My husband’s grandmother, Catherine Ehr Brosnahan, grew up in Minot, North Dakota. She graduated from the Saint Clare Seminary, a preparatory school of the College of St. Theresa in Winona, Minnesota in 1914. Among some family treasures, I recently discovered her scrapbook from her graduation year. The red leather cover is tattered: the gilt edges are worn. But inside the musty pages is a peek at a girl’s life in 1914.
What would it be like to travel so far away? Kate had been to only three states – her own, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Their landscapes looked almost the same, just fields of corn instead of wheat, but the cities – Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Milwaukee fascinated her. She itched to see more of the United States. New York? The Old South? Texas? So many possibilities, but all of them seemed so out of reach. Will I ever get out of North Dakota, she wondered. Her eyes watered. Really, Kate, buck up. There is no reason to get weepy. Who knows what your future holds?
A graduation card she’d received from her aunt and uncle fluttered out of the book and into her lap. She opened it again.
“We hope life’s highway will be bordered with fragrant flowers of success and cheered by companionship of many fellow travelers. Just what would be her “fragrant flowers of success”? She knew the “many travelers” didn’t refer to actual travelers, but to those traveling down life’s path. But still, it seemed portentous that she had just been thinking about travel when the card had landed in her lap.
Travel! That is exactly what I want to do! That would be perfect. Life in Minot will be good, but when I get bored, I can take a trip. Then, when I return, I can tell everyone about the world outside of North Dakota. But how can I make that happen?
Staring out the train’s window, Kate plotted. I’ll convince Father to let me work. Not right away, of course. He’ll have to see that I’m at loose ends at home. I’ll do everything Mother ask of me at home, and he’ll see for himself that I’m not too busy. I’ll tell him I’m squandering my God-given abilities. He’ll relent since he doesn’t want me to waste my God-given talents. Maybe I can work at the bank. Or the newspaper. I could write stories, or edit their stories, or something. I can save my money. Then, I’ll plan a trip, somewhere. Of course, I can’t go alone, but maybe Charlotte could join me. It wouldn’t be the trip to Paris she’s longed for, but what if we could get to Chicago? Or even as far as California?
Kate closed her eyes, but her mind whirled with excitement. I will have an exciting life. I will! Where shall we go first? East? West? South? Maybe a city not too far away. Winnipeg? I’ll write to Charlotte and tell her my plan. I’m sure she’ll feel the same way I do.
Kate imagined herself at the podium at the Minot Women’s Club. “Today we are fortunate to have our very own Catherine Ehr as our featured speaker. She’s just returned from a trip to New York City, and today she’ll describe the sights and experiences she’s had.” Kate imagined the room full of ladies, all eager to hear about her adventures. Maybe I can even write articles about my travels and sell them to the newspaper. That would pay for another trip.
Kate’s mother whispered to her father. “Look, Katy’s asleep. She must be exhausted from all the excitement of graduation.”
He replied, “It will be good to have her back home, won’t it?”
Kate didn’t open her eyes, keeping the illusion that she was napping. But how could she nap? She was mapping out her future, a life of adventure. The world holds so much promise, and I’m going to dive in and enjoy every moment.
Epilogue: Eau Claire, Wisconsin 1944
From the next room, the telephone jangled and Kate jumped up from the chair. The red scrapbook fell from her lap, a few keepsakes fluttering out. Kate scurried to the hall table and snatched the phone’s receiver from its cradle.
“Hello? Oh, my, hello, Jane…. Yes, I remember…. Yes, I’ll be at the Altar Society meeting on Friday… Thanks for calling.”
Kate returned to the parlor and scooped up the scrapbook and its loose contents. She glanced at the clock… almost noon. Well, I’ve certainly not gotten much accomplished today, she chided herself. Yet she couldn’t resist one more quick glance through the book she held. Am I still this same Kate, she asked herself. I never did get to Paris, or even California. But, no regrets. She smiled as she thought back to the day Henry Brosnahan had come to Minot. She had loved him from the day she met him. Haven’t we had such a fine life? Four fine children, many friends, and our faith to sustain us?
Kate headed upstairs and returned the book to the trunk, burying it deep under the blankets and old baby clothes. No more time today for reminiscing. I’ve got work to do.