Some pages are missing, others are torn or partially illegible. Viriginia has an annoying habit of never mentioning dates and only very rarely providing the names of her various husbands and lovers (with the notable exception of Charlie Chaplin).
What we present here covers:
Let's start with my father. I don't remember him clearly from my childhood. Just a figure that I was afraid of. I remember more clearly a big negro named Bud, the husband of my nurse. He told me stories and took me to see the animals. When he took the carriage into the pond to wash it, I always thought he would drown, and I stood on the edge of the pond and cried until he came out. Sometimes he would tease me by pretending he was going to be completely immersed by the water. In my early childhood I don't remember my mother nearly so well as my nurse. Once she bought me a pair of slippers, and after she put them on me, she made me say:
"Roses on my shoulders, Slippers on my feet,
I'm my mama's darling,
Don't you think I'm sweet."
My father heard me recite it and tried to make me say, "I'm my Papa's darling." He tired to bribe me with a nickel, but I took the nickel and refused. This pleased my mother.
My next impression is of leaving the place I was born. Then a memory I have so vague that it might be something I've imagined: of waking up in the woods and finding a cow licking my face. I have never known why we spent the night under the trees. I wasn't interested in our financial condition at the time, but I learned later that my father had lost all his money and also his land. He was now twenty-one, with a wife and three daughters, and penniless. We had numerous relatives who would have taken us, but I think my father was reluctant about going to them because they disapproved of him so. Maybe we were camping out because of my mother's gypsy blood. We roamed around for a while, then I found myself at the home of Auntie Daisy who had married the farmer on the bridge. They l a tiny cabin and were very poor. Their place was crowded, but she made room for us. I slept in a bed with numerous children. The oldest was named Maude. I thought it was an ugly name. She was bad tempered. There was another girl called Ophelia. I liked that name. It was the first time I had ever thought of names. They were very naughty children and I learned many vulgar rhymes from them. However, I didn't like them; didn't realize they were bad; only I didn't like the sound of them and forgot them very soon.
I was beginning to be conscious of an inquisitive instinct and life was like Auntie Daisy's scrap bag where I often found odd pieces of material and tried to sew them into a garment for my doll. One day I overheard Auntie Daisy remark to my mother, "I just can't have another baby," and she had a bottle of medicine in her hand -- babies from bottles of medicine.
This was the most difficult part for me. Baby chickens came from eggs which had been dipped in bluing so as to make a blue dot on the tip. It was the blue dot that made the chick I decided. The bits of life I pieced together. I kept a secret.
Reading was simple. I had watched my Auntie's husband reading his paper by holding it before his eyes, his feet propped on the table and his lips moving. Now and then he would turn a page.
What was happening in the grown-up world didn't bother me. I didn't know my father was away looking for work and that he was finding it difficult, as he had never worked before; or that Theodore Roosevelt was becoming prominent; or that my father's first cousin, the one my grandfather had educated, was being sworn into office as governor of Missouri; or that my mother's father had died and that she did not go to his funeral because the money she had received to take her to the funeral she spent on clothes for us. There were great events happening all over the world, but I was interested only in cotton seeds sprouting form the ground and growing. I couldn't take nature for granted. I wondered about everything.
My father returned form job hunting and we went on a short train journey. I was delighted until a cinder got in my eye. There were cinders all over the red plush seats... The journey brought us to the place my father had lived as a child, the family plantation -- Estes Hall. I knew the place well -- a large white house in a grove. This is where I had seen Aunt Tabitha in her coffin. My mind jumped from Aunt Tabitha in her coffin to the hollyhocks against the garden fence -- tall spears of color against a white fence. I left stilted greetings of relatives and rushed to the flowers. Bumblebees were burrowing into the blooms. I disturbed one of them with a stick and it flew out with an angry buzz. I tore the petals apart, but I couldn't find what the bumblebee wanted, and I threw the pieces on the ground. Then I went from one stalk to another, touching them lightly, enjoying their beauty, still wondering what the bumblebee found inside the blooms.
Under the trees were hammocks made of thin curved boards held together by wire. My father's Uncle Joe went there to read, but I always disturbed him because he had a long white beard and I liked playing with it. I would pretend it was a lady's head of hair and would braid it and arrange it in coils and puffs. Sometimes he went to sleep while I played with his beard, or he would tell me a story about the Civil War. He didn't like killing people, and he had run away and hid until the war was over.
My father had gone away, and one day my mother was leaving without me. I clung to her and cried. And she cried and Aunt Minnie, who was Uncle Joe's new wife, had to hold me by force to keep me from running after her. For a while after that I cried myself to sleep every night. I didn't like Aunt Minnie. I have never liked her, and I never knew why. She wasn't really unkind. She didn't take care of me at all, though. She allowed my hair to get very tangled, and when she did try to comb it, I cried because she always pulled it roughly.
But there was a lady living nearby whom I did like. Her name was "Cousin Rose." I heard someone say she was peculiar. I told her about it. I thought she was very pretty, and I liked the sweet peas blooming over her veranda. I began to think I preferred them to hollyhocks. There were more different colors. She let me pull them, too, if I didn't tear the vines. And she combed my hair and didn't pull at all, and curled it into pretty golden ringlets, and then showed them to me in the mirror. I adored her ever afterwards.
Uncle Joe's home was always full of guests. Crowds of young people playing tennis and drinking cider fresh from apples gathered in the orchard. There was a fascinating horror in seeing a heavy press come down on lovely red apples and lifting again, leaving them a mass of pulp with juice running out of a spout. My curious mind was becoming aware of the phenomenon of change.
One of the guests was Aunt Donie, my father's eldest sister. She had a tiny baby, and I was told it was my cousin. She let me hold it, but it cried. In after years, when I was a young lady having beaux, this baby was then a bad boy who used to blackmail me out of my boxes of chocolates by threatening to tell that he saw someone kiss me. This baby because Senator Estes Kefauver, the late senator from Tennessee who is most noted for his crime fighting television appearances. I lived most of my teen years in his family home and we were lifelong friends.
Guests came and went, and it seemed that no one noticed me. I felt very lonely, and often cried into my pillow at night. There was a big party one night. I was going to be a flower girl at a mock wedding being put on. Then it was discovered that I didn't have the proper shoes or dress, so another little girl was chosen, and I was sent to bed early where I cried myself to sleep, longing for my mother. I couldn't go to church either because I didn't have a hat. The young ladies had lovely dresses and lacy hats and parasols. It seemed wrong that I shouldn't have them also. I asked one of the girls where she got her hat.
"I bought it."
"What does that mean?"
"I paid money for it."
"It know what money is. It is nickels, dimes, and dollars."
"You are a very bright girl."
"I am as bright as a dollar. I heard you say so yesterday."
She kissed me and gave me a dollar.
"Could I buy a lace hat with this?"
She held up her hands. "I would take this many dollars."
"Ten?" I said, holding up my own fingers.
She laughed and shook her lace parasol, and hurried out to the waiting carriage which took the guests to church.
I waved to them and, left alone, I wondered about the grove, thinking of the lace hats and parasols. I saw elder blooms with spreading white blossoms. "They look like lace hats and umbrellas," I thought. Then suddenly, like magic, they became what I wished. I picked one and placed it on my head. I pulled a larger one with a long stem and carried it like a parasol. There was nothing to keep me from going to church. So I did.
Then for an extended time I went to live with Aunt Nora in Mississippi. She was a strict paragon of Southern Christian womanhood. I have a vivid memory of visiting, while there, with a French family. One night during our stay I had terrible pains in my legs and was told by the wife of the family that I had growing pains. It made me feel that I was going to suddenly grow to the height of my aunt. What strange ideas children get about things they don't understand. It is possible that grownups are just as childish about things they don't understand. I was disappointed when I didn't notice any growth after a night of these pains. Soon after that I had my birthday, and I stood up in bed to measure myself by seeing how much nearer to the canopy I had come since the day before. I was certain my head could touch the crimson lining, but I was disappointed again.
My aunt gave me a new dime for a birthday gift. Estelle, the daughter of the French people gave me a fan, but her father had to buy her one also. I was allowed to drink wine with the French family. They drank to my health, and the father played the accordion. Estelle and I danced with our fans spread coquettishly. But she soon decided that my fan was the most desirable and wanted to trade with me. When I refused, she used violence and we ended in a fight. She got the worst of it because her hair was long. My aunt punished me. She didn't approve of little girls fighting.
Estelle's mother didn't punish her. I was not only switched, but I had to go for my own switch, which added greatly to the punishment. First I brought a tiny switch, and my aunt made me go for another. Then I got a large ridiculous looking one. But my aunt didn't see the humor of it and, for what she called my impudence, I was not only soundly switched but sent to bed as well. I cried for my mother, as I always did at such times. After it was over, I was again fond of my aunt. A child must have someone to love, even someone who doesn't understand her at all.
I like Aunt Nora best when she told me about her sweetheart. She said he was so tall that he had to stoop when he came through a door, and he had red hair and a red face, and a big long pointed nose. I imagined a most frightful monster. Then one day she told me he was coming to see her. She dressed in one of her loveliest dresses, and though she looked pretty. I waited anxiously for him, and when he arrived I watched to see if he had to stoop to get in the door. But though he was very tall, he entered the door like any other man. His hair was red, but not the red I had expected; nor were his face and nose the way I had imagined. I like him. He had nice smiling blue eyes, and he looked very shy.
"Are you going to marry Aunt Nora?" I asked. His face turned red then, but his eyes smiled with little wrinkles at the corners, even at his ears, and the smile crept to the corners of his mouth. My aunt became very prim. "You may go out and play," she commanded.
A year went by. I learned to pick blackberries with the children, fell in love for the first time with a little French boy named Clarence, and discovered that the naked baby birds which we found in a nest could swallow a whole blackberry all at once.
Then one day our trunks, which had been lost, were returned, and there was joy over a soap box and some rings. Estelle didn't have a ring, and wanted mine. I think she wanted to fight me again, but I gave her the plain one to avoid trouble. Still not satisfied, she wanted the one with the rubies, but I wouldn't give it up, and we had another fight. This time we both got punished. I suggested to my aunt that she punish me in the same way that Estelle's mother punished her: by making her kneel down for a few minutes. My request was granted. I thought it much better than being switched. But my aunt didn't think it severe enough because I could find amusement as I knelt by singing and pretending I was playing the piano on any nearby surface. I preferred the windowsill.
When I returned to Tennessee at the end of the year, I was considered a curiosity as I could speak French better than English. Everyone wanted me to speak French, and this embarrassed me, so I tried to forget it. I visualized the mental process of forgetting in a very strange way. All the French I knew appeared as white squares when I closed my eyes. As I would forget it, there would be fewer white squares and more black squares. I would be pleased when I saw many black squares in my mind, and would think only of English words. Besides, French made me sad. It reminded me of Clarence, and of how sorry I was to leave him. Also Estelle. She had cried, and Clarence had come to say goodbye, and we had sat very still and looked at each other, and the mother of the family served us wine and cake, just as though we had been grownup lovers.
That summer my aunt expected to take me to Indian Territory with her. It is now the states of New Mexico and Arizona. Although she had told me about papooses and Indians with painted faces, I didn't want to go. I wanted to see my mother. When the time came to go, I was ill with fever, and she went without me.
I was left with a kindly relative, some great aunt. I was well cared for, and recovered rapidly, but for a long time I wasn't allowed anything but rice to eat. I got very tired of it, and cried for canned salmon. I wanted it with lemon. I began to want salmon more than anything, and finally they gave it to me. The little bones I liked best. They were soft and pleasant to chew. I felt a kind of sensuousness in chewing them.
That summer I went to a picture show for the first time. I remember only the colored slides illustrating a song called "Always in the way." It was very sad: about a little girl who had a cruel stepmother. I was touched by it. It gave me a sense of uneasiness.
Something in the world plotting against good little girls was the way I interpreted that uneasiness. I went home with a bitter resentment against that stepmother. My first bayonet was against the world.
Then one day I was dressed in my best and placed in the charge of the conductor on a train. I was going to my mother. My father met me at the station. I was a bit afraid of him before, as I mentioned, and now he was losing his hair, and was bald on the top of his head. That somehow offended my sense of the beautiful.
I was reunited with my sisters, Grace (three years younger) and Mary Leila (five years my junior). We were left alone except for an old lady named Mrs. Carwell who lived with us and looked after us when my mother went out. Everyone thought I was something strange, and my good table manners were commented upon by everyone. I was shy and didn't wish to be noticed. It was difficult to adjust myself to my new surroundings with my two sisters. They wanted everything that I had, and I soon lost my ring with the rubies. Also I think I lost some of my good manners. My mother was very lax in discipline. She would take us often to a picture show. I saw more colored slides illustrating songs. One was "Hello Central. Give me Heaven, for My Mother's There."
"You will find her with the angels on the golden stairs...."
There was a sad little girl talking on the phone and golden stairs with an angel on each step dimming away in perspective. Another song was "Won't You Come to My House and Play You Are My Little Girl?" This little girl had also lost her mother and she was very poor and ragged , sitting alone on some steps. And a rich lady pointed to the house across the way. My romantic idea of life became definitely to be that girls with curls were always unhappy, and their mothers died and they were mistreated by stepmothers. And, if you were lucky, someone came along who lived in a big house across the way.
I began to grow morbid under the influence of the melancholy period that was then in vogue. Sob stuff was then in its heyday. I wonder how many lives have been seriously affected by it. The songs were all about young women dying just before they married, and young mothers having babies in the streets and offering them for sale for half a pound of tea.
"Today is the day we give babies away, with half
a pound of tea..." "For sale, a baby..."
Wayward fathers were receiving tiny worn shoes to stir their consciences.
"Two little baby shoes,
Tiny and soft and blue,
Don't let your heart break,
Come home, for the sake
of two little baby shoes."
Proud pure young ladies were saying, "You would not dare insult me, sir, if Jack were only here." Men, too, were allowed to indulge their feelings of morbidness, at this time. They were often deserted by faithless wives, and left to hold the baby, and be brokenhearted.
"I love her, yes, I love her just the same,
Though she had gone and disgraced my name.
Though she's gone with another,
She's still my baby's mo----ther,
And I love her, yes, I love her just the same."
That was the time of East Lynne and other such sentimental plays. They were the "good old days" when people had ideals, and women were given seats in tram cars and didn't know anything about politics, and didn't pretend they did. They wore petticoats, and suffered in silence, if they were ladies. If they couldn't get their man, they wept softly in lace handkerchiefs, and pined away and died, and were buried under old apple trees. Even if husbands came home drunk and beat them, ladies did not get divorces. Also "Rags were 'Royal Raiment' when worn for virtue's sake." I remember this line from the play Every Woman. It was such things as these that my ravenous children's soul devoured. It gorged itself until it developed chronic spiritual dyspepsia. I have been years overcoming all this sentimentality about purity and melancholy. Perhaps I have gone to the other extreme in overcoming this. But nature, given a chance, will always work out its own salvation.
My next memories are about a family friend called Mrs. Carwell (Remember how she had lived with us and was a sort of "Nannie"?) She went to church regularly, and once I heard my mother call her a "hypocrite." I wondered what that word meant. This old lady's life was mysterious.; She always called herself a Kentucky thoroughbred. She had been married to a major at one time, and told convincing stories of grandeur, and of all the men who came to woo her fair hand. At this time she was in love with a man she called "Modeen." I heard he had taken her money and disappeared. Every now and then she would call out, "Oh, Modeen", in ecstasy. My youngest sister would mimic her. When she lived with us, she always slept with a butcher knife or a poker under her mattress because once she had awakened in the night and found a negro standing over her. Then she screamed, "Oh, a big black Negro," and my mother, sleeping in the next room, got her revolver from under her pillow and rushed after the Negro and shot at him. They found blood on the wall next morning.
Sister Mary Leila told me this story. This same old lady had a diseased ankle. It had swollen eruptions all over it. some feelings of objection registered in me when I watched her putting plasters of greenish yellow salve and leaves of mullen and polkberry plants, and a mixture of herbs she boiled to a "smelonious" mass. There were times she could hardly walk, but because of her great pride she would try to walk without limping. She couldn't bear to think anyone imagined her old and helpless. Every morning she told her fortune in the coffee cups. There was always a journey and a dark man. Most of the day she spent rummaging among her collection of silk scraps, lace, ribbons, shiny buttons, brilliant pins and buckles for making hats. She had a new one each Sunday. Afterwards she would tear it up and make it over. At this time she appeared to be about sixty-five years old. Later she looked younger, and had her second eye-sight. She lived in the Old Ladies' Home, and still made hats from scraps. And when she was visiting she still hid the axe of the butcher knife under her mattress, and every morning told her fortune in the coffee cup. There was still the journey and the dark man. She believed what she saw in the cup, although it never came true since Modeen ran away. Finally, she was killed by a tram car, or she might have lived forever, like Shaw's Immortals in Back to Methusalah.
I also remember another woman living near us whom we called "Miss Sadie". She and my mother used to talk, and we would be sent out of the room. She wore long wrappers, trailing in the back, empire waisted, and she smoked cigarettes. I never saw her outside the house. Mrs. Carwell said she was a sinful woman. I thought it was because she didn't go to church. I liked her, and now and then she gave me a present. But I thought it was strange for a woman to smoke. My mother didn't smoke.
One morning that fall, my mother took me to a large brick building across from where we lived and enrolled me for school. I remember learning Roman numerals up to X. Learning them bored me, and I didn't do them very well. My teacher said they looked as though they were dancing. That gave me an idea. After that, I made them dance more and more. I liked drawing pictures on my slate. Objects were drawn on the blackboard for us to copy. I liked the cats best. I drew them by making a small circle and putting ears on it, dots for eyes and nose, and a small curve for a mouth. Sometimes the curve was one-sided, which gave the cat a cynical smile. A larger circle joining the small circle was the body, and a looped line made the tail. Under it I wrote, "This is a cat."
At recess we marked from the school room two by two, and burst from the building with the explosive sound of children suddenly released. Then, if I had any money, I would go with the other children to a nearby store and buy red candy called "wine balls" and stick one into a sour pickle, sucking it, and eating bits of the pickle at the same time. This was a great delicacy among children then.
That summer when school was out, I played with other children on the deserted school grounds. The child I liked best was a little girl whom the other children made fun of because she wore boys' overalls. Her name was Frances. She had a little brother called Ausie. Sometimes she and I would venture far form home. I would take my baby sister, and she would take her brother. My sister was a very temperamental child. She would bite and scratch and hang on my skirt until it was torn from the waist. I found a way of managing her by lying down, closing my eyes, and folding my hands across my chest, as I had seen Aunt Tabitha in her coffin, and saying, "I am dead." She would try to open my eyes by pulling the lids up. Then she would cry, and I would say, "I won't be dead if you will be good." "I be go--goo--good," she stammered when she was nervous. Sometimes I would tease her by showing her a puddle of water in the street where the reflection of the sky made it look miles deep. I would pretend I was going to step into it, and she would pull back, screaming with terror. I thought this was very funny.
Frances and I were always looking for empty whiskey bottles. We used them for dolls, and made paper dresses for them from colored paper we collected form various sources. Sometimes we were fortunate enough to get a book of wallpaper samples. We begged paper from everyone we met.
The neighboring children formed a secret circle apart from the world of our adults, and investigated the mysteries of life, discussing our different ideas of where babies came from, and also the reality of Santa Claus. We found out that little boys were different from little girls, and that there was always a mama and a papa and a doctor when a baby was born. We knew also that they slept together. We played mama and papa, and the doctor brought the baby.
Next I remember having a knee injury which required stitches. At first I had a Negro woman to carry me about. After I was able to hop around on one foot, I had difficulty keeping from pulling out the stitches. I had a habit of gazing out into space in a trance and, when in this semi-conscious sate, I would play with the stitches that protruded themselves upon my sense of touch. Then my foot would bleed, and my mother would get alarmed.
Before my knee became completely healed, we moved again, and I didn't see Frances for about two months. Then one day, she came to see me. I was just able to walk and was so anxious to show her how active I was, I ran and jumped until I hurt my foot again, and had to go back to bed for another spell. Then we got a letter from Aunt Nora. She had gotten married to her redheaded friend who had come to see her in Louisiana. He was now a doctor, and they were living about ten miles away, in Natchez, Mississippi, and wanted me to come to visit. I don't remember not wanting to go. The thought of a train journey pleased me. I don't remember the trip, but I know I was again put in the charge of the conductor.
The next memory I have is of being with my aunt. She and her husband were living in a country house with lots of grounds around it. There were horses and cows and chicks, a dog, a cat, pigs, and little baby pigs. There was so much to see that I didn't get homesick for a few days. I slept with my aunt and her husband, whom I started calling "Uncle F. O." and had always liked, slept in another room. After about three days, I was put in the other room, and he wanted to sleep with Aunt Nora. I couldn't understand this. I felt very hurt to be put out that way. I cried and became homesick.
My new uncle had his office in the house, and patients would come from all over the countryside with toothaches and every possible thing the matter with them. I became very interested in the patients and their diseases.
There was a Negro man who tended a few acres of field for my uncle, and he was very good to me. He showed me all the animals and caught a tiny pig for me to hold. And, most of all, I liked to hear him sing songs. He used to sing
"Stood on the railroad
looked way down the track.
Said to the conductor,
Bring my baby back."
It wasn't long before I started to ride horses. They had to be taken to water about a mile away, and I started first riding behind the Negro on one of the horses while he led the other. Then, later, I rode the other horse. Once the horse I was on became frightened and jumped, then started running. This startled me so that I forgot to hold on and just let myself fall off.
The next six months were spent helping my aunt with the housework and learning to sew. I started piecing a quilt. I liked the idea at first, but I soon tired of sewing tiny squares together into larger squares, and of the scraps of materials, mostly left from one of my dresses which I had already grown tired of. Still, I had to do a square a day, and more sometimes, for punishment. I began to hate it, and would choose the softest material because I could run the needle through quickly. Sometimes, when my aunt wasn't near, I ran the squares together on the sewing machine. When she discovered this, she made me rip them out and sew them over with the needle. She always added several extra ones for discipline.
Many times I took my sewing to my horse, Dick's, stall and sat in his feed box. I would tell him frankly what I thought about things. I didn't think I should have to sew when I wanted to be out in the woods. The violets wouldn't bloom forever and now, underneath the trees, they made a purple carpet. The other children I knew didn't have to sew quit squares. They went to the woods and gathered violets. Some of the blooms were larger than the others. They called these "rooster" violets. It seemed very strange to connect roosters with violets. But they knew more than I about the woods. I could only teach tem not to say "ain't" or "tote" for carry.
I was happy in the woods. When I was alone there, I felt different in some way than I did when I was a home or in the woods with the other children... the violets and the yellow jasmine climbing among the trees; trees white with large star-petalled blossoms; and between the softly rolling hills the pink honeysuckle that looked like floating pink clouds in the distance. I didn't just look at them. I belonged to them.
My uncle's sister lived not too far away. She had many children. They are like shadows to me now. I can't remember any of their names. They were different form the children I played with in the city. They had no sex curiosity. they learned things from nature. They had seen the mating and the birth of cows, pigs, and chickens. And their mother had a new baby every year. Their speech was strange to me. My aunt said it was incorrect. When a little girl told me she had to "hope Ma scour down the walls" I didn't know what she meant at first. But I soon found out the "hope" meant "help", and "scouring down the walls" was pouring scalding soap suds against the boards of the wall and then scrubbing them until they were almost white. Other expressions they used were, "I ain't had nary one", meaning I haven't one; a dish of food was "a mess of grub"; and fatback was called "fry". I tried to correct them, and sometimes they got the corrections mixed. A little boy once said to his sister, "Don't say 'ain't', say 'carry'." Everyone laughed, and the story was told over and over.
Every Saturday the yards had to be swept clean like rock. I often helped them. Later in the evening, when the cows came home, lowing for their calves, I watched the older girls milk. First the calf was turned out to its mother. It would rush to the swollen teats and hunch them until the cow's hind legs were almost lifted off the ground. This brought the milk down, I was told. Then a little boy would put a rope around the calf's neck and pull it away before it got too much of the milk. The girl then squatted with a pail between her knees, and squeezed the teats with two hands, alternating so that it sent two strong streams of milk, one after the other, with a shish, shish, shish, shish into the pail with such force that the milk frothed and foamed. The cow stood quietly licking the calf, her rough tongue making it look like the marcelle waves I had seen my other get done to her hair in the beauty shop. There was a dreamy look in the cow's eyes as she caressed her baby. the calf now and then sniffed at its mother's nose, and then suddenly rushed to the end of the rope. Stopped by a terrific jerk, it stayed there, with its neck stretched towards the teats, its tongue hanging out, rolling its eyes, as it was choked by the rope. One teat was left for the calf, if it was not old enough to eat grass. This it enjoyed after the milking was finished, while the cow stood with twisted neck, licking the calf's hindquarters.
Time passed very quickly. Soon it was early summer and we were gathering mayaws. These were red berries that grew on trees near water, and there were sloughs of water everywhere from showers that came suddenly, with thunder and lightning. The berries were shaken from the trees and fell into the water beneath. There they floated, and we skimmed them up in handfuls. They made beautiful jelly, like apple jelly, only sharper in taste. Later there were wild plums and blackberries.
I began to feel a part of this country where women went barefooted and wore no underclothes, and relieved nature by holding their loose homespun dresses away form their bodies in the back and front, standing with their legs apart, in the manner of a cow squatting for the same purpose. They worked in the fields like men, after ploughing oxen. There were streams but the women did not often fish. Sometimes they muddied a pool of water and caught the fish when they came to the surface for air. The woods were full of rabbits, squirrels, oppossum, coons; partridges and wild ducks in the winder; also wild turkeys. But these people never hunted. They were lazy, good-natured people -- happy, with the kindest hearts I have ever known. There was none of the malice I find among cultured people. Everyone worked for himself, and there was hardly a family that didn't own a farm. They started working at sunrise, singing, letting their voices out in calls that found echoes.
One day I heard that my uncle was going away. I was very unhappy about it. He was going West to look for a suitable place to practice medicine. My aunt was snobbish. These people wanted a sociable doctor. I heard my uncle tell my aunt so. Before he left, I went out to the well with him. It was during an electrical storm, and a flash of lightning streaked before us, blinding me for a moment. But I was used to this. I had followed him to the well to ask a question I had had on my mind for a long time:
"Uncle Teddy, why did you marry Aunt Nora?"
"Because she was pretty and good."
"Do you think she is pretty?"
"Yes, don't you?"
"No. I don't even think she is good."
The windlass creaked as he finished drawing up the water form the sixty-foot well. We didn't say any more.
In the summer were Protracted Meetings at the County Churches. They were held more as social gatherings for the people who lived miles apart then to bring sinners to the Lord. It lasted for weeks, and was the holiday part of the year. Families came in wagon loads, bringing with them their choicest hams, baked or boiled with spicies, and sweetened with rich molasses from their own sugar cane; rich cakes and pastries; and pickles, jellies, spiced peaches and pickled watermelon rind; and boiled eggs deviled into a succulent mixture. Never have I known such flavors. Even my aunt forgot her snobbishness, and prepared food for days. She made beaten biscuit caramel cake and creamy lemon pies. I was happy then. The children didn't have to sit in church and listen to the preacher save sinners. I'm sure these people didn't think much about sin. The service was mostly song singing.
One day when I was playing outside and my aunt was in the church, a man rode up on a horse and asked for her. He and a woman and a little girl were waiting at home. I sent inside and told my aunt, and we left immediately. I think she must have known who it was. I didn't suspect.
At home I found my mother and youngest sister waiting for me. I hadn't written to mother for a long time, as my aunt had forbidden me to. I was happy to see my mother. She said she had come to take me back with her. I didn't mind leaving my aunt. I had begun to think much less of her. She seemed against everything that made me happy. I wasn't even allowed to eat mulberries, and there were trees of them everywhere to tempt me.
My mother, sister, and I started off, and had gone a little way when my mother discovered she had left something. We turned back, and she went into the house. After we started again, she told me that she had found Aunt Nora lying on the bed crying. This seemed strange to me -- her crying. I didn't know she minded me going. I didn't think she cared for me when I was with her. She had punished me too much for every little thing -- even to holding my knife and fork the wrong way. "Don't hold your knife and fork so low down," she would say, twisting her mouth primly.
"Don't get milk on the outside of your mouth," and "Place the knife on the edge of your plate when you are not using it."
My life had been all "don'ts". Now I would be free. I remembered the freedom I enjoyed with my mother. I wouldn't have to sew or do anything else that I didn't want to. With these thoughts, I drove out any feeling of regret that I was leaving Aunt Nora crying. She should have treated me better, and let me write to my mother. All sympathy for her vanished. I hoped I would never see her again. Yet, for some reason, I felt like crying.
My little sister seemed to have something to tell me. She kept looking at my mother and giggling. Before I left, I had taken her out to see the peach trees with the large ripe peaches on them. But she was afraid of the bees, and wouldn't go near them. She was even afraid of the chickens. I thought, "How different she is from the children of the country."
"I'm afraid the damn bees will sting me," she said. I was surprised. My aunt had not even allowed me to say "sakes alive," or "my gracious." I had not been allowed to say anything that was not correct. Also, Aunt Nora would never talk to me, and she wouldn't let me tell her about Frances and her little brother, and the bottle dolls, and Effie, and Ella, and Audrey, and the man they called "Doctor", with the motor car and the little goatee, and about my mother's white cream. I thought the white cream would make my aunt prettier. She had freckles, and I hated freckles. There had been so many things I had wanted to say. I wanted to tell her that my mother did her hair in two braids instead of one, as she did; and that my little sister had a high temper. She would only say, "Children should be seen and not heard." But my uncle had listened to me. And again those little laugh wrinkles would appear around his eyes, and smiles would start from his ears, and creep to the corners of his mouth. I felt sad for a moment because I might never see him again.
After several hours train journey, we spent the night in Jackson, Mississippi. Then I discovered what my sister had been giggling about.
"Mama has a new husband," she whispered. I didn't understand.
"It is Louie. He is a barber. A barber shaves people."
"What happened to Papa?" I asked.
"Mama divorced him. Louie cut him across the face with a razor in a fight. I saw it. Papa went to the hospital. Louie went to the jail. I used to go with Mama to see him. She took him things to eat and cigarettes. He boarded with us. I like him. You will like him, too."
Her words fell like hailstones, bouncing off my brain. I made no comment. I listened.
"He is good-looking. He has dimples, and he is deaf. You will have to shout to him."
I didn't know the meaning of all this. I had heard of divorce, but I never thought of it as belonging to real life.
I must have looked unhappy, for my mother tried to cheer me up by suggesting that we stay in Jackson all day. There was a noted insane asylum there. We would visit it. So we went through it to see the mad people. I didn't know what to think of them. Some of them amused me, and some made me feel sad. It was like looking at freaks in a circus. I thought they were there just to be looked at. One woman was rocking a doll. The guide explained that she did it all the time. Her child had died, and she had lost her mind. All I remember of the others is a sea of expressionless eyes and pasty faces. But the rocking back and forth of this woman with the doll left an impression, and started me thinking about the minds of people.
Then we continued our journey back to the hectic, gay life of my mother. We had plenty of clothes. I had red shoes and a red plush coat and hat to match, and a red silk dress. When Christmas came, we got lots of toys and, although I did not believe in Santa Claus, I didn't let anyone know it.
Louis was like another child with us. He liked teasing my second sister. She was learning to read the Primer. She read aloud, "Put-- the--apple--in--the--cuppp." Louie would imitate her. Soon we all began to do it. She was so earnest in her study that he paid no attention to us. Once she let me cut her hair, and I cut it to make her look funny. She cried when she saw it, boring her knuckles into her eyes. I liked seeing her cry.
That winter I fell in love. I was ten; he was eleven. His mother was an invalid. She used to have a needle stuck in her arm. I was there once when her husband did it. The boy told me it was to stop the pain. I couldn't understand. She had her first pain, I thought, and then the needle must hurt when it was stuck in her arm. Why cause the woman more pain?
One night I went to a children's party. During the evening I had to go for a walk with the little boy I was in love with. It was something I had to do to redeem a forfeit in a game of "Spinning the Plate." I had planned it all with the girl who was giving the party. I had on my red dress and shoes, and had a red ribbon in my hair. I hoped he would kiss me, but he didn't. He only said he thought the road was dusty, and that he thought they were serving ice cream, and we had better go back or we wouldn't get any. That was the first indication I had that love meant so much more to a woman than to a man. I used to wonder how a boy could expect a girl to love him. I thought they should be glad if a girl noticed them at all, as girls were so much prettier. Because he wouldn't get romantic, I began to think he was in love with another girl I had seen him talking to. She was older than I, with long red curls. I would have to think of some way to win him. I must make myself more beautiful than the other girl.
My hair was light brown and short, except for the section in back that was braided and tied with a ribbon. When I loosened this part of my hair and parted it in the center, it covered the short hair and made me look as though I had long hair. I did this one day, and tied a band of ribbon around my head, with a bow on the side. My mother was out, so I painted my cheeks and lips thickly with rouge. I went to my mother's dressmaker, who lived next-door to the little boy. He was in his yard cutting wood. I sat on the fence between the two houses so that he could see me.
He said, "I thought you had short hair!"
"Well, your hair must grow like birds flying."
Later I found out the red-haired girl was his sister. He had really loved me, and I had wasted all that time primping for nothing.
Another character I remember vividly was a mild-mannered man I watched putting his wife and children out in the street and throwing all their lovely clothes and jewels and wardrobe trunks out after them. I had never seen him like this. He was not only mild, but shy, coming in from his work and going into the kitchen to find his wife. There he would sit with his beer, the paper, and his simple food, calling his wife, "Jenny". He remained always in love with her. He had once been jealous because Jenny had shaken hands with William Jennings Bryan after hearing him speak. She had only wanted to tell Mr. Bryan that she had always read about him, and had named her son Bryan after him.
This same man showed up on different occasions during the following years. Once I came upon him, an old man, collecting refuse and dumping it into a wagon. And I saw him one Labor Day when all the employees of the city marched in a parade: street sweepers, garbage collectors, park commissioners, fire commissioners, city judges, and the mayor. The city was Memphis, Tennessee. How proud the old man was in his clean white suit, as he marched along in his place among the garbage collectors. Once I was with his daughters, Ella and Audrey, when they met their father engaged in his work. They were embarrassed and would not look at him. They considered his business a disgrace to their social standing, I suppose. The quality of snobishness never changes, only the environment.
The most fiendish person I knew at that time was the dog catcher. I was back with my parents and my sisters now. I watched him slip up on wretched little dog waifs and , with some kind of hook on a long pole, he slung them into a wired-in wagon. I always quarreled with him and told him he would certainly go to hell for hurting those poor little dogs. Once, when he wasn't looking, I turned all the dogs in his wagon out. They ran in every direction, and crawled under houses. I ran, too. I was afraid he would hook me and sling me into his wagon.
I once had a dog named Fritzie Lu. Someone poisoned her. It must have been a man because she didn't like men, and would try to bite one of them if they came near. I held her in my arms towards the last and, just before she died, she looked at me and tried to smile with her eyes, and then went limp in my arms. The next day she was carried away by the garbage man. I always thought puppies were the sweetest things in the world. I liked the way they smelled, a sweet warm milky smell. I like kissing their little noses, but I was told not to. So after that I only did it when no one was looking. If my sister saw me, she would run and tell on me. I also wanted to sleep with the puppy, and would slip her into my bed when I got the chance. I hadn't found anything in life so satisfactory to me as a soft, warm, milk-smelling puppy, especially baby hounds. They were so pathetic looking and awkward, with large floppy ears and long gawky legs and heavy feet.
I have so many impressions of this period of my life that they crowd one upon the other without continuity. I remember the white cream my mother used on her face that made her look like a ghost. I tried it once and my face broke out in a red rash. Once she forgot she had it on and went to the drug store for something. I noticed it but didn't say anything. I was with her. Everyone looked at her. She wondered why and glanced at herself in a mirror, and we hurried out of the shop. I also remember that mother always carried a revolver when she went out. She hid it in the folds of her skirt. I also think she was absentminded because once she forgot to put on the waist of her suit. She took me to the theater and during the show she removed her coat. When the lights came on, she was sitting there in her camisole. It couldn't pass for an evening dress, as it was a matinee. "She told these incidents to everyone and laughed. My mother liked to laugh. It rippled out and lasted a long time. She slept late in the morning. I went to school without breakfast. I never wanted any. My stomach has always been weak in the mornings, even as a child.
When we asked for a story, she told us about the kind who wanted a story that would never end, and a man told him the story of the crow which each morning came to the barn to get a grain of corn; the next morning came and got another grain of corn. "What do you think he did the next day?" "What?" we asked, hopefully, with wide eyes. And she would say, "He came and got another grain of corn." That was repeated over and over again until we were in tears and screaming for her to stop. Sometimes she played on our emotions by telling us that she wasn't really our mother, and that she had only found us in a mud hole. We would cry so that she would have to say she was our mother to get us to stop. Then she would say, "Some day I shall be old and wrinkled and lame, and then I will die and be put into the ground." How little she realized she was distorting our ideas of life. She thought it only amusing, and would break out in her rippling laughter. That was her way of showing us attention. I'm sure she adored us. But she was young and full of her own life, not realizing her responsibility in bringing up three girls. She realized it later and was very wonderful in her care of my oldest son. Teenaged parents should not have the care of their own children. They are too interested in themselves. Grandmothers should rear the children.
I remember going with the family to visit our father. I liked him better when he was not at home. HE was living in a camp, doing some kind of work connected with building the levees to keep the Mississippi from overflowing. We lived in a tent while there. The contractor's children were there also, a baby and a girl. The girl had a misshapen mouth, and I heard it was caused by taking calomel, and eating sour pickles afterwards. I always remembered this when I was forced to take calomel, which was often, because the valley of the Mississippi was full of malaria. I liked the boy. I think he liked me too. I was very romantic then, and always dreaming of falling in love, and getting married. It seemed I would never grow up.
Once that summer, after I returned from camp, I saw my girlfriend, Frances, and her little brother. Our secret clan was broken up, and most of the children had moved away. I was spending the night with Frances one time, and we were going to play with some children on the street. We rushed out of the house, Frances and Causie ahead of me. As I ran across the street, I stepped on something and, although I didn't realize what had happened, I turned back and got to the door, and dropped. Instinctively, I put my hand to my foot and felt a gush of blood, as my hand fitted into the gash in my foot. My big toe was almost off. I screamed for Frances's mother. Later a doctor came. I remember he was handsome, with lovely dark eyes. He tied something tight around my leg, and I heard him say he would sew my foot. then came the stitches. I don't think he gave me anything to deaden the pain. He tried to soothe me by saying I was a brave girl, and "only one more stitch." I gritted my teeth and, after he had taken one more stitch, he took another. And each time I would ask, "How many more?" And each time he would say, "Just one more," until there were twelve. I counted them on my fingers. I didn't cry. Once, during the stitching, I looked up and saw Frances and her little brother looking at me through the half-open door. I remember the shy little smile on her face, and the wondering, frightened look in her eyes.
I was taken home next day. My mother bought me a large doll, and dressed it like a baby. My foot healed very slowly. As before, it was difficult to keep the stitches in, for I was very absent-minded and gazing into space. Humming or singing, I would play with the rough ends of the stitches until they became loose, and my foot would bleed, and mother would be alarmed. I didn't walk the rest of the summer.
That fall, Aunt Nora wrote, asking me to visit again. I was glad to go on a train journey, and I had forgotten all the unpleasant discipline from my aunt. The conductor put me into the charge of my Aunt and the tall man whom she referred to this time as my Uncle Teddy. We drove through the country in a buggy. It was nearly dark. I could see trees with long grey veils hanging from them, almost to the ground. My aunt said it was moss. For the first few nights, as before, I slept with my aunt and then got shoved to the room next door, and her husband took my place in bed. I was hurt. I was jealous. I cried and became homesick again. But then this time I thought that maybe, if they slept together they would have a baby, and I could play with it. I wondered how long it would take. They could get it soon, I thought, because he was a doctor. He could bring his own baby.
One day my aunt tried to teach me where babies come from. I was embarrassed. She was so precise and self-conscious. She split an corn open and showed me the tiny tree curled inside, and told me that a baby grew like that -- only the other's place for carrying the baby was under her heart. I didn't think her explanation very clear. She didn't tell me how it got there, only that it was connected to the mother by a cord which had to be cut. This only left me more confused than ever with the mystery of birth.
A little boy sometimes came to play with me. We played Indians. He made bows and arrows with sticks and strings. Once we found a block of buzzards eating a dead cow. We shot our arrows at them, pretending they were wild turkeys. Our efforts didn't annoy the birds, as they were so ravenous over the carrion. The hideousness of this scene impressed itself on my memory, and since then I have seen nothing so disgusting as those people who haven't the courage to live themselves and prey upon the emotions of others for their knowledge. Then when there is something that threatens to bring them out of the stagnant water into the current of life, they run and hide.
One day I tried to tell the little boy how babies grow. I showed him the little tree in the acorn and told him that he had started like that, under his mother's heart, and that he had been tied to her with a cord that had had to be cut. Before I had finished, he ran away and started throwing stones at a bird's nest.
I went to the country school that winter. It was not allowed to ride Dick to school (the horse I told you about on my last visit to Aunt Nora's). I thought it too far to walk, so I rode a broomstick. It was no distance then. I galloped all the way, and hitched the broomstick to a post until I started home again. Several of the children started riding broomsticks to school.
I was trying to learn the multiplication tables, and thought the three times table very difficult. The five times table was easy, it seemed to me, and so was the ten times table.
Sometimes I went to Natchez with my aunt to her singing lesson. I thought she made horrible faces when she sang, and I didn't like the sound she made, either. I did like the words to some of the songs. I could play the melody with one hand on the piano, and sing the words:
"There is one dear maid in all the world,
To whom my heart is true.
And her lips are like the roses;
Her eyes are Heaven's blue."
My favorite was:
"There, little girl, don't cry,
They have broken your doll, I know,
And your tea set blue,
And your playhouse, too
Are things of the long ago.
But childish troubles
Will soon pass by.
There, little girl,
Don't cry, don't cry."
There were other verses which I learned later, and I have often wondered if I felt the prophecy of the verses then.
Another one was:
"There, little girl, don't cry,
They have broken your slate, I know.
And the glad wild ways
Of your school girl days
Are things of the long ago.
But life and love
Will soon come by.
There, little girl,
Don't cry, don't cry."
It wasn't long before I knew this song expressed all the waiting in life, looking forward to something that is always in the distance -- a never-ceasing longing. And, if you stop longing, you no longer have the desire. And when the time rolls around, what you wanted doesn't matter. The price of waiting was too heavy. And the last verse:
"There, little girl, don't cry.
They have broken your heart, I know.
And the rainbow gleams
Of ;your youthful dreams
Are things of the long ago.
But Heaven holds all
For which you sigh.
There, little girl,
Don't cry, don't cry."
It's too bad if the little girl doesn't believe in heaven. The song is pure irony -- meaning no more than: Naught equals infinity -- a trick algebraic problem.
After Christmas, Aunt Nora, Uncle Ted and I moved from Natchez. I overheard them say it was because of the boll weavil eating the cotton crop. No one had any money to pay my uncle-doctor. He was going to another place in Mississippi where his family lived. I didn't hear the name of our destination. Uncle Ted had to take the horses through the country. My aunt and I were to follow on the train, after her voice recital. When my uncle started I begged to go with him. So I loped out of Natchez on Dick, ahead of my uncle in a buggy pulled by his horse, Bob.
Now and then we would change horses, and he would ride and I would drive. When it rained, we both rode in the buggy with the oil curtains up, and tied Dick on to Bob's bridle. Sometimes we crossed streams so deep that the water came into the buggy and the horses had to swim, pulling the buggy like a boat.
We stopped at farm houses at night. I always slept with my uncle. I began to feel a great passion for him, and hoped that he would hold me in his arms during the night. My imagination ran riot with my feelings. Whether or not he noticed this, I never knew. I was in love with a man, and with the greatest sexual urge I have ever known. I wonder if everyone's sex instinct is greater between the ages eight and ten? I have heard others say that they had these same feelings at that age.
We arrived after five days at the home of my uncle's brother in Collins, Mississippi. He was very like my uncle, only not so good-looking. He also had red hair, but his nose was sharper, and his eyes smaller. His wife, like my aunt, had dark hair and eyes. He and his wife had numerous children: Eunice, Lois, and Alice, who was my age. There were several boys of all ages; also two or three very young children. Their mother was much pleasanter than my aunt, and prettier, I thought. I had a sore throat when I arrived, and she told me to wrap a soiled stocking around it when I went to bed. I used one of the stockings I had worn during the trip. The next morning my throat was better. When my aunt arrived I told her of the soiled stocking. I think she was horrified. My aunt was very aloof in her manner towards her husband's people.
There, we went to stay with my uncle's father and mother in the country. His younger sister was there. She was fair and plump, and her name was Dagmar. I began calling her Aunt Dagmar, and the old couple became "Grandmother and Grandfather to me. The old man had been in the Civil War, and he told me terrible things that the Yankees had done, and of the bravery of the Confederate soldiers.
Although it was winter, violets were blooming in the yard. I picked them early in the morning. They were growing near the front porch below a shelf where water was kept in a cedar bucket. A gourd dipper floated in the water. A basin was fitted into a hole cut in the shelf. There was a soap disk with pink soap and roller towel on the wall. The waste water was thrown on the hydrangeas. Grandmother told me they wanted heaps of water. I threw my water on the violets. They were blooming; the others were not, although Grandmother said the others were more beautiful than the violets when they did bloom. But I felt then, as now, that the present can be hurt by thinking too much of the future. I found that in this part of the world this was the usual location for drinking water, and the wash basin. As you passed houses along the road you could see men slushing their faces with water, rubbing soap into their ears, or lathering their faces and shaving by a little mirror on the front porch.
All the houses had lightning rods. The prosperity of the farmer was judged by the number of shiny globes and spears and weathervanes he had on his house. There were only one-story houses. Only a few were painted. The older ones were rambling, showing the farmer had a large family. For, when a couple first married, they had only a shack of two rooms and a bit of land. As the family increased, rooms were added. My adopted grandmother and her daughter did all the housework. There were no Negroes in that part of the South. The kitchen and dining room were separated from the rest of the house and connected by a bridge with railings. And there was white sand on the floor. Sage grass, tied in bundles, was used for brooms. The yard was swept clean down to its hard surface. Not a particle of loose dirt could be found outside the flower beds. There was an inner yard planted entirely in flowers. Each house had several lightning rods.
While my uncle was finding a place to settle, my aunt and I went to East Tennessee to visit her sister. I don't remember Aunt Nora's leaving, but I was now in the care of my loving Aunt Donie, Phredonia Estes Kefauver, whom I had seen at Uncle Joe's (Estes Hall) with the baby cousin who cried when I tried to hold him. He was now about five. His full name, I learned, was Cary Estes Kefauver. The "Cary" was after the most famous Estes ancestor, Henry Cary, who built the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg. I often wonder why they bothered to name a baby for somebody they were proud of, and then dropped the name. A different kind of "name dropping." Estes had an older brother, Robert, who had a high temper. His sister, two, was beautiful, with light brown curls and dimples. They had a Shetland pony. We could never catch him when he was in the pasture. Sometimes I was allowed to ride him. An older boy next-door threw things at the pony when I was on him to make him kick up his hind legs. This boy liked teasing me. Every time he saw me, he would pretend he was picking fleas off me, and cracking them on his finger nails, saying, "Fleas. Fleas." This made me fight. And then he would run and laugh at me. Most of the time I ended in tears, and then he would say, "Don't be a baby. I was only playing with you." His name was Neil. I disliked him then. But later, when I was almost fifteen, and he was seventeen, he was my first girlhood love.
On Sundays we visited my Aunt Donie's mother-in-law. They lived in a large plantation home built, even to the bricks, by their slaves before the Civil War. There were vast orchards and fields and chestnut groves. I liked going there. The old lady told us stories of the Civil War. Sherman marched over their land on this way to the sea. She told us of a goat she had who could smell Yankees miles away, and would run into a cellar. This was a warning to them to put away their valuables. By this time I thought that everyone living north of the Mason and Dixon line were sub-human fiends. I had heard of General Lee as some great god, and Abraham Lincoln as the master fiend of the Yankees, with a personal grudge against the Southerners.
The daughter of the house was a very tall masculine old maid. She went into the fields to oversee the workers, which caused much criticism. Also, she had a habit of adopting little girls from the Orphans Home. Most of them she used a servants. And, because of her cruelty to them, they always ran away. One of them ran to my Aunt Donie for protection, and she refused to send her back. After that, the "in-laws" never liked my aunt, and when she had babies, I was told this mean cruel sister-in-law always "felt sorry for" her brother and sent him rare foods: tomatoes out of season from her greenhouse...
The family burial ground was in the garden. My aunt's first little girl was buried there. She haddied of diphtheria. There was a very tall stone, marking the grave of some grandfather. He had written the epitaph for his tombstone before he died. The words glared at you:
Remember, man, as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you will be.
Prepare for death and follow me.
He almost seemed to rise out of the grave at me when I read it. Even the pets had graves there, and all around were early spring flowers. Later the cherry trees would be in blossom, and there would be strawberries all among the graves.
In the barn, we found dozens of eggs and thousands of pigeons flocked about. Sometimes we played a game called "Pigeons". My oldest cousin would be the paper pigeon and I would be the mama pigeon, and always the younger boy would be the baby pigeon and have to stay in the nest and swallow everything we brought to him. And Robert, oldest, would often bring the most unsavory morsels to him. And, if the "baby pigeon' wouldn't swallow them, there would be a fight. Sometimes we played pony and cart, and the younger cousin, Estes, would have to be the pony and pull us about. He was so tyrannized over by the older boy that my Aunt Donie often had to intervene in favor of his rights as a human being.
(This cruelty suffered by Estes at the hands of his brother later turned into a close relationship. Six years later, Robert drowned in the Tellico River in Tennessee while swimming with Estes and some other boys. Estes was eleven years old at the time, and although he pulled his brother ashore and gave him artificial respiration, Robert couldn't be revived. This seemed to be the turning point in Estes's life. He from that time on had to make up to his parents for Robert's loss and be a better person, study more, and make something of himself).
The most peaceful game we played was shop-keeping. We collected objects belonging to my aunt and sold them back to her for pennies. She gladly humored us. She did most everything her children wanted her to do. This entertained us for hours. We would go to town with our pennies for candy: long whips of licorice, and hearts with mottoes on them were favorites. The boys had skates, and I learned to skate on the front veranda. My aunt's husband was very annoyed when I skated on that veranda. Years later, he was annoyed when, with a few couples, I danced on the veranda to the music of an old-fashioned victrola. Sometimes he would get very annoyed with his wife, and then often I have heard her say, "I should have known what to expect when you behaved as you did on our honeymoon: not taking me into the opera house when I commented on hearing the singing as we passed by. And I only said, 'Let's stay here and listen awhile.'" Her husband would fly into a rage, "I won't have any of that."
My little girl cousin was still wearing diapers. Sometimes I would change them. I liked holding her little feet and powdering where the soft fat folds of her legs made creases. Now she is a young lady of twenty-five, very hysterical and moody. Although she had always been a temperamental child, I feel somehow I may have had something to do with her condition. I made a confidante of her when she was only a child and I a grown girl. I read her my love letters, and her imagination was fired. Then her life was never like her dreams. As a child, she had looked forward to being old enough to have love affairs -- with the flowers and the chocolates in blue satin boxes that went with love and beaux. But the kind of beaux of my early girlhood departed on the last ebb of a romantic period. After the War, things were different. The young men of her age are not the kind that fired her imagination through my romances. They are brought up with the idea of equal rights with women.
How little one understands and feels the mental agony of others. Physical pain gets all the sympathy, and the mental pain arouses mostly irritation because it is not as easily understood as a pain in the stomach. There is never sympathy for something that is not understood. That queer thought gave me mental agony. Sometimes I think of humanity as passengers on a ship doomed to sink in a moment. There are the same elements of fear, panic, and madness. While some find consolation in religion, and sing "Nearer my God to Thee," as the ship sinks, some others face death and oblivion calmly. Perhaps we are only cells that die and are sloughed from some great body of "All Things", new cells taking our place. Just, as in the human body: bodies within bodies, lives within lives, worlds within worlds. All things are victims of experimental agents. There is a principle that governs time and space, but all we know is that everything seems to go in cycles, and surely we can see a returning to nothingness out of which we all came: the world falling to pieces humanity afflicted with the disease of slow rot, the rotting substance of a child planet. Will a prodigal earth some day be taken again into the burning breast of its mother planet? Poor earth. Getting colder and colder. And humanity, puffed with vanity, think their words must be the law of the universe. Great because they only compare themselves to monkeys: fleas and ticks full of blood on the belly of a dead cow. If there were only some way of interpreting our thoughts as we feel them. Words come from the struggle to express feelings. Feelings burst open the surface of thought, making a noise; the noise is words. Words are dangerous. They can be twisted according to our feelings. Some feelings can't be expressed in words. The moments of silence between two people, each feeling the others' deepest feelings. If they try to put them into words, or even bring them to the surface of thought, there is misunderstanding. Words fly around like darts. In this agonized thinking, could there be any truth? It was once pleasant to pray for something, thinking I would get it. I think I was frightened out of religion. I crawled under the covers at night in terror of the angry God I heard about.
It is painful, twining through the maze of the past trying to find a lost child, trailing her back through time. The child knows the answer to many mysteries. It hasn't forgotten what it brought from creation. And that, I think is what is meant in the Bible, "Unless ye become as little children you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven." Our everyday civilized world today is a parasite upon the truth, which is taken for itself. Parasite truths. A child is a natural enemy to these false truths. Therefore, the child must be conquered, and turned into a machine that will carry out the cruder human functions, and obey man-made laws. But some hide away in dreams.
Although I was happy with Aunt Donie and her family, no one can take the place of your own family. So when Mama came to take me back to Memphis again, I was again anxious to get back to her, my sisters, and my friends. My little sister, Grace, told me what had been happening in her life since I went away. Mama had divorced Louie and married him again. Now she was divorcing him again. "He came home one night and found Ella and Effie (her man-chasing friends) and some men with Mama. He was drunk, and he slapped Mama. The men and Ella and Effie ran out of the house, and he threw victrola records after them. He called Ella and Effie whores. Mama told him he couldn't insult her friends, but Louie only slapped Mama again." Grace bragged, "I got a poker after him and hit him with it. He called me a 'damn little bitch.'" She seemed amused at all this. She told me she was going to be a witness in the divorce.
"What is that?"
"I just sit in a chair and hold up my right hand and answer questions. I did it in Mama's other divorces."
"What did you say?" I asked.
"Oh, I just lied like the lawyer told me to. He gave me half a dollar. He used to take Mama out. She got her divorce for nothing. You'll see him sometimes. He's got a car."
I soon adjusted myself to my new surroundings. My mother took my money I had saved from selling my pigs and bought me new clothes. I began wearing my hair in curls with a large bow of ribbon. I powdered my face and wore silk stockings. Louie came to the house and cried to be taken back. Mama got out an injunction against him. Then my sister and I went to his barber shop to see him because he gave us money. My mother was out most of the time. Sometimes she was in and would tell us to say she was out when anyone knocked. One day I forgot and said, "Mama said she is not at home." It was a man collecting for a bill. My mother had to come out, but she didn't pay the bill. She told him to call again next week.
An old negro woman cooked for us. She had fits. One day she had a fit and fell into the fire. I pulled her out and jerked off the cloth she had wrapped around her head -- it was on fire. She went to the hospital. I went to see her. Her face was swollen. They said I had saved her life by thinking to tear off the wrapper from her head. I burned my own hand. She couldn't work any more after she recovered. She had been a slave of my great-grandmother.
Most of the time, my sister and I went to the corner grocery store and bought pies and milk for our dinner. She liked peach pie, and I liked mince. So we got half of each. My mother often had men and women friends at our house. I could hear them laughing. they drank beer, but my mother would not let me drink any. The men used to say I was pretty, but I was never allowed to stay in the room.
Every night I rolled my hair in kid curlers, but I pretended it was naturally curly. I hated rainy weather because the curls would come out. I wanted to look pretty because there was a boys' school next-door to us. I would watch them play football from our porch, but if any of them noticed me, I would turn away, because I was shy.
My mother met the master of the school. He had a black scar on his face where a boy had once thrown an ink bottle at him. He looked very pale and thin. My mother used to make fun of him because he was so proper. He liked my mother; and when he took her out, he always brought something back for us -- chicken sandwiches or cherry pie or an oyster loaf. We would wake up in the middle of the night when she returned, and eat them.
There were two widows with sons living near us. The sons worked and supported them. One was seventeen and the other fourteen. I liked the younger one. He worked for the Western Union, delivering telegrams, and had a bicycle. He used to take me for rides on the handlebars at night. He was shy about kissing.
There were many children in the neighborhood. One was a little crippled girl with lovely auburn hair, whose mother took in boarders for a living. Just across the street was a boy I began to like. He was not so shy about kissing. We played in the street, and I could stay out as late as I liked because my mother was never in. We liked to play hide and seek because it gave more opportunity for kissing. All of us were very romantic, even the crippled girl. She hobbled about on her crutches, dragging her thin legs in braces. She was not self-conscious of her affliction and was very popular with the boys. She wore her hair in long curls, in the Mary Pickford Fashion, and powdered her face and rouged her lips.
I had begun to go to the movies then. I was keeping up with a serial called "Lucille Love: The Girl of Mystery." Grace Gunard played Lucille, and Francis Ford was the hero. They both became idols of mine. Later, in Hollywood, when I was the star in a picture, Francis Ford played a small bit with me. I told him that he had been my favorite star when I was a little girl. His face brightened up. I felt sad that he should be doing only small bits in pictures then. And once I recognized Grace Gunard playing a drunken hag instead of the sweet young girl she had been in "Lucille Love".
All my thoughts at this time, like the thoughts of other girls I knew, were of boys. We wore the tiny white bows from the lining of our sweethearts' hats pinned over our hearts. In a few months I had collected several hat bows. To wear more than one at a time was not decent. I insisted on wearing all of mine. Very soon all the girls who had more than one hat bow did the same. Then the boys stopped giving them.
After that badges from cigarettes became the symbol of popularity. It was the fashion then to wear large ties of silk under the collars of middy blouses. The tie was spread out and pinned with these badges of red and blue and white celluloid. Such mottoes as "I love my wife, but oh you kid"; "Cheer up, the worst is yet to come"; "Oh you chicken"; "I'm the guy that put the beans in Boston"; "When you see me, wink"...
The crowd usually met at my home. My little sister sang and danced for us. She dressed up in long skirts and stuffed towels in her bosom for breasts, and painted her face and sang, "I'm a Great Big Grease Ball Baby," and "Balling the Jack." I asked her what "grease ball" was. She said, 'Oh, you don't know anything!' Ella and Effie and Audrey and May down the street are 'grease balls' -- whores. They sleep with men for money." This made very little impression on me. I was in the clouds with my own romances. Life was just one dream of love for me.
Mama never talked to me about anything that went on. She only said that something terrible always happened to girls who disobeyed their mothers. This was after she had found us drinking beer with several boys one night. We had tried to pour it down the sink when we heard her come in, but we were caught in the act.
That fall I was thirteen and went to school. It was the same school where my secret circle met years before. It was strange meeting one or two of them again and finding them so grown up.
I was in the fifth grade. I found all the lessons easy except spelling. I could memorize my daily lesson, but it wouldn't stay with me. A word didn't mean letters, it meant a picture of the object itself. The word "Apple" was never for instance A-P-P-L-E. I would see in my mind an apple, a red apple, a green apple, green apple trees, apple trees in bloom -- everything connected with an apple that made a picture would come into my mind before the letters. The abstract words that didn't conjure up pictures I learned to spell very easily. I can't remember when I couldn't spell "psychology."
In the spelling matches we had once a week no one would choose me for their side. I would be left alone after all the other children had been chosen, feeling humiliated. The teacher would place me on one side one week and the other the next. When I was given a word to spell the children laughed even before I attempted to spell it. The teacher gave me the simplest words, but it didn't matter. I could never tell by that time whether it began with "A" or "Z".
I was ahead of my class in everything else. I learned too easily. I had time to be idle waiting for the other children to catch up. I drew or wrote notes to a little boy I liked. He didn't laugh at me when I couldn't spell. I console myself now by coming to the conclusion that not being able to spell is a definite talent. I have observed that many interesting people are poor spellers.
My sister's teacher at this time was one who still remembered me from years ago. Then she was young, and very dark, and had a tiny black moustache. She let the children write their names in colored chalk on the black board when they got "correct" on their slates. I had been trying for a long time, and finally she marked a "C" on my slate. I was happy and felt a great flood of love for her when I thought of the colored chalk. I wanted to say something to show her how I felt, but nothing would come. I looked at her and saw her little black moustache. I finally managed, "You have a moustache just like my mother's aunt." She was furious. "You don't have to remind me of it." Her eyes flashed at me. I knew I had said the wrong thing and began looking at the colored chalk without being able to enjoy choosing a color to write my name. I was hurt and embarrassed and didn't know exactly why she was angry. I liked my mother's aunt. She told me stories when I visited her. But the teacher had never forgotten this and therefore my sister was not a favorite with her.
My mother gave us each a nickel for lunch. We bought bowls of soup from a woman living on the school grounds who sold soup, spaghetti and pies to the children. We stormed into her kitchen and stood pushing and stamping, and waving our nickels in the air.
"Give me a bowl of soup!"
"I want spaghetti!"
I want chocolate pie!"
Give me lots of crackers!"
The woman stood over the stove, her face hot and red, pushing red gold hair from her eyes, dishing out things for the children. "Please be quiet. I have only two hands." I noticed she wore diamond earrings. Sometimes I noticed baked fish with tomato sauce. It was for her dinner. I always wanted some of it. She was, to me, an exalted being. It was a blessing when she finally took our nickel and gave us a bowl of soup or a wedge of pie.
There was a time I didn't have a nickel. It was when my father walked out of his job. He had quarreled with his boss. My mother was very angry with him. I didn't understand our financial matters. One day I wasn't given a nickel for lunch and found nothing in the house to make a lunch with except a piece of old rye bread and a slice of salt pork, used for boiling with vegetables. There was only enough for two slices. I fried it and made two sandwiches. My sister and I each took one to school. I was ashamed of my lunch and didn't want the children to see it when I was eating it. Poverty was a disgrace in the school -- the children would scorn another child beneath them in circumstances. I slipped away with my sandwich and hid in the girls' lavatory. I shut myself in one of the little booths and ate it. It tasted very good.
And this was democracy in schools that America is so proud of. Good schools where children of all nationalities and colors and circumstances mingle and learn equal rights. Nothing is more cruel, and they learn bitterness and false values. No adult ever told us that we should not be snobbish. It was just as bad for the little girl whose mother drove her to school in a fine motor car, and dressed her in fine clothes and gave her rings to wear, for she was being trained in the idea that these were the important things, and her sense of judgment was warped. My mother soon gave me two of her diamond rings, and I wore them. After that I was in good standing.
My father didn't seem at all worried when he was out of a job. He was working on the tiny model of a machine. He always wanted to show me how it worked. I was interested at first, but later he bored me with it. It was finally completed, and he sold his invention to his boss.
He had no sense of responsibility for his family -- only a desire to give my mother all his money because he was devoted to her. Money meant no more to him than to a child. When my mother searched his pockets to see if he was keeping back anything, he would laugh and say, "Isn't your Mama cute?" He was always proposing to her. This annoyed her. Finally, he would say, "Let's get married," just to tease her and make her leave the room. He never cried over her anymore now. He didn't seem to care whether he went back to work or not, and we began to treat him as a nuisance.
When he was at home, I couldn't have any of my boy friends in the house. Once he came in and found two of them and caught them by the collars and threw them out the door. I was furious and flew at him, and he slapped me. I could see there was something strange in his expression that frightened me. But I wouldn't let him see it. After that, his visits became a terror to me. The longer he stayed with us, the worse he would be treated, until he would finally go back to his old job again. The contractor always took him back, whether it was because he was good at his work, or because he liked my mother, I don't know, but he kept him on in spite of frequent quarrels and even though he now and then shot and killed one or two of the negro workers.
Since my father's death, I have dreamt of him at regular intervals that he was trying to hurt me in some way. I would wake up in a nightmare. I started talking about my fear of him to people, and now the dreams are less often and not so dreadful. Once, in a dream, I accused him of an incestuous passion for me. I had never consciously thought of that, but I may have felt it.
One day when I was playing in the street wiht other children, a tiny old lady came by. Her head tembled as she spoke. She was dressed in black silk. She asked if any of us wanted to take piano lessons. No one seemed interested.
"I've had a few lessons, " I said. She looked my my hands.
"You are very talented. I would like to give you lesosns."
I brought her to my mother. My mother told her that at present she didn't have the money. But the old lady said she would give me lessons, and we could pay her when we had it -- that it was most important for me to have lessons.
Her name was Miss Valentine. She was smaller than I, and her hands could barely reach an octave. Her hair was dyed black and coiled in a heavy bun on top of her head. Her hands and head tembled and her voice was weak and refined. Her family had lost their money during the Civil War. She often told me about her wonderful girlhood. Her betrothed had been killed. She often told my fortune from my palm. All I remember was that I would have many changes. She also conjured a wart off my hand. I had to bury one of my hairs. She had got these ideas as a child form the negro slaves.
The South is full of superstitions that you don't find anywhere else. I have always believed they represent some sound knowledge that is yet unkoown and only felt by people whose minds are not too full of superficial things. Idiots and children, even animals have it, and people of strongly developed intuition and imagination. Like flower -- the roots are feelings, the stem thought: the flower -- imagination, and the fragrance -- something beyond -- a breath of the unknown. Miss Valentine was one of these rare beings with a sense of the unknown.
I learned very fast from her. She spent hours at a time with me because I wouldn't practice at home. She was proud of my sensitive touch. She often called in another teacher to hear me play "The Flower Song."
Because of her determination, I played in her concert at the Goodwin Institute, and my picture was in the paper the next day as a talented young musician.
I enjoyed the preparations for the trip. I was allowed to help pack, and I had a new dressing gown -- we were going to sleep on the train, and she gave me soap and a soap box of my own and two rings. One was plain and the other set with tiny rubies. I put the rings in the soap box with the cake of soap and put them in my Aunt's trunk. When the trunk was taken away, I wanted my soap box and rings. I worried my Aunt for them. I must have been a trial for a girl only twenty.
On the train she taught me to spell cat and to write my name in print. Also how to tell the time. We changed trains at New Orleans and spent the night there. A yellow fever epidemic was raging and it was necessary to get a certificate of health to go further into the sate. The next night we were again on the train. I dressed early so I could wear my new dressing gown. Later, soldiers came through the train collecting the certificates. Aunt Nora searched through everything for hours, but they were not there. We were told that we must get off. The train stopped and then I cried and clung to the seats and the...
I had been told that my Grandmother before my father was born wished for a little boy with blue eyes who would be bad. "I'm so tired of good little children with black eyes." Father was all she wished for. She adored him. She died when he was only six, and my Grandfather died six months later.
[fragment] ...life may be awakened in her -- doors of pleasure through which she had been afraid to venture, and beyond -- fields of flowers, multi-colored, undulating under the caress of the wind and sun. Beyond that door is the highest fulfillment of love. It is like that for a while. The lover becomes the most important thing in her life. She becomes more beautiful. She can't go back to the old life. The stodgy husband irritates her. She wishes to leave him. He usually becomes suspicious and discovers her guilt. Maybe then he cuts her throat, or maybe he divorces her and takes the children. And nearly always the man who has shown her the highest fulfillment of love will desert her. The husband who has had a great appreciation for his wife's virtue will see that she is properly punished for losing it. The more moral he is the more unmerciful he will be in dealing with her. He will call her vile names, releasing that way some of his own suppressions that have grown foul. Maybe she will weep and fall on her knees and ask forgiveness. And should he forgive her, he will never let her forget that he forgave her. I feel I must speak against the vileness of self-made purity, and its ruthless and ignorant self-conceit. Just why denying oneself the natural joys of life should be any consolation to anyone is unknown to me. It must be some insidious form of self abuse...
Mrs. Carwell, the old lady who lived with us, took us ...
...a short cut this way. He pretended not to see me. Later one day on my way to the mail box I found a wreath of flowers pinned to a tree. My name and "I love you" was written on the piece of paper. I knew who had done this -- the young man who had seen me bathing under the trees.
One day, his sister called me when I passed her house. She wanted to talk to me -- I listened timidly while she suggested that I elope with her brother and enthusiastically offered me her wedding dress. She had seen more of the world than most of the people around there, as she had once been sixty miles away to Hattisburg for an operation. I was embarrassed. I didn't want to be a married woman. At this time, there was something repulsive about the idea. I wanted to run and climb trees and hunt wild flowers, and ride my horse through tangled woods, and dream of my white horse with the wings, and wake up and be lost so that I would have to let loose the reins for Dick to find the way back. Only I often wished I didn't have to go back, just on and on. I wanted to return to what I had been before. All that was connected with this new thing that I had become was nauseating to me.
One day when I was a little way form the house, trying to follow a turkey hen to her nest, the young man came through the woods and stopped.
"Howdy," he said.
"Hello," I answered. I was embarrassed because of the flower wreath and the marriage idea with the wedding dress.
"It's purty hard to find a turkey nest. You better let me hope you."
Just then I heard my Aunt calling me.
"I've got to go." I was glad to get away from him.
"I thought you were meeting someone in the woods. Now I am convinced." My Aunt's eyes glared at me. Her face flushed. The precise "doing her duty" manner was gone. She was angry.
"That is not so."
"Do not tell me a falsehood. Remove your clothes."
She went for the switches. I stayed where I was in the backyard. She returned with several long switches.
"Remove you clothes!"
I only looked at her angry face with the freckles standing out from the red, short hairs straggling down the back of her neck. I hated her and stared at her without moving. Then she struck me across the legs, biting her tongue as she exerted herself. Collie jumped at her just as she was going to strike me again. She had to leave me to switch him off. He caught her waist in his teeth and held on, growling. She tried to strike him with the switches. My sister stood motionless in the midst of the confusion -- I was aware of my Uncle choking Collie to make him turn loose and my sister dragging him. He was barking furiously and struggling to get away. The dog was all I saw clearly -- all else around me became my tortured senses -- some anger of soul too gruesome for my memory.
"What's the row about?" my Uncle's voice.
"She must be punished severely." She was trying to get my clothes off. I struggled to keep them on. "You must help me. I haven't the strength and she must be punished."
I didn't struggle any more. I prepared for the sting of the switches. They didn't come. I was still and alone. All the conflict and confusion was between the two others. I lost all sense of relation to them, then sensed that I was in the conflict and being torn to death. A terrible rhythmic sound was in my brain. It grew louder and louder. I did not see my Uncle take the switches. I felt them sting into my flesh and whelps rise and heard Collie barking and howling against the door in the house. I knew when he dropped them and walked away. Then something broke loose in me. I turned screaming and buried my fingers in my Aunt's hair, tearing it down -- scratching and screaming -- I let ...
...most of the time. Once he said, "I think you are glad to go home."
"I am. I don't want ever to come back."
Then later, "You won't tell anyone what happened to you?"
"No. I won't. But if my mother ever wants me to come back, I shall do anything to keep away."
He put his arms around me. I move further away from him and put one foot out of the buggy.
"Are you afraid of me?"
"No," I answered.
"Do you hate me?" And I saw little laugh wrinkles around his eyes, and a smile creep from his ears to the corners of his mouth. There in the dusk, his face looked like a picture of a satyr I had seen.
Following us, just above the horizon was Halley's Comet. Its tail was streaks of light miles long. My Uncle told me it appeared only once in seventy-five years.
I couldn't imagine that this enormous thing could go unnoticed in the sky for so long. Then he told me something of the stars, and that a comet traveled in such a wide orbit that they rarely came in sight of earth, and that some of the stars were larger than our earth. This seemed strange to me and frightening. I did not want to talk to him. He started singing:
"All the way from Shiny Rock,
Bet my money on Proctor Knot,
Proctor Know don't win no race,
Goin' t'move my money to another place."
This song I had heard him sing for years. Before it had always made me feel gay and happy. Now it was just the only thing in the entire world that was familiar to me. He kissed me goodbye as he put me in charge of the conductor.
"How is Dick?"
"He has been sold and is all right." I was glad. We all were very pleased and asked and answered a thousand questions.
It was not long before my sister got into the way of our crowd. She did her hair in curlers also at night and powdered her face. She had lovely skin and was pretty with her curls. I was afraid my beaux would being to prefer her. She soon found a sweetheart of her own. She was even more of a flirt that I. She would put boys caps on and say, "You know what this means? It means a kiss." Sometimes the boys were embarrassed. She liked the shy ones. I liked them bold, for I was more shy than she.
A dark young man dressed like an Indian rode by our house on a pinto pony every day. He pulled a sign behind him, advertising Castillian Springs Water. I began to feel romantic about him. My two sisters noticed him and waved. My mother began to notice him also. I thought he looked like a movie hero with his straight nose and dark eyes.
One day, I returned home and found him with my mother. I was shy and awed by his Indian clothes. I thought he had come to see me for I had waved at him that day as he passed on his pony. But he came to see my mother, and I was sent out of the room. I felt sad. I was old enough, I thought, for a grown man with long trousers, instead of these boys of thirteen and fourteen. I was tired of them. I wanted to get married so that I wouldn't have to go to school any more. My mother got all the marriageable ones, it seemed.
A girl of eighteen lived down the street. She came to use our phone when my mother wasn't there. She would tell us about sleeping with men and about almost having babies and getting rid of them. This embarrassed me, but my girl friends were interested, especially my younger sister, who caught on to what was said better than any of us. I heard it but never thought much about it. It didn't seem romantic to me.
One day I discovered that this girl also wanted to get married. She told us that she had found that if she wanted a husband, she would have to behave herself. She got the husband soon after and then a baby. I lost track of her, but I'm sure that after she got the husband, she didn't continue to behave herself.
All the women I knew got presents from men. So did my mother. All their cosmetics were bought in the evening after the theater. They would suddenly remember that they must stop at a drug store as they were out of everything. I heard them saying they got everything they could out of a man. This must have had an unconscious effect on me as I was always afraid when I was out with a boy he would think I wanted him to buy me something. I usually preferred staying at home as this idea made me self-conscious when I went out.
I never got presents like other girls. When I cared for someone, anything he gave me was precious. But I got candy, and roses and pansies, while other girls got jewels and silk stockings and silk underwear. When I was sixteen I got a watch bracelet from a young man I had only met once and had been corresponding with. And years later a man gave me a diamond bracelet because I had only asked for a string of crystal beads for Christmas. I had a reaction of disappointment when I opened the box and didn't see the beads. Soon I was glad it was the bracelet instead. I gave it back to him when we broke up, and he took it. Afterwards, I was sorry I gave it back. I always had a secret desire to be clever like other girls, but some sensitiveness in me wouldn't let me. This feeling of...
Part of the time he lived with us. Other times, my mother spent the night with him at his Uncle's. He had great schemes for making money. We all thought he was very clever. Once he and I intended going on the stage in a sketch. We rehearsed for weeks. Nothing came of it. He became interested in learning conjuring tricks. He was taking a correspondence course in magic. He baffled me once by rubbing burnt paper on his bare arm and making my name appear in large black letters. Afterwards my mother told me the secret. He had written my name on his arm first with a match dipped in urine. It couldn't be seen when it dried. The burnt paper brought out the letters. I was embarrassed when I next saw him. My youngest sister surprised him one day by doing it. I was afraid she was going to tell how she did it.
Next, Joe was going to walk across the continent to California, selling old "Blue Back" spellers. My mother thought it was a good idea, but he waited too long to start, and she got tired of him. She made me tell him that he could not live on my father's money. I didn't mind sending him away, as I had gotten tired of him also. He was not so attractive as a stepfather as he had been in his Indian suit riding by on the Pinto pony.
My mother divorced him on the grounds of suffering humiliation because of the "Blue Back Speller" idea, and non-support.
I saw him a few years later. He told me then that he had always been in love with me and that he had been taken in by her because he was so young. I sympathized with him at the time, but today I think a man belittles himself by such an excuse for an affair that didn't turn out happily. A young man has an affair with an older woman because her superior knowledge of love appeals to him. He learns through her -- just as a younger girl learns through older men.
When my mother heard that Louie had married again, she determined to meet his wife. Her name was Louise, and she was only sixteen, but looked much older. Her figure was full, yet she was slender. Her hips were graceful, and her breasts stood out. She came to see us often.
One day, she came to us with her face bruised. Louie had come home drunk and beaten her. She wanted to stay with us, but Louie found her and cried and begged my mother to persuade her to go back to him. She returned, and they moved near us.
She had several lovers, and told her husband that her Uncle John had given her the new clothes she wore. He found a letter from one of the lovers who signed himself "Uncle John." One night he came home unexpectedly and found her in the arms of a man. "I suppose this is your Uncle John." He said no more and went out.
Louise thought he had gone for a pistol and ran to us. "Uncle John" escaped. After that she left him and went to live with a friend, known to us as Miss Dolly. She was one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. My youngest sister told me she was a high class prostitute, but she wasn't very happy and had once tried to kill herself.
Louise loved a man called Gordon. I heard he had taken her out of a house of prostitution when she was only a child. He did not return her love. He was fond of her and helped her when she was in need. He told my mother that Louise had been sold to an old man by her step-mother when she was twelve years old.
One day we heard that Louise was ill. My mother went to see her and returned with her in a taxi. That night she was singing delirious and kept calling for Gordon. She slept in my bed and I slept in a cot in the same room. I was frightened for she kept sang over and over -- "Don't put me in a black box. Put me in a white ox. Don't put me in a black box." She begged Gordon not to leave her and held on to his hand and cried when he pulled away from her to go.
My youngest sister giggled when Louise talked about the black box. Afterwards, she sat by Louise, keeping ice on her head. A doctor came, and we had to leave the room. We heard Louise crying out in agony. My sister had some idea of what the doctor was doing, but I didn't understand. Later she told me that Louise had syphilis.
"What is that?"
"It's the bad disease. Don't be so innocent. The doctor sticks long needles into her and they hurt. You can get it form toilets, but men and women get it from sleeping together. Did you notice that she always had a sore on her nose?"
I had noticed it. "How do you know so much?" I asked.
"What do you suppose I have ears for? I heard people talking."
All these things that happened around me had very little part in my own life, which was within myself. I was as unconscious of it as I was of the air I breathed.
Late that summer, after I had firmly established my ankle length dresses and pinned my curls on top of my head the way a little actress in a stock company did hers, I went to see Aunt Donie. She lived in a small town in East Tennessee.
I found them living in a small hotel they had built. They had their own electric light plant and hot and cold water in every room. No other place in town even had electric light. Everything in town centered around it.
They had not known the day of my arrival, so I found them at supper in the dining room. The other tables were empty. My little girl cousin was now about seven years old.
"You were a baby when I saw you last," I said to her.
"I don't remember," she said shyly.
My Aunt looked tired and sad. There was another tiny girl that had been born since I was there last. She was three. She had black eyes and a wide grin. While I was talking to my Aunt, she got up on the table and poured water in the sugar, and her brother, the younger boy cousin of the old days, was trying to correct her. I didn't see the other one.
I watched my reflection in the mirror. My waist was small and my hips were round. As I looked closer and longer into my face, I noticed that the two sides were different -- one of my eyes seemed to open wider, one eyebrow arched slightly higher, and one side of my nose turned up more. My eyes were blue-grey, with dark lashes -- I would have had them violet or brown. My Hair was brown -- I would have had it black, and naturally curly instead of having to roll it up on kids every night. After massaging my breast, I started rolling up curls. I wondered what I would do when I got married. I couldn't let my husband see me do this. I always said it was naturally curly. I had difficulty keeping the curl in during rainy weather. It was terrible then when the curls came out, and some would say "I thought you had naturally curly hair". I thought what a wonderful thing it would be to have some way of curling it permanently.
Afterwards, I brushed my teeth -- the way I had been told to at school -- up and down. It gave me pleasure every time I saw them. Everyone said they had never seen such teeth. I remembered when I first noticed them years ago when they were too large and had a space between. I closed my mouth over them and studied my lips. My mouth didn't want to stay closed -- it wanted to smile. My lips were full and red. I looked sullen. I parted them into a smile. It was like relaxing. There were dimples in the corners of my mouth. There was a shadow of one in my cheek. I pressed my finger into it so it would show more. Then, after stretching my arms and noticing that my ribs showed like the pictures of Christ on the Cross, I put on my nightie and turned out the light, and knelt down and said my prayers -- an obedient child to a fearful unseen Father, wooing his favor. And always I ended, "God make me a good little girl." And sometimes now, when a blow has plunged me back through the years, I still say my childish prayers into my pillow and ask God to make me a good little girl. And I go to sleep because I am near to Creation -- like a little child.
I decided to stay with my Aunt and go to school. I started at the High School. I had two girl friends -- Minnie a year older than I, and Jenna two years older. We were together all the time and kept no secrets from each other.
Jena was in love with a young man, but her family didn't like him, so she had to see him secretly. The family had objected to him for several years. Jena said they had forgotten what the objection had been, but they hated him as much as she loved him. Everyone helped her deceive her parents.
Minnie had been in love twice. One had been her first cousin. Her family had been upset about it. She read me his love letters. I thought they were beautiful. He spoke of "A Garden of Love" and "Flowers of Desire." We both wept when she read them. She had become tired of getting only love letters and found someone to demonstrate what the other man only wrote about. She told me of kisses. I had never been kissed like that. She called them "Soul Kisses". "He is very passionate," she aid. I didn't know what that meant, and she told me.
Then he went away. It seemed all the best young men left the town sooner or later. She was very unhappy. I wished I could love someone like that. My life seemed so empty. I knew now that all my little romances had been just pretending at love.
Neil was at school with me and still trying to get me to notice him. He made faces at me and put his foot out in the aisle to trip when I passed, and even pelted me with spit balls. I hated him, and he enjoyed my fury. Then he started wearing a large hat and boots like a cowboy, and it made him look older, and I liked him well enough to go riding with him, until one day he leaned from his horse and held me in his arms and kissed me. After he let me go, I raced ahead of him and would not speak to him for a long time. He only laughed. I had begun to like him, and I resented it because I had known him as a child. That spoiled my idea of the lover that would suddenly appear and sweep me off my feet with passion and soul kisses.
Then I heard that he was going away. Suddenly, I realized I would miss him. Then in a flash I knew I loved him. I became shy and went out of my way to keep from meeting him. I didn't want him to know my feelings.
Then one day a girl and I were talking about love. She was in love, she said, and asked me if I was. "Yes, I answered. But neither of us would tell who we loved.
"Let's write the names on a piece of paper," she said. I agreed to that, and we each wrote a name and gave it to the other. The name she gave me was "Neil", and she saw the name I had written was also "Neil." We didn't know what to say. She was a sweet girl and looked hurt. I felt I wanted her to have him, and she insisted that I must have him. We were talking during a study period at school, and the teacher asked us to "Please stop talking.
Late that afternoon, when I was walking down the street alone, thinking of Neil, I saw him coming up the road in a buggy. It had been raining and the buggy was axle deep in mud. He saw me and drove up to the side walk. He was very cheerful. I thought he couldn't love me and be so cheerful.
"Get in and we'll go for a ride." I got in without saying anything. I could feel my heart beating. I couldn't have uttered a word at that moment, for there was a pain in my throat. He was silent also.
The horse was having difficulty getting through the mud. We turned off the main road.
"I bet you are glad I am going away."
"Because you don't like me."
"You don't like me," I said.
"What makes you think that?"
"I don't know."
"Would you like me to like you?"
"I don't know."
"Yes, you do know. Tell me."
"You tell me first."
"I don't like you. I love you. Do you -- me?"
My throat tightened. I couldn't answer. I turned and slipped an arm around his neck and buried my face against his coat. He lifted my ace and kissed me softly. I kept my eyes closed because I felt tears in my eyes.
"Look at me," he said. I shook my head. He held me in his arms. The tears that I held back in my eyes were running from my nose. I sniffed, and he gave me his handkerchief. I blew my nose -- embarrassed -- looking straight ahead.
The horse was ploughing through mud to his knees. I could hear the mud spattering off the wheels. The horse stopped and lifted his tail, and I turned away, and around us saw nothing but bleakness -- crows sitting silently on the bare branches of trees -- mud and slush everywhere, and not a tint of sunset -- everywhere dull greyness. The horse started again. In the distance, a train blew a wailing cry. I shivered and got closer to Neil. He put his arm around me.
"You are my girl now. Aren't you?"
"Yes," I said. And I wanted to cry again. I wasn't sad. I didn't know why, but I had to cry, and he mustn't see me. His arm felt strong.
"May I come and see you tonight?" he said.
"Yes," I whispered.
And that night I received him in the parlor of the hotel -- a huge gloomy room. He wanted me to sit on his lap -- I wouldn't do that, but I let him kiss me and hold me close to him. I was shy and counted the buttons on his coat. My boy cousin stepped out of the linen closet where he had been hiding.
"I saw you kiss him," he said. "And playing with his buttons."
I all at once felt very guilty and terrified that I should be found out.
About four o'clock the next morning I was awakened by pistol shots and shouts of "Fire." I went to the window and looked out. A man was running in his underclothes, carrying his trousers over his arm and firing a revolver into the air. I recognized him as he came nearer. It was the Sheriff. People were running in all directions. I could see the flames. They were very near. I put my skirt over my nightgown and put on my coat and slipped on my stockings, knotting them at the knees to hold them up, and my bedroom slippers.
The fire had destroyed the only clothing store in town when I arrived there. The hardware store and the grocery were almost gone. There were no fire engines. Buckets of water were being carried from the town pump in the Court House Yard and thrown on the burning side of a building that stood between the original fire and the residential section of the town. I heard some say that if this building went, all the houses beyond would go.
I met Minnie and Jena in the crowd. They were enjoying the excitement. I thought everyone was enjoying being terrified.
Neil was with the men on top of the building throwing water on the flames. My Aunt was frightened...
"...Do you think a man always knows? -- Did it hurt you to be in love? I felt as though my heart would burst." But no one seemed to be interested in this thing that filled the world for me.
Jena squeezed my arm. "Look!" Her lover was going closer to the flames.
"Oh, Jena, darling. I know how you feel. Aren't you glad he is so brave?"
"No, I'm not. I don't want him to be brave. I want him to be safe. And I can't go to him after it is over -- I shall just have to look at him and see him looking at me."
When the fire was finally put out, the women rushed toward the men when they came down from the roof. I pulled Jena along with me as we edged nearer the circle where the men were being given cups of coffee sent from the hotel in milk cans by my Aunt. The fire had died down, and only the light of dawn was in the sky. Neil saw me and waved as he started toward us. Jena's lover saw her but he could not come because her father was there.
"Oh, Jena, how can you bear it?"
"I'll just wait," she answered.
"It seems everyone is always waiting for something. I wonder what I'm waiting for?" I looked up and smiled at Neil as he took my arm.
I kissed Minnie and Jena goodbye and we went in different directions.
We found a quiet place in the shadow of the Court House, and he took me in his arms. I counted the buttons on his vest.
"Some day you will be my wife."
"I knew a girl who married when she was thirteen."
"I wish we could, but Dad says I've got to finish school. I hate school I want to have a farm that grow things."
"That's what I would like -- why can't we do it now?" And suddenly, waiting appeared like a great empty black space where I felt things were going to jump out at me.
We started back towards the hotel, and my stockings kept coming down. Now and then I would stoop to pull them up again, hoping Neil wouldn't notice it. They wouldn't stay up and the next time I stooped to pull them up, he handed me something. "Try these," he said. They were two rubber bands. I felt embarrassed, but he turned his back while I put them on. In front of us the sun was just coming up from behind a distant hill.
The months went by, and I saw him only twice, as between us lay thirty-six miles of unpassable muddy road and the journey by train took a whole day because of the bad connections between the local mountain railway.
The waiting was irksome. Letters did not make up for kisses -- I met someone else, older and nearer. But he went away also. Before he left, I promised to marry him after I finished school. But letters again and waiting -- that dark emptiness I couldn't bear. Besides it had never been as wonderful as the first love.
I began to feel romantic about Minnie's brother. He was twelve years older than I. He had told Minnie that I was very pretty and had such a sweet innocence. He was a doctor, also County Superintendent of Schools. He gave lectures to us on School Spirit and its affect on our lives after leaving school. I was very proud of him on these occasions.
I was always at Minnie's house so I would be near him. I would go into the parlor when no one else was there and play and sing sentimental songs on an old organ. I tried to tell him of my love with such music as "Believe Me if All Those Endearing Young Charms" and "In The Gloaming," "O My Darling, think not bitterly of me." I would pump the organ until my legs ached, hoping to entice him from his reading. Often, he would come in and if no one was around, he would take me in his arms and kiss me with soul kisses. But he never said he loved me.
When I saw my mother again, she had moved from Memphis and was living in Jackson, Mississippi. She met me at the train with a young man. He had dark veloucious eyes, and dimples, and he called my mother "Deareth." She called him "Hop darling."
I found a household consisting of Louise and a new lover, and my two sisters, and my mother, and the beautiful young man who lisped.
Louise's lover, Julius, taught dancing, and he wore house aprons and little caps around the house. My youngest sister said he was a "Sissy."
"I like him, but I hate Hop. He's Mamma's sweetheart."
My second sister had no comment to make on the strange arrangement. She always had a book and never talked. My youngest sister quarreled with Hop and once threw his clothes out when my mother was away.
"If my Deareth was here, you wouldn't treat me like thith," he lisped.
"You are a dirty pimp. Living on Father's money."
Hop brought his clothes back after my mother returned. He soon began to make love to me when my mother was out. I thought he was very handsome, but my loyalty to my mother kept me from responding to his love making.
"You are like a flower, though thweet and pure," he said.
I didn't like the lisp. Maybe it was that and not loyalty that kept me from responding to him. He went away very soon. My sister said it was because of me.
Julius and Louise quarreled. I could hear them in the next room. "You only want to go because he went. You're in love with him."
I couldn't understand this. My sister explained it to me, but still I didn't understand. She said Julius liked men.
"Wait until you see Charlie Pierce. He is a friend of Julius. He puffs his hair out on the side and curls it with irons, Julius told me, and he wears a corset and shoes with bows and heels like on women's shoes, and a wrist watch and a dinner ring on his little finger. He puts his hand on his hips and wobbles when he walks. He designs dresses in a department store. 'There must be just the suspicion of a crush in the fold.' 'Oh, it will thrill your very soul,' and 'How is darling Julius.' I laughed in his face once, and he said, "Impertinent infant.'"
Louise was very upset to lose Julius. Our household was now ordinary except for an occasional visit from other of Louise's lovers. They always stayed several nights with her. I thought nothing of this. It seemed very natural. My mother had many men friends, but they never stayed the night.
I started to school. Life consisted of algebra from a teacher who hated me; English from a teacher who liked me; and Latin from a man who sent me out of the room at least once a week, telling me never to come to his class again. When I didn't come back, he sent for me. The Study Hall teacher, named Miss Butt, hated me. I think it was because I always forgot to put two "t's" in her name. She spoke to me about it once, and I told her that I had learned to spell it years ago "B-U-T" --. "It is a conjunction," but if she really wanted me to, I would misspell it for her.
Once I fell in love. We were happy for a while. We used to sit on the steps under a blooming Marischal Neil rose vine -- yellow roses like gold in the light of the street lamp shining through the chinaberry trees bordering our street. He told me he loved me and kissed me and after he had gone, I looked in the mirror to see how I looked to him and I was radiantly happy because I had never seen myself so beautiful. Soon, for some reason, he stopped coming to see me. I was unhappy and couldn't eat for a while. But I didn't suffer long. There were others who cared for me.
We lived near the university, and I met many of the young men. The son of the College President came to see me often and took me to dances. But I didn't enjoy them. I felt shy in a crowd. I never cared for him or allowed him to kiss me. He once told me I was much too clever for him -- I had just scratched his face for trying to kiss me. I pondered a long time over this remark.
Louise still had a sore on her nose. Occasionally, she had mad moods of writing poetry, and when she would shut herself in her room, lying on her stomach on the floor. She seemed to be in agony on these occasions. Afterwards, she would read her verses to us.
"Down a path of roses where the sun shines forever bright,
But, ah, when one by one the twinkling stars appear, 'tis night.
And not even the twittering of the birds
Or the rustling of the leaves are heard,
But rolling waves come one by one,
They bring to me salted tears of those wasted years."
My little sister used to laugh at Louise's poetry. I thought it was remarkable.
Some of my mother's and Louise's friends were High State officials. I heard my mother say that one of them was in love with his negro housekeeper, and only wished she were white so he could marry her legally.
At the end of the year, I went back again to visit Aunt Donie. I loved her. She was so different from Aunt Nora. She had separated from her husband and had moved back to the old residence. He came to see her often, looking very sad. She was always too busy to talk to him, excusing herself just as though he were a stranger.
Another man came to see my Aunt. She liked him because he took an interest in her children. He told us stories about the parts of the world he had visited. He was staying at the hotel. No one knew why he was in town. He never did anything except sit around the lobby, complaining of insomnia. He was short and stout and bald-headed. His face was round and rosy, and he smiled, showing short childish teeth under a stubby moustache. He was about fifty.
When he went away, she invited my boy cousin to visit him and bring his mother. My Aunt went with all the children. After she returned, he wrote to me often, and enclosed a note for her, and she always sent a note back in my letter to him. Very soon their messages were sealed. Once I found one of his letters in a drawer when I went for a towel. It was lying unfolded. "My Own Darling Sweetheart" it began. I didn't read any more. Somehow it frightened me to see this much. I didn't know they felt that way about each other. I told my Aunt that she should be more careful with her letters, and she only remarked that she thought it was safe there, as she was the only person who ever put out a clean towel.
That summer I sat in the lawn swing most every night with Minnie's brother -- the Doctor. He was living across the street with another brother who was also a doctor. I was more in love with him now than I had been a year ago. Every evening I waited in the lawn swing for him. After the lamplighter had lit the lamp at the corner, he always came to me. Often the moon would cross the sky and grow pale in the dawn before I slipped up the stairs in my stocking feet, wondering why boards only creaked at night. He had never yet told me he loved me. He only listened to the sound of his own voice reciting Kipling, and kissed my lips, and traced the contours of my face and throat with his fingers.
"You will be very lovely when you are about twenty-one."
Sometimes his hand would wander from my throat down to my breast. Then I would freeze with some instinctive fear. Once he held me so close that I had to bury my teeth in his chin to make him let me go.
"You little devil," he said, and pushed me away. I cried and said I was sorry, kissed his chin, and asked him to forgive me. But he went away angry.
The next day I went around the house in a daze. When the lamplighter came to light the street light, I was sitting, waiting, as usual. I wondered if he would come. He did. He wanted to tell me that the people next door could see our shadows on their bedroom wall as we sat in the swing. He was very amused about it. He said they could lie in bed and know every move we made.
Everyone made a joke of my love for him, as he was not a very romantic figure -- being very fat. But I only saw his dark eyes and listened to his voice. I rarely said anything. I thought he was too heavy, but he was reducing every day by cutting his brother's lawn until there was hardly any grass left. Then my Aunt suggested that he begin reducing on her lawn, and he did. But he couldn't work very much for kissing me when no one was looking.
I saw very little of Minnie and Jena. They were each taken up with their own affairs. Minnie had fallen in love with a reformed drunkard. He repented every revival time and was rebaptised. He had just repented and Minnie was not only trying to keep him sober, but also to keep him from going to a former mistress he had left when he fell in love with Minnie's purity at his last conversion. Minnie, however, did everything but -- so he soon went back to his mistress who withheld nothing from him.
Jena's lover was studying to be a doctor, and she was taking a course in Summer School so she could teach and help pay for his training.
At the end of the summer, when I had to go home, I felt that I would die of a broken heart. The man I loved seemed so casual about my leaving. He almost missed seeing me off on the train. He had not been so pleased to recite Kipling to me recently. A gay divorcee had appeared in town, and there were several evenings that he did not appear when the lamplighter came around and lit the light that threw our shadows on the bedroom wall next door. Later in my window I had sat waiting -- waiting through the night -- suffering only as the very young can suffer, because they have so little compare their feelings with. They cannot know that these first hurts are the best sorrows of their lives, for they are made by the clean sharp blade of a romantic love and are quickly healed.
On the platform of the train, I waved goodbye to him with tears streaming down my face. My boy cousin meant nothing to me -- I lost all my text books. I only wanted to draw. In that, I was happy. I stayed after school for hours and worked at it.
Then messages went home to my mother that I was failing in my studies. They investigated and found the cause of it, and as it was the City High School, and education was compulsory, I was forced to give up drawing. I wasn't any better in my other studies after that.
Then I met a man I liked well enough to enjoy kissing. Once at a picture show, we saw waves dashing against rocks.
"That's how my life has been -- waves dashed by some strange power against rocks."
The tone of his voice more than what he said made me feel a sympathy for him, and then his kisses lifted my emotions on wings -- rarified, they soared among the stars. From these heights, his words floated to me, vague and far away they sounded.
"I have a remedy for the way you feel." While I dropped slowly form the stars, I could feel his words, and down to earth again I instinctively drew away from him and started walking down the dark road through the park.
He came after me. "I'll see you home."
"Thank you very much. But I prefer to go home alone."
"I must see that you get home safely. Won't you forgive me? A man never knows -- I'm sorry."
I let him walk beside me. Soon I felt sorry for him because he was so distressed.
"I'm glad you are a good girl," he said. "If you have never been down that road, do not let any man persuade you."
In the house, we sat for a long time in silence. then as though making an effort, he said, "I'm not good enough to go with you. You see, I have a bad reputation, and if you are seen with me -- well, you might just as well be a bad girl. I'm not rotten enough to cause you to lose your good name."
I couldn't think who cared about my name except my mother. I knew very few people, and they were all harlots, and the men who went with them. At my Aunt Donie's it had been different. The girls had to be careful, because there were three old maids living side by side who entertained themselves gossiping. If a girl was seen in town too often, she was bad; and if she wasn't seen for a long time, something must be wrong with her. He got up to go, and I called him back.
"I'm not afraid of you any more. I want you to come to see me." I let him take me in his arms.
"You are the sweetest girlie in all the world."
My mother appeared in the doorway. She stood with her hands on her hips -- her face set like a Chinese idol. I had never seen her look like that before. She had always seemed light and gay and not at all strict.
"I would like to speak to you," she said to the man.
They went into the dining room and closed the door. I could hear their voices, but could not understand what was being said. The voices cut into me like a knife. I went to the piano and played to shut out the sound. Later, he came back into the room. His face was deadly white.
"Goodbye," he said to me and was going out. I stopped him. "Your mother thinks it best if I do not see you again. She is right."
He held out his hand. I only looked at him.
"Don't you say goodbye?"
I started crying -- tears rolled down my face. Then my mother came into the room and stood again, looking like a Chinese idol. Then he started for the door. I ran after him with a cry, and he took me in his arms. He kissed me and left. I shut the door and sank limply against it and cried as I had never cried in my life.
The sum total of ally my disappointments -- my hurts -- went into my grief. It was not just this ...
... everyone. I wanted to die. I couldn't bear to live if it was going to be like this. I felt my mother's presence in the room and stifled my sobs. Dot brought me some aromatic spirits of ammonia and persuaded me to take it. Some time during the night I slept.
Next morning everyone was wonderful to me. My mother said as though nothing had happened, "We're going to the theater this afternoon. Would you like to go?"
"No," I answered sharply.
She went out of the room, then Dot came in and asked me to be kind to my mother because she felt very badly and was crying in the kitchen.
"She suggested the theater because she wanted to so something for you."
"All right. I'll be nice to her... Mama. I would love to go to the matinee."
I put my face into the pillow and wept again. After that, I felt better.
I soon met another man who had come down from St. Louis to pitch in an amateur baseball game. His name was Hal. My mother brought him to the house with several other boys. He played jazz on the piano. I did not care for his music, but I liked him. He left that same night. My mother and I went to the train with him, and he kissed me goodbye, and the other boys laughed. We wrote to each other, and he sent me a gold watch bracelet for Christmas.
By this time, I had stopped school altogether. The only thought I had now was getting married. My mother was going on a trip with Dot, so I went to see my Aunt Donie. My sister stayed with friends.
The man across the road had gone away, so all winter I did nothing but sit by the fire and draw paper dolls for my two little girl cousins and tell them fairy stories -- and write to Hal in St. Louis.
My mother was now in St. Louis with Dot. She wrote me that Hal had asked her if he might propose to me, and she had given her consent. I looked for the proposal in every letter, but it did not arrive. I was looking forward to meeting him in the spring. I hoped it would be when the cherry trees and apple trees were in bloom. I dreamt one night we were walking in a meadow full of yellow flowers. I was falling desperately in love with him.
Valentine he sent me roses and a large blue satin heart-shaped box of chocolates. I got them from the express office and opened the box and carried the roses and candy through the street, offering candy to people I met. I gave some of the roses to a sick woman and kept the others for three weeks -- tending them with love until the last petal dropped. Then I planted the stems under glass jars and in about two months, little leaves appeared on one of the stems. The others rotted. I thought it was an omen.
Hal didn't come to see me, and his letters were getting fewer. I was distressed for a time, but life was gayer now that spring had come. A new preacher from the city had come to town. He had a daughter a little older than I, and we soon became friends, as I was the only girl there who had lived outside the boundary of a small town. We both felt we knew life.
My Aunt Donie was still getting letters from the other man. They were sent enclosed with my letters as before. Her husband was living in the house with her, but she always locked her door against him at night. She was considering getting a divorce and asked my opinion. I was for the divorce and the other man because I didn't like her husband. He didn't approve of my having young people in the house, and would sometimes be very rude.
I had belonged to the W.C.T.U. and had worn a tiny white ribbon which was their emblem, and said their motto "Lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine." All the women of the town belonged to it, mostly because of something to do. They gave lunches frequently and played rook. No one would dare play real cards. It was a sin.
One day Prohibition went into effect. It was called a Bone Dry Law. My Aunt was away and we were saved and joined the side of Christian workers to save the souls of such back sliders as Minnie's drunken lover. I had seen him converted. Winnie was singing in the choir, and he was sitting mourning on the sinners bench. I was there to persuade the sinners to come to Jesus. I had to do that or have someone persuade me to do the same thing. All my little girl cousins were converted and my boy cousin at the age of twelve and had been baptised in a white robe under the painted dove. My Aunt's husband alone escaped the ravages of the rivals. He declared himself an atheist, and people thought he was a lunatic.
I had never heard anyone like this new preacher -- how brave he was.
"Dancing is good for young people. It develops a sense of rhythm and harmony. Hatred and envy and sin are less likely to flourish if everyone felt rhythm and harmony in life -- or in dancing -- it was the same. If you have eyes to see, you will notice that everything in nature dances. The trees in the wind, the flowers in the fields. All nature is graceful and good because it moves in rhythm. Only man is awkward. Even the elephant and hippopotamus are more graceful than those people trying to destroy the beauty and grace of living with their hide-bound self-righteousness. This is not what most of you want. You want to see the Evangelist getting thinner and thinner -- his face hollow and sad. You want to be excited -- to have an orgy under the protection of the banner of religion."
I could feel the amazement of the congregation. After the sermon, no one went to shake hands with him as usual.
I wondered what would happen. Would he be turned out of the church? What happened was that war was declared and everyone went mad. The young people went in for all the gaiety possible. We picnicked on the river in the day time and went to parties and danced at night. The boys of the town hired a band and gave an all night dance at the hotel, and one was prouder of it than my Uncle who had hated our dancing on the veranda. This dance was in honor of the boys who were going away to war. That night we danced to a new popular song. The boys sang it in the ears of their girls as they danced.
"Though my life belongs to my Uncle Sam,
My heart still belongs to you."
The room was decorated with flags and many of the boys were in uniform. Whisky was drunk -- some good and some from the moutaineer bootleggers. The preacher was there in uniform. He had resigned and was going to the army as a chaplain. His daughter was going to Washington to work in a government office.
Another girl, who was considered very immoral, and I decided to join the Red Cross and be nurses. On the way to the train, I stopped at the Post Office and found a letter from the man my Aunt was writing to. There was a sealed letter enclosed for her. I took it on with me and when I arrived in Knoxville, I mailed it back to her.
Then the girl and I went to the Mayor's office to find out where we should go to join the Red Cross. On the way, I saw some red poppies in a stall. I bought a bunch of them. They held a strange fascination for me when I saw them. I call these now souls of wanton women, and they are also symbols of the dead warriors, but I didn't know these things then. I knew they looked well with my dark blue suit. I caught a reflection of myself as I went up in the elevator and thought I looked much over seventeen with my chic straw hat with the curved quill. I was glad I had bought the poppies.
The Mayor was very amused with us. He gave us the address of the Red Cross and asked, as he pinched my arm, if he could take us for a drive that evening.
"I don't go driving with strange men," I said. The other girl was on the verge of consenting but I pulled her away.
At the Red Cross we gave our ages as eighteen. We told them we wanted to go to France as nurses. They told us there was a two dollar fee to join the Red Cross which we paid and received a white celluloid button -- with a red cross on it. They told us we would be called if needed. We went back home with our badges pinned over our hearts feeling very important. After the burst of patriotism had spent itself, I was glad they hadn't accepted our offer.
On the way from the train, I saw a crowd of people in the street and went nearer. Aunt Donie's husband was reading something. Then I knew it was the letter from the other man to my Aunt. What a silly thing I had done to mail it. He had received it. He read it aloud!
"This scoundrel who lived as a guest in my hotel entered my home like a snake." He looked mad. And the girl, a fiendish devil, aiding and abetting in breaking up a happy home. Acting as a go-between for them. I shall get her. I shall meet every train."
Some of the people noticed me and grinned. He couldn't see me. I was angry. How dare he read the letter to these people. The girl pulled me away. I went to my Aunt.
I found her calmly sewing. I didn't think she knew what had happened. But she told me he had brought the letter to her first. I asked her what she was going to do.
"There doesn't seem to be anything urgent at the moment. I shall probably take the children and go for a trip until he gets over it." She continued sewing on a button. "I wish my son wouldn't tear the buttons off his clothes. My husband is very angry. You had better get packed and leave by the next train. That will make it easier for me." I left without telling anyone goodbye.
My mother met me in Memphis. My sisters were visiting my great-aunt with the moustache. We were only going to be in Memphis for a day; then we were going to St. Louis. Dot was to meet us there. My mother was going there to be married to a young Jew who played the violin. She had all her trousseau, which seemed to be mostly chiffon nighties.
I was happy that I would see Hal again. I thought my presence would stir up his declining interest. I wired him to meet me. I was afraid he wouldn't, as I had not heard from him for a long time.
When I got off the train with my mother, I looked around for him and soon I saw him coming toward me and smiling. I felt relieved. He seemed surprised to see my mother. He said he had expected me to be alone. He thought I had suddenly decided to run away. He had made arrangements for me to stay with his sister.
Dot joined us at the hotel and there was much discussion concerning the bridegroom who could not be found. We heard his people had locked him up because he was not of age. But my mother didn't believe that was true as she was sure he was twenty-one. We went to a musicians club and waited several hours outside the building for him to either leave or go in, but he could not be found. After a few days, my mother gave up the attempt, and she and Dot decided to go to Chicago, leaving me in St. Louis.
Hal's interest in me was entirely renewed. Once when we were waiting for a tram, he saw me gazing around and his eyes flared. "Who are you looking at?" I was pleased he was jealous. Then I felt certain he was in love with me.
After we were on the tram, he said, "Let's get married tomorrow." I was glad to say "Yes." There was nothing I wanted more. Just him asking me to marry him made me feel I was already married to him. I felt happy and secure and possessed by him as he held my hand in the car. Life had a new meaning. It would be fun keeping house; and I would have a baby, and then someday I would be a grandmother. I had always wanted to be a grandmother, because I had never known one of my own. I considered them more important than mothers.
My idea of mothers at that time was that they were either foolishly in love with their children and spoiled them as my Aunt Donie did her children, making them a nuisance to everyone else; or like my own mother full of their own life and thought of their children in an abstract sentimental way.
My mother had often declared that she would go through fire for us -- kill any man who wronged us -- like a tiger she would protect her young. She said these things to Hal over the luncheon table. He had intended telling her of our plans to marry, but he didn't. I think he was glad she was leaving for Chicago the next day.
I didn't understand my mother. I knew she loved me, but her love did not interfere with her own life. She wore clothes which I didn't like, brilliantly colored, flowered silks and half stockings of red stripes which were fashionable at that time. I didn't think they suited her. I wore very sober colors. I didn't express my disapproval. It was something I felt, deep and inarticulate in me. I shall never have to feel that my affection for my mother is demanded in payment for a debt. I will adore my mother because she is one of the most fascinating women I have ever known -- I will forgive her for going days without speaking to us -- sleeping on the floor -- making us believe she is going off to jump in the river -- my sister and I trailing her, hiding behind hedges, not daring to let her know we were following her. When she stopped we would come out of the hedge and tell her not to be a baby and take her home and undress her and put her to bed. She would be all right the next day. My mother never failed where heroism was required. But for the every-dayness of life -- that tedious drabness that life demands -- she was of no use. As a mother, I feel I owe her nothing, just as I feel that my children will owe me nothing except that I have not made it their duty to be devoted to me. I am sympathetic with my mother because she is torn between petty virtues and great vices, and great virtues and petty vices. A wayward gypsy mentality -- an inherited laziness -- a great mind turned in on itself.
Occasionally, she bursts out in gypsy colors, and still wears a red handkerchief around her head in the house and puts white cream on her face at night. And she fills the couches with sofa pillows of red, purple and gold combinations. When I have remarked that I should like them to be different, after I had my first child, Billy, he has come to her defense, saying that they are beautiful and he likes them. Some women should never have the care of a child until they are a grandmother.
I waited for Hal to come take me to be married. I had everything packed. I had slipped one of my mother's chiffon nighties out of her bag to wear on that nebulous first night. Early that morning, I had been out to buy a new tooth brush and a new comb and brush.
I waited -- he was late. I was anxious. Then he came. He said he would have to hurry, that his sister was waiting lunch for us.
"I think you had better stay with her until your mother returns."
"Aren't we going to get married before lunch?" I said, trying to hide my anxiety. He didn't answer. He only looked helpless.
"I understood yesterday -- I thought you said we would -- today."
Then he became irritable. "I think you misunderstood me. I wanted to, but I won't do it -- not yet."
There was something I didn't understand. I started crying.
"I don't believe your tears. I don't think I could ever trust you."
I didn't know what he meant -- only I felt there was something about this moment I could not bear, and I sobbed more and more until finally he had to take me in his arms to console me.
"I can't believe you are as innocent as you appear."
I felt that he knew something that I couldn't understand. The world and its ways was suddenly tangled around me.
I managed to get over my disappointment by looking forward to the time when I should marry Hal. I helped his sister with her housework. I polished knives as she did, because he said she was his idea of a wife. He was as affectionate as ever with me, but he didn't say anything about getting married.
Once we were alone at his sister's, sitting on the bed. Suddenly, he took me in his arms and lay with me across the bed, pressing me closer and closer to him. Then he let me go quickly, and jumped up and started pacing back and forth in the room. I sat on the edge of the bed watching him, wondering what had happened.
"Aren't you afraid to be alone with me here."
"Why?" I asked.
"Because I am a beast. Don't you realize what almost happened?"
"No," I answered. I didn't understand anything. Everything seemed to be mysterious, and I felt suddenly very unhappy.
The next day, I left St. Louis with my mother. Hal seemed sad to see me go. He sat holding my hand while I was waiting for the train to leave, singing:
"I'm sorry dear, so sorry dear,
I'm sorry I made you cry;
Won't you forgive, won't you forget,
Don't let us say goodbye."
Afterwards I puzzled over the strange ways of men.
We went to my mother's aunt -- the one with the moustache. I had always liked being there, but now I sank into a state of melancholia. I think my mother was worried about me. Hal didn't write and I became ill and spent most of the time in bed with a temperature. My little sister said I was always sucking a thermometer.
One night my second sister, who was now having beaux, persuaded me to go out with her. Her beau was bringing a young man who had a lovely big car. It was dark when we got in the car, and I couldn't see his face, but as we drove we saw a rising moon and it made us interested in each other. He struck a match to see my face, and I saw his brown eyes, with a golden light in them. As the days passed, I thought less of Hal. He began to talk of a white house he owned at a farm, with roses all over the veranda, and what he liked about a home and a woman, and kissed me tenderly in the moonlight. But the romance was born of the rising moon and went away with it. It ended sadly. Something outside our own feelings had entered and torn us apart. The injustice of it hurt me.
I went to visit a cousin of my father's who lived near where I was born in a small town called Brownsville. It was Saturday, and all the small towns I passed on the train were swarming with negro faces. The Court House squares and the streets were solid with bright colored dresses and shiny black faces. There were hardly any white people to be seen. This was their day. They were happy. It seemed everything in the world was happy except me.
My cousin soon saw I was in a very distressed frame of mind and made an effort to entertain me. She had young people in from miles around to meet me, and I was invited to parties and camping trips. After a month I felt better and decided that I would stay and go to school.
My cousin thought my silk underclothes indecent for a schoolgirl and supplied me with proper ones. I had new school dresses also. She gave me long talks about character building, and because she was so kind, I listened to her. She didn't like me to go to dances, but said I could go if I wanted to. I didn't go. She insisted that I go to church with them on Sunday, and we had family prayers every night and morning, and blessings at the table. She had three children, all younger than I. She had taken a little negro boy when his mother died, and he formed part of the family circle at night when prayers were said. She always said, "I have five children -- four white and one black." Her husband was a county squire and had large bunions on his feet. His shoes had to have large bulges made in the sides to fit the bunions. He and his wife had never been away from home at night during the fifteen years of their marriage. They were devoted to each other and the happiest people I have ever known. She had stomach trouble and ate magnesia. She also had a weak heart. Their daughter was very frail and the youngest boy sat during morning prayer with a thermometer in his mouth, when he didn't want to go to school.
Every night at exactly nine o'clock the husband would rise from his chair and take three steps to the clock, wind it in four turns, bend and scoop up the cat, take six steps to the door, turn the knob and throw the cat out. Night after night, I watched him do this without the slightest variation.
My mother was now in Baltimore. She had taken my youngest sister with her. My other sister was staying with Aunt Donie. My mother had met Aunt's former lover, and she had replaced her in his affections.
One day I received a telegram saying that my youngest sister had been hurt in a motor accident. After that she was in hospital for four months in a plaster cast with a silver plate around the bone where it was broken. A man had been trying to get to New York in a hurry and was on the wrong side of the road. He settled out of court when threatened with a law suit. My Aunt's former lover was made a cripple for life -- with a stiff knee. They sent me a picture of the wreck. The engine of the car was split open. My mother was not hurt.
I was very happy in this new environment where everything went like clock work. My cousin even persuaded me to eat oatmeal porridge for breakfast. I was very fond of her, but sometimes I thought she lectured me too severely on selfishness. I couldn't see where I was selfish. I know now it was my aloofness from the lives of other people, living on my own thoughts. I was often shy and moody, and didn't enjoy the young people's parties.
War was going on. Most of the young men of the town had gone. Two months that winter, school was closed because of shortage of coal. It was the coldest winter they had known for thirty years. I spent that time making nainsook underwear. I went to bed a nine and listened to the wind howling around the leaves, and felt lonely. I again thought of Hal. I wrote to him that I was in school and would graduate in June, and was studying hard and had family prayers night and morning. I also made up a lie about being in love with a soldier who went to war and he had been missing in action. I felt the romantic touch to the letter would interest him.
I received an answer and we began to correspond regularly again. I wrote letters elaborate with school-girl rhetoric. I looked up every word in the dictionary so that I wouldn't make a mistake in spelling. I determine to win him back. I copied the letters over until they were perfect.
My mother came back to Memphis. I went to visit her for Easter. She introduced me to a man from a town in Mississippi. She told me he was from an old Southern family and that he had money. He was too old, I thought.
I went to church with him on Easter Sunday, wearing a white silk dress and pink hat, and sweet peas and lilies of the valley which he sent me. Afterwards, he took me to meet his sister. His family knew of my family and I saw that they were anxious for us to get married. I could see that between him and his family and my family I was going to be wooed for posterity. Once I heard his sister remark, "It would be well to connect two royal families of the South."
It might have succeeded had not something prevented me from getting to my train in tie when I was returning to school. I was only three minutes late.
That night I attended a dance and met a man -- and felt a presentiment. We waltzed to the melody of "Kiss Me Again," and he said he wished that he could waltz with me forever. Later, we said goodbye, and he asked for my address. That was all.
A week later, he sent me a note in memory of a happy meeting and hoping we would meet again. I told my relatives about him, and they started investigating. They found he was a lawyer. That was all right. My grandfather had been a lawyer. But he was the son of an Irish Catholic former saloon keeper. My grandparents would turn over in their graves at that.
Efforts in favor of the Southern gentleman were pursued with great diplomacy. Our families corresponded, and the man came to see me. But I could only remember the other man -- the dark dreaminess of his eyes, and the look of saneness and strength in the ruggedness of his face with its square jaw, and hollows under his cheek bones, haunted me. My imagination was filed with the idea that he was unhappy. I wanted to make him happy and soothe the tragedy out of his face with my unselfish and eternal devotion. All the things I had heard a woman should do for the man she loved. I didn't answer his note right away. I didn't answer his note right away I did not think that wise. I would make him wonder if he would ever hear again. I didn't want to make a mistake, and I made up my mind I would marry this man. That I was still in love with Hal and writing to him was something apart from this new thing.
After I thought I had let him wonder long enough, I decided to answer the note. I bought a box of correspondence cards. A letter wouldn't be quite correct. I spoiled about a dozen before I finally had a message ready to send. Without addressing him in any way, I wrote:
"The occasion of our meeting is indelibly impressed on my memory. I will be pleased to see you again."
Afterwards I was afraid I misspelt "indelibly". I looked it up and found I had and rewrote this card.
A week alter I received a letter from him. It began:
"Dear Miss Estes,
The worst has happened. I have been caught in the draft and shall leave for a training camp somewhere in Kentucky
in about three days."
I knew some of the boys from our town had gone to camp in Kentucky. He might come through here on his way. I wrote to him immediately and asked him to let me know if he would pass through my town, and I would come to the station to see him.
Two days later I received a telegram asking if I would be at the train the following day at three in the afternoon. My mind was whirling with romance. Most of the other girls had soldier sweethearts, and I would have one.
I made arrangements to get out of school early. That morning I put on my most becoming dress, a blue and pink plaid gingham with white organdie fischu and cuffs with ruffled edges. It was a warm day in May.
My school mates knew about it and I hurried out of the class room some of the girls whispered, "Give him a kiss for me." I went into the girls dressing room to see that my hair was curled in just the exact becoming ringlets over my ears, and to powder my nose and wash my hands and put perfume behind my ears and on my lips, saying in my mind, "He will kiss me."
One of the boys took me to the train in his car. When we arrived, we found that the train was in and blocking the railway crossing so that we couldn't get over to the station. I wouldn't have time to go the whole length of the train to get across. I ran along the train looking for an opening to go through. The doors were filled with men trying to have as much freedom as possible before becoming soldiers, disregarding all formalities, giving vent to all emotions. Finally, desperation, I pushed among them and got on the train. I was grabbed by several of them and kissed. They would not let me off on the other side.
"Let's take her to camp."
"We'll make a soldier of her."
There was a strong smell of whisky and one of them offered me a drink.
They were crowding upon me as I tried to get through the cars. I sank down on a seat and cried. Some were sympathetic -- others laughed. There was a din of voices. Someone gave orders to clear a way and let me through. I heard the sound of shouting and laughter and as I jumped off the train , they were calling "All aboard." I looked up and down, but didn't see him. Then someone said, "Hello." I hadn't recognized him in a cap. We had only time to kiss goodbye and promise to write. He jumped on the moving train while the boys leaned from the window and shouted, "Ain't Love Grand." "You lucky dog." "How do you get that way." Some of them threw cards from the windows. The people picked them up. They would get letters from our town. It was our duty to write to the soldiers and cheer them up. I stood gazing at the train and waving at him, remembering with disappointment the smell of whisky on his breath as he kissed me.
Our school was full of war spirit. Addresses of soldiers were handed around, and we wrote to them. Each morning at Chapel we sang "Keep the Home Fires Burning," and:
"Over there, Over there,
Send the word, send the word, Over there,
That the Yanks are coming,
The Yanks are coming..."
From an illustrated war map we were shown the position of the different armies. The Germans were shelling Paris. The gradual retreat of the Huns. The Yanks were turning the tide of the war. Some of the boys in our class joined the army. The head professor went, and there were days of preparedness to honor his going. Song were composed for him; speeches were given that made him out to be one of the heroes of the world.
In June we sat in grey caps and gowns and listened to speeches and afterwards were given diplomas. It was a happy moment. My mother was there, and so was the man from Mississippi. I paid very little attention to him, and my relatives were very apologetic about my rudeness.
I was writing every day to my soldier. He had been put in the cavalry and had ridden a horse for the first time in his life. He had to attend them in the stables and was terrified of them.
After the graduation, the relatives of the man from Mississippi invited me to visit them. I ignored the letter and went to Memphis to live again with my mother and sisters. I entered a business college to study stenography and typewriting. I wanted to get a government position in Washington as a Yeomanette and wear a khaki uniform and an overseas hat. I spent the next three months studying hard.
The shorthand teacher fascinated me because of his strange appearance. He had a red stubble beard and shaved his head, leaving only a fringe of hair. He wore a frock tail coat, and limped, leaning on hair. He wore a frock tail coat, and limped, leaning on a cane. Sometimes he forgot to limp. He pinched the girls arms when he passed them and when he pinched mine it have me a queer sensation. Sometimes in class he would make faces like a monkey and declare that he was the missing link. He was very abusive to the girls if they didn't know their lesson. I could see under his eccentric makeup that he was really handsome. He had brown eyes and a straight nose, and beautiful teeth. I had strange dreams about him at night and although I had the only physical passion for him that I had been aware of since I was eight years old, and longed to feel his stubble beard against my face, he never knew it.
My soldier's letters were becoming affectionate. He was now addressing me "My Darling Little Girl," and I began his letters "My Dearest". He sent He sent me a gold cavalry pin, and I wore it over my heart.
One day, Hal came from St. Louis to see me. He wanted to marry me now, but I told him to wait until later, that at the moment I only wanted to work. He was sorry he had not married me when he had the chance. I told him that it was the best thing he could have done for me not to. We were sitting in a porch swing in the shadow of a vine that trailed between the columns.
"I was a fool then," he said. "I had old fashioned ideas, and I was afraid you might be as unstable as your mother. I know you better now." He took me in his arms, and I let him kiss me.
"Why don't you kiss me when I kiss you?"
"How do you mean?"
"Like this -- Just as I kiss you."
Then I kissed him as he had kissed me, while he submitted passively. This delighted me, and we practiced it over and over. After that, I always kissed him when he kissed me. He thought it much better.
After learning to kiss, I almost allowed Hal to persuade me to get married. But I thought of the soldier -- I couldn't write to him and tell him that I was married. It wouldn't be patriotic. Hal couldn't go to war because of his eyes. He had to wear thick glasses. He went home and didn't write to me again. I was hurt, but I became reconciled to giving him up by thinking only of the soldier.
I was ready to take the Yeomanette exams when the Armistice was signed. The first report came during the afternoon when I was in school. Everybody from the building rushed into the street -- whistles blew and bells rang. But it was a false alarm, and everyone settled back into deeper gloom. Then during the night I heard paper boys shouting "Armistice!" The air rang with the word and whistles blew again and again and bells rang. I got out of bed and stood on the steps in my bare feet ...
... whole truth. I remembered the smell of whisky on his breath [refering to the soldier she wrote to] when he said goodbye at the train. I remembered all the verses I learned from the W.C.T.U.
When he came to see me that night, I told him that I knew he had not been truthful to me. Then he confessed that he had gone out with the boys and drank too much. I told him that I couldn't see him again if he were a drunkard: that I had signed a pledge with the W.C.T.U. that "lips that touched liquor shall never touch mine". He was very repentant and promised he would never touch alcohol again.
One night that summer, we were talking down a drive lined with trees, a faint wind was stirring in the leaves, and from somewhere came the breath of honeysuckle. We stopped and let the night play through our senses. A few moment later, he asked me to marry him. I was afraid to speak lest I should display too much eagerness and he would change his mind. So I decided to make him secure by appealing to his sympathy.
"I don't think I should marry. It wouldn't be fair to you. I'm not strong. I shall be so much trouble. Anyway I don't think I shall live a year. I have a temperature every day."
"I want to look after you. You will live and be strong."
"But, then, maybe I won't have any children."
"That won't matter. I only want to make you happy. Children would only be an added blessing."
"I have never been happy," I said.
"You shall be. It will be my one aim in life."
Then I knew I had him. It would be safe to talk about the date. "I would like to marry on the anniversary of our meeting." That was eight months away. We decided on that day.
I began making things for my trousseau, and embroidering linen and hemstitching sheets.
He went to work with renewed interest. He told me that until he knew me he had no ambition and cared only for drink and women. He said that a good woman was better than an angel in heaven, and that a bad woman was the vilest creature on earth. He was very concerned about the present-day moral freedom. He thought it was disgusting the way young girls crossed their legs and painted their faces and lips, throwing themselves at men.
"Once a girl loses her modesty, she goes downhill very fast. I see girls who a year ago were lovely and sweet, looking like brazen strumpets today. They pull up their dresses when they get in the car, trying to show all they have."
"Do you look at them?"
"Yes, I look at them. One of the best sights in the world is a black silk stocking well filled."
I had never before had the man's point of view about the affairs of men and women. I made him tell me all about his affairs. He once had met a woman taking subscriptions for the "Ladies Home Journal," and had made a date to visit her; but the day before the occasion, her husband came home and found her with a lover and slashed her throat and killed the lover. I remembered the case. My mother and Dot had gone to see the woman in the morgue and had thought she looked beautiful. There had been a thin red line where the undertaker had tried to mend her throat, they said. The husband had tried to escape by locking himself in a room over a drug store, firing upon the police who came to arrest him. Several of them were killed, and the young druggist was one of them. Finally, they riddled the husband with a machine gun.
He said, "In another day, it would have been me that the husband found, and she said she was not married."
I was proud of my fiance's many experiences. Once he had almost taken a girl's virginity because she had misrepresented herself to him. When he found out she was a virgin, he ran away leaving her in a rage. About nine months later, she died in childbirth.
"In another moment, I might have been to blame for that."
He was removing a girl's knickers once and noticed her suddenly staring ahead. Looking around, he saw the father standing in the doorway. He rushed out the other door, leaving his hat. As he reached the front steps, a cuspidor hit him in the small of the back.
"The next day I wrote a letter apologizing for taking advantage of her. I made it appear that I had forced my attentions on her. She sent me my hat."
Afterward he told me I would have to confess my sins. He showed me into a curtain-enclosed box and told me to kneel down. In a few moments, he face appeared through a small opening in the partition. I couldn't think of anything to confess, and he tried to help me by suggesting numerous sins, such as lies, lust, breaking the Sabbath. To all of them I said "Yes".
"Is there any other sin you wish to confess?"
"No," I answered. I was vaguely conscious of lying, but God would have to understand that that part of my mind containing that twelve-year-old experience had dropped into darkness -- It had never existed.
The wedding day arrived, and I drove to the church through a misty rain. It was a quiet wedding. I had sent out no invitations. Only a few friends -- Ella and Effie and Audrey, were there, and some of my girl friends. I didn't ask my father, because he didn't belong to my life. My sister was my one attendant. I was married in a traveling suit. I went through the ceremony in a daze. I wasn't happy, and I wasn't sad. I t was something I had waited too long for. It seemed that I had already spent my entire life embroidering linens for this moment. The months of waiting had taken all the happiness away. I had tried to get him to make the wedding sooner; but for business reasons, we had to wait.
That night, on the train, I cried myself to sleep, while he snored. The rain beat steadily against the window panes. The next night in New Orleans, our marriage was consummated in the sanctuary of the bridal suite of an elegant hotel. It was done with due formality, for he had prepared himself with all the necessary fabrics and ointments for the occasion. A friend had advised him how it should be done. There was no romance about it. I no longer considered myself a virgin.
After we returned, we lived with my mother. She couldn't bear to have me leave, and my husband thought I should be with her. My dream of a cottage of my own was gone, but I might have a baby. then months went by, and there was no sign of a child. I imagined all the symptoms only to be always disappointed. I had fits of depression. Nothing was the way I dreamed it. I had violent spells of crying, and threw things at my husband. When the spell was over, I would be affectionate and sorry I had been horrid to him.
I had been married over a year when a doctor told me I would never have a child; that sexually I had never developed over the age of twelve. After that, there was no hope in life. Romance was gone. I couldn't have a child, and not even a home to myself, for now my father had been killed, and my mother and sisters had moved with us into our new home. It was not my home. I had nothing to do with it.
My second sister was now teaching school and went out every evening with young men. She couldn't miss a night of dancing, or theater. I never went out -- I seemed to be in a state of coma. My youngest sister was beginning to be depressed and silent. She sat all day without speaking. A change had come over her. Occasionally she would break out of it and go out with girls and young men of a low type. Once she came home drunk. After that, she continued steadily to lose her brightness.
Then one day, I met a man -- a client of my husband's. We were immediately attracted to each other. There was a whimsical expression in his face, as though he were seeking life out of the rut -- romance in a dull world. He revived my interest in life. My husband noticed that I was awakening into life and encouraged me in seeing him.
One night in June, we drove to the country and parked the car in a country church yard. A moon was shining through the trees and on the tombstones, and it gave the church yard the misty whiteness of a bridal veil. A strange tenderness swept over me for this man -- I didn't resist him.
Something told me I would have a child. I gave all the love in my nature to this man. When I knew I was pregnant, I was happy. I couldn't tell my husband about my love for this man, as the man was also married, and it might mean breaking up his home, and he was devoted to his little girl.
The secret began to prey on me. I was only happy when with the other man. At other times I felt I didn't want to live. When we were together, we never spoke of the child, only of our love for each other.
One morning in March, I went to the hospital. Fifteen hours later I was screaming and tearing at the nurses' clothes. Then I was put on a trolley and rolled down the hall into a brilliantly lighted room, and something was fitted on my nose, and I breathed something that smelled like oranges, and my consciousness escaped in a whirling vibration that carried me out of my body. When I came to, I was singing. The doctor said, "You have a boy."
"Take me back," I said. "I wanted a little girl."
But after I was back in my room, I felt a happiness that was worth all the pain. I felt that I would never be unhappy again, as long as I could remember this moment.
I wanted to see my baby, but I didn't want to bother the nurses. Hours later, a nurse brought him in. He was wrapped in a blanket. I looked at him and felt shy, and he puckered up his little mouth as though he was going to cry. I didn't want to touch him. I felt strangely detached form the tiny thing -- and slightly ashamed. The next day, as I was holding him in my arms, I was conscious of feeling all the pain in life that he would have to suffer, and a desperate desire to save him from it. He opened his eyes. They looked deep and wise -- like his father's I thought. I held him to me and cried.
The man came with his wife and my husband to see me, and after they left, he came back alone and stayed by the bed and played with the baby's hands, and watched him smile in his sleep. He thought he looked like me. But I told him "No," he was very like him, and he was embarrassed.
"Don't you love him," I asked.
"I love you," he said.
Finally, I couldn't bear the deceit any longer and told my husband. He said he had known it all the time. I told him I wanted to go away and that I didn't want the man's wife to know about it. He was very good to me; and when I was nervous he would sit and hold my hand until I could sleep.
The man knew I was going away. I think he was glad. He was furious with me for telling my husband.
When the baby was five months old, I decided to go to California. My husband saw me off on the train.
"God bless you, little girl," he said as he kissed me goodbye.
I never saw or heard from the other man for seven years. Once, when I was in New York, I heard that he was in Chicago. I had to change trains there on my way back to Hollywood. I knew where to find him. Up to that time I felt I loved him the same as ever. Meeting him again, I realized that it was gone -- like a dead body preserved in an air-tight coffin, crumbling to dust at the first touch of air.
He wanted to believe that I still loved him, and I let him have his illusion. He didn't ask about our child. I didn't mention him. He wanted to talk to me about his little girl, who had died a few years before. I spent the day with him, and he put me on the train that night. There was still that whimsical expression in his face, as of someone seeking romance in a dull world.
I arrived in Los Angeles under military protection. Our train was mounted with machine guns and the officials of the company were the engineers. There had been a railroad strike. At a given hour, all the train men walked off and left the trains where they happened to be.
The station of the desert town at which my train had stopped was swarming with the people of nine trains. In the next few days, babies were born, people became ill, some died, marriages were made and broken up. I was out in the world, trying my own wings for the first time, and would have enjoyed the experience only I was worried about my baby. I had to sleep on the train because we never knew what minute we would leave. I had to give the baby condensed milk and bathe him in cold water. He winced when it touched his skin, but he kept well through the trip.
I went to a hotel in Los Angeles, left the baby in care of a maid, went out and bought a paper and looked in the rooms and board advertisements as I ate breakfast. In less than an hour, I had made arrangements to board on Hollywood Boulevard. I thought...
... and wore Mary Pickford curls, or slinky black satin Gloria Swanson-like frocks. I made no pretences whatsoever. I had full confidence in my own personality -- that made me conspicuous. If I had known anything at all about what I saw, I would have had neither the courage nor the desire to seek a career in pictures.
My first job was in a two-reel comedy. I was told to come dressed as a shirt-waist factory girl. My idea of a factory girl was different from that of the other extra girls. They came to work in smart well-fitting dresses. I thought factory girls should look shabby, but I was not used to the comedy type. They were very snobbish to me, and the director put me in the back at the last machine. Yet when we all had to rush forward to witness a comedy fight, I got in the front, where I would be certain to show in the picture. "Camera Hog" one girl called me through the side of her mouth. I was very nervous and couldn't keep from moving during the still pictures, and the director screamed at me "What in the hell do you mean by moving in a still picture. Take it over," The two comedians were holding a fighting position. We were supposed to stretch our eyes and look frightened and hold it. I felt on the verge of tears. To keep them back, I stuck out my tongue at the director. When I realized what I had done, I was frightened. I expected him to have me thrown out of the studio. I expected anything from such a man. No one had ever spoken like that to me before.
I changed my clothes the next day for something better. The director noticed me and screamed, "You were wearing a red waist yesterday. Don't you know you can't change your wardrobe in the middle of a sequence?" Then seeing my fright -- "Most directors would send you home at once, but I will let it go this time. Maybe it won't be noticed."
When I saw the picture, I saw myself in a dowdy waist, and then like a miracle the dowdy shirt waist was an attractive frock. I had not been able to keep out of the camera.
I worked four days as an extra on this picture. One day, the supervisor sent for me. I thought I would be given a contract immediately, but he only wanted to talk to me about myself. The usual questions. Where was I from; and if my mother was with me.
"There's something strangely appealing about you. No one has had this effect on me for twenty years."
I didn't know what the effect was.
"Thank you for the compliment. I hope we can be friends. You need friends in a strange place -- don't you?" I was very nervous.
"It's refreshing to find a girl like you in Hollywood. They get common very soon -- Heart-breaking this business -- Most of them will sell their bodies for a day's work."
After talking to me for a while he asked if he might drive me home. I said, "Yes". While we were driving home in his limousine, he told me that he was married.
He suggested visiting me, but I told him that I would not go with a married man. After that, he avoided me.
I managed to get on the average of three days work a week for the next few months. The woman I boarded with looked after my baby, and I was making my own living and enjoying my independence, although I was very lonely and often felt I couldn't bear the separation from the man I loved. I wrote to him several times, but I didn't get an answer. My husband wrote and asked me to come back if I wanted to. But I didn't want to go back. I wanted a new life.
I was no longer depressed, as I had been at home. I was interested in everything I saw. The funny houses that looked like the movie sets. The palm trees that looked like tall hula dancers. And the orange groves with blossoms and oranges on them at the same time. I wheeled my baby down Hollywood Boulevard every night and looked in at the windows. It was always interesting to me. And one night I stood in the crowd and watched the stars arrive at the opening of Hollywood's first big theater. The picture was Douglas Fairbanks in "Robin Hood."
The extra people were very strange, I thought. At the end of the day's work, they would rush to the assistant director and beg to be allowed to come back the next day. They were frantic about getting work; but I noticed that after they got work, they tried to hide out behind scenes and sleep or play cards or enter into discussion on various learned subjects. Or if it was supposed to be a rain scene there were always many who would hide and afterwards dip their clothes in water to fool the director, and then beg to come back next day. Among the extras were doctors, lawyers, princes, millionaires' sons, generals, ex-prize fighters and anything else. Some groups would talk metaphysics, others would shoot craps or play poker. One man was called "The Woman's Home Companion" because he always had a group of girls around him giving them advice and consolation. Most of these were professional extras with no ambition or hope for anything else -- Derelicts from all parts of the world. They felt contempt for anyone who showed ambition, and only the most inspired could possibly withstand their ridicule. If they thought there was a chance of someone getting above their rank, their mass instinct was to prevent it. I kept aloof from the crowd, and most of the girls hated me. Their crude jokes and behavior embarrassed me. "Hearts and Flowers"...
One day, I met a man who seemed different form the rest. He too was aloof. Later that day we danced together in a ball room scene. I liked him, but wished he wasn't so handsome. I had decided that I didn't like handsome men. I wanted a man with a strong face. I let him take me home that night in his Ford Coupe. When I started to get out of the car, he asked when he could see me again.
"When would you like to come?"
"I would like to stay while I am here."
"All right. I'll go in and take off my make up, and come back and we'll go for a ride."
I hurried in and smeared cold cream over my face and rubbed off grease paint and blue shadows from over my eyes, and crimson from my lips. I gave a sigh of relief when I saw my face emerge -- clean and fresh as I wiped off the paint. I looked at my baby asleep and tucked the covers over him, and told the landlady that I was going out for a while. She was a good woman and loved my baby. She had a daughter in the Hollywood high school. She had begun to paint her face and go out although she was only fifteen. Her mother could do nothing with the girl; she only hoped and prayed for the best. I knew the girl would look after herself...
... with a Spanish girl. I was very hurt.
"I have to love someone if you will only let me treat you like a sister."
After that I moved away from the family and rented a flat. I left the baby with the woman. I prepared supper for him the first night in my new place, and we had breakfast together the next morning. After that he only went home to change his clothes.
Two months later, I wrote my husband to get a divorce -- that I wanted to get married. He got the divorce on the grounds of desertion, and I married the other man immediately.
His parents would not receive me, as they disapproved off our pre-marriage conduct. The following year was difficult. Work was scarce, and I was going to have a baby. I scrubbed and washed and ironed and cooked and was happy. We lived entirely for each other in a few rooms in the house of an old Norwegian couple.
This old couple were the only people I ever talked to. They had just been converted from their Lutheran faith by Aimee Semple McPherson. At the age of seventy, this old lady had received the Holy Ghost in the secret chamber of Sister McPherson's temple, called the Five Hundred Room. They saved money and put it into envelopes marked "A love offering for Sister Macpherson."
She showed me pictures of herself as a beautiful girl. She had married a man of the sea, and the years had been lonely when he had been away from home. So he gave up the sea and they came to America. They had eight children. Some had died. She told me stories of them from their babyhood up. She made good fig wine and she and I would often drink and compare notes on life. She sent me things to eat because she remembered how she felt when she was going to have a baby.
One morning in December, when my husband had gone to work at five A.M. because it was a location call, I looked out of the window and saw a think-cycle moon -- the new moon. I had been looking for this moon. The old Norwegian woman had told me the baby would be born with the new moon, and strangely enough, just as I turned to go back to bed for more sleep, I felt the first pain, and water broke, just as it did with my first child, and I knew it would be a long labor because of that. I went back to bed, but I didn't sleep, as the pains were just enough to annoy me. After a while, I got up and did my house work. The pains were harder, and I had to stop when I had one and bear down as I had been advised to by the old woman. "Don't fight against the pains, give in to them and bear down," she had said when I went to inform her of what had happened. I wasn't at all afraid. I didn't think of the labor pains I had had with my first child, of screaming with agony as I was being taken to the delivery room. At noon, I called my doctor, and several hours later, when I was feverish with the pains, he came and drove me to the hospital. I was prepared and put to bed and given straps to pull on when I felt a pain. They were almost unbearable now. Each pain blotted out everything else in the world until there was no more intervals between pains and there was a never-ceasing one in which my bones were being torn apart. I didn't think of the baby. There was nothing but this unbearable pain. The doctor came and examined me. I didn't scream this time, and tear at the nurses clothes. I was living only because I knew in a moment I would smell that wonderful odor -- something like oranges, and I should go to sleep and not feel any more pain. The pain was growing in intensity I was wheeled into the delivery room.
Something seemed to give way inside me with a great involuntary strain, and a groan, and I felt my eyes stretch and protrude. I was smelling the wonderful vapor and then they took it away form me. I screamed for it again. "You promised me you would put me entirely to sleep," I raved to the doctor. "You promised you would put me to sleep. I asked you if you would and you promised." Someone came near me and took my hand. I looked up and recognized my husband -- his face covered except for his eyes. Another strain and I felt the nozzle that gave the ether, breathed deeply and heard my straining dying away and then something burst from me, and I heard a gasping of breath that broke into the loud cry of my baby. The doctor made some humorous remark and that it was a boy. "Is it all right," I asked. Being assured that it was, I relaxed and the doctor pressed my stomach and pulled something connected with me and something else came. That was the end, he said -- the after birth. The nurse took the baby away to wash it, and I after being washed and padded, was wheeled back to my room. Once again that moment of pure happiness -- a moment of heaven.
After the baby was born, my husband's parents met me for the first time. They have us a little house with a garden where I could plant flowers -- I might have been happy only the worry of money, and work was scarce in pictures. My father-in-law helped us, but he did it complaining always that he should get other work besides pictures.
My husband had helped his father in the merchandise business until the war. Then while he was in the army, his father sold out and retired, so there was no job to return to. He was good looking and everyone told him to try pictures. He hated working in pictures. He was always dreaming of doing something else -- Wanting to buy land, always looking up land advertisements in the paper -- while his father sitting on the veranda watched Hollywood close around him -- huge buildings going up -- he had bought a lot when Hollywood was a rose garden and orange grower -- buildings, causing his property to go up. It was now worth about a million collars and still he held on. His small apartment house had been the last word a few years ago. Other apartment houses were going up with elevators and frigidaires and tiled kitchens and elegantly tiled bathrooms, that could be obtained for the same rent. Everyone was screaming for frigidaires, and he had to lower his rents. But no matter low he put the rents, frigidaires could always be had for less. He went into tempers -- "Let's sell and live in peace -- Hollywood isn't what it used to be." But the old lady would look at the building of a new department store going up nearby and point "Over there they're going to build the New Carlton Hotel. We must hold on."
"We'll be dead. It won't do us any good."
"The children will have it."
And yet she disinherited her children at the slightest provocation.
My mother came to Hollywood and soon married again. She seemed very happy, even though her husband didn't make very much money. My eldest child went to live with her. The baby was now six months old. I left him with my husband's mother and decided to again try pictures.
I got a job to go on location to Santa Cruz Island in a mermaid picture. I was there a month. Working in damp caves -- posing on ledges of rock above the sea, arms waving gracefully -- parties in tents at night -- fornications on the hill sides -- gin and dirty jokes -- observing only -- extra girl in hysterics over handsome muscular electrician -- beginning to want the electrician myself after a month on a desert island. == Had him -- Ashamed of it -- Assistant director deluged with fornications -- Girls had to sleep with him to keep their jobs -- I kept him suspecting. Girls thought I was a prude -- Several prudes stuck together. Prudes lost their virginities and became prudes without virginities.
That same year my sisters also came to Hollywood. The middle one married soon after she arrived -- the youngest had left her husband. I was very worried about her. She seemed to be in a serious condition mentally. I was anxious to make money and help my family.
My husband and I were not getting along very well at this time. He was jealous of my interest in my family and my first child. He tried to discourage me in my ambitions for a career. After I returned from location, we quarreled about how I should spend the money. I wanted to give some to my mother and sister and he thought I shouldn't. He sulked and I soon went on another location to Catalina Island, with fifteen other girls for bathing suit work. I was chosen to do a bit with a star because I had long hair. I had noticed the star going over on the boat. He was feeding the gulls and I noticed that same whimsical expression that always touched some responding chord in me. He noticed me also and before returning home he asked if he could take me out to dinner. I made arrangements to meet him to my mother's.
At dinner, I was very shy and nervous -- the music -- the lights and I did not have the proper clothes. He talked to me about Neitzsche. I had never heard of him. He spoke of the super man. I said I have never heard of him either. He said that I would be a very interesting woman perhaps in five years when I had worn the angles off. He told me there was no such thing as good and bad, only good taste and bad taste. And he spoke of "unmoral" and "amoral." I was hearing things I had never heard before. He horrified me by saying that all women were prostitutes from necessity, -- Seeds were planted in my nature. I began to be aware of new doors, and I wanted to go through them. I wanted to find out about all these things he spoke to me about. I liked him and wanted to grow as he said I would.
I saw him regularly. Until one night I found my husband waiting in his Ford coupe in the shadow of a tree near our home. I recognized him and told the man not to stop. He realized why for the Ford coupe started after us. We were in a big Cadillac. We raced around corners until we got on Sunset Boulevard and the Ford began to catch up and edged us off the road. We had to stop. My husband got out of the car and the other man did the same. He was very frightened. He realized the danger of a scandal to a movie star. My husband was very tall; the other man was small.
"I want you to know that this little girl you are driving around with is my wife."
"Now, let's see about this," the man answered as though trying to be agreeable. I made no move to leave the car. "You had better get out and let your husband drive you home."
"No," I said. "I won't. He hasn't spoken to me for weeks. Why should I go home with him now?"
"Don't be stupid! I'm very sorry old man," he said to my husband.
Then I decided to get out and save any more trouble.
"Sorry to frighten you, brother," my husband said as he got in the Ford coupe. "You know how these little things are."
"Certainly I know -- " His voice was lost for he had gone and we were turning in the road to go in the opposite direction.
At home, I told him what a fool he had made of himself and laughed at him and he leaped at me and tore off my clothes. Then he turned me across his lap and spanked me. The spanking made me furious.
The next day I left him. I rented a place and my mother and child, her husband and my youngest sister came to live with me.
For a month after I left my husband, he didn't know where I was. One day I called him on the phone and we had a casual conversation and arranged to meet. After that, we saw each other often. Sometimes I spent the weekend with him. I then had a contract with a picture company and was only interested in my career.
I was glad that he did not persuade me to come back because I was very fond of him and had he asked me I couldn't have resisted him.
The other man was frightened away. I was sorry, because I liked him. There was so much he could teach me. I wanted to learn things. I made up my mind that the next man would be chosen for what he could teach me.
I wanted a divorce. My husband and I went to the lawyer's together and held hands while we were talking to him and he asked us if we were certain we wanted divorce.
"Yes," I answered.
Later when the papers were served, my husband called me over the phone.
"You have made me out an absolute blackguard."
"I'm sorry, Darling, but one has to say something to get a divorce."
"But you believe it, don't you."
"Of course not. It's just for the divorce."
Three weeks later we got the first decree and went to the theater that night to celebrate. I didn't spend any more weekends with him. There was a year to wait for the final decrees.
Two days later I went to my first Hollywood party. There seemed to be just drinking and people sitting in each other's laps, getting sick and going to bed, and men and women quarreling with each other. It lasted until six in the morning. I didn't drink, but I stayed through it. Once I went to the window and looked out. The night was peaceful. The streets looked dark and sleepy -- like a small village somewhere -- black hills against the sky in the distance, and over it all the stars -- worlds greater than ours -- Inside a gramophone was playing "Black Bottom, Black Bottom". Someone drunk was singing it. Someone came to the window.
"Are you sick?"
"No," I said. "I was just looking at the stars."
"Say, she's looking at the stars. Who did you see -- Pola Negri or Mary Pickford?"
"No. Tom Mix in his purple suit and gold spurs."
"Do you want to get along in pictures?" Someone was being serious. "Well, let's hear you say 'Ah'."
"I've heard that," I said.
"Well then you probably know enough to work yourself up under a good director."
"I'm a good director," a half dozen drunken voices said.
"That's no director. That's my wife," said some man in a falsetto voice.
A few days later the girl who had given the party asked me to go with her to dinner at the home of a famous playwright. I had my hair down my back, caught at the back of my head with a pin. I often wore it that way, and as the invitation had come at the last moment, I didn't take time to change it. He treated me as a child and seemed a little surprised that they had brought me. Then at dinner, one of the guests told him that I had been married twice and had two children. From then on his interest in me was different. He became the greatest influence in my life. When I met him, I was shy, indefinite, repressed -- so nervous that the muscles of my face would twitch when I was trying to do a scene for the camera. He told me I should have to overcome my repressions. He brought to the surface all the violent emotions that before I had only had suggestions of. He nursed me into a new being over a period of two years. Often he would be cruel, driving me on when I wanted to give up, sick and discouraged with pictures and longing to be just happy.
I was in a new circle. I moved among the powers that be in filmland -- the Mayfair dances, races at Tijuana -- I began to find them dull. The stars were not as interesting as the extra people. They were all trying to be so nice -- Norma Talmadge was always at the races, never showing the least animation, always surrounded by a group of energetic young men. Her husband Joseph Schienk darted here and there very interested in the horses and the betting, never breaking through the circle of young men that surrounded his wife. Buster Keaton was usually there, behaving just as he does in pictures, climbing over things and jumping about -- Once I saw him caught by the seat of his pants as he jumped from the beams over the roof of the clubhouse (the royal circle of the Tijuana race track).
I had lost my self-consciousness. I knew how to dress, how to walk and stand in the latest fashion. I could sit quietly at the races and not get excited and jump up and down as I used to when my horse was coming in ahead. I was living in a rarified element now of gala private story conferences -- inside gossip. Hollywood was a place of rumors -- rumors that Mary Pickford was jealous of Douglas Fairbanks. -- He had to get rid of his leading lady -- Mary had followed him in a car when he was with the other girl. -- "Why do you break my heart like this?" she was supposed to have said. "Why don't you shoot me instead of saying that to me. -- He had left the other girl. -- Who's sleeping with whom? -- I knew him when -- Breakdowns from dieting -- Divorces -- Nine out of ten have venereal disease -- So and so tried to commit suicide -- She settled out of court. Cost her thirty thousand -- blackmail -- He got the job because he had something on him -- Guesses about illegitimate children. -- Lace covered toilet seats -- Rumors of publisher and movie star -- Producer died on publisher's yacht -- Rumors of shooting -- Rumors of guest on yacht never having to work afterwards -- Sailors knowing too much disappearing -- Rumors of woman evangelist sitting in beauty parlor in a mud pack -- Same evangelist having lesbian affairs -- Accusing same evangelist of "necking with God" in religious frenzies. Hearst's thousand acre ranch with herds of zebra and the castle imported from Ireland brick by brick. -- A room there covered with pornographic pictures -- elevator floors for practical jokes -- Movie stars rising from one furnished room to Beverley Hills mansions saying to interviewer "It isn't much, but it's home." Chaplin prefers Virginia -- Jokes about him ranging around Hollywood High School -- Everyone warned not to believe rumors; it is dangerous -- One can get blacklisted for talking -- Or maybe they can be disposed of in other ways -- For publishers and producers are not just men -- They are influences. They can make a name or even a body disappear like the work of a conjurer if it doesn't fit in to their scheme of things -- I found them all tenderhearted and kind to their mothers and their girl friends. I felt I was stagnating in this atmosphere. There was nothing real in it. One felt earth might slip from under one's feet at any moment -- there were earthquakes, warning tremors mostly, then one day a big one tearing up a beautiful city not far away -- tidal waves, floods from broken ill-constructed dams. There was nothing vital enough in the lives of the people I knew to balance the violence of nature.
I wonder if these famous people will be remembered more by the legends that will grow up from the rumors than by what their publicity agents tell the world.
Perhaps in the case of genius, like Chaplin, the rumors will be secondary -- I saw him one night at his home in a mad mood, stripping off his clothes and ruffling his curly hair until it looked like horns sprouting through -- stretching his arms and body as though he were going to spring into the woods out of sight, showing his protruding teeth in a grin as he said, "Down gods. My name is Pan -- And you are Daphne. -- I like you because you are a nut the same as I."
And because I was just as mad as he, I took off my clothes, and we ran all over his grand mansion like something wild in the woods. He sprang upon the seat of his pipe organ and after a moment of silence, he played chords -- And I saw how sad and lonely he really was -- then his mood changed. -- He showed me his curiosities from the Emperor and Empress of China. They were in a glass case. He danced around a Chinese mask. Then he was a child showing another child his toys. -- Later we got into a shower together and imagined it was raining in a woodland. The glass-enclosed shower bath with its elaborate fixtures prevented him from seeing trees dripping with rain. -- We held each others hands and danced around and around.
Surely, I should be envied by the rest of the world who have not seen him as "Pan". For that is the very soul of his genius.
The next morning, he received word that his mother was dead. The servant who brought me my breakfast told me. Later, I met him downstairs. He was only the famous man now who had lost his mother. He took me home in his car -- All the way he talked about her -- disconnected sentences. -- How young she looked. -- Her eyes were blue -- "I hate funerals. I wish I didn't have to go. But I have to. Can't send anyone else in my place. -- Three weeks ago she was dancing the Charleston. -- Didn't feel any grief when they told me. -- Just a pain in my stomach. -- I wonder what the nurse thought yesterday when I was holding her hand. -- While my mother looked up at me I wondered what was... in the nurse's mind as she watched. -- This... dying mother. -- Interesting to know."
I was now a featured player -- had ... appearances, seen my name in electric lights... love life written by Hollywood's best ... proclaimed a great discovery by my own company... trade journal and a great career was going... for me, even Hollywood's most cynical journals... Englishman with long lashes and freckles... of approval upon me by saying he rather... I read these words at the end of the article he had written about me and remembered that I also had rather liked him. I had noticed him standing on the edge of the step while I was working and had asked someone who he was. I thought this very unusual, as there were always nice looking men standing about whom I never noticed. That was six months ago. I hadn't seen him since.
I was not happy. I felt I was not expressing my life in the way I should. I felt an instinctive fear of great success. It seemed to be something that would tie me down to live in the motion picture world forever. I wanted something else. Once I quarreled with the picture executives and left the studio never to come back. Afterwards, there was a scene with the playwright. I was unable to convince him that I was not a great artist, but only an ordinary woman who wanted to be happy in a simple way. I wanted to marry him and have another child and dabble with oil paints and play and feel flattered when he asked my opinion of his work, but he was already married, though he had separated from his wife years ago. I thought he should get a divorce. We quarreled and he went to New York, and I went back to the studio. He phoned me long distance from New York, our quarrel continued. I clicked up the receiver in Los Angeles. He called me back, but it ended with my hearing him click up the receiver in New York.
I felt hurt for a time and then I became interested in a boy who was playing with me in a picture. I didn't think he put enough feeling in his love scene. He needed experience, and in a reckless moment I became his first love affair. Later, I found that he had sadistic tendencies which fascinated me for a time, and I had a strange distorted passion for him for a year. -- I very nearly married him but was not allowed to as the playwright returned and was determined to save me from it. He had the studio keep me at work so I wouldn't get a day off until I got over the idea. He offered me every consideration to give him up. But I would listen to no one. He tried to flatter me into it, but it was useless. Although I was getting tired of the boy slapping my face for no reason, especially in public restaurants -- and it had been exhausting trying to evade the studio detectives, and once he had beaten me in a frenzy of madness and I had to go to work with a black eye and try to explain that I had got it in a motor accident, and tell exactly how I was bumped against the steering wheel, while I knew no one believed my story. Once he had held a pistol over my heart, his face calm and white, "Darling it is best for both of us." -- I argued him out of it, but not long after that, he had choked me into unconsciousness. When I came to, he had me in his arms, tears running down his face -- I was tired of it, but people wouldn't let me alone so I kept on in sheer stubbornness.
One night during the affair, the playwright called me to his house and asked me to bring the boy with me -- that it was urgent. Also, the studios were going to cancel our contracts. When we arrived, the boy's mother was there. I had never met her. She was a tall woman and wore her hair in a long bob pushed over her ears. It hung below her hat. Her eyes were large and dark, with black circles under them. Her face was a greenish pallor. Her full lips looked dark purple to me. They were pressed tightly together deepening the lines around her mouth. I saw hatred in her eyes when she saw me. I suddenly felt I was in a nightmare. The playwright walked up and down the room after we were seated. I sat on the couch and held the boy's hand. He looked ill. Some sensitive thing in me took wings and left me listening to words mechanically driven into my brain.
"I met your mother today. She was on the verge of suicide. She didn't even have the car fare to come meet me. -- Is that true?" he asked the woman.
"Yes. It is true that I intended destroying myself. I sold two stamps that I found for the car fare."
"Your son has represented himself as being wealthy -- That his father is going to settle money on him."
"Why did I ever tell him that, "I thought.
"He has only what he makes, and his father isn't interested in him. He deserted us both long ago and has other children."
"Has the boy given you any of the money he has earned."
"No. His grandmother and I have been without food. He spends everything on her."
"No," I said. "That isn't true. I tried to get him to save his money."
"Is it true that his grandmother is losing her eyesight because she hasn't the money to see a doctor and that she sleeps on a mattress in a bare room, and you sleep on a sofa in the living room?"
"That is true," the woman answered. "But I seldom sleep." (It occurred to me that these questions and answers had been rehearsed). "I sit by the window and wait for my son, and sometimes I think I hear shots in the distance and I fear that he will be brought in dead, or that he might have killed someone. Week by week he hasn't come home. I went to the Jesuit Priests and they promised to help. They are very dangerous --- He was studying for the priesthood before he went into pictures."
I could feel the boy looking at me -- watching my reactions -- I understood him now and knew he was a victim of a mad imagination. He had told me lies, lies, lies, and now his world of illusions was crashing before his eyes in my presence, destroyed by a merciless rival -- a man who had passed the age of romance. I held his hand in my lap, between my two palms. I tried to press my sympathy into his hand. I felt that we had escaped to some remote place and were seeing ourselves being tortured in effigy. More questions and answers -- lectures -- just sounds to me and then it was over and we were leaving. I heard the playwright say, "You mustn't go." And then to the woman, "I know her in this mood. I'm afraid of what she might do in her present state of mind." I was calm and knew that I felt relieved that the uneasiness I felt about the boy was understood.
"I'm all right."
"No you are not."
"I won't argue."
I told the boy good night and told him to come for me in the morning.
"You aren't going to leave me?"
"No," I answered. "Forget it all."
For several days after that he was subdued and I told him that since everything that had been built on lies had been torn down, any true feeling we had would have a chance to grow. I wouldn't give him up if he promised that he would never lie to me again. And then one day after a few moments of silence he said, "Do you know -- I have been the victim of the most fiendish plot ever perpetrated against a man."
I couldn't answer him -- I realized it was no use to say any more. He was only pathetic in his effort to again pull the cloak of vanity over him. He began building stories about himself, and I would say, "You are only imagining."
"Oh, yes," he would say as though coming from a trance. "I'm dreaming again -- illusions." He lost his contract and then he began to talk about big deals involving millions of dollars.
I had almost forgotten the journalist and on New Year's Eve I met him again. I gave him my telephone nubmer. When we were driving away, I saw a tall figure walking down the road and looked back.
"Who is that?"
"That is the Englishman you gave your phone number to."
"Oh. Is it?"
I kept looking back at this tall silhouette moving slowly. He stopped and looked after the car and as I left him there alone with only the dark hills around him I felt that something of me was left standing lonely with him -- and the boy broke the silence.
"Why did you give your number to a strange man?"
"Because I wanted to. Besides he is not a strange man to me."
I saw the journalist often after that. I liked his charming reserve, and he liked my abandonment.
"You are a mad woman. I think I would keep my desire for your longer than any woman I know. You would be an interesting person to have about the house."
I thought these remarks were very clever. I confided in him about the boy, and he advised me to give him up. He used to go with me to see him, then he rebelled and wouldn't go.
"It's getting a bit thick," I noticed the American expression.
I began to notice something of the stubbornness of his determination then, and I liked him more. Once he said to me as I sat on the sofa among my mother's brilliant array of cushions while he leaned against he mantelpiece, "I feel so stupid around you. I think if I were intimate with you I would not be so dull."
I could not possibly think of him as a lover. Then one night after he had given up all idea of sleeping with me I suggested that I go to his place and have a drink.
"I haven't any," he said. "But I can get some from the bootlegger."
He called the bootlegger, and we waited up a dark street for him to deliver the synthetic gin. We drove back to his rooms. He had a sitting room, bedroom, and bath. The windows of the bedroom looked out from a hillside down to vast fields of twinkling lights of Hollywood. We had several drinks in his sitting room, and he sat at my feet and told me how beautiful and strange I looked in the light of the gas fire. Later we went to the bedroom and looked at the view from the window -- Like an inverted starlit sky. Later, in bed, when I turned from him, lying quietly beside him, he said, "You are what I have always dreamed a woman should be like."
I was dressed when he awakened next morning. Instinct told me that I should be dressed for him. I felt his sensitiveness. He saw me to my car in his dressing gown and red slippers, and suddenly he reminded me of a Chinese mandarin -- his dome-like forehead and hair growing far back and his inscrutable face.
In a few days, I went to New York and there I again saw the playwright. I found him having an affair with a woman who was married to a banker in Los Angeles. He had brought her from Hollywood to play in his new play. This girl took me out in the evening and introduced me to her rich men friends. One of them thought I reminded him of an old sweetheart from Tennessee. And when he found that I had come from Tennessee he began to talk of trips to Europe, and after more champagne in an expensive night club with walls of padded silk, he spoke of villas on the Riviera and yachts and other whatnots. And all the time I was listening to a violin solo and so didn't give his ideas their due consideration. -- I was homesick for a field of twinkling lights seen from a certain bedroom window on a hillside, and a man in a dressing gown and red slippers who stirred some depth in me when he reminded me of a Chinese mandarin. Maybe in some incarnation we met when he was a mandarin and was some "Little Cherry Blossom." -- He was insinuating himself more and more into my memory. I wrote him my experiences in New York, and he wrote that he had moved. He wanted to have a better place when I returned. He said that the bed that meant so much to us had been stripped and was standing against the wall like a skeleton. -- I missed him -- the peacefulness of him.
I didn't like this rich man or this girl. I felt certain she was deceiving the playwright. I may have been jealous of her. Anyway, sitting there, listening to a violinist play the "Liebestraume", I began to cry -- just as the rich man was mentioning the possibilities of a trip around the world. I looked down into my glass and tears rolled into the champagne. Later that night the girl told me I had been a fool, that I could have gotten anything from this man. She gave me pointers on how it is done.
"Always tell a man you are an expensive luxury and that you know he can't afford you. And never let anything be quite good enough for you, and say always how you miss your jewels. Say it casually and he will question you about it; and then say it doesn't matter. But it will matter if he is what you are looking for. If it doesn't, then eliminate him. There are plenty of the other kind."
She showed me valuable presents and a large cheque "All for purity" too. "Men here are really very kind." "I use my head, not my body. My body I give to my lovers. The others I trick. You can always tell them you are frightened of sex."
I didn't believe she had gotten these presents for purity, for she had disappeared into her bedroom with a man while I had been there one night, and after the man had gone away, I went into the room, and she was rearranging her hair, sying, "What a struggle I've had with him. I asked him to leave immediately."
I looked at the bed. It showed no signs of struggle -- only a few agreeable creases and an affectionate-looking depression.
There was another man I met who lived in the same hotel. He asked me to come up to his place for a drink. I entered an ordinary door opening on the hotel corridor and stepped into what looked like a theatrical setting of a palatial home. The high ceiling and walls were blue plaster, and the stairway leading up to a balcony was blue-painted iron, the carpets were blue, the glassware -- everything was blue except the grand piano -- and all different shades of blue that fought for supremacy. A slender man of medium height with smiling rosy face and very blue eyes was standing in the midst of all this blueness. The bedroom was also blue and so was the bath -- even to the toilet paper. -- This was a penthouse -- twenty-six stories high, with a terrace where shrubs and rose bushes grew in tubs. He lived there alone. He had a wife once, but he divorced her and was disillusioned about women. Now he only teased chorus girls. He told me proudly that he had come to New York as a young man with twenty dollars in his pocket -- a Harvard graduate. I asked if he had made his money honestly, and he smiled and said he had kept out of jail. then one day he confessed that making money had cost him all his happiness, that in making it he had lost the capacity for enjoying it. I became very fond of him and I think he might have cared for me had he not been so cautious.
"If only I had known you when you were eighteen, I would have made a fine woman of you. But then I still would have been too old for you, and I never could have kept you."
I met the manager of the hotel and he took me to dinner several times. His respect and reverence for women belonged to a past age. Only once did he ever try to touch me, and that was to gently brush my hair back from my forehead as we were waiting for an elevator to take us down to the dining room. After that I felt he might kneel at any moment and kiss the toes of my slippers. Then one day I called him and he was rude to me. He couldn't be disturbed, he said. I knew then he had discovered that I had been married twice and had several lovers, and annoyed that his respect had been misplaced. Since then when I meet a man, I always make a point of giving a brief outline of my affairs immediately after the introduction. I find it saves many losses of friendship.
I met another man who invited me to come to see him at his office. He was a well-known lawyer. The first thing he showed me after I arrived were illustrated volumes of a book called "The Oldest Profession in the World." I looked at the book and found it was about concubines in Ancient Greece. He took me into another room where he had a collection of French underwear and silk stockings, perfumes and all kinds of daintier wearing apparel for women. It was arranged like a shop in glass cases. He was watching what effect it would have on me.
"You are very clever. You know exactly how to appeal to a woman -- to most of them, I'm sure."
I fingered the garments and teased him about his purpose. I could see it wasn't what he had expected of me, and he was embarrassed when I made fun of the idea.
"I can just imagine you bringing a little girl into this room, and her eyes getting big when she sees all the beautiful things she has ever dreamed of -- After that, she is yours."
"Most girls appreciate lovely clothes."
"I know. It's a good psychology." I said.
"I don't suppose you care for them?"
"Oh, yes, I love them -- but I would love more to hide somewhere and watch you work it."
"You are too clever. I can't make you out."
Then for my academic interest, he gave me a bottle of perfume and a pair of silk hose which broken into runs the first time I wore them. I accepted them ...
"I'll leave you here. But I'll follow in a taxi to see that you get home safely. I suppose I should retire gracefully if you prefer that half-baked Englishman."
"Thank you," I said.
He followed me and waited until I had put the car in the garage, and I waved him goodbye as I went in the front door. I had no feeling left for him now. I was over my madness.
My relations with my English lover (Cedric) now were different from anything I had ever known. He didn't make me conscious of the difference of our sex. He spent hours reading got me and often in the evening we went to the Hollywood Bowl to hear music played by the finest orchestras that could be obtained in an amphitheater made by the hills and under the stars. In the dark, on a wooden bench, I would go to sleep with my head in his lap while the music played. He knew more about music than I. He told me what symphonies they were playing, but I was only lulled to sleep by them. Once Percy Grainger played the "Shepherds Hay" and I became very excited. Thousands of people went wild, and he had to play it over and over.
Afterwards, we would walk to his place, and he would make glasses of orange juice, made with a patent orange squeezer which he had gotten for subscribing to a paper. It worked by turning a handle and the juice came out a spout. I couldn't make it work and he was very proud of his accomplishment. Drinking our large glasses full of frothy sweet orange juice, he would talk to me about the stupidity of religion, or his rabid atheism at the age of fifteen. He had just refused on morning to go to chapel as usual, and when called to the head master of the boys' school he had announced that he wasn't going any more because he didn't believe in God. -- The master couldn't answer him. -- He told me of harrowing experiences at English Public Schools. I thought it strange that public schools were the schools that were not free to the public, like the ones in America by the same name. "They are expensive private schools. That's why they are called public," he said. I didn't think it a very clear explanation.
He spoke of sex from Havelock Ellis, of which I knew nothing -- homosexuality and lesbianism -- passions for vegetables and dead bodies and old shoes. He made me understand that these things were just as natural for those who were that way as ordinary se was for ordinary people, and it was stupid to be horrified. He explained that we all have a certain percent masculine and feminine in us; often there is more of one or the other than is normal. Some are made homosexual by going to school with only boys. They do not find out sex in a natural way. Then they become a certain age and have affectionate feelings and desires there are only other boys to appeal to their awareness of beauty and romance. He had not known of the relations between a man and woman until he went to Cambridge at the age of seventeen. While a small boy, he had heard the master read the word fornication from the Bible. He asked what it meant, and the aster ignored him. Then when the time came for him to leave this school, and he was taken aside and given advice on life by the mater, he was told that fornication meant letting other boys caress his body, and he was warned of that. The natural relations of the sexes was not mentioned to him. This man slapped little boys, sensuously stroking their faces, and then giving them a quick slap that left the print of his fingers burning on their faces.
The stories I heard of the boys schools made me feel that I wanted to come to England and start a movement to do away with the Public School system. I was told that they were poorly fed and treated in a most inhuman way to maniacs, that posed as school masters. One boy was persecuted until he finally held a gun on his master and made his escape. At Cambridge, Cedric spent his time lying in a punt and getting drunk, until finally he could not stand it any longer and left before he got his degree.
Months went by. He wanted me to live with him, but I wouldn't.
"I'm tired of this boy and girl affair," he said. "Coming to see you at your home and leaving you in the middle of the night when you stay with me."
We decided that we had seen too much of each other under these conditions, and one night parted. Standing with our backs together, he walked one way and I another, without looking back. I didn't think I would miss him. I hadn't made up my mind that I loved him. After a few days, I knew I card and wanted him back, but he wouldn't listen to me. He had a man friend whom I was certain had influenced him. I saw I could do nothing at the moment.
A week later, he called to see me. AT first I was pleased, then I saw that he looked strange. Turning red in the face he said, "It is very embarrassing, but I must tell you that I have been told by a doctor that I have syphilis. You are the only person I have been with."
"I will have a blood test made immediately."
"It is quite possible that you could have it and not know it," he said.
I had a vision of the sore on Louise's nose and shuddered. I had to wait twenty-four hours after the test for the result. During that time I went through the agony of knowing I had it. I even recognized symptoms that I had heard about, and tried to make up my mind what I would do. Suicide seemed the only solution. -- I went for the report. It was given to me in a sealed envelope. I took it quickly without looking at the attendant. I didn't open it. I went straight to him with it. We sat on the couch where we often sat drinking orange juice and kissing and laughing. I looked at the gold wall -- it nauseated me, and I looked at the blue one. He read the report. He read something to me in Latin. I didn't understand.
"That's what you've got," he said.
We had lunch together, and that evening we had dinner. He had another test made, and it was negative. The doctors could not understand how they had made the mistake.
I saw him often after that, but it wasn't the same. I was in love with him, and he was very casual about me. Then I decided to try a trick. I knew all the trouble lay with the man who influenced him, and he was attracted to me. But my lover would not believe that he wanted to break us up because he was envious of him. I would have to show him that the other man wanted me for himself. I went with this man and pretended to care for him and when I accused him of breaking me up with the Englishman, he admitted it, saying there was "method in his madness." I stayed with him one night and the next morning I suggested that we call my lover and invite him to breakfast with us. He thought it best to be honest. He came for breakfast and showed no reaction, and I made up my mind that he cared nothing for me. We all three spent the day together and I pretended to adore the other man, and that evening a crowd of us played cards and the other man and I held hands and now and then I kissed him. My lover kept up a lively conversation with the other people. He was even more humorous than usual. I almost made myself believe that I cared for the other man -- I pretended so well. But it didn't seem to work. I drove my lover home, and when he started to get out of the car he said, "I want you to know in this little game of ours you have arisen victorious and I retire hurt."
He hurried into the house, and I went in after him.
"I can't bear you to be hurt."
"Leave me alone," he said. But I wouldn't leave him alone, that was what I wanted. I put my arms around him, and he held close to me and cried.
"To think that something like this should have happened to make me see I really loved you. Don't ever leave me again."
"I won't leave you if you want me."
I stayed the night. The next day, he felt better and began to think that after all it might be best if I did leave him. So we said goodbye and I thought he was a little ashamed of himself.
"I know you think it is awful of me not to be able to make up my mind. I don't suppose I know what I want."
"It's all right," I said. I had made up my mind that it was the end. I wouldn't try to win him back again. All that day, I kept busy so I wouldn't think, driving my car from one place to another, making arrangements to go away on location for a picture. I managed to put him out of my mind.
That evening I was going to have dinner with another man. On my way to keep the engagement, I stopped by to give Cedric a woolen jumper he had left in the car. He opened the door and pulled me in.
"I've been trying to call you all afternoon."
"I've been out. I can't come in. I have an engagement. I'm late."
"No. I won't let you go." He pulled me close to him. "Will you marry me?"
"No," I said. "If I marry you, you will change your mind and be sorry."
"No. I won't. I have been thinking of you all day. I can't do without you. I've been such a fool. I've made up my mind."
Music was coming from the radio.
"Com listen to this. It was this that made me realize what you mean to me."
"What is it?" I asked.
"The Unfinished Symphony."
We sat on the couch and listened to it, and then I decided to marry him.
"Let's go right away. We'll go to Mexico so we won't have to wait three days for the license."
We drove to my home and I got my nightie and tooth brush and put them under my coat. I told my mother I was going away with some people for the night. We drive a hundred and fifty miles and spent the night in San Diego. We would not be able to get across the Mexican border until the next day. We registered "Mr. and Mrs." and after just a goodnight kiss we went to sleep together.
The next day in Tijuana we looked for the registrar's office. There seemed to be nothing but low dives of prostitution and saloons. Finally, we found it and we waited in a bare room until someone went for an official. Through a half open door we noticed a bed that hadn't been made. The covers were tumbled and the sheets were dirty. There were Mexicans lounging outside in the hall ways. We could hear them jabbering and spitting into cuspidors. I had on a green print silk dress that was very old and an orange and white checked coat, and a piece of green tulle around my head to keep my hair from blowing as I never wore a hat, old brown slippers and no stockings. And he worse soiled grey flannel trousers that had a hole in the seat, and an old coat that he had about outgrown and a greasy dirty hat that had been trained for years to slouch at a becoming angle. The official arrived and through an interpreter we discussed the price. Twenty-seven dollars. We hadn't expected to be robbed. We didn't have that much. We asked if he would take ten and let us write a cheque. Finally after much discussion, he decided that he liked us. He would take a cheque and send us the marriage license when he cashed it. We were married in Spanish and the interpreter repeated the words in English. He asked for a ring and my bridge groom took one from my finger that his friend had let me wear. It was a platinum wedding ring that had been given to him by a woman he had lived with. Later this man said I wasn't really married to my husband but to him because of the ring. My husband's first words after the ceremony were, "What a great story for a magazine." We only had enough money to buy a hot dog sandwich and a glass of beer, and came back to Hollywood to spread the news. He said we might as well get all the publicity possible from it. I was disappointed that he had this idea.
The next day, it was in all the papers. One had a picture of us on the front page, with a large caption "Shine on Honeymoon". He said that was almost worth getting married for. He bough funny postal cards -- pretty couples with rosy cheeks and red lips holding roses, and looking coy -- to send announcements to his friends in London. He was trying to make it as humorous as possible. I would have like to have been sentimental about it. Then when he told his friends about it, he said that he hadn't really wanted to marry me, that he wanted to live with me -- but, of course, marrying me wasn't like marrying an ordinary woman and having roses around the door and twins all over the sofa. Everyone laughed. I did also, but it hurt something in me.
I called my mother and told her I was married.
"To whom?" she asked.
When I told her, she said she would not believe it. "I know you aren't such a big fool as that."
My son cried and asked me why I didn't wait until he grew up. "I wanted to marry you myself."
"But, darling, little boys can't marry their mothers."
"I don't see why," he answered. "We can surely marry anyone we want to."
"No, darling, we can't."
I kissed him and tucked him in bed.
...and then it would be wrong. I couldn't kiss him [Cedric] until he showed he wanted me to. He wanted to sit alone and read at night, and I went to bed early so that I would be out of his way. I would give him a shy kiss on the back of the neck and run up the stairs. Once he said, "If you were an English girl, you would know how fond I was of you." I was very lonely and on the verge of tears and tried to run away quickly. He caught me in his arms. He must have read my thoughts for I had been thinking that I was certain he didn't care for me.
"But I'm not an English girl."
It was then that I felt definitely the barrier between us like a wall from which sharp spikes protruded. An intuitive flash told me that our lives would be mangled on these spikes before we should both stand together on one side of the wall.
One day we found a kitten in the garden and brought it in. After that he read with the kitten curled up in his lap, crooning and stroking it. The affection he gave to it tortured me.
"Can't you be as sweet to me as you are to the kitten?" I once asked him.
"The kitten doesn't disturb me."
"I might like to snuggle up in your lap like the kitten sometimes."
He put the book down and took me in his lap. The kitten soon started having fits. Once it had one and ran out in the ran. Cedric searched for hours for it, but it was gone. For a long time afterwards he would go out in the night and call it. I didn't think he would miss me that much if I ran away.
One of his friends was an Arab, and very handsome. One night I went to the movies with him while my husband was working. Before we left he told my husband that the one code he had was not to make love to a friend's wife. Sitting in the dark at the theater, I let him hold my hand, and coming home in the car later he told me of a wonderful life in Arabia with him and because I was so lonely I allowed him to take me in his arms. Then I reminded him of his code.
"That was only to keep him form being suspicious. Wasn't it clever."
I didn't like this. "I think you should tell my husband that you care for me."
"I will if you want me to." But I didn't want him to.
After that, I felt something repulsive about this oriental silkiness. When he came to our house, I didn't wish to be left alone with him. I asked my husband not to go out of the room when he was there, but he always left us alone. Then the Arab would grab me and crush me violently in his arms. I felt as helpless as a rag doll. I asked my husband not to have him come to the house any more.
"I don't see why I should make an exception of him just because you don't care of him. All my friends make love to you."
As months passed, I was bordering more and more on hysteria. Sometimes he didn't even kiss me goodnight. Then I would lie by his side and stare into the darkness. He had a way of enclosing himself in the bedclothes with a gesture that seemed to plunge me out into space and leave me there. In the morning, he would often get up quickly as though he were afraid I would demand his energy. Then his mood would change, and he would be in love with me again -- but I knew it wouldn't last. A resentment was growing in me.
I met a man outside my husband's circle and decided to have an affair with him. But when I went to his apartment, I couldn't respond to his desire. I could only think of my husband. Another man's touch repelled me.
When he was indifferent to me it seemed that I wandered along -- lost. My body began to mean something that he was afraid of. It had no sanctity. It was only something that he didn't want.
Once I told him that I had been unfaithful to him, and he was going to leave me. Then I told him I had only pretended unfaithfulness to find out how much he cared. He was very glad to believe that it wasn't true.
As time went by, we went from happiness to misery and back again -- getting drunk together on bootlegger's wine -- getting near to understanding then -- But these moments were usually broken into by friends. They were mostly the derelicts of Hollywood -- strange people attracted us both. One of them was a lesbian among everything else connected with sex. She had a passion for both of us. I thought she was fascinating in a coarse obscene way. Occasionally, she brought several of her lesbian friends with her. One was a fat girl who tried to sing like Sofie Tucker on the stage. Another was a muscular blonde -- she had her hair cut like a boy, tailored suits, and flat-healed Oxfords, man's shirt. In my drunk moments, because it amused my husband, I used to sit on the Blondie's lap. He said he thought it would be interesting for me to have a lesbian affair. It had never occurred to me before. I had always been very self-conscious with women. I began to think that perhaps this meant I had latent tendencies that way. I wanted to be anything that he would find fascinating.
One night we went to visit a woman who was a noted lesbian. In her place, all the freaks of Hollywood met. Her eyes devoured me.
"I am sure you just stepped out of a Barrie story," she said to me.
There were queer creatures lounging around the room on silken divans. After a while I was sober and wanted to go home as nothing exciting was happening. I was bored seeing lovers surrendering to each other regardless of their sex.
Once I quarreled with my husband because a middle-aged woman asked him to a party and didn't ask me. I thought he should refuse to go as the woman didn't like me and had once tried to turn him against me. When he decided to go without me, I told him not to come back again. At four o'clock that morning he had not returned. In another hour I became alarmed and dressed and motored ten miles out from Hollywood where the party had been. The woman came to the door and after finding who it was, she wouldn't open the door, but told me through the door that she didn't know where my husband was. I went into a rage at her and accused her of trying to break us up. Then she said that she had left him at a certain hotel. I drove there as fast as my car could go. Rabbits leapt for their lives out of the road, and I turned corners on two wheels -- the clerk gave me his room number after I told him I was his wife. He seemed very frightened when I awakened him.
"Why didn't you come home?"
"You told me not to."
"But you should have come anyway. I haven't been asleep all night. Now get up and come home immediately." He started to object. "Don't argue with me." I prepared for a scene of violence if necessary.
He came home but was very sullen afterwards. Later in the day, he told me that he thought it best for us to separate, as he could not bear such scenes. I wept and clung to him, but he was firm in his determination to leave me. We set the date for two weeks off.
One night when he was out, I pinned a note to his pillow before I went to sleep, "I am sorry that I cannot make you happy, but I love you with all my heart."
When he came home and found the note, he took me in his arms, and after that we were happy for a long time.
To celebrate our reconciliation, we motored to San Francisco. He brought roses and strewed them over my pillow at the hotel. It was like a honeymoon. A friend of his was there, and the three of us went out together. This man was very bitter about life. One night he wanted to have a woman. At one place he asked a girl who was hired to dance with me to have a drink with us, and when she sat down, he began insulting her -- telling her she ordered drinks that she didn't want just so men would buy them.
"I'll give you two dollars to come home with me, but you will have to work damn hard to earn it."
I felt sorry for her, but it was amusing, and I wanted to laugh.
"I don't go home with men. I am only supposed to dance with them."
"You shouldn't be here then," he said. "You are dishonest giving the wrong impression -- flaunting your breasts in the face of men, then giving them a Virgin Mary story. For every lovely breast you have, I have twenty gorgeous hairs on my chest."
My husband thought it was time to take his friend away. He was very drunk, and he tried to persuade me to come to his room after my husband was asleep.
Another night we went to a Chinese restaurant. The fat lesbian was there sitting at the table with what appeared at first glance to be two men and two women; but on joining them, they were all women. Two of the women were dressed to look like men, and the others were very feminine and fluffy. My husband danced with one of them. I was afraid one of the manly ones would ask to dance with me, but she didn't. They were very sensitive to any aversion toward them. I didn't object, only I didn't think they looked well imitating men, and I didn't want to be conspicuous on the dance floor. The fat lesbian danced with a lonely pale woman. They seemed very much in love. The other couple I heard had been living together for twelve years like a very respectable married couple. The manly one had thick grey cropped hair and was on the Stock Exchange; the wifely one was s silly childlike woman with frizzy hair and a round face, beginning to show signs of age. My husband danced with her. Her female husband talked to me. I found her very interesting -- much more so than most women or men I have talked to, because perhaps there was no prejudice binding the intellect. When we left, we all hoped we would see each other against some day.
The next day, we started back to Los Angeles. We went a round-about way so that we could see the big trees and stay the night at Carmel-by-the-Sea. This was an artist colony noted for its beauty. A famous evangelist was supposed to have gone there with her lover while divers were looking for her body it the sea and aeroplanes dropped flowers over her watery grave. Later she turned up in the desert. No one has ever solved the mystery.
It was early spring -- there was much more greenness in Northern California. My husband said the green hills reminded him of England, and he quoted, "Oh to be in England now that April's here," burlesquing it lest it sound sentimental. I remembered reading in history that our Puritan forefathers had longed for their English country lanes with the hawthorn hedges in bloom after their firs hazardous winter in a new world. Somehow the picture of hawthorn hedges meant England to me.
For miles around us were peach orchards in bloom. A shower came up and then the sun shone through he rain, and hanging over the hills of peach blooms were saffron clouds. Then from one horizon to another before us like a bridge a rainbow appeared. After the peach orchards were fields of colored flowers. We stopped and I plunged among them. My husband watched me. I came back to the car, my arms full of them. This was the happiest moment of my life with him. We were lost on a lonely road, but we didn't care. We followed it blindly, and after a while we came to the forests of redwood. A sign told us they were the oldest living thing today. We went to look at them, but finding that the forest was roped off and admission charged, just as though they were freaks in a circus, we decided we didn't want to see them -- such commercialism cheapened the grandeur of the trees. They looked ridiculous behind a rope.
Late that night, we came to Carmel-by-the-Sea. It is a haven from commercialism that has taken everything in America. We slept to the sound of the waves and awakened at dawn and started on our way. We drove through a wood bordering the sea -- trees grotesquely deformed by the wind grew out of cliff sides down to the water. Through the dark fierce trees on the other side of the road, the sun was rising. When the road left the sea, we started to make speed going over sixty miles per hours, slowing up only to go through a town -- for traffic regulations were very strict. Once a town loomed up before we had time to slow down. We went through like a dart and as I looked back I saw a motor cop run out from an oil station and stand there with his hands on his hips looking after us. "A cop," I said to my husband, but he went faster. He wouldn't catch us now, but he might phone to the other towns.
We avoided the main roads leading into the towns and arrived home with hardly a drop of gas and two cents in our pockets.
We were getting along very well when one day the playwright arrived in town and I went to see him. He seemed very concerned about me. He thought I was in an atmosphere of perversion -- he could see it was hurting me. I introduced him to my husband, but they were entirely foreign to each other, and after dinner my husband went home and left me with him. I arrived home about two in the morning, and after that my husband began to draw away form me, and I felt we were on the verge of something happening.
Then it happened. We went to a party at a studio. The girl that both my husband and I liked was there with her husband. The three of us lay on a large divan, locked in each other's arms kissing -- our three lips meeting. I noticed that his lips sought hers more than mine. A man on the floor was caressing one of her feet and one of mine. I felt him take off my slipper and kiss my toes. It occurred to me that he had some peculiar passion for feet. I didn't mind until he started to bite, and then I got up and went into the kitchen where the girl's husband was sulking. When I returned to my husband, he was kissing the other girl. Her husband saw them and was angry, but didn't dare say anything. He would have been thought stupid, and everyone would have laughed at his jealousy. He only said, "I think it is time we went home."
She looked up and said "I would like to stay longer, but if you want to go, I'll go home with you."
"I do want to go," he said.
She got up and put on her coat and stopped for a long time talking to a circle of men while her husband waited at the door, glaring at everyone. I was sitting watching when I became aware of something licking my hand. I thought it was a dog and looked down and there was the man of the foot fetish sitting on the floor, licking my hand with the expression of a St. Bernard dog. I took my hand away with a feeling of nausea.
When I tried to kiss my husband goodnight after I had undressed, he drew away form me. I tried to play with him and ran after him but he repulsed me, shrugging his shoulders, saying he didn't feel that way. I felt it was because he was thinking of the other girl, but I didn't let him know I understood this. I continued to try to play with him, but he said, "I'm indifferent to you."
A flash of anger, and I slapped him -- slapped one side of his face and then the other.
"I'll make you hate me, but you won't be indifferent to me."
He tried to get out of my way. I threw anything I could pick up at him until he locked himself in the bath room. I hammered on the door and finally he said he would open it if I promised to be calm. When I went in, he leaned on the towel rack and cried. I was disgusted with his weakness.
"You are a dam weakling," and I kicked him. "I hate you, and I never want to see you again."
"How can you say those things after all we have been to each other."
I got into my clothes and when I was dressed I went to him and slapped his face again as I said goodbye.
I went to the playwright and told him what had happened, and although I was hysterical, he was amused and thought it would make a good play. He called my husband and asked him what he should do about me.
"What did he say?" I asked when he had hung up the receiver.
"He said he wasn't interested in what you did."
I stayed there and went home the next day. My husband was away, and I took my usual sun bath on the roof and was preparing dinner for him when he came in.
"Good afternoon," he said. I didn't answer him. He followed me about the kitchen. After I had his dinner placed on the table, I started out.
"It's very good of you to come in to do the work for me. Aren't you dining with me?"
"No." I went away to meet the playwright. I didn't come home that night. The next day my anger had cooled, but when I tried to make up with my husband, he would not talk to me.
"If you are going to stay here, I shall have to leave. I can never forgive you for what you did to me."
I began to feel remorseful.
That night some people came to see us. We were all drinking something called "Wild Cat Whisky". The girl my husband was attracted to was there. They spent most of the time in the kitchen. One of the mean had left his wife at home -- angry. He was the last to leave. I was drunk and my husband put me to bed and left with this man -- I thought to put the car away. Hours later I awakened, and he had not returned. I called the other man's wife. Her husband had not returned either. The next morning she came to see me. I was feeling dreadful, but she was on the verge of hysteria. I made her drink some coffee, and listened to her abusing her husband.
"I have always wanted children. but do you think he would let me have them -- No. He is a vile pervert and has ruined my life, but I'll ruin him. Just watch me. I'll take everything he's got. I was an innocent girl when I met him."
I noticed her bleached hair and animal green eyes and thick vicious mouth and compared it to her husband's meek good-natured face.
"I'm going to get a divorce. I shall wreck him completely."
I remembered something she had told her guests at the dinner table once, "My husband is a damn bad lay." And he had only aughed and said, "What the hell."
"He has completely wrecked my nerves with her perversion. He's got nothing left but perversion. His first wife took everything out of him. She had tuberculosis and it made her abnormal sexually." She drank the coffee and then left to see her lawyer.
Later that evening my husband came home with the other man. I was so glad to see him that I didn't feel annoyed. they had gone for a drive last night and as neither wanted to go home, they kept driving until they came to Mexico. They did a little gambling and drinking until the money gave out and then started back. I prepared some dinner for them.
"Your wife is furious with you."
"I'd better call her. It is always better to get the first explosion over the phone. I can hold the receiver away form my ear."
He called her and we heard the explosive sound of a conglomeration of oaths burst from the receiver. He held it away form his ear and winced.
"I'll come straight home." He hung up the receiver. "Well, that's over, the next won't be so bad."
"I'm not so sure, " I said. "I think she is going to get a divorce and name my husband as co-respondent."
"She'll be all right when I talk to her. The hell anyway. I'm used to it."
After he left my husband said, "When I see how terrible other women are, it make me appreciate how really very sane you are."
However he was determined that we should separate.
"I must have time to get over such a scene."
"Do you think you will ever get over it?"
"Yes. If you went away for a time I might -- it's the only chance."
"I realize now what an awful thing it was for you. I'll never do it again."
"I know you are sorry, but I can't change my feelings in a moment. I must have time to think things out quietly. It will do us both good to be free for a while."
He started to leave that night and when he said goodbye, I sank limply to the floor and he had to catch me. Then we both cried.
"Surely, you can see how I feel for you," he said. "Give me a chance to find my own feeling. Just try to forget for a while. Why don't you go to England. It would give you a change. You are tired of Hollywood....would be filled with new impress and we... on things."
... somehow feel it's the end, but if... Will you stay with me until I... ...in a few months?"
... we want to live together.
Fiction and poetry
by Helen Seltzer
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