By Una Howell (USA - circa 1880)
Chapter 37 - Cross Currents
Copyright Scott Dunbar 2010
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Summer temperatures usually arrived in Springfield early in April so that by the time the dogdays of August had put in their appearance; everyone was exhausted by torrid weather. Sweltering nights were spent on palettes on the floor where we children imagined that we were cooler.Our living was immensely brightened by having Lilly and her family next door. The cottage was small and hugged the heat, but the lawn was large and we sat out under the open skies while Ben and Mayne took turns cutting the grass. As they trundled the lawn mower over the scorched grass a small boy from across the way haunted the fence and engaged them in conversation. “My name’s Jimmy Jones and we keep a hired girl,”
Had been his uningratiating introduction, hurled as an entering wedge to open friendly relations. The men were amused and encouraged his chatty quotations of gossip heard in his family circle.
At the south side of the Murray lot and near the wire fence that divided our place from Mayne’s, a big apple tree furnished shade for a hammock and I nearly sat the bottom out of it that summer. I was in the voracious reading stage. Springfield had no public library so the Young Men’s Christian Association allowed us to draw books from its reading room. The literature was thoroughly safe. In fact, it was sickeningly religious. I read all the Pansy books, E. P. Roe and Edward Eggleston, borrowed all the Alcott volumes I didn’t own, read and re-read the ‘Five Little Peppers,’ and wondered why Louisa Alcott couldn’t turn books out at a speedier rate. The family, hoping to slack my thirst, finally bought me a set of Dickens at a book sale, and from then on I ran a temperature. Mother was too busy to pay attention to my reading and I was in such a state of emotional glub-glub that some strong-minded individual should have checked up on me, thrown the books away, and paroled me to a baseball bat; but no one did.
Among the stray pabulum I had set my teeth into, was one in which a weak character was portrayed. A wise old lady had said of him,
“Well, you couldn’t expect anything from a man with a chin like that.”
(The notable characteristic being a receding chin.)
I rushed off to the mirror, and examined my face critically and decided that I too, was of the same breed, or so I thought. Faced with the dread of being a weak character and knowing that I had no right to expect that my physiognomy would change, I begged the Lord to reinforce my lower face or else give me the backbone to overcome it. I was afraid that Lord hadn’t heard, and hated myself more and more.
One day Mary announced to me that Lilly and Ben were going to have a baby sometime in the winter. It was all said in whispers. I remember asking for proof.
“How do you know?”
“Well, Dr. Clements had said so.”
Remembering Dr. Clements broken promises I was inclined to be skeptical. I asked more questions in a formless way, and Mary gave me some interesting, if unknown, hints on baby production. According to her glossary, a baby was sort of a stomach ulcer or a distinctly profitable tumor. It was such a profound scientific secret, however, that we didn’t even mention the subject to Mother. Mary had been admonished to do everything to keep Lilly happy and confided it to me and reminded me that if Lilly were ruffled or unhappy, it would make the baby cry or be cross. These prenatal reflections were further complicated by an agenda made up of Mary’s collections of birthmark research. We had seen purple disfigurements on the faces of individuals, and been told that whenever an expectant mama was shocked, the spot which she first touched with her hand was selected for immortalization. It sounded like an explanation for the ‘V’ on my forehead, which had caused me anguish. When I was nervous or excited it attracted attention and someone would in variably say,
“Oh, did you know that you have the cutest little pink mark on your forehead? It looks like a ‘Y’ or is it a ‘V’?”
Lilly was absolutely not to look at anything unpleasant, etc., etc. I’m sure I don’t know how seriously Lilly took her responsibility, but I know that I did for her and I was sure that when the infant arrived, it would look like a Sears Roebuck catalogue and we couldn’t do a thing about it.
It was the following November when I entered High School that culture suddenly acquired horns and a forked tail. In October I had had one of those accidents that mark a turning point. Chronologically I was fourteen years old, while, psychologically, I was on cream of wheat, Happy Birthday level. Girls my age were absorbed with boys. Dolls were my meat. In vacation I had dressed one for a missionary box, evolving a special design for a bonnet that was fashionable at the time. Once I had preferred large ones but as I expanded the dolls reduced until my special pet was only eight inches long. It was bisque with a kid body, wore shoes and stockings, and had dark baby-hair curls, eyes that would open and shut, and teeth. I was devoted to it.
“Josie Bangs, a schoolmate of Mary’s, had invited us to her grandfather’s house for the afternoon. Josie was long-legged, awkward, and a typical tomboy with a jolly laugh. Her mother had died so her grandfather had adopted her. Her aunt, who kept his house, dominated the household. We were afraid of her and her daughter was our pet peeve, but Josie was a dear, and we bore with her relatives for the joy of being with her.
The house was spacious and we had a grand time. I had my doll with me and when it was time to leave I left Mary to study with Josie. As I turned to say goodbye on the way down the steps, my feet flew out from under me and I sat unceremoniously. As I whacked the steps, I tossed my precious dolly on the pavement below. I hurried to her rescue and found that her beautiful eyes had been jarred from their sockets. I shall never forget the expression in the dolly’s eyes, or the shock I suffered as I looked at her. I was inconsolable. I couldn't keep from gazing at her and every time I did so I broke out afresh and wailed like a Banshee. Mary tried to comfort me in vain. I cried all the way home and neighbors who saw me trudging by their houses sent messengers to find out what misfortune had befallen me. A mere doll didn’t seem to merit such a display of histrionics.
Mother took the doll to a repair shop. I still couldn’t view her with calmness, and when she returned, her eyes were fixed in a permanent stare and I laid her away for keeps.
It was only a short while after this brush with anguish that the Principal of Central School walked onto my silver screen to deal with a classmate who was annoying his teacher. He was not an incorrigible boy, just one who had a roving eye and could land a mean spitball. Corporal punishment was the accepted cure-all for such maladies, and administering it gave the administrator a fine catharsis. He could legitimately work out his accumulated grudges with gusto.
All activity ceased when the redheaded Principal responded to an S.O.S. and asked the teacher to point out the culprit. The victim sat only two seats in front of me and I shrank like a touch-me-not as the man walked toward me. The boy did not yield supinely either when ordered to get out of his seat. Instead he clung to his desk with the tenacity of an ampalopsis vine. It was the type of scene that the cinema glorifies with several feet of film. The sinner was dragged by the collar over the desks, boxed about the ears, and finally whipped with a ruler. Physics couldn’t cope with such rival excitement, and my sides flapped together in withering fright. I crept home, afraid of everybody connected with the institution of learning, and once there burst into violent weeping. For several weeks I had been an emotional problem. I had specialized in tears and now I became so discouraged that Mother took me to pay a call on Dr. Clements.
“I’d keep her out of school this year,”
He said, so along about Thanksgiving time I took my books home and wondered how I would fill my days.
Lilly’s baby was due in a few weeks so I was set to work hemming didies, and featherstitching dresses for the new baby. School was blue-pencilled as far as possible, and concern for Lilly supplanted anxiety over studies.
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