The Sudden Sixties by Edna Ferber

Story type: Literature

Hannah Winter was sixty all of a sudden, as women of sixty are. Just yesterday–or the day before, at most–she had been a bride of twenty in a wine-coloured silk wedding gown, very stiff and rich. And now here she was, all of a sudden, sixty.

The actual anniversary that marked her threescore had had nothing to do with it. She had passed that day painlessly enough–happily, in fact. But now, here she was, all of a sudden, consciously, bewilderingly, sixty. This is the way it happened!

She was rushing along Peacock Alley to meet her daughter Marcia. Any one who knows Chicago knows that smoke-blackened pile, the Congress Hotel; and any one who knows the Congress Hotel has walked down that glittering white marble crypt called Peacock Alley. It is neither so glittering nor so white, nor, for that matter, so prone to preen itself as it was in the hotel’s palmy ’90s. But it still serves as a convenient short cut on a day when Chicago’s lake wind makes Michigan Boulevard a hazard, and thus Hannah Winter was using it. She was to have met Marcia at the Michigan Boulevard entrance at two, sharp. And here it was 2.07. When Marcia said two, there she was at two, waiting, lips slightly compressed. When you came clattering up, breathless, at 2.07, she said nothing in reproach. But within the following half hour bits of her conversation, if pieced together, would have summed up something like this:

“I had to get the children off in time and give them their lunch first because it’s wash day and Lutie’s busy with the woman and won’t do a single extra thing; and all my marketing for to-day and to-morrow because to-morrow’s Memorial Day and they close at noon; and stop at the real estate agent’s on Fifty-third to see them about the wall paper before I came down. I didn’t even have time to swallow a cup of tea. And yet I was here at two. You haven’t a thing to do. Not a blessed thing, living at a hotel. It does seem to me …”

So then here it was 2.07, and Hannah Winter, rather panicky, was rushing along Peacock Alley, dodging loungers, and bell-boys, and travelling salesmen and visiting provincials and the inevitable red-faced delegates with satin badges. In her hurry and nervous apprehension she looked, as she scuttled down the narrow passage, very much like the Rabbit who was late for the Duchess’s dinner. Her rubber-heeled oxfords were pounding down hard on the white marble pavement. Suddenly she saw coming swiftly toward her a woman who seemed strangely familiar–a well-dressed woman, harassed looking, a tense frown between her eyes, and her eyes staring so that they protruded a little, as one who runs ahead of herself in her haste. Hannah had just time to note, in a flash, that the woman’s smart hat was slightly askew and that, though she walked very fast, her trim ankles showed the inflexibility of age, when she saw that the woman was not going to get out of her way. Hannah Winter swerved quickly to avoid a collision. So did the other woman. Next instant Hannah Winter brought up with a crash against her own image in that long and tricky mirror which forms a broad full-length panel set in the marble wall at the north end of Peacock Alley. Passersby and the loungers on near-by red plush seats came running, but she was unhurt except for a forehead bump that remained black-and-blue for two weeks or more. The bump did not bother her, nor did the slightly amused concern of those who had come to her assistance. She stood there, her hat still askew, staring at this woman–this woman with her stiff ankles, her slightly protruding eyes, her nervous frown, her hat a little sideways–this stranger–this murderess who had just slain, ruthlessly and forever, a sallow, lively, high-spirited girl of twenty in a wine-coloured silk wedding gown.

Don’t think that Hannah Winter, at sixty, had tried to ape sixteen. She was not one of those grisly sexagenarians who think that, by wearing pink, they can combat the ochre of age. Not at all. In dress, conduct, mode of living she was as an intelligent and modern woman of sixty should be. The youth of her was in that intangible thing called, sentimentally, the spirit. It had survived forty years of buffeting, and disappointment, and sacrifice and hard work. Inside this woman who wore well-tailored black and small close hats and clean white wash gloves (even in Chicago) was the girl, Hannah Winter, still curious about this adventure known as living; still capable of bearing its disappointments or enjoying its surprises. Still capable, even, of being surprised. And all this is often the case, all unsuspected by the Marcias until the Marcias are, themselves, suddenly sixty. When it is too late to say to the Hannah Winters, “Now I understand.”

We know that Hannah Winter had been married in wine-coloured silk, very stiff and grand. So stiff and rich that the dress would have stood alone if Hannah had ever thought of subjecting her wedding gown to such indignity. It was the sort of silk of which it is said that they don’t make such silk now. It was cut square at the neck and trimmed with passementerie and fringe brought crosswise from breast to skirt hem. It’s in the old photograph and, curiously enough, while Marcia thinks it’s comic, Joan, her nine-year-old daughter, agrees with her grandmother in thinking it very lovely. And so, in its quaintness and stiffness and bravery, it is. Only you’ve got to have imagination.

While wine-coloured silk wouldn’t have done for a church wedding it was quite all right at home; and Hannah Winter’s had been a home wedding (the Winters lived in one of the old three-story red-bricks that may still be seen, in crumbling desuetude, over on Rush Street) so that wine-coloured silk for a twenty-year-old bride was quite in the mode.

It is misleading, perhaps, to go on calling her Hannah Winter, for she married Hermie Slocum and became, according to law, Mrs. Hermie Slocum, but remained, somehow, Hannah Winter in spite of law and clergy, though with no such intent on her part. She had never even heard of Lucy Stone. It wasn’t merely that her Chicago girlhood friends still spoke of her as Hannah Winter. Hannah Winter suited her–belonged to her and was characteristic. Mrs. Hermie Slocum sort of melted and ran down off her. Hermie was the sort of man who, christened Herman, is called Hermie. That all those who had known her before her marriage still spoke of her as Hannah Winter forty years later was merely another triumph of the strong over the weak.

At twenty Hannah Winter had been a rather sallow, lively, fun-loving girl, not pretty, but animated; and forceful, even then. The Winters were middle-class, respected, moderately well-to-do Chicago citizens–or had been moderately well-to-do before the fire of ’71. Horace Winter had been caught in the financial funk that followed this disaster and the Rush Street household, almost ten years later, was rather put to it to supply the wine-coloured silk and the supplementary gowns, linens, and bedding. In those days you married at twenty if a decent chance to marry at twenty presented itself. And Hermie Slocum seemed a decent chance, undoubtedly. A middle-class, respected, moderately well-to-do person himself, Hermie, with ten thousand dollars saved at thirty-five and just about to invest it in business in the thriving city of Indianapolis. A solid young man, Horace Winter said. Not much given to talk. That indicated depth and thinking. Thrifty and far-sighted, as witness the good ten thousand in cash. Kind. Old enough, with his additional fifteen years, to balance the lively Hannah who was considered rather flighty and too prone to find fun in things that others considered serious. A good thing she never quite lost that fault. Hannah resolutely and dutifully put out of her head (or nearly) all vagrant thoughts of Clint Darrow with the crisp black hair and the surprising blue eyes thereto, and the hat worn rakishly a little on one side, and the slender cane and the pointed shoes. A whipper-snapper, according to Horace Winter. Not a solid business man like Hermie Slocum. Hannah did not look upon herself as a human sacrifice. She was genuinely fond of Hermie. She was fond of her father, too; the rather harassed and hen-pecked Horace Winter; and of her mother, the voluble and quick-tongued and generous Bertha Winter, who was so often to be seen going down the street, shawl and bonnet-strings flying, when she should have been at home minding her household. Much of the minding had fallen to Hannah.

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And so they were married, and went to the thriving city of Indianapolis to live, and Hannah Winter was so busy with her new household goods, and the linens, and the wine-coloured silk and its less magnificent satellites, that it was almost a fortnight before she realized fully that this solid young man, Hermie Slocum, was not only solid but immovable; not merely thrifty, but stingy; not alone taciturn but quite conversationless. His silences had not proceeded from the unplumbed depths of his knowledge. He merely had nothing to say. She learned, too, that the ten thousand dollars, soon dispelled, had been made for him by an energetic and shrewd business partner with whom he had quarrelled and from whom he had separated a few months before.

There never was another lump sum of ten thousand of Hermie Slocum’s earning.

Well. Forty years ago, having made the worst of it you made the best of it. No going home to mother. The word “incompatibility” had not come into wide-spread use. Incompatibility was a thing to hide, not to flaunt. The years that followed were dramatic or commonplace, depending on one’s sense of values. Certainly those years were like the married years of many another young woman of that unplastic day. Hannah Winter had her job cut out for her and she finished it well, and alone. No reproaches. Little complaint. Criticism she made in plenty, being the daughter of a voluble mother; and she never gave up hope of stiffening the spine of the invertebrate Hermie.

The ten thousand went in driblets. There never was anything dashing or romantic about Hermie Slocum’s failures. The household never felt actual want, nor anything so picturesque as poverty. Hannah saw to that.

You should have read her letters back home to Chicago–to her mother and father back home on Rush Street, in Chicago; and to her girlhood friends, Sarah Clapp, Vinie Harden, and Julia Pierce. They were letters that, for stiff-lipped pride and brazen boasting, were of a piece with those written by Sentimental Tommy’s mother when things were going worst with her.

“My wine-coloured silk is almost worn out,” she wrote. “I’m thinking of making it over into a tea-gown with one of those new cream pongee panels down the front. Hermie says he’s tired of seeing me in it, evenings. He wants me to get a blue but I tell him I’m too black for blue. Aren’t men stupid about clothes! Though I pretend to Hermie that I think his taste is excellent, even when he brings me home one of those expensive beaded mantles I detest.”

Bald, bare-faced, brave lying.

The two children arrived with mathematical promptness–first Horace, named after his grandfather Winter, of course; then Martha, named after no one in particular, but so called because Hermie Slocum insisted, stubbornly, that Martha was a good name for a girl. Martha herself fixed all that by the simple process of signing herself Marcia in her twelfth year and forever after. Marcia was a throw-back to her grandmother Winter–quick-tongued, restless, volatile. The boy was an admirable mixture of the best qualities of his father and mother; slow-going, like Hermie Slocum, but arriving surely at his goal, like his mother. With something of her driving force mixed with anything his father had of gentleness. A fine boy, and uninteresting. It was Hannah Winter’s boast that Horace never caused her a moment’s sorrow or uneasiness in all his life; and so Marcia, the troublous, was naturally her pride and idol.

As Hermie’s business slid gently downhill Hannah tried with all her strength to stop it. She had a shrewd latent business sense and this she vainly tried to instil in her husband. The children, stirring in their sleep in the bedroom adjoining that of their parents, would realize, vaguely, that she was urging him to try something to which he was opposed. They would grunt and whimper a little, and perhaps remonstrate sleepily at being thus disturbed, and then drop off to sleep again to the sound of her desperate murmurs. For she was desperate. She was resolved not to go to her people for help. And it seemed inevitable if Hermie did not heed her. She saw that he was unsuited for business of the mercantile sort; urged him to take up the selling of insurance, just then getting such a strong and wide hold on the country.

In the end he did take it up, and would have made a failure of that, too, if it had not been for Hannah. It was Hannah who made friends for him, sought out prospective clients for him, led social conversation into business channels whenever chance presented itself. She had the boy and girl to think of and plan for. When Hermie objected to this or that luxury for them as being stuff and nonsense Hannah would say, not without a touch of bitterness, “I want them to have every advantage I can give them. I want them to have all the advantages I never had when I was young.”

“They’ll never thank you for it.”

“I don’t want them to.”

Adam and Eve doubtless had the same argument about the bringing up of Cain and Abel. And Adam probably said, after Cain’s shocking crime, “Well, what did I tell you! Was I right or was I wrong? Who spoiled him in the first place!”

They had been married seventeen years when Hermie Slocum, fifty-two, died of pneumonia following a heavy cold. The thirty-seven-year-old widow was horrified (but not much surprised) to find that the insurance solicitor had allowed two of his own policies to lapse. The company was kind, but businesslike. The insurance amounted, in all, to about nine thousand dollars. Trust Hermie for never quite equalling that ten again.

They offered her the agency left vacant by her husband, after her first two intelligent talks with them.

“No,” she said, “not here. I’m going back to Chicago to sell insurance. Everybody knows me there. My father was an old settler in Chicago. There’ll be my friends, and their husbands, and their sons. Besides, the children will have advantages there. I’m going back to Chicago.”

She went. Horace and Bertha Winter had died five years before, within less than a year of each other. The old Rush Street house had been sold. The neighbourhood was falling into decay. The widow and her two children took a little flat on the south side. Widowed, one might with equanimity admit stress of circumstance. It was only when one had a husband that it was disgraceful to show him to the world as a bad provider.

“I suppose we lived too well,” Hannah said when her old friends expressed concern at her plight. “Hermie was too generous. But I don’t mind working. It keeps me young.”

And so, truly, it did. She sold not only insurance but coal, a thing which rather shocked her south side friends. She took orders for tons of this and tons of that, making a neat commission thereby. She had a desk in the office of a big insurance company on Dearborn, near Monroe, and there you saw her every morning at ten in her neat sailor hat and her neat tailored suit. Four hours of work lay behind that ten o’clock appearance. The children were off to school a little after eight. But there was the ordering to do; cleaning; sewing; preserving, mending. A woman came in for a few hours every day but there was no room for a resident helper. At night there were a hundred tasks. She helped the boy and girl with their home lessons, as well, being naturally quick at mathematics. The boy Horace had early expressed the wish to be an engineer and Hannah contemplated sending him to the University of Wisconsin because she had heard that there the engineering courses were particularly fine. Not only that, she actually sent him.

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Marcia showed no special talent. She was quick, clever, pretty, and usually more deeply engaged in some school-girl love affair than Hannah Winter approved. She would be an early bride, one could see that. No career for Marcia, though she sketched rather well, sewed cleverly, played the piano a little, sang just a bit, could trim a hat or turn a dress, danced the steps of the day. She could even cook a commendable dinner. Hannah saw to that. She saw to it, as well, that the boy and the girl went to the theatre occasionally; heard a concert at rare intervals. There was little money for luxuries. Sometimes Marcia said, thoughtlessly, “Mother, why do you wear those stiff plain things all the time?”

Hannah, who had her own notion of humour, would reply, “The better to clothe you, my dear.”

Her girlhood friends she saw seldom. Two of them had married. One was a spinster of forty. They had all moved to the south side during the period of popularity briefly enjoyed by that section in the late ’90s. Hannah had no time for their afternoon affairs. At night she was too tired or too busy for outside diversions. When they met her they said, “Hannah Winter, you don’t grow a day older. How do you do it!”

“Hard work.”

“A person never sees you. Why don’t you take an afternoon off some time? Or come in some evening? Henry was saying only yesterday that he enjoyed his talk with you so much, and that you were smarter than any man insurance agent. He said you sold him I don’t know how many thousand dollars’ worth before he knew it. Now I suppose I’ll have to go without a new fur coat this winter.”

Hannah smiled agreeably. “Well, Julia, it’s better for you to do without a new fur coat this winter than for me to do without any.”

The Clint Darrow of her girlhood dreams, grown rather paunchy and mottled now, and with the curling black hair but a sparse grizzled fringe, had belied Horace Winter’s contemptuous opinion. He was a moneyed man now, with an extravagant wife, but no children. Hannah underwrote him for a handsome sum, received his heavy compliments with a deft detachment, heard his complaints about his extravagant wife with a sympathetic expression, but no comment–and that night spent the ten minutes before she dropped off to sleep in pondering the impenetrable mysteries of the institution called marriage. She had married the solid Hermie, and he had turned out to be quicksand. She had not married the whipper-snapper Clint, and now he was one of the rich city’s rich men. Had she married him against her parents’ wishes would Clint Darrow now be complaining of her extravagance, perhaps, to some woman he had known in his youth? She laughed a little, to herself, there in the dark.

“What in the world are you giggling about, Mother?” called Marcia, who slept in the bedroom near by. Hannah occupied the davenport couch in the sitting room. There had been some argument about that. But Hannah had said she preferred it; and the boy and girl finally ceased to object. Horace in the back bedroom, Marcia in the front bedroom, Hannah in the sitting room. She made many mistakes like that. So, then, “What in the world are you giggling about, Mother?”

“Only a game,” answered Hannah, “that some people were playing to-day.”

“A new game?”

“Oh, my, no!” said Hannah, and laughed again. “It’s old as the world.”

Hannah was forty-seven when Marcia married. Marcia married well. Not brilliantly, of course, but well. Edward was with the firm of Gaige & Hoe, Importers. He had stock in the company and an excellent salary, with prospects. With Horace away at the engineering school Hannah’s achievement of Marcia’s trousseau was an almost superhuman feat. But it was a trousseau complete. As they selected the monogrammed linens, the hand-made lingerie, the satin-covered down quilts, the smart frocks, Hannah thought, quite without bitterness, of the wine-coloured silk. Marcia was married in white. She was blonde, with a fine fair skin, in her father’s likeness, and she made a picture-book bride. She and Ed took a nice little six-room apartment on Hyde Park Boulevard, near the Park and the lake. There was some talk of Hannah’s coming to live with them but she soon put that right.

“No,” she had said, at once. “None of that. No flat was ever built that was big enough for two families.”

“But you’re not a family, Mother. You’re us.”

Hannah, though, was wiser than that.

She went up to Madison for Horace’s commencement. He was very proud of his youthful looking, well-dressed, intelligent mother. He introduced her, with pride, to the fellows. But there was more than pride in his tone when he brought up Louise. Hannah knew then, at once. Horace had said that he would start to pay back his mother for his university training with the money earned from his very first job. But now he and Hannah had a talk. Hannah hid her own pangs–quite natural pangs of jealousy and something very like resentment.

“There aren’t many Louises,” said Hannah. “And waiting doesn’t do, somehow. You’re an early marrier, Horace. The steady, dependable kind. I’d be a pretty poor sort of mother, wouldn’t I, if—-” etc.

Horace’s first job took him out to South America. He was jubilant, excited, remorseful, eager, downcast, all at once. He and Louise were married a month before the time set for leaving and she went with him. It was a job for a young and hardy and adventurous. On the day they left, Hannah felt, for the first time in her life, bereaved, widowed, cheated.

There followed, then, ten years of hard work and rigid economy. She lived in good boarding houses, and hated them. She hated them so much that, toward the end, she failed even to find amusement in the inevitable wall pictures of plump, partially draped ladies lounging on couches and being tickled in their sleep by overfed cupids in mid-air. She saved and scrimped with an eye to the time when she would no longer work. She made some shrewd and well-advised investments. At the end of these ten years she found herself possessed of a considerable sum whose investment brought her a sufficient income, with careful management.

Life had tricked Hannah Winter, but it had not beaten her. And there, commonplace or dramatic, depending on one’s viewpoint, you have the first sixty years of Hannah Winter’s existence.

This is the curious thing about them. Though heavy, these years had flown. The working, the planning, the hoping, had sped them by, somehow. True, things that never used to tire her tired her now, and she acknowledged it. She was older, of course. But she never thought of herself as old. Perhaps she did not allow herself to think thus. She had married, brought children into the world, made their future sure–or as sure as is humanly possible. And yet she never said, “My work is done. My life is over.” About the future she was still as eager as a girl. She was a grandmother. Marcia and Ed had two children, Joan, nine, and Peter, seven (strong simple names were the mode just then).

Perhaps you know that hotel on the lake front built during the World’s Fair days? A roomy, rambling, smoke-blackened, comfortable old structure, ringed with verandas, its shabby facade shabbier by contrast with the beds of tulips or geraniums or canna that jewel its lawn. There Hannah Winter went to live. It was within five minutes’ walk of Marcia’s apartment. Rather expensive, but as homelike as a hotel could be and housing many old-time Chicago friends.

She had one room, rather small, with a bit of the lake to be seen from one window. The grim, old-fashioned hotel furniture she lightened and supplemented with some of her own things. There was a day bed–a narrow and spindling affair for a woman of her height and comfortable plumpness. In the daytime this couch was decked out with taffeta pillows in rose and blue, with silk fruit and flowers on them, and gold braid. There were two silk-shaded lamps, a shelf of books, the photographs of the children in flat silver frames, a leather writing set on the desk, curtains of pale tan English casement cloth at the windows. A cheerful enough little room.

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There were many elderly widows like herself living in the hotel on slender, but sufficient, incomes. They were well-dressed women in trim suits or crepes, and Field’s special walking oxfords; and small smart hats. They did a little cooking in their rooms–not much, they hastened to tell you. Their breakfasts only–a cup of coffee and a roll or a slice of toast, done on a little electric grill, the coffee above, the toast below. The hotel dining room was almost free of women in the morning. There were only the men, intent on their papers, and their eggs and the 8.40 I. C. train. It was like a men’s club, except, perhaps, for an occasional business woman successful enough or indolent enough to do away with the cooking of the surreptitious matutinal egg in her own room. Sometimes, if they were to lunch at home, they carried in a bit of cold ham, or cheese, rolls, butter, or small dry groceries concealed in muffs or handbags. They even had diminutive iceboxes in closets. The hotel, perforce, shut its eyes to this sort of thing. Even permitted the distribution of tiny cubes of ice by the hotel porter. It was a harmless kind of cheating. Their good dinners they ate in the hotel dining room when not invited to dine with married sons or daughters or friends.

At ten or eleven in the morning you saw them issue forth, or you saw “little” manicures going in. One spoke of these as “little” not because of their size, which was normal, but in definition of their prices. There were “little” dressmakers as well, and “little” tailors. In special session they confided to one another the names or addresses of any of these who happened to be especially deft, or cheap, or modish.

“I’ve found a little tailor over on Fifty-fifth. I don’t want you to tell any one else about him. He’s wonderful. He’s making me a suit that looks exactly like the model Hexter’s got this year and guess what he’s charging!” The guess was, of course, always a triumph for the discoverer of the little tailor.

The great lake dimpled or roared not twenty feet away. The park offered shade and quiet. The broad veranda invited one with its ample armchairs. You would have thought that peace and comfort had come at last to this shrewd, knowledgeous, hard-worked woman of sixty. She was handsomer than she had been at twenty or thirty. The white powdering her black hair softened her face, lightened her sallow skin, gave a finer lustre to her dark eyes. She used a good powder and had an occasional facial massage. Her figure, though full, was erect, firm, neat. Around her throat she wore an inch-wide band of black velvet that becomingly hid the chords and sagging chin muscles.

Yet now, if ever in her life, Hannah Winter was a slave.

Every morning at eight o’clock Marcia telephoned her mother. The hotel calls cost ten cents, but Marcia’s was an unlimited phone. The conversation would start with a formula.

“Hello–Mama?… How are you?”


“Sleep all right?”

“Oh, yes. I never sleep all night through any more.”

“Oh, you probably just think you don’t…. Are you doing anything special this morning?”

“Well, I—-Why?”

“Nothing. I just wondered if you’d mind taking Joan to the dentist’s. Her brace came off again this morning at breakfast. I don’t see how I can take her because Elsie’s giving that luncheon at one, you know, and the man’s coming about upholstering that big chair at ten. I’d call up and try to get out of the luncheon, but I’ve promised, and there’s bridge afterward and it’s too late now for Elsie to get a fourth. Besides, I did that to her once before and she was furious. Of course, if you can’t … But I thought if you haven’t anything to do, really, why—-“

Through Hannah Winter’s mind would flash the events of the day as she had planned it. She had meant to go downtown shopping that morning. Nothing special. Some business at the bank. Mandel’s had advertised a sale of foulards. She hated foulards with their ugly sprawling patterns. A nice, elderly sort of material. Marcia was always urging her to get one. Hannah knew she never would. She liked the shops in their spring vividness. She had a shrewd eye for a bargain. A bite of lunch somewhere; then she had planned to drop in at that lecture at the Woman’s Club. It was by the man who wrote “Your Town.” He was said to be very lively and insulting. She would be home by five, running in to see the children for a minute before going to her hotel to rest before dinner.

A selfish day, perhaps. But forty years of unselfish ones had paid for it. Well. Shopping with nine-year-old Joan was out of the question. So, too, was the lecture. After the dentist had mended the brace Joan would have to be brought home for her lunch. Peter would be there, too. It was Easter vacation time. Hannah probably would lunch with them, in Marcia’s absence, nagging them a little about their spinach and chop and apple sauce. She hated to see the two children at table alone, though Marcia said that was nonsense.

Hannah and Marcia differed about a lot of things. Hannah had fallen into the bad habit of saying, “When you were children I didn’t—-“

“Yes, but things are different now, please remember, Mother. I want my children to have all the advantages I can give them. I want them to have all the advantages I never had.”

If Ed was present at such times he would look up from his paper to say, “The kids’ll never thank you for it, Marsh.”

“I don’t want them to.”

There was something strangely familiar about the whole thing as it sounded in Hannah’s ears.

The matter of the brace, alone. There was a tiny gap between Joan’s two front teeth and, strangely enough, between Peter’s as well. It seemed to Hannah that every well-to-do child in Hyde Park had developed this gap between the two incisors and that all the soft pink child mouths in the district parted to display a hideous and disfiguring arrangement of complicated wire and metal. The process of bringing these teeth together was a long and costly one, totalling between six hundred and two thousand dollars, depending on the reluctance with which the parted teeth met, and the financial standing of the teeths’ progenitors. Peter’s dental process was not to begin for another year. Eight was considered the age. It seemed to be as common as vaccination.

From Hannah: “I don’t know what’s the matter with children’s teeth nowadays. My children’s teeth never had to have all this contraption on them. You got your teeth and that was the end of it.”

“Perhaps if they’d paid proper attention to them,” Marcia would reply, “there wouldn’t be so many people going about with disfigured jaws now.”

Then there were the dancing lessons. Joan went twice a week, Peter once. Joan danced very well the highly technical steps of the sophisticated dances taught her at the Krisiloff School. Her sturdy little legs were trained at the practice bar. Her baby arms curved obediently above her head or in fixed relation to the curve of her body in the dance. She understood and carried into effect the French technical terms. It was called gymnastic and interpretive dancing. There was about it none of the spontaneity with which a child unconsciously endows impromptu dance steps. But it was graceful and lovely. Hannah thought Joan a second Pavlowa; took vast delight in watching her. Taking Joan and Peter to these dancing classes was one of the duties that often devolved upon her. In the children’s early years Marcia had attended a child study class twice a week and Hannah had more or less minded the two in their mother’s absence. The incongruity of this had never struck her. Or if it had she had never mentioned it to Marcia. There were a good many things she never mentioned to Marcia. Marcia was undoubtedly a conscientious mother, thinking of her children, planning for her children, hourly: their food, their clothes, their training, their manners, their education. Asparagus; steak; French; health shoes; fingernails; dancing; teeth; hair; curtseys.

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“Train all the independence out of ’em,” Hannah said sometimes, grimly. Not to Marcia, though. She said it sometimes to her friends Julia Pierce or Sarah Clapp, or even to Vinie Harding, the spinster of sixty, for all three, including the spinster Vinie, who was a great-aunt, seemed to be living much the same life that had fallen to Hannah Winter’s lot.

Hyde Park was full of pretty, well-dressed, energetic young mothers who were leaning hard upon the Hannah Winters of their own families. You saw any number of grey-haired, modishly gowned grandmothers trundling go-carts; walking slowly with a moist baby fist in their gentle clasp; seated on park benches before which blue rompers dug in the sand or gravel or tumbled on the grass. The pretty young mothers seemed very busy, too, in another direction. They attended classes, played bridge, marketed, shopped, managed their households. Some of them had gone in for careers. None of them seemed conscious of the frequency with which they said, “Mother, will you take the children from two to five this afternoon?” Or, if they were conscious of it, they regarded it as a natural and normal request. What are grandmothers for?

Hannah Winter loved the feel of the small velvet hands in her own palm. The clear blue-white of their eyes, the softness of their hair, the very feel of their firm, strong bare legs gave her an actual pang of joy. But a half hour–an hour–with them, and she grew restless, irritable. She didn’t try to define this feeling.

“You say you love the children. And yet when I ask you to be with them for half a day—-“

“I do love them. But they make me nervous.”

“I don’t see how they can make you nervous if you really care about them.”

Joan was Hannah’s favourite; resembled her. The boy, Peter, was blond, like his mother. In Joan was repeated the grandmother’s sallow skin, dark eyes, vivacity, force. The two, so far apart in years, were united by a strong natural bond of sympathy and alikeness. When they were together on some errand or excursion they had a fine time. If it didn’t last too long.

Sometimes the young married women would complain to each other about their mothers. “I don’t ask her often, goodness knows. But I think she might offer to take the children one or two afternoons during their vacation, anyway. She hasn’t a thing to do. Not a thing.”

Among themselves the grandmothers did not say so much. They had gone to a sterner school. But it had come to this: Hannah was afraid to plan her day. So often had she found herself called upon to forego an afternoon at bridge, a morning’s shopping, an hour’s mending, even, or reading.

She often had dinner at Marcia’s, but not as often as she was asked. More and more she longed for and appreciated the orderly quiet and solitude of her own little room. She never analyzed this, nor did Marcia or Ed. It was a craving for relaxation on the part of body and nerves strained throughout almost half a century of intensive living.

Ed and Marcia were always doing charming things for her. Marcia had made the cushions and the silk lampshades for her room. Marcia was always bringing her jellies, and a quarter of a freshly baked cake done in black Lutie’s best style. Ed and Marcia insisted periodically on her going with them to the theatre or downtown for dinner, or to one of the gardens where there was music and dancing and dining. This was known as “taking mother out.” Hannah Winter didn’t enjoy these affairs as much, perhaps, as she should have. She much preferred a mild spree with one of her own cronies. Ed was very careful of her at street crossings and going down steps, and joggled her elbow a good deal. This irked her, though she tried not to show it. She preferred a matinee, or a good picture or a concert with Sarah, or Vinie, or Julia. They could giggle, and nudge and comment like girls together, and did. Indeed, they were girls in all but outward semblance. Among one another they recognized this. Their sense of enjoyment was un-dulled. They liked a double chocolate ice cream soda as well as ever; a new gown; an interesting book. As for people! Why, at sixty the world walked before them, these elderly women, its mind unclothed, all-revealing. This was painful, sometimes, but interesting always. It was one of the penalties–and one of the rewards–of living.

After some such excursion Hannah couldn’t very well refuse to take the children to see a Fairbanks film on a Sunday afternoon when Ed and Marcia were spending the half-day at the country club. Marcia was very strict about the children and the films. They were allowed the saccharine Pickford, and of course Fairbanks’s gravity-defying feats, and Chaplin’s gorgeous grotesqueries. You had to read the titles for Peter. Hannah wasn’t as quick at this as were Ed or Marcia, and Peter was sometimes impatient, though politely so.

And so sixty swung round. At sixty Hannah Winter had a suitor. Inwardly she resented him. At sixty Clint Darrow, a widower now and reverent in speech of the departed one whose extravagance he had deplored, came to live at the hotel in three-room grandeur, overlooking the lake. A ruddy, corpulent, paunchy little man, and rakish withal. The hotel widows made much of him. Hannah, holding herself aloof, was often surprised to find her girlhood flame hovering near now, speaking of loneliness, of trips abroad, of a string of pearls unused. There was something virgin about the way Hannah received these advances. Marriage was so far from her thoughts; this kindly, plump little man so entirely outside her plans. He told her his troubles, which should have warned her. She gave him some shrewd advice, which encouraged him. He rather fancied himself as a Lothario. He was secretly distressed about his rotund waist line and, theoretically, never ate a bite of lunch. “I never touch a morsel from breakfast until dinner time.” Still you might see him any day at noon at the Congress, or at the Athletic Club, or at one of the restaurants known for its savoury food, busy with one of the richer luncheon dishes and two cups of thick creamy coffee.

Though the entire hotel was watching her Hannah was actually unconscious of Clint Darrow’s attentions, or their markedness, until her son-in-law Ed teased her about him one day. “Some gal!” said Ed, and roared with laughter. She resented this indignantly; felt that they regarded her as senile. She looked upon Clint Darrow as a fat old thing, if she looked at him at all; but rather pathetic, too. Hence her kindliness toward him. Now she avoided him. Thus goaded he actually proposed marriage and repeated the items of the European trip, the pearls, and the unused house on Woodlawn Avenue. Hannah, feeling suddenly faint and white, refused him awkwardly. She was almost indignant. She did not speak of it, but the hotel, somehow, knew. Hyde Park knew. The thing leaked out.

“But why?” said Marcia, smiling–giggling, almost. “Why? I think it would have been wonderful for you, Mother!”

Hannah suddenly felt that she need not degrade herself to explain why–she who had once triumphed over her own ordeal of marriage.

Marcia herself was planning a new career. The children were seven and nine–very nearly eight and ten. Marcia said she wanted a chance at self-expression. She announced a course in landscape gardening–“landscape architecture” was the new term.

“Chicago’s full of people who are moving to the suburbs and buying big places out north. They don’t know a thing about gardens. They don’t know a shrub from a tree when they see it. It’s a new field for women–in the country, at least–and I’m dying to try it. That youngest Fraser girl makes heaps, and I never thought much of her intelligence. Of course, after I finish and am ready to take commissions, I’ll have to be content with small jobs, at first. But later I may get a chance at grounds around public libraries and hospitals and railway stations. And if I can get one really big job at one of those new-rich north shore places I’ll be made.”

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The course required two years and was rather expensive. But Marcia said it would pay, in the end. Besides, now that the war had knocked Ed’s business into a cocked hat for the next five years or more, the extra money would come in very handy for the children and herself and the household.

Hannah thought the whole plan nonsense. “I can’t see that you’re pinched, exactly. You may have to think a minute before you buy fresh strawberries for a meringue in February. But you do buy them.” She was remembering her own lean days, when February strawberries would have been as unattainable as though she had dwelt on a desert island.

On the day of the mirror accident in Peacock Alley, Hannah was meeting Marcia downtown for the purpose of helping her select spring outfits for the children. Later, Marcia explained, there would be no time. Her class met every morning except Saturday. Hannah tried to deny the little pang of terror at the prospect of new responsibility that this latest move of Marcia’s seemed about to thrust upon her. Marcia wasn’t covering her own job, she told herself. Why take another! She had given up an afternoon with Sarah because of this need of Marcia’s to-day. Marcia depended upon her mother’s shopping judgment more than she admitted. Thinking thus, and conscious of her tardiness (she had napped for ten minutes after lunch) Hannah Winter had met, face to face, with a crash, this strange, strained, rather haggard elderly woman in the mirror.

It was, then, ten minutes later than 2.07 when she finally came up to Marcia waiting, lips compressed, at the Michigan Avenue entrance, as planned.

“I bumped into that mirror—-“

“Oh, Mom! I’m sorry. Are you hurt? How in the world?… Such a morning … wash day … children their lunch … marketing … wall paper … Fifty-third Street … two o’clock …”

Suddenly, “Yes, I know,” said Hannah Winter, tartly. “I had to do all those things and more, forty years ago.”

Marcia had a list…. Let’s see … Those smocked dresses for Joan would probably be all picked over by this time … Light-weight underwear for Peter … Joan’s cape …

Hannah Winter felt herself suddenly remote from all this; done with it; finished years and years ago. What had she to do with smocked dresses, children’s underwear, capes? But she went in and out of the shops, up and down the aisles, automatically, gave expert opinion. By five it was over. Hannah felt tired, depressed. She was to have dinner at Marcia’s to-night. She longed, now, for her own room. Wished she might go to it and stay there, quietly.

“Marcia, I don’t think I’ll come to dinner to-night. I’m so tired. I think I’ll just go home—-“

“But I got the broilers specially for you, and the sweet potatoes candied the way you like them, and a lemon cream pie.”

When they reached home they found Joan, listless, on the steps. One of her sudden sore throats. Stomach, probably. A day in bed for her. By to-morrow she would be quite all right. Hannah Winter wondered why she did not feel more concern. Joan’s throats had always thrown her into a greater panic than she had ever felt at her own children’s illnesses. To-day she felt apathetic, indifferent.

She helped tuck the rebellious Joan in bed. Joan was spluttering about some plan for to-morrow. And Marcia was saying, “But you can’t go to-morrow, Joan. You know you can’t, with that throat. Mother will have to stay home with you, too, and give up her plans to go to the country club with Daddy, and it’s the last chance she’ll have, too, for a long, long time. So you’re not the only one to suffer.” Hannah Winter said nothing.

They went in to dinner at 6.30. It was a good dinner. Hannah Winter ate little, said little. Inside Hannah Winter a voice–a great, strong voice, shaking with its own earnestness and force–was shouting in rebellion. And over and over it said, to the woman in the mirror at the north end of Peacock Alley: “Three score–and ten to go. That’s what it says–‘and ten.’ And I haven’t done a thing I’ve wanted to do. I’m afraid to do the things I want to do. We all are, because of our sons and daughters. Ten years. I don’t want to spend those ten years taking care of my daughter’s children. I’ve taken care of my own. A good job, too. No one helped me. No one helped me. What’s the matter with these modern mothers, with their newfangled methods and their efficiency and all? Maybe I’m an unnatural grandmother, but I’m going to tell Marcia the truth. Yes, I am. If she asks me to stay home with Joan and Peter to-morrow, while she and Ed go off to the country club, I’m going to say, ‘No!’ I’m going to say, ‘Listen to me, Ed and Marcia. I don’t intend to spend the rest of my life toddling children to the park and playing second assistant nursemaid. I’m too old–or too young. I’ve only got ten years to go, according to the Bible, and I want to have my fun. I’ve sown. I want to reap. My teeth are pretty good, and so is my stomach. They’re better than yours will be at my age, for all your smart new dentists. So are my heart and my arteries and my liver and my nerves. Well. I don’t want luxury. What I want is leisure. I want to do the things I’ve wanted to do for forty years, and couldn’t. I want, if I feel like it, to start to learn French and read Jane Austen and stay in bed till noon. I never could stay in bed till noon, and I know I can’t learn now, but I’m going to do it once, if it kills me. I’m too old to bring up a second crop of children, I want to play. It’s terrible to realize that you don’t learn how to live until you’re ready to die; and, then it’s too late. I know I sound like a selfish old woman, and I am, and I don’t care. I don’t care. I want to be selfish. So will you, too, when you’re sixty, Martha Slocum. You think you’re young. But all of a sudden you’ll be sixty, like me. All of a sudden you’ll realize—-“

“Mother, you’re not eating a thing.” Ed’s kindly voice.

Marcia, flushed of face, pushed her hair back from her forehead with a little frenzied familiar gesture. “Eat! Who could eat with Joan making that insane racket in there! Ed, will you tell her to stop! Can’t you speak to her just once! After all, she is your child, too, you know…. Peter, eat your lettuce or you can’t have any dessert.”

How tired she looked, Hannah Winter thought. Little Martha. Two babies, and she only a baby herself yesterday. How tired she looked.

“I wanna go!” wailed Joan, from her bedroom prison. “I wanna go to-morrow. You promised me. You said I could. I wanna GO!”

“And I say you can’t. Mother has to give up her holiday, too, because of you. And yet you don’t hear me—-“

“You!” shouted the naughty Joan, great-granddaughter of her great-grandmother, and granddaughter of her grandmamma. “You don’t care. Giving up’s easy for you. You’re an old lady.”

And then Hannah Winter spoke up. “I’ll stay with her to-morrow, Marcia. You and Ed go and have a good time.”

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