June 13, 1896
“You are being awfully quiet, this afternoon.” Mrs. Patterson said to me.
We were gathered in the garden for the purpose of gossiping, disguised as afternoon tea. I would rather have avoided the scene altogether, but mother had insisted. Mrs. Patterson and her daughter, Olivia were old friends of mother’s and somehow to mother that translates into old friends of mine.
“Forgive me, I was simply enjoying the garden. It has been some time since I sat out here.” I replied.
I carefully lifted my cup and sipped the steaming hot liquid, hoping the conversation would once again turn away from me to things I have no knowledge of and even less interest in. Olivia glanced around at the garden as if only then realizing it was there.
“It is quite beautiful, now that you mention it.” Olivia interjected.
“Yes, quite.” Mrs. Patterson agreed while never taking her eyes off of me.
“Margaret has met a boy while away at school. Tell us about Edgar, dear.” Mother changed the subject.
“Edgar is a young man, mother, not a boy. He is not courting me, we have met a few times for the purpose of studying. Nothing more.” I replied doing my best to keep annoyance out of my tone.
“That hardly sounds proper.” Said Mrs. Patterson.
“What is improper about a platonic relationship?” I asked.
“Platonic? Is that what you young people are calling it these days?” Mrs. Patterson asked, insinuating more than she would ever say.
“Platonic means non-sexual.” I replied.
Three faces turned pink and I can assure you mine was not one of them. Each let out a near simultaneous gasp.
“My apologies ladies. Margaret you will watch your mouth.” Mother said.
It took me a moment to realize what all the fuss was about. Of course it was the word ‘sexual’. Any reference to sex or intimacy with males is for some reason considered a taboo subject. Quite laughable in my opinion considering the number of siblings I have or am I still to believe a stork laid us on the doorstep?
Wisely, I kept my thoughts to myself and again hoped the conversation would turn away from me. I took to sipping my tea and taking in the scent of blooming flowers. I would have rather enjoyed myself if Mrs. Patterson and Olivia were absent.
“What is Edgar studying?” Olivia ventured into the awkward silence.
“His goal is journalism, I believe.” I replied.
“And that is yours as well now?” Olivia questioned.
“No, it is not.” I replied.
“Oh, but I thought you were studying with him?” Olivia continued.
“Yes, I do from time to time. There are certain core subjects which every student must study irregardless of their ultimate educational goals.” I explained.
“Do not tell us you still have illusions of becoming a doctor, Margaret?” Mrs. Patterson scoffed.
“It is not illusions or fantasy. I am studying to become a doctor.” I replied.
They all laughed at me. It was my turn to turn scarlet.
“I cannot see any man allowing himself to be operated on by a woman. Especially one as plain as you, Margaret.” Mrs. Patterson said when the laughter subsided.
“Not all patients are men.” I replied.
“No but if a man would not trust you to treat himself why would he trust you to treat his wife?” Mrs. Patterson queried.
“Perhaps it would not be his choice.” I said.
“Now that would definitely be a fantasy.” Olivia said.
They all laughed again as if it was funny. I found it sad. I quietly sipped the last of my tea and placed the cup and saucer back on the tray from which it had been served. I stood up and brushed my skirt straight.
“If you will excuse me, I have more pressing matters requiring my attention.” I said.
“Sit down, Margaret. You are embarrassing me.” Mother ordered.
“Certainly not as much as if I were to stay.” I replied and started walking away toward the house.
“Margaret!” Mother hissed.
I turned around for a moment gauging the situation.
“Your behavior is unacceptable. Is this what they have been teaching you at the school, to be disrespectful to guests and friends.” Mother said.
“My behavior? I think you and I have been sitting in separate gardens mother. As far as being taught at school, yes this is what I have learned. It is not appropriate decorum to insult one’s host and it is not necessary to sit and entertain the company of those who have no manners. In fact it is indeed more appropriate to excuse ones’ self and avoid engaging in such effrontery.” I replied.
“No one here as meant anything as insult to you.” Said Mrs. Patterson.
“Indeed? I believe you called me plain, Mrs. Patterson. In what circles is this not an insult? You call my student goals illusions and laugh at the seriousness with which I hold them. This, I am not to take as insulting?” I replied heatedly.
“My dear child, you are woman who thinks she is equivalent to man. This is what I laugh at, not you. You are naïve and have much to learn about the world in which you live. If you find it insulting to be reminded of reality then you must be insulted all the time.” Mrs. Patterson argued.
“I will not be lectured about the reality of the world from the likes of the under educated and overly socialized. If you are happy in your life and your role in it, I wish you the best of it, but I am not satisfied with following in the footsteps of my mother. The world has changed, whether you like it or not and I am more a part of what is coming that what has been. Again I bid you good day.”
I turned and walked away, not waiting for a response or permission. I could hear my mother profusely apologizing to Mrs. Patterson and Olivia as though it were my behavior which required apology.
No doubt I have not heard the last of this, but perhaps in the future mother will be less inclined to invite me to her socializing events. I have never been apt in the discussions of other people’s lives and even less interested in them. I have, in my opinion, better things to do with my time, including brushing my hair, filing my nails, reading a book, or absolutely nothing at all.