Chapter 9 – New Life as Husband & Wife
Life in Menomonie was anything but easy in 1884. The logging industry of Maine had moved toward the Midwest by the 1880s. Between 1855 and 1884 the industry had increased by over 1,000 percent between the Chippewa Valley forests and the woods of Dunn County. Millions of dollars in lumber were harvested from the countryside.
Logging was one of the most dangerous of the professions in the 1800s. The men who worked in the mills and forests had numerous accidents caused by the implements used to fell and saw the trees. The men floating the logs downstream to the mills experienced even more hazards.
The Pastor’s Wife
Nettie worked side-by-side with Raymond in comforting the families hit by tragedy. She hadn’t experienced such tremendous calamity in her short life before. What with the deaths, amputations, and drownings the days were long and arduous. The first two hours of each day were spent helping the parishioners. She taught school the remainder of the day but often found herself offering aid after the dinner hour to those in need.
She spent many spring mornings during her first year of marriage tending to Albert Kennedy, a single man with no family to care for him. His hand became caught in one of the machines at the mill at the beginning of March.
Mr. Kennedy lost three fingers as a result of the malfunction. The doctor saved the thumb and forefinger, but Mr. Kennedy wouldn’t be working at the mill again any time soon. To prevent infection, they needed to change bandages daily.
He always asked her to read to him from the Bible before she left. It was the least she could do for the poor gentleman.
It was now two weeks after Easter Sunday, and Nettie was exhausted, but also beside herself with joy. No husband was more gentle or attentive than Raymond. There was nothing he wasn’t willing to do to make her happy. No girl had ever been as lucky as she.
Raymond was delighted when she presented him with satin, hand-embroidered cloths for the six liturgical seasons before Easter. Her mother taught her the sewing skills necessary to make works of art from a simple piece of cloth. His response was more than worth the long hours she spent on her surprise. The one for Easter looked beautiful on the altar.
Now, she watched as Crewsy cleaned up the floors of the Union/Central School. No matter how many times she told him he no longer had to stay after classes, he always appeared at the end of the day’s session with the broom in his hands.
She wondered what the poor boy’s home life must be like.
She could smell the soup warming over the fire. Crewsy would have a good meal again this afternoon before heading home.
Bertha hired three more teachers to assist with the student load that spring. Several of the lumberjacks erected a crude cabin near the school to house them. Life continued to change rapidly in Menomonie.
“Nettie, you radiate joy. I worry, though. Can you manage all the responsibilities of both teacher and minister’s wife?”
Her friend’s acknowledgment of the happiness in her life touched Nettie deeply. Others might have distanced themselves after the wedding. Bertha hadn’t looked at any man since the day Nettie married Raymond. She simply wasn’t interested in having a love life. There was too much work to do at the school now with Nettie gone.
“I think I may be slowing down next school term. You’re right; I didn’t realize how much more would be required of me when I married Raymond. It may be time to rethink teaching for the fall term.”
Bertha tipped her head to one side. “Is there something you want to talk to me about, Nettie?”
Nettie laughed. “Well, we should probably sit down and discuss interviewing a replacement.”
That evening, Nettie served a special dinner to Raymond.
He pushed his chair back from the table when he was finished eating.
“You’ve outdone yourself this evening, my dear.”
“I’m so glad you liked it. We’re getting to the end of the potatoes. I’ll have to store more this coming fall for the winter and spring months.”
Raymond started to stand, but Nettie reached out and placed her hand on his. “Do you have more duties this evening, or can we perhaps have a chat?”
A Husband’s Dedication
“My entire evening is devoted to you.” He leaned forward and gave her a passionate kiss.
Nettie pulled away, fanning her face. “Gracious, Mr. Henson, you are insatiable.”
“Is that such a surprise? I have the most beautiful wife in the city.”
“You will have the most beautiful baby in the city, too.”
He laughed but noticed Nettie wasn’t joining him. “Is there something you want to tell me?”
Nettie rose from her chair and walked over to Raymond’s side. “You’re going to be a father, Raymond. A new life is growing inside me.”
Raymond jumped up from his chair. He grabbed her waist in his hands and lifted her off the floor.
“Be careful.” Nettie’s laughter filled the kitchen.
Raymond gently set her back on the floor and took her in his arms.
The next morning before classes started, Nettie told Bertha her news.
“I felt so badly yesterday, but I wanted Raymond to be the first to know. Can you ever forgive me?”
“Nettie, of course, I forgive you! Your surprise is the best news I ever heard. I can’t wait to hold a tiny new baby in my arms. Somehow, I knew life in Menomonie was a good choice.”
“I want you to be the child’s godmother, of course. You will, won’t you?” Nettie danced around Bertha’s chair.
“Mercy, I can’t believe you’ve asked me to do that. Of course, I will. Oh, Nettie, we’re going to be the best mothers in the world.” Bertha hugged Nettie gently.
“I won’t break…at least, I don’t think so.”
“So, when is the baby due?”
“Well, I missed my monthly around the twentieth of April.”
“You’re going to have a Christmas baby!”
“No! I hadn’t gotten far enough in my thinking to try to figure it all out. Raymond didn’t even ask about the date when I told him last night. He was so overwhelmed by the thought of being a father that all he could talk about was building a nursery.”
“Have you told your parents?”
“No, Raymond and I discussed it, and we’re going to wait to tell them until school is out. He wants to take me to St. Paul to tell them. Do you think it will be safe? I mean, it’s still very early in the pregnancy.”
“I’m sure it will be, but I want to talk to Lucy Sprague.”
“Do I know her?”
“Probably not. Lucy attends the Catholic Church. She’s the midwife here or at least one of them.” Nettie giggled. “She’s the only one I’ve met, at least so far.”
“I agree, it’s a wonderful idea to talk to her. I’m too embarrassed to talk to the doctor about something like traveling.” Nettie brushed her hands across her stomach. She couldn’t wait for the life growing within to start moving. “Oh, I almost forgot to tell you, Raymond wishes for you to accompany us to St. Paul. He thinks I may need some female assistance on the journey.”
Getting Ready for Baby
It was nearing the end of June before the threesome returned from their trip to St. Paul.
Nettie was thrilled that one of the laymen agreed to lead the church services while they were away. That way, Raymond could be gone for two whole weeks.
Grandma Cupp welcomed them all, but the house was too tiny for any of them to stay there.
Instead, Bertha’s parents insisted they all come to their home. Everyone was relieved they could be together.
Now that they were back in Menomonie, Raymond was in a frenzy to prepare the proper furniture for the nursery.
Beatrice insisted they bring Nettie’s old cradle back to Menomonie with them. She’d slept in the same mahogany bed when she was a baby and believed it would please Grandma Cupp to no end if they used it for their new baby.
By the time they returned to Menomonie, the summer celebration was only a few days away.
The hardest thing for Nettie to accept that summer was that she and Raymond were unable to attend the Independence Day Celebration at the Wilson house.
Morning sickness overpowered any desire Nettie may have had to attend the festivities that day. She felt bad that Raymond wouldn’t be able to mingle with his parishioners, but he insisted he had dozens of things to do at home.
That evening, they retired to the front porch after dinner. Nettie and Raymond could see the fireworks from Wilson’s yard above the trees.
“We have a perfect life here, Raymond!” Nettie held his hand tightly.
Life returned to a normal routine for Nettie and Raymond. There were church services on Sunday, the numerous trips to minister to the sick and dying, and the unending funerals. She loved Wednesday evenings when she played the piano for choir practice. It was one of the highlights of her week.
Each evening, the two of them sat in the rocking chairs on the front porch after the evening meal. It was their special time of the day to discuss everything going on in their lives while enjoying each other’s company.
It was cooler outside in the evenings, and Nettie believed the cool breezes helped keep her from getting ill immediately after eating.
This particular evening, Raymond waited for her out on the porch when she finished the dishes. She thought it odd he left the kitchen so quickly. He was always so good at helping dry the china after she washed it.
“I have a surprise for you, dear.” Raymond’s face glowed in the light of the setting sun.
“Raymond! You built a porch swing.” Nettie rushed to his side.
“I thought it might be a perfect place to rock the baby.”
Nettie let him take her in his arms. “You are the most wonderful husband in the world.”
Raymond helped her safely into the swing.
“So, have you considered names for the baby at all? We should probably think about it.”
“I was hoping we could name the baby Martha if it’s a girl. That’s Grandma Cupp’s first name, Martha Louise Cupp.”
“I love the name. My great-grandmother carried the same name. It’s perfect!”
“Perhaps we can choose Virginia for the middle name.” Nettie ran her fingers through Raymond’s hair.
“My mother’s name? Oh, Nettie.” Raymond cupped her cheeks in his hands as he gently kissed her lips.
Bertha threaded her needle. She’d worked for weeks on the baptismal dress for the new baby. She planned to give it to Nettie for Christmas.
Outside, a light coating of snow covered the lawn.
The Thanksgiving holiday ended tomorrow and classes would resume. But, life wasn’t the same without Nettie by her side. She missed the easy banter that used to fill her evenings. Her new roommate was a sweet girl and a good teacher, but she wasn’t Nettie.
Bertha reached over to the side table and picked up the letter from her mother again. The news was disturbing. Her father fell on the ice after a period of freezing rain and broke his leg in three places. The doctor wasn’t sure if he’d be able to walk again, and her mother spoke of the tremendous anger and frustration he was showing her.
Oh, Mother, I wish I could be there to give you comfort. I remember how Father always took out his frustration on the two of us. It’s so unfair. Funny, I should feel guilty about not being there, but I’m not. You deserved a man like Raymond, and I’ll settle for nothing less.
Menomonie is where I’m supposed to be.
She read the letter again. Her father hated his life in a wheelchair. How in the world did her mother even help get him in and out of it? Perhaps their neighbor, Mr. Clarke was helping.
She lit the lantern. It was getting too dark to see her stitches properly in the waning light.
There was a knock at the front door of the school.
Setting the garment aside, Bertha descended the stairs to see who was there.
“Mr. Rogers?” Bertha said.
“Yes, ma’am. The pastor sent me to fetch you. It’s the missus.” Charles Rogers fiddled with the brim of the hat he held in his hands, as his hair began to fill with snow.
“Let me gather my things together. I’ll only be a minute.” Bertha fought the tears filling her eyes.
It’s too soon, Lord. Please give me the strength to see Raymond and Nettie through this.
She grabbed her coat off the hook and threw it on as she stuffed her feet into the boots by the door. Pulling on her woolen garment, she was out the door before she had her gloves on.
The drive through the deepening snow seemed to take forever.
Raymond stood by the bed at Nettie’s side when Bertha rushed in. “Nettie, what can I do?”
Nettie looked so small and frail in the bed, except for the large lump in her belly.
“Oh, Bertha, I’m so relieved you’re here. I’ve been desperately frightened.” Nettie’s face was blotched, and the long curls hanging in front of her ears were wet with sweat.
“I’m here now. I don’t want you to worry about anything, Nettie. Whatever you need me to do, I’ll do it.” The question was evident in her eyes when she glanced over at Raymond.
“Lucy Sprague is in the kitchen preparing a hot toddy. The doctor thought it might help. Nettie said the contractions started about two hours ago. They were hard at first, but they’ve eased some.” Raymond ran a hand through his hair.
“Why don’t you go check on Mrs. Sprague? I’ll make certain Nettie is settled and comfortable.”
Raymond nodded, anxious to leave the women alone during the female discussions.
“I don’t understand, Nettie. The baby isn’t due for another month.”
Nettie sniffled. “I know. The doctor says it’s not unusual to have labor pains this early, but he says they’re normally not this strong nor do they last as these have. He told Raymond I may have to stay in bed until the baby comes now.”
“Is there anything I can get you?” Bertha took her friend’s hand. Her heart ached for the one person who had always been her rock in life. She and Nettie walked in separate bodies, but their hearts and souls had been joined since childhood.
“Please don’t leave me, Bertha. I don’t know what to do, and I’m so afraid.”
“I’m here, and I’m not leaving.”
“I had a dream last night. It was awful, and now it’s happening.” Tears slid down her flushed cheeks.
“Shh. Mother always says it’s not good to talk about dreams, you’ll make them come true.”
The doctor confirmed what Nettie told Bertha. He was determined it would be best for Nettie to remain in bed until the baby was born.
Understandably, Bertha refused to leave her friend’s side during the following weeks. She cooked all the meals, did the laundry, and kept the home spotless. Mrs. Denton covered for her at the school. She was a teacher in Eau Claire before her children were born, and was more than qualified to take Bertha’s place in the short-term.
One afternoon, two weeks before Christmas, Bertha and Raymond found a beautiful white pine tree in the woods behind the house. They cut it for the living room for the holidays.
A few days later, Raymond gently wrapped Nettie in a blanket and carried her to the living room after dinner. The tree was aglow with candles and covered with small decorations made from bark, ribbons, and berries.
Christmas at Home
“It’s the most beautiful tree I’ve ever seen,” Nettie said.
There were a dozen presents beneath the tree.
“What in the world? Where did all these gifts come from?”
“Santa comes to Wisconsin, too, Mrs. Henson.” Raymond brushed a strand of loose hair behind her ear.
“We have a surprise for you.” Bertha hurried out to the kitchen and came back carrying a tray with three bowls of bread pudding and three cups of steaming hot cider. “It’s about time we show a little holiday spirit around here.”
“How lovely!” Nettie cupped the warm bowl in her hands.
The logs in the fireplace crackled and spit flames up the chimney.
Nettie glanced over at the window. It was completely frosted over, so she couldn’t see the soft snow falling outside.
If you haven’t read the previous chapters, you can find them below: