Stories From the Past- Literally
By Kieran Robertson
Authors Note: This post was originally published in February 2018.
Recently, I finished working on a new collection at the Ohio History Connection Archives & Library. This new collection is small, but filled with stories.
The collection includes the papers of two women who lived for a time in Franklin, Ohio (Warren County). These women are Mary Parker Brown:
And Betty Eicher:
According to Betty’s family, she and Mary Parker were partners, however they lived at a time where this was not openly recorded. Both women were accomplished teachers, and Betty was an accomplished writer as well. She published stories for children and young adults, like this one in The Catholic Miss of America magazine in 1954
My favorite part of the collection comes from Betty’s time as a college student. Betty earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree from the Ohio State Unveristy in the late 1930s and early 1940s. In the fall of 1937, Betty Eicher was enrolled in a course called English 507. For this course, Betty was doing a lot of creative writing, and she seemed to have saved some of her best work. I must admit, I took a moment to read each story, letting the typewritten words come alive again, just over 80 years after they were first written.
The most interesting part of Betty’s stories is just how readable they still are. If I wasn’t reading her words as part of an archival collection, I might not be able to tell when these stories were written.
So in a break from my normal blog format, I bring you the full text of a short story written by Betty Eicher in 1937 (she earned an A):
She tucked her ridiculous little French heeled slippers under her and bounced on Ellen’s bed.
“Isn’t Porgie a scream? He’s too deliciously funny. Don’t you just love him, darling?”
“Well, mother, after all, I’ve just met him. I can’t..”
“I know, darling, but you will love him. We have the grandest parties. Buckets of champagne–not those stingy glasses of wine that your father used to have at those dull parties of his.”
Ellen thought of the ruby red of the wine glasses and the people gathered before the fire in her father’s library–professional colleagues, white-haired and kindly, and an occasional ardent young reformer, passionately championing his cause.
“We’re going to have lots of parties now that you’re here. Only, Ellen, couldn’t you be more, well, more..well not so stiff. You, you disapprove so.”
“Yes, dear. You’re so aloof—-so intellectual like. Porgie says it gives him the creeps–your green eyes make him feel so, so insignificant like. And I do think you oughtn’t to make him feel that way–especially when he’s, well, kind of, your father.”
“Mother! Please. Do you forget that I have a father? And Mr. Myers…”
“Well, Ellen, you needn’t be such a spit fire! My goodness! Porgie’d only like to be like a father to you. You needn’t act so. And Ellen, we’d like it if you’d call him Porgie. Now don’t look like that, Ellen. It sounds so stiff, your saying ‘Mr. Myers’. Porgie would be…”
“Mother! I can’t,” flatly. “And please, I don’t think you ought to expect it of me. It’s childish.”
“Oh, Ellen! Childish! You’re always so serious. You’re just like your father!” She plucked savagely at the candle wick spread. “Everything I did was always ‘childish’!”
“That’s not fair, Mother. Dad never said…”
“Oh, he didn’t say it. But I could feel it. I’m not so dumb, Ellen. Always having that excusing manner when he’d introduce me to those impossible people he’d bring here. Like that old fossil Grayson of the history department, and that young doctor Bill Rankin, who couldn’t talk anything but test tubes.”
“Chemist,” corrected Ellen mechanically, and wondered what her mother would say if she knew that the impossible Bill Rankin was probably within ten miles, hurtling along the highway as fast as his old Model T could bring him, and together they would ride out into the night–into freedom. But her mother’s voice was rushing on.
“Not an eligible young man in the lot. Porgie’ll give you plenty of them, darling, plenty. That’s one thing I can give you that your father can’t, Ellen.”
“What? Plenty of what?”
“Men, Ellen, men! Why are you so exasperating? You’re cruel, Ellen, cruel, just like him.”
Ellen sat up in bed. “Cruel? Dad cruel? Mother, how can you say–”
“Oh, I know he didn’t beat me. He didn’t do that. But there are lots of ways to be cruel without beating your wife. I hate him, oh, I, How I hate that man.” Her voice broke off perilously. “And I tried so hard to be like him too,” she murmured, her eyes resting on the head of the bed, eyes dreamy and soft with longing. “Before you were born, I tried so hard. I read books and talked philosophy by the hour. I tried to act like he did–little mannerisms, and the polite ways of doing things. I bought Emily Post and read it secretly up in the garret. And then you came; and I thought that would bring us closer together. But it didn’t. He loved you; he never loved me. Not after the first month or so he didn’t. He’d have little secrets with you, and bring you to his guests instead of me. He made you hate me.”
Ellen stared at her mother. She had never seen this woman before. Suddenly she felt pity where before had been indifference and even defiance. Had she really loved him then? She must have; it was in her eyes. Her heart leaped–her mother loved him yet! She lifted her hand, but her mother misunderstood the gesture.
“Don’t deny it, Ellen; you do hate me. I can tell. But I don’t blame you. I want you to be happy, Ellen, happier than I’ve ever been.”
“Mother, I’m so sorry, so sorry for you; I….”
“Sorry? Ellen, don’t be ridiculous, and don’t sit there looking like a St. Bernard dog. The mournful things.” She shuddered, and her eyes met Ellen’s green ones for a moment. They were no longer dreamy and full of longing, but brittle and hard as ice. Then they glanced away again.
“And so” her mother went on, “I’m giving a party Thursday night. Duck Wallace–Porgie’s partner, and not more than a year older than your father, and he has scads of money–he’ll be there, and Baron Burnley, too. Just think, Ellen, you could be a Duchess! A Baron’s wife is a duchess isn’t she?”
“Baroness”, corrected Ellen mechanically.
“Well, baroness, then; it doesn’t make any difference. And lots of others, I don’t know them, but I’ll get them, don’t you worry. Well, you better go to sleep. Remember, tomorrow we’re riding at six.”
Ellen heard the absurd French heels clack down the hall, and far away a door slammed. She thrust her bare feet out from the cover and wiggled her toes in the thick nap of the rug. Down on her knees she carefully pulled the little weekend case out from under the bed, snapped open the lock and let the lid fall back. On top of her dressing robe was a white square envelope with ‘Mother’ written in her firm hand.
Her mother needed her. She didn’t love that hulking beast of a Mr. Myers. Porgie! The very name was nauseating. She would stay. She’d tell Bill Rankin–what would she tell Bill Rankin? He’d never understand. Well, she wouldn’t tell him anything. She just wouldn’t go. When he came she’d pull down the blind, and he’d see her silhouetted against it, and she wouldn’t go.
No, that wouldn’t be fair to him. She’d slip down and tell him–tell him that she wasn’t sure of herself just yet.
Mechanically she dressed, jabbed the steel prong of the buckle through the belt.
Two lights turned down the street, feeling their way along the curb. They picked out the stone gates and came to rest, frosting the shrubbery along the low stone wall. An auto horn honked unobtrusively.
She stood at the window and stared out, saw a red glow in the black mass behind the lights. He was lighting a cigarette–sure of her. Well, she’d tell him…
Noiselessly she opened her door, and a loud braying laugh came from the master bedroom. Porgie. Her lips tightened as she turned, picked up the suitcase, and laid the letter on the table.