By Una Howell (USA - circa 1880)
Chapter 31 - Misunderstandings
Copyright Scott Dunbar 2010
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Much heartache and misunderstandings would be eliminated if families were endowed with sufficient clairvoyance to see beyond the poker faces of their children. ‘Aren’t you ashamed?’ was the common reproof when I was a child, uttered in an exclamation rather than a question. I certainly was ashamed, most of the time, and if my family thought I had fallen below the mark of good behavior, though I was often confused as to what particular sin I had committed, I suffered genuine guilt.
Perhaps because I was a sensitive child, my sympathies were easily affected and as I grew older my emotion dammed up so that I couldn’t cry though I felt sick from intense feeling. This failure to show emotion in the usual way gave rise to the impression in my family that I was hardhearted and unsympathetic. If a sad story were told, I said nothing, and someone was sure to remark about my insensitivity. I never denied the charge, so it was accepted as truth.
Our family was steadily becoming more complex. Father’s health was bad. The Malloy case had kept him from strengthening ties with us children, and the constant calls for money irritated him. Mother was equally worried because the management of the family rested on her shoulders, and the woman has not been born who can feed and clothe a growing family without an allowance of some kind. Her anxieties distracted her attention from us when we sometimes badly needed it. She and Father practically eliminated social life from their calendar. In fact Father never seemed to go anywhere but the office. He just didn’t know how to play. I can’t remember his ever taking a vacation excepting when a big group from Springfield went on an excursion to Denver or Quebec, or some such place.
Announcement that ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy,’ a play based on the book of Francis Hodgson Burnett, was coming to Springfield, was pasted on the billboards. Good plays were scarce in our town. Plays were events to us and our family lined up to see this one.
Practically everyone who has read at all is familiar with the story of the five-year old American boy who suddenly becomes an Earl and leaves his lovely mother to live with an irascible and gouty British grandfather who had refused to recognize his son’s wife. The play was one long cry from start to finish and the intermissions were only nose-blowing interludes. When the last curtain had fallen on a re-united family, I was about fit for the hospital though I had shed no tears. Maynard turned to hustle Mary and me to catch the streetcar. His nose and eyes were red and he must have been annoyed as he looked at my tearless face for he said,
“I’ll bet you were the only person in this operahouse tonight to hardhearted to cry.”
His words fell on my spirit like clods on a coffin. I was too choked up to answer and miserable clear to my toes. Worst of all, I couldn’t bear to have my own family displeased with me.
We moved down the stairs and out into the spring night. No one paid too much attention to anyone else, so engrossed was each with his own feelings. The streetcars were crowded and we had to make a transfer to another line before the trip was finally finished and we reached home. I undressed quickly and climbed into bed. I slept (believe it or not) in a double bed with Maynard, next to the window and I crawled in and looked out at the night. My head still felt big, my eyes ached and I had a numb feeling in my body. As I stared at the big hanging lamp on the corner of the street, I wondered why I couldn’t cry like other people and why my family thought me hardhearted. Somehow I never minded those remarks as much as I did tonight. My nerves were taut and I couldn’t go to sleep. I thought about Lord Fauntleroy and wondered what had happened to our family. Ever since we had moved into the new house things had seemed different. Home was no longer jolly as it used to be and I lay in the dark trying to figure what I could do about it.
I had made good progress with my piano lessons although there was little consistency in the regularity. I would be enrolled for a term, the teacher would promise big things, then the rooms would be too cold for practising and the lessons would cease. If we could all be earning probably Father would not feel so sorry for himself as the sole breadwinner. The trouble with Mary and me was that we were not old enough to be worth anything. ‘What we needed was a baby. Babies are great peacemakers.’ If only we could think of a way of getting one. Dr. Clements had promised us one a year before but he hadn’t kept his word. He had taken the baby to the Eberhart’s instead.
It had happened while we were building the new house. Mary and I had been playing in and out of the lumber piles when our ‘hired girl’ had slipped through the fence and brought us word that Nellie Eberhart had a baby brother. Mary was furious. Weeks before when Dr. Clements had called at our house, Mary had stalked him and in her politest manner asked him to please bring us a baby. He had not refused so we interpreted his silence to mean consent. We had waited with what we considered self-abnegating patience, so that the announcement of the Eberhart baby was a terrible blow to us both. We had even heard Mrs. Eberhart declare in our presence that she had no time for a baby and did not want one.
When the news broke, Mary and I sat down on a lumber pile and held a war council. First we gave vent to our indignation, then we made a quick decision, or rather Mary made the decision and I endorsed it. We would see Dr. Clements. His office was downtown and we knew his hours. We were so excited and indignant that we didn’t tell our plans to anyone. We just set out while the urge was intense.
The office was six blocks distant and when we arrived the doctor had a patient in the consulting room. We sat in the outer waiting room to wait. We were very fond of Dr. Clements; he was a familiar figure to us, but today Mary’s affection was struggling with the heat wave that threatened to burn out all the old connections. Every five minutes that we waited added fuel to the fires and her anger burned brighter.
The doctor discharged his patient and turned to Mary and me.
“Did we want to see him?”
Yes, we most certainly did. He ushered us into his smelly room reeking of drugs and disinfectants and said:
“Well, Girls, what can I do for you?”
Mary answered him with a direct charge,
“You took a baby to Mrs. Eberhart, Dr. Clements, when she didn’t want it and we did.”
She was on the verge of tears. It was a cold indictment and Dr. Clements knew it. He may or may not have approved of the manner in which the matter of reproduction was handled in our family, but whatever his opinion, his predicament was the same. He set about answering Mary’s challenge.
“Mary, your mother isn’t strong enough to have another baby.”
He spoke very gently in his conciliatory manner.
“Yes, I know. I’ve thought of that too,”
said the red-haired youngster who thought she knew all the answers.
“But I’m old enough now to take care of it. I’m twelve.”
“But Mary, how would you feed it?”
inquired the doctor maneuvering for time.
“With a bottle,”
said she, somewhat disgusted that a physician of standing should know so little.
The remainder of the interview consisted of polite nothings calculated to aid in getting us started for home.
“Did you mother know you were coming to see me, Mary?”
the doctor asked finally.
“No, I didn’t tell her.”
Mary answered and we walked ourselves out of the private quarters.
We did a good deal of thinking as we trudged home in a state of complete deflation. There was not even a prospect of a baby in the dim future. The trip had been utterly futile. When we sat down at the supper table we reported our interview with suitable comments. No one reproved us or offered us a footnote of information. The next day, someone who had overheard the consultation reported on us, or else Dr. Clements broke his Hippocratic oath. I do not know which. The story went all over town although Mary and I were unaware of it, at the time. No one ever told us anything concerning sex. ‘Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise,’ seemed to be the family slogan, and the baby we longed for was left on someone’ else’s doorstep.
Our family situation at this period was changing fast, although being so close to it left us without perspective. One of its focal points was Lilly.
Cymric Strain, by Una Howell (USA - circa 1880)
Chapter 1 - Introduction
Chapter 2 - Father
Chapter 3 - Dartmouth
Chapter 4 - Killolog
Chapter 5 - America
Chapter 6 - Arrival
Chapter 7 - Gracious Living
Chapter 8 - I Am Born
Chapter 9 - My Name
Chapter 10 - Neighbors
Chapter 11 - The Cyclone
Chapter 12 - The Old Cemetary
Chapter 13 - Music
Chapter 14 - Religion
Chapter 15 - The Circuit
Chapter 16 - Hero No. 1
Chapter 17 - Pageantry
Chapter 18 - Mommy
Chapter 19 - Mental Quirks
Chapter 20 - Decoration
Chapter 21 - Domestic Animals
Chapter 22 - Episode
Chapter 23 - Barn Life
Chapter 24 - Vanities
Chapter 25 - Happy Hollow
Chapter 26 - New Horizons
Chapter 27 - Disciplines
Chapter 28 - An Experimenter
Chapter 29 - Health
Chapter 30 - Murder
Chapter 31 - Misunderstandings
Chapter 32 - Charm
Chapter 33 - Problems
Chapter 34 -Coming Events, Etc.
Chapter 35 - The Wedding
Chapter 36 - At Home
Chapter 37 - Cross Currents
Chapter 38 - A Baby
Chapter 39 - Dr. Winston
Chapter 40 - The Visitor
Chapter 41 - Buffetings
Chapter 42 - Agenda
Chapter 43 - David
Chapter 44 - Exit