Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘So many places I never saw

May 6, 2007

“A woman of independent means” by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey

The heroine Bess Steed Garner wrote to her father when she learned that her mother left her rich in her will: “I never realized she was a woman of independent means.  I always attributed her sense of dignity and self-esteem to a more spiritual source.”  In May 5, 1909 Bess wrote her mother: “I will marry Rob this summer. Please don’t say anything to him as I want to be the first to tell him”.  She proposed to her long time friend from grade school because she was rich and he was poor and she knew that he wouldn’t take the next step before he is well off.

Bess lent her husband $20,000 in due legal papers and signed by two witnesses to be paid $1000 a year for twenty years. Rob reimbursed her the full amount within four years when his real estate business took off. When Bess was pregnant with her third child she went on vacation to Europe in 1913 with her two kids; she wrote to her mother-in-law: “Ever since Annie (her German helper) described to me the freedom accorded expectant mothers in Europe, I have been hinting to Rob that I would be happier spending the summer abroad. I would have felt at home this summer hiding behind shuttered windows.  It is ironic that the Old World is more permissive concerning the conduct of pregnant women than the New World. We may have won our freedom as a country in 1776 but in the area of feminine legal rights the battle is still raging.”

Rob died in 1919 due to the influenza epidemic that the US soldiers brought with them from Europe after WWI.  Bess was barely 27 and she decided to take over the board of directors of her husband’s insurance business; she opted to sell her house in order to pay the debts due to the rate of mortality that year instead of declaring bankruptcy; she convinced the employees to accept a reduced wage in compensation of shares in the company.

Bess lost her eldest ten year-old son to spinal meningitis while taking her family to spend the summer in Vermont on a farm.  Death was her Enemy and she encouraged her friends to fight it with their nails and teeth; she castigated those who sent condolence letters asking her to accept death as a way of life.  She writes: “Injustice makes villains of us all, and I am afraid I am going to lose more than my husband before I find enough charity in my heart to forgive those whose only sin is that they are still alive.”  At the death a friend that the kids knew very well she asked her second son to write a letter recalling the important moments in his life that the diseased made an impact on him.

Bess handled money as an important leverage to get her way by attaching checks as deposits or for advanced several months rent or tuitions or reservations.

When Bess’s kid daughter Eleanor was stuck by a car, Bess stayed by her side at the hospital for a whole year; Bess used to write Eleanor a letter every day about kids sending her letters from the clouds in the sky.  Bess sensed that the advent of automobile is going to be a scourge to humanity and she also predicted that aviation will keep husbands away on business trips with goals of building empires for profit.

“A woman of independent means” is written in the style of a series of frank and witty letters that Bess Steed Garner sent to family members, friends and officials that let her life unfold before us as a woman of independent means as well as independent in spirit. Her daughter fell in love with a young Italian Count until they visited with his family in Sicily.  Bess wrote her friend Totsie: “I cannot imagine any woman who is used to having her opinions received with respect, submitting by choice to such arbitrary authority of her husband”.

Bess sent her boy to the East of the USA for schooling so that he gets a better education and acquire a different cultural perspective than what is offered in Dallas.  She purchased lands around the provinces of Dallas because she forecasted that this city is bound to expand and made plenty of profit.

Her son and daughter being married with children Bess visited with her second husband the world every summer; she flew to Europe for the third time, Finland, Alaska, Hawaii and Mexico.  As most Americans, her second husband was very reluctant to go out of the USA because of the language barrier and the different life styles.

When on a trip to Mexico she offered to hold one of the babies of a Mexican woman in the bus and Bess was terribly hungry: “She offered me a banana and I ate it so hungrily that, four bananas later, we were fast friends.  My hunger had made me seem like a sister no matter what language I spoke”.  After Eleanor married and got three girls she started to reluctantly invite her mother Bess to luncheon that consisted of the younger generations and Bess to write her daughter: “How dare polite society segregate people on the basis of age?  I feel that when I am alone with you I am continually auditioning for the pleasure of your company.  I find myself apologizing for boring you with answers to questions you never asked”.

Bess even wrote her own obituary way ahead of her timely death and asked the editor of “The Dallas Morning News” to interview her so that he might fill in more complete information and then to send her the edited version for her approval. She also wrote the obituary of her ailing husband.  She used to amend her testament every year or when a new grand-grandchild comes to this world.  Those who benefited from her finances while she was alive she reduced the amount commensurate to allow the newly born a higher trust fund paid with quarterly checks.

I feel like writing almost verbatim Bess last unfinished letter to her favorite namesake granddaughter Betsy before she suffered a massive stoke.  Although it might not make mush sense to anyone who didn’t read the book it does make a lot of sense to me: “It is hard for me but I want you to know, Baby is beautiful.  Like child of Cloud Fairy. I want to hold.  Not just pictures.  When will we see? You can go and leave baby here.  I will hold tight to her hand.  Trust me. Soon baby will walk, thinking I am always behind. Guests are coming and Eleanor too.  Still no flowers are on the table.  I must go into the garden. Where did red birds go? So many places I never saw. This is a strange land. Sun never stops shining. I must call Sam so he can go to bed.  Then I can sail.  I am dining with Captain tonight. I want letters waiting.  Adieu.  Nana.”


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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