Draft copy, Girl with a Camera

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Draft copy, Girl with a Camera
Series Title:
Girl with a camera
Meyer, Carolyn
Place of Publication:
Tampa, Florida
University of South Florida
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Physical Description:
1 online resource, 224p.


Subjects / Keywords:
Bourke-White, 1904-1971 -- Juvenile fiction
Biographical fiction
Women photographers -- Fiction
Historical fiction


Full draft of Girl with a Camera. Includes no notes or revisions.

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Source Institution:
University of South Florida
Holding Location:
University of South Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
H43-00012-014 ( USFLDC DOI )
h43.12-14 ( USFLDC Handle )

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1 GIRL WITH A CAMERA Sometime after midnight, a thump— l oud and jarring. A torpedo slams into the side of our ship, fling ing me out of my bunk. The ship is transporting thousands of troops and hundreds of nurses. It is December 1942, and our country is at war. I am Margaret Bourke White, the only woman photographer covering this war. T he U.S. Army Air Force s has handed me a plum assignment: photographing an Allied attack on the Germans . I wanted to fly in one of our B 17 bombers, but t he top brass ordered me to travel instead in the flagship of a huge convoy , headed from England through the Straits of Gibraltar towards the coast of North Africa . It would be safer than flying , the officers argued. As it turns out, they were dead wrong. B eneath the surface of the Mediterranean, German submar in es glide, silent and lethal , stalking their prey. One of their torpedoes has found its mark. I grab my camera bag and one camera, leaving everything else behind, and race to t he bridge. I hear the order blare : Abandon ship! Abandon ship! T here is not enough light and not enough time to take photographs. I head for Lifeboat No. 12 and board with the others assigned to it, mostly nurses. W e’ve drilled for it over and over, but this is not a drill. My mouth is dry with fear. Our lifeboat drops into the sea. The boat is filled with water from the torpedo splashback. We use our helmets to bail. The rudder is broken. All around us in the water people are struggling to survive. We rescue some, lose others. A voice cries in the darkness, “ Help me ! I’m


2 all alone!” We try to row toward that desperate voice, but without a rudder we can do nothing. The cries grow fainter . T hen , silence. I take my turn rowing, my arms aching and my hands blistered . Someone in a nearby lifeboat begins to sing, “ You are my sunshine.” We all join in. E ven off key, it makes the rowing easier. We watch silently as flames swallow our wounded ship. T he rest of the convoy has scattered, to keep from giving the Ge rman U boats another target. In the bright moonlight I see that a single destroyer stays behind, and we wonder if it will come to pick us up. But no— they drop depth charges to try to get rid of any remaining German submarine s . Someone is s hout ing into a me gaphone, but we can’t make out the words . Maybe he’s wishing us luck. The destroyer sails on. Now we are entirely alone. The moon sinks into the dark sea. I think longingly of the chocolate bars, emergency rations I’d tossed out of m y camera bag to make room for extra lenses. The hours pass. I’m wet to the skin, wet and cold. Hungry, too. I could do with a bite of chocolate. Dawn comes slowly, the pale colors blooming in the eastern sky. I wonder again if I will survive, if any of us will. Irrationally, I mourn the loss of my elegant cosmetics case, covered with a beautiful ostrich skin and filled with ivory jars from Hong Kong. I can’t imagine why it matters. It’s December twen ty second, someone reminds us — t he winter solstice. No wonder the sun is so late making its appearance , and w e cheer when finally it does , rising majestically from a flat gray sea. I get out my camera and begin taking pictures. We look miserable and bedraggled, but we’re alive. One of the nurses jokes that she’s ready to place her order for breakfast: two eggs, sunnyside up, no broken yolks please. “And hot coffee!” adds another. “Buttered toast!”


3 I n midafternoon someone spots a flying boat, a large seaplane. It flies low over us, waggl ing its wings, and w e all wave back, assuring each other that help will come soon. The sun sinks lower, lower. There is no sign of rescue rs. It won’t be long before darkness descend s , and they won’t be able to find us. W et, cold , exhausted, crowded in with dozens of others, all wondering what will happen to us, if we will live or die, I remember my home, my parents, those early years when I had no idea where life would take me , only that I wanted it to be bold and exciting, anything but what it was then .


4 Chapter 1. Bound Brook , New Jersey, 1918 I blame everything on my mother. She strove for perfection, and n othing else satisfied her. There were rules, and we—my sister, my brother, and I —were expected to abide by them . Mother decreed that we would not read the funny papers . She f ound nothing funny about them. “The comics will harm your mind and ruin your taste for good art,” she said, lips firmly pursed. One look at “ Krazy Kat ” or “ Maggie and Jiggs ” would surely begin its disintegration . As a conse quence , we we re not allowed to visit fr iends who did read the funny papers and might have them lying around the house , tempting us . I imagine d Sara Jane Cassidy and her brother , Tommy , who lived on the next block, sprawled on their living room floor with the Sunday paper s , laughing at the antics of the Katze njammer Kids —Hans and Fritz —and somebody called Der Captain. I knew about those characters because Tommy loved to imitate the ir German accents. “Vot’s der dum goozled idea? ” he’d ask in what he imagined was Der Captain’s voice. Sara Jane was sympathetic. She sometimes smuggled the funny papers to school in her lunch box and let me have a guilty look at them while I ate my liverwurst sandwich. Mother also dismissed movies as a waste of valuable time. “Movies entertain much too easily,” she said . “Far better to read a good book that stimulates the mind .” So, of course, when boys at school amused us by miming a peculiar shuffle and calling each other “little t r amp . ” I


5 had no idea what they were talking about , until Sara Jane explained that the Little Tramp wa s a movie character . Charlie Chaplin was the actor who played him . M y sister, Ruth, two years older than I , complained about our mother’s rules even mor e than I did . No card playing. (Chess was a different matter. Father taught us to play, even Roger , who was much younger .) No gum chewing. No slang. But the one that bother ed Ruth the most: No silk stockings. Ruth wa s dying to have silk stockings, if only one pair for dress up, but Mother was adamant : w e must wear cotton stockings. “They’re so ugly!” Ruth wailed. “I look as though I just got off the boat!” “The hard way is always the better way,” Mother lectured , unm oved. Why is it better ? I wanted to ask. Vot’s der dum goozled idea? Our family lived in Bound Brook, New Jersey. I was in eighth grade in grammar school, and Ruth rode the trolley that ran near our house over to Plainfield, where sh e attend ed high school . Roger wa s only six and had just been enrolled in first grade . He hated it, and I think it wa s because Mother questioned him so mercilessly about every little thing . The minute Ruth or I walk ed in the door, Mother requested a report of what had happened that day in school . If I told her about a quiz in geography, mentioning that we were required to answer just ten quest ions out of a dozen, she pounced: “I hope you skipped the easy ones and chose the ten hardest,” she said , frowning until I assure d her that yes, I had picked the hard ones, and I ’d answered the easy ones too. Then she smiled and said, “G ood girl!” She hardly ever said that to Ruth, and almost never told little Roger how good he was. I was sick and tired of being a good girl. What thi rteen year old girl is not?


6 I considered myself lucky not to be the eldest child in our fa mily, or the youngest. Ruth , fif teen, was treated most sternly by our mother. Maybe it was easier to overlook the middle child. Father was usually too distracted, too wrapped up in his work to pay much attention, but like Mother, he wanted us to be good, as every parent does, and not only good but perfect. The cotton stockings, the way we spoke, the ban on funny papers and chewing gum and slang, even nicknames —Ruth and I were misfits . How could we not be? When Ruth and I were both in grammar school , we wal ked together to the four r oom schoolhouse every day, balancing like tightrope walkers along the tops of fences. N ot that we’d ever seen a tightrope walker, because we’d never been taken to a circus, but we’d seen pictures. After Ruth moved on to high school, I missed having her wal k home with me, and I did my highwire act without her. I had good balance —I could walk on logs across streams and on the railings of bridges —and never once came home with wet shoes or skinned knees. Two grades were assigned to each room with one teacher , so that in fifth grade I shared Miss Lucas’s classroom with the sixth grade and picked up much of what the older students were being taught. By the time I was actually a sixth grader, I had absorbed most of their lessons, and every afternoon after recess Miss Lucas sent me to the cloakroom with a group of slow readers to tutor them . This made me popular with no one. My best friend, Tubby Luf , wa s tall and blond and thin as a straw, but s he explained that when her younger sister, Eleanor, was just learning to talk, she couldn’t say her name, Margaret . Somehow it came out as “Tubby,” and it stuck. “I like it,” she said. “It’s ironic .” Tubby was the kind of brainy girl who use d words like iron ic .


7 My mother would not have permitted the nickname to stick , ironic or not . She disliked nicknames . Our friends call ed their parents Mom or Ma ma , and Dad or Daddy. In our house Mother wa s Mother and Father was Father. Mother’s name was Minnie —her given name, she claimed, not a nickname . My father was Joseph, but she made an exception for him: s he called him Joey. If she could call my father Joey, then why could I not be Peggy, the name I favored ? “Because I named you Margaret.” End of argument. At school Tubby called me Peggy, and so did Sara Jane (who didn’t have a nickname ) and my other friends, but in the presence of my mother I must always be Margaret. Mother insisted that we speak correctly . P roper grammar wa s not a problem, but we must have sounded very formal. We were not allowed to use slang , of course, or even contractions — no I’m or she’s or isn’t or wouldn’t . “It shows sloppiness of mind,” Mother declared , “as well as lack of effort . ” When I spoke the way Mother required , the other students looked at me as though I were an oddity. I n time I developed a dual language: one for home, one for school . Mother herself spoke very well. She had studied stenography at Pratt Institute with the idea of becoming a secretary, and her teachers had insisted upon correct grammar, perfect spelling, and accurate pronunciation. Father also spoke well, when he spoke at all —he wa s a very quiet man. Sometimes I wonder if he talked so little because he was afraid he’d make a mistake, and Mother would correct him . Father w as an engineer for a company that manufacture d printing presses. Mother complained that the only things he thought about we re th os e presses an d his inventions to improve them . One invention improved t he way those forbidden funny pa pers were printed in


8 color , a mechanism to align the edges of the various colored parts . This may not sound like much , but it wa s very i mportant to R. Hoe & Company, because it improved efficiency and saved the company money. Mother tried to get Father to ask for a raise in pay, but he didn’t seem to care much about money. He ’d designed the house we live d in and built the huge stone fireplace with a mantel tha t he sawed out of a tree he cut down himself. He took us on nature wa lks in the woods near our house. W hen I was younger, he often took me by myself , saying little but point ing out things he wanted me to observe. His silence was comfortable for me. Father imitate d birdca lls, and the birds actually came to him. He knew all about snakes and lizards . When I was nine or ten, a snake slithered across our path, noticed us , and stopped. It flattened its neck and rais ed its head up like a cobra, hissing and striking . I clutched Father’s hand. “Harmless,” he said . “Just a hognose . S ome people call it a puff adder , but a hognose snake isn’t a puff adder at all. Only the real ones, the African kind, are deadly. Watch him roll over and play dead. ” The snake did just that . His mouth wa s open, his tongue hanging out. He certainly looked dead. “Turn him right side up,” Father said. I wasn’t too sure about this , but when I did, the snake rolled over “dead” again. “Can we take him home?” I ask ed, and Father agreed an d showed me how to pick it up . I wasn’t afraid. That snake was the start of my bringing home whatever interesting creatures I found , mostly garter snakes that showed up in the garden and water snakes from the nearby brook. I scooped up eggs from the water and watched them hatch into tadpoles and salamanders , and I


9 added them to our growing collection of hamsters and rabbits housed in cages Father built. T wo turtles that Ruth na med Attila the Hun and Alaric the Visigoth lived under the piano . The hognose/puff adder was soon completely tame and liked to curl up on Mother’s lap when she sat in her rocking chair to sew or read the news paper. I named him Puffy. “You could have come up with something more original,” Ruth said. “ ’Puffy’ seems rather childish. ” I glare d at her. She sounded like Moth er —N o nicknames. I looked up the snake’s scientific name in one of Father’s books : Heterodon platirhinos . He would remain Puffy. On the day I took Puffy to school with me, the dear little fellow, frightened out of his wits, performed exactly as I knew he would, rearing up, neck puffed out, and hissing menacingly. The other children screamed and pulled away, even though I promised he wouldn’t bi te. They laughed nervously when he played dead, but still they refused to touch him. “Do not be afraid, it is just a puff adder,” I reassured them. M y schoolmates reported “Margaret’s poisonous snake ” to the principal, who ordered me to take Puffy home and not to bring it or any other snake back to school. “There are only two venomous kinds of snakes in New Jersey —rattler and copperhead,” I informed the principal, quoting my father. “And more than a dozen harmless ones in our part of the state.” The princi pal was unmoved. Ruth never did anything like that. If she had, she would have been punished, required to write a letter of apology to the principal and also to Mother , explaining exactly why she had been disruptive and promising never to repeat the crime. Ruth had to write a lot of those letters. I did not . “You could get away with murder,” Ruth said sourly. “ I do not know why.”


10 The next year o n my birthday, the fourtee nth of June , Father surprise d me with a baby boa constrictor. She was beautiful, cream colored with reddis h brown markings, and she twisted herself around my wrist like a bracelet. She ha d to be kept warm in a blanket, and once a week I fed her a poor litt le mouse. I called her Cleopatra. Ruth said that was a stupid name. “It makes no sense.” “It does to me,” I snapped. “ I was thinking of the snake the Egyptian queen used to kill herself.” “T hat was an asp, ” Ruth argued. “N ot a boa. ” M y interest turned to caterpillars . I gathered dozens and dozens of them. Mother let me use a number of our drinking glasses , which I arrange d upside down in rows on the dining room w indowsills. T hese became incubators for the caterpillar s , and for weeks I put leaves in their glass cages and waited hopefully for them to turn into butterflies. The probl em, Father pointed out, wa s that caterpillars eat constantly at this stage , and not just any leaf but only the kind they were laid onto as eggs. But I persevered : I found the right leaves, and some of the caterpillars did form shiny little cocoons and enter ed the next stage, the chrysalis. “This is where the metamor phosis happens,” Father explained . “Now you must wait. And watch.” Each day I rush ed home from school, afrai d I might have missed the magical event . Then one by one the chrysalises bega n to burst open, and I watched entranced as each damp shape emerged and spread its beautiful butterfly wings . Father , who happened to arrive home from work in time to witness this miracle with me , took photographs with his oldfashioned camera.


11 “Let me look,” I begged. H e stepped aside while I ducked my head under the black camera cloth and peered into the viewfinder . T he image was upside down. Better not to have the camera in the way , I thought . Better just to look . Father took lots of pictures —of Mother draped in a shawl, of us children, of the flowers in our garden and the birds that visited there. He hustled around setting up his tripod , opening t he camera with the accordionshaped bellows perched on it, inserting the glass plates, focus ing. O nce he was satisfied with the composition in the viewfinder , he finally clicked the shutter . Afterward, he shut himself up in the bathroom in total darkness , bathed the glass plates in separate trays of awful smelling chemicals , rinsed them, and set them up to dry . He printed the best of the glass negatives on special paper —another messy process —and built frames for them . Father’s photographs hung on the walls in every room of our house . I help ed him choose which chrysalis to butterfly pictures to hang. It may seem as though my father spent most of his spare time tramping through the woods or building things or making photographs . T hat was not the case. Ma inly , Father thought . T hen he drew sketches and diagrams of what he was thinking. Once he took our family to a restaurant for dinner, a rare treat, and , just as our food arrived, an idea came to him . He began to draw on the tablecloth. We ate, and he drew. Ruth and I nudged each other, wondering when he would notice the fried chicken growing cold on the plate in front of him. He left without eating a single bite. “Aren’t you going to take the tablecloth, Father?” Roger asked, startling him out of his thought cloud. Father shook his head, tapping his forehead. “Unnecessary. I have it here.”


12 Mother gr ew impatient with him. “If only he would talk more!” she complained. He wa s a brilliant inventor, she sa id , and his ideas mad e other people rich . I over heard her telling him that he should be paid more for his work, but I didn’t hear his answer . Often his reply wa s simply silence. Tubby’s family was not as strict as mine. B efore we were in high school, Tubby’s mother bought her pretty dresses, red and gr een plaid , or little blue and white checks , that I admired and envied. I wanted ruffles and lace and gay colors , but Mother would have none of it. She dressed me in plain brown or dark blue skirts and white middy blouses with a sailor collar. “Very practical for everyday,” she said. Every day was the same as the one before. My hair was parted in the middle and pulled back in plaits . It was Ruth’s job to braid my hair every morning, and if my sister and I had argued about something, she punished me by pullin g them so tight that I couldn’t blink. Moth e r promised I could do away with braids when I reached high school. N ot a word about my dresses. Tubby and I both took piano lessons from stern faced, thin lipped Mrs. Grauert at the Watchung School, and I was allowed to go to the Lufs’ house to practice duets together. I had no particular talent for piano , demonstrated by my dismal performance at Mrs. Grauert’s annual student recital . H alf wa y through the piece I’d memorized, I lost my place, started over, and missed the second ending, playing on and on . Mrs. Grauert , signaling frantically , finally caught my eye , and I stumbled off the stage , humiliated . Mother was waiting. “You should have practiced more,” she said . “And I did notice when you left the stage t hat the bow on your dress was badly wrinkled. How embarrassing for you!”


13 I didn’t care about the wrinkled bow, but I silently vowed that I would never again play in a recital. Dancing classes came next. Mother sent Ruth and me for lessons because, she promised us, “If you dance well, you will never lack for partners.” The boys in the class , sent by their anxious mothers, obviously wanted to somewhere, anywhere, else. T he teacher paired off according to height. She or her assistant sat at an old upright piano and banged out a peppy tune . Short, shy partner s steered me glumly around the polished floor. Later, a t home , I danced by myself, whirl ing through the house from living room to kitchen to enclosed porch, clutchi ng a large towel as a makebelieve partner and dreaming of the day some boy would actually ask me to dance. Each year the grammar school held four dances for the seventh an d eighth graders: Autumn, Christmas , Valentine , and Spring . I came down with a cold and missed the autumn affair, but after weeks of dancing classes I was primed for the Christmas party . I helped with the decorations, cutting out innumerable paper snowflakes to pin up around the gymnasium . T eachers would chaperone , and parents volunteere d refreshments. I asked Mother if we could contribute cookies . “If you wish to ta ke cookies, Margaret, you must b ake them yourself. You certainly know how.” I wanted to come up with something that would distinguish m y creation from everyone else’s, but I d ebated for too long, and time was running out. Suddenly inspired, I decided to forget baking cookies and take pickles instead . I loved Grandmother White’s dill pickles. My mother did not care for them . But s he didn’t much care for Father’s mother either , and the jar had sat in the cupboard for a very long time, unopened.


14 The night of the Christmas dance I put on my one dress up dress, dark green with white buttons (sash neatly pressed), utilitarian high top shoes (freshly polished), and the dreadful cotton stockings . With the jar of pickles and a borrowed fork, I set off for the schoolhouse . I put my contribution on the table decorated with jolly Santa Clauses among an array of delicious looking treats —tiny tarts with a dab of raspberry jam in the center, a beautiful cake sprinkled with coconut, cookies in the shape of Christmas tree s, rich c ubes of c hocolate fudge arranged on paper doilies . Some thought the pickles were a joke, others weren’t so sure , and no one wanted to sample any of Grandmother White’s sour dills . I made a show of eating three of them myself. W orse th an my spurned pickles , not a single boy asked me to dance. I was a good dancer! I knew all the steps! But the boys asked other girls. Even T ubby got asked, although it was by a boy she couldn’t stand and not the one she had a secret crush on. None asked me. I dumped the rest of the pickles behind a bush on the way home and told Mother it was a very nice party . S ecretly I wept. Then I told my sister the truth. I always told her the truth. “Pickles?” Ruth exclaimed. “You took a jar of pickles to the dance? Why on earth did you do that?” “I didn’t want to be like everybody else,” I mumbled. “ Well, I guess you succ eeded.” Ruth sat down beside me on my bed and put her arm around my shoulders. “Boys your age are really not at their best . You’re probably smarter than all of them, and they know it, so they stay away from you. That will change as you get older. One of these days —and it’s coming soon, I promise you—the boys will be standing in line for a


15 chance to dance with you. But,” she added, “ you probably didn’t help your case by taking pickles.”


16 Chapter 2 . Plainfield High School , 1919 I was not beautiful. I knew that. M y dark, deepset eyes were like my father’s , but my face, like his, was a little too round. I had Mother’s thick, dark hair, but my lips were a little too thin, like hers . “You’re not pretty , Margaret,” my mother told me frankly—she never attempted to soften her words —“but you have an interesting face.” I did not want to have an interesting face. I wondered what my parents were like when they were young. I saw a photogra ph of Minnie Bourke in a white shirtwaist with big leg of mutton sleeves and a bit of lace at her neck, and my mother had confess ed in an unguarded moment that a shirtwaist was considered “not quite nice” at the time . In the picture she’s standing by her bic ycle and smiling . S he wears a skirt that had been shortened a couple of inches to reveal a shocking ankle . On the back of the photograph Minnie had noted that her mother was sure she was going to the devil because she was riding a bicycle —that wasn’t quite nice either. A nd on a Sunday! She was riding her bicycle to meet Joseph White. The Whites lived in the Bronx, and the Bourkes lived in lower Manhattan. Her father was Irish, a shi p’s carpenter, and her mother wa s English and worked as a cook. A fter she and Father met at a social club , t hey began to go bird watching in Central Park and rode their bicycles out into the country and read philosophy to each other. One day when they were riding in the Catskills, a part of my mother’s bicycle broke down.


17 “We left our bikes and hiked up the nearest mountain, ” Mother told us, “ and that’s when your father proposed. ” Ruth and I thought their courtship was terribly romantic. “Do you think he kissed her?” Ruth asked me . “Well, of course he kissed her!” I said. “She said yes, and then they kissed.” Ruth was doubtful. “They were very proper. And Mother has told me over and over that I mustn’t let a boy kiss me until we’re married. It could lead to otherthings. ” Mother had given me no such instructions, but , then , Ruth was ol der, even if I was bolder. Mother was an expert seamstress and taught us to sew . “It will come in handy some day ,” she promised. S he gave sewing and cooking lessons to Ruth’s friends and to Sara Jane and Tubby and me. Mother’s cooking was like her sewing, plain and practical —she made all of my clothes, and Ruth’s —but Tubby, especially, loved everything Mother taught us : how to poach an egg and make rice pudding or the meatloaf that Mother served for dinner every Thur sday . “My mother is a terrible cook,” Tu bby c onfessed. “I don’t know how I’d learn anything if it weren’t for Mrs. White. ” I took to sewing more eagerly, because I believed that, if I got good enough, I could eventually make myself the kind of stylish clothes I wanted. The kind I felt I deserved . Ruth was a j unior at Plainfield High School when I entered as a lowly freshman. My sister informed me about the social divisions at Plainfield. There was the “crystalchandelier set,” snobbish girls who shopped for stylish clothes in New York City and attended lots of parties. Then there were the “linseywoolseys.” I knew what that meant —linsey woolsey was


18 cloth woven from a mixture of linen and wool, plain and serviceable. Ruth and I were linseywoolseys. It was certainly not what I aspired to be. I had already made up my mind that someday I would be fa mous, very famous, and rich, too, and the crystal chandelier girls as well as sthe linsey woolseys would look back at their high school yearbook and marvel at what had become of Peggy White. B oys seemed to like me well enough . I was invited to help them p addle canoes o n the Raritan River and to go on hikes and identify plants and birdcalls. Mother’s fruit pies were popular with boys at picnics . I was what people call ed a “good sport.” But none of the boys who ate my mother’s pies or showed me a snake to i dentify asked me to dance. I was fourteen years old, I faithfully attended the school mixers and parties, and I still had not been asked to dance. So much for Mother’s promise that if I learned to dance well, I would never lack for partners. She was wrong. How many times did I go to a “mixer” and not mix? How would anybody know I was a good dancer, if nobody ever asked me? Then in my sophomore year —Ruth was a senior, getting ready to graduate —I heard about a contest. A prize was being offered for “excellence in literary composition, ” an eight hundredword short story to be fini shed by the end of the semester in June. The prize was fifteen dollars worth of books to be chosen by the winner . Sophomores were eligible to enter, but no sophomore had ever won the Babcock Prize, and everyone understood that it would go to a junior or senior. I learned that I would not have to take the usual English exams if I entered the contest and declared that I was working on the assigned theme . That clinched it. I informed my English teacher , Miss Aubrey, of my plans, and she marked in her grade book that Margaret White would be excused from examinat ions for the rest of the year. “I know


19 you’ll do well, Margaret ,” she said, smiling up at me . “ You’ve shown that you have talent. But remember that you must never leave a task until you’ve completed it to the best of your ability.” She sounded just like my mother. And then I put the whole thing out of my mind. There was plenty of time to think of an idea for a short story. It wouldn ’t be too hard. E ight hundred words were n’t really that much , and the end of the semester was still a long way off. Spring came; the weather warmed. Others in my class had to sit through dreary exams; I did not. I was wri ting a short story, or would be qu ite soon. And then, almost without my being aware of it, the last day of school was the next day . My short story was due to be handed in during English class that morning . I’d done nothing—I didn’t have even the germ of an idea. Then I got a reprieve: Miss Aubrey announced that the deadline had been extended. The story now had to be delivered to the front porch of the principal’s house by half past five . At lunchtime Tubby and I sat side by side on a mossy stone wall near the school, eating our sandwiches. She swapped half of her bologna for half of my liverwurst. “What am I going to do, Tubby?” I wailed . “If I don’t hand in a story, Miss Aubrey will fail me, because I didn’t take any of the exams. I told her I was entering the contest. And I will have let h er down. She has such faith in me. ” “You’re going to write a story, of course, ” Tubby said. “I don’t have an idea in my head,” I moaned. “I haven’t even thought about it.” “You’re going to start thinking right now.” She began to peel the orange in her lunchbox. She closed her eyes. A sweet orangey smell drifted around us. “A dog story,” she said, as if she were having a vision. “Everybody loves dog stories.”


20 I thought about our dog, Rover. Rover had died a year earlier, carried off by old age . I’d been yearning for another dog ever since, but I had not yet persuaded my parents that we should get one. Mother thought we had enough animals, what with all the rabbits and turtles and snakes et cetera that had taken up residence in our house. Everybody loves dog stories! The bell rang. I had algebra and geography to get through before dismissal. Tubby and I gathered our trash and hurried off to class. “Meet me in the library at thre e o’clock,” I said. “I’ll have come up with an idea by then.” For the next hour I was not thinking about quadratic equations and coefficients. I was trying to come up with a name for the dog, doodling various possibilities in the margins of my algebra work sheet. By the time class was dismissed, I had settled on Sparky. The name would give a hint to his personality. In the next c lass, while Mr. Bergman droned on about major river systems in Russia , I worked on a suitable boy’s name . I considered calling him Roger, for my brother. Roger, an unhappy little boy with two older sisters. Or maybe with no sisters —that would make him more poignant. Roger, a lonely only child, yearning for a puppy. But Sparky would not be a puppy— he would be an abandoned mutt yearnin g for a home, just as Roger was yearning for a companion. After dismissal Tubby and I retreated to a corner of the library , away from the watchful eyes of Miss Greenlaw, the librarian. “I’m thinking of writing it from Sparky’s point of view,” I whispered t o Tubby. “Dog as narrator? That would certainly be different.”


21 I thought about that: m aybe it was too different. “No, just through his eyes. H ere’s how we’ll do it. I’ll write a page and hand it over to you, and while I’m working on the next part, you check grammar and spelling and count the number of words.” The yellow do g was tired and hungry , I scribbled , and also very dirty. I stopped to read my first sentence. Was , I decided, was a weak verb. And the adjectives were pretty weak, too . I scratched out the first sentence and started over. The dog trotted wearily down the dark alley, searching for something— anything— to eat. Stickers matted his filthy yellow fur. Much better! My pencil raced across the page, describing th e sad life of the abandoned pup who’d escaped from his cruel owner and now had to avoid the dogcatcher and find some kind of meal or starve. Then I introduced Roger, renamed Robert but otherwise similar to my brother, except that he does not have two older sisters and i s allowed to have a nickname, Rob . Rob’s f ather i s a sea captain away on a voyage to A frica . The mother, called Mama, stern but loving, tells poor Rob that he can not have a dog. Rob, dis consolate, kicks pebbles down the road and tries to think of ways to change Mama’s mind. Run away from home and make her sorry? G et work as a pape rboy and earn extra money as well as her admiration? He must find a solution! I handed the first page over to Tubby . “Two hundred words on page one,” she announced. “Y ou’ll have to write three more pages.” The table where we huddled had a view of the wall clock, and I tried not to look at it. T ime keeping was part of Tubby’s job. At four o’clock Miss Greenlaw announced that the library was closing. We moved outside the school building, back to the stone wall where we’d eaten lunch. I balanced the writing tablet on my knees and raced on.


22 Sparky spots a lonely looking young boy, the kind of boy who might want a dog . He wags his tail and gazes at the boy pleadingly. T he boy is delighted to find the disheveled pup and brings him home. But Mama shakes her head, saying harshly, “Rob, get that flearidden mutt out of here. No, you may not keep him.” Tearfully, the boy takes the leftover meatloaf from the icebox, where it has been kept to feed mother and son, and feeds a bit of it to the famished dog. The dog is obviously still half starving, and Rob gives him the rest of the meatloaf . N ow Mama is angry, and Rob is in deep trouble. Sparky slinks away. “Three hundred and eightyfive,” Tubby announced. By four thirty I was within a hundred and twenty words of the end. Rob goes to work, performing extra chores while Sparky lingers hopefully outside the garden gate. Then the captain comes home unexpectedly from his voyage , and Sparky greets him so joyously that Mama changes her tune and declares that Sparky, cleaned up and de flea’ d, must become a member of the family . I n the final scene, Rob, Sparky, and Papa start off for a walk in the woods as Mama waves goodbye from the porch. Tubby didn’t believe the ending. “Why would Mama change her mind so suddenly?” On Tubby’s advice, I rewrote that part . Sparky barks his head off when the captain re turns, protecting Mama from the unknown intruder. The captain is impressed and persuades Mama the mutt is exactly what she needs as a watchdog . I hurriedly copied my rough draft onto clean paper. The tw o of us raced to the principal’s house with only minutes to spare and added my masterpiece to the pile on the front porch. I was only a sophomore and had no hope of winning the contest , but at least I would not fail my English class and disappoint Miss Aub rey .


23 A week later the winner of the contest was announced: I had won! This was even more unlikely than a happy ending for Sparky, who in the real world would have been ha uled off by the dogcatcher to a miserable fate. Nevertheless, I knew exactly which books I wanted as my prize: The Frog Book, The Moth Book, and The Reptile Book . The prize was to be awarded at commencement exercises. Tubby was thrilled for me; Ruth was , too . My sister was graduating near the top of her class , but that seemed less impressive compared to my achievement. “There’s a dance after the commencement exercises ,” she reminded me. “Mother and I are making me a new dress.” O f course I knew about the dance! I always knew about the dances, which so far had been complete and utter failures. I was almost fifteen, and I had spent my entire school career as a wallflower, but I knew in my heart that w inning the writing contest was about to change everything. It was as if a fairy godmother had touched me with her magic wand and transformed me into a princess, and every boy at Plainfield High School would recognize this literary Cinderella and want to dance with her . From now on, my life would be completely different. I convinced Mother that I, too, needed a new dr ess for this special occasion . S he agreed, so pleased for me that she stayed up lat e, her treadle sewing machine ch attering far into the night to finish my dress i n time. Commencement took place on a warm June evening in the school auditorium, normally dul l and colorless but now transformed by the junior class , strewing festive greenery and white carnations , into a place that seemed almost regal . I had not only the new dress , maroon with a white linen collar and cuffs, but also new shoes. Cotton stockings s poiled the picture, but at least the stockings were white instead of black . The graduating class, solemn in royal blue caps and gowns , took seats in the front rows. Behind them were juniors who were receiving prizes, and


24 one sophomore —me. The orchestra played something by Bizet, only slightly out of tune , a local minister delivered an opening prayer , followed by a piano solo , something loud and fast (Rachmaninoff, maybe), performed by a talented membe r of the graduating class, and speech es by the saluta torian (boy) and the valedictorian (girl) . The orchestra lumbered through “Pomp and Circumstance” as the graduating seniors filed up to the stage to receive their diplomas . Then the chairman of the Board of Education exhorted the new graduates to go forth, do good works , et cetera. I was in a delicious froth of excitement about what was going to happen next . My dreams were about to come true. Winners of prizes in mathematics, French, and patriotic oratory were awarded, and the Rotary Club gave medals to The Most Useful Boy and The Most Useful Girl , leaving Ruth disappointed again . She’d had her heart set on being chosen for this honor . My big moment had arrived. Mr. B est , the principal , reappeared at the podium, a small, thin man who almost staggered under the weight of a great bundle of fat green books, tied with white ribbons. “Miss Margaret White, please step forward to receive the Babcock Award !” I walked up to the stage and waited, smiling, as the principal spoke of the “fres h, young talent discovered in the person of Miss Margaret White, not yet fifteen years of age, whose short story, ‘Rob and Sparky’ shows how much we have to look forward to as Miss White makes her way into the future as a writer . She is destined to make us all proud .” Mr. Best transferred the tomes to my arms , the audience politely applauded, and I returned to my seat, beaming . The commencement exercises ended, proud parents set out for home except for those who would remain as chaperones, and most of the chairs were folded and stacked to make room


25 for dancing. P otted palms were carried in from the hall and placed strategically around the auditorium , transforming the space into a ballroom . The Aristocrats, a five piece band, had been hired for the evening, and as the lights were lowered, they began to play “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles . ” C ouples drift ed out to center of the ballroom —all of the crystalchandelier girls and boys who’d shed their royal blue gowns to reveal the finery beneath , and most of the li nsey woolseys except for a handful who disdained dances and had already left. Even Tubby had a partner, myopic Kenny Strausser with his thick glasses and an overbite . I waited patiently on the sidelines, clutching my heavy bundle of books that seemed to grow heavier , sure that at any minute one of the boys in my class, or possibly even in t he junior class —a senior would have been too much to hope for —would see me with my prize books and recognize that I was a star . I had won the Babcock Prize! I was talent ed ! The Aristocrats launched into “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody ,” the pianist improvising ripples and runs . A s tag line had formed near a long table set with a punchbowl and cookies (no pickles!) , and a few boys stepped out boldly and cut in on the dancing couple s . T he new partner swept off with the girl in his arms, and her former partner joined the stag line. It would have made sense for one of those newly available boys to glance my way and ask me to dance. None did. I told myself there was still plenty of time. The night was young. Tubby now had a new partner —Jack Daniels , a boy with pimpl es. I would not have minded if Kenny or Jack , or any other boy, with pimples or without , asked me to dance. Still none did.


26 “Yearning,” the trumpet crooned. The dance floor had become crowded. The bundle of books in my arms —my passport to the land of enchantment that I pictured for myself in my new life —grew heavier, and so did my heart. The violinist took up “Beautiful Ohio,” a waltz. I loved to waltz, but nobody wanted to waltz with me . My hopes dwindled as it began to dawn on me that my prize winning story of a boy and his dog was not going to win me what my heart desired most. Then, out of the crowd stepped Stella Ertley, a friend of Ruth’s. Stella , five feet eleven and a half , who might have qualified as a crystal chandelier girl if she hadn’t been quite so tall , noticed me standing there alone and walked over to me . I suppose she felt sorry for me. I must have looked pathet ic. “Peggy,” said Stella warmly, “congratulations on winning the prize for excellence in literary composition! What an honor! And for a sophomore! This is something worth celebrating, isn’t it? Ruth has been telling me that you’re a swell dancer. Come on, let’s get out there and show them some of your fancy steps.” A girl, asking me to dance? What utter humiliation! I bit my lip, trying to think of an excuse. But Stella didn’t wait for an answer. “Here, let me take those books and put them some where,” she s aid and lifted them from my arms . She deposited the books behind one of the potted palms , seized my hand, and whirled me out on the dance floor. The piano thumped out “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” and I would have given almost anything to disappear . I wis h I could say that my life improved after that long and tortured evening. I moped around so much that my two closest friends decided to do something to drag me out of the doldrums.


27 “ We have a surprise for you,” Sara Jane announced a few days later. It was the thir teenth of June , the day before I would turn fifteen . “ As a bir thday gift Tubby and I are taking you to New York , to visit Miss Fowler of the American Phrenology Institute. ” I knew about phrenology. An expert could feel the bumps on your head and analyze your personality, point out your strengths and weaknesses , and guide you in your future choices. I was skeptical, but it sounded like an adventure. On a hot, muggy day t he three of us boarded the local train for the city and made our way to a building on Broadway near 36th Street . The sign of Fowler & Wells was posted above a show window on the first floor with a display of bald china heads . A map of the organs of the mind was drawn on each head . A smiling receptionist gr eeted us and directed us to a fusty Victorian parlor crowded with uncomfortable furniture . There we await ed a summons from Miss Jessie Fowler, described in a dignified brochure as the daughter of one of the founders of the Institute. We were too nervous a nd excited to talk much. After a tense wait, we were led to Miss Fowler’s darkened inner sanctum. Despite the heat, the lady behind the large carved des k was dressed in a black suit and a white blouse . Her gray hair seemed to be struggling to escape from the severe bun at the nape of her neck. She glanced at the three of us shifting uneasily from foot to foot and wondering what would come next. H er gaze came to rest on my head. I was wearing a large blue straw hat, loaned to me by my sister. “Miss Whi te, you are here for a consultation?” I nodded. “Kindly remove your hat.” She pointed to a chair beside her desk. Sara Jane and Tubby retreated to a settee against the wall. Outside , the sun baked the city sidewalks, but heavy velvet draperies at every win dow


28 had blocked off all natural light in Miss Fowler’s office . The only light came from a small desk lamp with a green shade. Miss Fowler stood before me, eyes closed, and ran practiced hands over my skull, beginning around my temples , proceeding up my f orehead and across my skull, then working down the sides around my ears. She began again at the crown and progressed down the back of my head. I sat perfectly still staring at the lace jabot cascading over her ample bosom. She did not speak. When she had f inished her examination, she settled at her desk and made notes on a large sheet of paper printed with a silhouette outline of a head . The head was marked into sections like the china heads in the window , each labeled with a simple drawing or a word: L anguage, for example, was located at the eye; M e mory on the forehead, close by A greeableness . “Very well, Miss White, I imagine you are quite eager to hear the results of the examination.” “Yes, ma’am,” I said, leaning toward the shadowy figure behind the green lamp. “You have a most interesting cranium,” she said, regarding me with pale blue eyes . “Your head measures a little above the average, for it is twenty one and three quarter inches in circumference, while twenty one and one half is average,” she sa id . “You show a fair balance of power between body and brain.” Tubby and Sara Jane murmured something unintelligible behind me. “I see that you are eager and adventuresome, prepared to travel to any destination to gather information on whatever topic int erests you, regardless of the difficulties you may encounter. ” Miss Fowler continued, “I believe that you would benefit greatly from world travel. And I would advise you to take photographs of the places you have visited and the sights you


29 have seen, in or der to give lectures about your adventures to your friends and family when you return .” The phrenologist went on to give details of the glorious future she envisioned for me. There was more: possible focuses for my energy and talent in the fields of music, childhood diseases, even home decoration. All this deduced from the shape of my head! Tubby and Sara Jane paid Miss Fowler for the consultation with their pooled funds . I would have paid her double —triple! —had she asked for it. She promised to have the r eceptionist type up her notes and mail them to me with a copy of the map of the human brain, as illustrated on the diagram . My friends and I left the offices of Fowler & Wells, and stepped, squinting, into the dazzling sunlight. Of course we talked of prac tically nothing else as we waited for the train back to Bound Brook. My mood and attitude toward life improved dramatically. I may have been a wallflower at the commencement dance, and at every dance I’d attended before it, but now I had the assurance, the profound belief, that the bumps on my head indicated a glorious future in which I would truly be a star.


30 Chapter 3. Glorious Fancies The future arrived with painful slowness, dragging its feet. I wanted attention, and I tried to figure out ways to get it. With that goal, I joined the debating society. Most of t he memb ers of the club were boys . I soon realized that girls who join a debating society a re not the kind of girls who might be asked to dance , and I probably wouldn’t find a part ner here . Should women be granted the right to vote? w as one of the questions be ing debated that fall . After years of marches and rallies and speeches by suffragists, Congress had passed a law granting women the right to vote, but it was now up to the sta t es to ratify the law as an amendment to the Constitution . T hirty five states were needed to ratify . New Jersey had not yet voted. “I hope you’re taking the negative side in the debate,” said Mother. This came as a shock —I knew she was wholeheartedly in favor of the amendment . “Surely you don’t think I’m opposed to women having the right to vote!” “Of course you’re not!” she snapped. “But for you to take the side you agree with, would be a mistake. That’s the easy side! Remember, Margaret, always choose t he hard path. What excellent discipline for you to argue in favor of the side you disagree with!” T hat was how I wound up in front of a room full of people, arguing for something I didn’t believe —that for their own protection women should not be allowed to vote. “Because it’s the proper role of men to protect women,” I declared, “and because women are by their nature


31 unable to protect themselves , men must continue to exercise this solemn duty. And since voters also have the duty to serve on juries, and since jurors sometimes hear descriptions of such deplorable acts that would be upsetting to the delicacies of any normal woman, they must be kept off juries —again, for t heir own protection. Furthermore,” I argued, “a llowing the weaker sex to take part in political discussions could upset the harmony of the home. In addition, allowing women to run for public office could pit one woman against another. That is a situation distressing to civilized society . ” None of these was my idea. I found them in an anti suffragist pamphlet and tried to translate the arrogant nonsense into something that sounded li ke my own words. But I argued s o logically and convincingly that I won the debate. A fterward I felt guilty —what if I actually persuaded someone to that way of thinking? I did not for a minute believe that women needed to be protected , and I felt like a traitor to my gender arguing that they did. Paul Reed, the boy who had actually argued in favor of women having the right to vote , invited me to stop for a soda afterward, so that he could talk some sense into my apparently misguided head. I let him think he had persuade d me , but that didn’ t lead to any more soda dates, or to an invitation to dance. In February of 1920 New Jersey became the twenty ninth state to vote in favor of the amendment. F ive years in the future I would be eligible to vote, but the debate club did nothing to change my life in the present . That spring th e drama club announced plans to put on two short plays : “Rosalie,” a threecharacter melodrama , and “The Bluffers,” a revue with a dozen or so characters. Both plays were set in France. Despite my complete lack of stage experience, I tried out for the title ro le of Rosalie, the maid, and was picked for the part . The role of Monsieur Bol went to C harles


32 Drayton, tall, dark, and the handsomest boy in our class . I liked Charley a lot , but he dated crystal chandelier girls and naturally was not interested in a linseywoolsey. V ioleteyed Eleanor Treacy , practically a founding member of the crystal chandelier set , was cast as Madame Bol . I didn’t know if s he and Charley were dating, but they flirted constantly . Both plays were a great success, “Rosalie” received three curtain calls , and Tubby and Sara Jane declared that I had natural comedic ability . “Coming to the cast party?” Eleanor asked casually after the Saturday night performanc e. We held our conversation in the mirror of the girls’ bathroom. I was wiping off my stage makeup with cold cream, and Eleanor was skillfully applying her usual rouge and lipstick, neither of which I was permitted to wear. “It’s at Charley’s house,” she s aid , moving on to eyebrow pencil . “ All the Bluffer boys will be there, and the stage crew, too. There’ll be lots to eat, and dancing, too, of course.” Eye shadow was next. “S orry, but I can’t,” I said. “I already have other plans.” “Oh, too bad,” said Elea nor , but I felt sure she wasn’t at all disappointed. My “other plans” were a fabrication, but I ’d decided that the best way to avoid being humiliated at a dance was simply not to attend one . A t the start of my senior year I signed up to work on the staff of “ T he Oracle, ” the school magazine that came out on the second Wednesday of every month. I’m ashamed to admit that one of my reasons for signing up was because Charley Dayton was the editor in chief. Charley was a favorite of Miss Benedict and Miss Daily, the faculty advisors. He had an ingratiating manner and an easy grin, but he was also lazy, and the rest of us had to take up the slack for him, which we performed gladly at the time and then resented later when he got most of the credit. M y t itle was “School Editor , ” and my job was to assign and edit articles about school activities,


33 such as the drama club, the debate club, and the glee club . Mary Nancy Paluso , a linsey woolsey, was the literary editor overseeing short stories and poetry, an a ssignment I would have preferred. Printed above the masthead was the magazine’s slo gan : I am Sir Oracle, and when I ope my lips, let no dog bark. “Can somebody tell me what that means?” I asked at an editorial meeting. “It’s a line from Sh akespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice’ ,” answered Mary Nancy, who goes by Mimsy. “ A n oracle is a wise person who prophesies the future, and someone who calls himself ‘Sir Oracle’ believes that everything he says is so important that even the dogs should stop barking and listen. ’” Linsey woolseys tended to know things like that. The final issue of the year was published as the class yearbook with individual photographs of the graduating seniors along with that person’s nickname, ambition, list of a ctivities during four years of high school , and a classical quotation that was supposed to capture something of the senior’s personality. Brainy Mimsy, of course, came up with the quotations. I coul d picture her sitting up all night, thumbing through books of poetry. Or m aybe she had them all memorized. Tubby’s was from a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, “A Dream of Fair Women” : A daughter of the gods, divinely tall, /And most divinely fair. Mine was from a poem by James Russell Lowell, “My Love:” Her glorious fancies come f rom far,/Beneath the silver evening star,/But yet her heart is ever near . “Suits you perfectly,” said Tubby. “You and your ‘glorious fancies’.”


34 J ean Runyon, a junior who would succeed to my position next year, was in charge of gathering the information on each graduating senior. We went over the information together, checking spelling and punctuation. Margaret B. White. (The B was for Bourke, my mother’s maiden name.) Nickname: Peggy . Ambition: Herpetologist . “Herpetologist?” Jean asked. “What’s that?” “S omeone who studies reptiles and amphibians,” I explained, thinking she surely ought to know that much. “Snakes, mostly, but also frogs and toads, newts, salamanders. And also lizards and turtles. They’re all herps. Creeping animals.” Jean shudder ed. “Creep y, is what I’d call them . I remember the time —was it last year?— you came to school with a snake wrapped around each arm. And back in eighth grade , when you brought a snake to school and all the girls screamed, and the boys put on a show of not being scared, but I could tell that they were. Then Mr. Patterson said you couldn’t bring snakes to school any more. ” “I didn’t want to scare anybody. The snake wasn’t poisonous. I just thought it was interesting.” “Maybe.” She shuffled through the forms she’d c ollected. “Other girls want to be teachers, and there are a couple who say they want to be nurses, but I know that Dottie Hen dricks, for example faints at the sight of blood and gets sick to her stomach when something doesn’t smell right. Eleanor Treacy says she’s planning to study art and become an illustrator. Most of them, though, just want to get married. The boys hope to go to sea or become doctors. But so far you’re the only one who wants to be anything like a herpetologist. Whatever made you


35 decide t o do something like that? ” She arranged the papers in a neat stack . “What would you actually do with these creepy, scaly things?” “ I’ll vis it dark and interesting jungles and bring back specimens for natural history museums. I’ll learn so much about them t hat people will invite me to come and lecture. May be I’ll be come famous scientist, and then I’ll marry a famous scientist, another herpetologist, and we’ll travel all over the world together. ” “You really want to do that? That’s kind of a strange thing fo r a girl to do.” “ I want to do all kinds of things that girls never do. That women never do. Didn’t you ever think of doing something like that? ” Jean looked at me skeptically. “I just want to go to normal school and get my teaching certificate, because my dad wants me to, and teach for two year s while Tom gets his degree , and then we’ll get married . They don’t hire married teachers where we’re going to live. ” She opened her notebook and showed me a section in the back where she’d pasted pictures of bridal gowns and bridesmaids’ dresses . “See, I’ve already begun to plan my wedding . ” We studied the pictures together. “ Which do you like better for my bouquet, lilies or white roses?” “Either,” I said. “Maybe both.” I’d never thought about wedding bouquets . I saw no point in thinking about it. Marriage seemed like something a long way off. We went back to checking the seniors’ forms. My list of activities was among the longest in the class —decorating committees, ice cream committees, receptions, pag eants, debating club, dramatic club, class secretary . I added another one: class song . Along with Jack Daniel —the pimply boy who’d danced with Tubby after commencement two years earlier —I was elected by the staff of “The Oracle” to write the words to the c lass song. It would be sung at commencement to the tune of the Plainfield High School alma mater.


36 I’d been writing poetry since I was a young child . Mother kept most of my early scribb lings in a box, along with my report cards , beginning in first grade . Sh e did this for Ruth and for Roger, too, although Roger ’s box was practically empty. “Just look at this,” my mother had said, pulling out a crumpled bit of paper with my handwriting . ‘Flit on, lovely butterfly/Into a world more fair/With azure sky far mor e high/Than that blue sky up there.’ You wrote that when you were eleven —see, I put the date on it: August 1915.” Six years after writing that butterfly poem, I sat in the library across from Jack Daniel, trying to come up with an idea for the song. I didn’ t much care for Jack. H is pimples were mostly gone, but he seemed overly impressed with his own brilliance. He’d already had his poetry published in some little magazine no one had heard of. “We have to work the class colors in to the poem,” Jack said . “That’s a good place to start.” “I didn’t know we even had class colors. When was that decided? And what are they?” Jack looked at me with utter disdain. “For your i nformation they’re red and gray, and we voted on them last fall, before the Autumn Festival dance. You don’t recall that?” “I didn’t go to the Autumn Festival dance,” I sniffed . “But aren’t there some other school colors? Scarlet and azure?” I was thinking, I suppose, of the azure sky in my childhood poem. “Red and blue, Peg,” Dani el sighed. “Red and blue are the school colors. We’re talking now about our class colors.” I had once managed to write an eight hundredword short story with much less fu ss, but then I wasn’t trying to work with a self appointed poet laureate. A fter hours of debate we ’d cobble d together a poem.


37 Our Red and Gray we’ll ne’er forget, / We’ll always to our Class be true. / What e’er we do thruout our lives / We’ll k eep unstained the Red and Blue. “Very colorful,” I allowed. I graduated with high grades and plans to attend college in New York City. Mimsy was the valedictorian, no surprise, and gave a stirring address on “Beauty in Modern Life” with references to art, music, poetry , and dance. Prizes were awarded in Latin, physics, chemistry, mathematics, and Mimsy collected the Babcock Prize for her short story based on Hermione, the daughter of Helen of Troy. “I didn’t even know Helen had a daughter,” Tubby said. “But if anybody w ould know, it’s Mimsy.” I stayed at the dance for about fifteen minutes after the commencement exercises with no expectations —a good thing, because not one boy even glanced my way. What boy could love a girl who loves snakes and frogs? Or even want to da nce with her? “ It’s not the snakes and frogs that are the problem, ” Tubby said. She’d stayed at the dance until she’d gotten tired of Jack Daniel hanging around and gone home. “It’s that you always seem so sure of yourself! So confident ! And I think that scares them off. Just look at those crystal chandelier girls. Some of them might be strong as an ox , but when a boy they like comes within range, they look as though they couldn’t open a jar of jelly without masculine help. Maybe you should cultivate some of that—you know, the helpless maiden.” “All right,” I said sarcastically, “but I’m probably incompetent at trying to appear incompetent.” Tubby laughed. “You’re probably right. Anyway, you’ll be off to college in the fall, and everythi ng will be different.” * * * *


38 That summer I took the train to Rutgers University in New Brunswick, where I was enrolled in classes in swimming and aesthetic dancing. I was already a good swimmer —I’d been on the high school girls’ swim team —but I wan ted to become an excellent swimmer, because I believed that , as a herpetologist out collecting specimens in the wild , I might frequently be around bodies of water . The Amazon, maybe, or the Nile! When Ruth and I were children, our mothe r had sent us to dancing class to learn the waltz and the foxtrot , while crystal chandelier girls studied ballet or tap. A esthetic dancing —barefoot, no point shoes or tap shoes required —was a form of selfexpression, and, best of all, it didn’t require a partner. I’d been walking home along fence tops since my first years of grammar school and already had good balance, but I wanted to have complete control of my body, my bones and muscles, and I thought this kind of dancing would develop it . The instructor , Madame Chartier , was a gaunt woman in a tight fitting black garment from neck to ankles that she wore under a flowing black skirt , her dark hair with a dramatic white streak pulled severely back into a chignon . “Once upon a time,” Madame Chartier told us , “ ballet was my life . I danced en pointe, I had beautiful extension!” She paused to demonstrate, her elegant arms and legs in a breathtaking pose. “But then I studied with Ruth St. Denis and her husband, Ted Shawn—ah, what a glorious pair ! —and my focus moved away from m y limbs , in to the center of my body . I learned to focus on my breathing and the movement of my body. And that, my dears, is what I want you to do: Breathe! Move! Feel that energy coursing through your entire body!” Day after day I breathed and I moved. I had always been a bit chubby, but the swimming and dancing streamlined my roundish figure . My body became lithe and sleek . O ne of the


39 dancers loaned me a lipstick and showed me how to use it. I looked in the mi rror and liked what I saw. N o longer a plain, baby faced girl but a pretty seventeen year old smiled back at me. The other thing that happened during that summer was my growing friendship with our neighbors, Mr. Henry Munger and his sister, Miss Jessie Munge r. Bound Brook was not a wealthy town. Probably most of the people living there could have been described as linsey woolseys. The crystal chandelier types had homes in Plainfield—large villas, not quite mansions, with sweeping green lawns and elaborate flo wer beds that changed with the seasons. T he Mungers could very well have lived in Plainfield , but for some reason they chose not to. Mr. Munger puttered around his flower gardens and looked after his own lawn, although he had reached an age when that was becoming harder . S ometimes my mother sent Roger over to the Mungers’ a few blocks away to help out. They always offered to pay Roger for his efforts, but Mother forbade him to accept any money. “It’s what neighbors do ,” she said. “They look out for each other.” Roger objected, saying he wanted to have some extra spending money, and he promised to save half of whatever he made, but Mother was unbending. So Roger rode over on his bicycle to help with the weeding and mow ing and snow shoveling and sometimes ran errands for Miss Munger without pay, but I have no doubt she slipped him a quarter every now and then and Roger didn’t say no , and h e didn’t report this income to Mother . Miss Munger had problems with her eyesight, and this was where I came in. T wo or three times a week I read to her for an hour or so. We sat in the dark Victorian front parlor with the dusty velvet draperies and weighty furniture and inscrutable paintings in heavy gilt frames crowding every wall, the lights all burning, even on the brightest summer day. Miss Munger


40 always called for tea somewhere between chapters, and it was Mr. Munger who obliged, as though he was a servant, carrying a large silver tray and a plate of slightly stale cookies. When I t old Mother about it, she began sending over a tin of cookies fresh from our own oven. Miss Munger had a fondness for historical novels, particularly if they were set in England and featured the Tudors. She loved every one of Henry VIII’s wives. S he was int erested in many other things as well, and I once brought my hognose snake to visit. Miss Munger squinted at him when he reared up and hissed at her and applauded softly when he played dead. “What is it you intend to study, Margaret?” she asked on my last visit before I was to leave for college. “Herpetology. ” “ The study of snakes! How thrilling! ” she said. “But is that a proper calling for a young lady , I wonder ?” Then she recalled that the highlight of her life had been a trip to India with her grandmother when she was a girl . “The colors!” she said every time she spoke of it. “And the sounds, my dear ! The smells, too, but that’s another story.” I was packing my clothes, folding another drab dress as well as several pairs of those awful cotton stockings. Ruth, home from Boston where she was in college, sat on her bed across from mine. She was trying to assure me that from now on everything would be different. “C ollege boys aren’t like those boys who di dn’t pay attention to you in high school ,” she said. “Y ou probably scared them off . You’ re too smart, too ambitious, too driven . Boys mature more slowly than girls, you know, and in high school they just don’t know what to make of a girl who is as confident as you seem to be. But that will change. You’ll see.”


41 That was pretty much what Tubby had said. Maybe she was right. “Has it changed for you?” I asked. “I’m not like you, Peg,” Ruth replied. “I’ve never been like you. I love the law classes I’m taking, I get good grades, and I’ m contented with that. I’ve never had the slightest desire to do things that other women don’t . I don’t want to be different. And you do.” “Yes,” I said. “You’re right. That’s true.” When I’d finished packing, we all piled into the family car, a strange lo oking vehicle that had been modified by some of my father’s inventions and always drew quizzical looks. Father drove to the women’s residence hall at Barnard College where I’d be living while I attended classes at Columbia, the men’s college across the str eet . Columbia didn’t admit women, but we could enroll in science courses there while we took our required courses, such as English composition, at Students’ Hall on the Barnard campus. I didn’t have much luggage. “Call if you need anything,” Father said, setting down the battered old suitcase my mother had loaned me. “Remember, Margaret, never take the easy way,” Mother told me, predictably. Roger promised to take care of our various animals. From now on everything will be different, Ruth had said. But th ey weren’t. Nothing changed—at least not right away.


42 Chapter 4. A Mature and Intelligent Young Woman I’d signed up for biology, zoology, mathematics, and chemistry at Columbia, and most of the students in my classes were boys. The girls in my residence hall laughed at things I didn’t find funny, and they never seemed to tire of discussing clothes and parties and the handsome philosophy professor . My roommate, Madge Jacobson, a pretty girl with a curly blond bob and a closetful of smart dresses, would have fit perfectly with the crystal chandeliers. While I was studying in the library, Madge and her friends sp ent their free time playing bridge and talking incessantly about the Columbia boys t hey met . Madge had boys asking her for dates from her first week on campus. We had strict hours —eight o’clock on weeknights, midnight on weekends, ten on Sundays. The hours didn’t bother me. Why would I want to stay out any later? There was a telephone in a booth at the end of the hall, and we had to take turns answering “Good evening, Fourth Floor Brooks Hall,” from seve n until quiet hours began at ten; no calls were allowe d after ten . I hated that one hour a week when it was my turn to sit by the phone and answer when it rang , then trot off to knock on the door of the fortunate girl. I t never rang for me. At the start of Christmas vacation I caught the train from Manhatta n out to Bound Brook. As usual, I had brought a satchel of books with me. M y nose was deep in my chemistry book when a male voice asked if the seat next to me happened to be available. I glanced up and


43 nodded, and he sat down . I glanced over . He was older but goodlooking, t all and thin with fine features and bright blue eyes behind hornrimmed glasses that slipped down his nose . He observed me observing him and smiled , displaying perfectly even teeth . I smiled back, a little nervously. He pointed to the book in my lap. “Organic chemistry,” he said. “You’re a student, then?” I said I was. “ Columbia University. I plan to major in herpetology. ” At first I kept my finger in the book to mark my place, but soon I forgot about it. He was a scientist, he sa id, on his way to Cal co Chemical in Bound Brook where he was about to sta rt work as a research chemist. He was easy to talk to. “They manufacture dyes,” he said. “That’s what I’ll be working on.” Brief pause, then, “My name is Franois Gilfillan . Please call me Gil.” “Peg gy White,” I said. My name sounded terribly dull and ordinary, compared to someone named Franois. “ My home is in Bound Brook.” We shook hands. “I’m from Ninnekah, Oklahoma,” he said. “I’m probably the only person from Ninnekah who’s ever been named Franois.” I was light headed when we both got off the train in Bound Brook. He helped me with my small bag —I didn’t need help, but , remembering Tubby’s advice, I let him—and introduced him to my father, who had come to the station to meet me. They seemed to make a favorable impression on each other right from the start. “It appears that your daughter and I have similar interests in science, Mr. White,” Gil said while they were still shaking hands. He seemed more formal than the boys I knew. “May I have your permission to call on her?”


44 F ather glanced at me, and a little smile twitched at his lips. “Of course, Mr. Gilfillan, ” he said. And Gil did call. At my mother’s suggestion, I invite d him to come f or Christmas dinner , and he accept ed . I wondered if, while Gil was there, Father would have a sudden inspiration and wander off to make notes or draw diagrams for one of his inventions. He was working on something extremely complicated, he said, the most complicated project yet. I had not seen him since Thanksgiving, and I thought he looked pale and drawn. “Maybe you need to take a rest, Father,” I said. “You look tired.” “I’m fine, Margaret,” he assured me. “I’m just fine.” Christmas Day dawned. There was no decorated tree, no wreath on the front door. I thought it would have been nice to have some cheerful touch, but my parents saw no reason for holly or shiny glass balls. My parents didn’ t practice any religion, and they would have probably served what we always ate on Sunday—chicken fr icassee and dumplings —if Ruth hadn’t intervened and persuaded Mother to order a big roasting chicken, instead of one small bird that she usually stretched to feed the five of us. We would stuff the roaster , mash potatoes with cream, fix glazed carrots, bake Parker House rolls , and serve apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (“ la mode” Ruth called it) for dessert. It would be a real holiday feast. “You’ve been spending too much time with the upper crust in Boston,” Mother sniff ed, but I could tell she was pleased to be fixing some of the dishes she’d learned in her school cooking classes. Mother and Ruth and I spent the morning in the kitchen. After everything was ready, I went upstairs to change. I wished I had something gay and f estive to wear, but everything I


45 owned seemed just the opposite . However, I had purchased a tube of dark red lipstick and applied it expertly . I thought that was in the spirit of the day , but w hen I came downstairs, Mother saw me and frowned. “It makes you look cheap, Margaret,” she said, but she did not send me to the bathroom to wipe it off. Gil arrived, cheeks reddened with cold , wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and presenting Mother with a box of chocolates. Gil and Father hit it off immediately, as I expected they would. Gil was a serious scientist. Even b efore the chicken emerged from the oven, Father had asked all the critical question s and gotten the answers. Father: “So, Gil, where do you hail from?” Gil: “Well, sir, I was born in Ninnekah, Oklah oma, which you’ve probably never heard of, and my family moved to Texas when I was a boy.” Father: “Educated in Texas, then?” Gil: “A year at the Polytechnic College, but I left and went to visit an uncle in Oregon and got a job teaching high school. Ended up going to college and getting a degree in pharmacy before I joined the army.” There followed questions of where he’d served during the war, and that led to a discussion about chemical warfare. Gil explained that after his discharge from the army he’d gone to Yale on a fellowship from Calco Chemical and had recently gotten hi s doctorate in chemistry. “N ow I’m at Calco as a research chemist. ” Mother (coming in from the kitchen and interrupting): “And how old did you say you are, Mr. Gilfillan?” Gil (turning his attention from Father) : “Twenty eight, Mrs. White. I’ll be twenty nine in January.”


46 Mother: “Twenty eight! Are you aware that Margaret is just seventeen?” Gil looked startled , and I suppose I did, too. I’d guessed he was older than I was , but not that much older. Twelve years sounded like a large age gap, even if it didn’t feel that way. Gil recovered quickly. “Peg —Ma rgaret —strikes me as a very mature and intelligent young woman.” A bright little bubble of happiness expanded in my chest. Not a seventeen year old girl — a mature and intelligent young woman! I turned away to hide a grin. Nothing more was said about my age, and we lurched awkwardly to another topic until it was time to bring the food to the table. Father carved inexpertly, as though he’d never seen a roast chicken, and dishes were passed around. Gil complimented everything, but otherwise i t was a quiet meal. My father didn’t like a lot of conversation at meals, but at least he didn’t bolt from the table to make notes on his latest project. Mother and Ruth kept eyeing Gil surreptitiously, and Roger stared him with undisguised curios ity. I felt vaguely embarra ssed. We rarely had guests for dinner, and this was the first boy—man, actually —I ha d ever brought home, the first who had ever paid attention to me, and I had no idea how to act. I ate silently and occasionally jumped up to bustle in and out of the kitche n, carrying away dirty dishes, industriously scraping them , glad for something to do before returning to the dining room . “You should be in there entertaining your beau,” Mother whispered as she rinsed the dishes. “Goodness knows your father won’t do it.” “He’s n ot my beau! And he and Father are actually talking .” We crept closer to the swinging door between the kitchen and the dining room to listen . A deep conversation was in progress . I relaxed, a little.


47 Dessert appeared. Ruth had produced a handsome apple pie, and Roger announced that he had cranked the ice cream freezer himself until he thought his arm would fall off. My parents didn’t drink coffee, so they didn’t offer any—just another round of ice water from a pitcher with an embarrassing chip on the rim. I wasn’t sure what to do ne xt. Nobody else did either. W e sat on and on at the table, trying to think of something to say, until Roger spoke up. “Do you want to see my rabbits?” Gil said he did, and we all t rooped out to the backyard. Roger introduced his bunnies one by one and allowed Gil to pet them. I t had begun to snow lightly. Finally Gil praised the meal one more time, wished us a Happy Christmas again , shook hands with Father, and retrieved his hat and overcoat. “Goodbye, Peggy,” he said. “Thank you for inviting me to be a part of your family’s celebration.” Celebration? It hadn’t seemed like much of a celebration. Gil stepped out into the whirling snow, and t he door closed firmly behind him. I stood at the window, watching. He shove d his hands deep in his pockets, hunched forward, and hurr ied down the front walk and turned the corner. “Where does he live?” Ruth asked. “How’s he getting home? It’s snowing pretty hard. ” “I don’t know. ” “Well,” said Mother, dropping into her chair. “That’s that.” A few d ays later a note arrived address ed to Mr. and Mrs. Joseph White , thanking them for their kind hospitality. There was no mention of the mature and intelligent young woman. * * * *


48 Gil telephoned me at Brooks Hall —the first phone call I’d received there —and invited me to have dinner with him on his birthday, January twelfth. He would take the train into the city from Bound Brook after work in the laboratory . “We can meet at Pierre’s. It’s a nice little F rench restaurant near the train station. ” I mentioned t hat I had an eight o’clock week night curfew, and Gil promised to escort me back to my residence hall in time. When I told Madge that I planned to wear my one “good” outfit, which wasn’t very good at all, and my dreadful cotton stockings, she offered to loan me an entire outfit . “You’re going to Pierre’s, my dear ,” she said . “ You can’t go there looking like a farmer’s daughter.” O ut came Madge’s smart little black suit , peacock blue hat and gloves , and silk stockings —the stockings alone made me feel as though I was dressed to the nines . My tweed coat would have to do. Mother had bought for me when I was a freshman in high school, a size larger than I usually wore because she’d thought I had n’ t finished growing. It was an investment and worth every penny, Mother had said, because Irish tweed doesn’t wear out and I’d have it for years. But it was still one size too large and made me look like a middle aged housewife , older and dowdier than a far mer’s daughter . “N ow the makeup,” Madge said , and went to wor k—rouge on the cheeks, powder on the nose, black pencil around the eyes , and finally the lipstick. “Remember to re do the lipstick when you’ve finished eating. Be sure to blot your lips, b ut be careful when he kisses you that you don’t smudge,” she warned. When he kisses me? I hadn’t considered that possibility . The girls in our wing of the residence hall had thoroughly discussed the topic of when it was proper to let a boy kiss you the first time . Most agreed that the third date was all right . A few who were considered fast by the


49 others dismissed this as prudish. “If you want to kiss him on the first date, then do it! What’s the harm in that?” “But y ou want the boy to respect you,” argued overweight, sallow skinned Muriel, and the prudes nodded sagely. Madge sided with the fast girls. Kissing was fine, my roommate declared , b ut you did have to maintain your standards and not let it go beyond that . “No petting,” Madge advised firmly. “Not until you’ve been dating regularly for a couple of months. ” I ’d listened close ly , and silently . T hey all seemed to have had plenty of experience in dating—even Muriel —and most had established time tables for each step beyond the first kiss. But I had no experience at all, and t his would be my first real date. Gil was so much older that I was sure he ’d had plenty of dates and would know what was expected. He didn’t seem like the type to take advantage of a girl. I checked the seams on my borrowed stockings for the last time; I was ready. I had my doubts about meeting Gil at the restaurant, but Madge thought it was fine. “ It’s much more sop histicated to meet him there than to have him make the long haul up to a dormitory in Morningside Heights. ” I arrived at Pierre’s too early and fidgeted nervously, not sure what a girl was supposed to do while waiting for her date . I ordered coffee, even though I seldom drank coffee and didn’t care for it, but I felt that ordering a glass of milk would betray my utter lack of sophistication. The waiter in a long white apron appeared indifferent. I poured in as much cream as the cup would hold and sipped th e pale coffee until it was cold. S hould I pay for it? Or wait for Gil to pay for it?


50 At last he rushed in, overcoat flapping, glasses steaming in the sudden heat of the restaurant , full of apologies and explanations: his boss want ed additional data before he could leave, the trains didn’t run as often as he thought. He slid into a chair across from me, rubbing his hands to warm them . “Well,” he said, smiling, “here we are.” “Happy Birthday,” I said. Should I have bought him a gift? But what would have been the right thing to buy? “Thank you.” I wondered if Gil could see how nervous I was. I’d left a red lip print on the rim of the coffee cup —had that taken it all off? Should I go to the ladies room and put on more? Or wait until a fter I’d eaten? The waiter appeared and saved me. “ Bonsoir, m’sieur et mam’selle ,” he said with a stiff bow , handing me a menu . T wo years of Madame Bosc’s French class had not included any food vocabulary. I recognized a few words, like poulet , chicken, but I had no idea if the poulet was baked, boiled, or fried. W hen Gil said he ’d heard that the potage d’oignon was excellent, and the waiter recommended the vol au vent , whatever that was, I went along with their suggestions. Gil talked about his work in the lab and asked questions about herpetology that sounded as though he actually cared and wasn’t just being polite. Boys I’d known in high school had always fled when the conversation veered toward my future plans , but Gil paid attention . By the time my e mpty potage bowl was whisked away and a pastry filled with somethingor other was set before me, my self consciousness was gradually disappearing. After some delicious mousse au chocolat and another demitasse de caf, there was the sudden realization that we ’d have to rush like mad to make it back to the residence hall by


51 curfew. Gil took my elbow and hustled me down curbs , across streets, and along sidewalks to the imposing entry of Brooks Hall with the row of Greek columns . After a hurried thank you and goodbye —there was no time to even think about a kiss —I stepped through t he door into the brightly lighted lobby, past th e dour house mother frowning at her watch. For five days I thought often of Gil , wondering if there would be another date and another possibility for a kiss. Then, at last, I received a telephone call . But it wasn’ t Gil. It w as Mother. “C ome home as quick as you can, Margaret . Father is in a coma.”


52 Chapter 5 . Relatives and Revelations My f ather had suffered a stroke . It was not his first. Five years earlier , before Ruth left for college in Boston, we’ d just finished supper . I t was Ruth’s turn to wash the dishes; I was drying. Father sat in his usual chair, thinking, and Mother sat in her chair, sew ing and probably trying to get him to talk to her. He’d made an odd noise and slumped over. Mother jumped up and ran to him. So did I, still holding the dishtowel. He ’d seemed to be trying to talk, but nothing came out except strange garbled sounds. Ruth rushed to call the doctor. It was a stroke, the doctor had told us then . I didn’t know what a stroke was, but I soon learned: Father couldn’t move his left arm or leg, part of his face was paralyzed, and he couldn’t speak . I ’d thought that he was going to die. But he had not, and every day as soon as I came home from school —I was twelve at the time and in the sixth grade —I sat beside him and described everything that happened that day . Mr. Hoe, t he owner of the company where Father worked, had co me to the house to visit him . “We are much indebted to you, White,” Mr. Hoe said, patting my father’s hand. “W e wish to assure you that your job wi ll be waiting for you when you’ re able to come back to work.” It had been a long and frustrating process, the gradual return of speech and movement, a slow recovery of even the simplest tasks. In time Father was well enough to return to the foundry and his work at the foundry. E ventually he was back to normal and took Ruth and Roger and me on a trip to Niagara Falls.


53 T his time it was different. He was unconscious. The doctor was not optimistic. For the next two days I stayed by his side , holding his hand and speaking to him softly as he lay silent and unmoving. “Do you remember when I was about eight years old and you took me to your factory?” I asked. T he day had been bright and sunny, but inside the foundry where the printing presses were manufactured I had entered a different world—dusty, smoky, and terribly noisy. You had to shout to make yourself heard above the roar and clang of the machinery. Father and I had climbed metal stairs to an iron balcony and looked down on an awesome, terrifying scene. I’d clutched Father’s hand then, as I clutched it now . A gigantic ladle filled with molten iron and suspen ded from an overhead track was guided into place . A fiery cascade of red hot liquid metal poured into molds down on the factory floor . Sparks flew and danced, accompanied by a blast of intense heat. “I’ll never forget that, Father,” I whispered now and squeezed his hand, willing him to squeeze back, but there was no response. Ruth rushed home from Boston and spelled me at Father’s bedside. I was reluctant to leave, but m y sister and my mother insisted and , exhausted, I gave in . N ot long after I left the hospital and went home to climb into my childhood bed, my Father died. I have never gotten over the fact that I was not with him at that moment. Mother was completely shaken. Father’s brother, Lazar us , called Lazar —an engineer, like Father —a nd Uncle Lazar’s wife, Naomi, came at once. So did Grandmother White and my two cousins, Felicia and David . But for reasons that I couldn’t fathom , my mother disliked her


54 mother in law and sister in law, and she had only grudging respect for Uncle Lazar. Her feelin gs were obvious, and she didn’t try to hide them. When I asked why, Mother said, “They t hink they’re bet ter than we are, because Lazar makes more money than your father ever did. ” That was Mother’s explanation, but I believed there must be more to it than she admitted . Mr. Hoe and a handful of men from the foundry appeared with solemn faces on a blustery January day and stood bare headed by the open grave in the Plainfield cemetery where the family had gathered . Holding somber black fedoras, they assured M other that Joseph White would never be forgotten and a plaque in his memory would be mounted outside the main office. A tall, thin man with a goatee began to read from a notebook, saying what a fine person Joseph White had been. I’d never seen him before. How did he know anything about my father? Mother and Father had disavowed any sort of religious belief. The Bourkes, my m other’s Irish family , were Roman Catholic, but my grand mother had broken away and become a devout Bap tist. Mother wanted no parts of ei ther the Catholics or the Baptists and followed Father in joining the Ethical Culture So ciety in New York. A leader of the society had performed their marriage ceremony, and now another leader —they didn’t call them priests or ministers —had made the trip to Plainfield . He called on Uncle Lazar to say a few words, and then it was over. Roger sobbed and clutched Mother’s skirt. Mother looked as though every drop of blood had been drained from her, and I was afraid that she, too, might topple into the yawning grave . Uncle Lazar and Aunt Naomi and Grandmother White clung to each other as a shovelful of dirt was flu ng onto the plain wooden coffin. My cousins stared dolefully at the grave. Mother handed each of us a white rose she’d bought from a florist, and we stepped forward and dropped them onto the dirt. T he men from R. Hoe & Company replaced their fedoras and left.


55 The rest of us drove back to our house, and Mother tied on an apron and served lunch, briskly ladling out steaming bowls of pea soup. Uncle Lazar and Aunt Naomi shook their heads, explaining that they weren’t hungry, but Grandmother White refused the bowl Mother offered her . “I don’t eat ham,” she said. “You made this soup with a ham bone.” “That’s right,” Mother said , her chin lifted defiantly . “I did.” “You should have known I wouldn’t eat it.” Grandmother White and Mother glared at each other. The others looked away , except for Ruth, who glanced at me and shrugged . No one seemed to have much appetite, but we ate —there was plenty of bread and applesauce for the nonsoup eaters —and then the inlaws prepared to leave. Uncle Lazar gave Roger and Ruth and me tentative hugs. “I’ll do what I can to help you with your schooling, if you need it,” he promis ed. We thanked him, although I had no idea if we needed it or not . I soon found out that we did. My sister offered to go through Father’s things with Mother , who sat at the dining room table, poring over a pile of bills. “Twenty five years,” she muttered. “Twenty five years of marriage, and I never had the slightest idea of any of this.” The door to Roger’s room was closed. I tapped on it and pushed it open. Roger lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling. “Go away,” he growl ed , trying to sound grownup and manly, but it came out as the sob of a sad little boy. I ruffled his hair, and he pushed my hand away. I left Roger alone and wandered from room to room, gazing at Father’s photographs that crowded every wall. T he one he’d done of Mother in her shawl, lit with a flashlight, her head turned a little, her smile tenuous. Another of Ruth and Roger and me at Niagara Falls, taken after he’d recovered from his first stroke; Mother had said she didn’t want to go anywhere , just


56 want ed to stay home, and waved to us, telling us to go and enjoy ourselves. P ictures of flowers, birds, my butterflies , our old dog, Rover . On t he day before Ruth had to leave for Boston and her law classes , Mother called us together at the dining room table. The flowers sent by friends were wilt ing , and the pies and covered dishes delivered by sympathetic neighbors had been consumed. Ruth brewed a pot of tea and poured a glass of milk for Roger and brought him the last of the neighbors’ cookies. “There’s something I want to tell all of you,” Mother began. “The Whites a re Jews. I’m talking about Lazarus, Naomi, the grandmother, the children—all observant Jews, meaning they obey certain laws that make not a particle of sense to me.” Roger broke off a corner of his molasses cookie and stuffed it into his mouth. I opened my mouth and closed it again. Ruth poured milk into her tea and asked calmly , “What about Father?” “Jewish, too, of course, but not observant. He rejected all of that long before we were married, before I even met him. He told me right off about his family and asked if it mattered to me. I said it didn’t, as far as he was concerned, but I had to be honest and say I’ve never liked Jews. In general, I mean.” Ruth and I stared at Mother, trying to take in what she was saying. “Why?” Roger piped up. He was chasing a crumb around the saucer in front of him. “Why don’t you like Jews?” “Because they ’re all like Lazar and Naomi and think they’re better than anybody else. They call themselves the C hosen People. And they’re greedy. All they care about is money. You don’t see Jews taking the hard jobs . They get someone else to do their dirty work and then make a profit on their labor. So it’s not something you want to brag about, that your own father was born and raised a Jew. ” Mother slapped the table for emphasis. “ When the family moved from


57 Poland to England, their name was Weis, which means White. Then they changed it before they came to America, before your father was born. Grandmother White doesn’t let you forget for a minute who she is . That’s why she was making that fuss ab out not eating my soup because I’d cooked the peas with a hambone, to give it some flavor. Not to deliberately insult her, but she took it that way, didn’t she?” I was speech less, but Ruth was not. “Why are you telling us this now?” S he’d pushed her chair back from the table and begun pacing , her forehead knotted in a frown . “Because someone might bring it up, you never know, and I didn’t want you to be surprised. I wanted you to hear it from me first.” “Is it a secret?” asked Roger. “Not a secret, exactly. You don’t talk about it , but if someone happens to ask you if you’re Jewish, you should say , ‘I am not, but my father was born to a Jewish family.’ And then change the subje ct.” “Oh,” said Roger. “May I please be excused?” Mother nodded, and Roger’s chair scraped away from the table. Ruth sat down again and poured herself another cup of tea. “Uncle Lazar said he’d help us with tu ition, if we need it,” I said. “Well, you proba bly will,” said Mother . “Your father was not prudent with money.” The next day Ruth got on the train for Boston, and it fell to me to visit the law offices of Calhoun and Reilly. Mr. Calhoun, a half dozen thin strands of pale hair combed in even rows acros s his skull, sat behind a large desk and examined the single sheet of paper centered squarely on it . He explained that, although Father had dra wn up a Last Will and Testament stating that his


58 estate was to be divided evenly in four portions among his wife and three children, there was actually no estate to speak of —just a small savings account and a house with a mortgage. Mother was right: Father had not been prudent with money. “You and Ruth will have enough to finish out the year,” Calhoun said, blowing cigarette smoke toward the ceiling . “But after that, I’m afraid you’re on your own.” I was not the same Peggy White when I returned to college a few days later. My father was dead, and my mot her’s life was turned upside down. I had learned that I was half Jewish, whatever that meant . I had no in tention of telling anyone. And I understood that I might not be able to afford to return to classes at Columbia in the fall, if Uncle Lazar decided to change his mind. Madge was in our room, studying, when I walked in and tossed my bag on my bunk. I had left her a note, “Father ill. Going home, ” and I’d signed out of Brooks H all under the housemother’s suspicious eye, listing “Family emergency” under “Re ason for leaving . ” She closed her textbook and looked at me. “Oh , Peggy! I’ve been so worr ied when we didn’t hear from you! ” “My f ather died,” I said , and I opened my suitcase and started unpacking. I was not a person who cried easily . I hadn’t broken down in the hospital when I sat by my father’s bedside , or when the doctor told us that he was dead, or later at the cemetery, or even as I lay on my bed next to Ruth’s . But suddenly, as I shared this news with my roommate , I could not contain my grief, and I began to weep .


59 Madge jumped up and threw her arms around me, gently stroking my hair as I cried . W hen I ’d gotten some sort of control again and wiped my face and bl own my nose, she said, “ A Mr. Gilfillan called you a couple of times . He left his number. ” She pointed to the slips of paper on my desk, each with the same message. But I could not bring myself to walk down the hall to the telephone and put the call through, to hear his voice and tell him what had happened. I was afraid I’d start weeping again. I had missed a few classes at the start of the new semester , and the next day I stopped by to speak to my professors, explain what had happened, and find out what I needed to make up. The days passed, a monotonous routine of getting up, attending class, eating meals or skipping them —it seemed to make no difference—going to bed, and suddenly bursting into tears for no particular reason. I’d been back at college for a week, and it was my turn to answer the telephone . My shift w as almost over when Gil phoned. “Peggy!” he cried. “I’ve been trying to reach you! ” “ I know. I got your messages ,” I said . A lump was already forming in my throat . “My father died.” And I began to sob. He came in to the city to see me after work the next day and took me to the Cafe Prague, a coffee shop owned by a Czech lady famous for her pastries . He asked if I wanted coffee, and I said yes. The girls at Brooks Hall devote d hours to sipping coffee at one of the nondescript coffee shops near the campus , a nd I’d learned to enjoy it, if I added enough cream and sugar. S itting across from me in the cracked leather booth, Gil studied me with kind, thoughtful eyes. “Tell me what happened,” he said, and I recounted the story of my father’s sudden death. He listened quietly, asking a question now and then. I held the cup in both hands, warming them


60 against a sudden chill. When I set the cup down, Gil reached over and squeezed my hand. I hoped he’d keep holding it, but he didn’t —just a squeeze, and then he let it go. We talked , not only about my father but about other things as well. Gil told me more about growing up in Oklahoma and Texas, how different it was here on the East coast, his thoughts of going out w est the following summer. I told him I was planning to look for a summer job, but I didn’t mention I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough money to continue. I explained t hat my uncle had promised to help, but not that my father hadn’t been “prudent with money. ” Of course I didn’t mention the revelation that my father was Jewish and therefore I was half Jewish , b ut I did wonder if the disturbing fact of my background would make a difference to Gil . He paid for our coffee and the Czech pastries and helped me on with my ugly tweed coat. He bent his arm , and I tucked my gloved hand in the crook of his elbow . W e walked across the campus under a black sky full of glittering stars and a silvery Saracen moon. Neither of us spoke. I was thinking of what might com e next: a kiss, warm and heartfelt. As we approached the entrance to Brooks H all, it was hard to ignore the couples embracing in shadowy corners of the portico. The hands of the campus clock edged closer to eight. Gil escorted me straight toward the glare of the entryway and followed me into the reception room where several couples sat quietly, holding hands, murmuring, faces close. Shall I ask him to sit down? Gil clutch ed his hat brim in both hands and stepped away. “ Please accept my condolences for the death of your father. I’m happy that we could see each other and talk, Peggy ,” he said as though reading from a script . “ May I call you again soon?” “Of course, Gil,” I said, trying to match his formal tone. “And thank you for the coffee and pastry. It was quite delicious.”


61 Gill strode briskly down the walkway, collar turned up against a chill wind , and I climbed slowly to my room on the fourth floor just as t he campus clock bonged eight times.


62 Chapter 6 . Picking up a Camera During the second semester I found time to squeeze in a photography class once a week . I’d never been interested in taking photographs —t hat was something my father did—but taking pictures now seemed like a way for me to keep my father’s memory alive . The teacher , Clarence H. White, not related to our family , belonged to a group of famous photographers who believed that photography was an art form , not just a simple matter of clicking the shutter to capture an image, and I learned in Mr. White’s two hour class that i t was possible to do al l sorts of things taking the picture, developing the negative, and making the print to create an image as beautiful as an Impressionist painting. “When I first began taking pictures,” he told us, “I had very little money—only enough for two glass plate negatives each week. All week I thought about what I would do with those two plates on the weekend, when I had time to pho tograph.” I wanted to make lovely, soft focus pictures like his, each one carefully planned. There were a few other girls in the class, and we felt that Mr. White took us seriously— unlike some other famous photographers the girls gossiped about. “Experiment!” he instructed us. “Develop your capacity to see !” Besides teaching at Columbia, Mr. White had founded a p hotography school , and if I hadn’t already been taking so many science classes, I might have signed up for one of his intensive courses.


63 At the b eginning of the semester —I started a little later than the others in my class, due to my father’s death and my responsibilities to my family —I borrowed one of the cameras available to students. I remembered Father’s old camera, and one weekend on a visit home I asked Mother what had happened to it . “I don’t know,” she said. “He stopped taking pictures a year or so ago, and the camera disappeared. He might have given it away, or sold it. But it’s gone.” That was a disappointment , but I would continue using one of the cameras at school. A week later she telephoned. This was unusual —she rarely called me . “I have a surprise for you,” she said. “It will be here the next time you come home.” She had bought me a camera. S he had my eleven year old brother , Roge r, to feed and clothe, but somehow she’d managed to squeeze twenty dollars from her tight budget and bought a secondhand Ica Reflex . It had a cracked lens, but t he crack didn’t matter, because I was more interested in producing the kind of artistic photographs that Clarence White was famous for. This German made camera was the oldfashioned kind, like Father’s and Mr. White’s , that used glass plates to make the negatives , rather than the film that came with the newer cameras most people were using . One evening Mr. White some students to his home to discuss the work of such photographers as Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz. I knew it would be a sophisticated gathering, and I wanted to make an impression. S o I did what I had done in high school —I arrived at the Whites’ house with a pet snake coiled around each arm. Mrs. White didn’t seem to mind. She merely smiled, admired my “ herps, ” and asked if I’d care for a glass of fruit punch. The snakes achieved the desired effect: I was noticed.


64 I was sure I wanted to be a herpetologist and go on exciting adventures of exploration and discovery, but I’d begun to suspect that the scientists on those expeditions were always men. But sur ely they needed a photographer on those exotic trips —and I could be that photographer. I went out often with Gil that spring, but, a mazingly, other boys —students in my science classes—began to call. T he telephone on our floor rang for me quite often , and I accepted their invitations to evening parties. I enjoyed the attention, but the callers were boys — fellows my own age. They were not men , like Gil . Gil and I had fallen into a routine. About once a week he telephoned and we went to see a movie and ended the evening at the Cafe Prague, drink ing coffee and eat ing pala inky. We talked about the work he was doing in the chemistry lab and about my photography class . I didn’t explain why I wa s so enthusiastic: that I saw photography as a way to a life of adventure. I was learning that boys —men, too—seemed put off by girls who had ambitions of their own . It was better not to talk about my dreams. As the weather warmed , Gil and I took rambling walks through Central Park. We climbed the Statue of Liberty, pretending to be tourists , and rode the ferry to Staten Island . On Easter we strolled down Fifth Avenue among crowds of people showing off their finery and fancy hats . We visited art museums and slipped into dimly lit churches to listen to the organist s practicing . Sometimes he held my hand, but he still didn’t kiss me. I wondered if there was another girl he was in love with, some one he took in his arms and kissed passionately . Or maybe he had once been in love with a girl who broke his heart. O f course I never asked. The semester ended. Madge had suggested I apply for a job as a counselor at a summer camp in Connecticut. Her parents had sent her to Camp Agaming every year when she was very


65 young, and she’d worked there as a counse lor the previous summer . N ow s he was going back, and she promised to ask her father, a lawyer, to write a recommendation for me on his firm’s letterhead. With just a few months of Mr. White’s classes, I had the nerve to apply for the position of instructor in photography, and they hired me ! I would also act as a nature counselor, taking the campers on nature walks, introducing them to snakes and butterflies, teaching them to identify plants, showing them the wonders of the outdoor world. I had finished my l ast final exam and was packing up when Gil telephoned and suggested that we meet at the Cafe Prague. The waitress had become so used to us that she brought two cups of coffee and a plate of pala ink y without being asked. I launched enthusiastically into a description of my summer plans . “While you’re cooped up in your lab, ” I told Gil, “ I’ll be out in the fresh air and sunshine, teaching the campers to take pictures when I’m not terrifying the m with hognose snakes that pretend to be puff adders.” Gil laughed. His laugh, a low, quiet chuckle, was one of the things I liked about him . “Shame on you! Scaring innocent children! ” Then he leaned back and looked away. “But I won’t be in the lab at Calco afte r this week. I’ve accepted a position as assistant professor in pharmacy at Oregon Agricultural College in Corvallis. That’s where I got my bachelor’s degree .” “Oh,” I said . “Well, congratulations!” I shouldn’t have been surprised. He’d mentioned before that he’d been thinking of going out west . Even so , I felt let down , deeply disappointed. I can’t say that I was in love with Gil — how would I even know if I was? I’d never been in love. And I had no idea how he felt about me. Gil was a lot like my father: serious about science, dedicated to hard work, and not at all keen on revealing his feelings.


66 “We’ll stay in touch ,” he said. “We’ll write, a nd maybe you could come out to visit. Oregon is beautiful. I think you’d like it.” He walked me back to my residence hall . We stopped under the portico. “Goodbye, Peg. I’ve enjoyed our friendship. I’ll send you my new address.” “ Thank you,” I replied . “I’ve enjoyed it, too .” We shook hands, our fingers lingering for a moment. And that, I supposed, was the end of that. “Who would like to hear a different story of Sleeping Beauty?” I asked a group of chattering ten year olds . T hey stopped for a moment, alert to somethi ng new and possibly interesting. I produced a chrysalis —my “sleeping beauty” —that I was carrying in my pocket, and kept them enchanted for a good ten minutes with the story of how this little cocoon was the home of a n ugly caterpillar that would soon emerge and unfold her magnificent wings . Most of the campers stayed for two weeks, but some had been packed off for a month or longer, and I was constantly challenged to find ways to engage them. When we went out on what I called a photographing expedition, I tried to teach them how to see . “Slow down!” I instructed them. “Look carefully.” But they had no patience. I did have a knack for catching t he attention of even the most restless little girls ; holding their attention was something else. T hey wanted to rush off and take pictures of everything in sight , snapping away indiscriminately with their Kodak Brownie Box cameras. Clarence White taught us that a photographer le aves nothing to chance. “Chance is a poor photographer,” he told us over and over . “Think like an artist. Study your subject.” H e himself composed each photograph with infinite car e, before he finally committed to clicking the shutter. Any such advice was lost on the girls .


67 At the end of the day, after Madge had taught them archery and canoeing on Lake Bantam , other counselors had shepherded them through hours of swimming in its ch illy waters and horseback riding in the hills , and the girls were sound asleep on their camp cots , Madge and I rushed to the darkroom to develop the ir roles of exposed film and print the ir snapshots, ready to show the girls the next morning. On my rare da ys off I went hiking with my camera and climbed to the highest point I could find. T he whole valley lay spread out below me. A fence erected to keep careless hikers from plung ing off the cliff spoiled the view, but I was not deterred by a mere fence. U p an d over I went, creeping as close to the cliff edge as possible, and lay flat on the ground near the lip or balanced my camera on a rock. Madge, who sometimes went with me on these expeditions, fretted from a safe distance and reminded me to be careful. Often I rose long before dawn while my campers were still asleep and set off in the moonlight to reach the best possible place from which to photograph the sunrise. Sometimes I had to make sev eral attempts to get the perfect shot, either because it started to rain , or clouds interfered, or the angle of the sun wasn’t quite what I wanted. I celebrated my eighteenth birthday by packing a lunch and hitching a ride to Mohawk Mountain, some fifteen miles away. I was paid a small salary, but t uition would soon come due for my sophomore year — nearly seven hundred dollars —and I wasn’t sure how much Uncle Lazar was willing to contribute . Then I had an idea for making money. The girls who’d cried when thei r parents dropped them off wept copious tears when it was time to leave , and I realized that those girls who had develope d an attachment to “Miss Peggy ” were ideal customers for picture postcards. If I made a portrait of each camper , a picture of her grinning happily in front of her cabin, and


68 another of her lounging on her bunk or engaged in some camping activity, she would have a unique postcard to send home each week. Her family would clamor for more. I was right —o rders poured in by the dozen. I charged a nickel apiece, which t he girls paid out of their pocket money. I could probably have charged more for them, but I had no money sense. In that regard, I was too much like my father. Encouraged, I expanded my original idea and took a number of photographs of the camp: the carved wooden sign at the end of the road, a row of canoes drawn up on the shore, the archery range framed through a drawn bow , a horse silhouetted against a panoramic view of the lake. With the idea that summer visitors were likely custo mers for scenes of rural Connecticut, I printed up a number of sample post cards and set off for the village and the Old Litchfield Treasure House. Two elegant white haired ladies smiled benevolently when I entered their shop and introduced myself. “I’m Margaret White,” I said, thinking that Margaret was more professional sounding than Peggy. “ I’m a student of photographer Clarence H. White.” “Clarence White!” exclaimed the lady with her snowy hair in a chignon. J ust like that, his name opened the door for me. I went back to Camp Agaming with an order for five hundred postcards. This was exhilarating, but now I had to figure out a way to print them, and to pay for the chemicals I needed before I could collect a cent . The campers and their families continued to clamor for my cards. “Oh, don’t worry about it,” Madge said airily. “ I’ll help you as much as you need, and you don’t even need to pay me.” W e worked furiously to keep up with our duties as counselors and stayed up night a fter night to keep up with orders.


69 Toward the end of August t he camp program end ed , and most of my girls went home. But two sisters living nearby, Phyllis and Marian, had shown real aptitude with their box cameras and were fascinated by what happened in t he darkroom. “It’s like magi c, Miss Peggy,” sighed Phyllis. Marian added, “And you’re a magician.” I showed them how to wash the prints. They got used to working in near total darkness with the glowing red light, and they didn’t seem to mind the smell of c hemicals. Each time an image emerged on the printing paper, they were as excited as the first time they’d seen it happen. By the time my young assistants had to go back to school and I returned home , I had sold nearly two thousand cards. T hat wasn’t nearly enough to pay my tuition at Columbia . My mother and I sat at our dining room table, star ing dolefully at the figures she’d laid out on a sheet of lined paper and trying to figure out what to do. Mother had taken a job selling insurance policies for a sm all company in Plainfield but she’ d had only limited success . She decided to sell our car, since she had no desire to learn to drive, but money from the sale had gone to repair the furnace and pay off other bills. And now there was the probl em of Roger. “I’m determined to send your brother to private school, ” she said. “H is performance in public school has been dismal. I know he’s not stupid, but his grades are terrible.” “Maybe Uncle Lazar will help?” I suggested. “Maybe. ” She sounded doubtful . Then, a sudden and unexpected miracle. Mr. Henry Munger phoned and asked me to come to v isit; Miss Jessie Munger was especially eager to speak with me, he said . I had not visited them since the first of January, when I stopped by to wis h them a happy New Year. The Mungers greeted me warmly and ushered me into the parlor where I had spent so


70 many hours reading to Miss Jessie . Mr. Henry brought in a pot of peppermint tea and a plate of cookies. “So, Margaret,” Mr. Munger began when we were settled and sipping. “You’ve finished your first year of college. I hear that you did very well in your courses .” “Yes, I did,” I replied and helped myself to a stale cookie. “I received high marks in all my classes.” “And are you still planning to continue with your study of...of...oh, I do forget what it is you’re studying, all those snakes and lizards and such.” “Herpetology. Yes, I am. If possible,” I added. The two old people exchanged glances. “Well, my dear Margaret,” began Mr. Henry in his raspy voice, “Miss Jessie and I are happy to tell you that we’ve decided to pay your college tuition and expenses for the coming year.” Speechless, I stared at them , scarcely believing what I ’d heard. “And longer , if things go well,” added Miss Jessie. “Which we anticipate that they will,” said Mr. Henry . Finally I found my voice. “I am delighted that you have so much faith in me, and I want to assure you that you won’t regret it. But I also want to assure you that I intend to repay every penny of this loan.” “Oh, no, my dear!” Miss Jessie trilled. “We’ll hear of no such talk of a loan . What we do ask, though, is that when you have achieved the success we know you will, that you will find another young person in financial need and help her.” “Or him,” said Mr. Henry . “We’re investing in you and your future, my dear.”


71 N early dizzy with this astonishing turn of events , I listened as the Mungers laid out their plans for me. They felt that the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor would be a better place for me to study herpetology . There was a professor of zoology named Arthur G. Rut hven whose reputation they knew. T hey wanted me to transfer from Columbia to study with Dr. Ruthven, beginning with that term. “It’s clever and industrious of you to have set up t his postcard business, Margaret, but honestly I think you can find better ways to invest your time and energy,” said Miss Munger . “ For one thing, it’s sure to be hard on your eyes, squinting through a lens and then spending all that time in the darkroom. F or another, a young woman as attractive as you should have an enjoyable social life in the company of other young people. But you must dress the part, my dear! Buy yourself some nice clothes, the proper kind for a lovely young student. We know you won’t be extravagant. It’s not in your nature. That much is clear.” “Silk stockings,” I murmur ed , still in a state of shock. “Yes, my dear, silk stockings! And a few smart dresses and —for goodness sake —a coat that fits you properly.” “ Of course , Miss Munger,” I ag reed . “Deep r ose,” Miss Jessie mused thoughtfully. “You would look terribly attractive in a rose colored dress. Please leave the brown and gray ones in Bound Brook.” “Now go home and start packing,” Mr. Munger instructed. “A bank account has been establis hed for you in Ann Arbor. I know you’ll use it wisely. It will be replenished when necessary. We’ve taken the liberty of buying you a train ticket. You are to leave within a fortnight. I’ve sent a letter to Dr. Ruthven, recommending you. Look him up as soon as you get there and sign up for his courses. ”


72 I hugged my benefactors —I’d never done that before —and rushed home to tell Mother the news. She was thrilled at the Mungers’ offer to finance my education for a year. “It’s a loan, of course . We’ll pay back every penny. I hope you assured them of that. ” “That’s exactly what I told them,” I said, and explained what the Mungers had said about helping another needy student in the future . “Miss Jessie also told me that I should get some new clothes, and that I should not skimp but get whatever I need,” I added. Mother harr umphed. “Then you must keep track of whatever you spend on clothes, although I frankly can’t see that it’s at all necessary,” she’d said. “What you already have is perfectly serviceable. One or t wo new dresses, perhaps, but that’s all. That’s just so much less that you will then owe the Mungers, however you intend to repay that debt.” Just before I left New Jersey, a letter arrived from Gil, postmarked Corvallis, Oregon. It was friendly enough, beginning “Dear Peggy” and signed “Yours truly, Gil. ” He described the courses he would teach and the apartment he’d rented on the top floor of an old house with a shared bath one floor below. “But I do have a sliver of a view of the Cascade Range, and if you should decide to pay me a visit, there are some very nice hiking trails in the Willamette Valley.” If you should decide to pay me a visit. That was the only hint in the letter that we were anything but distant acquaintances. I carried the letter with me to Michigan, intending to wri te back , once I was settled . There had been times when I thought I might be in love with him . Twice during my first month in Ann Arbor I began a letter to Gil: “N ice to hear from you. I’ve transferred to U of Michigan and have started classes.” But I couldn’t think what else to say. I put the unfinished letter in a book, thinking I’d continue it later, when I did have more to


73 say, about my classes and the unfamiliar campus, or how it felt to be so far from home. And then I forgo t about the letter, and soon I forgot about Gil.


74 Chapter 7 . A Butterfly in Michigan I’d been assigned a single room on the third floor of Betsy Barbour House, the women’s residence hall that everyone called “Betsy’s.” My room was cramped and dark, but the dining room and two parlors were bright and elegant, one with a grand piano and a f ireplace, the other with windows looking out on the sweep of green lawn. Girls entertained their dates in these parlors, and teas were held there twice a month for the girls and their parents and beaux visiting from out of town. There were only a few doub les, and I was just as happy not to have a new roommate. But I did wish that Madge had come with me. She owned a closetful of pretty clothes and never had to worry about whether she was stylishly dressed. I was still feeling my way along, not sure what my style should be. Madge could have advised me, but she had begun her sophomore year at Barnard and was dating a boy from Yale and barely had time to answer my letters. There were far more men than women at the university, and t he telephone on the third floor hall rang constantly for other girl s. B ut not for me. It was like starting all over again. Not surprisingly, I suppose , people thought I was odd, maybe even peculiar, for keeping snakes in my room . Oscar , an elegantly banded milk snake, escaped from his glass terrarium and slithered down the hall, terrifying a n unsuspecting girl who’d stopped by from another dormitory and assumed he must be poisonous. Oscar was not dangerous, and I tried to explain to her that Oscar


75 was quite benign. “Red on yellow, deadly fellow, red on black, venom lack,” I told her helpfully, and she screamed , “I don’t care! I don’t care! Get him away from me!” I was determined to learn to fit in, to stop being an outsider, the eccentric girl who kept pet snakes in her room —without, of course, giving up the snakes. I was going to be a herpetologist! W hy should I not keep snakes? I had been in Ann Arbor for about a month when one of the girls on the third floor, Florence, suggested that w e go to a dance that the Congregational Church was holding for students. I had no idea what a Congregational Church was like, and I dreaded another dance where I’ d be unasked, again . Nevertheless, I agreed to go. I still had not got up the nerve to bob my hair , but I had taken the Mungers’ advice and their money and gone shopping for new clot hes. Not just ordinary clothes —beautiful clothes: a black dress of knit crepe with a long, draped skirt and draped sle eves of sheer linen printed in the soft rose color Miss Jessie had recommended, and t hat was the dress I chose to wear to the church dance. The dress must have caught the eye of every male in that dingy church basement . I danced every dance, and boys cut in constantly, so that when I started waltzing with one boy, I was soon foxtrotting with another, and then two stepping with Partner Number Three. I felt like a queen, and soon I had a whole line of kings, or at least princes, waiting to dance with me . For the first time in my life I was no t a wallflower. I was the belle of the ball. I went back to the church dances with Florence a couple of times, and then I went without her. I think she got tired of watching me attract so much attention. Each time I met more boys who seemed fascinated by me. * * * *


76 My classes were going well. I studied hard and generally pulled good grades —an A in literature pleased me. I should have done better than a C in astronomy, and I might have had straight A’s if I had not gotten so caught up with photography. I c arried my camera wherever I went, and I went everywhere pos sible. B oys who liked to dance with me were also willing to accompany me to take pictures . Frank Howarth , a new acquaintance who was studying business administration and cultivating a thin mustach e , called for me on a golden autumn S unday afternoon and asked where I’d like to go walking. “To the railroad station. ” I’d become fascinated by trains. Frank raised an eyebrow , but he agreed. The light that day was excellent. The station was a handsome old building constructed of roughly hewn granite blocks. Frank stood by patiently while I focused on the steeply pitched gables and arched windows. But my attention shifted to a locomotive taking on coal and water. I moved in on the steam bellowing monster and set up my shot . I thought it was tremendously exciting , and I didn’t notice how much time I spent peer ing into the viewfinder vs . the time I spent talking to Frank. It didn’t occur to me tha t Frank might have had other ideas for how to spend an afternoon, or that he might be bored. “You’re certainly not like the other girls I know,” Frank said after an hour or two of being ignore d while I took pictures. “May I take you somewhere for a bite to eat?” He chose a tearoom at an inn near the campus . W e were served a china pot swathed in a flowered tea cozy and accompanied by a plate of dainty sandwiches with crusts trimmed off . R avenous after an afternoon of photographing pistons and wheels and othe r clanging parts of a locomotive , I polished off the sandwiches quickly. Frank ordered another plateful. While I


77 gobbled up those sandwiches as well, he mention ed that he was the business manager for the student yearbook, T he Michiganensian. “You should stop by and meet the editor. I think he’d be interested in your photographs. I’ll introduce you, if you like .” A few days later I found the office of the ’ Ensian, as it was known. Frank wasn’t there , so I introduced myself to the editor, Har old Martin. “I’m Pegg y White, and I’m a photographer. ” “Really?” Martin drawled and smiled mockingly . “Bring in some samples of your work. I can use some good pictures of campus buildings.” It was the kind of assignment he might have give n to an annoying new kid to get her out of his hair. I took it as a challenge. Two weeks later I was back in Martin’s office with a portfolio of prints . He spread them out on a table and studied each one , rubbing his chin . H e needed a shave, I noticed, and a haircut, too. The mocking smile had been wiped off his face. “I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like these before. They’re like paintings. Somehow you’ve captured the personality in each building.” “I’ve studied with Clarence White,” I explained. He glanced up at the mention of White’s name. “He taught you well. As of now, you’re on the staff as photographer.” Over the next few months I was out taking pictures whenever I could spare time from my studies and my busy social life. I’d always wanted to be popular, and now, suddenly, I was caught up in a n intoxicating whirl of dates and dances. One of my frequent dates was Joe Vlack, also a photographer for the ’Ensian . Joe was tall and thin with a long, narrow face like Abraham Lincoln’s that made him look older tha n he was —he’d just turned twentytwo. He wasn’t exactly handsome, and his hair was unruly and his clothes were always rumpled. He figured out quickly that one way to eliminate the competition


78 for my time and attention was to propose a new subject . “I have an idea for some pictures ,” he’d say, and we were off on another photographic adventure. Joe suggested photographing the clock tower in the Engineering Shops Building. The clock and chimes had once be en in the old library; when the library was knocked down, the clock was moved to Engineering Shops, where the chimes continued to ring at eight in the morning and six at night. “The best view is from the men’s toilet on the fourth floor,” Joe said. “You can get a great angle from there, but I don’t know if —“ “I ’m game,” I said. We w aited until classes were over for the day and climb ed to the fourth floor. Jo e made sure the coast was clear, and we shut ourselves into the toilet and locked the door . I balanced on the seat, rested my camera on the window ledge above it, and was taking my usual care setting up the shot. W hen someone knocked, Joe called out, “Sorry—I’m taking care of business! Come back later!” T he knocker went away , and the building grew quiet . I worked until Joe remembered in the nick of time that the janitor always locked up the building as soon as the clock chimed six . Joe had lots of ideas , s ome of them frightening. “ T here’s a magnificent view from the roof of the Engi neering Shops ,” he said . “ I know how to get us out there, if you’re not too scared.” “Not too scared?” I responded scornfully. “Let’s do it.” “Wear trousers and shoes with rubber soles. And gloves would be a good idea. Fasten your camera to your belt. You’re going to need both hands free . ”


79 The next evening, dressed like a mountaineer, I signed out of the dormitory “to study in th e library” and returned to the e ngineering building. Joe had persuaded the janitor to leave a side door unlocked and was waiting for me. W e went back up to the fo urth floor . He had already climbed out through a classroom window, anchored one end of a rope, tossed the rest of the rope over the ridgeline and anchored the other end on the opposite side. I was supposed to use the rope to haul myself up the steep slope of the roof. When I realized what Joe was proposing, my stomach flipped and my hands started to sweat. “I’ll be right behind you,” he promised, “in case you start to slide back.” “I won’t,” I said, sounding more positive than I felt. I was glad I’d worked on strength in my arms in gym class. I f I was going to live the life of an adventuress, going on scientific expeditions and t aking photographs in difficult places, I needed to be physically strong. My heart in my throat, I scrambled up the side of t he roof , holding onto the rope . I was terrified, but I did it. And Joe was right; the view of the campus was magnificent. I got the pictures I wanted and doubted that anyone had done anything like it before. I never let Joe know how frightened I was. A fter ward , he wanted to go somewhere to cel ebrate our success , b ut I had to sneak back into Betsy’s without getting caught, an equally daunting prospect. A few nights later I was sitting across from Joe in a booth at the Royal Cafe. He stirred a third spoonful of sugar into his coffee and proposed going down into the tunnels that ran beneath the streets of Ann Arbor. We left as soon as he’d gulped his coffee. He lifted off a heavy manhole cover and plunged down into the darkness, calling up to me, “Hand me your camera, Peg. And watch your step on the ladder. It’s pretty slippery.” It was awfully exciting, and I got a couple of shots that turned out very well. Joe pronounced them excellent.


80 Whenever some new machine was assembled in his class in the Engineering Shops, Joe called me. “You’ll love this thing,” he’d say, his voice coming tinnily over the telephone. “And it’s ready to pose, just for you.” I’d race over and we’d study it together, looking for the most interesting angle to photograph. Joe ’s ideas were always creative, but I worried that my photographs weren’t turning out as well as I wanted . I had Clarence White’s beautiful, painterly pictu res as the standard I aimed for, and I tried to use his methods, like stretching one of my precious silk stockings over the lens to soften the edges of the image. My pictures were improving, but I had a long way to go to become as accomplished as Mr. White. Joe raved about my photographs . “Listen, Peggy, you’re going to be famous some day. I’m positive of that. In fact, I’ve never been surer of anything in my life.” Sometimes I was too tired to meet him in the shops —an exam coming up in one of my science classes, or maybe I was simply worn out from a dance the night before—and I’d tell him I just couldn’t do it. “Th is is for your future , Peg,” he’d insist . And off I’d go to meet him. Of all the boys I knew —and I was meeting them in droves —Joe Vlack was the only one who took absolutely seriously my goal of someday becoming famous. He believed in me as much as I believed in myself. Toward the end of the first semester Dr. Ruthven called me to his office . I was uneasy about this interview. Maybe he’d heard about my social life or my picture taking and thought I wasn’t concentrating seriously enough on my course work.


81 The professor’s desk was piled high with stacks of papers, publications, reference books. Framed cert i ficates and award plaques were hung haphazardly on the wall. It had been snowing heavily, and his galos hes sat in a spreading puddle of water. Dr. Ruthven leaned back in a swivel chair and crossed his legs. He lit a pipe and puffed on it. The scent of cherryflavored tobacco filled the crowded office. I perched on the edge of my seat. “Now, Miss White, you are enrolled as a student in the zoology department, and I’d like you to tell me, if you will, what your plans might be for the future.” “I’m studying to be a herpetologist,” I replied, knowing that’s what I was expected to say. “And may I ask what has led you to that particular field of study?” I was aware of Professor Ruthven’s stature in the scientific community. Most of his research had been done with garter snakes . I tried to give a sensible answer to his question, explaining that since childhood I ’d had an interest in living creatures of all kinds. I described my collection of caterpillars and my efforts to capture the moment of the butterfly’s emergence from their metamorphosis. I told him about encountering the hognose snake with m y father, observing the snake’s behavior, and bringing the snake home . I left out the part about how I’d frightened my schoolmates with it. The professor listened silently, prodding me along occasionally, gesturing with the stem of his pipe. “I understand that you have other interests as well. I’ve heard many favorable comments about your photographs.” Maybe, I thought, this was the time to speak honestly about my growing interest in photography. So I described my classes with Clarence White but omitted any mention of my escapades with Joe Vlack that probably violated all sorts of university policies as Joe and I


82 scrambled over rooftops, crept through underground tunnels, and locked ourselves in men’s toilets to get the pictures I wanted. Dr. Ruthven knocked the ash from his pipe and refilled it, tamped the tobacco, struck a match, puffed and puffed. “Tell me what you wish to accomplish in the world, ” he said. I hesitated, thinking of the best way to answer. I loved my “herps,” but I no longer saw th em as the focus of my life. I enjoyed writing, and I knew I was good at it — I’d won the prize for my story of Rob and Sparky—but I also knew I was on my way to becoming even better at photography. This new vision of myself had been grow ing clearer, like an exposed film in the developer bath. I leaned toward the distinguished scientist and told him that I hoped to become a photographer. He blew a perfect smoke ring. “I assume you mean that you wish to concentrate on scientific subjects,” he said. “And not, I trust , to snap pictures of babies for their parents to display on the ir mantel .” His tone made it clear that that was not an acceptable choice. “I like to take pictures and I like to write. I want to become a news photographer and reporter ,” I said earn estly . “And I intend to be a very good one. ” “Well put!” Dr. Ruthven exclaimed and reached out to shake my hand. “Now let me think about how I may be able to help you along in this ve ry interesting trajectory you envision . Come back next week, and we’ll t alk again.” I sailed out of Dr. Ruthven’s smoky office and headed straight for the ’ Ensian, in search of Joe Vlack . * * * *


83 The ’ Ensian accepted a dozen of my photographs. Harold Martin was particularly struck by a nighttime picture of a building with lights glowing in every window . “I’m not sure how you did that,” the editor said admiringly. There were others of a building’s harsh lines muffled in snow, the capital of a classical column shown in its geometric simplicity, the dome of the observatory cloaked in shadow. He wanted them all. Each would be published as a full page, in a special section before the portraits of the graduating seniors . Suddenly e verything seemed to be going my way. I remembered my painful years of high school, longing for acceptance but experiencing, if not outright rejection, then simply being ignored. I might as well have been invisible, unless I showed up wearing snakes. But i n the past few months I had danced with lots and lot s of boys, a ll of them seem ingly attracted to me. But I still had not been kissed. I didn’t know how to explain tha t. One of my dates , the captain of the wrestling squad, informed me that men are more str ongly attracted to women than women are to men. He said this as he was offering to demonstrate the difference be tween a full nelson and a choke hold. “Is that so?” I asked, slipping away. “Can you cite any scientific evidence to prove your point?” H e could not, and I used that as an opportunity to excuse myself to visit the ladies room. N ine out of ten of the boys that now swarmed around me didn’t seem my type . I had set my sights on attracting m en who had already achieved a certain status o n campus and were going places —men like Wesley, the head of the science honor soc iety , and Philip, the president of the photography club. In fact, Philip, who ’d told me to call him Flip, had asked to kiss me . W e happened to be alone together in the darkroom, working on prints for the ’ Ensian. I’d just taken a set of prints from the fixative, and I had on rubber gloves . Flip clasped my wrist.


84 “Peg , ” he said, “you’re the most interesting, the most beautiful, the most desirable girl I’ve ever met.” And then h e stammered, “And I want very much to kiss you.” So there it was: finally, the opportunity for my first kiss. He bent closer. It was about to happen! But I hesitated. I liked Flip, but I wasn’t crazy about him. And I wanted to be crazy about the first boy who kissed me. So I ducked away from him . “No, Flip, ” I said, “I think that would be a mistake. I’m afraid that would spoil our professional relationship.” He sighed. “I understand. I don’t agree, but I do understand.” We went back to making prints as tho ugh nothing had happened. Just before the Christmas holidays Fritz Snyder, a senior and the president of the men’s glee club, invited me to a party at the Sig ma Chi fraternity house. I wore my “ Parrish blue ” dress, the color named for Maxfield Parrish, an artist noted for his brilliant colors. I had new silk stockings and a pair of shoes with rhinestone buckles I’d found on sale. I had also taken the b old step of cutting my hair and wore it in a smooth bob. I felt extremely stylish. At the height of the party Fritz excused himself and returned a few minutes later with three of his fraternity brothers, who suddenly dropped to their knees in front of me. In close four part harmony they serenaded me with their famous song, “The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi,” and Fritz announced, “This is dedicated to our own sweetheart, Peg White.” Could not have been more thrilled! A few days later I made the long trip home for the holidays, taking an overnight train for New York C ity and then the local out to Bound Brook. It felt strange to be back, where everything familiar now felt different. Mother was shocked at the changes in me, and I can’t say she was pleased. “I’m afraid you’re becoming superficial, Margaret,” she said ster nly.


85 Ruth was still wearing the drab and dreary dresses of the type we’d both worn in high school, the same thick cotton stockings and unbecoming shoes. N ow tha t I had this new found sense of style, I realized how dowdy I must have appeared for such a long time . My sister looked like an old maid. I wondered if she would end up as one. I wondered if she had been kissed, or if she wanted to be. She seemed sad —had she always? I loved Ruth, but I felt I had less in common with my sister than I did with the gir ls who lived on my hall. Roger had grown an inch or two since last summer, and somehow I felt more comfortable with my little brother than I did with Mother or Ruth. A Christmas card arrived from Gil with the briefest of notes —all was well with him, he wr ote , and he hoped I was enjoying my courses at U of M. “Sincerely, Gil.” Sara Jane Cassidy and Tubby Luf were both home from college, and to demonstrate our new sophistication as college girls, we made a date for lunch in the dining room at the Queen City Hotel, the most elegant eating place in Plainfield. Mother thought this was pure foolishness. “Why don’t you just invite your friends to come here? I could fix some hot soup, and I have a jar of the sour cherries I put up last summer that would make a nice pie.” I made excuses —the girls had their hearts set on the Queen City, I said. Tubby had learned to drive and would pick us up in her father’s Model T Ford. More foolishness, Mother declared; we could easily have taken the streetcar to Plainfield. I t was the last straw , then, when I appeared wearing a smartly tailored burgundy dress with a matching jacket financed by the Mungers . “Silk stockings!” Mother exclaimed when she saw me. “In this weather? Have you lost all your c ommon sense?”


86 Tubby and Sara Jane pulled up, honking the horn, and off we went. All three of us were dressed to the nines , and the other two had also bobbed their hair. Sara Jane even sported a raccoon coat. I think my old friends were stunned when I show ed up in my fashionable outfit , no longer the dull little wren of high school. Tubby was studying at the women’s college at Rutgers, and Sara Jane was at Bucknell out in Pennsylvania . S he could hardly wait to tell us she wa s considering getting pinned to a fraternity boy she ’d met in the drama club . “If I wear his pin, then it’s like being engaged to be engaged,” she said. Tubby and I were excited for her and had to know all about the fraternity boy. We ordered expensive oysters and roast beef , a nd Sara Jane regaled us with the virtues of Henry LaGrange. “He’s going to be a doctor, because that’s what his family wants, but his heart is in the theater,” she said. “He plays the leading man in most of the Cap and Dagger productions.” On and on she we nt, until I finally interrupted. “He sounds wonderful,” I said, “truly he does, but do you really want to settle down with just one boy at this point? I sn’t it more fun to date lots of boys?” My friends both looked at me quizzically. “Is that what you’re doing, Peg? Dating lots of boys?” “Well, yes,” I admitted , “and I enjoy it.” I knew what they were thinking: Is this the wallflower who never got asked to dance even once in all the time we knew her? “ I’m meeting new boys all the time, and they all want to date me, and I hardly ever say no , at least the first time .” I enjoyed their shocked expressions. “Aren’t you afraid you’ll get a reputation?” Tubby asked with a worried look. “For what? Being a good dancer? No, I’m not worried—I’m eighteen, and I haven’t even been kissed yet!”


87 The girls stared at me. “I think you’re setting some kind of a record, Peg,” Sara Jane said. “I’ll drink to that,” Tubby said, raising her coffee cup, and, laughing, proposed a toast to my unkissed state coming to an end in the new year , and to Sara Jane and her getting pinned to Henry, and to Tubby and her hopes that the interesting boy who sat next to her in Medieval Literature would notice her and ask her out. Ruth and I were in the bedroom we had shar ed as young girls. “Ruth?” I whispered from my bed into the darkness. “Are you still awake?” “Yes.” I propped myself up on one elbow. “Ruth, have you ever been kissed?” When she didn’t answer, I rushed on, “You don’t have to answer that. It’s none of my business. But I haven’t, not yet, and I’m wondering if you could give me some sisterly advice, about how I ought to feel about a boy before I let him kiss me .” Silence from the other bed. I lay back down and wondered if I should apologize for asking such a personal question. “Yes,” Ruth replied at last, “I have been kissed, by a man I loved very much, and it was the most natural thing in the world. I didn’t have to stop and wonder if it was the right thing. I didn’t care if it was or if it wasn’t . ” I heard her start to cry. “Ruth?” I sat up, straining to see in the darkness. “Ruth, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.” “It’s all right,” she said. “I do n’t mind telling you about it. I fell in love, and he was crazy about me. He asked me to marry him, and I accepted. But Mother refused to allow it.”


88 This was astonishing news. I climbed out of my bed and cros sed over to sit beside Ruth. “Why haven’t I heard about any of this until now?” I asked. My sister was blowing her nose. “Because Mother didn’t want you or anyone else to know about my indiscretion. That’s what she called it —an indiscretion .” “But why? Why the big secret?” “ Dennis’s father is Chinese. His mother is Irish . They live in Lowell, north of Boston, where his father owns a laundry. Tha t’s what all the Chinese men do up there . It was the only way they c ould make a living after they came to this cou ntry. E very week or so Dennis’s father brought him to Chinatown in Boston. Such an interesting place, Peg ! You’d find lots of subjects for your pictures there! I reached for her hand and squeezed it . “And that’s where you met him?” “ He got a job in a rest aurant in Boston. Students eat in Chinese restaurants because the food is cheap, and it’ s good, too. I started going there often. He’d become the manager , and gradually we got acquainted. We began to meet secretly. Oh, Peg , I was so much in love, I can’t tell you! He asked me to marry him, and I said yes without a second’s hesitation. But t here is a lot of discrimination against people who came here from China , you know. Everyone would have disapproved. I don’t know why I ever thought Mother would allow it, but one day I gathered all my courage and made the trip out here to tell her I wanted to bring a friend to meet her . I didn’t tell her how serious I was about him, just that I wanted her to meet my friend. S he asked his name, an d I couldn’t lie . She’d know the minute she saw him —the Oriental eyes, the color of his skin. S he said, ‘Ruth, if you don’t break off this friendship, as you call it, imm ediately, I will disown you. I will not speak to you again.” “Mother said that ? But sh e married a Jew!”


89 “She did, but she kept it a secret, didn’t she? She didn’t tell us until after he died! And it’s pretty clear that she has no use for Grandmother White, or Uncle Lazar and Aunt Naomi, or anyone from Father’s family—and that’s because they ’re Jewish. If she doesn’t want us telling people we’re half Jewish, what do you imagine she’d say if one of her daughters married a Chinaman!” “And you did what she told you? You broke off with him? ” I bristled, although frankly I was as shocked as Mother must have been that Ruth had fallen in love with a person of another race. “Yes, and it has left me miserable. I had some idea what my life would be like if I didn’t do as she demanded . I knew that Uncle Lazar would probably object too, and since he’ s hel ping with my tuition, I’d have to drop out of college. Everyone I knew, not just Mother, would turn their back s on me. Maybe even you, Peg !” “I wouldn’t have turned my back, Ruth,” I said. “I would have wanted you to do whatever made you happy.” I hoped I was right , that I would have behaved decently. “ It was stupid of me ever to think I might have any kind of life with this ma n I loved so much , ” Ruth said. She tried, and failed, to choke back a sob. “ I had to let him go.” “Oh, dear Ruth,” I sighed. “How hard it must have been for you! But no doubt someone more... more suitable will come along, and you’ll fall in love again.” “I don’t think so,” Ruth said. “ I’ve never been attractive to men. I’m not like you, Peg! But please don’t say anything to Mothe r. I promised I wouldn’t tell you, but some promises aren’t meant to be kept. I thought you ought to know.” I leaned down and kissed Ruth’s wet cheek, and then I crept back to my own bed and listened to my sister’s quiet sobs until I fell asleep.


90 Chapter 8. Chappie I was relieved when the holiday ended and glad to m ake the long train ride back to Ann Arbor , away from my frowning, disapproving mother and my unhappy sister . Roger had clung to me when I left, begging me to come home oftener. “I will, as often as I can,” I promised, pretty sure , though, that I would not . A few days after I returned to campus , an amazing thing happened. I fell in love. I was on my way in to the cafeteria on the West Quad for lunch. I had just stepped into the revolving door when I noticed a tall, handsome man on his way out. “ How do you do ,” he said, smiling, and I replied, “How do you do, ” and smiled back. We were so busy smiling that the door kept revolving, and neither of us exited. “Glad to meet you,” said the stranger , who was indeed quite tall, at least six feet with the shoulders of a football player, and quite handsome . His dark eyes gleamed with amusement behind spectacles. “Likewise,” I said. I could have made my escape then , had my usual bowl of soup, and gone on with my life. But I did not, he gave the door a nother firm push, and we went around again, both of us laughing. “We must meet again ,” he said. “How about this evening?”


91 “I have a paper due tomorrow,” I answered truthf ully , never good at the fine art of flirting . “Maybe another time.” “I won’t ta ke no for an answer,” he said , and we went around again. “This door keeps turning until you a gree to meet me tonight at the Seal .” The Seal was the university seal embedded at the Diag, where two diagonal paths crossed on the quadrangle between the main buildings . It was a traditional meeting place. “Yes!” I cried . “The answer is yes!” The door stopped turning, and I stepped out. He was waiting. “ On official forms I’m Everett Chapman, but e veryone except my mother calls me Chappie. And you’ve just agreed to meet me at eight tonight . Your name, please?” “Margaret White on official forms , but everyone calls me Peg except my mother .” M ock solemnly , we shook hands . “ Eight o’clock at the S eal , meet Everett Chapman, ” I intoned and hurried away. I finished my project in the zoology lab, and, stomach rumbling—I’d forgotten about lunch—I sat through a class in the works of John Milton, too excited to pay proper attention to “Paradise Lost.” Then, pelted with biting crystals of snow and blasted by a relentless arctic wind , I rushed back to my room, still with no time to eat, and headed out again into the frigid Michigan winter. Over the past few months practicall y all of my dates had called for me at Betsy’s, where they were routinely scrutinized and mercilessly judged by the girls on the basis of looks (height counted for a lot), dress, and manner. T his date would have certainly passed muster . We reached the Seal almost simultaneously. Chappie grabbed my arm and we raced across the Diag and down a side street leading away from the campus. As we hurried along snow y sidewalks, heads


92 lowered against the wind, Chappie explained. “ I know you were expecting to go to the Royal Cafe , because everybody goes to the Royal Cafe . B ut because everybody knows you, Peg, that’s the one place we will not go. I want you all to myself.” That statement caught my attention. I want you all to myself. He steered me to a dingy, downat the heels diner where the customers were mostly working men, picked a table next to a steamy window, and ordered melted cheese sandwiches for both of us without even asking what I’d like. “My favorite,” he explained . Mel ted cheese happened to be mine, too, alth ough by then I was so hungry I c ould have chewed the leg on the table. I gobbled my sandwich while Chappie talked, pushing the still uneaten half of his across the table , and I ate that, too. Everett Chapman was a s enior studying electrical engineering , he’d served in the army during the war, and he was twenty two —not nearly as old as Gil but older than the other boys I’d been dating. H e specialized in electric welding, about which I knew nothing at all but was now e ager to learn. I discovered on that first date that he had a wicked ly whimsical sense of humor, but underneath the easy mann er I sensed a person who worked hard and took life seriously. I believe I started to fall in love with him right then and there, in that dingy diner, eating a congealing melted cheese sandwich. As a sophomore my weeknight curfew was tenthirty, a half hour after the library closed. I wished it had been later. That w as in February. A lot happened during the shortest month. During rush week sororities sent out invitations to potential members . I received bids from four and decided to pledge Alpha Omicron Pi . I moved out of Betsy’s and into the drafty old frame sorority house around the corner.


93 And I wanted more than anything to be with Chappie. W e had everything in common. We went dancing every chance we got. If there was a movie, we went to see it and talked about it afterwards and almost always agreed on whether it was a good movie or not . N either of us cared for “The Beautiful and Damned,” based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel . We saw plays put on by the drama department: “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde, and “Volpone,” about a lecherous old miser who p retends to be fatally ill. Chappie love d jazz and I didn’t, but I went to jazz performances with him anyway , and it began to grow on me as well. We read to each other. Milton: The mind is its own place, and in itself Can make a heav'n of hell, a hell of heav'n. And Carl Sandburg: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. We loved those lines , repeating them over and over . “I feel as though Sandburg wrote that for me,” I told Chappie, and he said he knew exactly what I meant. I was eighteen, and I was falling in love. He was everything I wanted in a man. I loved the way he held me close. I felt so protect ed in his arms! I did not wait long for our first goodnight kiss. It happened on our very first date, right after the melted cheese sandwich, and it was delightful, everything I had hoped for, dreamed of, longed for. I found myself wanting more kisses, mor e closeness. I knew by the way he held me when we danced, that he longed for more closeness , too. Chappie was a lways a gentleman. I never had to stop his hands from roaming int o dangerous territory, but eventually, to keep our passion in check, I had to st op his kisses. He


94 understood. There would be j ust one goodnight kiss, we decided, a nd not the long, lingering kind I regularly saw being planted on the lips of my sorority sisters under the glaring porch light . The kind of kisses I yearned for. Spring came slowly to Ann Arbor, but it did arrive at last. W e took long walks together in the woods, looking for snakes. E very interest of mine matched a similar interest of his, and every interest of his perfectly fitted in with mine. It seemed too good to be true! Even more amazing , Chappie was also a photographer. The engineering department had its own publication, and Chappie took pictures for it, many of them highly technical. F or instance, he photographed wedge shaped steel particles fusing under high heat to form fascinating patterns. He was much better at the technical aspects of photography than I was , and we began to work together in the darkroom. Before the school year ended, we were tak ing photographs together. I had found in Chappie everything I had ever hoped for: a marvelous blend of my father’s virtues of dedication and hard work, and Chappie’s adorably boyish kind of playfulness and sense of fun. B efore the end of the term, Chappie told me he loved me. He belonged to me, he said, heart and soul. I should have expected it, but for some reason I found that declaration unsettling. I must not have been ready for it. I was only eighteen, and I was not prepared to give myself , heart and soul , to someone at this stage of my life. There were still many boys who wanted to date me. I was so busy with my courses and my photography and Chappie that there was not much time left for them , b ut I was flattered by their attention. I had spent too many years when


95 nobody wanted to dance with me, and now it see med that practically everybody wanted to dance with me! And I couldn’t say no. This made dear Chappie very unhappy, but he was as kind and understanding about my feelings on this as he was about everything else. “Peggy,” he whispered urgently, “I’m mad about you. I never believed I could love anyone as I love you. And I understand how you feel. You’re younger than me by several years, and I know that you want to experience more of life before you settle down with the one person who loves you as deeply as I do. You must finish your studies, and I must begin my career. I promise to wait for you for at least two years —e ven three, if it comes to that! And then, promise that you will be mine forever! ” I adored him for saying this, but I also saw how hard it would be to wait for such a long time . He said that he felt I should date other men , so that I would be sure. H e knew there was a risk that I c ould fall in love with someone else , and he said he couldn’t bear to watch that . “Maybe I should drop out of the university and let you finish your education, so that I wo n’t be standing in your way. I’ll do anything—anything! —to prove to you how much I love you.” I felt as though the world was spinning too fast. I loved Chappie, but was I ready to commit my whole life to him? I didn’t know. I felt confused. O ne minute I was happy, and the next I plunged into despair. I wanted to cry when he pledged his love to me. Chappie was also wrought up, complaining that he couldn’t think stra ight, couldn’t concentrate. With finals coming up, he needed to focus on his studi es. “But how can I think about molecules when all I can think about is you ?” he wailed. What gi rl doesn’t want to hear that? Yet I didn’t know how to respond to his pressure .


96 “Listen, my darling Peg: every morning I’m going to send you a dozen roses by me ntal telepathy. What time do you usually wake up?” “Around e ight.” “Then at eight o’clock I want you to think of the roses I’m sending you, and you’ll know exactly what color they are.” And so I did , every morning. That was an innocent pastime that went o n for days . A t other times we lived more dangerously. Chappi e owned a dilapidated old car. T he only reliable thing about his ancient Dodge was the regula rity with which it broke down, but mostly it got us where we wanted to go. O ne night we decided to celebrate Chappie’s acceptance into the graduate school in engineering and the offer of a teaching job in his department. We drove around aimlessly , until I proposed staying up all night to watch the sunrise. We climbed onto the hood of the car to wait, and when the first bright rays shot above the purple horizon, we cheered. Then I had to smuggle myself into the sorority house without waking up the housemother, an elderly widow with a hearing problem, fortunately for me. Not long after that, my mother came to Ann Arbor to visit for the first time. Naturally I wanted her to meet Chappie, and he was anxious to meet her. “But without you there, Peg,” he said . “ I want your mother to get to know me on my own, so she can ask me whatever she wants .” The two of them went for a walk and were gone for about an hour , while I waited nervously in the sorority house. After Chappie left us, Mother and I went to have our supper in the cafeteria. I showed her the revolving door where Chappie and I first met. “It was the fun niest thing!” I told her. “He kept me going around and around until I agreed to have a date with him.”


97 Mother smiled indulgently. “And it seems you’ve been going around and around ever since.” I felt myself blush. “Yes, I guess I have.” We carried our trays to an empty table. “Chappie and I had a long talk,” she said when we were half way through our meal and had discussed nothing of importance . “I can see that he’s serious about you.” She stabbed at a lima bean and pushed it through the mashed potatoes and gravy. “He made it a point to tell me that he has led a clean life and has the greatest respect for you.” She eyed me, waiting for my reaction. I looked away. “Yes, it’s true. We’re both very careful not to...let things get out of hand.” I found the conversation embarrassing. The truth was that I was at a point, and Chappie was too, that we both desperately wanted to “let things get out of hand.” I knew i t would be wrong, and so did he. I tried to steer the conversation in a different , less dangerous direction, but Mother would not allow it . “It’s important to control your ardor before marriage ,” she said, looking me straight in the eye . “ It’s not easy. I suppose every couple g oes through the same struggle. Your father and I did. And it was worth the struggle. We were pure when we married. ” The awkward conversation finally ended, and we didn’t talk about Chappie again. After she went home to New Jersey, I had a letter from her . “I can tell, just by hearing your voice, ” she wrote, “ that you’re in love with this delightful young man.” Mother was righ t. I was in love with him. A s soon as I read her letter, I decided to stop questioning myself at every turn. Chappie and I were going to be separated for the summer —he was staying with his pare nts in Detroit where he had a summer job playing traps in a dance band, and I was going back to Camp Agaming in Connecticut to earn money for the next term . I knew


98 that I would miss him, that letters and telephone calls w ould not be nearly enough. M aybe, I thought, the time apart would be good for us. It would help t o clear my head. But I was sure I loved him, a nd now I was ready to tell him that. Just before the semester’s end, Doctor Ruthven called me into his office again. “I’ve been thinking about you a great deal, Miss White,” he began , in his usual formal manner. “What are your plans for the summer?” I told him about Camp Agaming, adding, “I’d like to teach nature studies to the children. I t would be less tiring than the photography classes that keep me all night in the darkroom . More rewarding, too. And frankly, I need to do something different.” “Mmm,” he said, and out came his pipe, the tobacco pouch, and the match while he seemed to arrange his thoughts. I waited patiently until he ’d finished the ritual of tamping, lighting, puffing . “I have another idea for you. You have rapport with young children. Why not write stories for them , nature stories, and take photographs that would illustrate your tales? I think you might enjoy creating such a book, a nd I’m sure the youngsters would enjoy reading it . You could work on it at the camp during the summer and here at the university when you return for the fall term. Given what I know of your talents, I’m certain that I could help you find a publis her .” I l oved the idea, and I readily agreed. When I got to Bound Brook early in June, m y home was in a state of upheaval. Mother had decided to sell our house and move with Roger to Cleveland. Her attempt to earn a living by selling insurance had not been successful, but now she believed she had found her vocation.


99 “I’ve always thought I’d make a good teacher, and I’ve decided to study Braille and become a teacher of the blind.” Her announcement took me by surprise . She hadn’t said anything at all about this when she came to visit. It seemed like such a radical change, but when Mother made up her mind to do something, there was no stopping her. “I’ve found a duplex near the two univer sities . We’ll live on the second floor and rent out the first floor to students, and that will help cover our expenses .” By then, Ruth had graduated from college and taken a job at a law office in Boston, but s he was home for a few weeks to help Mother pac k up the Bound Brook house and make the move across Pennsylvania to Cleveland. It was painful to see our home being dismantled, the furniture sold, the pale rectangles on the walls where Father’s photographs had once hung, the empty windowsills where I’d tended the chrysalises, the neglected garden. I was relieved to get away to Camp Agaming in the beautiful Litchfield Hills and got to work immediately, setting up a darkroom for my students . I would still have to teach photography to my young girls, but Ma dge had volunteered to give me a hand . I would not be taking pictures of the campers to sell as postcards —Madge was taking that over . I would work on the book that Dr. Ruthven had proposed: photographs matched with text that would be scientifically correct but simple enough for young readers. Madge arrived at the camp the day after I did and couldn’t wait to tell me that s he was head over heels in love with Ben Hurley, the boy from Yale she’d been dating . I t was “Ben said this” and “Ben thinks that” until I wanted to scream. They planned to announce their engagement at Christmas and get married in two years right after she graduates.

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100 “Our parents want us to have a big wedding, but we’re thinking of eloping instead,” she confided. S he and Ben were pla nning to sneak off for a secret weekend together at the end of the summer. “It wouldn’t be the first time,” she said with a knowing smile . I didn’t say anything, just raised a quizzical eyebrow . Madge blushed. “Don’t tell me you and Chappie haven’t?” “No ,” I said . I t was my turn to blush. I remembered our discussions in Brooks Hall about when it was all right to kiss your date for the first time , and Madge had said kissing was fine, but no petting until you’d been dating for a couple of months. She and B en had apparently crossed that crucial threshold—a nd others as well . I wished I was as sure about my life as Madge was about hers. I felt that I truly did love Chappie, but I was also convinced that an exciting life lay ahead of me and I would some day be famous . Dr. Ruthven had high hopes for my future —everyone did, and I did for myself. But I still wasn’t sure what shape that future would take. Desire for success pulled me in one direction , desire for love pulled me in another, and the struggle was wearin g me out.

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101 Chapter 9. Torn M y nineteenth birthday came and went . All summer I was on the verge of exhaustion. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t bear to be alone. I told myself that all I had to do was to get through a few more weeks. In the fall I would be back in Ann Arbor, Chappie would be there in graduate school, and I would work on my nature book. Everything would be fine! Madge, who was used to seeing me as the girl in complete charge of her life, now saw me turning into a wreck. “I think you should go to a doctor,” she advised. “I’m worried about you, Peg! You just don’t seem like yourself.” “I don’t feel like myself,” I confessed, already teary . Why was I weeping all the time? I couldn’t understand it . But I took Madge’s advice a nd looked up a doctor in Litchfield , down the street from the shop run by the two ladies who had been so thrilled by my postcards. What woul d the ladies think if they saw me now? Last summer I’d been tanned and strong and healthy; now I had lost weight and my eyes were ringed with dark circles. Dr. Graham had wire rimmed glasses and a little gray mustache and beard. He was reassuringly grandfatherly. I explained that I felt tired, couldn’t sleep, and had no appetite. He peered in my throat and ears and list ened to my heart. “Miss White,” he said, laying aside his stethoscope, “I don’t believe there is anything physically wrong with you. But you appear to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. You are

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102 perhaps demanding too much of yourself, working too hard, studying too much. Your brain is unable to tolerate any more, and your nerves are strained. ” He removed his glasses, folded them carefully, and slid them in to the pocket of his white coat. “I advise you to refrain from all intellectual a ctivity. Rest as much as you can. Try to relax. Go for long walks. Drink tea in the afternoons. Do you swim? Swimming is beneficial to the nervous system.” I nodded, promising that I would do all that he suggested. Madge was waiting for me outside his office. I climbed into her car, slammed the door, and burst into wrenching sobs. “Oh dear, dear, dear,” Madge murmured sympathetically as we bounced along the bumpy road back to camp . “Didn’t he prescribe something for you? Some pill or tonic ?” I shook my head and dug for my handkerchief. “No,” I said between sobs . “Nothing.” “But how are you supposed to let your brain rest?” “ Swimming. Long walks. Afternoon tea . I don’t think he knew what else to tell me.” The summer dragged on, and I dragged on with it. My little girls , some of whom had been campers the previous summer and had come back eager for more of my enthusiasm , watched me warily. It must have been obvious that something had changed. I no longer stayed up all night to develop their pictures, no longer started off hiking the hills with my camera in total darkness to catch the best sunrises. Somehow Madge kept things going for both of us, and I was grateful. But I was even more grateful when the summer ended, the campers left for home, and I could st op off in Cleveland to stay with Mother and Roger before I returned to Ann Arbor. Mother’s new home was on the second floor of a plain clapboard house on a dreary street with only a weedy patch of a front yard, so unlike the handsome house and beautiful garden

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103 Father had created in Bound Brook . The four of us —Mother, Roger, Ruth, and I —kept bumping into each other in the crowded apartment. Students had not yet begun returning to the university, and the downstairs apartment sat vacant with a FOR RENT sign i n the window of the sun porch. I had been there for three days when Chappie called to ask if he could visit. “Chappie’s coming,” I told my mother. Mother was delighted. He had made a good impression on her. “Chappie reminds me of your father,” she said w istfully . She didn’t say so, but I knew she thought he would be an excellent husband for me. From the very beginning I had mixed feelings about the visit. I didn’t want Chappie to see how tired I looked, how nervous I seemed, how thin and gaunt I had becom e. I didn’t want him to see how easily I burst into tears. Nevertheless, I made an effort to pull myself together, put on one of my nice dresses , and fix my hair. I was watching from the window when his old car pull ed up in front of the house . He step ped out and adjust ed a panama hat —he must have just bought it; I ’d never seen him wear one —and straighten ed his tie . Then he came striding up the cracked sidewalk and rang the bell marked “M. White.” I made no move to go dow n and answer the door. Mother came out of the small kitchen, wiping her hands on a dishtowel, and glanced at me. “Aren’t you going to let him in?” I shook my head. S he sighed and hurried down the narrow stairs. Their voices sounded cheery as they climbed t he stairs together. My mouth was dry as dust, but I forced myself to smile when Chappie appeared at the sitting room door and hesitated for a moment before h e swooped in . He gathered me in his arms , murmuring, “ Darling, I’ve missed you so much!”

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104 It must have felt to Chappie as though he was embracing a bag of laundry, because I could not bring myself to respond. I backed away. I opened my mouth and tried to speak, but nothing came out. My tongue moved, but there were no words. Every ounce of strength seem ed to have drained out of me. Mother stepped in. “Margaret has been a little overwrought lately,” she said in a bright voice that sounded entirely false. “Let’s give her a chance to rest, and you and I can have a cup of tea and a nice chat.” She took my a rm and steered me gently back to the bed room I was to share with Ruth when she was there. It was barely larger than a closet with one small window t oo high to see out of. She eased me down onto the bed and threw a light cover over me. “Rest,” she said. “Bu t not too long. I’ll keep Chappie entertained for a while, but you must come out to see him sooner or later, no matter how you’re feeling.” I had no idea exactly what I was feeling, but it didn’t go away even when Mother returned to announce that supper wa s on the table. With great effort I managed to get up, straightened my clothes, and walked unsteadily to the little nook by the kitchen where Mother had set the table with her good china. I forced a smile and squeezed Chappie’s hand and let him pull out my chair. The table was so small that our knees touched. There had been a time when that kind of closeness, hidden from view, would have thrilled me. Now it frightened me, and I couldn’t say why. Still I could not utter more than a word or two, “please” and “thank you” and “ no more,” a nd finally, before the meal was over, “excuse me.” I went back to the stifling little bedroom, lay down, and wept and wept. The voices of Chappie and Mother continued for a while, and then I didn’t hear Chappie ’s any more. My mo ther came and sat by my bedside, not say ing anything, asking no

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105 questions, just sitting there in silence. Eventually I slept. The next day she said that Chappie had told her he loved me and wanted to marry me, and that he was prepared to wait as long as necessary for me. “He said he was going on to Ann Arbor, and he will see you when you return for classes,” Mother said . “H e’s sure that whatever is bothering you is temporary and will soon pass.” But i t wasn’t temporary, and it didn’t pass. In the fall I threw myself into my courses and tried to ignore the f eelings that tossed me around in a stormy sea of emotions. It didn’t help that Chappie and I were constantly together . He was a keen photographer, and we often went out to take pictures for the ’ Ensian and then developed and printed them . I admired Chappie ’s technical expertise; he was genius in the darkroom. And he told me, over and over, “Peg, you have the eye of an artist. You see things in a way no one else does .” Harold Martin, the editor , liked our work so much that he asked me to take on the job of photography editor, but I turned it down; I wanted to make photographs, not pick which ones to use . I told Chappie about the picture postcards that had been so popular with the campers and their families at Camp Agaming, and w e decided that would be a good way to earn some money. Together and separately we photographed campus buildings and other interesting places around Ann Arbor. Since Chappie was serving on the advisory board of the ’ Ensian and also taking pictures for a school magazine as well as the Ann Arbor newspaper , I took over most of the darkroom work —all this in addition to my classes .

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106 At the same time I immersed myself in the nature book Dr. Ruthven had suggested. I spent hours setting up dozens of photographs of insects —dragonflies, spiders, ladybugs —placed in a miniature stage set , whatever might fire a child’s imagination. The child I was thinking of was myself at the age of eight or nine. T hen I wrote a story about that insect in a few simple paragraph s . I knew how to make the story come to life on the page . The project absorbed me, carrying me far away from the reality of my life that I found so confusing and troubling . Chappie and often I talked about what our lives would be like when we were married, the children we would have. But sometimes I saw myself in a far a way place on a grand adventure, and Chappie wasn’t anywhere in the picture . How could I have it both ways? I had no idea. Chappie, of course, sensed my ambivalence and pressed me to choose, to make up my mind. I could not. The more I le aned one way and then the other, the more morose, peevish, and sullen he became. He apologized: he didn’t want his wretched moods to affect mine. Naturally, they did. He wept at least as much as I did. Sometimes he threatened to break off our relationship. If he couldn’t have all of me, then he would have none. He refuse d to speak to me for days , or else we argue d. I could not keep a civil tongue in my head and lashed out at him , and then it was my turn to apologize . We wept in each other’s arms, swore our love, tried to be kinder to each other. Then we started all over again . We were going nowhere. I seemed to be unhappy in every part of my life. In the spring I had been thrilled to join a sorori ty, accepted by a group of girls who admired me and even made me president of our sorority house; now I grew intolerably impatient with those same girls and the pettiness of their lives. A ll they wanted to talk about were boys and dates and dances, which a year earlier were

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107 what I had wanted to talk about. I resigned and moved out of the sorority house and into a boarding house . My unhappiness continued. Mother wrote me a long letter, urging me to see a psychiat rist, “and get to the bottom of this. You must not continue in your misery any longer.” I wondered what a psychiatrist would make of me, or what I would make of a psychiatrist . The Litchfield doctor’s prescription that I give my mind a rest had been impossible to follow. It was as if he had told me to give my lungs a rest by not breathing. I went to the campus infirmary and asked the nurse to recommend a psychiatrist. She looked at me oddly, as though expecting m e to describe some hallucinatory experience or collapse into insane laughter, but , when I did neither , she wrote a name and address on a slip of paper and handed it to me without a word. His name was Dr. St ansfield, and he was thin and had pouches under his eyes and wore a pince nez. Every Wednesday afternoon f or two months I went to hi s barren office, furnished with a chair, a couch, and a row of framed diplomas printed in Latin, and recounted the incidents during the previous week that I had found upsetting. He listened carefully, nodding, sometimes asking a question. My report was pra ctically the same every week, dwelling on Chappie and my inability to make up my mind. Then one day Dr. Stansfield asked me to describe my childhood. I gave him a glowing description of my walks with Father , the stories he’d told me, the snakes we’d brought home , the caterpillars we’d watched changing into butterflies . I described Mother’s passion for education. “ She had very high standards. ‘T he hard way is always the better way,’ she always told me.” “So, you admired your demanding mother and perhaps idolized your father?”

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108 “ Oh , yes! M ore than any man I’ve ever known! ” I listed my reasons: his focus on his work, his long hours, his dedication, his genius. I told Dr. Stansfield about our visit to the foundry, the fier y cascade of molten metal that wa s seared into my memory . T hen I heard myself blurt out the words I had never spoken, words I scarcely allowed myself to think : “But my father was Jewish!” There it was. I had given away our secret, said what Mother had warned me not to say. Jewishness had be en the basic flaw in Father’s character, the one thing she could not forgive. The psychiatrist regarded me calmly, his expression neutral . “I t bothers you, Miss White —that your father was a Jew?” I couldn’t bear to look at him. “Yes,” I admitted. “I suppose it does. My mother dislikes Jews— she won’t have anything to do with my father’s family. And I’m half Jewish! ” I glanced up. Dr. Stansfield did not appear to be shocked by what I’d just told him. “A re you afraid that others would reject you if they knew you have Jewish blood running through your veins?” “Yes,” I whispered. “ But Dr. Stansfield ,” I cried, sitting bolt upright, suddenly animated after w eeks of slumping listlessly in the leather chair across from his , “so many people dislike Jews!” I sank bac k, my face buried in my hands . “And what about you, Miss White? Do you also dislike Jews?” “I —I don’t know!” “You mentioned your father’s family. How do you feel about them?” “My father’s brother, Uncle Lazar, is very kind. He’s helping to pay for my educ ation. I don’t know my cousins very well . I’ve spent so little time with them, because my mother dislikes them so much.”

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109 “Do you know why she dislikes them?” “She says they ’re like all Jews and think they’re the Chosen People and better than anyone else. I guess I never questioned that.” “I believe that we may have learned something important here today, ” said the doctor in his usual dispassionate manner, scribbling notes on a pad. “We have perhaps discovered the source of your inner turmoil, that se nse of worthlessness that you sometimes experience. You have been keeping this secret for a very long time, is that not so?” I nodded. “Since just after Father died almost two years ago. Mother told us then. I had no idea before that.” “And you have told no one?” “No.” “Y ou’ve kept your secret even from your friend Chappie?” “Especially from Chappie! What if I lose him because of this —this flaw? You’re the first person I’ve told, doctor.” “And how do you feel, now that you have told the first person? And that person has not turned away from you, or given you to feel that you are now worth any less in his eyes?” I considered his question, and then I admitted— first to myself, and then to the doctor — that I felt relieved . The doctor smiled. “ Doesn’t it se em likely , then, that Chappie will not turn away from you when you share your deepest secret with him ? ” I agreed —a bit uncertainly, but I agreed. I would tell Chappie, but only Chappie, and hope the doctor was right. We shook hands, and I walked out of his office feeling as though a weight had been lifted from my shoulders .

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110 The next day Chappie and I went for a long walk. The day was bright and clear, the leaves that had changed color weeks earlier had drifted down, and I shuffled through the piles of dry leaves with childish glee . Chappie was watching me warily, as though he expected me to begin sobbing for no apparent reason, as I had so often in the past weeks . Finally I gathered my courage and grabbed Chappie’s hand. “Chappie, I have something to tell y ou,” I said, struggling to keep my voice steady . “There is a secret in my family , something I think you should know . My father was a Jew, and so I’m half Jewish. I’ve been afraid to tell you , because I didn’t want your feelings for me to change.” Chappie turned to face me, and his eyes looked straight into mine. “Peggy, my darling girl! How could you ever believe that something like that would make me feel any differently about you! I wouldn’t care if your parents came from some other planet. I love you so much, so deeply, that nothing you tell me will make me change the way I feel.” He folded me in his arms and kissed me passionately, and I returned his kisses with more fervor than I had felt in months. But even then, my unease did not end. The unforgiving Michigan winter closed its iron grip around us. We worried about money. Even with the Munge rs’ help, my budget was tight. The snows melted and spring came, an d w e set up a show in the librar y to sell prints of our pictures. We hope d to make a little money, and we did —but not enough. We talked again about marriage and the family we wanted some day . I thought we should delay marriage for several years, because t here was still so much I wanted t o accomplish . B ut we were passionately in love, and we both wondered how we could possibly wait that long. Our intense longing for each other made us short tempered. The man who had once unselfishly assured me that I could see other men as much as I wished, now pouted like a child if

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111 I even spoke to another man. Chappie wanted me with him all the time, and when I tried to go off and do t hings on my own, he became unreasonable and possessive, sometimes so jealous that he wept . By the end of the term with a long, hot summer lying ahead, we could hardly stand to be apart , but being together was another kind of torture , and more than we could bear . W e decided not to wait any longer. We would get married —now!

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112 Chapter 10. Love and Marriage We picked the date for our wedding: Friday, June thirteenth. We would fly in the face of superstition, thumb our noses at the notion of bad luck! That was also the day before my twentieth birthday. It would be very small, with only a handful of people —our parents and a few close friends . B raced for Mother’s disapproval , I called to tell her our plans . “Oh, Margaret, you’re so young!” she sighed. “I was twentyfive when I married, and I did so hope you’d complete your education first.” “I’m going to get my degree,” I assured her. “Chappie promises that I can. We’re both hoping you’ll come to our wedding. ” “ Well, I know how much you love him ,” she said, “and you do have my approval. But I simply do not have the means to travel al l the way to Michigan . There are so many expenses with this house, and it wasn’t until just recently that a nice young couple moved in downstairs —I had no luck at all renting to students —and train tickets for your brother and me is more than I can afford ....” she trailed off. “ I don’t even have the money to go to Boston for Ruth’s graduation. I hadn’t counted on this.” “It’s all right, Mother,” I said. “We’ll send you pictures.” That was easier than I’d expected

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113 Chappie thought we should make a quic k trip to Detroit. “I want you to meet Momma,” he said. “She’ll be upset if she hasn’t had a chance to get to know you before we’re married.” This was just before final examinations —not a good time to be making a trip, even one of less than fifty miles, in an auto as chronically unreliable as Chappie’s ancient Dodge . Neverthless, we were going. “We’ll stay for lunch and then drive straight back to Ann Arbor,” Chappie promised. B oth of us were in high spirits, full of dreams and plans. Late on a hot and humi d Saturday morning we arrived at an unremarkable house in a neighborhood of neat front yards and tidy flowerbeds. This was the house where Chappie and his sister, Marian, had grown up. “What have you told them about me?” I asked Chappie. “That you are the love of my life, the most beautiful girl in the world and also the smartest, and that I’m marrying you in two weeks minus one day.” He grabbed my hand and we hurried up the steps . I was wearing one of my Munger sponsored dresses, and it clung uncomfortably to my perspiring body. Chappie’s father, Everett Chapman Sr., a slight, bald man with pale blue eyes and a thin smile , opened the door . “Glad to meet you,” he said and offered a weak handshake. “Come in , come in .” We stepped into a narrow hall crowded w ith a least a dozen pictures in ornate frames, and Mrs. Chapman made her entrance. Tall and elegant , almost regal, with onyx eyes and a porcelain complexion, his mother wore her handsome silver hair in a crown of braids. It was clear where Chappie got his good looks. He introduced me. “Momma, this is Margaret.” “So,” she said, looking me over coolly from head to toe and no doubt finding me wanting, “you’re the girl who has stolen my son.”

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114 How should I have responded to such a greeting? I wished that Chappie would smooth things over, but he didn’t say a word. Nothing. “How was your drive over?” inquired Mr. Chapman, and he and Chappie got into a conversation about problems with the old Dodge . Mrs. Chapman interrupted to say that their vehicle was ready for the scrap heap but they couldn’t possibly afford to replace it. Generally they ignored me. Eventually Mrs. Chapman announced that luncheon was ready , and we went into a dining room darkened by heavy drapery . T he seni or Chapmans complained that their neighbors next door had just ordered new furniture , the people across the street were letting the weeds take over their front lawn , and someone else’s dog barked at all hours . I poked at the ham salad and watched the lemon sherbet melt in my dish. “We certainly could use your help here, Everett,” his mother said and added pointedly, “ but apparently you’ve made other plans.” I, of course, was responsible for the “other plans.” I was relieved when we were finally on our way back to Ann Arbor. “I’m sure you made a wonderful impression,” Chappie lied. The truth, as I saw it, was that Mrs. Chapman had disliked me on sight, and Mr. Chapman’s opinion, if he had one, didn’t matter. Neither of us had any idea how to proceed with p lanning a wedding. Chappie and I had recently attended a traditional wedding, the bride in white satin surrounded by a bevvy of bridesmaids, a flower girl and a ring bearer, with organ music and flowers everywhere, followed by a reception for at least two hundred people and a towering wedding cake. We’d pronounced it absurd and ridiculous. Ours would be simple and pure and good.

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115 Fortunately, Chappie had a close friend, Arthur Miller, a professor of electrical engineering only a few years older than he was. Arthur’s wife, Jo, loved the idea of having the wedding in their house. She was ready to step in. “Don’t you worry about a thing, Peggy,” she said . “We’ll figure everything out. You’ll have a wedding you’ll remember for the rest of your lives.” She would bake a nice cake, she promised, and her garden was in full bloom, so I could have roses for my bouquet. That was a bit of good luck, because Chappi e and I between us had barely two nickels to rub together. What was I going to wear? I had the clothes that the Mungers had financed for me, but I didn’t own anything that qualified as a wedding dress, and I didn’t think it was proper to take advantage of the Mungers’ generosity to spend money on something so frivolous. I asked for Jo’s advice. “Y ou know what they say,” Jo said. “‘Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.’ I was in a wedding party just last year, and I wore a blue dress that I think would look very pretty on you.” What Chappie and I believed was worth some effort was my wedding ring. “I’ll make it for you myself,” Chappie said, and I thought that was a wonderfully romantic idea. A few days before the wedding we mad e the rounds of jewelry stores in search of a gold nugget that he would transform into my ring. But jewelers weren’t interested in selling nuggets, even if they had any, and tried to persuade us to buy a readymade ring instead . It happened that the circus had come to town on the day we went nugget hunting. T he animals had been unloaded from the circus train at the depot and were being paraded through the

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116 streets to the fairgrounds. E very time we stepped out of yet another jewelry store, we encounter ed a pl odding elephant or a snarling tiger in a cage . It seemed so absurd that we thought it must be a sign of more good luck and decided to try just one more jewelry store. We found a downat the heels , hole in the wall shop . Regarding us suspiciously, the wizened old shopkeeper disappeared into his back room and returned with a tray of gold teeth and other odds and e nds. We poked through th is miscellaneous collection until three lovely nuggets caught our attention , each a slightly differen t color of gold—yellow, white, and reddish. “There they are,” Chappie said, lining up the nuggets on a ragged scrap of velvet. “Perfect.” The shopkeeper weighed the three nuggets . Chappie paid for them and dropped them into his shirt pocket. “I’ll begin w ork on them tonight.” The day before the wedding Chappie telephoned me at my boarding house. “The ring is ready,” he said, and I could hear the e xcit e ment in his voice. “Let’s make sure it fits.” I rushed to the lab . Chappie had fashioned the gold nuggets into a lovely circlet. The ring lay gleaming on the anvil, and as I reached for it, Chappie said, “No, wait —let me give it a just a few more taps, to make sure it’s perfectly round.” He tapped it once with a tiny hammer, and the ring broke into two piece s. Of course I cried, and Chappie held me, murmuring, “ Don’t worry, Peg. I’ll make it over again, and it will be stronger than ever.” “But it won’t be ready for the ceremony tomorrow,” I sobbed. “That’s not a catastrophe. We’ll use some other ring, and it will be all right. The ceremony is just a ritual that we’re going through because that’s what people do. L ike getting the license.”

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117 Mr. and Mrs. Chapman had arrived in Ann Arbor , intending to have dinner with their son that evening. I was not invited, and I was both annoyed and thankful for that small mercy . Three of my friends —Eleanor, Helen, and Middie —t ook me out for my last dinner as a single girl . We went to the Royal Cafe, unable to think of anywhere else to go for the occasion, and the girls had chipped in to buy me a gift, a white nightgown adorned with yards of lace and satin ribbon . “Of course you won’t have it on for long,” they said, laughing. “But it’s nice to have it , to make your official appearance on your wedding night .” Was this another tradition with which I was completely unfamiliar? How did it happen that I knew so little about we ddings —or about marriage either? Eleanor, who was pinned to a fraternity boy and hoped to have a ring on her finger by the following Christmas, had already picked out silver and china patterns. Helen described the kind of wedding dress she planned to wear someday . “If and when I meet the right man, of course,” she said with a sigh. “It’s not like you and Chappie.” “What about a honeymoon?” Middie asked. “Or is that a secret?” “We’re going to the Chapman family cottage on a lake,” I explained. That, at least, I knew. “Oh, Peggy, it sounds so romantic! ” Eleanor tr illed. “ Just think, tomorrow night this time, you’ll be Mrs. Everett Chapman, and you’ll be on your honeymoon.” “We were thinking about tying cans to the back of Chappie’s car,” Helen said. “The Dodge already rattles so much, I doubt that we’d even notice a few cans,” I said. “We’ll be there with you tomorrow,” Middie said, her eyes shining with happy tears. Things like weddings always made Middie tearful. * * * *

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118 The Moores’ house looke d lovely. Jo had arranged flowers and greenery in front of the fireplace, where we would exchange our vows at eleven o’clock in the morning. I wore Jo’s pale blue crepe dress with a dropped waist, a flounced skirt, and short sleeves. She loaned me elbow le ngth white gloves and a pair of shoes and made me a gift of a new pair of silk stockings. And she took the wedding ring off her own finger and ha nded it to Chappie, whispering, “This is just for the ceremony. Remember to give it back to me afterwards!” I d on’t know where Al Moore found the minister to perform the ceremony, but he was perfectly dreadful, almost shouting as though we were deaf and prompting us through every line. The worst part of the ordeal was Mrs. Chapman —t he Duchess of Detroit, as I’d co me to think of her . She didn’t try to hide her displeasure. It was a mystery how she had wound up with a quiet, mild mannered husband like Mr. Chapman , who stayed in the background while his wife dominated the picture. The minister had scarcely finished bl aring the opening lines, “Dearly belo ved, we are gathered here today in the s ight of God,” than I heard a loud snort and a moaning sob behind me. Mrs. Chapman was weeping as though her son had just died. T o her, I suppose, he had: he was marrying a girl she disdained. S ince our visit two weeks earlier , she had been pressing her campaign. “Momma says I’m thinking of no one but myself , ” Chappie confessed. “She says that my first responsibility is to t hem, and Father seems to agree. H e finally gave in and bought a davenport like the neighbors’ that Momma has been wanting, because they assume I’ll soon be able to support them. ” I saw that this bothered Chappie a great deal. The duchess’s campaign was succeeding . “ They expect you to support them? Your father is unable to work?”

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119 “He works, selling vacuum cleaners , but he doesn’t earn enough money to give Momma the things she feel s she deserves —nice furniture, dinners at good restaurants , vacations . And I’m suppose d to help.” “But you have no money! Neither of us earns enough to support ourselves, let alone your parents. Do they understand that?” Chappie had shrugged unhappily. “I don’t believe they want to understand it. They’ve told me I’m being very selfish. ” N ow here was Mrs. Chapman , keening so loudly that the minister raised the volume another notch to shout over her. We stumbled through our vows , the minister pronounced us man and wife, and Chappie planted a dutiful kiss somewhere near my mouth. Arthur Moore, who stood up for Chappie, was the first to offer hearty congratulations, and Jo rushed off to ladle out strawberry punch and to pass around egg salad sandwiches and then to coach us as we cut a cake with a miniature bride and groom perched on top. Mrs. Chapman continued to honk into her handkerchief, her husband hovered nearby lest she keel over in a dead faint , and I secretly hoped she would. We got away as soon as we could. I changed out of Jo ’s blue dress and into my everyday clothes, and Middy and Eleanor and Helen tossed handfuls of rice at us as we jumped into Chappie’s old car . My friends had lettered JUST MARRIED on the rear window and tied a couple of tin cans to the bumper that rattled and clattered as we drove off . But w e were not on our way to our honeymoon. First w e drove to the darkroom to print photographs of the campus that had been ordered and would earn us as much as a dollar fifty a picture .

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120 T hat night , exhausted, we slept in Chappie’s rented room. I forgot all about my white bridal nightgown. The next day, my twentieth birthday, we were up early and back in the darkroom. And that wasn’t the end of it. We had been hired to take photographs at commencement exercises at the unive rsity on Sunday, and for the next few days we spent all our time in the darkroom again, developing and printing, developing and printing. We had been married for a week before we left on our honeymoon. Mr. and Mrs. Chapman owned a cottage on one of the lakes seventeen miles north of Ann Arbor . T he Dodge died twice along the unpaved road before we arrived . Sunlight filtered through the tall trees surrounding the cottage, t he view of the lake from the porch was beautiful, but the cottage itself was dark and dank. We threw open the windows, knocked down cobwebs, and cleaned mouse droppings off the scarred oak table. We found sheets and motheaten blankets in a musty cupboard and made up the rickety bed. I was never much good at housekeeping, but I rose to the occasion at least this once. By evening the cabin was habitable. Chappie lit the kerosene lamp and fired up the wood stove. Jo Moore had packed a hamper with supplies she thought we’d need and Arthur had deliver ed it to Chappie’s rooming house before we left —a lucky thing, because neither of us would have thought to do that —a nd I scramble d some eggs and brew ed a pot of coffee. We were alone, in love, eager to start our mar ried life together. W e weren’t alone for long. After two blissful nights and one languorous day spent paddling a leaky canoe along the shore and swimming in the stillfrigid waters, we were startled to hear an auto crunching along

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121 the gravel path leading down from the road. “Yoohoo!” caroled the now fami liar voice of Mrs. Chapman S r. “It’s your mother,” I said, peering out the window. “And she’s not alone. There’s a girl with her. Can we pretend we’re not here?” T here was no way to pretend we were somewhere else. The girl was Marian, Chappie’s sister. This was our first meeting. “We decided we could do with a little vacation,” Mrs. Chapman announced brightly . “ Marian has been having such a difficult time, and as long as you’re here, we thought we’d join you for a nice family visit . Everett dear, go bring our luggage from the car . ” Everett Dear did as M omma ordered, and I realized from the amount of luggage that this was not going to be a short —i.e., overnight —visit. S oon she and Marian were unpacked and settled in to the bedroom next to ours, and the Duchess of Detroit was ready to be served. “Marian and I would love some coffee, Margaret. Or is it Peg? Or Peggy? Or Maggie?” She cocked her head to one side. “ Y ou seem like a Maggie to me.” “You may call me whatever you like, Mrs. Chapman,” I said evenly, trying to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. “Chappie calls me Peggy.” “All right, then, Peggy ,” she said, as though the name had a bad taste . “ But please don’t c all my son ‘Chappie.’ I named him Everett, and that’s what I wish to hear him called.” “Of cou rse,” I said, gritting my teeth . M y mother also disapproved of nicknames , but she never lectured my friends . I wish that I didn’t recall the next couple of weeks as vividly as I do. First, there was Marian , sitting sullenly at the kitchen table, her head in her hands. Her marriage had come to a

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122 bitter end. “I’ve done nothing but cry for the past week,” she said, and, as if to prove it, she began to sob again. This seemed to be a family of theatrical weepers. “ Nobody loves me! ” Marian wailed. “ Not one single person! I have nothing to live for!” “Of course you do, dear,” her mother said, patting Marian’s shoulder . “I, on the other hand, have nothing but woes!” Chap pie had been standing next to me, his arm around my waist, possibly because he was afraid I might collapse under the weight of his formidable mother, but when Marian gazed at us with her crumpled face awash in tears, his arm dropped and he moved away. “I t hink the coffee is ready,” he said . I retrieved four cups from the cupboard and poured cream into a pitcher with a broken handle. Chappie pulled out a chair for his mother at the table. I pulled out my own chair, helped myself to coffee, and reached for the cream pitcher. “ Don’t take too much, Peggy,” Mrs. Chapman warned . “ I absolutely cannot drink coffee if it doesn’t have enough cream in it. I hope you have more, and plenty of ice for the icebox. If not, Everett can drive into the villa ge and pick up a block. We’re going to need more groceries. I’ll make a list.” I made a show of adding only a few drops to my cup. Mrs. Chapman took the pitcher and turned her coffee nearly white. “Let me tell you what’s happened,” she said. “Our neighbors , the Fergusons —you know the ones I mean, Everett —have completely refurnished their house . Besides the davenport and matching side chairs, the y’ve bought a mahogany dining room table and a china closet, an Oriental rug, and probably even more things I have n’t seen yet. Can you imagine how that makes

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123 me feel? Your father and I, existing in such dismal circumstances that I am continually denied the finer things of life?” Chappie shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “I’m sorry to hear that, Momma. But Poppa di d buy you the davenport you wanted. ” I stirred a spoonful of sugar into my coffee, wishing I had some kind of sleeping draught to sneak in to Momma’s cup that would put her into a deep coma. “Yes, you’re sorry! I’m sure you’re very sorry indeed! And a che ap divan it is, too —not at all what I had in mind. ” Her voice rose shrilly. “But the fact is, Everett, that it is your duty as my son to come to our aid! Don’t we deserve better than to live in such penury that even a decent stick of furniture is beyond our reach?” “Yes, Momma,” Chappie murmured. “I’m glad you understand that, Everett,” Mrs. Chapman said. “Now we’ll see if you’re as good as your word.” The situation did not improve. Chappie felt guilty, and I felt completely helpless. It was aw fully clear that Chappie was not going to take a firm stand and make his mother see that it was not his responsibility to buy her expensive furniture. I wondered what it would take t o get her to go home to Detroit. The walls of the cottage were so thin tha t we lay rigidly side by side, not touching, and listened to his mother’s stentorian snores and his sister’s muffled sobs in the next room . Two weeks after we were married and five days after his mother and sister had arrived to share our honeymoon, Chappie got up early and left the cottage without waking me. He had work to do in his laboratory, and I knew that he would not be back until late that night . H e was playing traps in a dance band to earn a little extra money, and his Friday nights were always

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124 busy. I was awakened after he’d gone by a grea t deal of thumping and sloshing, and I gradually to realize that my mother in law was cleaning the kitchen. My f irst thought was to ignore it. M y second thought was to climb out of bed, get dressed in a hurry, a nd offer to help. “Well, Peggy,” said Mrs. Everett when I appeared in the doorway, “is it your usual habit to sleep away the best part of the day while others work?” Determined to ignore this opening shot, I greeted her cheerfully. “Good morning, Mrs. Eve rett. What would you like me to do?” “Start by washing the windows,” she said. “ A person can scarcely see through them.” I found a bucket and filled it at the pump in the sink. After I’d done a couple of window s, a dozen small panes in each, I’d fix myself some breakfast. Then I’d ask Mrs. Chapman to join me for a cup of coffee. Maybe I could begin to make some kind of peace with this difficult woman if her boy wasn’t around as an audience for her dramatics . I f she got to know me, she might realize that I was a likable person. That was my plan . I was wiping a glass pane with a chamois when Mrs. Chapman paused in her furious scrubbing and called out from the kitchen, “Tell me, Peggy, what did your mother think when you announced your plans to get married?” I rinsed the chamois in the bucket and moved on to the next pane before I answered. “She was worried at first because she thought we we re too young, and she thinks it’s important for me to finish my courses and graduate. But when she realized how much in love we are, she changed her mind and gave us her approval. She’s happy for us.” “Really? I’m certainly glad someone is happy! Your mother has gained a son, and I’ve lost a son. I do congratulate you, but I never want to see you again.” Had I heard her correctly? I never want to see you again. Did she really say that ?

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125 F rightened and shaken, I clutched the damp chamois, unsure what to do next. Scarcely able to think—certainly not clearly — I dra ped the chamois over the rim of the bucket and slipp ed out the front door of the cottage, closing it quietly behind me and made my way up the gravel path to the road. I had to find Chappi e and tell him what had happened. S urely my husband would know what to say, what to do , to make things right ! Seventeen miles to Ann Arbor. I didn’t think about the distance; I simply started to walk. The morning was still pleasantly cool, but in another hour or so it w ould be hot and getting hotter. After about a mile, my head cleared a little and I realized t hat I had left without my purse and had no money with me . I had also neglected to eat any breakfast, not even a piece of toast. T here was no turning back. I never want to see you again. I kept walking. The sun rose higher in the sky, the patches of shade shra nk and become scarcer, and I was growing hungrier. Occasionally a car rumbled by on the dusty road, and the driver glanced at me curiously. I thought of sticking out my thumb and asking for a ride, but I was too embarrassed to do that. There would be questions, and I didn’t want to answer them. I plodded on , plagued by blackflies and gnats . The sun was directly overhead. My feet were blistering. I came to a filling station and stopped for a drink of water . “Hot enough for ya?” the attendant inquired, eyeing me curiously, and I nodded. I might have asked for help, but pride would not let me. I rested for a while and then continued my journey. L ate in the afternoon I reached the outskirts of Ann Arbor . The streetcar line ended here, and i f I’d had a nickel in my pocket I might have ridden the last couple of miles into town . C lose to sunset I stumbled up the street to Arthur and Jo M oore’s home. I knew that I looked a fright , but I was past caring . I knocked on the door and got no answer. Lights began to flicker on in houses up and down the street, but there was no sign of the Moores. I sat down on their front

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126 porch to wait. At last a pair of headlamps swung into the driveway, and I levered myself up from the chair where I’d been dozing for who knew how long. Arthur saw me first. “Peggy!” he cried, opening the car door and leaping out . “What on earth?” I burst into exhausted tears. J o immediately came to the rescue. “Oh, you poor dear!” she murmured, and turned to Arthur. “Let’s get her inside. We can ask questions later.” The two half carried me into the house, washed my face as though I were a small child, gave me water and then weak tea, and decided that a soft boiled egg would be just the thing. Between famished bites, I summarized my conversation with Mrs. Chapman. I saw the look the Moores exchanged—they had witnessed her melo dramatic behavior at the wedding. Then they had a hurr ied conference: Chappie would be playing in the dance band for another couple of hours before heading back to the lake. Arthur would find him and bring him to their home as soon as the band had finished its last number . “Meanwhile, dear child, you must rest,” Jo said firmly. “Shall I fix you another egg? How about a whole wheat muffin with some marmalade?” I was asleep in the Moores’ guest room when Chappie arrived sometime after midnight. Drowsily I reached up to pull him close, but after some tearful kisses, he pulled away. “I can’t stay here, Peg. I have to drive back up to the cottage. Momma will be so worried if I don’t.” What could I say? I wondered if “Momma” would also be worried about me ? I had disappeared early in the morning, never to be seen again, according to her wishes . “Go, then,” I told him and turned my face to the wall.

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127 He came back at noon the next day , bringing our clothes and the news that his mother and Marian had also packed up and were returning t o Detroit . I had slept most of the morning, taken a long, hot bath, and sat on the Moores’ back terrace wearing Jo’s dressing gown while my filthy clothes were washed and hung out to dry. Arthur and Jo had been discreet in their questions, but Chappie want ed an explanation. “Peggy, what happened? ” he asked, pulling up a chair beside me. “ Momma said that you became hysterical over some trivial thing and ran off. She said she couldn’t imagine what would have caused you to do that. She thought you’d just gone down to the lake to get control of yourself.” I stared at Chappie for a moment and then looked away. If I told him the truth, told him the cruel words his mother had flung at me, would he even believe me? I searched for the right thing to say and couldn’t find it. “Yes,” I said. “Of course. She was right.” “Darling,” Chappie said sympathetically, his hand on my knee, “I wonder if it might be a good idea for you to have another talk with Dr. Stansfield. He was so helpful to you—“ I cut him off before he coul d say any more. “You think I’m crazy! Your mother has convinced you that there’s something wrong with me! Well, I can assure you there is not.” I brushed his hand away and stood up, tightening the sash on the dressing gown. “Your mother has made it perfect ly clear that she dislikes me and that she disapproves of our marria ge. Yes, I behaved irrationally! I should have taken my purse —that was my main mistake. I do apologize for the trouble I’ve caused Arthur and Jo and you, because I know you were worried. I doubt that your mother gave my absence a second thought. ” I started toward the door. “I’m going to dress. Then let’s go home.”

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128 Home was the rooming house where Chappie had lived for the past few years. His room was too small for both of us, and I had taken a room down the hall. It was awkward, but we it was only supposed to be temporary. Chappie had been offered an excellent position at Purdue University , and in a few weeks we were moving to Indiana . I was thrilled. We’d have a regular home of our own, I would be in my fourth year of college , and Mrs. Chapman would be out of our lives . Except that she wasn’t.

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129 Chapter 11. Starting Over Chappie’s mother was three hundred miles away in Detroit , but she still had her hooks deeply into her son. The flow of letters grew from a stream to a flood, and t he story never varied : e verything was wrong in her life, and it was all Chappie’s fault. She was a damsel in distress, he was supposed to be her knight in shining armor , and he’d failed her . She could never be happy, she told him . There was no contentment for her and no future. It would be better if she didn’t love him so much. S omeday he would understand what his failure to help her had done to her , but by then it would be too late! Mr. Chapman heaped coals on the fire , warning Chappie that if he didn’t write to his mother at least once a week as he’ d promised, he would have to accept responsibility for whatever became of her. His father predicted it would be dire. I was at the root of all this misery . I f Chappie had not married me, then obviously he would be behaving like a dutiful son and assuring his Momma ’s happiness . By the end of 1924—we had been married only six months —I was often thinking how much better my life would be if I weren’t Mrs. Peggy Chapman. I hadn’t worked on my children’s book about insects for months and months. My interests had evolved from herpetol ogy to paleontology, from snakes to fossils. This was my fourth year of college, but I’d had to start over as a freshman. T he girls I met in my classes were my age , but we had nothing in common. They chattered about their dates, the dances and parties

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130 to w hich they’d been invited, and the clothes they planned to wear. When I told them I was married, the wife of a faculty member, they shied away. The other faculty wives were no better —I was decades younger than any of them , sometimes even younger than their own daughters. At a dinner for faculty members and their wives , I was seated next to a gray haired matron who assumed that I, too, must be a professor’s daughter. She asked what I was studying, and I told her . “ A scientist in the making!” she enthused. “ How nice. Well, I enjoy doing needlepoint,” she said and described in detail the cushions she’d worked for the kneelers at her church’s altar rail. “What are your hobbies, dear? Besides collecting rocks, or whatever it is paleontologists do, ” she asked in the patronizing way that infuriated me. I had to say something, so I said, “I enjoy taking photographs.” She nodded approvingly and explained that she was the advisor to a campus sorority. Her girls were looking for someone to take pictures for a book t hey were putting together. “ P ictures of the sorority house , portraits of the girls , informal shots, that sort of thing . I’d be pleased to recommend you for the job, Peggy . ” “That sort of thing” was not the kind of photography I liked to do , but it was a n opportunity to earn a little money , and I leaped at it and spent hours taking pictures and developing them . T hen I found that I had overexposed every single shot —I must have been very nervous —and the pictures were worthless. I was horribly embarrassed an d didn’t get any more assignments. Just before our first anniversary Chappie accepted a job with an electric company in Cleveland . We were moving, and I was pleased. I found a job at the Museum of Natural History

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131 teaching children from the public schools a nd signed up for evening classes in education at Western Reserve. I’d once told Dr. Ruthven that I wanted to become a news photographer and reporter, “a very good one,” but I thought my chances of finding steady employment as a teacher were better. I liked Cleveland, and I liked being near my mother without living with her. We’d rented a nice little apartment, but housework bored me. Dirty dishes piled up in the bathtub—the kitchen sink was too small —dirty laundry overflowed the hamper, and the cupboard went bare while I explored the city with my camera . Then I had to face Chappie’s wrath when he came home and shout ed that the place was no better than a pigpen , and it was my fault . Worse than his shouting, though, was his complete silence. Sometimes he would not speak for days. It was as if I didn’t exist. On good days, when I was determined to prove that I was a capable wife, I cleaned and washed and ironed and prepared elaborate meals , trying to please my husband. On his good days, Chappie was sweet and lo ving. But often he sulked . O nce he even told me that he thought he hated me. I began to quietly put aside a little money. After two years i t was clear to me, as it must have been to Chappie, that our marriage was a failure . I was thinking of leaving him. And then I did. Cornell University in Ithaca, a town in upstate New York , has waterfalls right on campus with wonderful names —Cascadilla Falls, Triphammer Falls , Forest Falls . I’d also heard that Cornell had a good zo ology department . This was where I belonged . It was far from Cleveland, far from Chappie . I applied for admission and was accepted.

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132 When I ’d told Chappie that I wanted to leave—leave Cleveland , leave him —he’d agreed. Legally, though, I was still married, still his wife. For years I had dealt with the painful and bewildering secret of my Jewish heritage. Now I had another secret: I was twenty two, married and separated , a nd that kept me from feeling I belonged at Cornell —or perhaps anywhere. I abandoned the name I’d been using, Peggy Chapman, and signed up for my classes as Margaret Bourke White; Bourke was my mother’s maiden name, and she had given it to me as my middle nam e . I had to scramble for money. The Mungers still provided a small st ipend, but they assumed that as a married woman with a professor husband I didn’t need as much help, and I didn’t tell them differently. In exchange for meals I worked a few hours a day as a waitress in the dining hall , and I took shifts at the front desk in the girls’ dormitory to pay for my room . When I had free time , I went out with my camera , but my course work filled almost all my hours . Faced with a choice, I gave up waiting tables. I ate what I could, when I could. Food had never been important to me . I lost weight. But I had time to take pictures, and that was t he one thing I did care about intensely. I still had the old Ica Reflex camera with the cracked lens that Mother had bought me, and it still made beautiful pictures. I was surrounded by natur al beauty , Fall Creek carving its way toward Lake Cayuga, the breathtaking fall s and gorges sculpted by glaciers . There was manmade beauty as well: the ornate iron gates of the football stadium, t he ivycovered walls of the stately buildings . I was still influenced by Clarence White’s theory that every photograph must be a work of art, more like a painting than merely a precise reflection of reality. I t wasn’t only a matter of finding the correct angle , waiting for the perfect circumstances to get th e best shot, and then

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133 getting the light exactly right. I still aimed for a soft focus, stretching a silk stocking over the lens or by manipulating the film in the darkroom to achieve the dreamy effect I loved . I printed up enlargements of eight or ten pic tures I thought were good enough and took them to the office of the manager of campus housing, Mr. Coleman. He ’d gotten me my jobs as a waitress and a receptionist, and I knew he liked me. I laid the photographs on his desk, one at a time . “Do you think I could sell these?” I asked him. Mr. Coleman adjusted his spectacles and whistled softly. “I’m sure you can.” We came up with a plan. Working furiously over the Thanksgiving holiday, I matted the photographs and arranged them on easels outside my dormitory dining room. The photographs were an immediate success. Girls who saw them loved them —“So beautiful , why they’re not like photographs at all, they’re like paintings! ” They wanted to buy them as Christmas gif ts for their parents. Mr. Coleman helped recruit twenty students as salesmen to make the rounds of fraternity and sorority houses . O rders poured in. When Mr. Coleman learned that I’d been developing film in washtubs in the laundry room of my dorm , he gave me the key to the darkroom in the student supply store. I spent what little money I ha d and borrow ed more to buy chemicals and printing paper. Mr. Coleman’s boss found out that I’d been in the darkroom all night, trying to keep up with orders. “You’re going to get sick,” he worried , “or flunk out, or both, and I don’t want it on my hands. You can’t use the darkroom any more.” I pleaded, but it was useless. Mr. Coleman agreed with his boss , but he gave me the name of a commercial photographer in downtown Ith aca . “Go talk to Henry Head. He’ll give you some good advice.”

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134 Mr. Head allowed me to use his darkroom as much as I wanted , and I agreed to pay him a percentage of every picture sold . S ales were going very well , and I often worked there through the night . I don’t know what I would have done without him. When I wasn’t in the darkroom , I was taking pictures around the campus . One night after a heavy snowfall I wanted to photograph the Hall of Science in its glistening mantle , and I wanted mine to be the first footprints in this pristine scene . I carefully walked a long, curving trail that would accent the stark angles of the building in my composition. After the fiasco at Purdue with the sorority pictures, my confidence had returned. I knew I was good, and I was getting better. I held on to the belief that I was destined for greatness, the kind of greatness that photographers like Alfred Stieglitz had achieved and very few women had so far . I would be among them . But I was not the bes t businesswom an, and my mistakes cost me dearly. S uddenly the rush to buy the photographs as Christmas gifts was over, and I had unwisely spent all my cash o n a great pile of photographic paper that I didn’t need and probably wouldn’t need for quite a while. That was a hard lesson. I did not go back to Cleveland at Christmas. I f I wanted to graduate in June, I had to do something to rescue my sinking grades and study through the holidays. Besides, the train cost too much , and I didn’t want to be in the same city as Ch appie. Tha t would have been too painful. I stayed in Ithaca, deserted over the holidays. Mr. Head and his wife invited me to come to their house on New Year’s Day for pork and sauerkraut. Mrs. Head was German, and this was a German tradition. It was kind o f them, but I excused myself as early as I decently could. The light was perfect for photographing Triphammer Falls , and Mr. Head understood that , even if his wife did not .

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135 I did fairly well in my exams , and my grades were satisfactory if not stellar . I n my final semester I signed up for a journalism course . The other students were hoping to become newspaper reporters; I was more interested in magazine work and submitted a photoessay — mostly pictures and very little text—for an assignment . The professor was the advisor for the Cornell Alumni News , a quarterly publication, and he thought the editor might want to feature my photographs of campus buildings. The editor looked them over and paid me five dollar s e ach for three pictures —it seemed like a fortune. When t he magazine was sent to alumni of the department of architecture, s everal wrote to praise the pictures. One graduate contacted the dean and suggested that I specialize in archi tectural photography. He said m y pictures were that good. I had once told Dr. Ruthven that I intended to be a reporter photographer, but I wasn’t sure that I could actually land such a job—and I did need to find work when I graduated. The letter to the dean was encouraging, but to play it safe, I sent an application to the American Museum of Natural History in New York . T he curator of herpetology invited me to come for an interview. I thought the offer of a position might be imminent. I was twenty two, about to graduate, and unsure which path to follow to reach the success I believed I was destined for. I could go to New York and go to work at the museum. Or I could follow the suggestion of the Cornell graduate and pursue a career in architectural photography, even though I had no specific training in the field. The second option offered the most excit ement , but I needed to know if the me n who praised my photographs were right about my talent, or if they simply enjoyed my lovely pictures of their alma mater. Easy enough for them to hand out compliments , but it was my future that hung in the balance. I contacted th e letter writer and asked if he w ould recommend someone qualified to give me an objective opinion.

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136 The reply: “See Benj amin Moskowitz, York & Sawyer, Architects, NYC. Good luck.” D uring the Easter vacation in April I took the train to New York City where I had booked a cheap room at the YWCA . The train arrived at Penn Station late on Thursday. Common sense told me to wait until the next morning to go to the architects’ offices, b ut I was anxious, and I went straight to the Park Avenue address of York & Sawyer with my portfolio. The elevator operator took me to the twentythird floor. It was near the end of the day. Most of the staff had already gone, but the switchboard operator was still on duty. I asked for Mr. Moskowitz. She thought he had already left for a long weekend. I was close to tears. “But I’ve come all this way! And I can’t stay until next week to see him!” “You have an appointment?” I shook my head. She sighed and took my name and told me to wait while she tried to find him. I paced nervously. The operator rang his office; no answer. “Looks like you’re out of luck, miss,” she sa id. Just then a tall, gray haired man, beautifully groomed, strode through the reception area. She signaled me and mouthed, “That’s him.” I didn’t hesitate. “Oh, Mr. Moskowitz!” I called out . “Just a moment, sir, please! I’d like to speak to you.” He glanced at his watch, an expensivelooking gold one, and kept walking . “ Sorry, I ha ve a train to catch,” he said brusquely . “ I don’t believe you had an appointment.” I hurried after him toward the elevator . “I apologize, sir, but I was told to talk to y ou and to show you some photographs.” I mentioned the Corne ll alumnus who had given me his name.

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137 He pressed the button to call the elevator. “As I said, Miss —?” “Margaret Bourke White.” “ —Miss White, I have a train to catch. I will be away for the Easter weekend and most of next week. I’m sure your photographs are very good or he would not have sent you to see me, but unfortunately I have no time to look at them or to talk to you just now .” Why hadn’t I planned this better? Called for an appointment? Taken an earlier train? I had to be on campus for classes before Mr. Moskowitz would be back in his office. He checked his watch impatiently and rang again for the elevator . “It’s a lways slow when I’m most in a hurry,” he muttered. “Let me show you just one photograph while we’re waiting,” I pleaded , and opened the portfolio. The picture on top was a view of the river from the library tower , the highest point on campus . I’d climbed that tower at dawn and at sunset and at every possible time in between to catch the light on the water at exactly the right moment. The shot was framed through the grillwork. Mr. Moskowitz glanced at it impatiently . Then he paused and looked a second time. “You took this photograph?” he asked doubtfully. “Yes, these pictures are all my work .” I rushed through my story—the elevator could arrive at any moment and my chance would be gone . “Mr. Moskowitz, I have to know if you think I have the ability to become a professional in this field! ” The elevator gate clattered open. “Going down!” announced the uniformed operator. “Never mind, Chester,” Mr. Moskowitz told him. “We don’t need you now.” He motioned for me to follow him. “Let’s go back to the office. I want to look at the rest of these.”

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138 I followed, clutching the portfolio. As we hurried through the reception room, Mr. Moskowitz called out to the switchboard operator, “Ring up Sawyer and York and anyone else who’s still here and tell them to come to the conference room.” The windows of the walnut paneled room with its long table and leather chairs looked out over Park Avenue South, but the men in pinstripe suits and silk neckties who gathered there weren’t interested in that view. They were gazing at my photographs, arranged along the walls . For the next hour they asked me questi ons, about my age —I was twenty two, but I fibbed a bit, adding a couple of years —my education, my experience. They liked what they saw. At the end of the hour I sailed out of the offices of York and Sawyer, giddy with the assurance of these men that any architect in the country would quite willingly pay for my services. The next day I went to the natural history museum and visited it because I was interested in the exhibits , but not because I wanted to work there. I left a note for the curator who had in vited me for an interview, explaining that I was unable to keep my appointment. I knew it was a risk; I needed a job, and the museum would have probably offer ed me one in herpetology . But I wanted a different kind of life . For hours I wander ed the broad a venues and narrow side streets of New York, soaking up the city’s sights and sounds , gazing up at skyscrapers and peering in shop windows. New York was definitely the place to be. I could imag ine myself living here. But although York and Sawyer architects had praised my work and declared that it was of professional quality, they had not offered me a position. I understood that I would be my own employer and that my services would be on a freelance basis , with no regular paycheck. I would always be angl ing for the next

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139 assignment, and no doubt I would often have to take dull, monotonous work just to be able to pay my rent each month. A s the train followed the Hudson River north from the city, I began to imagine the shape a new life might take . Bu t I needed to come up with a concrete plan . Spring began to emerge in Ithaca. I kept on taking pictures . I still didn’t fit in, but that didn’t bother me. I had never been a traditional college girl , and I was surely not one now . I nstead of going out to p arties , I tramped alone to the falls, photographing the splendor of that stunning landscape. There was no man in my life; my camera was everything. I was lonely at times, but I endured it. Loneliness was not as bad as being with someone who does n’t love you enough, who pushes you away with one hand even as he’s pulling you close with the other . Some one like Chappie. In May a letter arrived , postmarked Cleveland . I recognized Chappie’s handwriting. I propped the letter, unopened, on my dresser for a day, and then one more day after that , to prove to myself that I had the strength to resist him. Finally I tore open the envelope and read the letter . He was doing well at Lincoln Electric, he wrote. The managers liked his work, and he was in line for a pr omotion . That was the first part . In the second part he confessed tha t he missed me and thought of me often, that he regretted the pain he had caused me, that he believed he had become more mature. “We are still man and wife,” he wrote. “And my fondest ho pe is that we can still find our way back t o the deep love we once shared. I propose to come to Ithaca so that we may talk face to face. I long to see you. Please write and let me know how you feel.” He signed it, “All my love, Chappie.”

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140 Everything that ha d been so clear to me two days before now seemed confused. All my love? What about his mother? She’d had the lion’s share of his love before. Had that changed? Chappie had not stood up to the Duchess of Detroit when I needed him, and I wasn’t at all sure he’d stand up for me now. And what about those black silences when I left the apartment a mess because I’d been too busy taking photographs? Nevertheless, I wrote back and said, “Yes, come.” I was anxious to see him, anxious to hear what he had to say, anxious t o untangle my feelings and find out how I felt about him and how he felt about me . We had once been deeply in love. Maybe there was still something we could salvage. I went to the depot to meet his train , got there too early, and waited nervously for him to arrive . The first sight of him stepping off the train, handsome as ever with the same brilliant smile , sent a jolt of excitement through me, and I resisted the urge to run toward him and throw myself into his arms. He set down his valise . Neithe r of u s made a move to embrace, and a handshake seemed strange, so we just stood there, smiling uncertainly. “You’ve cut your hair,” he said. “Yes,” I said . I’d had my bob cut shorter when I arrived at Cornell. “How was the trip?” “Fine, fine. You look good, Peggy. Ithaca apparently agrees with you.” “Thank you. Yes, I suppose it does .” It was not far to the cheap hotel where I’d booked him a room. While we walked there, he told me that his ancient Dodge had finally called it quits . N ow we had something that was easy to talk about: the auto’s last days, the bicycle he used to get to work, his plans to buy another car. “But Momma thinks I should wait until I ’ve saved up more money .” T here she was again: Momma.

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141 “And what are you planning to do?” I asked, although I could already guess the answer. Chappie shrugged. “She’s probably right. I promised to help her and Poppa before I buy something for myself.” I bit my lip and said nothing . The most important question had already been answe red. After Chappie had checked into his room, we went into the hotel lunchroom for something to eat. This was not a place where students usually came, but I recognized a girl from my journalism class at a nearby table. I saw her look at Chappie and raise her eyebrows, probably expecting me to introduce him to her. Of course she had no idea who he was —my husband—and I had no intention of revealing that part of my life. W e went for a long walk after lunch , and I showed him the falls and pointed out the buil dings I had photographed. I considered telling him about my trip to New York and my interview with Mr. Moskowitz and his colleagues , but didn’t . I thought about showing him my portfolio of photographs that had so impressed the architects , and didn’t do tha t either . Chappie’s questions weren’t about my pictures —they were about my courses in herpetology. I was graduating in a few weeks —What were my plans? Had I had any job interviews? I didn’t mention the interview I could have had in New York. At dinner tha t evening I shifted the subject away from myself and asked about his work with Lincoln Electric . He told me that he was involved in developing the kind of steel that would be used in building streamlined trains , and he was excited about that . His other new s was that he’d gotten a cat and named him Felix. We lingered over coffee. The other diners had left the restaurant; the waiters were clearing everything away, making it plain that it was closing time. Chappie reached across the table and took my hand. “Will you come up to my room with me, Peg?” he asked.

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142 “I’d rather not,” I said. “But we can go back to the lobby in my residence hall, if you’d like to talk.” “We’re still married,” he said. “I still love you. I believe we could work it out, if you’re willing. I came here to ask you to come back to Cleveland. Let’s try again. Please. ” I looked into the dark eyes of the man I’d once loved and promised to love until death parted us. But Chappie had hurt me deeply, less by what he had done than by what he had not done. I saw no possibility of finding that love a ga in. A switched had been flipped and couldn’t be reversed . I felt very little for Chappie, except regret. I shook my head. “No,” I said. “I will be your friend, but I will not be your wife.” He stayed in Ithaca only two days. I didn’t see him off at the train, saying I had other commitments, which was the truth. Visitors were flocking to campus for commencement exercises, and I planned to arrange for the sale of those stacks of prints left over from the previous winter . Once again I summoned the student s who had been my sales staff at Christmas. A couple of them helped me set up displays in the library and the dining halls; others made the rounds of fraternities and sororities. Before commencement weekend was over, my entire stock was sold out, and I had made a nice profit. And I also had a plan. I would move back to Cleveland. Not because of Chappie, but because I saw that as the place from which I could launch my career as an architectural photographer.

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143 Chapter 12. Cleveland I packed up my diploma and my faithful old camera and caught the train from Ithaca to Buffalo. At nine o’clock I ’d boarded the night boat across Lake Erie to Cleveland and spent the night in a berth. When The City of Buffalo sidled up to the pier , paddlewhee ls churning, the outlines of Cleveland emerged slowly from the early morning mist, and I experienced the thrill of seeing the city through fresh eyes. When I’d lived here before, I’d explored the docks and railroads and foundries with my camera in hand. I’ d had the idea then of making a photographic portrait of the city, but with my teaching and my college classes , and with Chappie and my troubled marriage, I ’d never had the time or energy to follow through. Now I was step ping into a new life. I was ready for anything. My first stop, after a fortifying cup of coffee , was at my mother’s house. I didn’t think of it as “home,” because I had never lived there. I fo und her busy, distracted, preparing to rush off to work at the school for the blind. S he seemed happy to see me, sorry she hadn’t been able to ta ke time off for my graduation, and lost no time in getting to the question that loomed most important in her mind. “What about Chappie?” “That’s over,” I said. “You were right. We were too young.” There was much more to it than that, but it was too painful to talk about. I wondered if I’d ever be able to tell her about Mrs. Chapman.

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144 “ The little room is ready for you,” she said. “I don’t mind telling you, it will be nice to have you home again. It’s been awfully lonely since your father died. And I know Roger will be glad to have you around.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that my stay there would be short . I w anted to be out on my own, not having to answer to the inevitable questions and offer explanations when my camera kept me out until all hours. Almost on cue, my sixteenyear old brother stumbled into the kitchen, rumpled and yawning. “Hi, Peg.” Mother frow ned , her mood visibly making a right angle turn from pleasure at seeing me again to disapproval at this great, hulking monosyllabic young male. Roger greeted me briefly and then set about denuding the icebox of eggs, milk, bread, butter, jam. “Would you ca re for some breakfast, Margaret?” Mother asked, adding pointedly, “I assume there’s a little something left. But you’ll ha ve to fix it yourself. I must leave for work.” As soon as Mother was out the door, Roger visibly relaxed. “Want some? Scrambled or fri ed?” Without waiting for an answer, he dropped a blob of butter into the frying pan. “Over easy,” I said. Roger nodded and cracked two eggs into the sizzling butter. “You are so damn lucky, Peg,” he said. Had he actually said damn? “You remember how she us ed to ask me about my dreams when I was a little kid? A nd I had to tell her everything? Everything! She grilled me as soon as I got home from school to report every little thing that happened that day, and then when I woke up in the morning I had to descri be my dreams. I used to make things up, just to get her off my back. And it hasn’t gotten one bit better since Father died. Worse, in fact.” He flipped the eggs expertly, left them in the pan for a moment or two, and then turned them out on a plate,

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145 exactl y as I’d asked for them . Two perfectly toasted slices of bread followed, and Roger sat down across from me while I ate. “I didn’t realize it was so hard for you,” I said. “Maybe it’s different for a son than for a daughter. Mother didn’t question me about my dreams, but she was very demanding. ‘Always take the harder path’ she always told me. She wanted us to be successful, and she knew it wasn’t easy.” “I just wish she’d get married again,” Roger said, finishing one glass of milk and pouring another. “You say that, but you’d change your tune if she did. Marriage isn’t the cure for anything. I promise you that.” Roger looked at me closely. “You and Chappie are done for?” I nodded, not wanting to get into this. My throat ti ghtened, and I felt tears welling. I hadn’t expected that reaction . “Sorry,” Roger mumbled. “Shouldn’t have asked. None of my business.” “ Let’s talk about you. What are your plans?” He grimaced. “Finish school and get the hell out of here,” he said. “Worthy goals,” I said, and carried my dishes to the sink, ran hot water, and washed my brother’s dishes and my own. Better than I would have done when Chappie and I were together. “Thanks for breakfast.” I had two goals of my own , one longterm, one short term. I believed that I had the ability to become a great photographer, like Alfred Stieglitz, like my first teacher, Clarence White, who I learned had died two years earlier . But in order to have the freedom to be an artist, I first had to earn a living, and I proposed to do that as an architectural photographer. Mr. Moskowitz and his

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146 colleagues at York and Sawyer left no doubt in my mind that I could do that. After I ’d made up my mind to move to Cleveland, I wrote to Mr. Moskowitz, and he had provided me with the names of Cleveland architects who had received their training at Cornell. I’d made some money from the sale of my photographs over commencement weekend. I had also received a generous check from Mr. Henry Munger and Miss Jessie Munger, and that would help. But it would certainly be my last gift from them. They had paid my tuition at Michigan and then at Cornell, but now my college days were over, and I was on my own. I had not seen the Mungers since Mother moved to Cleveland, although I had writ ten to them every month or so , let ting them know about my progress. If they felt that I was making a mistake in shifting my interests from snakes to photographs, they never let me know it. Their moral support had been as important as the financial support they’d provided. I still had the letter Miss Jessie had w ritten to me not long after I’ d transferred to Michigan, in which she said that she truly believed God had given me a gift of remarkable talent. I promised myself that as soon as I got my first assig nment and was paid for it, I would move out of my mother’s house and into a room of my own. But first I had to land that first assignment. It was necessary, of course, to present myself as a professional and to look as though I knew exactly what I was doing. I was young, and that might equal “inexperience” in the eyes of some of the men I called on from Mr. Moskowitz’s list . More of a problem than my age —I could always fib about that —was my gender. Few women were architects, few were photographers, and i f t here were any architectural photographers, I didn’t know about them . The first step was to have a professional looking uniform. My college girl clothes would not do. I used part of my small savings to invest in a smartly tailored gray suit, and added to that two plain white blouses, one blue hat and matching gloves, one red hat and matching gloves, and

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147 a pair of sturdy black pumps. T hen I was ready to hit the streets with my portfolio and a list of prospects . Looking for work is itself very hard work . I went about it with my usual determination, leaving my mother’s house in Cleveland Heights, taking the streetcar into the city, and pounding the pavements . Using Mr. Moskowitz’s list and then going beyond it, I went from one architect’s office to the next, stopping when I got hungry to buy a cream cheese sandwich in a diner or a hot dog from a cart on the street. At the end of the day I’d visit the shoeshine parlor on lower Euclid Avenue , and the little old Italian shoemaker would recap the heels of my pumps , worn from all my pavement pounding. W hile I waited, my stocking feet on a sheet of newspaper, I made notes on file cards, one for each firm I’d called on with information about whom I’d met and what had been said . I added a note in a corner of the file c ard whether I’d worn the red hat and gloves or the blue ones. The process took far longer than I’d expected, and I remained my unhappy mother’s unhappy houseguest through the long, hot summer . One rainy morning in September I went into the courthouse I pas sed nearly every day and fil ed the papers for my divorce , writing the final chapter of my marriage. For some time I’d been using my maiden name, Margaret Bourke White, and now I added a hyphen: Margaret Bourke White. Bourke became an integral part of my na me, and p eople were less likely to call me “Margaret White.” My hyphenated named sounded more professional. With a new sense of my independence , and before my mother and I could begin to actively dislike each other, I took the rest of my savings and rented a minuscule apartment in a slightly seedy part of town, drably furnished with a stained rug and a lumpy couch plus a few mismatched dishes . There was a sink in the tiny kitchen where I could develop my films and a

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148 rust stained bathtub where I could rinse them. That was all I needed. I called it the Bourke White Studio and had some letterhead and a business card printed up. I got m y first commission , and it was a heart breaker. A wealthy woman named Mrs. Willard Clapp contacted me; someone who knew someone had suggested that I might be the person to photograph her rose garden. Her haughty manner bore an unfortunate resembla nce to Mrs. Everett Chapman’s. T his wasn’t the kind of commission I wanted, but I was in no position to turn down any reasonable way to earn money. The shoot went extraordinarily well, the light was perfect , and th e dewy roses were at their peak. I rushed back to my apartment to develop the film. I had taped black cloth over the two windows for a makeshift darkroom , but light nevertheless leaked in and fogged the negative s. I was sick, but determined—there was still a chance to get it right. When I rushed back the next morning, t he sun shone brightly , but a rainstorm had swept through during the night . Petals from t he denuded rosebushes littered the ground. I plugged on, showing my portfolio and leaving my card. Then one day, weari ng my red gloves and red hat —I had worn blue the first time —I made my second visit to the offices of Cornell graduates Pitkin and Mott . They were young, only a few years older than I was, and they had not been in business long. Mr. Mott sported an impressive mustache but was not yet successful enough to have gold cufflinks. On my first visit he’d told me that Architecture magazine wanted t o do a feature on a school they’d designed, if they could provide good pictures of the finished building . The job had already been assigned to another photographer. But now the story had changed. “His pictures didn’t meet the standards of the magazine phot ography editor ,” said Mr. Mott . “ Perhaps you can do better.”

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149 “I’m sure I can do the kind of work for you that will show the building to the best advantage,” I promised boldly. “Very good. ” The Mustache smiled . “We can pay you five dollars a picture if your work is satisfactory.” We shook hands on the deal, and I tried not to show how overjoyed I was. He gave me the address of school , and I went off to look it over . The challenge was obvious. The building itself was handsome , but it sat amid a sea of mud, surrounded by piles of leftover lumber, pipes, and roofing, mountains of dirt that had been dug out for the foundation, and trash strewn everywhere by workmen. I w alked around the building, ruining my shoes in the mud, thinking what angles might work best. Sunsets always yield a flattering light, and that was when I would return with my camera. The next few days were rainy or cloudy, but when at last the weather cle ared I discovered that the sun wasn’t setting where I thought it would and was brilliantly illuminating the wrong side of the building. Sunrise would have to do. For the next four days I was at the site before dawn, but the sun came up through a thick haze that didn’t burn off quickly enough. Finally on the fifth morning conditions were perfect, but now I saw a new problem: the rising sun illuminated not only the best angles of the school but all the trash around it. Off I raced in search of a flower shop, coaxed the proprietor to open early, and begged him to sell me whatever flowers were cheapest that day. The best deal was on asters, and I splurged on as many as I could carry. I lugged them back to the schoolyard and stuck them in the muddy ground in the foreground of t he first shot I planned to make. Squatting in the mud, I aimed my camera so that the flowers blotted out the ugly surroundings. Then I pulled them up and trans planted them to the next location. If you believed the photographs, the handsome

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150 schoolhouse existed in the midst of a lovely autumn garden. Fortunately I had worn an old dress and sweater and a negl ected pair of cotton stockings , because I was a mud covered mess by the time I’d finished. The next day, again in blue gloves and blue hat , I returned to the offices of Pitkin and Mott with a dozen fine photographs. Mott’s mustache twitched with amusement and pleasure at the instant landscaping I’d created, and they bought the whole dozen. “I know the magazine will accept these,” said Mott. “And we’ll all benefit when they’re published,” Pitkin chimed in. Publication, of course, was months away and t he sixty dollars I collected would be long gone. O ne day in the middle of a large open space at the end of Euclid Avenue known as Public Square , a Negro preacher stood on a soapbox, delivering a n impassioned sermon. Or it would have been a sermo n, if he’d had a congre gation, or at least a small audience of listeners. But the square was deserted , not a soul in sight, except a flock of pigeons . The birds ignored him as he ranted on. Preacher and pigeons would have made a wonderful photograph, if I’d had a camera . But I was carrying a portfolio; my camera as back in my apartment . It had been a long day of calling on prospects , and i f I’d had a grain of sense, I would have shrugged my shoulders and walked on. But I didn’t. There was a camera store in the neighborhood, I’d passed it many times on my way to the shoeshine parlor , and I raced down the street to find it. The short, middle aged man in thick eyeglasses behind the counter goggled as I rushed in, shouting , “ I need a camera right away! Do you have one I can borrow? Or rent? There’s a perfect photograp h out there begging to be taken! ” I waved in the direction of the preacher and the oblivious pigeons .

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151 The man behind the counter must have guessed that I was serious and therefore worth whatever risk he was about to take. H e hauled a Graflex down from a shelf, d idn’t ask for a deposit, my name, or any s ort of identification, and handed over the camera . I rushed out again, heading for the hotdog cart to buy a bag of peanuts. Not waiting for change, I ran back to Public Square . The preacher was still there, still ranting, but now he was entirely alone. Eve n the pigeons had deserted. But several young boys were hanging around a street corner, and f or a few pennies apiece I purchased their services. “Go scatter these nuts in front of the preacher,” I instructed . T he boys stared at me, shrugged, and then did a s I told them. The pigeons came flocking back, and I got the photograph I wanted. T he story ended even better than I could have hoped: I sold the picture to the chamber of commerce, which paid ten dollars for it and put it on the cover of their monthly ma gazine. T he man who had kindly loaned me the camera became my teacher and mentor. His name was Alfred Bemis. I called him Beme. Not everyone saw the beauty in the swampy , gritty area of Cleveland known as the Flats that began where the tall, dignified office buildings owne d by banks and insurance companies stopped and a different world emer ged. The Cayuga River rushing toward Lake Erie slashed the Flats in two, bridges with trestles that looked like abstract sculptures s panned it, railroad tracks chopped it crosswise , great arches that would soon support more railroad tracks reached across the sky and stitched the parts together. Tugboats nudged barges up and down the river, locomotives hauled cars back and forth, and tow ering smokestacks shot smoke and sparks toward the sky. Most people probably saw a sooty, raucous chaos of industrial activ ity , but I was

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152 in love with the energy and drama of the Flats, and I wanted to capture the clamor and confusion in a way that words c ould not . Beme understood all that. The day I borrowed and then returned the camera, he said, “Let’s go have lunch. You look as though you could use something to eat.” Between mouthfuls of ham on rye, I told him about my love for steel mills, and how it ha d all begu n when I was a little girl and my father took me to the foundry. He listened, nodding. “Yes,” he said. “I got that. But you’ve got some mustard on your chin.” From that crucial day on, Beme did everything imaginable to help me , everything possib le to teach me. “You need to have your own enlarger,” he said when he’d seen what I had , and somehow he found the parts required , discarded by someone else, to cobble one together for me. “You’ve got to have more than one camera,” he said. “I know you love your Ica, but with all the p ictures you want to take, you should have at least two more. Three or four would be better.” “Beme, you know I can’t afford that!” “Never mind. Eventually you will.” I didn’t really know much about Beme , but he seemed to know a lot about me . I tended to worry about what other photographers were doing, but he brushed away that anxiety with one piece of advice I’ll never forget: “Go ahead, little girl. Never mind what anybody else is doing. Shoot off your own cannon.” Beme hovered over me like a worried uncle. “You’re too thin,” he dithered . “You’re not eating right, I can see that. And you’ve got dark circles under your eyes. Do you ever get a decent night’s sleep?” He knew the answer to both questions; I often forgot to e at, an d I spent too many nights developing photographs, the only time my apartment was truly a darkroom.

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153 Bem e introduced me to Ea rl Leiter, a photofinishe r who occupied the darkroom on the fifth floor above the camera shop. Earl had all the technical expertise that I was lacking. I had an unerring eye for a great subject when I saw it. My instinct for sett ing up the shot was excellent, but I wasn’t well skilled in the darkroom. I made too many mistakes. I remembered Chappie telling me, “You have the best e ye, but I know how to get the best out of the film.” Earl was like that, too. When I worried about my darkroom skills, Beme reassured me, “You can make a technician, and there are a million of them out there, but you can’t make a photographer. I can teach you some techniques, but the rest is up to you.” I kept going. Always conscious of how I looked when I was out in public, I was aware that I had t o sell myself before I could sell my photographs, and so I kept on rotating the redhat and gloves with the blue hat and gloves as accessories to my plain gray suit and prim white blouse. But because I was calling on the same companies so often, I needed another outfit. M y mother had seen to it that I learned to sew when I was in high school; now I went to her house and use d her sewing machine to make myself a purple dress . I also stitched up a set of camera cloths, used to cover my head when I was focusing my camera on a tripod—a blue cloth for the blue hat a nd gloves, a black one to go with the red, and purple t o match my new dress. Money was always a worry, but somehow it always worked out: if I had overdrawn my bank account by a few dollars in the morning, by the end of the day I ’d sold a couple of prints and been paid enough to cover it. The chamber of commerce ordered several more covers. My goal was always to sell enough pictures to cover the cost of photographing the industrial subjects that fascinated me.

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154 It was a beautiful time of the year to be a photographer. The clouds were spectacular, glowing as though they were lit from within by a thousand candles. The light was magnificent. A new skyscraper was going up on Public Square — Terminal Tower , with fifty two floors, designed to be one of the tallest building s in the world. I spent every spare hour during the week and all day Sunday, taking picture after picture. T hen I got a real break. I heard that a Mr. Henderson, the public relations officer for a bank, was looking for a photograph to use on the cover of t he monthly magazine sent to the bank’s corporate customers. I took my portfolio to his office and watched as he flipped through it, stopping at last at a recent photograph I’d done of the new High Level Bridge. He didn’t hesitate. “This one,” he said. “Fif ty dollars.” Each month I went back to the bank—Mr. Henderson was replaced by Mr. Knowlton— and sold another picture. No one ever told me what to photograph or how to approach the su bject . They liked my work and gave me a free hand. Now I had an almost gua ranteed income of fifty dollars a month! And I earned money working for rich people, taking pictures of their beautiful mansions and carefully tended gardens, manicured lawns a nd shimmering reflecting pools. I delivered the finished photographs in a handsome custom package that looked expensive and charged high prices to make sure my clients appreciated the work they were getting. I bought a car, a battered and beaten green Chevy , and named it Patrick. A bout this time an old friend , Ralph Steiner, came through town and looked me up. I had met him in Clarence White’s class, and he had gone on to become a successful photographer. Ralph thought my insistence upon having three separate outfits with camera cloths in coordinated col ors was a silly, femin ine thing, and he didn’t hesitate to tell me so . “What

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155 difference does it make?” he snorted derisively. “Who cares what co lor cloth you’ve got over your head when you’re focusing, as long as the pictures are good.” “It matters to me , Ralph,” I told him. “A nd I think it matters in some small way to my customers that the work is being done by a professional.” Ralph was also quick to point out that my soft focus approach had been out of style and had been for some time. “Photographs aren’t paintings, and they shouldn’t look like paintings. You’re interested in the hard edge stuff —all those industrial subjects that you love. Forget the fuzzy focus. You’re onto something entirely different. Something real , Peggy.” “ M argaret ,” I corrected. “But maybe you’re right.” I watched the progress on the Terminal Tower. Two mysterious brothers, the Van Sweringens, known around Cleveland as “the Vans,” were financing the project. No one knew exactly who the Vans were or where th ey’d come from, but they had the power to buy up almost anything they wanted, especially railroads , and the money to build whatever they chose. Rumors circulated about the Vans and their private lives and vanished just as quickly, but everyone had heard th at they planned to have their private apartments at the very top, accessible by a secret elevator, and so luxuriously fitted that they would never have to leave the Tower if they didn’t want to. I photographed the princes’ t ower as it reached for the sky, thinking Someday I’m going to have my studio there.

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156 Chapter 13. A New Direction M y friends at the bank called to ask me to photograph a prize steer in the lobby. No explanation of how it got there , or why. Dressed in blue hat and blue gloves, I pa id a call on my subject, a jet black devil with fearsome horns, a fierce eye, and a belligerent reaction to finding himself in a ropedoff enclosure surrounded by stark white marble . I learned that he was a project of a couple of schoolboys , and the photographs were part of a public relations program . I ran to Beme for help . When I described the black subject and the glaring white background, Beme said I’d need artificial light. I admitted tha t I’d never used flash powder. Beme promised to lend me what I needed and, in the interests of safety to myself and anyone who happened to be in the lobby as well as the steer , he would also lend me Earl Leite r, the photofinisher. The beast’s temper had no t improved, and he was snorting and stomping and tossing his massive head when Earl showed up. Earl and I climbed gingerly over the ropes and began to set up our equipment. A curious crowd gathered to watch , as though we were a pair of matadors. The steer began to bellow. Timing was everything, Earl said. He would set off the flash powder just as I tripped the shutter. I put my head under the blue camera cloth. The steer lowered his head, swished his tail, and glared straight into my lens. I froze.

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157 “What’s wrong?” Earl muttered. “I can’t remember how to do this,” I whimper ed. “Beme told me exactly what to do , and now I can’t remember a word he said .” Earl ’s hand reached surreptitiously beneath the camera cloth and fumbled for the shutter release cable. “Focu sed?” he whisper ed somewhere to my left . “Focused,” I breathed from under the cloth. Earl set off the charges of flash powder and simultaneously clicked the shutter. There was a burst of light and a billow of smoke. A cloud of ashes rained down on me and a ny bank customers within range. The steer appeared stunned. Earl and I grabbed our gear , climbed over the ropes, and raced back to Earl’s darkroom. A short time later I returned with a proof of the photo to show to the bank officials. It was not my greatest photograph, but it did portray a powerful beast posed among austere marble pillars. The bankers were pleased. They wanted 485 copies by the next morning to distribute to newspapers and schools. “Can you do that, Miss Bourke White?” “Certainly,” I said and rushed to tell Earl and Beme the good news. “Four hundred and eightyfive glossy prints ?” Beme groaned, slapping his forehead . “You’re kidding, right ? You couldn’t print that many in a week with that enlarger of yours, even if you worked around the clock.” “Maybe some commercial studio could do it,” I suggested hopefully. “Not a chance, kiddo. Not a chance.” I blinked back tears. Beme grimaced. “Okay , okay, cheer up. We’ll give it our best shot.” A fter the camera shop had closed, with me behind the wheel of Patrick, Beme beside me, and Earl wedged in the back seat, we drove to a steakhouse to fortify ourselves for a long night.

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158 Then we returned to the camera shop, climbed up to Earl’s fifth floor darkroom , and went to work. Around one o’clock , with almost half the order left to go , we ran out of the ferrotype tins used to put a glossy finish on photographs. Beme went downstairs , rounded up all the tins he had in stock, and lugged them up five flights, a few at a time. “Never fear, kiddo,” Beme said, “I’ll wrap ‘em all up just like new when we’re done, and nobody will ever be the wiser.” We finished sometime around dawn. Beme would arrange to have the p rints delivered. Bleary eyed, I took the long way home, driving past the steel mills that so fascinated me . The sun was just coming up. O n a high point overlooking the Otis Steel plant I pulled over and watched a line of slag cars filled with the waste lef t after the metal had been separated from the ore. One by one the cars dumped the redhot slag in a brilliant cascade down the hillside. That sight re ignite d my desire to get ins ide a steel mill with my camera; the question was how to accomplish that. Whenever I’d tried to gain access, I was told about the visiting schoolteacher who had keeled over in a dead faint from the heat and the fumes . It had happened some twenty years earlier, but the story was repeated as though it was a biblical truth. Women were definitely not welcome. A few days later, Beme and I were eating goulash in a restaurant near the camera shop, when I brought up the subject. “So how do I wangle my way into a mill? That fainting schoolteacher has made it impossible.” “It all comes down to who you know,” Beme said. “So, kiddo, who do you know who’s got connections?” I made a list of everybody I’d done work for and thought of Mr. John Sherwin, the president of the bank where I’d photographed the st eer . Mrs. Sherwin had hired me to

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159 photograph their garden. Even if he didn’t know about the portrait of the steer, I was confident that his wife had shown him the photographs of his estate. And it turned out that he was on the board of Otis Steel. I called for appointment to see Mr. Sherwin . His secretary assured me several times that he was a very busy man, but I persisted until finally the very busy man agreed to talk to me. I wore my purple dress with a black hat and black gloves. I thought the combinati on looked bankerly. “ Stunning photograph of the animal , my dear, ” said the courtly Mr. Sherwin, “but I cannot for the life of me understand why a pretty young girl like you , who takes such lovely pictures of gardens and flowers and the like, would want to be around roughtalking steel workers in a dirty, noisy steel mill .” He sighed. “But if you’re determined to do this, I’ll send a letter to Mr. Kulas over at Otis Steel. He’s the president of the company. ” I hurried to tell Beme about my triumph. I knew he’d be as excited as I was , but he showed his excitement in a different way —that is to say, hardly at all. And I wanted to ask hi m for a loan. Money was tight. Money was always tight , but Beme had told me over and over, “If you need a little help now and then, a few bucks to get you through, just say the word.” I needed more than a few bucks . I needed fifty dollars . To look the part of a successful professional when I walked into Mr. Kulas’s of fice, I wanted something more than a hat and matching gloves. I had my eye on a beautiful sheared beaver jacket I’d seen in the window of a furrier. I knew I couldn’t afford it, but I got up my nerve and asked Beme if he would lend me the money. He looked at me incredulously. “A fur coat? You can barely pay your rent, and you want to buy a fur coat?”

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160 “Jacket,” I said. “It’s just a jacket. It will be a good investment. You have to spend money to make money.” Beme rolled his eyes. Then he pulled out a sheaf o f bills and peeled off five tens . I bought the jacket and wore it to the shop to model it for Beme. “You do look swell, I’ll grant you that,” Beme acknowledged gruffly. Mr. Sherwin kept his word, and a week later I had an appointment with the president of Otis Steel. C onfident in my furs , I marched into his office . Mr. Kulas occupied a massive leather chair behind a massive mahogany desk and asked me why on earth I wanted to take pictures in a steel mill, of all places . He leafed idly through the portfolio of phot ographs I’d brought to show him. “ Why not stick to flower gardens, which you do so elegantly? Why delve into a subject that is the very ant ithesis of the beautiful garden?” “Because I see a different kind of beauty in a steel mill, sir,” I said. I had to convince him that I was not trying to sell him anything, I wasn’t asking him to buy my pictures, and all I wanted was a chance to experiment with a subject that deeply interested me. Finally, Mr. Kulas must have decided I couldn’t make t oo much of a nuisance of myself if he agreed to let me do it . “ Very well, I will notify the supervisor that you are to be admitted any time you come to the mill with your camera,” he said. “ I’m le aving next week for an extended tour of Europe. I hope to see you whe n I return. ” He stood up—he was short, stocky, broadchested, imposing— and reached out to shake my hand. “My best wishes in your endeavors, Miss Bourke White. ” I plunged into my new project —Beme called it my “obsession”—with energy and enthusiasm. Beme went with me that first night , and he looked me over disapprovingly. “What

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161 kind of a get up is that? A skirt and highheeled shoes? You look like you’re going to a cocktail party.” The first night was exhilarating, the most exciting thing I’d ever done. I mad e every mistake possible, not just the way I was dressed. What I wanted to do was beyond me technically. I didn’t realize how much I had to learn, and I would have to learn on the fly. I had no idea how to deal with the sharp contrasts of light and shadow , and the results were terrible. Not just disappointing—terrible. “Underexposed,” Beme pronounced when the film was developed. “There’s no actinic value in the light given off by the molten metal.” Actinic value? I didn’t know what he was talking about. “The molten metal gives off a red glow , like the red light you use in the darkroom ,” he explained. “Red light doesn’t register on the negative. You might think it’s lighting u p the whole place, but it isn’t. ” Nigh t after night I went back, sometimes alone, sometimes with Earl and Beme. We tried using floodlights and setting off flash powder. The steel mill was too huge, too vast, too dark for our weak attempts. I kept on trying, but nothing— not a different kind of lens or a different kind of camera or a different angle—nothing worked. The impatience of the foreman grew with each attempt . We were getting in the way. I f he thought I was simply going to come in , snap a few pictures , and get out of his hair, he was wrong. I’d get the kind of artistic shots I could see in my mind’s eye, or I’d die trying. And that’s exactly what everyone at the mill was afraid would happen—t hat I’d fall and break my bones or tumble headfirst into a ladle of molten steel.

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162 Finally the night superintendent had had enough. He threw me out. He claimed that I was going places I had absolutely been forbidden to go —he was right about that —and that I was interfering with the men’s regular work. T hey’d drop everything to hold up a shield to kee p me from getting burned by the intense heat. They wanted to help, but that’s not what they were paid to do. If the boss found out, there would be trouble. Men would be fired. Even Beme was discouraged. We had exhausted every possibility we could think of to capture the magic of the making of steel. But then a miracle occurred. A traveling salesman named Jackson arrived in Cleveland on his way to Hollywood where he planned to sell a type of flare to the film industry that he was sure would change the way movies were made. Beme talk ed this salesman into coming to the mill with us one cold, snowy, blowy night . At first the guards didn’t recognize us or the passes we carried. After we were finally allowed in , Mr. Jackson —we called him Jack —spent three hours wit h us, crawling around the catwalks, shivering. He had a dozen big magnesium flares in his sample case, and he agreed to let us use two of them . Two weren’t enough. We tried again, using four. Finally, with the eleventh flare, I captured a trail of sparks that showed up brilliantly on the negative . Success! But t he prints turned out gray and dull, the fault of the printing paper , and Jack was left with one flare to take to Hollywood. And then another miracle , t his one named Charlie Bolwell. T all, gaunt Jack resembled Abraham Lincoln, but Charlie looked like Santa Claus, minus the whiskers. He too was a traveling salesman, and his specialty was photographic paper. Over another steak dinner —our best conversations seemed to take place in that restaurant —Charlie told us about a new kind of paper that he thought was better suited to the kind of photographs I was taking. He was right. Charlie was also a wizard in the darkroom, and he taught me some of his tricks. “ The artistry

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163 doesn’t stop when you tri p the shutter ,” he said. “It continues right through the developing and printing. ” When I heard that Mr. Kulas was back from Europe, I chose a dozen prints from the many pictures I’d taken and mounted them on heavy white stock. Wearing a new red dress I ’d sewed myself , I begged Beme to drive to Otis Steel with me. Beme saw how nervous I was and squeezed my hand. “You’ll do just fine, kiddo. Nobody’s done anything like the pictures you’ve got in that portfolio.” I climbed out of Patrick and headed for the office building, my heels tap tap tapping on the wooden trestle across the mill yard. Mr. Kulas was in a meeting , and I had to endure an endless wait. Then o nce again I was standing on the other side of Mr. Kulas’s desk, clutch ing my portfolio . “Ah, my dear Miss Bourke White! Here you are! Let me see what you’ve got there. I watched, scarcely daring to breathe , while he lifted out each photograph and laid it on his desk until all twelve were precisely lined up in front of him. H e studied each one briefly, but his gaze lingered over the photograph of white hot molten slag overflowing from a ladle. “Amazing,” he said. “Absolutely amazing. I’m quite sure no pictures like these have ever been taken before.” I allowed myself to breathe. “Of course I want to buy some. T his is pioneering work. What is your price?” I had told Mr. Kulas the first time we met that I wasn’t trying to sell him anything, and in a way that had been true. All I’d asked was the chance to take photographs. But I had also learned that wealthy people —and Mr. Kulas was very rich —valued your work only if they had to pay handsomely for it. I replied carefully, “You may choose to buy as many or as few as you wish, but the price is one hundred dollars a picture.”

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164 “Agreed,” he answered shortly and proceeded to pick eight and to commission me to make another eight. “I believe that our stockholders would be delighted to see these photographs. Corporate clients, too. Perhaps in a book— ‘The Story of Steel’ or some such. Privately printed, expensively done, fine stock, nicely bound, everything first class. Eh, Miss Bourke White? What do you think?” I was nearly speechless, still thinking of the eight hundred dollars I’d soon have in the bank with another eight hundred coming. We shook hands, and I walked out with my head in the clouds and clattered across the wooden trestle to tell Beme the incredible news. “This calls for champagne, kiddo,” said Beme. We bought a bottle on the way to the camera shop and dashed up to the fifth floor to Earl ’s darkroom . Beme yanked out the cork, releasing a geyser of the fizzing golden liquid all over the negatives Earl had hung up to dry. Now e veryone wanted my photographs. I got my own telephone line and no longer had to rely on the stationery store on the ground floor of my apartment house to take messages. Newspapers ordered my pictures for special features. Trade publications featured my photographs on their covers. Home and garden magazines asked for pictures of the estates I’d photographed. The Vans had finished Terminal T ower, already a landmark in downtown Cleveland, and hired me as their official photographer. I had carte blanche to go anywhere I pleased in the tower , to show the sweep and grandeur of the great edifice from every possible angle but also to capture the intimate spaces that showed another side of its personality. My prices climbed even higher . They were paying me a small fortune for my work, and I earned every penny of it.

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165 I had known from the beginning that I wanted to have my studio in that Tower . My pathetic little apartment with the bed that folded into the wall was no place to meet clients. Believing that in order to be successful, you have to look successful —the reason I’d borrowed money from Beme to buy the splendid fur jacket —I assembled a wardrobe of elegant clothes , made to my design by a good dressmaker, and accessorized them with hats and gloves , shoes and purses. I visited a hairdresser regul arly to keep my hair st ylishly trimmed, bangs artfully curved above one eyebrow to flatter my eyes. My nails were manicured and lacquered in clear polish . To complete my elegant image, I must have an elegant studio. I made it a point to dress like a mill ion dollars when I showed up the at office of the agent in charge of renting suites in the not yet completed building and told him that I wanted a studio at the top of the tower. He smiled at my effrontery. “Sorry, Miss Bourke White,” he said, “the top floors belong to the Van Sweringens . Nobody, but nobody , lives on a higher floor than the Vans . However, I do have a place that I think would be just the thing for a lady of your accomplishments.” He escorted me to a suite on the twelfth floor with great views . Not as high as I wanted, but perfect, nevertheless. Now I had to negotiate a satisfactory rent ; I was making money, but I understood the nature of the business. One day a freelancer has more work than she can handle, and a month or a week later she’s scratching for the next job and trying to come up with money to buy film . I talked him down as much as I could, and then I sweet ly demanded certain concessions, like tiles and paint in my favorite colors that would complement my clothes. I ordered carpets, draperies that would set off my view of Public Square, a smoked glass tea table, and a plush armchair upholstered in silk mohair. C lients would feel so comfortable in

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166 that chair that they wouldn’t be tempted to get up and walk away when I named my price for a series of photographs. When I wasn’t working long hours on an assignment or spending nights in the dark room, I began entertain ing a stead y stream of admirers — artists, architects, writers, businessmen — s uccessful men who wanted to date me. In May of 1928 Mr. Kulas’s favorite photograph of the enormous overflowing ladle of molten steel took first place at the show at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and I decided to throw a party to celebrate. Wearing a beaded silk dress cut to show off my bare shoulders and silk stockings dyed to match my ensemble, I chatted with my guests as a uniformed waiter passed flutes of champagne and silver platters of hors d’oeuvres. One of my regular visitors , arriving late, handed his hat to the maid, who greeted him by name, “Good evening, Mr. Chapman.” Chappie. He bent down and kissed my cheek. “Hello, Peg. You’re looking beautif ul, as always. Congratulations. ” Ironically, my former husband and I had managed to become friends, now that we were no longer struggling with the burdens of marriage and a desp icable mother in law . It amused us that none of my visitors ever suspected our relationship. No one in Cleveland had any idea we had once been husband and wife. I enjoyed the company of men, and it was obvious that men found me practically irresistible . What fun it was, how flattering, to have so many men attracted to me, hovering around me, trying to capture my attention! But I ’d made up my mind not to fall in love until I was thirty. S o there I was, not quite twenty four years old (I told everyone I was twentysix ), and if not at the top of Terminal Tower, then certainly on top of the world. I was, as I had always been,

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167 utterly fearless. There was nowhere I couldn’t —or wouldn’t —go to get the picture I wanted. Articles were written about my work, praise heaped on me. And now , first place at the Cleveland Museum! “To Margaret Bourk e White, the most accomplished photographer in Cleveland!” cried a gentleman, raising his flute of champagne. “T he best anywhere!” someone amended. That someone was Chappie. I loved hearing myself described as a success. I knew that I was, and I reveled in it.

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168 Chapter 14. New York, New York I explored Cleveland , photographing all kinds of industrial subjects —railroads, docks, mines . My work was my life, and it was paying off. Then, in May of 1929, I received a telegram from a man named Henry Luce, th e publisher of a news magazine called Time. He had seen my steel mill photographs, and he wanted to talk to me . “Request you come to New York soonest a t our expense,” he wired . I wasn’t much interested. I knew a little about Time , enough to notice that the only photograph in the magazine was a stuffy portrait of a boring politician on the cover. And I had no desir e to leave the work I was doing to go off to New York, even though New York would have been both challenging and fun. So I didn’t bother to re ply to the telegram at first . Then I began to reconsider. Here was the offer of a free trip to New York, and even i f nothing work ed out with Mr. Luce and his magazine, I could make calls on architects around the city. I packe d up a portfolio of recent work , took the train to New York , and found the headquarters of Time Inc. The offices were unimpressive, but the two men I met there were another story. One, Parker LloydSmith, was about my age and as handsome as a Greek sculpture but better dressed. I liked the idea of his hyphenated name. The other, Henry Luce, was perhaps a half dozen years older and a completely different type: strongly built with shaggy eyebrows and a fast and furious

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169 manner of talking that leaped from subject to subject, peppering me wi th questions about my background, my personal life, and my professional goals . I could hardly keep up with him. Mr. Luce planned to launch a business magazine called Fortune , using lots of photographs, the kind I loved to take. The more he talked —he did pause occasionally for breath, and to allow me to get my two cents in—the more I was intrigued by the idea. LloydSmith would be the managing editor. He wanted to show my steel mill pictures to show to potential advertisers as examples of the kind of quality the magazine planned to feature . Would I agree? I would. Could I start right away? I could. But I still had some misgivings. My studio in Terminal Tower was doing extremely w ell. I hated to leave Cleveland and the business I had worked so hard to establish . And I didn’t want to be tied down by a full time job. I was replacing the pictures in my portfolio when the re was a knock on the door and a girl poked her sleek blond head in to the office. “ Come on in, Ellie,” said Mr. Luce . “ I want you to meet Miss Bourke White .” “Hello, Peggy,” she said. I looked at her sharply. T he violet eyes seemed familiar , and she looked about my age . “This is our art director, Miss Treacy,” Mr. Luce told me . My jaw dropped. “Eleanor?” Eleanor Treacy —crystal chan delier girl, Madame Bol in the drama club play —extended her pale white hand and smiled.

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170 “You two know each other?” asked Mr. Luce. “We were in the same class in high school,” I explained. “How nice that we may be working together, Peggy,” said Eleanor, sc anning me from head to foot. “I’m not sure I would have recognized you. You’ve become quite...chic.” What a delicious moment that was! “Well, what do you say?” Mr. Luce demanded impatiently when she’d gone. “Will you come to work for us?” I said I wanted s ome time to think about it. “Don’t take too long,” Mr. Luce growled, and I got the impression that he wasn’t used to people who didn’t jump when he said the word. A few days later I left for home and immediately wrote to Mr. Luce proposing that I work for him half time . I wanted a thousand dollars a month. It was a huge sum , and when two weeks passed with no reply, I thought I’d demanded too much. Finally, Parker LloydSmith responded, saying that my proposal had been approved. A month later I went to work. My first assignment was to photograph shoe manufacturing in Lynn, Massachusetts, followed by glassmaking in Corning, New York, then orchidraising in New Jersey , and on to fisheries in New London, Connecticut. For each assignment I was accompanied by the writer who would provide the text to complement my pictures , and there was always some helpful man around to haul heavy equipment for the “little lady.” Sometimes the helpful man was Mr. Luce himse lf. Harry —Mr. Luce had asked me to call him Harry —accompanied me to South Bend, Indiana, to work on an enormous pro ject: documenting an entire city. He carried my cameras and once saved them from complete

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171 destruction when a ladle of molten metal spilled to o near and would have swallowed them up if he hadn’t dashed in and rescued them . Since nobody knew a thing about Fortune , which would not begin publication for another half year, and some had never even heard of Time , which had been around for a half doze n years, we were not treated like celebrities. We often ended up joining a line of workers at a pushcart to grab a sandwich and some coffee. Sometimes I was regarded as just another nuisance to be dealt with, as I once was at Otis Steel. I was on the road constantly. T he work itself was never dull, and it was anything but glamorous. T he major feature on the Chicago stockyards that was Parker LloydSmith’s idea. Parker lost some of his initial enthusiasm for the sib ject when we arrived at the Swift and Company meat packing plant. He loved beautiful cl othes ; his suits were tailor made and his shirts custom fitted. He wore expensive shoes and ties. I had finally realized that I might make my initial contact in a stylish dress and heels, but when it came to actually shooting the pictures, it was better to wear practical shoes and trousers. We showed up that first day on the assignment, Parker in his fine clothes carrying a notebook and I with my mountains of cameras, tripods, cables, and lights . Here, we learned, twenty thousand pigs we re slaughtered every single day. T hat involved an assembly line —Parker called this a “disassembly line” —a s a ll those hogs on their way to becoming ham and bacon and pork chops were strung up by their hind hooves on a conveyor belt . E ach porker was like the next in an endless repeating pattern , and patterns always attracted my eye. I made photograph after photograph.

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172 We spent several days in the plant. I took picture s and Parker took notes . O n our last day we discovered a warehouse we hadn’t yet explored . When we opened the door and peered in, an awful smell smacked us in the face. We stared at mountains of ochre yellow dust. Parker reached for a fine linen handkerchief to hold over his nose. “What is that?” Parker ask ed a work er. “Pig dust.” Parker raised an eyebrow. “ Pig dust? Meaning.?” “Well, you know what they say,” drawled the worker, “Swift uses every part of the pig but the squeal. You’re looking at the scraps, the leftovers that can’t even be made into sausage. It’s ground up fine —what you see here —and mixed with meal for livestock feed.” “You mean, it’s fed to other animals?” Parker looked slightly queasy. “Yeah. To other pigs.” “Good lord!” O vercome by the stench and the thought of cannibalistic pigs, he backed out fa st . “I’ll wait in the car , Margaret ,” he called over his shoulder , and fled . I stayed in the warehouse and set up my camera. The exposures had to be long, some as long as fifteen minutes —the actinic light problem again—and I worked for over an hour. Parker must have thought I’d been overcome by the stench . But I got my pictures —the scene was no longer just a warehouse of disgusting groundup pig leavings but a nother striking pattern , like sand dunes glowing in the filtered light. These photographs were chosen for the lead story in the first i ssue of the new magazine, and they did a great deal to firmly establish my reputation. No one else took pictures like mine. * * * *

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173 I loved being a pioneer , not only in the field of photography but as a woman finding success in a man’s world. I loved the attention, and I knew how to get it. I abandoned the matching hat and gloves and began dressing entirely in black —silk, linen, cashmere —with one stu nning piece of jewelry. I acquired a pair of elegant Afghan hounds and took them for walks in Public Square when I was in Cleveland , but I traveled so much that the dogs suffered from neglect, and I gave them away. Sometimes I carried a silver headed walki ng stick, until I decided that it could be a nuisance . I enjoyed the way men looked at me, were drawn to me, went out of their way to be with me because it made them feel important to be with a sexy, glamorous , and successful woman. T hat plain old linsey w oolsey girl of high s chool days who never had a date and never got asked to dance could now have practically any man she wanted. But I didn’t want a man. Not to say that I didn’t like men. I did. Whether I was in Cleveland or New York, t here were always t wo or three men vying for my attention. Taking me out dancing. Escorting me to parties. Buying me dinners in expensive restaurants. But I had been badly burned once , and I was leery of letting a ny man have such a hold on my heart that I could be burned again. A nother, more practical reason was that I thought a man might get in my way. Maybe he’d be jealous of my work, maybe he’d object when an assignment kept me out all night or took me away for days or we eks, time he might think I should spend with him. Or he might believe my place was at home, taking care of the children, taking care of him . Maybe he couldn’t put up with me working with other men. Someday the right man might come along at the right moment, and I would fall in love again . Meanwhile, though, I just wanted to have fun when I wasn’t working on something that absorbed all my attention.

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174 * * * * In the fall of 1929 , while I was regularly taking the train back and forth between Cleveland and N ew York, the stock market crashed. T he wealthy people I knew seemed not to be much concerned, and for a while I was only dimly aware of what had happened and what it meant . I’d been hired to photograph the Chrysler automobile assembly line in Detroit, and my work had come to the attention of Mr. Walter Chrysler , one of those very wealthy people . Ground had been broken in New York the previous year for a skyscraper that would be the tallest in the country, maybe in the world. Now Mr. Chrysler wanted someone to document the progress on that building , week by week. When I saw the architectural drawings, I instantly agreed to accept the commission . But that meant giving up my apartment in Cleveland and moving permanently to New York. Rivalry to build the tallest building was intense. Cleveland’s Terminal Tower was a mere 771 feet high; the Bank of Manhattan beat that out at 927 feet. The Empire State Building was also under construction. My photographs would prove that the steel tower to be erected on the top of the Chrysler Building was not merely a decoration stuck on to claim the title of “tallest,” but an integral part of the structure . W hat a rough job I ’d let myself in for! I worked all through the winter of 1929 and 1930 . Temperatures dropped below freezing, and my fingers stiffened and my eyes watered. I sometimes climbed eight hundred fe et above the ground and perched in a tower that swayed in the wind several feet in one direction and then in another . It took three men to hol d the tripod for my camera. I was not afraid of heights, and I eventually got used to the sway and learned to work with it. I found it exciting, exhilarating.

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175 I fell in love with the Chrysler Building and the enormous stainless steel gargoyles that glared down at the ant like pedestrians sixty one floors below. I wanted an apartment near one of those gargoyles. When I submitted my application to the rental agent, he smiled sympathetically. “Sorry, Miss Bourke White, but private persons cannot live in offic e buildings. It’s a New York City law.” Then he added, “The only person permitted to live in an office building is the janitor.” “Is that so?” I remarked and left , returning a n hour later with a neatly typed application for employment —as janitor of the Chrysler Building. I had exaggerated my qualifications somewhat, but I knew how to hire people to get the work done. The rental agent managed to keep a straight face. “You’re serious?” “Of course I’m serious.” I tapped the paper on his desk. “You may check my references.” At the top of the list was Mr. Walter Bruce Chrysler, president of the Chrysler Corporation. “I’m sorry to have to tell you, ma’am, but the position has already been filled. ” So I did the next best thing. I rented a studio on the sixtysecond floor, next to one of the gorgeous gargoyles. Techni cally, I could not live there, but that was only a technicality. A designer transform ed the empty space into an elegant studio, all curves and angles , wit h an aquarium for tropical fish built into one wall. After I moved in, I adopted a pair of alligators as household pets , Hypo and Pyro, named for the darkroom chemicals. They were not popular with people who worked for me. Now I had to get enough big assignments to pay the rent on my fabulous —and fabulously expensive —penthouse studio. E arly in my life I had announced my ambition: I wanted to be rich and famous, and I was now well on my way. A fter Fortune ’s first edition came out in February, my name became well known across the whole country—if not by your average working Joe picking up a copy of some

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176 popular magazine, but by the richest and most powerful people in the world. Every issue of Fortune featured at least one, and s ometimes several , Margaret Bourke White photographs. That summer I proposed the idea of traveling to Russia to do a photographic essay. Harry Luce didn’t think I’d manage to get into Russ ia and instead sent me to Germany with instructions to focus my energy and my cameras on German industry. But Russia remained the real challenge. There was n othing like a closed door to make me want to pry it open. I went to the Russian tourist bureau in New York and asked if I’d need any special visas to visit Russia. “Yo ur photographs will be your passport,” said the Russian who acted as though he was in charge. T he Russians would love my pictures, he said because they were “Russian style” —whatever that meant. While I waited for approval, I was sent to Washington to photograph President Herbert Hoover. That done, Parker LloydSmith and I made arrangements to sail on the S. S. Bremen — first class , of course —and went to work on our assignment. For almost six weeks as we moved from town to town in Germany, I waited for word that the necessary paperwork had been approved, and I had permission to go on to Russia. Finally the approval came. I was advised to take my own food. Russia had been in the grip of a famine , and food was scarce. I packed a trunk with ca ns of beans , cans of meat, jars of cheese and whatever else I could think of. For weeks I traveled across that enormous country, living on my cache of canned goods , taking pictures under the most difficult conditions, and dealing with unbelievable tangles of bureaucratic inefficiency. I had collected letters of introduction from everybody who was anybody, but I didn’t fully understand the Russians’ knack for manufacturing red tape that was almost impossible to cut through. With every request

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177 to go somewhere, see someone, photograph something, I was told, “Come back the day after tomorrow, and it will be taken care of.” I n spite of the practical problems, I met kind and generous people all along the way, people who were curious about me —not as a photographer, but as a woman. They wanted to know if I had a husband, and when I said no, they asked if I was in love. “Only with my camera,” I told them. A year and many assignments later, I went back to Russia . This time I traveled through new territory on horseback, sle pt in caves, and ate mutton from a sheep roasted for my visit . I n the summer of 1932 I returned for a third time with plans to make a motion picture. It was the first and last film I ever made. I realized that I was much better at still photography. By then I was one of the best known photographer s in America , and certainly the best known woman photographer , on the list of “Twenty Most Notable American Women . ” I was showing other am bitious women that it could be done. But it was still a man’s world, and a lot of men —photographers in particular —resented my prominence and did their best to make my life difficult, if not downright miserable. For instance: while covering the America’s Cu p yacht race in Newport, Rhode Island, for a news agency, I was riding in the press motorboat assigned to follow Harold Vanderbilt’s yacht, Rainbow . The challenger was the British ship, Endeavour. It was an exciting race, and the pilot of the motorboat was following the maneuvers closely. Rainbow came about sharply, and our motorboat whipped around in its wake. I rushed forward to get the shot, but another photographer was blocking me. He’d braced his legs, and I dived between them and came up in front to t ake my shot. The next thing I knew, I was in the water with my camera. It wasn’t an

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178 accident. I hadn’t slipped or fallen . I’d been kicked overboard. I looked up , gasping, and saw the triumphant grin on his face. I was making money, lots of it, and I enjo yed spending it. I was extravagant —ther e’s no other word for it. I loved beautiful clothes , and t he kind of clothes I l oved —suits from Paris, for example—were expensive, even when I got them at a good price . T he more assignments I got, the more people I had to hire, and the higher my expenses climbed. The truth is, I was broke. So were a lot of formerly wealthy people , as well as o rdinary folks. The country was deep in the Great Depression, and m illions were ou t of work. I had trouble collecting what my clients owed me, and as a result I owed back rent on my glamorous penthouse studio in the Chrysler Building. My charge accounts were being closed. The Mungers, who had funded my education and refused to let me re pay any of it, had told me to help put someone else through school. The “someone else” was my brother . Roger had transferred from Ohio State to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When I couldn’t keep up with Roger’s expenses at MIT , I had to turn t o Uncle Lazar. That bothered me. I wanted to be able to do it myself. I owed it to the Mungers. I was becoming desperate. I borrowed money from Mother, who was also in tight circumstances, and from friends. I needed more studio space and found that I could get it for less money in a penthouse on Fifth Avenue, a block from the Public Library. I n a matter of months I fell in arrears again, and an official came around with an eviction notice. I managed to avoid him until I ’d rounded up every dime I could get m y hands on to pay what I owed . Then I had to figure out how to pay my income taxes.

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179 W hile I was fending off creditors , I landed some challenging new assignments. In the summer of 1934 people were talking about the so called Dust Bowl in the Great Plains . F armers had plow ed up the soil, destroying the native grasses; a prolonged drought allow ed the topsoil to dry out, and wind storms blew the loose soil in great, suffocating clouds. In New York w e heard about it, but nobody understood the extent of it. Fortune ’s managing editor assigned me to fly out to the Midwest and document the growing catastrophe . “You have three hours to pack, Margaret,” the editor growled. “ And I want the story in five days. ” The area was huge, much larger t han any of us back East had realized . I hired a beaten up plane and a beaten up barnstorming pilot to fly it. We covered the vast expanse from the Texas Panhandle to the Dakotas, in blistering sun and relentless wind, over mile after mile of baked earth, d ry riverbeds, withered corn, and blowing dust that buried everything in its path . I photographed it all, the gaunt faces etched with despair, jumping fro m one desolate spot to the next. The trip ended when the old plane gently crash landed nose down in a n empty field . The experience changed the way I saw the world. I began to look at my fellow human beings in a new way. When I got back to New York, I knew that I wanted to do something completely diff erent, something important. I wasn’t sure yet what that w ould be , and it would take a while to figure it out. A n airline commissioned me to take aerial photographs of their planes while they were in the air over cities along their route. T he doors were taken off a small plane so that I could lean out with my camera to get the best angles , and a pilot was assigned to fly me from city to city . It was a strange life, getting up in the middle of the night to be in the sky in time for the sunrise in another city to get the best pictures.

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180 The airline wanted passenge r s visible through the windows of the plane I was to photograph as it flew over New York . I planned to fill the plane with my friends , including a special passenger : my mother. Mother had come to New York to enroll in a summer class at Columbia, and she wa s thrilled by the idea of taking her first airplane ride. T wo days before the flight, she had a heart attack and died. Her death was a shock —she was sixty two and in good health—but I was grateful that she had not suffered. M y m other’s death helped to cry stallize my goals . I wanted to do more than photographic features for Fortune, and I did not want to do any more elaborately staged photographs for magazine advertisers, even when they offered me a thousand dollars a picture . I certainly needed the money—I was still hounded by creditors. But I couldn’t get the faces of the people in the Dust Bowl out of my mind. I wanted to do a book, an important book about ordinary Americans . My high school teachers had said I was a talented writer, and in college I’d told my professor that I hoped to be a news reporter as well as a photographer . As a photographer I believed I was second to no one, but I didn’t have much experience a writer . What I needed was a first class writer with whom to collaborate. I didn’t know what sort of writer that would be —a novelist or a nonfiction writer? Someone f amous , or some as yet unknown talent? I had no rational criteria , but I knew I woul d recognize him when I met him . He would be as serious about the project as I w as, and as fully committed to bringing a portrait of America to a wide audience. It would be intuitive: I would meet a writer, and we would look at each other , and we would both know. T hat is exactly what happened.

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181 Chapter 15. Skinny and Kit “You should read Erskine Caldwell’s book,” a literary agent advised me at a party. “He wrote Tobacco Road as a novel about the South, and he’s been talking about going back to Georgia with a photographer and doing something different .” I knew about Erskine Caldwell. T he book had people talking—not just because of the sex in it, but because many thought his portrayal of the South and southerners was not truthful or accurate. The book had been made into a Broadway play that still drew crowds . Caldwell had recently written a series of newspaper articles about southern sharecroppers for which he’d taken his own pi ctures . The pictures weren’t much good. The writing, though, was vivid and powerful. I bought Tobacco Road the next day and read it straight through that night. The story of Jeeter Lester was raw and shocking and deeply moving. The strength of the prose tr ansported me to rural Georgia. T he book had been banned in some places, and the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, self appointed to supervise public morality, once tried unsuccessfully to have him arrested at a book signing. Erskine Caldwell’s books were controversial. He might be, too. “I want to meet him,” I told the agent, Maxim Lieber. The next morning I called the agent and asked if he’d mentioned me to Caldwell. “Yeah,” Lieber said, “I have. H e’s willing to meet with you. I’m not supposed to tell you this, it’s strictly between us, but Erskine isn’t crazy about your pictures.”

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182 This didn’t ruffle my feathers. “There are plenty of my pictures I don’t much care for either,” I said. “But when you’re working in advertising, you often have to do things you don’t like. I shot a series for a tire company that I thought were perfectly awful. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I want to do this book—because I’m sick of the commercial stuff . I want to do something that really matters.” “There’s more, Margaret, ” said the agent , “ and you might as well hear it now, before you’re in too deep. Erskine doesn’t like the idea of working with a woman.” I laughed. “I’ve heard that one before from men who didn’t want me to go into their steel mills or down into their mines. But they got over it. Mr. Caldwell will get over it, too.” I spoke confidently. I hadn’t met the man, but I felt certain I could change his mind. W e met in Lieber ’s office in February . Erskine Caldwell was a large, shy man with blue eyes , reddish hair, and freckles . He must have gotten over some of his doubts before the meeting, because he’d already indicated that he was willing to collaborate with me. He didn’t have much to say, but with prodding from Lieber and me, we got a few things settled. The trip would take us throughout the Deep South. Erskine would hire a woman he’d worked with in Hollywood to be his literary secretary. He was involved in a few projects that he needed to finish up first. We would leave in five months, on June eleventh . The delay suited me well. I, too, had unfinished business to complete with advertising clients . But the work went so smoothly that I had time on my hands and took off for South America in April to do a photographic essay on coffee growing. W hen I returned to New York, I was greeted by some very exciting news: Harry Luce and his team were preparing to launch another magazine, a weekly that would feature photographs. It was a madhouse, but a merry sort of madhouse, and over the next few weeks I was caught up in it. I would play a leading role,

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183 although exactly what wasn’t clear yet. Harry and the rest of the team were in the frantic process of putting together dummies of the still un named magazine to show to potential adver tisers. They aim ed to put out the first issue in the fall. I had one assignment locked up: a series of photographs documenting the life cycle of the praying mantis . T he editors were enthralled to hear about the project I was planning with Erskine Caldwell —Famous Writer Collaborates with Famous Photographer —and talked about running parts of it in the new magazine. It now had a name: Life . The five months since my first—and only—c onversation with Ers kine Caldwell had flown by. We had intended to begin our joint venture in June , but now several important things came up that I had to attend to, such as subletting half of my studio to cover my expenses while I worked on the project with Erskine. We agreed on a postponement. June came and went, and I needed to put off the trip once again. I assumed that Erskine’s life was as frenetic as mine, and that a f ew days, even weeks, would not be a big issue. I was wrong. I had no idea that my collaborator was a stickler for dates and deadlines. When I couldn’t reach Erski ne, I called Maxim Lieber . Erskine , he said, had already left fo r Georgia. I n a panic I tracked him down in the little town of Wren s , his boyhood home, and begged for just a little more time. T he previously soft spoken southern gentleman snapped, “Very well, Miss Bourke White, the project is hereby postponed—indefinitely!” And hung up on me. I was stunned. Surely he couldn’t mean it! But his icy voice and abrupt words didn’t bode well for the o utcome. I could not bear that to happen. I had to do something to rescue the situation.

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184 I always kept clothes and camera equipment packed so that I could leave on short notice. A t midnight that night I was on a plane for Georgia and arrived in Augusta at s unrise the next day. W hile the bellhop made several trips to my hotel room with my considerable luggage, I wen t to the coffee shop , ordered grits and eggs from the sleepy eyed waitress, an d composed a letter to Erskine, emphasizing how serious I was about the project and explaining why I ’d had to finish up other work in order to pay for the trip . It took me a couple of tries to get the right tone. Then I had to find a way to get the letter to Erskine in Wren s . At eight o’clock the sun was already blazing, and my dress was soaked with perspiration by the time I’d walked to the post office with my letter . The mail would not go out until late that afternoon, I was told, and would not be delivered until Monday. I asked the postmaster if there was a Western Union telegraph office in Augusta. There was not. “ How far is it to Wren s ?” I asked. He scratched his bald head. “’Bout six miles, I reckon.” I contemplated walking there myself, but when I stepped out onto the sun blasted sidewalk , I reconsidered. A young lad was dream ily rearranging the dust on the post office steps. I noticed a bicycle leaning against a tree and asked if it was his. It was. C ould he ta ke a letter to a person in Wrens? He could. I gave him fi ve dollars, which must have seemed like a small fortune , and the boy leaped onto the bicycle and pedaled down the road , stirring up clouds of dust . I went up to my room and took a cool bath, changed my clothes, and checked on the two large glass jars in my luggage . E ach jar contained a twig with an egg case the size of a table tennis ball. They were the egg cases of praying mantis es due to hatch soon—there was no way to

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185 tell just when. Assured that nothing was happening, I went downstairs, alerted the hotel operator that I was expecting a call , and settled down to wait in a rocking chair on the broad porch of the hotel . The hours dragged by. Not even the hint of a breeze stirred as the sun made its lazy arc across the Georgia sky. I longed to find a shady side of the street and explore the city , but I did not dare to leave my post. When I revisited the coffee shop to order a chicken sandwich, I left word with the operator where I could be found. The afternoon passed, and I remained a prisoner, chai ned to my rocking chair . Around six o’clock a big man in a rumpled jacket climbed the steps to the porch, and I quit rocking. “Coffee?” he asked. I followed Erskine to the coffee shop —my third time that day —and took the stool next to his. We ordered. Erski ne studied his thumbs. Neither of us spoke. Two cups of coffee arrived, and we drank them in silence. But there was a subtle change. Neither of us seemed nervous. The waitress took away our empty cups. Erskine paid. “Quite an argument we had, wasn’t it?” h e asked. He was smiling. “Umhmm.” “When will you be ready to leave?” “I’m ready now.” Erskine called for the bellhop to fetch the bags from my room. I was warning the boy to be careful of the glass jars when a taxi pulled up in front of the hotel and a wom an stepped out and joined us. “This is Sally,” Erskine said off handedly. “She’s coming along to take notes.” He left Sally and me and went off to help the bellhop load my baggage into his car .

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186 Sally was thin and angular with sharp features . Her small, bright eyes swept over me from head to toe . “I worked with him in Hollywood as his secretary,” she explained in a raspy voice. “I see,” I said, although I didn’t. Erskine reappeared with his car, Sally climbed into the backseat, and w e drove to Wrens . It turned out to be thirty miles from Augusta, not a half dozen. W hile Erskine added his luggage to mine, Sally smoked silently , and I made small talk with Erskine’s f ather, a retired preacher. When we were ready, t he secretary wedged herself into the crevice between mountains of gear in the backseat . I asked to make one last check on the safety of the glass jars, and as I did, the lid of the trunk came down on my head with a painful whack. Erskine laughed—l aughed! — and said he hoped something funny like that happened every day. I suppose he thought was being witty. I should have recognized then that this man would be a difficult traveling companion. W e headed southwest from Augusta , following back roads , and drove for several hours with no one saying a word . Erskine reminded me of my father and the long silences that sometimes infuriated my mother. Around midnight we reached a small, nameless town with a small, rundown building that passed itself off as a hotel and was , by some miracle , still open . We booked three rooms that it was probably better not to examine closely as to the cleanliness of the sheets, the condition of the plumbing, et cetera. A creaking ceil ing fan stirred the humid air. I lay down on the faded chenille spread without bothering to undress and fell instantly asleep. I t seemed I had scarcely closed my eyes when I was awakened by a pounding on my door. “Rise and shine! Up and at ’em! Time to hit the road!”

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187 Erskine, it turned out, was an early riser, no matter how late he’d been up the night before. Sally was already up and at ’em and supervising the reloading of the car. I grabbed some dry toast and hot coffee, with barely time to brush my teeth, and we were off on some off the beaten path route through cotton country in which Erskine was completely at home and I felt as though I had just been transported to some foreign world . And so it went for the next few days . Erskine and I got on each other’ s nerves. We argued almost constantly. We were too different. We were not compatible. He seemed to think he was in charge of our project and would make the decisions for both of us. I, naturally, assumed that I was in charge of the photography, period, and he would have nothing to say about how I set up my pictures. By the fourth day, I had been reduced to tears as many times. I have always had the habit, unfortunate or not, of weeping when I feel pushed to the wall, and E rskine was pushing and pushing. Er skine believed I was “turning on the waterworks,” as he put it, on purpose, as a way to manipulate him. This was not true. I simply could not bear to have anyone trying to control me, and I reacted by bursting into tears . On the fifth day w e drove into Ark ansas , and the project threatened to blow up. Erskine came to my room to help me carry my equipment out to the car —he was always the chivalrous southern gentleman in such matters —but, instead of picking up my tripod and camera cases, he sat down on the windowsill and gazed at me for a long, uncomfortable moment . “Margaret, ” he said, “ I need to have a talk with you.” I was about to pack my toothbrush. “About what?” “About what we’re doing. This i s not going to work. I think we should f orget the whole thing. It’s been a mistake. You go your way, and I’ll go mine. No hard feelings.”

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188 S till holding my toothbrush, I sank down on the bed. “Erskine, you don’t understand. This book we’re doing together means everything to me. It’s the most impo rtant work I’ve done in my life, and I can’t give it up!” “You co uld go on and do it on your own. You don’t need me. ” “But I do! I do need you!” And there I was, weeping again, huddled on the edge of the bed , my face buried in my hands . Erskine got up from the windowsill and moved toward me . I reached up to him, tears pouring down my cheeks, and he pulled me into his arms and kissed me , my eyes, my wet face, my lips . Everything changed with that kiss. I had not realized how strongly I was drawn to him, probably had been from the first time we met. I had sworn after Chappie and I were divorced that I would not allow myself to fall in love until I was thirty. A few weeks before we began this trip I had observed my thirtysecond birthday. Perhaps that’ s what wa s now happening. M any men had vi e d for my attention, and many of those had claimed to be in love with me, but I had not felt much of anything for any of those men except a fleeting affection . I was wary, I did not want t o be dominated or controlled. B ut oh , the powerful attraction I felt for Erskine ! Sally undoubtedly sensed what was happening between us. We didn’t do anything to hide it, and I had suspected from the first that Sally herself was in love with him. That night in the wee hours she had packed u p and left our seedy hotel outside of Pine Bluff . We found the note the next morning. She couldn’t stand sitting in the back seat, stuck between all our gear , she wrote . She couldn’t stand traveling with the two of us. Maybe one temperamental writer could be borne, or one equally temperamental photographer, but both ? Crowded into the same automobile in the middle of a hot Arkansas summer ? It was simply too much! She was going home to California.

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189 Fro m then on, it was just the two of us , Erskine and I . I admired his relaxed, easy manner with the people we met. My clipped nasal New Jers ey twang marked me as a Yankee and an outsider, and people in these parts, the poorest of the poor sharecroppers, didn’t trust outsiders. With Erskine’s soft southern drawl, he sounded like them . He pick ed up their vocabulary and the slight differences in their manner of speech, he knew exactly how to talk to them, and he fit in without trying. They trusted him completely as he asked questions and made a few unobtrusive notes . But I was different. I t was an effort not to try to arrange everything and everyone . I set up shots that were pleasing to my eye , rather than to record things as they really were. “Slow down a litt le ,” he’d tell me . “ You’re coming on like the savage hordes out of the North.” It took a while, but eventually, because of Erskine, people began to trust me and my intrusive camera, too . I knew I was doing good work. We both were. Erskine thought I needed a special nickname and began calling me Kit . “You look like a kitten that’ s just drunk a bowl of cr eam,” he said, stroking my hair . “It suits you better than Peg or Maggie.” I started calling him Skinny, because he wasn’t. The two glass jars with the egg cases now rode with me in the front seat of Erskine’s Ford. T he eggs could begin to hatch at any time, when ever the temperature and humidity were exactly right. We were bouncing down a dirt road past fields of cotton when I checked the glass jars and saw the first nymphs wriggle out of the egg case. “Pull over , Skinny!” I shouted. “T hey’re hatching!”

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190 Erskine stopped, and I quickly set up my equipment and placed the egg cases on a fence rail. My camera and tripod always attracted an audience, and as I began taking pictures, a dozen or so children appeared out of nowhere and surrounded me. We all watched, spellbound, as hundreds of tiny nymphs poured out of the egg cases , clambering over each other on legs as thin as threads. “They look like little devi l horses!” cried one enchanted little boy. Some of the “little devil horses” began eating their brothers, a habit that bothered Erskine but troubled the children not at all . The surviving nymphs went back into the jars, and f or the next several days I recorded each stage of their development from tiny nymph to full grown mantis , shed ding their exoskeletons and for ming new one s as they continued to grow, perhaps as many as ten times, until they reached adult size. At the end o f August Erskine and I were back in New York. We’d accomplished what we’d set out to do. I signed a n exclusive contract to work for Life magazine and a month later had my first big assignment : photographing a dam being constructed along the Missouri River in the northwest . I sa id an emotional goodbye to Erskine —my dear Skinny—and headed out alone for Montana .

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191 Chapter 16. Dams and Dancers Fort Peck Dam was huge project, the world’s largest earthfilled dam. In 1933 President Roosevelt had authorized it to be built with two goals in mind: to control flooding in the river basin, and to give work to hundreds of unemployed men in the Depression. It was every bit as magnificent as I expected. S han ty towns were popping up like mushrooms as workers pour ed into the area— hardworking engineers and dam builders, as well as assorted drunks and ne’er dowells. S mall businesses follow . New Deal, Montana, was such a town . I wandered through New Deal , stopping in at cafes, bars, and dance halls , talking to their customers, and shooting pictures. Some of the men in this part of the Wild West didn’t much like having a camera pointed at them , and the taxi dancers , girls paid to dance with the fellows who ask them, didn’t either . “I don’t want my mum to see my picture and know what I’m doing,” one girl told me, turning away to hide her face. “She thinks I’m a secretary.” “But you’re not doing anything wrong,” I said. “A dance is just a dance.” “Don’t try to tell her that. She’d think I was no better than one of them ladies of the evening.” I n the early mo rnings when the light was good I photographed the earthworks of the dam. In the afternoons I rode on horseback to explore the areas that would become a water filled

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192 reservoir when the dam was completed. And at night I hung around the Bar X and the Buck Horn to document social life at night. The planners of the new Life magazine had told me they wanted to include a section to be called “Life Goes to a Party.” As the deadline approached for the first issue, I let them know that I had jus t what they might be looking for. But they may not have been prepared for the photographs I sent. With my photographs of dam builders and dancers shipped to the editor, I took a few days off to visit Gil, my old boyfriend—if that’s what he’d been —in Corva llis, Oregon. Gil, now a professor of chemistry, his wife, Violette, and their three little girls enjoyed what seemed to be a happy, normal life. When I stepped off the plane in my elegantly tailored gray suit and Paris made hat, Gil probably saw that I’d become just what he’d been afraid I would, a successful professional woman. While I was there, a stream of cables continually arrived from New York, and the sight of a uniformed bicycle messenger pedaling out to the Gilfillans’ several times a day created a sensation. I was stared at as I walked down the main street of Corvallis with Gil and Violette, trailed by their wide eyed daughters, to a local restaurant for dinner. After two days they all came to the airport to see me off, and probably heaved a sigh of relief. M y photograph of the dam was chosen to be the cover of the very first issue of Life . It hit the newsstands on November twenty sixth and sold out within hours . The printers could not keep up with the orders. I loved working for Life. I could not afford to keep my penthouse studio and had to give it up , but the magazine provided an office with a secretary an d a darkroom assigned me my own printmaker and two assistants. None of the other photographers had anything like this setup . N aturally , there was a certain amount of jealousy. I ignored it.

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193 It was no secret by then that Erskine and I were in love. I had an apartment on East Forty second Street, and he kept a room at the Mayfair Hotel on West Forty ninth, but we were together constantly—unless I was away on an assignment. In January of 1937, two m onths after Life ’s first issue, the Ohio River was inundating Louisville, Kentucky, in one of the most damag ing floods in American history. My editor sent me to cover it. I had an hour to get ready. Erskine was dismayed. “You’re leaving again, Kit? When will you be back?” “When I’ve finished shooting,” I said over my shoulder. I was busy making sure I had enough film, enough bulbs, enough toothpa ste. “I wish you weren’t going,” he said, hovering nearby. “I miss you when you’re not here.” I barely paused on my packing . “I miss you, too, Skinny, but this is what I do.” I snapped my bag shut . “ A taxi ’s waiting to take me to the airport. I’ll call you as soon as I can.” Erskine helped carry down my gear, t he cabbie load ed it into the trunk, and I jumped into the backseat. Erskine leaned in. “Don’t I even deserve a kiss?” “Of course, darling,” I said. I admit it was not much of a kiss. “ I’ve got a plane to catch. ” As the driver pulled away from the curb, I glanced back and saw Erskine standing forlornly on the sidewalk, hands plunged into his pockets. I was about to order the cab to turn back, so I could kiss him properly, but then we turned the corner a nd it was too late. I was on the last plane to land at the Louisville airport before it was submerged along with most of the city . But h ow was I going to get in to town with my camera and equipment? Spotting a passing rowboat, I stuck out my thumb. “Where are you going, miss?” called one of the rowers. “Downtown to the newspaper office.”

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194 “We’re n ot going that far, but we’ll take you as far as we can .” I climbed in next to supplies of food and water they were taking to a neighborhood that was marooned. Alo ng the way we paused to rescue people clinging desperately to tree branches or perched on floating bits of furniture . From the rowboat I transferred to a goodsized raft and took pictures of the floodwaters surg ing through the streets while I struggled to keep my equipment from getting soaked. Eventually I reached the offices of the Courier Journal . R eporters who had descended on Louisville to document the disaster were sleep ing on desks or on the floor , and I took pictures of them, too, but it was out on the streets as the floodwaters began to recede that I stumbled on my real story. Outside a relief center where clothing and su pplies were being distributed, dozens of Negroes with dazed expr essions waited in line , holding empty sacks and buckets in front of a gigantic billboard. WORLD’S HIGHEST STANDARD OF LIVING proclaimed the billboard . A smiling white family in a shiny new car — father, mother, two children, and a pooch—grinned beneath the slogan, There’s no way li ke the American Way . My shot of the poor Negroes and that billboard became the first picture of the lead story in the next issue of Life. Erskine and I were still working on the book we had started the previous summer . By the time we made a second trip south that spring to finish the job, w e had finally found a balance: I took pictures without his interference, Erskine wrote text without mine, and w e wrote the capt i ons for the pictures together. W e’d lay eight photographs on the floor and study them , Erskine would go to one side of the room and I to the other, and we’d each write a caption. Later

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195 we’d compare the two. Sometimes we combined the results, and sometimes we took my idea and Erskine’s words, or the other way around. A good capti on makes all the difference in how the reader perceives the pictures , and I was proud of ours . T he captions were not direct quotes of what my subjects had actually said , but we believed they conveyed a deeper truth of what the camera had captured. Not ever yone understood that, and we were later criticized for not quoting exactly what the subject s said , if indeed they’d said anything at all. I hadn’t given much thought to a title for the book. We hadn’t discussed a title until the day we took the completed m anuscript and photographs to the publisher’s office in New York. W hile w e were waiting to see the editor, Erskine said, “The title is You Have Seen Their Faces. What do you think , Kit ? Do you like it?” I thought it captured exactly what we’d been working so hard to say. I took his face in my two hands and kissed him on the mouth, not giving a fig what the steely faced receptionist might think. “It’s perfect,” I said, and kissed him again. O ur book was done. Now I looked forward eagerly, as I always did, to the next exciting assignment from Life. Erskine looked forward to it with dread. In June I was sent to do a story about paper manufacturing. I wore a n insu lated flight suit and a harness so that I could le an far out of the open door of a small plane, hang on to my camera—it weighed about twenty pounds —and take aerial photographs w hile the plane banked left and right , climbed and dropped. A striking photograph of a tangle of logs drifting downriver to the m ill was one result .

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196 I was away for only a few days , but tha t’s not how it went for the next assignment , in July . Lord Tweedsmuir , a Scot who’d recently been appointed Governor G eneral of Canada by the k ing of England , had set himself the goal of touri ng t he width and breadth of the huge and diverse country for which he was responsible . That included the Arctic . The governor general was believed to be traveling aboard an old steamer somewhere in the vast Canadian tundra and headed north. M y editors at Life decided this had the makings of “a cracking good story. ” “How long will you be gone this time, Kit?” “As long as it takes, darling,” I said, “and not a day longer.” The grizzled bush pilot who was waiting for me in Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, loaded me and my equipment in to a small pontoon plane and took off in search of His Excellency’s boat , the Distributor . “It’s p robably on the Athabasca River headed toward the Northwest Territories , loa ded with supplies for trappers. T hat’s my guess,” the pilot shouted above the noisy engine. For nearly three hours we followed the course of the river , skimming above the tundra, around jutting mountain ranges, and over shimmering lakes, until we sighted the steamer . The pilot swooped in low and dropped down beside it . My cameras and I were hoisted aboard, t he pilot flew off, and the Distributor continued to make its way upstream , churning along steadily hour after hour with periodic stops at tiny villages and hamlets in the province of Alberta . Lord Tweedsmuir was well known in the U.S. by his nonnoble name, John Buchan, author of a number of popular adventure and spy novels —I’d read a n umber of his books —and he was a charming and excellent host in addition to being a natural storyteller. At each stop His

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197 Excellency stepped off briefly and delivered his greetings, exactly the same every time, in a nearly impenetrable Scottish brogue that left his subjects glassy eyed. The scenery was dramatic, the days on the Distrib utor passed pleasantly enough, but I felt uneasy. I’ d heard nothing from Erskine since I left New York, no replies to the cables I sent almost daily . I was worried . The Distributor docked at Fort Smith, the first village we encountered after leaving Albert a and entering the Northwest Territories, and Lord Tweedsmuir prepared to deliver his usual speech to a group of Eskimos . A radio operator came aboard and greeted me. “I’ll bet you’re the person I’ve been looking for ,” he said and handed me a telegram addressed to HONEYCHILE, ARCTIC CIRCLE, CANADA. “We thought this sounded like you,” he said, grinning. The message was brief : COME HOME AND MARRY ME. SIGNED SKINNY. I suppose any girl would have been thrilled to receive such a message from a love r , and I felt a rush of intense longing when I read his message. We had often talked about marriage , always with the same conclusion : I loved him, but I didn’t want to marry him. I didn’t want to marry, period, because I knew deep in my bones that marriage didn’t suit me. I had a different kind of life, a life built around my work, and that was how I wanted it. Why change anything? Erskine had moved out of his hotel room and into an apartment next to mine. In New York we went everywhere together. Everyone e xpected us to marry. Now here I was, thousands of miles away, missing my darling Skinny , but still not wanting to say Y es. The steamer left the Athabasca River and followed the Mackenzie, dropping off goods and a dwindling number of passengers at each stop . After s everal days we arrived at Fort

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198 Norman, at the mouth of the Great Bear River . Two more cables were waiting for me --one from Life , the other from Erskine. I opened Life’ s cable first: REQUEST YOU CHARTER PLANE AND SHOOT ARCTIC OCEAN IN SUMMER. T here was no question that I would accept the assignment. The cable from Erskine, addressed like his earlier one, was long: he loved me, he missed me, and he wanted me to take the next plane home and marry him. I sighed and put his cable with the others. No matter how much I assured him of my love , my assurances were never enough. He would not be satisfied until I proved that I was his, completely his, by putting a ring on my finger and becoming M rs. Caldwell. I was glad I didn’t have to deal with Erskine and his demands just then . I had work to do, the Arctic Ocean to explore. The Distributor left the Mackenzie at Fort Norman and turned east, up Great Bear River. Before I left New York, I’d still been working on my longterm project of photographing the metamorphoses of various insects, and I ’d nurtured a dozen mourning cloak butterflies from eggs to caterpillars . I’d brought the chrysalises with me to Canada in a suitcase. The cooler temperatures had slowed down the metamorphosis, but I knew that any day, any hour, my beauties would be ready to emerge. If I missed that event , I’d have to start all over the following year. Anticipating this, I’d found the captain shortly after I’d come aboard and, with my most persuasive smile , asked if he would stop the engines when my butterflies began to emerge so that I could photograph them without the vibrations spoiling the focus. The captain had gazed at me in astonishment. “Miss Bourke White, I’ve been wor king these rivers for thirty years, and I’ve never stopped a boat even if a man fell overboard, and now you want me to stop it for a damned butterfly?”

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199 “Yes, please, captain.” He ’d nodded briefly and walked away. I hoped that meant he’d agreed. Now I taped the ten chrysalises to the rail of the deck, set up my equipment, and settled in to a deckchair to wait. Hours passed. Darkness never fell, because this was summer in the farthest north, and although it didn’t feel like summer , the sun did not set but skimmed above the horizon and glow ed dimly for perhaps fifteen minutes before soaring brightly overhead again. For the next few days I dozed in my deck chair, never actually sleeping. Fascinated passengers brought me trays of food from the dining room. Lord Tweedsmuir passed by my post periodically, greeting me warmly and addressing me as Maggie, and loan ed me some of the books he’d written to help pass the time . On a bright Sunday morning in the middle of glittering Great Bear Lake at the edge of the Arctic Circle, I detected a tentative wiggle in the first chrysalis and urgently sent a message to the cap tain. The chrysalis es began to split. My biggest camera with the long bellows was focused . The engines went still. His Excellency came to watch and to offer help . Within twenty minutes, ten butterflies had emerged , grandly unfolding their beautiful purple black wings with broad yellow borders . Th e captain grumbled, the engines started up again, and I had a magnificent set of photographs. Before reaching the steamer’s last destination lay a thousand miles and a dozen more trading posts . At each stop we were greeted by the sight of a handful of decrepit wooden buildings and the sound of howling sled dogs, frustrated by their lack of sleds to pull until the tundra froze again. A nd a t each st op a cable or two addressed to “Honeychile” was waiting,

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200 delivered by a smirking radio operator who had probably invited everyone in the village to share the contents before it reached my hands. We arrived at Port Brabant, a tiny hamlet spread out on a fl at spit of land surrounded by the waters of Mackenzie Bay. His tour complete, t he g overnor general flew off to Ontario, and I released the four surviving butterflies to continue their flight , perhaps to the North Pole. T he Distributor would now turn back , and I set out to find a plane and a pilot willing to fly me out over the Arctic Ocean. The only planes flying this far north belonged to the Royal Canadian Mail and took on private passengers when it didn’t interfere with delivering the mail to these isola ted outposts . By good luck I met tw o other adventurous travelers: Archibald Lang Fleming, a bishop of the Church of England , and Dr. Thomas Wood, an English composer and travel writer . Known as Archibald the Arctic, the bishop was making his semiannual tour of the remotest churches in his diocese, and “Doc” was working on a book about Canada. T he three of us negotiated with a handsome bush pilot, Art Rankin, to take us where we want ed to go in an ancient flying machine he’d nam ed Nyla , for the Eskimo wife in the documentary film “Nanook of the North.” Art rounded up a bewhiskered co pilot named Billy , and the deal was done. While the pilots made their preparations, I went s ightseeing around Port Brabant. In the Hudson’s Bay stor e I met a lonely trapper who told me sadly that I reminded him of his wife —or ex wife, as it turned out, who had taken one look at this godforsaken village and fled back to Minnesota. He had ordered a fur parka as a wedding gift for his bride, but she had not stayed long enough to claim it . T he Eskimo woman who had made the par ka lived in the village of Coppermine , and i f by chance I happened to visit Coppermine, said the unhappy trapper, the

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201 parka would be mine. He scrawled a note to present at the trading post, authorizing me to claim it. An hour later the bishop, the composer, the pilot, the copilot , and I were on our way— first stop Coppermine to deliver a sack of mail. On the ground again, Art and I made for the trading post that doubled as t he post off ice. Art handed over the mail, and I produced the trapper’s letter. Sewn from l uxurious caribou fur and trimmed with white fur from the breast of a reindeer, the hood fringed with wolverine , the dress length parka was one of the most elegant garments I have ever owned . Archibald the Arctic used my camera to take my photograph. We left Coppermine. Art had removed one of the doors of the plane and tied a rope around my waist so I wouldn’t fall out as I leaned out to take pictures . The scene belo w was perfect: dark water and floating ice bathed in a warm golden light. Then the picture suddenly vanished, and we were enveloped in featureless white. Fog. It was like being suspended inside a cloud between darkness and light. It was impossible even to tell up from down. Every landmark had disappeared. The pilot had to get us down, and quickly. Art swooped low and climbed high , searching for a break in the strange blankness . No one spoke. Then, a small hole appeared in the white nothingness . T hrough i t I glimpsed open sea, a narrow inlet, and a slender crescent of rock. “That’s it!” shouted Art above the roa r of the motor. “We’re going in! ”

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202 The old plane settled gently onto the water, and Art jumped out with a rope and scrambled onto the stony shore t o secure it . The rest of us followed gingerly , managing to leap from the pontoons to the shore without falling into the frigid waters. “Now,” announced Archibald the Arctic , “we shall have tea.” He unpacked a tin pot from a small valise and set off over the rocks to gather sticks for a fire . Sticks are practically non existent in the Arctic, but the bishop found enough. We had tea. Meanwhile, Art tried to radio for help. He knew where we were: one of the Lewes Islands, some three hundred mile s from any sort of human habitation. Every hour on the hour, the radio operator back in Coppermine tried to reach us : “Art Rankin on Nyla , please respond. Visibility remains zero. Art Rankin, please respond.” We could hear them, b ut they could not hear us . Nyla’ s signal was not strong enough to reach them. “How long do these fogs hang around?” I asked. “Sometimes for weeks,” Art said matter of factly , and I was sorry I’d asked. We took stoc k of our resources: enough r ations to sustain lif e for one man for twenty days. T here were five of us. The n Billy, the co pilot , found a freshwater spring. “A blessing,” said the bishop. It had felt strange to pack a ski suit when I was leaving New York in July. Now I was glad I had it , and the fur parka, too. Archibald the Arctic proved to be an entertaining storyteller. Doc made up songs and taught them to us, and we sang. We built cairns and pelted them with pebbles. Art was a deadeye shot. I took pictures in the odd, disorienting light. Then we slept a little and tri ed not to think about the fog.

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203 The radio operator in Coppermine reported continuing zero visibility , and on one broadcast added that he had a cable for somebody named Honeychile: WHEN ARE YOU COMING HOME? SIGNED SKINNY “Tell him to come up here,” muttered Billy , who by then knew my story. “We’ve got a bishop to marry you and two witnesses besides .” Suddenly the fog thinned and lifted slightly. Art hustled us into the plane. We were scarcely airborne when the fog vanished as quickly as it had come and gave way to lashing rain. For t wo hours Nyla fought her way through the storm. It was like being underwater . We were all very quiet, for we knew t he gas gauge must be falling, and night was falling, and if a miracle didn’t occur soon, we too would be falling, falling... But a miracle did occur . Art sighted a few dots on the tundra that he thought were a settlement. He circled, dropped, and landed on a river . We piled out onto another rocky shore, grateful beyond words —except Archibald the Arctic, who had a number of words appropriate for the occasion , to which we all added “Amen!” T he settlement was des erted, except for a sole Eskimo who explained in his language that everyone had gone to fish camp and would be back in a few weeks with enough fish to feed the village through the winter. Billy translated for us: We were guests of the village , and we were to help ourselves to whatever we needed. Ravenous, w e dined on a cache of canned meat and beans . W e discovered a dusty old Victrola and a few records, only slightly warped, and we cranked it up and danced. I had four willing partners. Far more important, though, was a supply of gasoline left behind by w halers . It was enough to get the intrepid Nyla into the air again.

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204 We flew to Aklavik, not far from Port Brabant where we’d begun our adventure . T here we parted with backslaps and embraces and the kind of camaraderie formed among people who have shared a lifethreatening experience. I cabled Erskine that I was on my way home and caught a flight to Yellowknife, where a reply was waiting for Honeychile : DON’T SPARE THE HORSES. I laughed and t ucked the telegram in my bag, and got a good night’s sleep, my first in a real bed for the entire month. The next morning in the Chicago airport I was looking for my flight to New York. A cacophony of urgent messages and muffled announcements blared over the loudspeaker , and I ignored them until one in particular, repeated for the third time , finally registered : “Paging Child B ride, please stop at the ticket counter for a message.” Child B ride? I could guess who that might be. I identified myself —“I’m Child Bride,” I said, feeling slightly ridiculous —and opened the telegram: WELCOME, WELCOME, WELCOME, WELCOME.

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205 Chapter 17. The Coming War Erskine was glad to have me back home, and I was glad to be there —most of the time. When he was his adoring and adorable self, we were both happy, but then he began to pressure me to marry him, to be his entirely. He needed me, he couldn’t stand to be without me, but the more tightly he tried to hold on to me, the more I struggled to hold on to my freedom . Once I even tried to leave him once , but Erskine was not the kind of man to give up. And so I stayed. Early in the new year Erskine received word that his wife, Helen, from whom he had been separated for years, had finally filed for divorce. All the time he had been begging me to marry him, he had not been available to marry anyone. That had made it easy for me to brush off his pleas. “You know I can’t marry you, Skinny,” I told him whenever he brought up the subject. “You already have a wife!” But soon, when the paperwork went through and the decree was gra nted, I would not have this as my standard reply . The editors at Life were so pleased by the pictures I’d brought from my month in the Arctic that they decided to run two stories in the October 25th issue, eight pages about Lord Tweedsmuir and his tour through the Northwest Territories, and another thr ee pages on Archibald of the Arctic. It was the first time Life had ever printed two separate stories by the same photographer in one issue . F or a while they considered putting the bishop’s photograph of me in my beautiful f ur parka on the cover as well, b ut t hat idea was eventually voted down.

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206 As it became clear i n the winter of 1938 that Europe was on the brink of war, Erskine and I began to plan another book together. Erskine, who had a talent for coming up with the title even before the book was written, suggested North of the Danube. Life assigned me to do a story in Spain and Czechoslovakia , and I organized my trip around the book we had in mind. Erskine went with me . W e sailed for Europe at the end of March . After a short time in Barcelona , we moved on to Czechoslovakia, which Hitler had thre atened to wipe off the map. In mid May , as German troops were preparing to invade the small country, we made our way through cities and villages and farmland, meeting with countless people and listening to innumera ble stories. I always had one eye on Erskine who, without warning and for no reason I could see , would sink into a black mood that seemed to drag everyone else with it, even the generous people who did everything they could to help us with our work. But I knew that I was recording history as it was happening, taking photographs and sending them back to Life , and that was what kept me going . After nearly five months in Europe w e sailed for home. W hen the Aquitania docked in N ew York harbor at the end of August, reporters and photographers swarmed the decks, peppering us with questions —not important questions about what we had seen in Europe, but silly ones: W hen I was going to marry Erskine? “I’m not going to get married, no matter how much it might please the press corps,” I snapped. “I like being single.” My sarcastic response to the reporters didn’t faze Erskine, who ’d planned a private welcome party for just the two of us and led me, blindfolded, into a room completely fil led with

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207 balloons. His divorce from Helen had become final while we were away. He continued his campaign with gifts and flowers and singing telegrams , begging me to marry him . And I continued to say no. Nevertheless, our lives became even more entwined. I n October we bought a house in Connecticut in an area where all the houses seemed to be named for English country estates; we called ours Horseplay Hill. We began to work on North of the Danube . I had in mind the brilliant success of You Have Seen Their Faces , but I could see this book would not match it. These were not my best photographs. I sensed a distance bet ween me and my su bjects , and I blamed that on Erskine’s erratic behavior . A fter I was divorced from Chappie , I vowed not to fall in love again until I was thirty. Then I swore that I would not marry. N ow I was thirty four, four years past my sel f imposed restriction, and I truly loved Erskine. Maybe, I thought, I needed him as much as he needed me. I t had become almost too much trouble not to be married. And so on Sunday night, February 26, 1939, I said yes. N either of us was willing to wait even another day . Very early t he next morning we were at the airport, ready to fly on the first plane to Nevada, where we could get a marriage license w ithout the usual three day delay. Erskine brought champagne to drink on the flight, but I had a different idea. I wanted to draw up a contract listing certain conditions of our marriage : One, that if a disagreement came up, we would discuss it and solve the problem before bedtime; two, that he would treat my friends as well as he did his own; three, that he would try to control his moods; four —and this was the most important—he would not try to interfere with my photographic assignments. I wrote it, and Er skine signed it. We could drink champagne later.

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208 The pilot announced that we were stopping for fuel in Reno. “Shall we get married here?” Erskine asked, and I said, “Skinny, nobody gets married in Reno! This is where people come to get divorced!” We borro wed a map from the pilot and looked for a town within a hundred miles that sounded more appealing. Silver City had a nice name. As soon as t he plane landed, we hurried off to the courthouse to get our license and hailed a taxicab to drive us to Silver City . The driver pointed out that Silver City was a ghost town. W e’d have to take a minister with us, and another witness as well . “Where will we find a minister?” Erskine asked the cabbie. “Carson City,” said the helpful cabbie. “It’s the state capital. We’ ll find somebody there.” And we did. Or rather, the cab driver did—a member of the state legislature, who happened to be sitting in the lobby of a hotel near the capitol. The lawmaker , authorized to perform a marriage ceremony, was delighted to be of assis tance and climbed into the cab it was . It was late afternoon when we drove into Silver City, with not a soul in sight. But the town was charming, and we knew immediately it was the right place. There was no time to lose in finding a church , because Erskine was determined to have the knot tied before sundown. W e did find a church, but it was locked. The cab driver was undete rred. He w ould find a key! T he legislator pointed out a tobacco shop with a faded OPEN sign in the window , the owner produced a key to the church, and she volunteered to serve as our second witness. Five of us pack ed into the taxi, back to the church we roared , kick ing up a cloud of dust. The tobacconist turned the iron key in the rusty lock , and the door creaked open. A delicate blanket of dust lay over the wooden pews. L ate afternoon sun filtered through unwashed windows. Erskine pulled a

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209 wedding ring out of his pocket that he must have been carrying around for weeks , waiting for me to say the word , and the legislator recited whatever parts of the ceremony he knew by heart . For a little while after the ceremony Erskine and I stood alone, holding hands, gazing out over the stunning landscape of mesas and bluffs and desert. F or a moment I allowed myself to recall a wedding day fifteen years earlier , when Jo Miller had loaned me a dress, baked a cake, gathered flowers from her garden, and finally loaned us her gold band while Chappie’s mother moaned and sobbed. I squeezed my new husband’s hand and whispered, “I love you, Skinny.” Our grinning cabbie returned the tobacconist to her shop in Silver City and drove the state representative to his hotel in Carson City where w e decided to spend the spent the night. The next morning we hired a private plane to fly us on to San Francisco, and that afternoon we sailed on the S.S. Lurline for a honeymoon in Hawaii. Our first months as husband and wife were all I could have reasonably wished for, given our differences in temperament. Our book, North of the Danube, was published to good reviews. For my sake Erskine struggled to tame his unpredictable moods . I refrain ed from taking on assignments that involved being away from home for long stretches . My intentions were good, but there was too much happening in the world for me to ignore. In late fall of 1939, I left for London. Erskine’s cables addressed to “Child Bride” found me there, and when I moved on to Rumania in December, even those he dispatched to “Honeychile” somehow reached their destination. In March 1940 I was in Syria; from there I intended to go on to Italy. I sent a constant stream of cables, assuring my husband of my love, my adoration. But it didn’t help. He could not deal with the loneliness. He begged me to come home.

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210 Meanwhile, things were not working out with Life the way I wanted and the way I thought I deserved. Where were the credit lines for my photographs? Why were some of my pict ures being set aside to make room for another photographer’s? I began to have doubts about whether I wanted to stay with Life . I was being offered a job with a new daily paper called PM that would be launched soon. The pay was not as good, but it would mea n less travel and a wider audience, and Erskine and I could work together on stories. I resigned from Life . Harry Luce was not pleased. In fact , he was furious. PM f lopped after a few months, and I was talking to Life again. T he world was on the verge of war, and Life ’s picture editor wanted to send me to Russia to document what was about to happen; the Germans had taken Czechoslovakia, and now they were about to invade Russia. Erskine and I would travel together. Because the German army had overrun Europe in 1940, w e wouldn’t simply take an ocean liner across the Atlantic to Cherbourg or Southampton. Instead, w e would fly west and get to Russia by way of China . It would be an enormous undertaking. I spent a month figuring out what equipment I’d need. When Erskine and I took off from Los Angeles in March 1941 on a flight to Hong Kong, we had 617 pounds of luggage. All but seventeen pounds were mine. Erskine knew how to travel light; I didn’t. From Hong Kong we flew to Chungking, and then across the Gobi Desert. From a sandswept l ittle Asian town on the border we made the last leg of the journey into Russia . It took us a full thirty one days, most of that time pas sed trying to cut through red tape, finding planes that were capable of flyin g, waiting out sandstorm s , or simply wait ing. Erskine’s work was popular in Russia, and that opened doors for him. I had established my credentials on my trip ten years earlier a nd knew how things operated in Russia , and so I had no trouble getting permission to photograph. On June 22, a month after our arrival in Russia

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211 while we were traveling in the Ukraine , we heard the news: German troops had invaded Russia. We jumped onto a t rain headed for Moscow. The Russian military had forbidden the use of cameras: anyone seen with a camera could be arrested and sent to prison. I had to find a way around that , and I had to get to the center of the action and be allowed to stay there. We spent our first nights in a hotel with a view from our balcony of Red Square and the Kr emlin , turreted government buildings, and churches with colorful onionshaped domes . A fter we had been there for a couple of weeks, which I spent pestering various agencies for permission to photograph, bombs began to fall on the city . The American ambassador tried to persuade us to leave for our own safety; there were two seats on the trai n to Vladivostok. We turned them down. Another edict was ordered: when the sirens began screaming, everyone had to take shelter in the subways. Wardens searched the hotel , room by room , to make sure everyone was out. At first Erskine and I obeyed the order , but spending the night in a huge underground subway station with thousands of Muscovites was no way to cover a war we had traveled thousands of miles to witness. We sneaked over to the American embassy where the Russians had no authority to order us anywhere. The embassy roof offered a spectacular view , but it offered no protection as German bombers droned overhead with their payloads . By some kind of sixth sense I realized that a bomb was about to fall nearby. I crawled through an open window and lay down as far from the windows as I could, protecting my camera with my body. The blast came, shattering the windows. Glass fragments fell like rain. I crept down the sweeping staircase over broken glass and hurried back to the hotel. Later I returne d to

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212 the embassy to take pictures of the wreckage and wired them to Life. These were the first photographs of the war to be published. Our large hotel suite was furnished with a grand piano, marble statuary, and a magnificent white bearskin rug. The sittin g room, its bust of Napoleon shoved out of the way, became my workshop, and the luxurious bathroom doubled as a darkroom. I filled the bathtub with developing trays and hung wet negatives on cords strung among the overhead pipes , hoping a siren wouldn’t go off and interrupt a process that must not be interrupted. When a siren did go off and an air raid warden burst in to make sure we weren’t there, I hid under the bed and Erskine draped the bearskin over his head and shoulders and crouched behind the sofa. I don’t know if the wardens didn’t notice the glassyeyed polar bear or chose not to. Eventually we got tired of pretending and told the Russian wardens that we were working Americans with permission to be there, and they left us alone. K eeping out of sight of the soldiers station ed in Red Square below, I crawled out onto the balcony and set up two cameras, facing in opposite directions to take in the sky, two more on the windowsill. A fifth camera was stored in the basement of the embassy, in case the others were destroyed. As the Germans bombed Moscow night after night, I took photographs, developed and printed them, got them past the censors, and sent them to my editor in the U.S. M y biggest coup was photographing Josef Stalin. Every time I’ d asked permission, I was turned down. Then President Roosevelt’s personal envoy arrived in Moscow. I had met him once before, and he remembered me. I spent a day dogging his steps, begging and pleading, until he agreed to do what he could. “All right, Margaret,” the envoy reported at last . “You’ve got permission.”

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213 I’d heard that Russians like red, and I dug out a pair of red shoes from my luggage and a red b ow to wear in my hair. The next day I paced the anteroom outside Stalin’s office for two hours before I was finally admitted. The fearsome dictat or turned out to be short, pockmarked, and unimposing—the opposite of what I expected. He was also expressionle ss, and nothing I did could make that stone face register anything at all. The interpreter informed Stalin that I had once photographed his mother; still no reaction. But when I crouched to make some low shots, a handful of little “peanut” flashbulbs spilled out of my pocket, and I went down on my hands and knees to gather them up. This appeared to amuse Stalin . A hint of a smile appeared beneath his brushy mustache and lasted just long enough for me to snap the shutter twice before it vanished. The German Luftwaffe was about to launch another air raid, the sirens were already going off, and I couldn’t risk having the wardens burst into my hotel bathroom/darkroom while I was developing these precious pictures. I had my driver take me to the embassy instead. It was deserted; everyone had gone off to shelters. The driver helped me set up a makeshift darkroom in the servants’ bathroom. I scribbled some notes to the photo editor, packed up the prints, and left the package for President Roosevelt’s envoy to delive r to the Life offices when he flew home the next day. Erskine and I one major goal: to get to the front, where the fighting was intense and both Russians and Germans were suffering heavy losses. But no matter how much we begged and how many strings we tr ied to pull, we were always refused. W e didn’t have much time left, because we both had lecture tours scheduled to start November first, and it wa s already mid September.

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214 Suddenly permission was received. A fivecar convoy took us and a group of British a nd American correspondents to the Smolensk front, some two hundred miles west of Moscow. We had less than a week to accomplish our goal , a week of pelting rain and mud up to my knees that made picturetaking nearly impossible . On the last day the weather cleared, and I got dramatic photographs of a bombedout town. Erskine and I began our circuitous route home. W e drove north to a port on the Arctic and boarded a British cargo ship traveling in a convoy escorted by two destroyers and a cruiser on t he lookout for submarines. The ship left us in Scotland ; from there we flew to Portugal. Lisbon was crowded with Americans frantic to get home. Some had waited weeks to book a flight . We went to the airline office to inquire about our reservations. There w as, indeed, a seat for Mr. Caldwell, but nothing for Mrs. Caldwell. The only other unclaimed seat was for a lady from Russia. I asked the lady’s name. “Margaret BourkeWhite,” said the clerk. Erskine and I had always had practical problems resulting from m y insistence on keeping my maiden name —not being allowed to share a cabin on a transatlantic ocean liner, or a hotel room in Mexico because we didn’t have our marriage license with us to prove that we were actually husband and wife, despite our different l ast names. T his time the outcome was in our favor. Our Pan Am Clipper took off from Lisbon for the Azores, flew on to Bermuda, and finally arrived in New York in time for Sunday dinner. Erskine had wired ahead to our secretary to have dinner ready for us, not only chicken and steak, but also “all manner of fresh fruits and vegetables.” I scarcely had time for dessert before I had to be back at the airport to begin a monthlong lecture tour that would take me across the country.

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215 * * * * I was exhausted, and I would have given a lot for a few days to recuperate, but I was also grateful for the opportunity. I could use the lectures as a first draft of Russia at War , a book I planned to write on my own, without Erskine’s collaboration. I was well paid. The tr ips to cities all across the country were a relief from Erskine’s volatile moods that could veer from bright sun to ominous clouds in a matter of seconds. While I raced from one end of the country to the other to speak to mostly women’s groups , Erskine fo und highpaying jobs in Hollywood for both of us . He sometimes demanded and sometime s coaxed that I move with him to a house we’d bought in the Arizona desert. “It’s time to settle down , ” he argued. “I’ve always said a writer’s life is good for only about ten years, and then it’s time to switch gears.” I might have gone along with his plan if the Japanese hadn’t bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Now our country was at war with Japan, and with in days with Germany too, and I simply could not agree to do w hat he wanted. “ They’re going to need photographers to get out there and take pictures and send them back so the people at home know what’s going on. I have skills that could be important to the war effort.” “It’s always what you want , isn’t it, Kit? ” he said bitterly. “ You always call the shots .” I’d given up arguing with him. I’d learned just let it go . Late in the winter of 1942 I walked into Life ’s offices and went straight to the picture editor’s desk. Wilson Hicks looked up and flashed a ple ased grin. “Maggie, hello! Sit down! Bring me up to date!” I leaned my hands on Hicks’s desk until my eyes were level with his. “I won’t sit until you promise to send me to Europe,” I said. “I want an overseas assignment to cover this war.”

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216 Hicks’s eyebrows shot up. “O.K.,” he said. “But in the meantime please sit down while we figure out how to do this.” It took longer than I’d have liked— I always wanted things to happen more or less instantaneously—but there were a lot of i’s to b e dotted and t’s to be crossed until Hicks and Mr. Luce succeeded in having me accredited as a war correspondent by the Pentagon. I would shoot pictures for the Army Air Forces . Life had permission to use the pictures after they ’d been cleared by the censors . Obviously, I needed a uniform. Although I was the first woman war correspondent, I would not be the only one, and we needed to be properly attired. The War College went to work on the design. I would have a blouse —a military word for jacket —and slacks , and also a skirt of the same olive drab material, a kind of green for every day , and “dress pinks,” actually a rosy gray, for formal occasions. I had a shoulder patch identifying me as a war correspondent , insignia marking my rank as first lieutenant , and a jaunty flight cap that matched my uniform . I could not have felt more proud when I wore that uniform for the first time. In early August m y orders came to leave for England. Our last few days together had been warm and affectionate but cooled as the hour of my departure approached . Erskine was sunk in one of his black, bleak moods when I left, having no idea how long I’d be gone.

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217 Chapter 18. War I was billeted at a secret bomber base outside of London, living in a celllike room in the officers’ qu arters with a cot, a coke stove, and a washstand . I arrived there at the same time as the B 17 bombers, called Flying Fortresses, and I was out on the runway to photograph them as they t ook off on their first mission—thirteen of them . A nd I was there and c ounting them as all thirteen r eturned, a cause for great celebration. I quickly became part of the team. That was made clear when the crew of one of the B 17s asked me to name their plane . The name I proposed was Flying Flitgun. “Flit” was a widely used bug spray, and a Flitgun was the handpumped sprayer. The “bugs” to be “sprayed” with bombs were caricatures of Hitler, Italy’s Mussolini, and Japan’s Hirohito painted on the plane’s fuselage. There was a proper christening, which usually involved smashing a bottle of champagne on the bow of a newly launched ship but i n this case meant climbing a tall ladder in my “dress pinks” skirt, loudly proclaiming, “I christen thee Flying Flitgun , ” and swinging a bottle of Coca Cola at one of the bomber’s guns. A band played, t he commanding officer made a speech, and I smashed the bottle. That sealed my attachment to that particular Flying Fortress, and I always felt pride and relief when Flying Flitgun made it back safely from another bombing run. Sometimes I had speci al assignments in London—photographing Prime Minister Winston Churchill on his birthday, for one —but my deepest desire was to fly on a combat

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218 mission. I was allowed access to early morning briefings, I went on practice runs, but I could not get permission for a real bombing mission . For the first few weeks none of the other correspondents got permission either , but after the ban was lifted, my requests were denied, over and over. I knew why—I was a woman . T hey wanted to protect me. There was no way I would succeed in persuading millennia of the male species that I was willing to risk as much as they were, and I decided to back off, at least for the present . While I was still in the mood to argue myself to the front of the line for a chance to photograph an actual bombing mission, I had something more deeply distressing to deal with: my husband. When I left for England, our marriage had been fraying. I could see that. But it was still holding. Erskine wrote t o me often from Tucson, where he was working on our new desert home, telling me what he had done, asking me whether I wanted something this way or that. His letters brimmed with love and longing. He was lonely, he wrote, so terribly lonely. He had trouble writing when I was away, and he wanted me to finish up whatever it was I was doing and hurry home to him. He loved me, he assured me. He would always love me. I was his truest, deepest love. Trouble was, our letters were always crossing in the transatlanti c mail, and the latest letter from Erskine wasn’t a response to my most recent letter to him. Some probably never reached their destination. Frustration was the result and no doubt plagued everyone separated by an ocean and a war. I did receive a terse cab le at the beginning of October stating that the last letter he’d gotten from me was on the tenth of September and then a wire I’d sent on the twentieth. After that, I had only silence, and then more silence. Five weeks of it. Finally, another cable on Nove mber ninth, anything but terse. He had reached a difficult decision, he wired, the

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219 most difficult of his life —“PARTNERSHIP MUST DISSOLVE IMMEDIATELY,” because , he claimed, he could see no future for it, and nothing could be done to change that. He was trul y sorry, he stated, and was himself inconsolable. He advised me to contact my lawyer immediately . I was completely thrown off balance, but I mentioned it to no one. I did not want any one to know how badly shaken I was. I wire d back, asking for an explanati on. T wo days later Erskine replied. T here was not much of an explanation, except to say that both present and future were dismal. It ended, “SUCH IS LONELINESS.” I shot back that this answer was really no answer at all. Then I waited. Erskine had always b een jealous of my work, even though he was also proud of it. He was jealous as well of Life for the claim the magazine had on my time and energy. When a week had passed, I did as he ’d suggested and wrote to my lawyer, telling him that the only thing I want ed from the marriage was the house in Connecticut. Erskine agreed. My work would be my salvation . I was about to launch another offensive in an attempt to be on board a bombing mission—until I heard an exciting rumor: the Allies were planning to invade North Africa. The plan was top secret: n o one knew, certainly not my Life editors. I s imply had to be involved. Luck was on my side again : I knew the general who would command the invasion, and I knew the general’s wife. It was not difficult to get his permission. I assumed I’d fly in one of the B 17s, preferably Flying Flitgun, but that idea was promptly vetoed by the top brass. It was judged too dangerous. I’d travel in a convoy. It was a very large convoy with an aircraft carrier, troopships, destroyers, and smaller escort ships called corvettes . I was assigned to a troopship that had formerly been a luxurious cruise ship, the kind on which I’d crossed the Atlantic several times, with chandeliers and plush covered divans and a sweeping marble staircase. Somehow they had managed to shoehorn six

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220 thousand British and American troops onto this grande dame of a vessel, plus four hundred Scottish nurses, five WAACs —the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps —and Captain Kay Summersby, the beautiful Irish girl who served as General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s chauffeur. Off we sailed, straight into the teeth of one of the most savage storms our troopship’s capt ain could remember. Day after day, as we zigged and zagged toward Gibraltar and the Mediterranean, we were tossed around like bathtub toys, rising and plunging through the towering waves. The grand piano rumbled across the f loor, tables and chairs acted li ke airborne missiles. Everyone became, and stayed, violently seasick. I was not one of them; for some reason I was immune. N o matter how bad it got, the captain insisted that we must endure lifeboat drills, torture f or all those poor seasick souls who had to drag themselves out, march to their assigned lifeboat stations, and wait, silent and attentive for a quarter of an hour as we endured being dashed with spray , until they were allowed to totter back to their miserable bunks. As soon as we were through t he Straits of Gibraltar and entered the Mediterranean, the sea became calm. Those of us with sturdier stomachs who had braved the grand saloon twice a day for a sit down meal prepared by the unflappable galley crew told stories of flying crockery that made every meal dangerous . But all that had changed. We relaxed. We laughed. We were due to land in North Africa the next day. I made sure my cameras and lenses were all in order and rearranged the contents of my musette bag, a rubberized canvas shoulder bag t hat we’d each been issued and instructed to keep stocked with extra socks, chocolate, soap, first aid supplies, a few emergency rations. I decided that an extra camera and film qualified as emergency rations. A farewell party was in raucous progress in the grand saloon. R umors were circulating that a German U boat had been sighted earlier in the day. I t was likely there were others , as they

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221 often traveled in “wolfpacks” and had apparently been shadow ing us for three days, since we ’d escaped the storm and entered the Mediterranean. The destroyer had taken out one submarine . “That leaves the rest of the wolves to worry about,” commented a junior officer as we were all saying good night. I was sound asleep when the torpedo struck. We we re supposed to sleep in our clothes, but none of us did. I pulled on my olive drab work slacks and my elegantly tailored officer ’ s coat, thinking it would be warmer than the trenchcoat, which was waterproof. I grabbed my musette bag and , leaving five camer as behind, rushed to the upper deck to try to photograph what was happening. That was when I heard the order: Abandon ship! I did was I was trained to do and wen t to find L ifeboat No. 12. It was a long, long night of hunger and fatigue, cold and shivering in my wet officer’s coat , fear ing for my own life and enduring the sickening knowledge that men and women were dying all around me, and I could do nothing to save them. Late the next day a destroyer appeared, a speck on the horizon. By nightfall we’d been hauled a board the crowded ship, grateful to be warm and dry with food in our stomachs and a place to sleep. I went out on deck and stood under the glittering bowl of the heavens as the destroyer sliced through the silent w aters of the Mediterranean toward the coast of North Africa . I had survived. For now I was safe, b ut the world was at war , and I had much more work to do .

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222 Note from the Author Girl with a Camera is a work of fiction based on the real life of Margaret Bourke White. I’ve end ed my story in December 1942, near the midpoint of Margaret’s career with many years of adventures and triumphant achievements still ahead. After her rescue, she and the others on board the destroyer landed in Algiers, where she had the good fortune to run into the same general who had cleared her to travel with the troops to North Africa. The general now allowed her to go on a bombing mission. I ssued a fleecelined leather fligh t suit, she took pictures from the window of a Flying Fortress as the bombs were dropped. I remember as a child seeing a picture of Margaret in that flight suit in Life — it seemed that everyone followed the progress of the war in that magazine . My father h ad enlisted in the Army Air Forces soon after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and my mother and I had seen him off at the railroad station after he’d gotten his overseas orders in the fall of 1942. He’d flown first to England, then to North Africa. He mu st have arrived there about the same time Margaret did. Margaret caused a sensation wherever she went , and I wonder now if Lieutenant Meyer ever met the glamorous photographer . In the spring of 1943 she returned to the States, but after only two months she was agitating to get back to the war. Early in September Margaret returned to North Africa and received her orders to join Allied troops in Italy where they were fighting to dr ive out the

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223 Germans . I n Italy, Margaret flew reconnaissance missions and sl ept in foxholes , repeatedly risking her l ife to get the pictures she wan ted. A s she prepared to leave Italy in 1943, she photographed a field hospital under bombardment . The photogr aphs were sent to the Pentagon in Washington to be cleared by the censors, but somehow they were lost and never found. Margaret believed this was one of her most important stories, and it was a painful loss she never forgot . A few months later, w hen most of the other reporters and photographers had moved on to cover the fighting in France, Margaret was allowed to return to Italy, where the fighting stubbornly continued. She was in Rome until early 1945, when she left for Germany and photographed the liberat ion of the concentration camp at Buchenwald . H er pictures of the atrocities committed there were among the first seen in America. As t he war came to a close, Margaret was assigned to photograph German factories as they were being captured . T hen she flew ho me , staying long enough to write another book, “Dear Fatherland, Rest Quietly,” that expressed her anger at Germany and her own faith in democracy . Margaret’s next Life assignment took her to India in 1946 and again in 1947 to photograph Mahatma Gandhi as the subcontinent was gaining its independence from the British Empire. In 1949 she traveled with her camera to South Africa to record conditions in the gold and diamond mines . After that experience, she vowed she’d never wear gold or diamonds again. During the early 1950s, when writers and actors and photographers and ordinary citizens were being investigated by a Congressional committee for their supposedly proCommunist activities and beliefs, Margaret found herself on the lis t. Determined to clear her name, she persuaded Life to send her to Korea to do a story that would demonstrate beyond doubt her loyalty to the principles of democracy.

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224 A bout this time Margaret began to notice a weakness in her leg and clumsiness in her han ds. The symptoms worsened , and she was eventually diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a progressive disease that affects the brain’s ability to control the body’s movements. Even as her condition deteriorated , Margaret kept working, until in 1957 she could no longer accept assignments from Life. Not long after Margaret ’s ship had been torpedoed off the coast of North Africa and she was rescued , she received a letter from her lawyer. Enclosed was a newspaper article that reported the marriage of Erskine Caldwell to a college girl in Arizona. It was her former husband’s third marriage; a few years later he married for the fourth tim e. Margaret did not marry again, but she did fall in love several times —with a major in Italy who did not survive the war , with a brilliant Russian violinist, with an army colonel in Japan— and there were other, less serious relationships. Mostly, though, s he lived alone in her Connecticut home, surrounded by mementoes of her many trips, where she wrote, entertained friends when she wasn’t immersed in writing her next book, and struggled valiantly against the inexorable progress of her disease. Margaret Bourke White died August 27, 1971, at the age of sixty seven. Carolyn Meyer Albuquerque, New Mexico


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