Authors: Ellen Gardner
Raymond didn’t mention it in the mornin and neither did I. A whole week went by before he tried again, askin first if I was “well.” We said prayers and got into the bed. I was tight as a bowstring, not knowin what his first move would be.
“Dear?” It sounded like a question.
“Mmm-mm,” I mumbled back.
I felt the bedsprings give and he was on me, pushin my legs apart with his knee. He kissed me, and then all of a sudden he was pressin against me, hard, and I … it hurt somethin awful. He lifted his weight off me and pushed into me again, and again. His breath was fast and heavy. Then he rolled off.
I laid there burnin and raw, wonderin if it was supposed to hurt this much. He didn’t say nothin else, and pretty soon I could tell by his breathin he was asleep.
I was sore in the mornin and there was blood in my underpants. I didn’t know if that was supposed to happen or if it meant somethin was wrong. Bea hadn’t told me about that either.
I was all tensed up the next time, expectin to feel the same raw soreness, but it didn’t hurt near as much. There was a few minutes of him bouncin up and down, and then it was over. I wanted to like it, and I tried to. I kept on hopin to feel somethin, like Bea said, somethin nice.
November 30, 1937 (Tues.) [Max. 45°, Min. 32°.] Slight frost with cold fog this morning which lasted all day. Extremely chilly and disagreeable. In contrast to last year, this November was one of the rainiest on record here with 10.15 inches of rain. We finished the bulbs and got our pay this evening. I have another bad cold.
ARRIAGE WASN’T TURNIN OUT
to be like I imagined. Raymond was kind, always askin after my health, tellin me not to overdo, but he was still serious as a Sabbath sermon. He hadn’t loosened up at all.
When he had work around Grants Pass, he set out before daylight, walkin, and it was well after dark when he got back. If the job was farther away, he took the Greyhound bus and stayed in a cheap hotel. I was lonesome. My folks was clear out at Cave Junction and I didn’t have a way to git there. I missed my Papa’s funny stories, I missed Mama, I even missed seein Flossie and Rheba. I wanted company. I wanted to laugh.
When Raymond was home, he was sober and grown up all the time. He treated me like a student, tellin me what I could do, what I should read, givin me Bible verses to memorize. I told myself I was lucky to have a good husband, that I shouldn’t think about what I didn’t have, but I couldn’t help it. I wanted to git out of the apartment, go someplace, but it was cold and the rain turned the roads to mud. So except for when I needed to buy food, I stayed inside. And when I couldn’t take any more of what Raymond told me to read, I got out my old magazines and leafed through em. I done it so many times they was fallin apart, but I didn’t dare spend money on new ones.
“Couldn’t we git a radio?” I asked Raymond one of the times he was home.
He said no. “It will put ideas in your head. Worldly ideas.”
I told him Mama had a radio, and she always had it tuned to The Voice of Prophesy. “I could learn a lot from The Voice of Prophesy.”
He still said no. “You’d be tempted to listen to other things. Lead us not into temptation, Veda. Remember that. You mustn’t let yourself be led astray.”
Raymond was right. I would have listened to other things. Other kinds of music. Popular songs like the ones Rheba and Flossie taught me. Songs like “Puttin on the Ritz” and “Good Night Irene.”
Once winter came on, Raymond, like thousands of others, had almost no work. I fretted about how we would buy groceries and pay our rent, but he told me not to worry, that the Lord would provide for us. He reminded me how people from church often times asked us to supper. Reminded me of the box of hand-me-downs Mrs. Shaunessy sent over.
Her dead husband’s suit was too good to throw away, she said, and there was some shoes and a couple of dresses she thought I could use. Raymond put the suit on. It made him look like a undertaker, but it fit him perfect.
“Try the dresses on,” he said.
“I don’t want to. They’ll make me look like an old woman.”
“Veda, we can’t turn down perfectly good clothes.”
So just to show him, I put one on and stuffed the front to make it look like my breasts were down around my waist like Mrs. Shaunessy’s. Then I put on the pair of lace-up oxfords, scrunched my stockins around my ankles, and groaned a little about my “rhumatiz” for effect. Instead of thinkin it was funny, Raymond bawled me out. Said I ought to be ashamed, makin fun of a good Christian lady like that.
It made me mad, him always bein such a sorehead, and I decided to teach him a lesson. The next day I got my scissors and cut every other stitch in the crotch of the dead man’s suit pants. Sabbath mornin, when we set down in the front pew of the church, I heard the seam give way. Raymond’s eyes got round as saucers, and it was all I could do to keep a straight face.
“Now Brother Ames will lead us in a hymn,” the pastor said, and Raymond shook his head. Then the pastor asked him again, “Will you lead us in a song, Brother Ames?” Raymond shook his head harder.
“Well,” the pastor said, “it appears Brother Ames isn’t feeling well.”
After the closin prayer, folks kept comin up to us sayin they hoped Raymond felt better soon. He nodded but he didn’t budge, just set there with his nose in his Bible, like he was studyin it. After ever’body left, he got up and hightailed it home faster’n I ever seen him walk, holdin his hat behind him the whole way. I didn’t even try to keep up. I didn’t want him to see me laughin.
I was disappointed in Raymond, and I knew he was disappointed in me. He had picked me to marry ’cause I wasn’t “silly like other young women,” and here I was cuttin up when I was supposed to be serious. I wanted to be a good wife, and I tried. I really did. I studied the Bible with him in the evenins, and prayed with him, and read the lessons he told me to read. I fixed our meals and kept our place clean. Washed and mended his clothes, shined his Sabbath shoes, and made sure I had all my chores done before sundown on Friday so I wouldn’t be doin any work on the Lord’s Day. I even double stitched the seam in his trousers. But it still bothered me somethin awful that I couldn’t make him laugh.
December was a miserable month. Cold and rainy, lots of fog. Raymond went out day after day, lookin for work. But if somebody said to come on Saturday, he turned em down. He got a few little piddly jobs. Pruned a few bushes. Cleaned up a yard or two. And he was always comin down with colds from bein out in the weather.
When I learned about the program called Works Progress Administration, I tried to git Raymond to sign up. He wouldn’t do it. Said he’d worked on crews like that in Salem once and wouldn’t do it again. Said it was all riff-raff workin them jobs, men that smoked tobacco and used crude language, and he couldn’t abide bein around people like that. By January we didn’t have rent money and I had to ask my folks to take us in.
“On one condition,” Papa said. “Raymond signs up with the WPA.”
Raymond said he couldn’t.
“Looky here,” Papa said, “you married my daughter and you promised to take care of her. If you don’t come up with a better idea, I’m goin to drag you down to that office and sign you up myself.” Raymond set in a corner the whole evenin, slump-shouldered, knees together, poutin. I didn’t like Papa talkin to my husband that way, but I didn’t think Raymond should be turnin down work either. Finally, after a week of not findin anythin, he give in and let Papa drive him to the government office. He was issued a card and told to come back the next day ready to spend a week workin in the woods. Papa was pleased, but then when he seen Raymond gittin his kit ready, he got provoked all over again.
“That boy don’t have sense enough to make up his own bedroll,” he told Mama. She always took Raymond’s side against Papa, but I think even she was beginnin to wonder if Raymond would ever amount to a hill of beans.
January 18, 1938 (Tues.) [Max. 55°, Min 44°.] A delightfully soft, mild, springlike day; changeable and unsettled with light showers. I left Veda’s folks’ place to go to work for the WPA.
AYMOND GOT TWO,
sometimes three days’ work a week, and always come back complainin about the other men and their filthy habits. In March he got laid off, and not wantin to deal with Papa again, bought bus tickets to Salem. We could stay with his folks, he said, and find work there. “You will like it,” he said, “Salem is pretty this time of year.”
I was lookin forward to seein Salem and the pretty new Capitol buildin Raymond told me about, but I was nervous about his family. His sister and younger brother still lived at home, and I didn’t want us to be in the way. Besides, I had only met his parents, and that was just the one time, at the weddin, and I didn’t think his mother liked me.
It was late afternoon when we got off the bus. Raymond said it was just a short walk to his folks’ house, so I picked up my suitcase and followed him, gawkin at the big houses with their pretty green lawns and flowerin trees. The tulips and daffodils. After ten or twelve blocks, though, things started lookin shabby. Rundown places with plain dirt yards. Ragged little kids and sad-eyed men set on porches starin at us. My arms started to ache and my stomach growled. “Is your ma expectin us for supper?” I asked. “I hope they haven’t already ate.”
“Eaten,” Raymond said, “I hope they haven’t already
“Well anyhow,” I said, wishin I had the nerve to kick him, “I’m hungry.”
Their house was way back off the road. It had a sorry lookin porch and needed a coat of paint, but it did have a big vegetable garden off to one side.
Raymond’s mother, Myrtle, come runnin out, carryin on like Raymond was Jesus Christ himself. I almost expected her to bring a dishpan and wash his feet right there in front of me. She give me a quick once over, nodded, and herded us into the kitchen where the whole family was waitin.
There was Raymond’s two older brothers, Al and Norman, their wives and little boys, his sister Helena, and the youngest brother, Everett, who looked enough like Raymond to be his twin. After I been told all their names, we set down to the table and they started askin Raymond questions, tellin him what work they been doin, and what jobs he might be able to git. I set there feelin awkward, watchin em talk and eat. Nobody said nothin to me. It was like I wasn’t there at all. I looked over at Nathaniel, Raymond’s dad. He winked at me and I smiled back. I decided he was probably the only one in the family that might become my friend.
When supper was over, Myrtle showed us to Helena’s room. “You can have her bed while you’re here,” she said.
“I don’t want to put her out…” I stammered. “Maybe we should—”
“Helena will be fine on the sofa,” Myrtle said lookin at Helena. “She doesn’t mind, do you dear?”
Helena shot me a look hot enough to melt paint. Once I got a good look at the bed, though, I figured she got the better deal. It sagged so deep in the middle I was afraid once we got in it we wouldn’t be able to git back out.
Watchin Myrtle and Raymond together grated on my nerves. The two of em spent most of their time huddled in a corner readin to each other while I cooked and washed dishes. Raymond’s dad never said much, but ever once in a while he’d look at me and wink. I got the feelin he knew what I was up against.
Helena’s bed wasn’t just lumpy, it was loud. If we moved at all, the springs squealed like a train comin to a halt, so Raymond barely touched me. The whole three and a half weeks we were there Raymond didn’t find any work and I was itchin to leave. I was tired of the way his mother doted on him, and I was afraid she’d have him back in short pants if we stayed any longer.
We went back to my folks’ place and Raymond got work in a pear orchard. After a couple weeks he was able to rent us a little walk-up flat in Grants Pass. Alone in our own place, I thought things would be better. I thought Raymond would act more like a husband. I teased him and tried to git him to cuddle, but he would squirm away. In our early months together he’d quoted from the apostle Paul to the Corinthians, “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.” It seemed that was all sex was to him, a duty. Once in a while he’d strip down to his union suit, say his prayers, turn out the lights, and climb on top of me. I wanted more than that. I wanted the lights on. I wanted him to look at me, see me with my clothes off. I wanted to see him. But I couldn’t tell him that. Wantin those things … desirin … deep down I felt it must be sinful.
June 23, 1938, (Thur.) [Max 93°, Min 51°.] Another brilliantly clear, glorious day at the peak of the year but very hot and very dry with extremely critical forest fire conditions prevailing. Veda was sick again this morning with stomach trouble.
T WAS TERRIBLE HOT
all week. At first I thought it was the weather makin me feel sick. Either that or it was the same stomach trouble Raymond had. When it didn’t pass, I told Mama. She took ahold of my face and turned it up so she could look in my eyes, “Honey, don’t you know what this is? You’re goin to have a baby. I’m sure of it.”
I was so worried about rent money and how we were goin to buy groceries with Raymond not workin much, I forgot to notice I wasn’t gittin my period. But once it sunk in, what Mama said, I got excited. A baby would change ever’thin. Once Raymond knew he was goin to be a father he’d look for a different kind of work. Somethin steady. I couldn’t wait to tell him.
He seemed pleased. Not excited, but pleased. Told me not to worry. He’d find work. He kept askin around for day labor jobs, pickin fruit, hops, whatever was in season. Sometimes people we knew hired him to do yard work or chop firewood, but we barely got by. I got over my mornin sickness and, except for the money worries, I felt good. My pregnancy was startin to show.
“You should stay home from church,” Raymond said to me one mornin.
“Why would I do that?” I had on one of the maternity smocks my sister Zelda had give me and I thought I looked nice.