(A novel by Susan Overturf Ingraham)
Kearney, Nebraska, April 1915
[Lizzie Donohue passes the time, waiting to hear from Lars Jacobsen.]
Professor Little droned on while Lizzie struggled to take appropriate notes: “When the railroad first went through Nebraska in 1866,” he told his class, “new towns grew up along the way. In 1871, the government abandoned Fort Kearney, which once had guarded travellers on their way west on the Oregon Trail, but an enterprising postmaster moved the post office a couple of miles west and named it Kearney City.”
Lizzie sniffled and blew her nose. Professor Little’s words meant little to her. What a silly course, she thought. How‘s this going to make me a better teacher? "History 103: The History of Kearney and Buffalo County." I’m never going to teach in Kearney! Still, she had to pass all her courses to earn her teaching certificate. So, she forced herself to concentrate on Professor Little’s words.
As she attempted to do so, her friend and roommate, Evelyn King, slipped her a piece of folded paper. Lizzie opened it and read: “There’s a letter waiting for you.” Lizzie smiled and looked over at Evelyn who winked at her.
“Lars?” Lizzie wrote on the piece of paper and held it up for Evelyn to see.
Evelyn nodded her head and mouthed, “Of course. Who else?”
Lizzie closed her eyes and pictured Lars in her mind. Oh, so handsome, she thought. I’ll be Mrs. Lars Jacobsen yet!
Professor Little continued, and Lizzie took notes only half-heartedly: “By 1903, Kearney was a city of more than 7,000 people. Most homes were connected to water, eletricity, gas, and a city sewer system. Kearney had fourteen churches, a public library, and an opera house.”
Lizzie rolled her eyes. Who cares about city water systems? she thought. I‘d rather live in Hastings as Mrs. Lars Jacobsen. She began to doodle on her paper, writing “Lars Jacobsen” in large letters. Underneath that she wrote “Mrs. Lars Jacobsen.” And then: “Mr. and Mrs. Lars Jacobsen.” She no longer heard Professor Little‘s words.
Lizzie awoke from her daydream to hear the professor say: “I think we’ll end it there, ladies. There will be a test on this section of the course in one week. Don’t forget that your assignment is due at our next class session. Class is dismissed.”
As everyone rose to leave, Lizzie joined Evelyn.
“Is there really a letter from Lars? You’re not just teasing me, are you?”
“No, I’m not. I found it in our mail this morning and I put it on your bed.”
“Oh, thank heavens! I was beginning to think that man would never write again!”
“Nonsense, Lizzie. You know the man adores you.”
Lizzie rolled her eyes. “Sometimes I wonder. We’ve known each other for four years and he still hasn’t proposed.“
“I didn’t realize you had dated in high school.” The two young women left the classroom and walked out the main door of the building. They stood on the step which overlooked a large grassed area. Across the square was their dormitory.
Lizzie continued to enlighten her friend. “We didn’t date at first. I’d lived in Heartwell, remember, and went to a one-room school there. Then I moved to Minden and lived with my aunt while attending Minden High School. We met in our junior year, but Lars didn’t pay much attention to me until we were seniors. I was valedictorian of my class; I took my school work seriously. Lars just wanted to have fun. I liked him, but I thought he needed some growing up to do. I figured I’d have to wait for him!” Lizzie pulled out her handkerchief and blew her nose. “I wish this cold would go away. It’s such a pretty day, but I can’t appreciate it.”
“Oh, you’ll feel much better as soon as you read that letter from Lars.” Evelyn winked again at Lizzie.
As the two friends left the academic building, Lizzie took in a big breath of air and turned her face to the sun. It felt warm and comforting, especially after being inside a stuffy classroom. Maybe she didn’t have a cold after all, she thought; maybe I just need sunshine and fresh air.
“Aren’t the trees pretty, Evelyn?”
“They are. I think that spring is on its way. I always love April.”
“And smell the lilacs! Hmm, I always love lilacs. Even with my cold, I can smell the lilacs.“ Lizzie stopped. “Shall we cut across the grass?”
“I don’t know. It looks pretty wet.”
Lizzie touched the grass with the toe of her boot. The ground sunk beneath her foot and water oozed out on both sides. “It doesn’t look too bad. Come on, it’s shorter this way.”
Evelyn shook her head but reluctantly agreed. They headed across the large lawn instead of following the wooden sidewalk, seeing water and mud ooze after each step. “Lizzie, I’m going to ruin my boots!”
Lizzie laughed and ran ahead of her, hopping from high spot to high spot, avoiding the soggier low areas. “Come on, Evelyn, hurry up!” She arrived first at the entrance to Green Terrace, their dormitory, and waited for her friend. “There, see, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“You’re always making me do things I shouldn’t, Lizzie Donohue. Just look at my boots. They’re ruined.”
Lizzie looked down at her friend’s boots, now wet and muddy from their walk across the soggy grass. “Oh, they’ll clean up just fine. Come on. Let’s go.” She took Evelyn’s hand and together they walked inside. “You really must learn to enjoy life, Evelyn. Coming from a family of six siblings, I know all about having fun.”
Evelyn giggled. “Well, you do tend to make me do things I would normally never do.”
Lizzie winked. “Good! I’m glad to hear I’ve been a good influence on you.”
They entered the foyer and headed for the large staircase which led to the second floor of rooms. Lizzie led the way and, as they climbed the stairs, Evelyn asked, “Are you going to leave before this term is over?”
Lizzie stopped and looked back at her friend. “What do you mean?”
“Well, don’t you think Lars is going to ask you to marry him?”
Lizzie rolled her eyes, and raised her hands to the heavens. “I wish!”
“Would you drop out of school if he asked?”
“In a hearbeat. I already have a wedding ring picked out!“ She reached out her hand and said, “Come on, let’s hurry.” Evelyn took Lizzie’s hand and followed her friend up the stairs, both girls laughing as they ran.
As they reached the door of their room, Lizzie added, out of breath: “You know, for two years I’ve wanted to marry Lars Jacobsen. He’s smart, talented, and funny. He likes the same things I like: money, expensive things, a social life. I just wish I knew what he really thinks about me! He never says enough!”
Evelyn opened the door and walked into their room. “Maybe he’ll say something you want to hear this time.”
Lizzie followed Evelyn in. “Maybe. I wonder why he hasn’t written in so long. He knows how much I want to hear from him. Men! Why are they so difficult?”
“Because they just are. Just wait and see. He won’t even say why he hasn’t written for a month. He’ll just start right in as though everything is the same as always.”
“Oh, you’re probably right.”
Evelyn undid her boots and put them on a mat to dry out. “I’ll spend an hour cleaning these up, thanks to you.”
Lizzie picked up the letter and read it; only one page, it didn’t take long to read.
Evelyn waited in silence but as soon as Lizzie looked up from the letter, she said, “Well, what does it say? Don’t keep me in suspense, Lizzie!”
Lizzie frowned; she looked as though she might start crying. Evelyn rushed over and put her arms around Lizzie’s shoulders. “Oh, Lizzie, no. What’s happened? Has he found someone else?”
Lizzie smiled and said, “No! He asked me to marry him!”
“Oh, Lizzie, stop that!“ She hit Lizzie gently on the shoulder. “Why did you make me think otherwise?”
“Just having a little fun. Come on, it was a joke!” Lizzie stood up and hugged her friend. “Aren’t you going to congratulate me?”
“Congratulations,” Evelyn said, still angry at her friend’s joke. She turned and crossed the room to her bed and sat down. She pouted, but her mood improved. “I know how happy you must be! I’m happy for you, Lizzie.”
Lizzie sat down at her desk and read the letter again.
“Tell me what he said, Lizzie.”
“Well, typical of Lars, he’s a bit vague, but I know what he means.”
Evelyn frowned and laid back on her pillow. “Lizzie, are you putting more into this than there really is?”
“Of course not! He says he’s doing well in school and he has some job offers. And then he says, and I quote, ‘It just might be possible that the two of us have a future together if I can find a way to support myself. Would you be willing to forget about getting your teaching certificate?’”
“That’s a marriage proposal?“ Evelyn sat up again and stared at her friend. “Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure,” somewhat indignant that her friend didn’t believe her. “He wants me to give up my education and come to Hastings and get married.” She pointed to the letter, as though that would make her words more convincing.
Evelyn sat cross-legged on her bed. “But he doesn’t actually say that, does he?”
“Oh, Evelyn, stop being silly. I know what he means.” Lizzie stood up and looked out the window, beginning to get annoyed with Evelyn.
Evelyn slipped off the bed and came to stand beside Lizzie. She put her arm around her waist and they looked out the window together. “Well, Lizzie, I know how much you’ve waited for this, and I thought you might be imagining things. I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings.”
Lizzie put her arm around Evelyn. “It’s fine, Evelyn. I’m not mad.” She gave Evelyn a hug.
Evelyn stepped away and started changing her clothes. She wanted to get out of her school dress and into something more comfortable for studying, probably just a lighter wrap-around dress. “What will your parents say?”
Lizzie shook her head and made a dismissive movement with her hand. “Oh, I’m not worried about them!” She continued to stare out the window so Evelyn could not see her face.
“But you said that they didn’t like him, didn’t you?”
Lizzie agreed. “They don’t. He’s Danish, not Irish. He’s Lutheran, not Catholic. They wanted me to marry a nice Irish-Catholic boy and settle down in Heartwell. Or at least in Minden. My mama has always dreamed of having all of us marry and live within miles of each other, or even live with them on the farm.” Lizzie turned from the window and sat down again at her desk.
Evelyn lifted her nose. “Oo. That‘s dreadful. I’d never want to live with my family, all on one farm. You might live in Minden, though, right?” Evelyn looked at her meagre choice of clothes and chose a light black sweater and a dark, pleated skirt. They were not her best clothes: the sweater had a small tear in it, and the skirt needed pressing. But they would do for casual wear.
Lizzie turned to look at her friend. “You look like you’re going on a date!”
“These old things? Nonsense!” Evelyn laughed.
Lizzie returned to the conversation about Lars. “Lars has often talked about working in his father’s company. I’ve tried to talk him out of that, though. His father is impossible. And Lars’s parents don’t like me any more than my parents like Lars.”
Evelyn frowned. “None of this bodes well for your future happiness, Lizzie. When parents say no to a relationship, young people like to defy their parents and prove them wrong. Are you sure you’re not attracted to Lars simply because he’s not the man your parents want you to marry?”
Lizzie held Lars’s letter to her bosom and looked toward the ceiling, slightly rolling her eyes. “No. No, no, no, and no again. I love Lars.”
Evelyn frowned. “All right! All right! I’m sorry, Lizzie. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“It’s all right, I guess. It’s just that both my parents and Lars’s parents have disliked our relationship from the beginning, yet neither of them know us at all. Mr. Jacobsen deliberately separated us by sending Lars off to school in Chicago. I think Lars probably dated while he was there, but when he came back, he wanted me! He told me how much his father picked on him, and he wanted to get away. I suggested he go to Hastings Business College. At least we chose that separation. Lars wanted a way to support a family, and I knew he wouldn’t marry until he knew what he was going to do.”
“So has he done well at Hastings?”
“Yes, very well. He’s proven to his father that he can succeed, and so maybe his father will be kinder to him now.”
“I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that, Lizzie.”
Lizzie sighed. “I know. It’s wishful thinking.”
Evelyn began to tidy the room. Both she and Lizzie tended to leave their clothes on the floor, but there was not much room to store things anyway. Two beds and two desks filled up the room, and mementos covered the walls — photographs of friends and family, invitations to dances and social events, dance cards, and dried flowers from prom corsages.
“So, what’s next?” Evelyn asked.
“I’m going to write to Lars, of course.”
“What will you tell him?”
“That I will gladly give up my efforts to get a teaching certificate if he will make me Mrs. Lars Jacobsen.”
“I’m going to miss you as a roommate, Lizzie.” Evelyn walked over to Lizzie, who was now getting out paper and pen, and gave her a hug.
“Thanks,” Lizzie said absentmindedly, “I’ll miss you, too.”
Evelyn knew that Lizzie was already creating the letter in her head. “I think I’m going to go over to Genevieve’s room and talk to her about our assignment for Foundations of Education. I’ll see you later.”
“All right. Fine. See you later.”
Alone at last, Lizzie read through the letter again. Yes, he’s definitely asking me to marry him, she thought. She took her pen and began to write: “Dear Lars.” She wanted to be bold but modest, confident but dependant, kind yet determined, sweet yet strong. “I received your letter today,” she wrote first. “I am glad that you are well.” Lizzie lifted her head and looked out the small window of her dormitory room. Several birds flew from one tree to another, and light fluffy clouds dotted the sky. She returned to her letter: “Yes, Lars, I will give up my teaching certificate. What, my handsome, will you give me in return?”
Lizzie smiled, knowing that she and Lars loved to play the game of cat and mouse. He would know what she meant, just as she knew what he had meant. She folded the paper and put it in the envelope, then addressed it. She put a stamp on it, and ran outside and hopped across the grass again to mail it. After placing the letter in the letter box, she turned and walked slowly back to the dorm. “I will be Mrs. Lars Jacobsen before Christmas of this year,” she said to herself. “Mrs. Lars Jacobsen.”
- Continue to Chapter 10.
- 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.