Chapter 3 – Maria
The last two weeks of June were a whirlwind of activity for the Girls Club. Maria couldn’t hide her delight with all the wedding preparations. She’d never been the center of attention before, and she loved it.
Beth finally made the big move out of her parents’ mansion. She found an apartment she could share with a young woman who was also a nurse at the hospital.
Grace Morrison had completed nursing school down in Iowa and moved to St. Paul from Dubuque to work in the hospital. Beth and Grace met when they attended an orientation at the hospital and they immediately hit it off.
The Girls Club was now six strong, and they were prepared to help Maria with her wedding plans.
Late Saturday Afternoon
Nettie and Maria huddled together at the dining room table in Nettie’s house. The two were placing the finishing touches on the hem of Maria’s wedding dress. The fabric was of the most beautiful silk, and the bodice was embroidered with beautiful daisies thanks to Nettie and her mother.
Beatrice Perkins entered the room in a rush, her cheeks flushed and her hair falling out of a normally perfect bun.
“I see the dress is nearly complete. I’ll have the maid of honor dress ready for you to hem in a few minutes.” She brushed past them to the buffet and poured herself a cup of tea.
“Have you thought about the flowers, Mother?” Nettie raised her eyes from her task.
“I have, dear. The red columbine is beautiful right now. I love how dainty it looks on the stem. Perhaps we can make a bouquet for our dear Maria out of the Columbine and some white satin ribbons.” Beatrice walked over and fingered a section of stitches on the hem of the dress.
“That’s a wonderful idea, Mrs. Perkins. I should very much like that.” Maria folded her hands in front of her chest and bowed slightly to Nettie’s mother.
Mother of the Bride
“Have you had a chance to talk to your mother about her dress?” Beatrice turned to face Maria as she sipped her sweetened tea.
“I have, thank you. Would it be possible for you to fit the dress this afternoon? It’s a bit large. The dress is what my mother’s mother wore to her wedding. Mother would very much like to continue the tradition.”
Beatrice smiled. “That’s a beautiful idea, Maria.” She walked over and placed a hand on Maria’s shoulder.
There was a knock at the front door.
“I’ll get it, Mother.” Nettie jumped up from the table and ran to the front door.
Edwin Holtzclaw tipped his hat to Nettie as she opened the door. “Good Afternoon, Miss Nettie.”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Holtzclaw.”
“It appears you have quite a bit of mail today.” He chuckled as he pulled a bundle out of his mailbag. The St. Paul Dispatch slipped from his hands and landed on the top step.
Nettie giggled as she bent down to retrieve it.
“I’m not as nimble as I used to be, Miss Nettie.”
“You’re perfectly suited for the job, Mr. Holtzclaw. With all the political ranting in this newspaper lately, it deserves to be on the ground instead of in my living room.” She slapped the newspaper across her palm.
“So, who do you think is going to be the new governor of the great state of Minnesota?”
“Father says the Prohibition Party shouldn’t even exist, so he’s discounted poor Mr. Holt completely. My mother tends to favor the Democratic candidate, Mr. Biermann. But, Father says any businessman worth his salt will vote for the Republican candidate, Lucius Frederick Hubbard.”
“Hubbard, huh? Well, we’ll see, Miss, we’ll see.”
Mr. Holtzclaw tipped his hat as he made his way back down the steps.
Nettie thumbed through the mail. There was an official-looking envelope in the mix with the state seal on it.
I wonder what that’s all about? She tossed the mail on the entry table and headed back to the dining room.
Maria twisted a curl around her finger. Victor was supposed to arrive at any minute. He was planning to bring the three friends who would stand up with him at the wedding to meet her parents.
A knock sounded on the front door.
Maria’s mother gave her a warning look as she walked past her to welcome their guests.
“Good evening, Mrs. Iannone.”
“Good evening, Victor.”
“I’d like to introduce you to my friends: Jonathan Wakely, Walter Dean, and William Edman.” The three soldiers stood stiff and tall in their uniforms.
“Welcome, gentlemen!” Maria’s father walked up quickly behind her. “This is my daughter Maria and her mother.”
The young men nodded to Maria’s mother as they stepped forward to shake her father’s outstretched hand.
“Something smells wonderful!” Victor winked at Maria.
Jonathan, Walter, and William nodded again, more enthusiastically this time.
Maria blushed as her mother hustled them all into the living room.
“So, Victor, tell me about yourself.”
Maria thought her father’s voice sounded a bit gruff. Why did he wait until now to question Victor? She felt the discussion was totally inappropriate in front of Victor’s friends.
“Yes, sir. To begin with, we live on five hundred acres of farmland south of the city. I was born in 1862 while my father served under Colonel Henry Sibley. He died during the Dakota War.”
Maria watched as Victor reached up and tugged at the corner of his mustache. It was a habit that was becoming very familiar to her when Victor was nervous.
“I’m sorry to hear that, young man. And your mother, may I inquire as to her health?”
“Again, sir, I apologize, but she died of scarlet fever when I was a small boy. I remember very little of her.”
Maria’s father frowned. “How unfortunate. Who raised you then, boy?”
“There were three brothers. My father’s name was Shaw Hoch. He and his brothers Phillips and Grambart inherited the farm when my grandfather died. So, Mother and I remained on the farm and helped my uncles with the livestock and crops.”
“That’s an admirable heritage, son. I’m pleased my daughter has chosen a man who understands hard work.”
“I can attest to Victor’s leadership qualities.” William nodded to Victor.
“And I can certainly vouch for his integrity.” Jonathan stepped forward.
The room fell silent until Maria’s mother asked if they’d all like some freshly made scones and tea.
A few blocks away from Maria’s home, Nettie and her parents were finishing dinner.
Nettie picked at her fish and chips as she thought about Maria’s wedding. She was delighted Maria had asked her to play the piano for the ceremony.
Bertha Carlson had a beautiful soprano voice and intended to sing “My Dearest Heart” by Arthur Sullivan. The two of them only had two more days to finish practicing before the wedding.
She glanced up at her parents. They’d been unusually quiet throughout the meal. Her mother was picking at her food while her father stuffed himself with second helpings.
The grandfather clock in the corner struck seven o’clock.
Beatrice rose to clear the table.
“Here, Mother, I can do that.” Nettie pushed her chair back from the table, grateful for an excuse to escape the uncomfortable silence.
“I need to talk to you, Nettie.”
Her father’s eyes were dull, and his face showed more emotion than she’d ever seen.
“Is Grandmother Cupp ill?” Nettie suddenly felt very unsettled.
“No, Nettie, she’s quite healthy. We have a problem with the bank. I’ve wanted to talk to you about it, but I thought things would work themselves out. That hasn’t happened.” He rubbed at his puffy eyes.
Nettie’s eyes grew wide in response. It must have something to do with the official-looking letter the postman delivered earlier.
“I don’t know how to put this gently, Nettie. We’re going to lose the house.”
“What? We can’t live here anymore?” Her thoughts went immediately to the Girls Club. They all lived within a mile of each other. Would they be forced to move so far away that it would be impossible to meet in the future? Why couldn’t her father be rich like Beth’s family?
“Your mother and I did everything we could to save the house, but it wasn’t possible. We’ve had to put so much money into the business to keep up with the new competition that we haven’t been able to meet the payments on the business loan. We pledged the house as collateral. They will be taking possession at the end of the month. We have to start packing up our things in the morning.”
“This can’t be happening, Father.”
“We are sorry, my dear. I know this is very difficult for you to understand. Your mother and I have talked about it for weeks, and we agree. We have to save the business. It’s the only thing that can bring us back.”
Homer Perkins paused and looked over at his wife for moral support.
Her head was tilted down toward her lap, where her hands twisted the cloth napkin back and forth.
“Richmond Blacksmithing is the toughest competitor I’ve ever run across,” he continued. “Henry Richmond’s shop is suddenly everyone’s choice. He has newer equipment and modern facilities. We’ve been struggling to bring our shop up to date. That’s the reason we fell behind on our loan payments. Things were comfortable until Henry started his business just down the street.”
“Where are we going to live?” Nettie couldn’t process all the information. Her parents never talked about finances. She knew they weren’t wealthy like Beth’s family, but she could never remember a time when she didn’t receive everything she needed.
“That’s the problem, Nettie. We’re going to have to move in with Grandma Cupp for a while.”
Nettie didn’t answer him. Her mind was spinning. Grandma Cupp’s house was a tiny cottage several miles away. Nettie spent a lot of time there when she was little. The house had a living room, kitchen, pantry, and two bedrooms. That was it. They couldn’t possibly all live there.
“Actually, no, I won’t have to. I intended to wait until after dinner to tell you my news, but this appears to be a perfect time.”
Nettie paused to collect her thoughts.
“Bertha has received an incredible offer from Menomonie, Wisconsin, to head a school there. The pay is double what she and I have been receiving here. Anyway, they have a second position, and they’ve asked her to fill it. She’s asked me to go with her. I couldn’t be more excited.”
Did that come out of my mouth?
The room exploded with silence. It felt stifling. Nettie struggled to get oxygen in her lungs.
Her father was the first to speak. “Is this what you wish to do, Nettie?”
“Oh, yes, Father. It is exciting. It’s a lumber town, and it’s expanding rapidly. I think the opportunities there will be just as large as St. Paul in a few years, and they’re desperate right now for trained workers. Bertha and I have been teaching for three years. We’re seasoned instructors now.”
Beatrice jumped up from the table and ran into the kitchen, crying.
“Mother?” Nettie started to stand.
“Nettie, please don’t. She’s been having a hard time with all this. She needs you to give her some time to process everything. She’s losing her house, and now she’s losing her daughter. That’s a lot for a woman to process in one evening.” Homer Perkins reached for her hand.
“Poppa, this is going to be hard on both of you.”
“Yes, it is, Nettie, but God willing, we will all get through it and be better people for it.”
Nettie was always amazed at her father’s passionate faith. It had never let them down. Would it this time? She chewed at her lower lip.
The day before the wedding was here. Nettie jumped out of bed and hurried to the mahogany washstand in the corner.
It was Sunday, and her parents would be getting ready for church already. She quickly poured some water from the pitcher into the bowl and washed her face.
The weather had been warm all week. Nettie hoped it wouldn’t rain before the wedding. At least, the preparations were complete.
She couldn’t wait for the ceremony. Maria was as excited as she’d ever seen her.
The newlyweds planned to spend their honeymoon at St. Anthony Falls.
As she prepared for church services, she chuckled at the memory of Bertha’s face when she told her of her decision. Bertha was ecstatic with Nettie’s decision to accompany her to Menomonie.
Nettie wasn’t nearly as excited. It was hard to decide whether she was more afraid of the unknown or the things she already knew about her new destination.
She hadn’t told Bertha or the other girls about her parents losing the house. No, she couldn’t bring herself to share the humiliation of it all. Everyone would know soon enough.
It hadn’t been easy to convince the girls to meet at their houses this week. She didn’t want them to see all the crates that were appearing in their living room now.
Thankfully, she had most of her things already packed for the trip to Wisconsin. She worried about her mother, though. The house had been the center of her business as a seamstress. How could she even continue at Grandma Cupp’s residence?
In addition to worrying about her parents, she couldn’t imagine how poor Grandma Cupp would deal with having her home disorganized with her parents moving in.
Today, her mother promised to help the Girls Club place the roses for the wedding at the end of the aisles at the Cathedral of St. Paul where Maria and Victor planned to exchange their vows. They had to wait until after morning mass, but there was plenty of time after lunch to get it done.
She wondered what it must be like to find a man who loved you as much as her father loved her mother.
Most of the girls she’d grown up with were already married. That’s the reason the girls formed the Girls Club. Four of the original five didn’t seem to fit in with all the married women anymore.
Her parents were waiting for her in the front yard when she came down the stairs. The services this morning would be the last time she’d probably see Reverend Cushnie, the Pastor of Central Presbyterian. Her mother had been so excited when they built the church there three years ago.
She adored Reverend Cushnie. He officiated when she was confirmed and made her jump through hoops when it came to her Bible studies and testing. It was his dedication to learning that inspired her to teach.
Why did everything have to change?
Maria’s Wedding Day
The wedding today was beautiful. I cried when Maria said, “I do.” She looked lovely in her dress. Beth helped her fix her hair and wound roses in with her braids. Victor was so very handsome in his uniform. I even danced at the wedding celebration after the ceremony with an extraordinary young officer named William from Fort Snelling.
Oh, Dear Diary, I wish I could stay and see him again. For once, a man appeared more interested in me than in Bertha.
Father Ebnet was gracious this week, allowing me to practice on their piano at the church. And Sister Leona was such a blessing to help me with the Catholic services and special music. She even stood beside me at the piano and helped turn the pages of the music so I wouldn’t get confused.
I’m frightened, Dear Diary. Bertha and I leave tomorrow morning. Mercy, I feel I shall die leaving my dear mother and father. Also, I worry so about Grandma Cupp. Will I ever see her again?
I’ve prayed so hard every night that I’ll wake up and everything will return to normal, but it hasn’t worked. Surely I must have done something that offended God for him to put me in this position.
I promise, Dear Diary, that I will send money home for Mother and Father to help them get back in a house again.
Oh, Dear Diary, I hope everything turns out for Bertha and me. At least I’ll have one friend in Wisconsin, but will it be enough?
God protect us and make this a righteous decision for both of us.
If you missed the first two chapters, you will find them at these links: