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Choosing a Mother-in-law

Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation

Nellie McClung, "Can a Woman Raise a Family and Have a Career?" Maclean’s (Feb. 15 1928).

I had come to a country neighborhood adjacent to the little town of Manitou, Manitoba, to finish the school year in a Hazel school, for a friend of mine, and on Sunday the family went to Sunday School, and I went, too. Clara and I went to the Young Ladies' Bible Class, and found the new minister's wife was our teacher. She was a strikingly handsome woman, in her early forties, and to my country eyes, at least, beautifully dressed in seal brown cashmere with smocked yoke and cuffs, and a moonstone brooch to hold her linen collar in place. She wore a velvet bonnet trimmed with folds of silk that made me think of the rosy tints of a winter's dawn, opalescent in their changing sheen; and her eyes—when looking into her eyes, I saw the browns and greens and gold of the moss in the meadow brook at home when the sunshine fell into clear stream.

The lesson, I remember, was the story of the Prodigal Son, and the group of 1892 flappers, with their hair in braids with the ends teased out, were not especially interested in the Prodigal Son coming or going. So I, being a teacher myself, and having sympathy for a fellow-sufferer, fell upon that lesson with fervor. I drew lessons, expanded thoughts, asked questions, repeated the golden text and was able to tell where it was found. Indeed, I can safely say without pride, I was the best girl in the class, and though I was probably detested by the others, I saw the gratitude in the teacher's golden brown eyes, and came home in an exalted mood—quite determined to keep to this breakneck pace of proficiency.

The family at home were greatly interested when we told them that the minister's wife had taught our class. A new minister's wife is always 'news.' Clara did her best to describe her, but even though she described the brown dress, velvet bonnet and moonstone brooch, I felt her description lacked something, authority, or conviction, or enthusiasm or something.

"In fact," I said, "she is the only woman I have ever seen whom I would like to have for a mother-in-law."

Clara's mother checked my enthusiasm by telling me the minister's wife had only two quite young boys.

I inquired their ages.

"Fourteen and ten."

Then, I pointed out that I was not quite sixteen, and what was two years' difference in ages anyway. It would never be noticed when he was fifty and I was fifty-two. Having put my hand to the plow, I was not going to be turned aside by two little insignificant years.

Six weeks later, Clara's mother brought back the news from town that the minister had also a big boy—eighteen years old, who had stayed behind in the East to complete his full, qualifying teaching term.

"So you may have your mother-in-law yet," she said to me, as I helped to carry her parcels into the kitchen; "but," she added, "he has red hair."

"I like red hair," I said. I hadn't known it until that moment, but I knew then I had always liked it.

The next day when school was over, I went to town. I was dressed in my best dress, a dark green cloth, trimmed with military braid and brass buttons, hair waved by taking thought and curling papers the night before; shoes polished— lard and lampblack—my pale complexion toned up a little by vigorous application of a hard towel. Afterwards I used a rose leaf from a hat, but I didn't know that method until later. I had no business or errand that night. I went to see the boy with the red hair who was working in the drugstore. I made no excuse either, remember; I made no pretence of being the Victorian maiden who sat on the shore waiting for a kindly tide to wash something up at her feet—not at all! Having seen something on the sky-line, rocking on the current, something that looked like treasure, I plunged boldly in and swam for it.

The young red-headed boy was in the drug-store, a tall, slim young fellow, with clear blue eyes, regular features and clean skin, like his mother. I bought a fountain pen, taking quite a little while to decide, and being guided entirely by his superior knowledge—which, come to think, wasn't too bad for a beginning, considering that I was an unsophisticated country girl, sixteen years old, and had never heard of 'Dorothy Dix.' I paid three dollars for the pen, my last three, and I wouldn't receive any part of my salary for a month. No matter, I paid over the money with a fine air of opulence, and came home well satisfied with the evening.

That was the beginning: he had no chance of escape after that—not a chance in the world. His mother and I had formed the entente cordial, which was destined to weather the years, never losing the radiance of that first day when I helped her to teach the Sunday School lesson to the members of the Young Ladies' Bible Class.  

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