(A novel by Susan Overturf Ingraham)
Hastings, Nebraska, July 1911
[Janie McAlan and Simon Cullen share a special day.]
I will always remember this day: Saturday, July 15, 1911, Janie thought. She had drawn a circle around the date just a month before — soon after Simon had disembarked from the train. Thankfully, he had returned, like Coleridge’s ancient mariner, a sadder yet a wiser man. Anxious to begin their lives together, they had planned carefully: a manager’s job in accounting confirmed for Simon at the German National Bank, a wedding date, a place to live, some furniture to fill the rooms, and a wedding dress for Janie.
Janie checked herself one last time in the small mirror above her dresser. She had made her own dress: simple white linen with no frills, suitable for a wedding but practical for future use. She would be wearing no veil, and certainly nothing as huge and conspicuous as a Gainsborough hat. She had found the simplest of hats: beige straw with a wide brim but low brow. On the left brim: a small blue flower attached to a red band around the brow. Aunt Sarah and Grandmother would be proud of me, she thought. I have been faithful to Simon, and I have also been practical, planning an inexpensive and simple wedding.
Only Simon and Janie would be at the wedding: no relatives, no friends. “There’s no sense putting an emotional or financial burden on my family,” Simon had said to Janie when they first started planning.
“Won’t they be hurt?” she had asked.
“Few of them could come anyway, Janie. My pa’s too ill to travel, my siblings and their families are spread all over Nebraska and have large families with long distances to travel. No, they’ll understand. But what about your family?”
“Aunt Sarah and her husband have three girls to take care of; they couldn’t afford to travel here from Illinois. Grandmother’s gone — four years now! — and Grandfather‘s too ill to travel.”
Simon nodded his understanding. “And your father?”
“Oh, he and his wife and their son might come, I suppose. But every time I invite my father to something, he ignores me and my feelings get hurt. I think only Aunt Amelia will truly be hurt.” Janie had been living in Hastings with her aunt, her father’s sister, for two years.
“She’ll no doubt get over it.”
And that had been the end of their conversation. They planned their wedding for a Saturday: on the day when Aunt Amelia always went to Lincoln to shop.
Janie checked herself again in the mirror. I look all right, she thought. I’m not beautiful, but I’m petite and that’s a commendable quality. Aunt Sarah and Grandmother had always told her that being a good person inside is what really counted. Her hair, pulled into a bun at the back of her head, made her look older than twenty-two. She wore a simple gold locket around her neck — a gift from Simon. After the wedding, she planned to put a picture of the two of them inside it.
Simon would soon arrive. Janie left the small bedroom where she had lived for the past two years. She reached the top of the stairs and descended slowly; as she came to the bottom, she heard Simon’s knock at the front door. Crossing the foyer, she opened the door, smiling shyly at a nervous Simon, who stood on the porch in his best suit. Their eyes met and she gave him a big smile. He greeted her like a small child on his first outing by grinning from ear to ear and handing her a lovely bouquet of white and purple sweet peas.
“Good afternoon, Miss McAlan.” Simon saluted her. “You are looking especially lovely on this wonderful July day. Is there a special reason for that?”
“Why yes, Mr. Cullen,” she smiled in return, enjoying the game. “I’m getting married today!”
“What a lucky young man he must be,” Simon countered. “I do so envy him, I truly do. Do you think he will mind if I escort you to the church? I can’t really imagine why he would not be here to do it himself, but I‘ll gladly take his place.”
Janie laughed. “Why, of course, Mr. Cullen. I’d be delighted if you would escort me.” She smiled up at him and Simon’s heart melted. He had to remind himself why he had delayed this marriage for a year and could only respond to his personal chastisement with a mental shake of the head: he didn’t know. Nothing I did on that trip, he thought, can compare to this moment.
They had a short walk to the church: three blocks south down Hastings Avenue, a right turn on Fourth, and then one block west to Lincoln. On the corner of Fourth and Lincoln Avenues stood the First Presbyterian Church, where Simon and Janie had an appointment in the study with the pastor of the church, Rev. C. W. Watson.
“We chose a perfect day, didn’t we?” Simon asked his bride as they walked along.
“Yes we did. It’s lovely — warm but not hot. Fluffy white clouds and blue sky. And listen to the birds, Simon.”
“Yes, I hear them.”
“And smell the lilacs,” Janie said, as she walked over to a bush and leaned in to smell one flower. She smiled at Simon and then they walked on.
“No regrets?” He looked carefully at her face.
“No regrets, Simon.” No hesitation in her voice.
“What about those teaching days?” Simon asked with a grin.
“No, no more teaching days for me. You know how I hated those older boys! I’m going to be a wife and a mother.”
Simon already knew that Janie had disliked teaching. He had asked, merely to reassure himself. “I think I like this idea of a weekend, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do, too. People shouldn’t have to work six days a week, anyway.”
Simon stopped his bride and turned her to face him. “Janie, I know I asked you already. But I’ll ask again. No regrets, right? I’m not the perfect man, you know. You could do much better than me.”
“Mr. Simon Cullen, don’t be ridiculous! You know how I feel about you!”
“I’m just a poor, humble farmer, Janie. At heart, that’s all I am.”
“And what, sir, do you think I am? A descendant of the King of England?”
Simon laughed. “Well, no, not quite that.”
“Well, never think it again, Simon. My mother was Irish, and my grandparents came here as poor and humble farmers. My father’s family came from Scotland and Holland. And remember the gossip on that side of the family!”
Simon frowned. Janie had probably told him this story before, but he didn’t want to admit that he’d not been listening.
“You weren’t listening when I told you that, were you?”
Simon slowly shook his head. “Maybe. Maybe not. What are you talking about?”
“My great-grandmother! She had two daughters out of wedlock. No one knew for sure who the father was. Some said that her brother-in-law was the father, others suggested that the two girls looked as though they had Indian blood.”
“Oh, my, yes, now I remember!” Simon laughed. “What a scandal! Maybe I can’t marry you after all. Heavens, I don’t know your heritage! You might have” — and Simon put his hand on his forehead — “Indian blood!” He walked a few steps ahead of her and then turned to face her. “Janie, my mother will think I’m crazy!”
Janie lightly hit Simon’s shoulder with the back of her hand. “Oh, Simon, be serious!”
“I am. I am. I‘ll have to cancel the wedding.”
Simon leaned down and kissed his young bride on the lips.
“Simon, someone will see!”
“Let them.” And Simon kept holding his bride and looking down at her face. Slowly, they slipped apart and walked again in silence. Within a few minutes, they arrived at the door of the pastor’s study.
Rev. Watson greeted them with a friendly smile and a handshake. “Come in, come in, Simon and Janie. It‘s so nice to see you. Everything is ready. Mrs. Armstrong will be one of the witnesses and Irene Fisher will play the piano. Do you have the rings, young man?” Simon groped in his pocket and withdrew two rings, wrapped in a handkerchief, and handed them to Rev. Watson.
Mrs. Armstrong and Irene Fisher arrived on schedule and introduced themselves. Irene sat down at the piano and set up her music. Mrs. Armstrong took the rings, holding them carefully in the palm of her hand. Rev. Watson led Simon to the far end of the study, facing the hearth, and Mrs. Armstrong took Janie’s hand and led her down the hall so that she was temporarily out of sight.
The minister and the two women had arranged many of these ceremonies before, but for the benefit of each nervous young couple, they tried to make each ceremony unique. To lend an air of sophistication and solemnity, Rev. Watson wore his minister’s robes and had his hair combed straight back, smooth and tidy. Mrs. Watson, although not there now, had thoroughly cleaned the room that morning and placed fresh white daisies and pink roses in three large vases: one on the mantel, one on the piano, a third on Rev. Watson’s desk. Irene Fisher, the young pianist, wore a simple long-sleeved blue dress with lace at the cuffs, accenting her long, slim fingers, so perfect for piano playing. Mrs. Armstrong, a much older woman than Irene, had long gray hair which she had tastefully pulled back and tied with a dark ribbon. Oddly, she wore a black dress, perhaps so as not to compete with the bride, but certainly as a striking complement to her lightly-coloured hair.
The young bride noticed little of this. Once out of Simon’s view, Janie panicked. “How are you holding up, dearie?” Mrs. Armstrong asked Janie while she took hold of Janie’s hand and patted it. She smiled with encouragement. She had held the hand of many a nervous bride.
“Oh, I’m fine, just fine.” Janie‘s heart pounded and her hands sweated around the stem of the bouquet. She remembered her dying mother’s wish: “Love your Aunt Sarah as though she were your mother.” What would she be like now, Janie thought, if she were here with me? Janie would have given anything to have had her mother with her now. How odd that I still miss her, she thought. Janie turned to look at Mrs. Armstrong. “I wish my mother could be here today.”
Mrs. Armstrong supposed that the young woman’s mother lived too far away to come or perhaps she didn’t approve of the marriage. It had never been her responsibility to learn about such things. She had had a happy marriage and she hoped that every bride would also find happiness, and so she responded to Janie’s comment innocently: “Wherever she is, my dear, she knows that you are happy.”
Yes, I suppose she does, Janie thought.
She considered her mother no longer and focused on her future husband. Is it a mistake? Am I doing the right thing? Will Simon make a good husband? Will I be a good wife?
Irene Fisher began to play the piano.
Well at least I’m getting married which is better than my great-grandmother did!
“This is it, dear,” said Mrs. Armstrong. “You go in alone. I’ll follow.” Janie glanced behind her as Mrs. Armstrong gently placed her hand on the middle of Janie’s back and guided her towards the door. Irene Fisher played the traditional wedding march, and Janie heard the floor creak beneath her as she stepped into the room and took just six steps to reach Simon’s side. As the young couple said their vows, Mrs. Armstrong approached, waiting for the moment when she would give them their rings.
The brief ceremony ended when Rev. Watson said, “You may kiss the bride.” Later, Simon would only remember the kiss while Janie remembered the bouquet of purple and white sweet peas, and her brief conversation with Mrs. Armstrong in the hallway. After the ceremony, they signed the marriage certificate, and said their good-byes. As they left the minister’s study, Mrs. Armstrong and Irene Fisher threw a bit of rice at them.
Outside, in the warm July sunlight, Simon stopped and turned to his new wife. “I’m sorry there‘s no honeymoon, Janie, but there will be. Some day, I promise. My father always promised my mother a house, and she finally got it, but it took twenty-four years.”
Janie giggled and frowned. “Oh, dear, I hope it doesn’t take twenty-four years.” She smiled and looked up at her husband. “Simon, it doesn’t matter. I don’t need a honeymoon. I just need you. Let’s go get our clothes changed and get our things moved to our house, Mr. Cullen.”
“Yes, Mrs. Cullen, a great idea.” Simon escorted Janie back to her aunt’s house. “I’ll go get my things and come back here for you, all right?”
Janie stepped inside. I’m married! she thought. My life begins today with Simon Cullen in Hastings, Nebraska. We will have a family, and set deep roots in the Nebraskan soil.
- Continue to Chapter 8.
- Refer to Family Tree to keep relationship of characters in mind.
- Return to Family Legacies Table of Contents.
Disclaimer: While it is true that my characters were inspired by my own genealogical study, I could not and did not know my ancestors with the same intimacy that I have created in my characters. Therefore, let it be said that these characters are fictional and created from my own imagination. Similarity to persons living or dead is unintentional and coincidental.