Excerpt: Merry Taylor on Cape Cod
Excerpt from "Merry Taylor on Cape Cod"
Meredith was eighteen and restless. She loved her home; she loved her family. Her girlhood had been golden. But she felt that the golden part of her life was only the center of the rose, and something inside of her was opening - expanding - unpetalling - and it made her heart beat fast with anticipation. She didn’t know what it was; she didn’t know where she was to go. But she had to go. Yes, she had to go.
“I’ve sprouted wings, Mother,” Meredith said to her mother one evening, when they found themselves - surprisingly alone - on the back porch shelling peas.
Mrs. Taylor sat quietly. “What do you mean, dear?”
The girl sought the right words to capture the compelling urge in her heart. She scanned the spring field, hedged by woodlands. She knew every place of every birch, yet even the familiarity of the red barn, standing sentinel, had lost its comforting appeal.
“I’ve always been happy to stay at home, you know. I’m one of the most home-girls there are! But -”
“You feel it is time for a change.”
“Yes. Some of my friends have gone to college this year. Mary’s gotten married. Flora’s gone to Europe. Jane is taking that teaching position up in Dover. And I don’t mean to complain, but I’ve felt a little stagnant these past few months, and over the winter. Like, there’s something more - beyond this land, and even beyond our family - that I’m supposed to do.”
Mother considered this. “I think I know what you mean. I do believe that women who are married should learn to love their homes and be content to stay there. But a girl your age needs a little change. Why don’t you take a job in town this summer at the inn?” Mother seemed to like her own idea. “Your father and I might consider letting you board - I think that is what El MacPhereson’s mother is having her do. Or you can stay here and Papa can drive you out every morning and pick you up in the evening. That would give you a change of scenery. You’d meet new people… maybe even see a handsome out-of-towner.” She nudged Merry with unprecedented mischief.
“Mama!” remonstrated Meredith. “You make it sound as if I’d be on a man-hunt.”
“I am not saying that. Really, Meredith!” And Mrs. Taylor pulled herself up and retreated into her ante-bellum decorum.
But staying in town? To Merry, the plan to her felt like scraping the bottom of a jam jar. Too little jam for too big a slice of bread. How to tell Mama, who seemed so pleased with her idea?
“But… staying in town. I don’t know. I mean…”
Mother looked puzzled, as if to say, “What more should you want?”
“Mama,” said Merry. “I want to go - away. Perhaps far.”
Mother sat there. “How far do you mean?”
“I don’t know.”
Merry did not realize - perhaps a bit selfishly - how hard this was for her mother to hear. She was the eldest daughter, the first little bird to want to leave the nest, and Mrs. Taylor felt a hole already in her heart.
She pulled a new basket of peas onto her aproned lap. She wanted her daughter near home - allowably, with enough slack to feel independent, but close enough so that Mrs. Taylor could still “mother,” for her own sake if not for Meredith's.
She tried to speak sensibly to her. “You know, Merry,” she began, “living in town might be a lot more fun than you think. You are our country girl -” she smiled, and Merry smiled back - “But I remember my years in Concord as some of the most fun in my life. Of course, nothing compared to years with your father… but as for things to do. You should meet new friends and form a new set. My, Merry, with you and your sociability, you would take to life in town like a duck to water. The dances, the skating, the parties! Now, I know you have never really had that here -”
“I have lots of fun here,” Merry quietly contradicted. Mother was precariously flying near a sore issue, and her daughter wanted to control herself.
“But a dance, for example!” she persisted. “You’ve said you had no taste for that, yes? Yet living in town might show you that there are fun things to do that are entertaining - and decent - that other girls your age enjoy doing.”
Meredith would have said rebelliously, “I don’t want to be like other girls,” had she been fourteen. You see, Merry had had a different girlhood. She spent most of her days out in the sun and in the woods with her siblings, whom she counted very dear. She had a few friends, but they were close and true ones, girls and boys, and they enjoyed old-fashioned fun, such as hiking in the hilly wilderness of the oak forests of Massachusetts, swimming in the lake at night, and nut-picking in the autumn and eating the meat by the fire.
This was how Mr. Taylor had wanted her to live. Mother had also liked to see her strong and happy, but she still harbored memories of her own girlhood. Meredith had never cared to be in vogue; she thus never could shake the vague feeling of misunderstanding that had resulted between herself and her mother.
But now that she was older, and not so staunchly against the modish lifestyle, the thought of parties and dances were not - so - uninteresting to her. They even sounded pleasurable. And she did want new experiences, didn’t she?
“I think you’d like to go to a dance, Merry.”
Merry tempered herself and said gently, “Sounds like fun.”
Still, that was all she could get out. Despite her desire for growth, the fourteen-year old in her lived: and this spirit fumed against the proposed conformity, and coiled up against her mother's use of the phrase "other girls."
“Just think about it, dear,” said her mother, standing up kissing her goodnight. “I understand your want for new experiences.”
After Mother went in, Merry stood up and walked to the rail. She looked at her land. The sky was a deep blue by now and a couple of birds dipped through it. There was a soft refreshing breeze and she filled her nose with the familiar smells of the earth and the nearby woods. Those woods were her play land throughout childhood. But suddenly she wanted to go beyond it. She said out loud, “Something’s pushing me.”
“Is it?” said a voice behind her. She turned around and saw her father, standing behind the screen door. His eyes were crinkly. He opened the door and came out onto the porch. “You might want to get a tighter grip on that railing.”
Meredith laughed, but she was uncomfortable. She never liked to be caught in a reverie or in a tender moment.
He sat down on the wicker chair - the wicker bottom squished - and took from the breast pocket of his flannel shirt a packet of tobacco and proceeded to stuff his pipe, while Meredith stood in silence, not explaining. She watched his rough and stained fingers pinch and poke down the brown dry stuff.
Should she tell her father all that was going on in her mind? She knew she had to at some point - he was the one who would have to help her realize her plan. But her mother had not really given her a sympathetic response. Then she remembered how understanding her father was, and how his eyes looked, all brown and warm, and she plunged right in, saying impulsively, “Papa, I think I want to go somewhere this summer,” and then held her breath.
A moment. “Alright,” said Papa. He struck a match on the arm of the chair, and cupped his hands around the bowl and lit the pipe. He waved the match to extinguish it and blew out a wave of smoke.
“Alright?” said Merry.
“Your mother told me.”
Merry was slightly annoyed. “I wish she had let me tell you.”
Her father did not reply to that.
After a silence, during which Mr. Taylor stolidly puffed and leaned in his chair overlooking his land like a New England dragon, while blue light of evening started falling on the porch, Meredith said, “So… ‘alright’ as in, it’s okay, I can, I should? What do you think?”
“I like the idea,” said Papa.
“Seriously?” cried Meredith, elated. Her young face lit up.
“You’ve been faithful in helping your parents these past years,” said Papa comfortably. “I think we can afford to let you go somewhere by yourself for some time.”
“Oh, not like that, Papa - really, not like that. Don’t say it like this is a deserved break from me. That makes me feel so selfish. I want to see it as - as work. And if it helps the family, I can… maybe send back wages? Or if it’s too hard for the family… I won’t - I won’t go.”
He would not hear of her giving him any money she would make. As to being too hard for the family, he said in his reasonable way, not promising one thing or another, and not smoothing over facts: “Well, we’ll see. But it is good for a young one to start making their own money, and strike out on their own and broaden their horizons. Did you ever think what that really meant? I’ve been thinking about this even before you started thinking about it. See the blue line, with the bit of orange left, above the pine trees? That’s all you ever see.”
“I’m happy to see only that!”
“You don’t have to be defensive, Merrygold. You’re a good girl and have always been good to your mother and me, and content to be on a farm when other girls your age were at parties.”
She swallowed, not wanting her father to pity her.
“But you aren’t happy to see only that - not entirely. You want more, and that’s okay - that’s good. That’s a natural part of being a young adult. You want to stretch that orange horizon and go further and see where it ends and where the rest of God’s creation begins. He made young ones to be so. They are the stretches, the growers, the conquerors, the finders.”
“Yes, I like that,” said Merry, thinking of the challenge it gave her. “So you like it? You say yes?”
He smiled at her eagerness. “Merry, you haven’t even said where you wanted to go. I can’t say yes to nothing. Do you have any plans that you’ve thought about?”
“Oh.” Her face fell. “No, sir. I guess don’t really have any plans yet.”
“Well, how about this - I’ll let you fantasize a little more and we’ll talk practicals in the morning.” He tapped out the ashes against the arm of the chair. “It’s got to be reasonable you know, and make sense. We can’t just cannonball you to the moon or anything.”
Meredith smiled in her sunshine way. “My ideas may be starry, Papa, but they’re not that luny!"
Her joke was unsuccessful, as most puns are, but her father indulged her with a laugh.
“Well, now, eight-thirty. Bed by nine. Farmer’s rule. Early to bed and early to rise! When you’re in that fashionable world out yonder you’ll probably be up to four in the morning, eating bon-bons.”
“No, I certainly won’ t!” said Merry.
“Well, in bed by nine.” He stood and stretched. “Ah, I forgot. You’re an adult now. Guess I can’t be telling you when to go to sleep and what.”
She sprang at him, not liking this change. “No, Papa, I like you to tell me to go to bed,” she said, childishly. “I do.”
“Alright, Merry,” said Papa, rubbing her hair. He kissed the top of her head. “God bless you. Love you, honey-pie. Go to bed.”
“Yes, sir.” And she bobbed up and planted a goodnight kiss on his scratchy cheek like she had been doing since she was a little girl. It smelt like the earth of New England.