The Green Bough

masqChapter 1

I awoke that September morning vividly aware I'd made two awful mistakes: I had agreed to become a teacher at the worst elementary school in Oregon, and I had made my father angry. Actually, the latter was the result of the former, and both had to be faced that morning. No wonder I could hardly drag myself out of bed.

But my sister Ruth was already dressed and on her way downstairs, and noises came from my brother Fred's bedroom next door, as well as from the kitchen downstairs.

I dressed in a hurry, pulling on woolen underwear, long black stockings and black boots. Finally I put on my petticoat and my new black dress. It had long puffed sleeves and a skirt that bloused just below the knee and then continued down straight almost to top of my boots. I had to walk in mincing steps to the mirror-that's why they called them "hobble skirts"-and decided I really did look grown up. I needed to: I was going off on a long train ride to my very first job.

When I agreed to become a schoolmarm at a logging camp in the mountains near Silverton, it didn't seem like such a bad decision. I had to teach somewhere and all the "good" schools were already spoken for. Besides, it paid enough so that next year I could attend business college and learn to be a typewriter. I could hardly wait to use one of those marvelous new typewriting machines.

I brushed out my hair, twisted it into a figure eight at the back of my head and pinned it in place. Then I dusted a little powder on my face, and, as usual when I looked in the mirror, wished my nose were smaller. Perhaps it would look smaller if I wore rouge on my cheeks, but only "fast" girls wore rouge. I might be defying Papa this morning, but I drew the line at looking "fast." Besides, only vain girls wanted to be pretty; I wanted to have character.

I went down the steps slowly and carefully, because of the skirt, and stopped at the foot of the stairs.

Mother stood there. "Gladys, you've put on your dress already, and your train doesn't go for hours yet."

"I know, but I wanted to get used to walking in it."

"Well, come and have your breakfast then. You are going to have breakfast, aren't you? You need the nourishment, you know. You're too thin."

"Yes, Mama."

"You'd be prettier with a rounder face. And boys like girls with a little meat on their bones."

I smiled. I had to admit my mother was pretty, but she was also a little plump. "No, Mama, I'm not too thin; and I don't want boys looking at my bones, meat or no meat. But I will have breakfast. As you said last night, who knows when I'll get another good meal."

"Well, it's true." Mama preceded me into the warm kitchen, and went immediately to the stove.

"Finally," a husky voice muttered. As I entered, I saw my brother and sister already seated at the table. Fred was four years younger than I but his voice was already deep and manly. Ruth, two years younger than I, sat sedately on the other side, hands in her lap, but she was grinning, as if she and Fred had been joking about something.

I took my place at the table. "What are you two laughing about this morning?"

Fred raised his head and, barely choking out the words, said, "Are you wearing that dress on the train?" and then collapsed into peals of laughter. Ruth joined him, and I felt my face redden.

"It's the latest style, not that you'd know." When they didn't answer, I said, "Haven't you anything better to talk about? Like whether or not you have a job to go to today." I let myself feel superior because Fred was still in high school and Ruth had just graduated and went to teacher training classes.

"Ruth, Fred," my mother said, "behave yourselves. Is that any way to treat your sister on the last day you'll see her for ever so long?" She put a pitcher of cream and a bowl of home-made applesauce on the table and stood over us, hands on her sides. "You'll miss Gladys once she's gone. Let's make this meal a pleasant one."

"Where's Papa?" I asked. "Did he have to see a patient this morning?"

"No. He'll be here in a moment. He wanted to send your trunk to the depot ahead of time."

My stomach made a flip-flop. I knew Papa was still angry with me and yet he was seeing to my trunk, helping me on my way even though he disapproved.

While we waited, Mama said, "I can't believe it. My little girl going so far away. You don't know what it's like outside of Portland. This is a big city. We have all the modern conveniences."

"It's only a few hours away by train."

"That's just to Silverton. After that you still have to get up into the mountains. No, my girl, a logging camp must be almost like another civilization."

Fred said, "Why does everyone in this family have to teach school anyway?"

"I won't be a schoolteacher forever," I told him. "I'm only doing it for one year."

"Teaching is a wonderful profession," Ruth said. "You get to help little children." She turned to me, her blue eyes shining. "I'll bet you won't want to quit if they keep paying you so much money."

"Fifty dollars a month isn't that much." Secretly, I thought it was a fortune, but I couldn't admit it. "But I'll make even more when I can work in a business office."

"A business office?" Fred said. "That's for men."

"And women. This is 1913, you know, not the Dark Ages. Now that Oregon women have the 
vote, we can do anything men can."

"You certainly can," Fred agreed. "You have no trouble keeping them away from here." He laughed loudly at his own joke.

"I could have dozens of beaus if I wanted."

"Of course you could," Mama said. "Thin or not, you're prettier than Jenny Simmons and she's been engaged twice."

"Mama, it's not important to get engaged. Or to have boyfriends. I don't want to get married for a long time."

"Your sister Clara is married. What's wrong with that?"

"Mama, Clara is ten years older than I am. I have plenty of time."

My words echoed in my ears, words I'd said many times to my mother and my girlfriends, and, most of all, to myself. I wanted a career first, but some day it would be nice to be married too. I couldn't imagine life without a husband, someone smart and strong, like Papa. My stomach knotted again at the thought that he was angry.

I'd had dates during my senior year at high school and a few since, but usually never more than one with the same boy. The ones my age were so silly. And, volunteering at the Suffragette office seemed to send a message that I hated men. Which, of course, I didn't. Just because I wanted to vote shouldn't make us enemies.

Besides, boys usually didn't ask me twice. Jenny Simmons told me it was because I was smart and talked too much when I was with them. "They like to do all the talking," Jenny said. "If you just look up at them and listen, like they're the greatest thing in the world, they love it. And you mustn't let them know you're smarter than they are in anything, even though you are."

I didn't like that idea. That was lying and deception. I wouldn't pretend to be something I wasn't, whether being smart or anything else. And, like they'd said at the Suffragette meetings, how were women going to take their proper place in the world, if they didn't show they were as good as men?

While I was thinking this, Papa came into the kitchen. He took his seat and we all lowered our heads for the blessing. As soon as the prayer was over, Mama brought the double boiler full of oatmeal to the table and ladled some into each bowl.

I looked over at my father, but he avoided my gaze. I added cream and sugar to my oatmeal and took a spoonful. Finally I said, "Thank you for sending my trunk to the depot."

"You shouldn't be going off like this-- that's a fact. But no one listens to fathers anymore." He 
scowled and resumed eating his breakfast.

"It's only for a year, Papa. Then I'll have enough money to go to business school."

"Didn't I say I'd pay for that?"

"But you have to send Fred to college in two years. And Mama made this new dress for me and you gave me a beautiful watch for my birthday." I also knew he never pressed his patients to pay their bills, but I didn't say that.

He shrugged. "Too independent and stubborn, that's what you modern girls are."

Mama tried to smooth things between us. "Now be nice to her, Theo. She's going to have enough problems without you--"

"Well, it's her own fault she's going up to Hullt instead of a school in Portland. If she'd just made up her mind sooner, she wouldn't have to take the last teacher's job on earth."

"Now, Papa, we've been over this before. What's done is done and I'll be all right."

"Leave it to the young, no caution at all. And you know the superintendent said it was a bad school. No teacher has ever stayed there more than three months. You don't know what you're getting into."

"He wouldn't send me if he didn't think I'd be all right."

"He'd send his mother to China if he needed a teacher there."

Even though I knew I could cope and I liked the challenge, my stomach churned at the anger in my father's voice. Yes, I liked the idea of going away and having an adventure, but how could I convince him I wasn't just being stubborn?

He took another slice of toast. "You've been going to those Suffragette meetings when you could have been doing something worthwhile to earn the money for business school."

"But, Papa, you know it was important for women to get the vote. And now we have. I thought you wanted that too."

"Yes, yes," he mumbled.

I tried to relax. He had always been on our side. He was only a little boy when his parents came out on the Oregon Trail, but he remembered stories about the way the women worked right alongside the men. He always said they deserved the vote. At least at home. He probably didn't voice that opinion at the meetings of the Official Board of the Centenary Methodist Church.

"As for teaching," I reminded him, "I've been in the Teacher Training Class at Washington High for two years. I studied for this."

"You can't study in advance for things you know nothing about, like coping with savages."

"Are there really savages?" Ruth asked.

"No, of course not," I said.

"If you were a boy instead of a girl, you could be a doctor like Papa," Fred said. "But you could still be a nurse."

I felt my temper rise. That was the whole point: until now women had no careers except nursing and teaching. Once we got into a business office, anything was possible.

Papa continued to glare at me. "Mark my words, this is going to be more than you bargained for." He put down his coffee cup. "Hurry up, now, you two, and get to school, and you, Gladys, if you don't watch out, you'll miss the train and that will be the end of your school-teaching before it's ever begun." He rose and left the room.

Fred scrambled to his feet, scraping his chair noisily on the wooden floor. He and Ruth kissed me on the cheek, mumbled goodbye and headed for the door to go to school.

Mother and I put the dishes in the dishpan and then she washed and I dried them and put them away in the cupboard. That finished, I went upstairs again, which wasn't at all easy in the hobble skirt.

I looked around the bedroom Ruth and I shared, at the flowered wallpaper, white ruffly Priscilla curtains at the windows, and all my treasures. I wouldn't sleep here again for a long time. I'd been only six weeks old when we moved into this house and couldn't remember living anywhere else. Papa had taken my trunk, which held everything I'd need at the mountain school, downstairs the night before, but now I filled my carpetbag. That done, I wrote two short letters to school chums, making my new job sound very exciting. Finally, when it was time, I fastened my new black hat in place with long hat pins and carefully made my way downstairs again.
     
Mama and I went to the closet for our coats and my father picked up my bag to carry it to the station. We walked to the corner and, when it clanged to a stop in front of us, boarded the electric street car, all of us silent, strained.
    
At the depot, we trod onto the platform and joined a few other people waiting for the train to Silverton and points south. My father nodded or tipped his hat to them. He stood tall and erect, hands clasped behind his back. I was proud, as always, to be his daughter. If only he wasn't so upset about my going. The constant clearing of his throat told me he wasn't his normal self. My mother kept biting her lower lip.
     
Finally the train came around the curve and, at the sight of it, I felt my face grow warm. At last my new life was beginning. I turned to my parents, and couldn't believe my eyes. My mother burst into tears. Father began to cry too, something I had never seen before.
    
"Mama, Papa, don't cry. I'll be all right."
    
The train chugged to a stop, bell clanging, whistle blowing, steam curling around the engine. People boarded, calling goodbyes. My father didn't say anything. Instead, he clutched me to his chest.
    
"Papa, please," I said, pushing my head up so I could breathe. "I have to go now." I pulled away from him and then Mama clasped me fiercely, crying and saying something completely unintelligible.
     
"Please don't cry," I said again, but my words sounded shaky. My voice cracked, and tears welled up in my eyes. I wouldn't see my parents again until Christmas time. I'd miss them. Papa was only angry because he was afraid for me.
     
I clung to Mama for a few more moments, then pulled myself away and jumped on the step of the coach. I could hardly see through my tears but I found an empty seat next to a window. Through the glass, I saw my parents, handkerchiefs to faces, each waving with a free hand. I tried to smile, but it felt like a clown's mask, dragging down the corners of my mouth. I pulled my own handkerchief out of my pocket and wiped my eyes.
     
I looked out the window again. What was that at Papa's feet? Good heavens, my bag. I jumped up and dashed through the coach, stumbled down the steps to the platform, almost tripping in my tight skirt, snatched the carpetbag, gave each parent a quick kiss on the cheek, and dashed back.
     
When he saw me, the conductor took my arm and helped me aboard; then he signaled for the train to move. As it started forward, I lurched to my seat, shoved my bag out of the aisle and waved through the window until I could no longer see my mother and father.
     
Finally I managed to stop crying and wiped my eyes again. My handkerchief was soaked through and I put it over the back of the seat in front of me to dry. I glanced across the aisle and saw an elderly couple smiling at me. They had seen it all. How embarrassing.
     
A smile tugged at the corner of my mouth. What a start on my great adventure. I thought I was so grown-up, and then at the last minute I cried like a baby.
     
I took a deep breath and looked at the watch pinned to my dress. Twelve-forty-five. By five-thirty that night I'd be in Silverton, have supper in the hotel and go straight to bed so I could be up early to catch the logging train to Hullt. Then I'd go to my very own schoolhouse. So what if no other teacher had ever stayed there more than three months? Nothing would make me leave if I didn't want to.
     
And yet, perhaps Papa was right. The salary to teach in Hullt was higher than for other schools. What horrible things happened that made teachers leave in spite of that? What had I gotten into?


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