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.
Kate settled into the train seat across from her parents, who had traveled to Winona, Minnesota from their Minot, North Dakota home to attend Kate’s graduation. Now, the three were headed back to Minot.
“Katy, are you glad to be heading home? No more long train trips back and forth from Winona to Minot?” asked her mother.
“Of course, Mother!” Katy replied. But she wasn’t so sure. The train trips were arduous, but each one had been filled with happy anticipation. Now, after four years at the school, she wasn’t heading to Minot for a break from her studies; she was staying. Just what would that be like? Her head swam.
She gazed out the window at the vast fields of yellow grain. The wind ruffled the slim stalks, and she smiled. Yes, these really were the “amber waves of grain” she’d recently heard in the new patriotic song “America the Beautiful”.
As the train chugged its way across the landscape, Kate glanced over at her parents. Both were nodding off, a newspaper on her father’s lap, a rosary entwined through her mother’s fingers. She removed her hat and her gloves and leaned back into her seat, but it was impossible for her to sleep. The train car was stuffy, with only a wisp of a breeze floating in from the tiny opening of the window. A few strands of her brown hair had escaped her chignon and tickled her eyelids; she pinned the tendrils back in place. Her lavender cotton lawn dress was light, but her corset pinched. Perspiration trickled down her spine and behind her knees. She longed to peel off her stockings, but of course, she could hardly do that in public. Instead, she unlaced her shoes and eased her feet out of them. She wiggled her toes outside the leather confines for just a moment, then reluctantly slid them back in.
Her mind replayed the recent events at her beloved alma mater Saint Clare Seminary, the preparatory school at the College of St. Theresa. Imagine, an alma mater! She was a graduate! Rummaging through her valise, she pulled out a red, leather-bound book that her parents had given her for Christmas. Embossed on the cover in gold lettering was the title The Girl Graduate: Her Own Book. Its pages were already bursting with this and that – photos, dance programs, and assorted mementos. She opened the book, eager to re-examine her keepsakes.
She flipped to the autographs page. “Be good, dear sweet, and let those who will, be clever,” advised Olive O’Neill. Hmmmph, Kate thought. Can’t a girl be good and clever? I’d like to be both. What is the benefit of being good and dull? My friends are both good and clever, and that’s what I love about them.
“Here’s to those who love us
If only we cared
Here’s to those we’d love
If only we dared.”
She wondered if Marguerite had someone in mind whom she did not dare to love. Maybe she’d ask her when she wrote a letter to her friend, now so far away. Marguerite was heading home to Milwaukee, which seemed on the other side of the globe. Kate missed her bubbly laugh already.
Jeannette had signed simply, “We of the pug noses.” Kate tapped her nose. Well, at least theirs weren’t hawkish, she and Jeannette had agreed when commiserating about their similar facial features. Eleanor Parker wrote, “We can only say what we think, but I can’t think what to say.” Kate loved witty Eleanor’s wordplay.
(To be continued…)