It was1918; the dawn of the Jazz Age…the day of flappers, women’s suffrage and the debate as to whether women should have control over their bodies and prevent child conception and birth…It was the days of prohibition and towns were full of speakeasies and underground clubs where women would smoke cigarettes on long filters. It was the dawn of the “Roaring ’20’s” the “Golden Age”.
What an exciting era for a young woman!!! What an accepting time for someone who was not acceptable in polite society…Lela’s world was full of opportunities. These opportunities had never been considered for women before this time in history.
At the end of the First World War, women hoped that their contribution to the workforce would win them the right to vote. They proved their abilities to work outside the home. Many wanted to continue in their positions, but when the “Dough Boys” came marching home, women were instructed to return to the kitchen so as to make room for the weary soldiers….
This was the era of the Great Gatsby, the time of everyone trying to pretend to be well off. Women wanted to appear as women of leisure. They hid their labor calloused hands with gloves and they wore heavy make up to emulate the women in the movies. Their fashion went from Victorian age of high collars and hiding their ankles under long skirts to wearing flimsy slips of dresses with their hems hoisted up to the knee. They danced the “Charleston” to show off their legs and most scandalous, they wore men’s clothes. To promote their new freedoms, they cut their hair into “Bobs”. They wanted equal rights and if it took a more masculine look to achieve it, then so be it.
Women were rebelling and their actions threatened the conventional ideals of women’s roles in the home. Almost every accepted norm that was expected and kept by women in polite society were called into question by a tempestuous flapper. Women challenged every area of morality, especially their realm of sexuality. Women opening expressed their desire to engage in causal sex without any promise of marriage. To live life in this era, women needed to have contol over their bodies and they wanted to prevent pregnancy. They wanted to have sex and not bear a child every two years for the rest of their child bearing years. They wanted safer methods of child birthing. They wanted choices. They demanded them.
All of these issues touched the fabirc of life at the turn of the century. One death in 100 pregnancies was the sad statistic of the day. Because of this loss of life, many men were left with a newborn baby and no wife or mother to raise their child.
Such was the case of the young engineer. He lost his wife when she gave birth to their first child. David needed a wife and mother for his daughter.
When David met Lela, his daughter was three years old, and it was true. David needed to find a mother for his daughter. His parents were raising his daughter. Life as an railroad engineer did not lend itself to raising children. The only way he could manage was for his parents to carefor his daughter. He knew that she would be cared for properly and she would be raised to be a proper young lady with all of the advantages of polite society.
David was the first generation to be born into this country. His parents were immigrants from England. His mother was Northern Irish and his father was from the “Lake District” of Cumberland. When they came to America, they did not come as some. They wanted land and they had enough money to purchase fine farmland on the Illinois/Indiana border. They were wealthy enough to build a fine home and establish a refined life complete with servants and proper engagements in the community. They were well off and cultured in comparison to those around them.
It doesn’t take much to imagine their raised eyebrows when their engineer son brought home Lela. They knew straight away that Lela was not a woman of good breeding. In fact, they were appalled that she was a half breed. It was clear that she did not have the benefit of any “finishing” and or education. Lela definately was beneath their standards and they were not happy that David was wanting to marry beneath his station.
David made sure as to never tell them of how he tied off the train whistle and let it blow until Lela accepted his invitation to a New Year’s Eve night on the town. He definitely didn’t tell them how Lela had told two men to meet her at the same time at the same place. They would have disapproved of Lela’s cheekiness in deciding that she would go with the man who first appeared in the doorway of the Whistle Stop restaurant. Knowing the circumstances of their meeting would have confirmed their opinion that Lela was a “loose” woman, a flapper, one of those women. She was a suffragette, a person that wanted to change the accepted customs of society…
The night of New Year’s Eve was one that Lela will never forget. She waited as the hour of closing crept nearer. She quickly finished her duties and went to the back of the restaurant to freshen up. At 8:25, she put on her coat and gathered her purse. She was ready and she would leave with the first man who came in the door. She didn’t care if it was the traveling salesman or the young engineer. She was going out on the town tonight and she was going to have a fantastic time.
Eight : thirty appeared on the clock on the wall. Lela heard someone whistling a popular song of the day. It was a lively rendition of “Mares Eat Oats and Does Eat Oats and Little Lambs Eat Ivy”. The manner in which it was being whistled showed that it was a happy tune; one that could move your feet to dance. In the next moment, Lela saw the young engineer rounding the corner of the restaurant. He was carrying a few tired looking flowers that he found at the rail station. Truth be told, the flowers were from a funeral wreath that was accompanying a casket on his train. It was the best he could do in the dead of winter.
As he entered the restaurant, he offered Lela the flowers then he offered his arm and away they went out of the restaurant’s door. Laughing and talking excitedly, they turned toward downtown Springfield. Just as they rounded the corner of the restaurant, the traveling salesman was hurrying toward them. When he realized that Lela was on the arm of another man, he stopped in mid step. He had a bewildered look of surprise and disappointment on his face. David tipped his hat to the salesman and Lela gave him a huge smile and a giggle as they moved past the startled man. The salesman silently stood there in utter shock at the turn of these events…
Lela had a great time that night and she and David began dating regularly. Of course, Polly didn’t approve. Polly saw David as a typical railroad man who would soon be off down the tracks soon to forget all about her daughter…just another man that was what David was to Polly…
But, not to Lela. He was handsome. He had a wonderful sense of humor and he seemed to be smitten with her. She found herself waiting in anticipation for him to come into the restaurant. There were days when he was gone on the train and she couldn’t help but wonder if there were other women in other restaurants and train stations. She would never truly know, but she wanted to believe that she had captured this man’s heart because he definitely had captured hers…
After dating a few months, they decided to marry. Lela met David’s parents and his young daughter. His daughter, Emily, was the same age as her Pauline. Lela believed that they would make a happy family together. When David asked Polly’s permission to marry, Lela was so excited. Now, they just had to set a date.
Not long after announcing their intentions to wed, David received a wire from his parents. The message said that he needed to come home as soon as possible. It stated that there was a serious matter for discussion
David’s first thought was his daughter. David told Lela that he would be gone for a few days but he promised that on his return, they would decide on their wedding date.
When David arrived at his parent’s home, he was glad to see his daughter was well and was very happy to see him… She had grown since he last saw her. Even though she seemed a little spoiled by her grandparents, she was a delightful child. In his relief to see that his daughter was alright, he felt a keen sense of tension on his arrival. David was troubled by this feeling of dread.
After a wonderful dinner, David and his parents retired to the parlor. They were served coffee and David began to inquire as to the purpose of their wire. He couldn’t stand the suspense any longer.
His mother started the conversation with reminding David of his responsibilities. As the oldest son, he was expected to inherit the family farm and, in exchange for this inheritance, he was expected to care for both of his parents as they aged. She also reminded him of his responsibility to Emily. As her father, he was expected to find a woman of suitable station to help mold Emily into the ways of a young woman of good breeding.
Then his father spoke. He said that his mother and he were not pleased with his choice of a mother for Emily. He stated that Lela was not at all suitable as a wife for their son. He reminded David that Lela was from the world of poverty and her parentage included an Indian mother. He went on to say that Lela was a divorced woman and that David should be mindful of his families standing in the community. He concluded his remarks with the statement that Lela would just not do as a new member of the family.
Then, his father made a statement that rattled David’s world. His father stated that should David pursue this marriage with Lela, they would be forced to disinherit him. He added that they would see to it that Emily would be taken away from him and he would not see her or have anything further to do with his daughter…there was no need for discussion…
David knew that there was no such thing as discussion in this household. When his father or mother spoke, that was it. They never said things in jest or in passing. David knew that this decision was made and it was most likely made the first time they laid eyes on Lela. Any protest by David was useless…
David excused himself from the parlor. He needed to think about what was just said. He was aware that Lela didn’t meet the standards to which his parents adhered but he believed that it was a new world and a new era of society. He never considered that his parents would withhold his daughter from him…
David was stunned. He loved Lela. He loved her more than any woman he had ever known. He was sorry to admit that he loved Lela more than he loved his first wife. He didn’t know that he could love anyone as much as he loved her. Lela was everything to him. Now, he had to give her up or loose his daughter…He knew his parents well enough to know that they would do exactly as they said that they would do.
How was he going to choose between the woman that he loved and his child? How was he going to tell Lela?