Clever and Good, Part 10

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.  

The End

Clever and Good, Part 9

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.

                   

Home, thought Kate. I won’t miss the regulated routine, that’s for sure. Up at 6:45, morning prayer at 7:15, breakfast at 7:25, even a morning walk was on the schedule for 8:00 — rain, sleet or snow. Every minute of every day at St. Clare’s was scheduled, day in and day out. Now, I’ll be able to make my own schedule. That bit of freedom would be nice. As she and her friends had approached graduation, they chafed at the regulations they were under. “Why are they so strict?” was their constant refrain when the girls gathered for a brief conversation session out of earshot of the Mother Superior.

Kate recalled that her friend Esther had wished to correspond with a young man from her home town. But, the rule stated that every student must present a list, certified by parents, of names of persons with whom a student may correspond. Esther had been afraid to seek permission from her father to receive letters from the young man, and so the friendship that had been budding during the summer before senior year died on the vine. When Esther went home at Christmastime, she learned that her would-be beau was now courting a local girl, one whom he could converse with regularly. Esther had been heartbroken. “I’ll end up an old maid!” she lamented.

Of course, Kate had no young man from Minot that she would have wanted to write to, but still, the idea of the approved list of correspondents seemed extreme. Now, free from the St. Clare’s many regulations, she relished the idea of writing letters back and forth to her friends, and hoped that she’d spend much of her time penning and receiving witty missives.

Yes, but what would those letters say? “Dear Charlotte,” she imagined writing, “Today I bought some blue yarn and I’m going to knit a scarf for my sister Betty. Tomorrow I will attend Sunday Mass with my family.”

For heaven’s sake! I’ll have to do better than that, or no one will bother to reply. Maybe I’ll have to be more imaginative. “Dear Charlotte,” she revised, “Today I made a speech to the Ward County civic leaders on the importance of full suffrage for women. They applauded wildly and quickly vowed to pass a law granting women complete equality in the eyes of the law.”

Ha! Wouldn’t that be something! Kate stifled a grin. Imagine if I become an outspoken suffragette. Are there any in Minot?

“Mother, Father,” she asked, “are there any suffragettes in Minot?”

“Suffragettes? Like the women I’ve read about in the Chicago Tribune, marching through the streets with signs? Certainly not. Minot women are too busy with home and family to concern themselves with political matters. And, the women in Ward County are allowed to vote on school issues, since they are mothers of school children.”

“I think women should be able to vote on everything,” Kate announced.

“That may come in time, my dear. I hope you don’t plan to march in the streets,” her father said, chuckling a bit. “This is NOT Chicago, dear. People will not stand for that in Ward County.”

“What do you think about suffrage, Mother?” Kate asked.

“I just leave politics to your father, Katy. I trust that he gives a good deal of thought to any issues and votes according to what’s best for us all. I simply would not have the time to devote to such things,” her mother said. “However, some day women may be voting. The concept does seem to be spreading in the big cities, am I right, John?”

“We’ll see, Mother. We’ll see,” he replied.

The waiter appeared at their table, whisking away their dinner plates. The threesome was served coffee and pie, a distraction from the talk of voting privileges.

“Wasn’t that a fine meal,” Kate’s father said, taking his napkin from his lap and folding it on the table. “Ladies, shall we head back to our seats?”

Kate and her mother stood up and the three of them made their way from the dining car to their seats in the passenger car. The meal had been a welcome distraction, but there were still hours ahead of them before the train reached Minot.

Kate’s parents settled in. Her father had rolled up his sleeves and began reading a book, something about economics.  Her mother resumed her knitting, occasionally setting it down to dab her perspiring brow with her handkerchief. The afternoon sun poured through the window, and Kate fidgeted. She felt grimy and sticky. Her dress, once neatly pressed, was now wrinkled and smudged, and there was a bright yellow spot of the lamb curry sauce on her lap. Kate folded the skirt to hide the stain, hoping her mother wouldn’t spot it and scold her for being careless. “I’m sweltering!” she said.

“Just think of something else, dear. Offer it up for the poor souls,” said her mother.

Offer it up for the poor souls? That’s what she always says, Kate thought, scowling as she stared out the window. The scenery hadn’t changed. I’m sick of these “amber waves of grain”. What would it be like to see “purple mountains’ majesty? Or “sea to shining sea”? Kate rustled through her bag. I can’t concentrate on reading or even saying the rosary. She pulled out her Girl Graduate book and flipped through its pages once again. I think I’ve memorized everything I’ve pasted in here, she thought, as she scanned the Senior Essays program for the second time that day. Several classmates had written about other places. Mary May wrote “The Beauties of the South “and Elizabeth had selected “The Blue Grass State, “and Kate wondered if either girl had ever been to those places.  Kate recalled Gladys’s enthusiasm about her topic,“California, the Land of Beauty.” Gladys described the mountains, the Pacific Ocean, the hills of San Francisco, now rebuilding from its terrible earthquake, the palm trees, and the Catholic missions as if she’d seen them with her own eyes. Of course, she hadn’t. Like Kate, Gladys had only dreamed of travel.

(To be continued…)

Clever and Good, Part 8

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.

                   

The train clacked along, and the view from the window seemed unchanging. Wheat, wheat, wheat. Kate replayed some of the late-into-the-night chats she’d had with her classmates. Just a few weeks ago, they had sat on their beds, discussing their futures.

“Marian’s wedding date is all set. Can you imagine? Marian a bride? It’s so romantic,” gushed Beatrice.

“Looks like the rest of us just might end up being spinsters,” Kate joked.

“I’m certainly not looking for a husband,” Charlotte proclaimed. “I want to be an artist and to travel to all of the great art museums in Europe… the Louvre, the Prada.” Her friends snorted at her.

“Really, Charlotte,” Kate said. “You might as well say that you’d like to travel to the moon. What will your father say to this grand idea?” Kate immediately regretted her remarks when she saw Charlotte’s crestfallen expression.

“I’ll convince him. And when I do, would you like to join me?” Charlotte said.

Traveling to Europe? Her parents had taken her to St. Paul once, to visit relatives. She’d been to Milwaukee, too. The tall buildings, the crowds, the congestion of motor cars took her breath away. It was dizzying, but exciting at the same time. What might Paris be like? Or Madrid? Imagine, Charlotte and I visiting Notre Dame Cathedral or shopping for Parisian fashions. Why, it was just too much to comprehend. But, to encourage her friend’s dream, she’d said, “Mais, oui!”

“See, Kate, you already know French,” Charlotte said, laughing.

As for Olive, she’d announced that she dreamed of becoming a lawyer.

“A lawyer!” Gladys shrieked. “Women aren’t lawyers!”

Olive remained firm. “The suffragette movement is spreading, mark my words. Women will be allowed to be lawyers very soon.”

“You sound just like Agatha, with all of her talk about suffrage and women’s rights,” said Gladys. “My father says that women should be content to fulfill their roles as the heart of every home.”

“Oh, pooh,” was Olive’s response. “Women can do any job that a man can do.”

“I agree,” Kate said, but she was skeptical. Didn’t lawyers have to be certified or something? Would the men lawyers allow a woman to do that? Who would ever choose a lady lawyer? She imagined her own father, scoffing at the idea. At his bank, and the other important businesses in Minot, the only employees were men.

By graduation day, Charlotte had not yet convinced her father to send her off to Europe.  She’d packed her bags to return to Whitewater, Wisconsin, still holding out hope that she’d be allowed to experience life abroad. Olive was still talking about becoming a lawyer, but for now, she was on her way home to St. Paul, determined to return to the College of St. Theresa in the fall.

 

Kate was jolted from her reverie when a white-coated porter strode down the train’s aisle, announcing. “Dinner now served! Dinner now served!”  Her father folded his newspaper and stood. “Ladies, shall we head to the dining car?”

“Certainly,” said her mother, and they made their way down the aisle, wobbling with the swaying of the train. The dining car was lovely, its walls covered in a dark green brocade, the tables set with gleaming white china on crisp linen tablecloths. Kate eagerly sat down, ready for an elegant meal. A waiter in a starched white coat presented the menus with a flourish. Kate felt grown-up, even sophisticated, as she took in her surroundings.

“Such interesting dishes,” her mother commented, perusing the menu. “Mountain Trout Au Bleu, Boned Pheasant in Aspic, Chicken Almandine. My goodness!”

“I want to try something I’ve never eaten before,” Kate said. “I’ll have the Curry of Lamb Madras, even though I don’t know exactly what that is.”

Her father smiled. “Good for you, Katy. As for me, plain cooking suits me best. I’ll have the roast beef.”

“As will I,” said her mother.

When the meal arrived, Kate was taken aback by the golden color of the lamb sauce, but she kept her trepidation to herself as she took a bite. “Unusual, but tasty,” she declared.

“Mother, this beef is not as good as yours,” her father commented. “I always prefer home cooking.”

“Why, thank you, John. Still, it’s a treat for me to have my dinner served to me,” Mother replied.

As they ate, Kate’s father began talking about the changes in Minot, a favorite topic of his. Kate knew the whole story of how Minot got its start, as her parents told the story over and over. Her father and his brother had arrived from Minnesota in 1886, had lived in a sod hut for the first year, and had gradually acquired and sold farm land. Her mother’s family had come from Minnesota to farm near Minot.

“The population is nearly 7,000! Imagine it,” her father said.

Katy poked at her lamb – it really tasted rather odd – and barely listened as her father listed what was new in town, but a new flour mill, a new law office, and a plumbing concern didn’t interest her. She busied herself with her meal. Could she hide some of the uneaten meat under the parsley garnish? The green beans were good, tasting like green beans should.

“What about any new clothing stores?” she asked.

“Don’t you enjoy Fauchald’s?” her mother asked. “We found that lovely blue velvet there for your tea dress, remember? And Mr. Fauchald is so kind.”
“Yes, I like Fauchald’s,” Kate said, picturing the store’s worn floors, its tin ceiling, its varnished shelves piled high with bolts of fabric. “But my friend Helen told me about the Marshall Field Store she goes to in Chicago. Helen said there’s a Tiffany glass ceiling, twelve floors of shopping, elevators, marble floors, and even a restaurant called the Walnut Room right inside. Can you imagine?”

‘Óh, my!” said her mother. “Wouldn’t it be fun to see that! I think I’d be overwhelmed. We do have a new shoe store, however. It’s near Woolworth’s.”

She’d already visited the Woolworth’s last summer, and her mother had treated her and her sisters to vanilla phosphates at the soda fountain.

Her mother continued, “Bill bought some new oxfords there, and I bought these.” She pointed at her own plain black shoes, nothing like the colorful, ribboned pumps Kate admired in the latest McCalls. She eyed her mother critically. My mother, she told herself, is not a pretty woman. Her face is too round; her bosom is too large, and her dress is so drab. Kate immediately retreated from her disloyal thoughts. Shame on me! Mother is kind, good, and that’s what matters.

“Maybe you can show me the new store, Mother, and then we could go back to Woolworth’s for a phosphate,” Kate said.

“Now wouldn’t that be nice,” her mother said, reaching out to pat Kate’s arm. “I’m so happy you’ll be back home.”

 

 

 

 

   (To be continued…)

Clever and Good, Part 7

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.

                   

Her mother pulled some yarn out of her bag and began knitting. ‘Katy, when we get home, would you like to join the ladies’ knitting circle? They’d love to have you, and you might meet some of the new young women who’ve settled in town.”

“That would be nice, Mother,” Kate replied, but her heart wasn’t in it. She imagined sitting among a group of middle-aged matrons, feigning interest in their conversations about pie recipes and babies.

Mother continued, “You know Elizabeth Gunderson and Emily Wolf, don’t you? Remember I told you that Elizabeth had married in October to a widower with two small children?  She’s become a good mother to them, poor little things. And there’s a summer wedding in the offing for Emily and a nice young farmer from outside of town.”

Kate gave her mother a noncommittal look. Of course, she knew both from her childhood school days. Elizabeth, a year or two older than Kate, was as dull as dishwater and rarely said a word. Emily – she was so flighty, constantly giggling. Spare me from both of them, Kate thought.

As her mother busied herself with her knitting, Kate stared out the window. The rhythmic clacking of the train seemed to say, “Back to Minot, back to Minot.” Kate pictured her hometown, no longer the collection of sod shacks her father often told them about. Yes, now the streets were wood-paved, a hotel or two had sprung up on Main Street, and farmers came to town daily to purchase goods at the local stores. There were grain elevators, churches, a new park along the Mouse River, and even a theater. The Ehr home, with its wide lawn and large porches, was a source of pride to her parents. It was home, but, oh, she would miss St. Clare’s.

I’m seventeen now, so I suppose my youth is behind me. I’m a young woman now, and I must act like one. I’ll do my best, I promise.

Her mother interrupted her reverie. Remember when we first took you to St. Clare’s?” she asked. ”You were so nervous about being away from home. Remember how you cried when your father and I said our goodbyes?”

Kate managed a weak smile. “Yes, I remember, “she admitted. To herself, she said, But that was just so long ago. I was only a child back then. Her mind drifted back to those first days in the dormitory, where she shared a room with three other girls: Charlotte, Olive, and Gladys. The first days had been a whirl of unpacking, attending chapel, learning a long list of regulations. Each night, when she put on her nightgown and crawled into bed, tears she’d been holding back all day leaked out from the corners of her eyes. I want to go home, I want to go home, she said to herself over and over. Why did my parents send me here? Why couldn’t I have stayed in Minot? Of course, she knew why. It had been explained to her over and over.

“It will be a good opportunity for you. You’ll continue learning. There is no school in Minot for girls who have passed eighth grade.”

Yes, she knew all of the reasons, but surely her parents didn’t want her to be miserable. As she stifled her sobs into her pillow, she became aware of the muffled whimpers and sniffles of the girl in the bed near hers. Kate lay still, straining to listen. Was her roommate, Charlotte, crying too?

Yes, there it was again… a muted sob. Who was it? Not Olive or Gladys. Their beds were on the other side of the room, and she could hear a soft snore coming from that direction.

“Charlotte?” she whispered.

“What?” came a quiet reply.

“Are you all right?”
A pause… “Mm-hmm.”

“It sounds like you’re crying.”

Another pause, then a sniffle.  “I’m just feeling homesick,” Charlotte whispered back.

Relief washed over Kate. I’m not the only one! “It’s all right. I’m missing home, too,” she said softly. “My mother said that I would become used to St. Clare’s in time, but right now I don’t know if I ever will.”

“My mother said the same thing,” said Charlotte. “I suppose that’s what all mothers say.”

Kate smiled to herself. “Say, would you like to sit near me in chapel tomorrow morning?”

“Yes, let’s,” said Charlotte.

“Good night, Charlotte,” Kate said, feeling a bit more optimistic.

The next day, she and Charlotte walked together to chapel, and then, at breakfast, their conversations went from stilted and awkward to more lively. By the end of the week, it seemed they’d known each other all their lives.The other roommates, Olive and Gladys, joined in their conversations more readily as well, and the bond was formed, just as Mother told her it would. But now, Kate thought, I’m miles away from these friends. Who can I converse with, laugh with, tease with, back home.

(To be continued…)

 

 

Clever and Good, Part 6

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 stared out the window at the endless wheat fields, punctuated by an occasional barn or farmhouse. Across from her, Mother stirred.

“What are you looking so serious about, Katy?” Mother asked.

“Just thinking, about Minot. I don’t really have many friends there, like I did at school.”

“You certainly made some lovely friends at St. Clare’s. But, you do have your sisters.”

Kate wanted to say that sisters weren’t the same as friends, but knew she should not. How could she explain to her mother, who’d come to Minot as a young girl and had even lived in a sod hut, how important socializing with friends was to her. I seem so shallow, so frivolous, she thought.

Kate sighed.

Her father, who had appeared to be dozing, opened his eyes. “Katie, don’t sigh. It’s impolite. Why you should be thrilled to return home and to be with your family.”

“I’m sorry, Father. I just don’t know what will be expected of me at home. My friend Olive is continuing on to college, and Esther is planning to work as a secretary in Minneapolis. I’m just unsure of what I will be doing.”

“We have already discussed this,” her father said. “How would that look for me as the vice president of the new bank to have my daughter taking a job? I won’t stand for it. You will be a good help to your mother, and you can focus on doing good works for the church until the day comes when you marry. You have already received a sufficient education, and your place is at home.”

Kate lowered her eyes and blinked back the tears that were threatening to surface. “Yes, Father,” she said. Kate wondered at her father’s insistence about being proper. After all, he had not always been well-to-do, or concerned about what others might think. He and her uncle had come to Minot when it was only a stop at the end of the train line. They’d lived in a sod shack they’d built themselves, opened a meat market.

As if he had read her mind, her father said, “Katy, I’ve worked hard to provide a fine life for my family. It is your duty to be an example of a good Catholic girl for your sisters. I know that you will demonstrate your good morals every day.” He rustled his newspaper, and began to read, ending the discussion.

“Katy, you’ll be quite a help to me with sewing. You can make some new skirts and blouses for your sisters. Now, what have you put into your scrapbook? Would you like to show me?” her mother asked.

Kate knew that her mother meant to keep any unpleasantness at bay, but she had no intention of showing her mother some of the silly notes she so treasured. She turned to a couple of theater program she’d included in her book.

“I’ve several program from the Winona Opera House. This one’s for a performance of In Old Dublin. All the songs were Irish, of course. And this one is a comedy opera, The Firefly. It was quite funny. Oh, and we saw Julius Caesar. Our teacher, Miss Sweeney, escorted us to all of them, and afterwards we’d discuss the elements of the story, and the staging, acting, and so on. It was so enlightening.”

“That’s lovely, Katy,” her mother said. She reached over and patted her hand. “You know, the Lyceum in Minot has presented some interesting performances. Perhaps we can attend some of them.”

Her father snorted. “We shall see about which ones, however. Some are simply low-class, vaudeville types. Perhaps you should just consider plays at the Opera House. Those seem respectable.”

“Certainly, John,” her mother said.

Kate managed a smile. It’s not the same, though, she told herself. Minot is so unsophisticated. And what about Miss Sweeney’s discussions afterwards that I loved so much?  Miss Sweeney urged us to consider all aspects of each play. Going to a play with Mother would not be the same at all.

 

Clever and Good, Part 5

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 flipped through her scrapbook until she came upon the program for Senior Essays. Each student had been required to write and present an essay on a self-selected topic, and the assignment had hung over the girls’ heads for months. First, the class was divided into five groups, each assigned a presentation date. She had been relieved that her group date was February 8, plenty of time to write a thorough essay. The first group – Agatha, Mildred, Helen, Iowa, Fern, and Esther—had moaned and groaned all during autumn about their November date. “How will I ever be ready?” “You lucky ducks! You don’t have your turn for ages!” Yet, once Group One completed their essays, they smugly watched their classmates suffer through their own anxieties and nervousness. The April group, who had first delighted with the luxury of months to plan, eventually complained about having to worry month after month. “If only we could have gone first! We’d be finished and free as birds by now!”

The topics chosen were telling reflections of the authors. Agatha, who alarmed her classmates with strident talk about the rights of women, wrote “The Evolution of the American Girl.” Colletta, ever fashionable, wrote “The Art of Dress-making.” Several had chosen geographical topics: “California, The Land of Beauty”, “The Blue Grass State”, “Our Northern Neighbor.” Gladys’s topic enchanted them all: “The Charm of Mother Goose.”

Kate was pleased that she had taken a religious path for her essay, “Father John Bannister Tabb.” Father Tabb’s poetry, especially the ones with Catholic themes, had come to mean so much to her. Her favorites were about the rosary, providing spiritual insight into her daily recitation. Kate whispered one poem she’d memorized:

” One through Mother Mary, we

With Thy warm humanity;

And through Thee, her only Son,

With our heavenly Father one;

Motherless the world above,

Earth had closer claims of love.”

 

She sighed as she recalled her father’s remark about modeling herself after the Blessed Mother. His admonition still stung, even though the comment was months old. I do so want to be like our Blessed Mother. But just what exactly does that mean? Maybe more of Father Tabb’s words can guide me.

Kate considered taking out her rosary, but resisted. I’ll get to it later, she assured herself, and continued browsing through her scrapbook.

Ha! Here were a silly drawing from Charlotte, described as “Another masterpiece by the leader of sketch works – Miss Kate Margaret Stubbs Snookums Baby her is here presented in full attire as she was on exhibition in the physics class on March 19, 1914. I trust the onlooker and patient reader will sympathize with the artist. The bad points of the picture are not the fault of the genius but of the spectator – yours in discust, Charlotte A. Glynn.” Kate smiled at her friend’s misspelling and examined her likeness, sitting straight and looking forward, her sailor collar tied in a perfect bow, her feet resting on the rungs of the chair in front of her. Fairly accurate and detailed, she thought.  How on earth did Charlotte manage to draw this while she was supposed to be taking notes, and yet still excel in the class?

 

Another picture was labelled “Kate Ehr, beating back to old N.D. in June.” Her artistic friend depicted her wearing a huge wide-brimmed black hat, its flowers extending skyward. Kate glanced at the simple yellow straw hat, trimmed with tiny daisies, next to her on the train seat. Nowhere near as fashionable as the one Charlotte had imagined, nor am I wearing the tango beads or the tight skirt she sketched. Yet here I am, heading back to N.D., far away from my lively pals. Another sketch titled “Kate next summer” showed her in an elaborately feathered cloche and a hobble skirt topped with a belted, short coat. The costumes in the pictures looked so sophisticated, something a city girl might wear. Could a girl in Minot wear such fashionable clothes?

Kate mentally sorted through her trunk. Her gored skirts in navy and gray, several white cotton blouses, a navy tie or two, a wool Pendleton plaid skirt for the coldest of days, or even her two pastel tea dresses were serviceable, but not as refined as the fashions that graced the pages of The Delineator or Ladies Home Journal. I’m a practical sort, but a plumed hat or one with layers upon layers of flowers might be fun. But what would the families at St. Leo’s say? She eyed her mother, whose own black straw sat on the seat next to her. Mother would not approve, she told herself. Still, Kate envied some of her friends who were going home to big cities – Minneapolis and Milwaukee. She recalled the photograph of a green and red silk dress layered in tulle that she and Olive had admired in a recent issue of The Delineator. Featuring a daring neckline, it was described as a restaurant dress. A restaurant dress in Minot? Surely not! Kate tried to imagine the social occasions for young adults in Minot, but her mind drew a blank.

Mother and Father often invited others into their Valley Street home where Mother served elegant meals in the dining room. At Christmastime, Kate was included in one dinner party. At first she had been excited to be treated as an adult, but as the evening wore on, she could not wait to escape the table. Mr. Svenson, seated at her right, had rambled on about his new automobile, while Mrs. Schmidt, on her left, spoke only of her grandchildren. Kate had made her excuses as soon as she could, grateful to retreat to her room with a novel. If this is what adults call fun, I want no part of it, she’d said to herself.

(To be continued…)

Clever and Good, Part 4

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 considered what life in Minot might be like for her now that she was a graduate. Several of her circle were hoping to become engaged to a special someone soon after graduation, and there was much talk about wedding dresses and china patterns. But Kate couldn’t yet imagine herself as a wife or a mother. Running a household? Taking care of a husband and children? It seemed much too grown up right now. Besides, what eligible young men belonged to her family’s church, St. Leo’s? She sighed and mentally scanned the church pews. A grizzled old bachelor or two, and a young man with dirt under his fingernails. I’ll only marry a devout Catholic, of course, but I also want a refined husband who reads newspapers and books and whose shoes are polished.

But if she didn’t marry? Although she was fond of her teachers, their path was not for her. She turned to their photograph.   The Misses Augusta and Elizabeth Sweeney, Miss Edwina Hurlbut, Miss Madeline McDonald, Miss Victoria Laramer, Miss Anna Madden stood together on the teachers’ boarding house lawn, squinting in the sun. Just how old were they, Kate wondered. She inspected Miss Sweeney’s gray hair, Miss Hurlbut’s gaunt, sallow cheeks, Miss Laramar’s wrinkled, dowdy skirt. They really are quite old, maybe even forty, she told herself. Miss Hurlbut was devoted to the study of physics, Miss McDonald’s loved classic literature, Miss Laramar taught exacting lessons on elocution. I couldn’t imagine devoting my life to teaching silly girls year after year. Suddenly, she felt a bit guilty for the jokes she and her friends had made at the expense of these women. It’s rather sad, she thought, living a life of spinsterhood with no marriage prospects. She shuddered.

At Christmastime, Kate had mentioned to her father that she might wish to continue her schooling. After all, the school was a College now, and her favorite teacher, Miss Anna Madden, had encouraged her to continue. Three young women had graduated from the college this year, and several were scheduled to graduate next year.

“You’re a bright, girl, Kate,” Miss Madden had said. “You have a head for learning.”

Kate had been flattered, but her father dismissed the idea.

 “You’ve received more education than most girls,” her father had said. “Your brother Bill is attending college, but it’s time for you to return home and then marry someday. You know that your sister Betty will head for St. Clare’s next year, and Gert two years after.  Model yourself after the Blessed Mother, Kate.”

Kate knew better than to argue with her father. He loved his three daughters, but Bill, his firstborn and a male child, was favored above all three girls combined. The gilt-framed image hanging on the stairway wall was a symbol of the superiority of her brother. In the original photograph, little Kate and her older brother Bill stood with the family dog, Sport. But when the photograph was oil-painted, Father directed that Kate’s image be painted over, and only Bill and Sport remained visible, a tribute to his only son “to carry on the family name.” Kate often stuck out her tongue at the picture when she walked past this ever-present reminder of Bill’s supremacy in the Ehr household.

Why was Bill so special? He’s really a scoundrel. She mentally catalogued years of injustices he’d put upon her and Gert and Betty – teasing, reporting her to her mother when she failed to complete a chore, weaseling out of chores assigned to him.

In December, she’d been glad when she’d overheard a snippet of an angry conversation between her father and Bill. When she’d heard her father say, “Bill, I need to speak to you in the dining room immediately”, Kate had feigned reading a book in the parlor in order to eavesdrop. “You must stop this carousing,” her father had shouted at Bill. Just what exactly was carousing, Kate wondered. She had a fairly good idea, and Bill’s sheepish expression as he slunk from the dining room and headed upstairs made it clear that he had taken the chastisement to heart, at least temporarily. Still, it wasn’t fair that she, who wanted to learn more, must stay home while Bill, in spite of his bad behavior, continued in college.

Her mother had suggested that she might help serve at the many teas the ladies of Minot attended. And of course, there was church work to do; laundering and ironing the priests’ vestments and the altar linens, arranging flowers, baking for funerals. My days might be full, she thought, but where was the fun? The pleasure of learning?

   (To be continued…)