.
The thrill was gone. Things had not turned out the way she expected. The
responsibilities were more than she wanted to handle.
Ruby started to get moody, her patience short, she needed a break. When
the novelty of new motherhood wore off, she cleverly shifted much of the
responsibility to Emily. Although Rose was older and would have been the
logical choice to oversee the children, Rose was a sickly frail girl and
needed tending herself.
Ruby and Henry were in a world of their own that didn't include the kids.
At his wife's nagging, they went out dining and dancing, taking short
weekend trips, leaving the family they claimed they so desired leaving
Emily at the helm.
Emily became a surrogate mother to these three children, Jonathan, Rose
and now Betsy the baby. While other girls her age were dating, cultivating
a life of their own, Emily did laundry, cooked and fed the kids, saw to
their needs. She was required to come straight home after school, no
socializing with her friends, the few that she managed to make. It was homework first, and as
dinnertime approached she was the meal maker. As bedtime approached, she
would bathe her younger brother and baby sister and send them off to bed.
Her day would end with her nose in a novel, (reading was her joy) never
getting past the first few pages as she would be so tired and blurred her
eyes would drop close. It took her a month to read a simple book. Her
father had a extensive library, a cornucopia of delightful tales. Emily
lived vicariously through The Hardy Boys and The Thin Man adventures. The
library was her refuge when the household slept. She'd be found early in
the morning still dressed in her day clothes, un- bathed, sleeping in the
oversized leather chair by the window. "Hurry, get up" Ruby would say,
"Get cleaned and ready for school, no time to waste", and she would scurry
up the stairs to her bedroom. She would drag herself through the rest of
the day, to return home and repeat the same cycle.
Between dinner time and the time for the children's baths, Emily would
often serve her father and Ruby early evening tea in the parlor. This was
the few minutes where she would enjoy their company, along with her brother
and sisters. They would gather for some family quality time, playing music
or just talking. However, she still felt like a servant.
One evening her father asked her to please fetch some more scones and
Emily, annoyed and hurt at his abrupt tone, she replied, "Yes Mr. Powell,
right away sir." Henry quickly looked up with a bewildered expression on
his face as did his wife. When Emily returned, she looked at him and said
"Will there be anything else Sir?. She had made her point.
Henry was visibly upset. "Emily, do we make you feel like a servant? I
realize we ask a lot of you, but surely we do not think of you in that way.
You are a part of this family and we love you as we love your brothers and
sisters. Please forgive me if I have hurt you, I will try to be more
conscious of the way I speak to you.
"Father, I do not mind helping with household tasks, or helping Ruby with
the children. I feel I am an observer and not a participant of this
family. I have no time at all for myself and as much as I try to
understand, it is just not fair".
Henry decided that Ruby would have to take on more of her own
responsibilities whether she liked it or not. It turned out she did not
like it one bit. Henry would later find himself wife-less again.
With some free time to herself, Emily, now close to her sixteenth birthday,
ready to graduate the following year, she already had her sites on college.
Her experience of domestic life had left a bad taste in her mouth and she
would have none of it, this common task filled life. She had bigger
Her books promised her a more meaningful and adventurous life.
It was now 1927 and life in the city was prosperous. The children were
teenagers and mostly unsupervised. Emily was sixteen. Henry still taught
music, but he had acquired a position at Julliard. With her husband
always busy at work, Ruby would fill her days with her lady friends,
afternoons of tea and cards. She had a lot of free time. Enough time to
take on a young lover as well. She was a middle age woman in crisis. It
did not occur to her that she was making a fool of herself with a man very
much her junior. A carriage driver with no future, except afternoons of
sex and passion. No one would have guessed her behavior, except she was
actually caught in the act when Henry decided to come home early one
afternoon. His schedule was light that day and he wanted to surprise Ruby,
but instead, she surprised him.
It wasn't there in the beginning but she did expect passion to develop
between them in time. It barely did, as Henry secretly pined for his
deceased wife. The relationship between Henry and Ruby was never strong,
passionate love, but a life of comfort and companionship. Hardly a
romantic setting for a woman who waited until her late thirties to
experience a man. She realized her sole purpose in that house was to be a
glorified nanny and that angered her. She kept her feelings to herself
while she did what ever she wanted to in her spare hours.
She left with a sense of relief and did not regret what she did. She did
wish she had been honest with Henry instead of sneaking around to soothe
her restlessness. Her hopes for a more exciting life as a wife and mother
was not happening. Remembering her days as a Nanny, at least back then she
was off after 6:00 PM with no one to answer to and no demands put upon her.
She did feel remorse for Henry, she had not meant to hurt him, he was
always good to her, trying to accommodate her anyway he could. It was not
enough, she had no choice but to start over, clinging to the hope of
Ruby did not want to take her young child with her, their love child.
Betsy would be better off without her and she knew the Powells would
always be a real family to her daughter; the child was better off with
them. Ruby would take her meager savings and get an apartment of her own
and explore the world as she had always dreamed.
While Henry made enough money to support his family, he could not afford a
maid to run the household, nor did he have "frivolous" funds for Emily's
education. For a brief time, Emily enjoyed life, had high hopes for the
future. And now here she was, caring for a house and children. And poor
Henry, back to square one, but with four children instead of three.
Things in the Powell household would never be the same. With Ruby gone,
Emily was now the lady of the house. Although she did not have to care for
small children, she still had many responsibilities in overseeing the
growing brood. With her dream of college gone, she retreated to her
Fathers library once again, without Ruby to wake her for school. She was
doomed from the beginning.
Emily is now 40 years old. Her father died in a dreary mental hospital
ward after not being to cope with the curves of his real life. Her
siblings have moved on to different paths, no longer depending on Emily,
but still keeping in touch with her once or twice a year. She is not
unhappy, she is peaceful. Knowing she fulfilled her responsibility to her
family, she is unwilling to take on new responsibility and commitment that
would certainly come with a meaningful spousal relationship. As Emily
looks around at other "Happy People", she knows for sure that she walks