Porcelain (Part 10)

belladonna courtesy biolibde

belladonna courtesy biolibde

The jar that she withdrew had been prepared several months ago, which she knew mean that it was now very potent, well past the minimum dose practices that homeopathy advocated.  Dr. Martin had told her to always have a belladonna solution prepared and ready, but to not let it sit for more than two months.  He regularly sent her new herbs with which to prepare tinctures and she was usually faithful about making new ones, allowing them to mature for several weeks and then discarding the older solutions.  During the last few months of Olivia’s pregnancy however she had skipped several of these rotations, believing that it may be necessary to have very strong medicines available as her daughter came to term.  She had seen some very rough births over her many years and was determined to have remedies that could aid her daughter regardless of Olivia’s personal beliefs about the matter.

She remembered the day that she had prepared this particular tincture, a stormy morning about three months ago.  During its preparation she had told Olivia the story of the last time she actually needed to use a belladonna solution.   It had been several years ago, the final time she had seen her brother Michael alive and shortly before she left Maine to follow Olivia to Hiawatha.  He had arrived at her house complaining of a headache and several days later this had worsened enough to confine him to the only bed in the house.  She had given this up to her brother after finding him writhing in pain on the floor of her sitting room. Up until that point he had been staying at the Price Hotel and visiting with his sister during the evenings, an arrangement that allowed him to prospect for business with the local Indian’s during the day.   Michael fashioned himself an Indian trader although he had little to show for it after years of chasing various tribes around the eastern seaboard.  Concerned about his increasing pain, and knowing that he frowned upon the medicine they had grown up with, Olivia’s mother had slipped the tincture into a cup of tea.  Relief had followed, although Michael voiced his suspicion before he left about how his cure had been affected.  She had hugged him goodbye and told him not to worry so much as he likely had just gotten over it by resting.  Olivia listened intently to the story, although she interrupted several times to lament the time her mother was wasting preparing remedies with little proven benefit.  Her mother had a lifetime of proof, some of it validated by cures affected on her daughter,  although that seemed to matter little to Olivia.  As she worked they alternated, the mother telling her story and the daughter lecturing on medical advances.

She had prepared the solution so many times that she hardly looked down as she worked.  Taking a belladonna plant from the rough cloth bag she kept them in, she placed the entire dried stalk into the mortar, several of its neatly tapered leaves and faded purple flowers peeking above the rim.  As she reached in and crushed it with her hand she could feel the brittle black berries as they broke off their stems.  Reaching for the pestle, she ground the plant for several seconds, just enough to ensure it was broken up sufficiently to release all of its medicinal qualities.  Once that was done, she placed the crushed pieces into a small jar and then filled it with grain alcohol, placing a small bolt of cheesecloth over the top before sealing it tightly with the lid.  After that it was placed into that far corner of the cupboard where it rested and gained potency until it was needed.

That time was certainly now, as Olivia’s cries continued and she could hear the bed banging on the floor as her daughter thrashed around.  Unsealing the jar, she quickly tied a string around the cheesecloth to keep it attached to the opening, then decanted several tablespoons of the liquid into a tea cup.  She was under no illusions that Olivia would drink a secret solution as her brother had, and the tincture was too strong for that in any event.  Carrying a teaspoon and the cup, Olivia’s mother returned to the bedroom where she found her daughter standing at the foot of the bed, naked now but wrapped in a sweat-soaked sheet and wailing.  No discernible words were being spoken, just anguished cries of pain.  Setting down the spoon and cup, she slowly went over and guided her back, where she slipped a fresh nightgown over Olivia’s head and then helped her sit down on the bed.  She waited a few minutes for her daughter to quiet down and then she recovered the cup and carefully scooped out a spoonful of the medicine.  As she turned back, the wailing started again, fear flashing in Olivia’s reddened eyes and she shouted a refusal to cooperate.  Her mother took advantage of her opened mouth, spilled the medicine under her tongue and then dropped the spoon so she could hold her daughter’s mouth closed with both hands.  A struggle followed, one that was won by the mother when Olivia reluctantly choked down the solution of belladonna.  Five minutes later she was much quieter and had stopped moaning, easing back onto her soaked pillow, which her mother quickly replaced.  Just as Olivia was falling back asleep another dose was tipped under her tongue, and then her mother was finally able to attend to the infant.

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 9)

It was just past three a.m. when she went in for her hourly check on her daughter.  Up to this point Olivia had been sleeping comfortably, her breathing shallow and unlabored.  As she slowly eased the door of the bedroom open, Olivia’s mother could see that this was no longer the case.  Her daughter was flinching in her sleep and sweating profusely, the pillow underneath her head already visibly stained and wet.  A check with her hand on Olivia’s forehead confirmed that she had a fever.

Despite her concern, Olivia’s mother sat down in the rocking chair next to the bed and thought for a few seconds about exactly what to do.  She certainly had her own instincts about how to care for a person with a fever, however she also knew that her daughter thought much of that knowledge was longer valid.  Perhaps there was some value in all of the new medical information in which Olivia believed.  Her thoughts were interrupted by the faint cry of the infant from the other room, after which she noticed that Olivia had begun to toss and turn in her bed although she still seemed to be asleep.  She also was starting to mutter words, unintelligible but increasing in volume.  Deciding that there was no time for anything other than what she already knew, Olivia’s mother shook her daughter’s shoulder in an attempt to wake her up.   She could feel the fever’s heat even through the heavy nightgown Olivia wore and the sweat was staring to soak through the garment.  Unsuccessful in her initial attempts, Olivia’s mother started to slap her daughter’s face, lightly at first and then more sharply, until Olivia’s eyes suddenly snapped open, glistening and colored red, as she cried out in pain.

“Shhh daughter, I’m right here.  You have been tossing and turning in your sleep.”

Olivia buried her face in her hands. “Such an ache in my head.  Help me.”  She moved her hands and pressed them against her temples, continuing to moan and rock gently back and forth.  “Why are my hands so cold?”

Quickly her mother took her right hand and was shocked by how cool it was, a marked contrast to the high heat coming off of Olivia’s skin.  She had seen this several times before and only hoped that the general delirium which often accompanied a fever such as this would not manifest itself in her daughter.  This hope was quickly dashed as Olivia started to shake rather violently and cry out.

“The heat, oh please help me, the heat.  It reaches up and burns me, reaches me from the darkness, dark hands reaching for me.”

Grabbing her daughter’s shoulders in an attempt to get the shaking to stop, the old woman mustered all of her power as she pushed Olivia back down toward the bed.  When her head was finally back on the pillow she cried out again.

“The fires are near, the furnaces are open, thousands of degrees of heat that melt the bones and raise the white towers of light.  Help me, I am so cold, bring me to the fire to warm my bones.”

Olivia’s eyes now fluttered open again, more red than before although they seemed focused and alert.  Placing her hands over several parts of her daughter’s body, the mother realized that all of the body, except for the hands and feet, was extremely hot and starting to turn a pale pink.

Reaching for the water pitcher on the nightstand, she spoke.  “I’m getting you some water Olivia.  It will help cool you down while I get a remedy in the kitchen.”

Olivia screamed.  “No water!  No water!  You must not put the fire out!  It burns me and warms my bones!”  Closing her eyes again, she started to thrash around, repeating the words over and over again, her voice cracking as she screamed.   Realizing that perhaps she had not seen such a serious case of a high fever as this one, her mother left her wailing and thrashing in bed and hurried to the kitchen.  As she passed by her own room, the infant began to cry louder, a faint echo of Olivia’s screams.

Reaching the kitchen, she quickly opened the cupboard nearest to the stove and removed the battered metal tin from the top shelf.   Within this tin were the various components for the kind of medicines preferred by Olivia’s mother, the homeopathic remedies with which she had grown up and which were reinforced by Dr. Martin in his letters.  Placing it down on the table, she lit the lamp on the table before returning to the cupboard.  The cries of her daughter and granddaughter were increasing as they seemed to be locked in a competition to get her attention.  The infant she knew was likely just hungry or wet and would need to wait until she tended to her daughter, for whom she was gravely concerned.  Adjusting the lamp to burn more brightly, she reached back into the darkest corner of the cupboard and withdrew the tightly sealed jar that contained the belladonna tincture.

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 8)

The remaining days of her pregnancy passed for Olivia in what she would later recall as a dream-state, a seemingly endless series of similar days, marked by her mother’s repeated insistence that she remain in bed as much as possible.  Dr. Martin was not mentioned by name, however Olivia suspected that some of the advice her mother was giving her had come through him.  Although she rarely went outside during those days, she did still wait on the porch every day for Stan Waterman to hand her the daily mail, and she had seen several letters addressed to her mother in Dr. Martin’s heavy block printing.   She of course did not know their content, and her mother did still seek personal medical advice from the man, however her belief was that he was prescribing her advice from afar.   For that reason Olivia resisted much of what her mother advocated as the best course for her as she came to term, including her insistence that no doctor needed to be present at the delivery.  They spoke about it for the last time just four days before Olivia gave birth.  Her mother had begun by asking Olivia if she knew Mary Coswell, a midwife in the Hiawatha area who had a solid reputation both for delivering babies that lived and for taking good care of their mothers.

“Let’s not argue about this please.  I know you believe that somehow you, me and a midwife, Mary if you will, are going to deliver this child ourselves, however I prefer to have this baby the modern way.”

“Yes I know Olivia, and I don’t want to argue either, it’s just that so many babies have been born the old way, the usual way you know, without any doctors or drugs, and I worry that all of this new medicine is going to cause you harm.”

“I’ve read about it and asked questions, be sure of that.  They say that now you can deliver a child with almost no pain at all.  Well, at least none that you feel or remember.  It’s the chloroform that does it.”

Her mother groaned slightly and briefly covered her eyes with one pale hand.  “That word makes me feel sick Olivia, it doesn’t even sound like a good thing.  It’s scary.”

“But it works.  They have been using it for some time now and it’s safe.”

“You know, missing all that pain might, well some might say that it takes away from the experience, takes away some of your true motherhood.”

“Really mother?  I thought we decided not to argue.  Calling me somehow less of a mother because I plan to skip all of the pain of childbirth is going to get us into an argument for sure.”

“Well I wasn’t saying that exactly.  There is the other consideration you know.”

At this Olivia glanced over and realized that her mother had, at some point in the conversation, picked up her Bible which she now had resting on her knees, one finger tapping the cover.  Olivia looked away.

“Not that.  I will not talk about how much pain we are all supposed to bear because of Eve’s sin.  The doctor is coming mother and I will have the chloroform.”

The tapping on the Bible continued for ten more minutes, after which her mother rose and went into her bedroom, skipping their usual cup of tea before bed.  Olivia smiled slightly to herself before rising to go to her own bedroom.

It was the early morning four days after that conversation when she awoke, knowing that the time had arrived for her child to be born.  She managed to get to the sideboard in the kitchen before the pain of a contraction caused her to yelp and lower herself to her knees.  Several minutes later her mother had managed to pull her up and get her back into bed, after which she went to the neighbors house and asked Fran Dover to send her husband for the doctor.  Olivia heard the whole conversation though the bedroom window, which faced the Dover’s kitchen,  and gave her mother credit for honoring her wishes.

chloroform gas device courtesy loyno.edu

chloroform gas device courtesy loyno.edu

All went well and normally with the delivery, and while the administration of chloroform gas to her daughter via a strange looking medical device made Olivia’s mother very nervous, it did seem to take away most of her daughter’s pain.  It also meant that she was not alert when the baby finally did arrive, which was a blessing as far as her mother was concerned.  It took most of the energy she had to not break down into tears herself, and there was no doubt that Olivia would have been far worse.

The baby was carefully cleaned and checked, then wrapped in a soft blanket and handed to Olivia’s mother, who rose quickly and carried the young girl out of the room.  Placing it down onto her own bed she had the doctor assist her in moving the cradle Olivia had purchased, and once it was in her room she moved the baby to it and then softly sat down in a chair next to the cradle.  She rested one hand on the edge and hummed under her breath, her eyes slowly filling with tears now that she was alone.  She heard the doctor clattering around, picking up his things and speaking aloud to a still unconscious Olivia, giving medical guidance for her recovery.  He had wanted to share it all with Olivia’s mother, however she had brushed him off after he assisted with the cradle, and now he apparently was at least not going to leave any of it unsaid.  After finishing, he stopped again to ask Olivia’s mother is she had any questions, however she quietly replied that she knew how to take care of a woman after she gave birth.  The doctor motioned toward the child however that was retuned only with a cold stare from the old woman so he left, banging the door too loudly on the way out.

The night came and Olivia’s mother remained in the chair, silently crying.

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 7)

Olivia’s pregnancy progressed without much incident other than a sharp pain in her left side that was so intense that it kept her in bed for two days.  Her doctor, despite prodding and poking far in excess of what Olivia’s mother deemed appropriate, had been unable to determine if there was anything actually wrong with her, and in the end declared that the child must have a heel or elbow jammed up against her side.  That was nonsense, as Olivia knew exactly where her baby was at the time, however the doctor seemed content to believe it and the pain went away before much more of an argument could be made.  It had led to the one disagreement which occurred between Olivia and her mother during her pregnancy, one that started as soon as the doctor had made his pronouncement, closed up his bag and scuttled off down the street in his usual nervous way.

“You should be using Jeb Martin, he saw me through having you and all the rest of your brothers and sisters.”

“Mother, there is no way that I am going to have Dr. Martin anywhere near me or this baby.  You know he’s a homeopath and his type aren’t recognized anymore.”

“That is such nonsense Olivia and you know better than that too.  He’s taken care of you, well took care of you I guess, all through your years of growing up, and you certainly don’t have anything to complain about in regard to your health.”


“And he’s taken care of me too, through all of it, still does although just through letters, advice that I ask him for from time to time.  There is nothing wrong with the medicine he practices.”

Olivia looked away for a moment and rolled her eyes in an effort to restrain herself from being too blunt.

“He may or may not know what he is doing mother, and I won’t argue the point about whatever care he has given to you or me.  I guess I truly can’t complain about that.  These days though, all that homeopathic medicine just is not thought of very well, and good folk won’t have it around them.  I’m not going to have some doctor of ill repute pressing his hands on me and deciding what is right for me and this baby.”

“The only people giving doctors like Jeb Martin a reputation of ill repute are folk like yourself Olivia who take the time to believe it and spread the nonsense around.”

Olivia rolled her eyes again, however it was much less effective than before.  “It’s because we have new knowledge mother, not everything that used to be correct and proper still is.”

“Nor is everything that is currently thought of as correct and proper necessarily true either.”

“And it wouldn’t matter anyway as I seriously doubt that Doctor Martin can care for me properly from all these miles away.  Unless you’re suggesting that we haul him out here to do so?”

Olivia, who during most of this argument had been looking out the window toward the street, turned her eyes now to look directly into those of her mother, a look that seemed to convey that if nothing else was true that this last point was certainly well spoken.  Her mother remained silent for long minutes, her gaze locked with that of her daughter.  Finally she coughed slightly and spoke.

“Of course he won’t be coming out here Olivia, however it wouldn’t hurt to ask the man his opinion about this latest trouble you have been having.  Perhaps he has some idea of what it may be.”

“I said I won’t have it mother and I won’t.  Doctor Tyler said I will be fine and I expect that I will be.”

That had been the last word spoken about the matter of homeopathic doctors and although the idea of a second opinion would look good in retrospect it was a matter that was closed at that moment.

The pain had lessened on the second day and was gone by the morning of the third, leaving Olivia in a much better mood.  There had been no other issues and no other arguments and it was the Tuesday which marked just thirty days to her due date when her mother had presented her with the dress.  Although largely a matter of fact, no frills type of a woman, this particular occasion caused Olivia’s mother to spend a few extra moments setting up things to be memorable.  She had awoken Olivia at eight by bringing in a tray containing a light breakfast of fruit and toast along with a steaming cup of tea.  It had caught Olivia by surprise however she had held her tongue, finishing the meal and bringing the tray back out to the kitchen before going into the sitting room to join her mother.  Setting down her cup of tea, she took the seat on the sofa nearest to the old woman and then sat in silence, moments which seemed to be poignant to her mother.  The time had slipped by, Olivia sipping tea and her mother rocking slowly back and forth, humming under her breath and smiling gently.  Finally, when Olivia had drained the cup and placed it down with a sharp, empty click against its saucer, her mother had stood up and taken her hand, guiding her to the old straight back chair that looked out the front window.  After sitting her down and patting her hand, a gentle command to stay where she was, her mother had gone into her bedroom and returned with a small package wrapped in white linen.  Olivia had taken the offered gift and opened it slowly, finally drawing out a simple but well-made white dress.  It was cut full at the bottom and had a slightly drawn in waist along with frills on the shoulders and neck and lace on the cuffs.  A bonnet, which also had frills on the edges, was folded by itself within the package, as was a short note written in her mother’s exact handwriting.  The dress and bonnet and been enough to bring a few tears to Olivia’s eyes, however the note caused her to get up and embrace her mother, who offered an awkward but tight embrace in return.

“It’s simply wonderful mother, it must have taken you, well I know how long you have been working on it, but so much effort and skill must have gone into it.  The work is so fine and it is just beautiful.  My baby will look so perfect in it.”

“Your daughter my dear, your daughter will look perfect in it.  A perfect dress for a perfect daughter.”

“I do hope you are right.  I do want a daughter.”

Her mother had replied simply by patting her hand and then stroking the hair back from her face.

Porcelain (Part 6)

looking west on shawnee from seventh courtesy of hiawathapics.com

looking west on shawnee from seventh courtesy of hiawathapics.com

Six weeks later Olivia knew and stepped out of the kitchen door on a Saturday morning, again with a cup of dark coffee, and told her mother.  She had thought this was going to be the worst of it and was shocked by her mother’s calm response.

“Funny how some things work out daughter.  A moment in time is all it takes.”

Olivia had no reply for that and just sipped quietly at her coffee.  Her mother looked over after several minutes and saw that she was also crying, tears that she refused to wipe away running down her cheeks.  Standing up, her mother walked over and offered Olivia her hand.

“Come with me.  I want to show you something.”

Her mother led her into the house and then into her bedroom where she pointed to a long, flat chest under the bed.  Olivia let go of the hand to kneel down and then pull the chest out, having to tug hard at it several times to get it to move.  It was well made of oak with brass fittings and the top of it was carved with her mother’s name.  Olivia had seen this chest before however had never been allowed to open it.  Following a wave of her mother’s hand she finally did so, catching the sharp smell of moth balls mixed with old wood as the heavy top was lifted up.  The things inside were as you might imagine them; stuffy and old, faded and musty, care-worn and well-tended.  Each item struck a chord of curiosity in Olivia, and she felt a strong urge to ask questions.  Why is this black dress with the lace collar in here?   Who is the soldier in this picture?  Why are you keeping a broken bell?  She wanted to ask, however a quick look at her mother made it clear that this was not going to be a journey of universal discovery.  Most of what was in the chest would remain in the old woman’s mind and heart.

“Take out that red box and underneath you will find a cloth sack with a purple string.  That is what I want to show you.”  Her mother had taken a seat on the rocking chair which sat next to her bed.

Olivia did as her mother asked, handing up the cloth bag and then sitting on the floor at her mother’s feet, a memory of childhood story time fleeting past her eyes.

“I kept this not just because you wore it as a baby, but because it was made by your great-great grandmother.  She had originally made it for my mother right after she was married to your Grandpa Silas, however it ended up not being used.  So, when I was about to give birth to you, she gave it to me.  Once you grew a little bit and this fit you, well you wore it often my dear.”  Saying this, her mother struggled briefly with the string that closed the top before opening the bag and pulling out a white dress.   It was of a style not used anymore, having too many gathers and a drape that was no longer the fashion.  It was elegant and durable although its faded color and occasional faint spot told of both its age and its hard use.  Olivia reached up and touched the dress, feeling its worn, smooth fabric ripple across her fingertips.

“Why was it never used?”

Her mother did not immediately answer and Olivia continued to play with the edges of the dress.  There were some tattered seams and a small tear in the front hem, a re-stitch of one sleeve and missing button on the back.  Olivia tried to place her younger self in this dress, however she had no pictures of herself back then and found it difficult to imagine.  Realizing that her mother had not answered she looked up to see a pained, far-away look in the woman’s eyes.  The touch of Olivia’s hand to her arm brought her eyes back down and she reached out to run her hand along Olivia’s check.

“That child did not make it out of it’s birth bed my dear.  It only lived one day and after that, despite all the other children she had, my mother just could never look at that dress again.  That girl, my older sister, should have been her eldest and the start of her family with your Grandpa.  It took them five years after that before they had me.  I have to tell you daughter, that day she gave me the dress, well it was quite a moment let me tell you.  The topic of this dress had been a forbidden subject for years, something my father wouldn’t even discuss when a family member would bring it up.  Forbidden all those years and then one day my mother just walked into our living room  and handed it to me.  Your Aunt Martha was there and almost gagged on an apple she was eating.  I guess my mother had finally gotten over it, or having me starting my family with your father had made it possible to pass it along with well-wishes.  I dare to say that she still worried a bit during the first few days you were alive, but when you proved to be so very healthy she relaxed and seemed happier than she had in years.”  Her mother paused and rubbed her hand over the front of the dress.  “It’s a mixed memory I guess, sadness and happiness.  Its, well, bittersweet I guess.”

“Mom, I’m sorry, really I shouldn’t have asked.  I know that you don’t talk much about your past and I should have left it alone.”

“It really is okay Olivia.  I brought it up I guess by showing you that dress.  Cracked open the story book so to speak,” and she offered her daughter a wan smile that did little to reassure Olivia.

“Let’s just drop it Mom.  Thank you for showing me this dress.  Is it something I could have to give to my baby?”

“No dear, I don’t think so.”  It sounded final however Olivia looked up and realized her mother had recovered and was truly smiling now.  “I think I would like to make you a new one for that child.”

… to be continued

Porcelain (Part 5)

commercial hotel courtresy hiawathapics.com

commercial hotel courtresy hiawathapics.com

She did not know that the next morning when she forced herself out of her bed, knowing that staying in it any longer would just cause her mother to come and check on her, worrying away as she always had about Olivia’s health.  She had arrived home after dark, having walked herself back from the hotel after her and Tom had said their goodbyes.  In some way of course she had hoped that he would escort her back to the front door on Shawnee and and say a proper good night, however she sensed quickly that this was not going to happen.  Bidding him a pleasant evening she had taken her leave and walked slowly back, feeling a twisted mixture of exhilaration and loss welling up in her chest.  For whatever the brief encounter had meant to her, or to him, she already knew that it was to be the last.  Maybe the most final statement on that was the simple fact that she had walked herself home.  Once there, and quietly in the door and to bed, Olivia had lain awake for most of the remainder of the night, her mind unwilling to give her an opportunity to rest until five a.m..  Soon after that the sun was up and, having forgotten to close her drapes, she was awoken by the glare and her mind swung promptly back into high gear.  And now she needed to get up and somehow put the best face on the day that she could.

Arriving in the kitchen and knowing her mother would already be sitting out on the porch, Olivia lingered for several extra minutes around the stove, giving the boiling coffee time to set in dark and bitter.  As she emerged through the screen door her mother clicked her tongue several times before she spoke.

“You look dreadful.”

“You didn’t even look at me.”

“I didn’t need to.  Home late and up all night, it wasn’t a hard guess to make.”  With a turn of her head her mother continued, “and I can see now that I was correct.”

“It was you that told me to go for a walk.”

“Yes, yes I did.”  Finally offering a smile, her mother raised her own coffee mug in a half salute which made Olivia blush.  After that  the matter seemed to be closed as they switched into a discussion about the local ladies club and then later about where Olivia planned on finding another job.  After several more cups of coffee her mother announced herself ready for a nap and Olivia dressed and walked back into town.

Along the way she managed to put a few of the many things running through her head into order.  She was not going to go chasing Tom Drummond around, nor would she allow herself anymore thoughts about the two of them.  She had wanted to go over and check his house or ask at the bank where he could be found.  She had thought about doing just that for hours the night before, however she always came back to the feeling of finality which had passed between them on their final good-bye at the hotel.  Regardless of hopes and wishes, nothing could be done about that and she was now ready to accept that he was gone.  Or if not gone yet, then he soon would be and Olivia would not allow herself to be seen as any kind of desperate old maid.

hiawatha first national bank courtesy hiawathapics.com

hiawatha first national bank courtesy hiawathapics.com

As it turned out she was completely right about him being gone, and she never saw or heard from him again.   In fact, no one in Hiawatha ever did including the bank where he worked and left two hundred and forty seven dollars on deposit, all of which was never claimed.  On the few nights in the future when Olivia allowed herself to be particularity bitter she imagined that he had not even bothered to stay until the morning following their encounter.  Perhaps she literally was the last thing he needed to attend to on his way out of town.

… to be continued

Porcelain (Part 4)

Olivia considered that for several moments, a mixture of frustration and admiration swirling around inside her head.  It was nice to have men of honor around, however this particular bit of moral righteousness was interfering with her own happiness.  It had been a long time, many years of her poking around the edges of Tom’s life, he lingering around the edges of hers, all those years and nothing had been said by him.  Until now. Maybe there was something in that.

“This woman, you still love her then?”

Tom winced a bit when she spoke, clearly uncomfortable with the question.  He stayed silent, turning his head to her instead and shaking it in a brief but definite way.

“So, what’s the trouble then?  It surely cannot be impossible to get a divorce from her?  A bit unseemly for sure, but possible.”

“This is a very complicated thing Olivia, very complicated.  The woman, my wife I mean, she and I both come from rather prominent families in Rockland, ones that own much of the ship building business in that area.  Our marriage was arranged by our fathers, carefully planned you might say to keep our families connected and all the power consolidated.  It’s a plan that’s been followed for generations now.”

“Don’t you folks worry about all of that intermingling of your families?”

Tom looked at Olivia with amusement in his eyes.  “Are you trying to say we are inbreeds?”

Olivia flushed deeply and sputtered, “No, no, please, I,”

With a short laugh Tom cut her off, patting her hand and saying, “It’s okay, I was just having a little fun with you there.  And to answer the question, yes it is something we worry about.  We do know that issues can come from such arrangements and we try to avoid it.”

Olivia had taken her arm away from Tom’s to cover her cheeks, which were still bright red, holding them there as she spoke. “Don’t play with me like that, I really felt terrible.  And just how do you manage to avoid all of the problems?”

“Let’s stop here for a minute.”  As he spoke Tom sat down on a small bench that had been placed under one of the maple trees, reaching out for Olivia’s hand, an invitation to sit next to him.  As she arranged her dress after sitting he continued.

“Your question is one that has actually been part of our families conversations for years.  I am not sure we really have avoided all of the problems but we do try.  I should explain that there really are three families here, mine, the Lermond’s and then the Thomas clan.  They all go way back to the beginning in Rockland and they all own shipyards along with some other businesses such as foundries, sail lofts and lumber mills.  At whatever point it was, years ago, the men of these families decided that they wanted to consolidate all of the power among themselves and keep everyone else out.”

Olivia held up her hand.  “I find it hard to believe that any such men as these appear to be would share power so easily.  Men usually want it all for themselves.”

“Ah, a wise observation.  This whole agreement came about after all of the usual unpleasantness.  I guess no one could win and enough damage had been done. Since then though it has all gone remarkably well.”

“That’s unexpected.”

“I agree, but it’s true.  So, once they decided upon this arrangement they soon after understood that keeping the families basically marrying into each other could have some unwanted side-effects.  And that led to the shipyard Bible.”

“A Bible?  What…,” and then Olivia paused, putting her hand up again as Tom began to offer another comment.  He breathed deeply and then sat back as Olivia’s mind worked.

“The families, yours and the others, they keep the records there don’t they?  Who married who, and who’s children are related to whom?  Just like anyone’s family Bible, but one that is for all three?

Tom smiled, amused and impressed.  “You are a smart woman Olivia.  Yes, the shipyard Bible tracks every relationship within our families and it is kept by the eldest woman among the three.  When I left that was my great-grandmother Rebecca, and as far as I know it is still her.”

“And she decides who marries who?”

“Oh no, as I said, my father arranged my marriage.  Once such a thing is proposed, well that’s when the talking starts.  The Bible gets hauled out and then it’s an on-going conversation, some might call it an argument, until all of the potential conflicts are worked out.  It’s not a science, at least not where I am from.  We’ve had first cousins marry and third cousins end up getting denied.  I think half the benefit to it all is that sometimes the arguments go on so long that proposed marriages just fall apart.”

“That really makes no sense.  The whole thing I mean, it makes no sense.”

“Yes, I know, I really do.”

“And so you ended up married to this woman…”

“Eleanor, Eleanor Lermond.”

“You married her and now?”

“Yes, that’s the other part.  Once your married in our family, in our families that is, you stay married.”

“Until death?”

“After really.  You only get married once.”  He said this with a firm but sad finality, looking over at Olivia who met his eyes.  She understood now that her ultimate dream of someday having a life with him was not going to happen.  It was still interesting to her that Tom had taken this opportunity, not only to accept her mother’s invitation but to reveal that he did feel something for her.  What was it that had made him declare himself finally.  She kept working through that in her head while she talked.

“So, you weren’t happy then?”

“Dreadfully unhappy.  Eleanor is not a very, well not a very fun person.  Very straight-laced and uptight.”

“And so you left, ran away from your problem?”  Tom was silent for a moment after that and Olivia feared she had gone to far.  Maybe he was just going to get up and walk away?  Instead he sighed and replied.

“I guess that’s about what it was.  It’s happened before, to other unhappy husbands caught up in this arrangement.  Nobody seems to care if you go away, you just have to stay married.  Eleanor is likely much happier with me gone anyway, she can tend to all her domestic duties which she always takes so very seriously.”

Although he said this last sentence scornfully, there was also a trace of nostalgia in his voice.  Olivia figured that maybe he missed her after all, and then she knew.

“So, you’re going away then?  Back there?”

Tom, who had been leaning back into the bench, sat up immediately, a look of astonishment on his face.  “How could you have known that?”

Olivia did not care to explain it, her mind racing ahead.  “But you are going?”

Tom looked down at his feet and then up to meet her eyes.  “Yes.”

A panic had overtaken Olivia, one that brought a rush of what she would later call madness to her actions, and she reached out abruptly and grabbed Tom’s hand, pulling him over to her.  Thirty minutes later, and with no argument from Tom, they were discreetly in a hotel room.  Although their encounter was brief, and they parted ways immediately after, it did leave one consideration.  Olivia of course was pregnant.

… to be continued

Porcelain (Part 3)

Olivia gasped in surprise, her right hand fluttering slightly as she placed her teacup and saucer onto the porch railing.  Her cheeks flushed bright red as she stood up.

“He is coming over here?”

“Yes dear, over here.  I thought we might entertain him for supper this evening.”

“He agreed to that, to come over here?”

“I told you he did.”

Without another word Olivia bolted into the house while her mother settled back into the rocking chair with a faint smile on her face.  She remained sitting there until she saw Tom Drummond coming up the road, dressed as always in a nicely tailored brown suit and carrying a small bouquet of flowers.  He was a tall man for the time, standing over six feet and had the long legs and arms to match his height.  Although he walked with a slight limp, an after effect of a childhood dare, his stride was purposeful and strong and he was quickly on the porch, doffing his hat and offering the flowers to Olivia’s mother.  She took them without rising, patting his hand and remarking on his punctuality.  He then offered her his arm as she rose and they both walked into the house.

They found Olivia standing formally behind the large chair in the drawing room, dressed now in a delicate blue dress with cream lace accents and a high collar.  Her hair had been throughly brushed and was now pulled back on the sides and lay in gently curled ringlets down her back.  She gave a slight curtsey as Tom and her mother entered the room, offering him a seat with a wave of her hand.  After pouring drinks Olivia sat down also and pleasant conversation passed between the three of them, words that Olivia took directly to heart but that would have been unremarkable to most other people.

As they moved onto supper Tom lapsed into telling tales to Olivia’s mother, both about the journey out from Maine and his exploits in his younger years as a sheriff’s deputy in Virginia.  Olivia said little, eating her food in small bites just in case she had to speak up or offer a thought to the conversation.  That only happened once however, as she expressed her own desire to see the outlying parts of the Hiawatha community left as a buffer between the town and the Indian tribes in the area.  As Olivia served the dessert, a rhubarb pie made the day before from freshly harvested stalks, her mother took the opportunity to excuse herself, stating she was too full for dessert and too tired to try eating it in any case.  As she left the room she kissed her daughter gently on the cheek and offered her opinion that a walk might be a nice way to end the evening.

After she was gone Olivia sat down again and her and Tom ate the pie in relative silence except for his remark upon its delicious taste.  As she cleared the table he leaned back and looked at her until she stopped to return his gaze.

“It was an excellent meal Olivia and I thank you for having me here for it.  I enjoyed the company of you and your mother.”

“Thank you Tom, and it was a pleasure.”  The awkwardness of the moment was not lost on either of them, Olivia rubbing her hands together while Tom played with his watch chain.  Finally he stood up and extended his arm.

“A walk then?”

“Well, y, yes, yes,” Olivia stuttered in reply, “I just need to finish cleaning up.”

“It will wait, I am sure.  Let’s enjoy the evening before it gets too dark.”

Olivia paused, her pulse racing as she looked at Tom’s offered arm, then she collected herself as best she could and replied, “Yes, very well, let’s enjoy the evening.”

They stepped out onto Shawnee, Olivia wrapped again in her purple shawl, her left arm gently twined around Tom’s right.  They walked in silence for several blocks as she fought through a tangle of thoughts in her head; memories of the past, wishes and wants for the future, fear of rejection and lack of confidence in herself.  Finally she convinced herself that maybe, just this one time, it was worth it to to be bold.

“You know Tom, I often wonder about whether you truly have any interest in me.”  As she said it, Olivia could hardly believe she had summoned the courage to ask and her pulse was racing again, waiting on his reply.  He took a minute to do so, finally reaching over with his left hand and placing it on top of her arm as he spoke.

“I do Olivia, I do.  I actually have always had quite an interest in you.”

maple lined streets of hiawatha

maple lined streets of hiawatha

As he said this they turned onto Delaware, the sides of the road lined with some of the sturdy maple trees that had been such a prevalent part of the land when they arrived.  Olivia had been one of the settlers who advocated for keeping these trees in place whenever possible, and she thought of it as one of her major contributions to the town.  At the moment however she hardly noticed them, as Tom’s simple response had flooded her mind with new, but still very confusing thoughts.

“Why then have you always put us off, put me off?  I know I may have been a shrinking violet at times, however surely you could have made some of your intentions known.”

Tom stopped, turning to look at her, his eyes filled with a mixture of desire and remorse.

“I just cannot, I cannot pursue this intention toward you.”

Olivia returned only a slightly hurt look, waiting for him to continue.

“I cannot, as I am married, back east where I came from, I am married still to a woman from whom I have been unable to remove myself.”

… to be continued

Porcelain (Part 2)

She left quietly although not quickly, pausing several times as she gathered up her personal belongings to look at things within the store that had been such an integral part of her life.  Sam Potter might believe it a miracle that she had lasted as long as she did, however Olivia saw her time at Leaders to have been full of productivity and purpose.  She certainly had been the most reliable of all the employees that had come and gone over the years, going in on scant notice when others had become ill or abruptly moved from the Hiawatha community.  She also was still the only one who understood the inventory system in the back of the store, one that was carefully arranged not by product name but by demand and quality.  Olivia had labored over this system for many weeks and almost offered to try to explain it to Sam again as she paused at the door of the store on her way out for this last time.  She saw him peeking at her from his small office stall in the back, his thin, dusty brown hair scattered around his head in no particular order.  She paused and raised one hand, an offer almost, an offer to at least try to make him understand the basics of the system before he had to go back there hunting for hardtack or rope.  She decided against it however and left with a faint, “fair thee well.”

6th and oregon looking east 1909 courtesy hiawathapics.com

6th and oregon looking east 1909 courtesy hiawathapics.com

hiawatha library

hiawatha library

Walking home she headed east, which although it was the not the most direct route, did lead past the rose garden behind the public library.  Olivia liked to sit there in the middle of the garden, not looking around at the bushes or stuffing her nose into them, which is what nearly everyone else did, but leaning back on a bench, closing her eyes and smelling the subtle fragrances that mixed in the air.  The man who had planted the flowers was an experienced rosarian, a careful and meticulous man who tended the garden daily despite his own long work schedule at the bank.  He had brought his bulbs with him, along with a collection of live bushes, all of which he carefully tended through their arduous trip from Maine.  Olivia had watched him graft once, the man’s thick, dirty fingers tenderly trimming cuttings from his bushes before lopping off the flowers and most of the remaining stem, leaving just two or three leaves on a plain green stalk.  The man had given her a short lecture on how plants waste energy producing flowers, which seemed ridiculous to Olivia as she figured that was about what they were good for and supposed to do anyway.  The man did however have quite a talent for getting those cuttings to root and bloom.  His creations now filled the air in the garden with a mixture of musk, fruit and tender spice smells, and Olivia swore she smelled pepper sometimes which just brought a faint smile to the man’s face but never a reply or affirmation.  She sat longer than usual today and then headed home, arriving to find her mother sitting out on the porch in her usual rocking chair, a wool blanket wrapped around her legs to ward off the chill of the day.

“Home early today daughter?”  The lack of surprise in her mother’s voice gave away the fact that she must have already heard about the incident and its eventual outcome.  Olivia said nothing, passing by her mother with a soft pat to her shoulder and then going inside to put her things up and brew some tea.  When she emerged again she was wrapped in a purple shawl and carefully balancing two cups of camomile.  Placing one on the small table next to her mother, Olivia settled down into her own usual seat, a simple but comfortable straight-backed chair with a floral printed cushion.  No words passed between them for several minutes until her mother sighed, placed her tea back down and pointed out toward the road.

“A horse broke a leg out there today.  The carriage it was pulling lost an axle and overturned, that poor animal got twisted up in the harness.  I heard it break, sickening sound really.”  Her mother’s voice, deepened by age, cracked a little as she spoke, her general love of animals showing as always.  “They put it down quickly enough, but still sad to see.”

Olivia nodded in reply, uncertain if this story carried any other meaning.  After several minutes with no more details provided, she figured that was all that was going to be said about it.

“I won’t be going back to Leaders.”

“Hmm, interesting.  What happened?”

Olivia looked over at her mother, an eyebrow raised in question.

“I mean, how did it start dear.  Nobody told me that part yet.”

Olivia gave her mother the rest of the details, becoming slightly worked up again as she told the story.  When she got to the part where she had pulled the cowboy outside, her mother raised her hand to indicate that she knew the rest.

“So Sam Potter finally had enough of you then?”

“Really mother, that’s harsh don’t you think?”

“Not really.  You have always been too defensive about all of this town pride nonsense.  This place could use a few changes.”  A slight twinkle sparked in the woman’s grey eyes as she said this, looking over at her daughter to see her reaction.

Olivia huffed once before replying, her voice slightly raised and edgy.  “Our journey out here was difficult mother, as you know, difficult and trying.  It took everyone of us pulling together to reach this land and we have every right to be proud of it.  And we made this into a fine frontier town, the best if you ask me and plenty of others agree.”

“Plenty of others who were on the trip with you.”

“Them sure, but other people too, ones that pass through here and remark on how much we have done in such a short time.  It wouldn’t have been possible without all of us working together.”

“That and your bunch of fearless leaders.”

“They had the vision, the resources and the knowledge to make it all happen.  We certainly needed them.”

Her mother stayed silent after that, finishing up her tea which had gone cold but was no matter to her, as she had consumed plenty of cold tea in her life.  When she was done she carefully placed the blue and white china cup down on its saucer, which had several slight chips in the edges, memories of the travels her life had taken.  She looked up at her daughter and smiled.

“You should get ready then.”

“Ready for what mother.”

“Tom Drummond of course.  He’s coming over in one hour.”

… to be continued

Porcelain (Part 1)

The town still seemed fresh in 1880, having only been plotted out twenty-three years prior by the founding fathers.  Those four men were still revered around Hiawatha and just saying the names of Coe, Wheller, Morrill or Drummond in the wrong tone around the community was bound to get you into an argument.

leader dry goods and clothing courtesy hiawathapics.com

leader dry goods and clothing courtesy hiawathapics.com

That would have been especially true at Leaders Dry Goods and Clothing, which was run by Olivia Good and who had been part of the original group of people who had traveled from Maine to settle the verdant part of Kansas that they all now called home.   She was a typical frontier woman, short and durable, pale-skinned and with long brown hair that she often piled on her head to keep it out of her way while engaged in work.  Olivia had a particular affection for Tom Drummond, a man with whom she had flirted for most of the past two decades to little avail and much frustration.  She managed to keep most of that in check however, as he always put her off in the nicest way possible.  Perhaps the next time would be the charm.  That was how she always explained it to her aging mother, a vibrant ninety-six year old whom had followed three years behind her daughter on the road toward the midwest.

704 shawnee courtesy of hiawathapics.com

704 shawnee courtesy of hiawathapics.com

As they would sit together on the wrap-around porch of their home at 704 Shawnee, sipping tea into the evening hours, her mother always shared the same thought.  Olivia should have nailed down Tom Drummond when the two of them were involved in plotting out the streets in Hiawatha, carefully naming the main thoroughfare Oregon and the streets north and south of it after Indian tribes in the area.  She should have nailed him down good and proper when she had the chance and then all of this silly school-girl chasing around would not have been necessary.  Olivia often wondered exactly what her mother meant by nailed down, however she chose to take it in its most innocent form.  It was probably true that she could have acted with a little more determination and a little less subtlety at several points along the way.  At this point however she was mostly stuck with the current situation as she believed it much too late to be anything other than modest.    On that point at least her mother agreed.

It was not then a shock to many when, on a uncommonly cold July afternoon, Olivia ended up in a heated discussion with a new ranch hand who had come into the store to purchase trail gear and sundries.  The man wanted a particular make of saddle coat, which the store did not carry, and this led to his announcement that Hiawatha was about as backward of a frontier town as he could imagine.  Olivia had stepped from behind the counter, trying to smile through pursed lips.

“Whatever do you mean by that?”

“I’ve been in this place for three days and so far all I get from any of you all is, we don’t have that.  I heard it at the drug company, the coal shop and hell I even heard it at the Baptist church.”

first baptist church hiawatha ks courtesy hiawathapics.com

first baptist church hiawatha ks courtesy hiawathapics.com

“You’ll watch your mouth in here sir.  We don’t tolerate you cowboys coming in here and fouling up the air with your trail talk.”  Over the shoulder of the young man Oliva could see Sam Potter, the owner of the store, giving her a hard stare.  This would not be the first time that there had been a confrontation in his store because of her and he had warned her that the next time could well be her last.  It was driving business away he had explained, as word was getting around that his store had a sharp-tongued devil working in it.  That discussion had not had much of an effect on her at the time and his look had little in the moment.  She continued.

“Now, as for Hiawatha, I will have you know that we here are one of the fastest growing communities in this area.  Just two decades ago there was nothing here except the Indians and since then you have all of this, all of this that is around you here.  Come with me young man.”

The ranch hand seemed to have had enough.  “Ma’am if it’s all the same to you I will just be on my way.  No offense and apologies for the language.”

Olivia took his hand and Sam Potter buried his face in his hands, taking care to remove his glasses first.

“You come with me young man.”  She led him out the front door, pulling him along by his fingertips.  He could have easily disengaged, however at this point likely thought it was not going to be of any real assistance in his current situation.  When they were outside she stood beside him, hand on his right shoulder, and waved her arm down the west side of Oregon Street.

“Look down these streets young man.  Do you see all we have to offer here?  The mercantile, the doctor’s office, the drug company.  Look right above Yates there, you see the bank.  That is the bank of Barnett, Morrill and Janes, our own financial house right here in Hiawatha.  And then here,” and she turned the man to look east, “the hotel and the telegraph. See them?  And the churches?”

6th and Oregon looking west 1915 courtesy hiawathapics.com

6th and Oregon looking west 1915 courtesy hiawathapics.com

The man raised his left arm in an awkward partial salute.  “Well you have it all then I guess.  Quite the fancy place you have here.  How could I have been so wrong.”  The mocking tone was evident to the small group of people who had stopped on their way past the store to see the scene play out.  Abel Murray, who knew Olivia well, whispered something to his wife who just rolled her eyes.

“You be respectful young man.  We have a good town here, better than whatever hustle and bustle city you come from and we have plenty that good people want.  You go find your fancy saddle coat somewhere else!”

The man took her advice and left, leaving behind a muttering crowd that soon dispersed and Olivia, who remained with her hands on her hips at the door.  Sam Potter came out three minutes later and told her to go home and never come back.