Authors: Ellen Gardner
In June, Mrs. Carlson told me she wouldn’t need me anymore. “My girls are old enough to help around the house,” she said, “and you need to be with your mother so she can prepare you for marriage.”
I had some money saved up for a weddin dress and it took me weeks to decide on the right one. It was in the Monkey Ward catalog. White organdy with a long skirt gathered at the waist. It had a sweetheart neckline and long fitted sleeves. It was perfect. I sent off my order and couldn’t wait for it to come. Then I sent in one more order. For a pair of good black oxfords for Raymond, size nine and a half.
I spent a lot of dreamtime with that catalog, runnin my fingers over the pages of pretty things: China dishes, silverware, table linens, shiny pots and pans. Things I knew we couldn’t afford. Mama said to forgit about havin new. She went through her things and give me what she thought I needed.
“Food tastes the same no matter what it’s ate off of. You’re just startin out. You and Raymond can buy nicer things later on.”
It was a cold spring that year and the garden got a late start. Except for the peas and lettuce, nothin was up, so there wasn’t a whole lot to do. Mama was makin me a patchwork quilt, so I set with her and helped her stitch. We’d turn on the radio and listen to her favorite programs and the news. It was durin that time when Amelia Earhart turned up missin. Nobody knew what happened to her. For days and days it was almost the only thing people talked about. The people on the radio, me and my folks, people at church. We was all prayin for her, and when they finally give up searchin, I was heartbroke. I wrote to Raymond about it, but he didn’t have nothin to say. That was another thing that bothered me about him, how he didn’t care about things like that.
With him away, my feelins were all over the place. I went back and forth in my mind about marryin him. I made up speeches in my head.
I think you’re a wonderful person, but I can’t marry you. ’Cause … you don’t really love me… You don’t care about anythin but church… I’d git in your way… I’d just hold you back.
Or I might say,
Please don’t hate me for sayin this, but I think I’m supposed
to feel somethin and I don’t.
Then he’d come back for a Sabbath and I seen it different. Settin next to him in church, with people fawnin over him, I felt special ’cause he was special. I seen how kind he was. How good. How faithful. And marryin him seemed right after all. Besides, it was too late to change my mind. The weddin was all planned. I had my clothes and my dishes and kettles all boxed up and Raymond’s shoes had come in the mail. The only thing I was still waitin on was my dress.
I told myself it would turn out fine. If I didn’t love him now, if he didn’t love me, it would change once we got married. That’s what Mama said, “Love deepens once you’re married.” We would be happy together. We’d have beautiful babies, and he’d be a wonderful father. I wanted to throw my arms around him and kiss him real hard. I wanted to see what it felt like. See if he kissed me back. But I was too bashful to do it.
And when he went away again, I went back to worryin. He said he would return before September, but he didn’t say how long before. July went by and we got into August. I knew he still didn’t have a job lined up and I didn’t know what kind of work he would look for. He couldn’t git paid for preachin without bein ordained. He had experience goin door to door for the church, but could he sell Watkins products or vacuum cleaners? He was good with words and numbers, so maybe he could git some kind of office job.
It was a week before the weddin, and Flossie and Rheba was with me in my bedroom. I was showin em my “tru-so.” That was the fancy name for my new underpants and brassieres and the pretty white nightgown Mama got for me. Flossie was puttin on lipstick, and Rheba was admirin herself in the mirror on my dresser. She kept turnin this way and that, smoothin her skirt down over her hips.
“What do you think?” she asked.
“It’s nice,” I told her. “I sure hope my dress gits here on time.”
“Are you scared?”
“About the dress? Kind of. It’s been almost three months since I ordered it.”
“No, not that. Are you scared about … you know, the wedding night?”
“Do you know what he’ll do? How he’ll do it?”
“We’ll tell you if you want us to,” Flossie chimed in.
She was in the middle of puttin on lipstick, her top lip was bright red. “No, I don’t want you to,” I said. “You and Rheba already told me things. How do I know you’re not makin it up? You never been married.”
“How are you going to find out then? Somebody’s got to tell you.”
“I’m goin to go talk to Bea. She’s been married a long time. You and Rheba stay here. And you better not let Mama see you with that lipstick on.”
My sister Bea was by herself on the back porch with a pile of string beans in her lap. I set down across from her and picked up a handful.
“Bea,” I said, snappin the end off one and pullin the string down its side, “I’m worried about … you know … the weddin night. Do you think Raymond knows what to do?”
“Oh sure, honey. He has two older brothers. They’ve told him I’m sure.” Then she started explainin things. About his body and my body and what went where and … she called it mar-i-tal relations.
“Will it hurt?”
“A little, the first time. But after that, it’ll be nice, you’ll see.”
“I worry about Raymond,” I said. “He’s so serious all the time. He’s never even said he loves me. Was Gabe like that before you got married?”
“Well, no. But Raymond’s the quiet type. He’ll be all right. Once you have marital relations, he’ll loosen up.”
September 26, 1937 (Sunday) [Max 86°, Min. 36°.] Clear but unseasonably hot and oppressive with smoke and haze on the horizon. There are ongoing forest fires in many places around southern Oregon. It’s the fifth sharp, cool morning in a row. Our wedding day! Witnessed by my family from Salem and many other friends and relatives, Veda and I were united in marriage by Elder Swensen at our little church in Cave Junction this evening.
HEN THE PRETTY ORGANDY DRESS
from the catalog come, too late to send it back, it wasn’t white like in the picture. It was yellow. Yellow! I might as well wear a big sign sayin I’m not a virgin. I cried for two days.
I was still upset on the day of the weddin, and Mama scolded me, told me to straighten myself up. She said nobody would notice the color.
Old Mrs. Haney set at the piano and plunked out “Here Comes the Bride” while Papa led me to the front of the church. My ears burned the whole way. I could hear folks whisperin, and I knew they was sayin a Adventist girl should be wearin a white weddin dress, sayin I must not be a good girl after all. I snuck a sideways glance at Raymond to see if he noticed I wasn’t wearin white, but he wasn’t even lookin at me. He was standin there with his head bowed, lookin respectable. His suit was pressed, he had a haircut, and he had on his new shoes.
I looked down at the yellow mums I was holdin, and felt even worse. I’d had my heart set on white roses with pink ribbons like a bouquet I seen in a magazine, but Mama said it was foolishness to pay money when we had all them flowers out back.
I stared hard at the dandruff on Elder Swensen’s dark suit, and tried to hold back tears while he read some words about a wife cleavin to her husband. He asked Raymond to repeat after him, promisin to love, honor, and keep me. When it was my turn, he changed the words to love, honor, and obey. Then he told Raymond to take my hand, and we got down on our knees for a prayer. It was the first time Raymond had held my hand, and I started to think about his hands on my body. My face got hot and I could hear my heart. When the minister said, “You may kiss the bride,” Raymond leaned over and give me a quick kiss on the mouth. The sweetish tang of his breath surprised me.
Afterwards people kept slappin Raymond on the back, sayin congratulations, and tellin me how lucky I was. Then soon as we got off by ourselves, Raymond said he had to leave in the mornin for a job. It was in Salem, he said, and he didn’t know how long he’d be gone.
“I thought we were gittin our own place,” I said.
“We will. Just as soon as I get back.”
“But what about tonight? Where’ll we stay?”
“With your folks, I expect. I have to leave early.”
So that was it? I knew I should be glad he had a job, but I wanted things to start out different. I wanted us to be alone. I wanted him to take me someplace. All these months I’d wondered what our weddin night would be like, and now it wasn’t even goin to happen.
The supper in Mama’s kitchen was as plain as the weddin. Potatoes, fried eggplant, string beans, and them breaded tomatoes that always made me gag. There was a cake, but it didn’t even have a bride and groom on top to make it special. Papa kept tryin to start a conversation with Raymond’s dad, but it wasn’t goin nowhere, and Raymond’s mother picked at her food like she was used to better. Then Mama went and told Raymond’s folks they could have my bed, that me and Raymond would sleep in the front room.
Raymond said he’d be fine on the davenport, and Papa set up a cot for me. I put on my pretty new nightgown, but Raymond didn’t notice it. Just said for me to kneel down with him so we could pray. While he was busy thankin God for givin him a “good wife to be his helpmate,” I prayed that Raymond would turn out to be a good husband, that he would learn to love me.
“Goodnight, dear,” he said, kissin me on the cheek. He got into his bed and I got into mine. It was pitch dark and it felt strange havin him so close. I could hear him punchin at his pillow, rustlin against the sofa fabric, gruntin and clearin his throat. I wanted him to come over to me, to touch me, but I didn’t know how to tell him.
I didn’t go to sleep for a long time. I listened to the house groan and creak, to the trees sweep against the windows, and the embers pop in the woodstove. All kinds of things run through my mind. I wondered when he’d be back from his job. I wondered where we’d live and what our life was goin to be like. And I wondered how many other disappointments I had ahead of me.
November 3, 1937 (Wed.) [Max. 60°, Min. 38.] Foggy and chilly all the a.m. but clearing and mild and pleasant in the p.m. Veda arrived today and began to get things settled and unpacked and the place cleaned up. I was in bed with a bad cold all morning.
’D BEEN MARRIED FOR ALMOST
six weeks and I was still a virgin. When I went to church people slid their eyes over me the way folks do to see if I was walkin different. I hadn’t seen Raymond since the weddin, I was still sleepin at Mama’s house, and still worryin about what sex would feel like.
When Raymond got back to Grants Pass, he called Papa and asked him to drive me there. He’d got us a place in a shabby two-story roomin house with six mailboxes nailed up by the front door. Number four had Raymond’s name on it. He was in his room, in bed, with a hot water bottle and a pile of blankets. The room was cold and it smelled like Vicks VapoRub. A cast-iron stove stood in the corner, but the fire had gone out.
I started to fuss over Raymond, but he told me not to come too close. He didn’t want to “communicate” his cold to me. I left my coat on and got a fire goin in the stove. Then while I waited for the room to git warm, I checked to see if there was any food in the cupboards. All he had was half a jar of peanut butter and some Postum. Luckily I’d brung a few groceries with me, so I fixed some soup hopin it would make him feel better.
He was sick for a whole week, and by the time he come out of it and told me he felt better, I had my period. I was nervous and couldn’t think of how to tell him. I puttered around, doin some wash, cookin a meal. Raymond spent the day readin his Bible and writin in one of his journals. When we set down to eat supper, he started tellin me some of what the Bible says about a good wife. She should be modest. Be sober and unworldly. Be careful what she wears and what she says. He went on and on, and by the time he finished, I was really scared. I knew that tellin him about my period wouldn’t be modest, and as it got closer to bedtime, I started to panic.
I put on my nightgown and took extra time washin my face. Raymond got down on his knees by the bed and waited for me to come and say prayers. There was a wood floor under my bare feet, but it could of been hot coals for all I knew. The only thing I could feel was that wad of Kotex between my legs.
I went and crouched down next to him. “Our Heavenly Father,” he said, “we ask your blessing as we come together for the first time as man and wife…”
, I thought,
not tonight. Please. Please, let him change his mind.
I was afraid I said it out loud, but Raymond’s eyes was still closed, he was still prayin.
“…keep us under your protection and give us the strength and courage we need to perform our duty to you. In Jesus name, amen.”
Raymond got in the bed and pulled the blankets back for me. I slid in real slow, throat dry and heart poundin like a war drum. I stayed close to the edge, but he reached over and started pullin up my nightgown. When he felt it, he jumped like he touched a hot stove.
“What is that?”
“Uh … a … a pad … I’m havin my period.”
It was dark in the room. I felt him yank the blankets. The bed heaved and I heard him cross the floor. “You should have told me, Veda,” he said. “You should have told me.”
“I … I wanted to but … I,” I stammered. “Why? Is it bad?”
“Leviticus, Veda. Leviticus 15:19-20: ‘And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean…’ ” I could hear him arrangin his blanket. “I will sleep on the sofa until this business is over.”
“I’m sorry,” I blubbered, “I wanted to tell you … I didn’t know how…” I laid there ashamed and hurt and sick to my stomach, wantin my mother, wantin to go home. Somebody should of told me this would happen. Somebody should of told me about Leviticus.