From the Relief Society Magazine, April 1951 –
A Girl’s Point of View
By Deone R. Sutherland
When my sister Meredith got married, Mother cried. In fact, she cried for a whole week before. “Young people take too many chances nowadays,” Mother said, walking up and down the living room with a handkerchief while Father read the paper and looked up sympathetically only when absolutely necessary. “Bill has years of school ahead of him – my lovely Meredith. Such hardships!”
“Never mind, Mother,” I said. “I’m going to be a career girl a long time before I marry. I like buying my own nylons.”
“You’re selfish,” said Father.
“Selfish!” cried Mother, not letting me answer, “Selfish to wish your children security! And safety?” Her voice rose, and Father had to pacify her. Bill was coming to dinner.
“You ought to wait to get married until Bill is through school,” Mother said to Meredith as soon as they came in.
“Nonsense,” said Father, “we’ve gone over all that. Now that they’re just about married, leave them in peace.”
“I agree with you,” said Bill to mother, his jaw line tightening. “I have no right to ask Meredith to make sacrifices.”
“Yes, you have,” said Meredith, emphatically. She was dark with a curved, sweet mouth and beautiful eyes. She’d been popular on the nearby campus of the university where she’d met Bill. “Bill won’t have a Ph.D. for five more years. I don’t mind going along with him for that. Besides, I’ll have him. It’s not his fault the army slowed everything up. I’ll go on working. Bill’s car is all paid for. Everything will be easy.”
I knew they wouldn’t wait. Anybody that pays that little attention to food when he eats at our place, is serious.
I got a promotion and a raise in the advertising department where I work just about the same time Meredith and Bill got in the student housing project near the campus.
“It’s dreadful,” said Mother, but Meredith said it was cute. They liked small places. Meredith did seem clever and fixed curtains and a dressing table and painted a great deal. I gave them some fancy Lenox. I told them that I looked for a cuckoo bird, but I couldn’t find one.
“Your little sister is bitter about our small quarters and poverty.” Bill smiled at Meredith.
“Not really,” I said, “I’ve just got good sense.”
“You wait,” said Bill, “until Mitch pops the question. No more career woman then.”
“Mitchell,” said mother, “hasn’t a penny. His law practice is just beginning. I’m glad my baby, anyway, has the good sense to wait for a little security before she marries.” Mother was sneaking steak into Meredith’s refrigerator.
“No, not me,” I said, “and Mitch agrees. I can tell he thinks the way I do. He’s practical. Have everything first or you never get anything.”
“Why, that’s what I’m doing,” said Meredith; “I’m having everything first.” She smiled at Bill and shut us out so completely for a moment that I felt a twinge of irritation. Meredith is too sentimental, I thought. I also should have suspected Baby Joe, but I’m not quick at things like that.
“Your point of view about children changes after you’re married,” Meredith explained, while she sewed the inexpensive layette. “You don’t realize before how important they are. Then after you’re married you want them more than anything.”
They brought Little Joe home in the usual blue blanket to the students’ housing project. But he made a difference. Meredith bought less and was unusually busy.
“I couldn’t stand that kind of life,” I told Mitchell, “doing housework all the time.”
“No,” agreed Mitchell, ducking his head from habit, though all our doors are tall enough for him. “Just doing dishes isn’t much of a life.”
I pinned on his orchid, and he watched from the fireplace. I came over to the mirror to check.
“You make a lovely career girl,” he said, looking at me in the mirror. But I wasn’t sure what he was thinking.
“Mitchell West is a coming lawyer,” said father.
“It’s taking a chance to marry a lawyer until he’s established. Too many starve! There are too many prospective clients who have never heard of him,” said mother.
I agreed with mother. I bought a purple coat and a black velvet hat with sweeping purple feathers. When Mitchell watched me come down the stairs, his approving glances were worth a dozen times my weekly checks.
“You’re a peacock,” Mitch said, and though his eyes were mocking when he kissed my cheek ever so lightly, his hand on my arm was hard. I glanced across to the mirror, and saw his hand fall. The coat had very good lines, I thought.
The development of Little Joe was phenomenal. We all spoiled him, but he seemed unusually intelligent and quite able to absorb it. Since I worked and saw Mitch an evening or two a week, I never really tended Baby Joe for very long periods at a time. Since mother was always begging Meredith and Bill to bring him home, he learned to recognize us at what we thought was an early age. Father thought he made the sun set and rise. You know how babies are. I didn’t change my mind about the work, though. Meredith didn’t look the same as before she was married. I knew the difference between rinsing out nylons and three or four baby washes a week.
I got another raise just before Christmas, and Mitch bought a new car. I took a few days off, and Meredith and Bill called in to say they had to do Christmas shopping.
“Baby Joe should appreciate Christmas this year,” said Bill. He had been only four or five months old the Christmas before.
“I’ll tend him,” I said. “I have a date later, but I’ve got the whole day off.”
Mother was doing Christmas cooking or she’d have insisted on staying with him herself.
So I tended Joe while Meredith and Bill did their Christmas shopping.
“Don’t let anything happen to him.” Meredith came back to kiss him goodbye again for the third time.
“Bye, bye,” said Joe, waving his hand, but clearly wanting to concentrate on the two-piece wooden puzzle I had brought.
“Don’t let anything happen to you,” Bill laughed at me. “Meredith frequently comes out the loser.”
“Mitchell says I can take care of myself anywhere,” I said. “Everything’s under control.” They ran down the flight of wooden steps, and I went back to baby Joe. He looked at me speculatively. He grunted to his feet, his face coming up red. He grinned, said something like “dat, dat” and threw the two-piece wooden puzzle. One piece fell short, but I stopped the other with my forehead.
“No, no,” I said calmly, “mustn’t throw.”
“No, no,” he said, throwing the puzzle toward the front window. I put the puzzle away and looked for something else to take his attention. He began pulling the books out of Bill’s bookcase. I held him until I was sure his attention was focused on his blocks and cart. Then I picked up the books, keeping an eye on him all the time.
“Wa, waw,” said Baby Joe. I poured him a glass of water. He wouldn’t touch it until I let him hold it himself. He drank slowly, pausing to smile at me and cry energetically, “No, no” if I began to take the glass.
I waited patiently, and finally Joe held out the glass. “Oh, thank you, Joe,” I said elaborately, and he dumped the half glass of water on my feet. He beamed up at me. “Hi,” he said, “hi!”
I wound his truck for him, and went into the bathroom to dry off a little. My hair was looking wild already. I began to comb it and looked down in time to save the towels from Little Joe’s obvious intentions. Mothers must not ever get to comb their hair, I thought. I closed the bathroom door behind us. They must not wear lipstick or do anything except try to survive their children. I was beginning to feel definitely weary, but Joe refused to rest. I turned on the Christmas tree lights even though it was the middle of the day. Joe liked that. The tree was on top the phonograph on top the table. It was safe. I leaned down and kissed Joe standing in front of the tree.
“Li, ligh,” he said, laughing. Joe seemed to take after our side of the family, I thought. He was bright. I ruffled his silky hair.
The telephone rang, and it was mother asking how Joe was. “The heartstealer is fine,” I told her, and just then he bit into an extra blue light bulb that matched the set on the tree. There must have been one in the desk drawers or the closet he’d been ducking into. He was spitting glass and looking disturbed.
I dropped the phone and wiped his mouth out frantically. “Spit,” I cried, “spit!”
When I saw blood on the cloth, I nearly died. Mother hung up and was on her way over while I phoned the doctor. No, I didn’t know for sure if he’d swallowed any. He’d swallowed all the time I was wiping out his mouth.
“Bread and potatoes,” the doctor said. “Watch him for signs of pain.”
He wouldn’t eat the bread. “Please eat it,” I pleaded and coaxed. I stood him by the sink. I stood him on the cupboard. I let him play with the ice trays in the refrigerator. He ate three slices of bread and four ice cubes, and then mother came.
“Perhaps he didn’t swallow any glass at all,” Mother tried to comfort me.
“It’s hard to chew,” I said, “let alone swallow. I tried some to see. The glass is too thick to swallow.”
“A blue one,” said Mother, looking at the broken fragments and holding Joe while I fixed the potatoes.
Mitchell called to see what time he could pick me up. “Don’t,” I moaned. “I’ve let Baby Joe kill himself, maybe, and I can’t face anyone.”
“I’ll be over anyway,” Mitchell insisted.
Meredith and Bill came home, and mother and I told them. I was walking and bouncing Joe.
“Don’t worry so,” said Meredith. “We got the letter box key all right after he swallowed that, so perhaps if there was any glass swallowed …”
“We’ll get it,” said Bill, “but I don’t think he could swallow those pieces and not choke.”
I felt better and blew my nose. Mitchell knocked, but I couldn’t get to the bathroom in time. He grinned at me. “Don’t tell me Little Sister’s gone domestic –”
“Certainly not,” I said. “I look a mess is all.” I kissed Little Joe, and even though Mitchell was there silently laughing at me, I felt a lump in my throat. If anything happened to Joe …
I put on lipstick in Mitchell’s car. “Career woman again?” asked Mitchell. “Don’t tell me you have no secret longings for the fireside. Surely we should have stayed so you could have demonstrated the advantages of home …”
Was he worried about my wanting to settle down? He needn’t be. I opened the window a little and let the cold air cool my flushed face. “I’m really relived to be finished with that job,” I said. My conversation followed the old pattern while I worried about Joe and the glass. “No, it’s too dreadful, Mitchell, living like that, working like that. Why, I was only there three hours. How could a person keep his sanity day after day? I mean, Joe’s sweet, but you need a big house and a fenced in yard and plenty of help …”
“Sure,” agreed Mitchell. “It’s hard on a person to do without the things he should have. A man would want his wife to have everything he could give her.” He stopped talking then, and when he spoke again it was about a play we were going to. I leaned against the seat. I was too exhausted to investigate vague uneasy feelings. It was only the worry about Joe that really bothered me, anyway. It was nice to have Mitchell to drive me around.
We were having a family gathering Christmas Eve, but I wore my new wine wool dress because Mitchell was coming.
“It makes your hair look marvelous,” said mother.
“You look perfect,” Mitchell remarked when he came in. A drop of watered snow glistened in his dark hair.
“I thought I’d better make up for the terrible impression at Meredith’s,” I laughed.
“Oh, I didn’t mind,” said Mitchell. He looked very tall in our front hall, slipping off his overcoat. We went into the living room, and I could feel him following me. He walked so evenly; it was one of the first things I’d ever noticed about him.
Baby Joe was already in bed upstairs, so Mitchell left his present under the tree. After our late dinner, Bill said he had an announcement to make.
“Not yet,” warned Meredith, but she was smiling so happily that Bill proudly went ahead. “Baby Joe is going to have company next summer.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Mother.
“No!” I repeated.
“We thought it would be a shame to raise Joe alone. He’ll have somebody to play with. We’re so happy, and we’ll be able to manage it …”
It was incredible, but Meredith really looked happy.
Father kissed her on the cheek.
“I kind of like large families,” Mitchell said, and he also kissed Meredith on the cheek.
“I’ll check on Joe,” I volunteered. I couldn’t stand the feeling in my chest. It was hard to pity Meredith when she looked like that. I felt confused. Joe was asleep on my bed. He was beautiful like Meredith, and his lashes lay against his cheek in the light from the door. He didn’t look as if he’d eaten glass. I leaned over him to make sure he was breathing.
“He’s sweet, isn’t he?” Mitchell was leaning in the doorway.
“Don’t,” I said. “This sentimental scene has been played in too many stories and movies.”
Mitchell stepped back. “Right you are,” he agreed, giving me a long, hard look, and he turned and went down the stairs without glancing back.
Mitchell was busy during the holidays, except for New Years and then Meredith and Bill were with us for a kind of farewell party. They were to leave the day following for California.
“The last lap for the last degree,” said Bill. “I’m lucky to be able to start in the middle of the year and save time.”
“We’re lucky to be able to get an apartment so near the campus,” Meredith said contentedly. “I can see Bill often even if she is always holding a book in front of him.”
“You people carry a rabbit’s foot,” Mitchell commented. “You have all the luck.”
I looked to see if he were joking. He never looked at me at all. He drove me home and said good night quickly. I stood in the hall with the light off and watched Mitchell start his car very fast and the red tail light disappear. I went upstairs and took off my new gray hat with the pink rose. I set it on the dresser and looked into the mirror until I began to cry.
I didn’t see Mitchell for a week. And then for another week. He didn’t call.
Father said tactfully, “Mitchell must be having a lot of work.”
“He’s doing fine, I guess,” I answered.
“You mean he’s able to pay the rent on that office,” suggested mother. “A girl takes a lot of chances when she marries a lawyer.”
“Everybody takes chances,” Father said, speaking louder than he usually did. “If we didn’t take risks, everything would die out from inactivity.” He folded his newspaper with a jerk. “Mitchell’s a fine man.”
I went upstairs. I opened my closet and looked at my rows of shoes. I put on green ones, with three-inch heels. Then I took them off. I put on my saddle Oxfords and my tweed skirt that was threadbare and sagged where I sat down. I put on my coat. I’d never see anyone walking around our block. Just lighted windows with families inside. I went downstairs and stopped at the living room door. Father was reading Meredith’s letter that had come that afternoon. Mother had mentioned it when I had come in.
“She says she feels fine,” said Father, looking pleased.
“She always says that,” mother interrupted. “Read on. Wait’ll you get to the important part near the end. It’s terrible, it really is.”
“What?” I asked. “Read it out loud. I haven’t read it.”
“My word,” exclaimed Father, “Bill’s broken his arm!”
“Right after they got there,” added Mother. “Can you imagine such a calamity?”
“Read it,” I said.
“Their couch wouldn’t go in the door,” Father explained, “so Bill was having it pulled up to go through the window. He only fell two stories. Listen to this: ‘We’re very lucky since this won’t really interfere with his school work. It was his left arm, and he’s able to go right on with his classes. Aren’t we fortunate!’
“Baby Joe has learned how to open our refrigerator door. We’ve tied a rope around it, but that takes too long when I need to get in it. We’ll have to think of something else …’”
I went out into the hall. It was snowing, so I stopped to find an umbrella. I could hear Father talking.
“This reminds me of us, doesn’t it you, Mother?”
“Well, we had a lot of trouble.” I could hear mother’s knitting needles clicking.
“No, I mean we were the same kind of crazy youngsters. We got married on fifty dollars, remember?”
“Hush,” said mother, “I’d forgotten all about that.”
“And right off we had Meredith,” father laughed. “You’ll have to admit we took terrible chances …” His voice sounded the way it does when he teases and loves someone at the same time.
I opened the door and shut it with a bang. Here was something to think about. But I didn’t want to think. I ran down the front sidewalk, jerking my umbrella up, and swung, not into the gate, but into someone’s overcoat.
“You’re crying!” commented Mitchell.
“I am not,” I argued.
“You shouldn’t be,” he said, “because you have no heart, no blood, but you are. Here’s a paradox for you.” Then his voice changed. “You’re getting snowed on.” He took my umbrella.
I leaned against the gate. I couldn’t bear to look at him, and I couldn’t bear not to. But no matter how I tried I couldn’t get past his chin. I could feel his eyes on me, and knew the quizzical smile.
“You look like a high school girl,” he said. “You even look vulnerable, but that couldn’t be, because you’d never take a chance on being hurt in any way.”
“Don’t, Mitchell!” I tried to keep my voice from disappearing. “I’ve changed. I’ve found me,” and I meant it. Chains of hesitation dropped off there by the gate, and I began to know what I wanted.
Then all of a sudden I knew that what I wanted now was what Mitchell had wanted all along. Perhaps he saw that realization, for his face was suddenly different under the street lamp, in the snow. It went young, and with a surge of feeling, I felt that I must protect him.
“It took you such a long time to grow up,” Mitchell said, watching me.
“We can manage,” I remarked, finding it hard to get my breath. “I can work for a few months …”
“Oh, sure,” he agreed, smiling at me, tipping the umbrella between us and the street and the light and any curious people passing by.