Maggie’s Wild Child: Difficult Years
Image: the Cover of The Enlistment.
When I posted the cover reveal for The Enlistment, a Frankie-fan reader immediately commented, “Maggie would never allow Frankie to get her ears pierced.”
I looked at the photograph and, yes, indeed, the young woman is wearing earrings. How did I ever miss that? Then I too wondered: would Maggie frown on such an extravagance, not to mention bodily mutilation?
Let’s just say that Frankie pierced her ears behind Mama’s back. That’s small potatoes, though, because she doesn’t mellow out as she cruises into her teens. From her first appearance in Saint Maggie, it is clear that thirteen-year-old Frankie is different. She bursts into the kitchen and announces, “I hate corsets and crinolines!”
Used to rough-housing with boys and running free, Frankie chafes at the conventions her era layers upon young women. Her rebellion runs the gamut from proper attire to proper behavior and speech to living life her own way.
Part of the thing that upsets the people around her is that Frankie speaks truth they don’t want to hear. For instance, when Maggie gives several reasons as to why she accepted the offer to house the new minister- but leaves out the obvious one.
So, Frankie does it for her, “Besides, we can use the money.”
As Saint Maggie progresses, Frankie develops her first crush. It is on Rev. Jeremiah Madison and she is devastated when he becomes enamored with her cousin, Leah, instead. Maggie finds her sobbing into a pillow and, as she works to calm her down, her distraught daughter reveals that she had been imagining that she and Jeremiah would be married and become partners in ministry.
This hits Maggie upside the head. Her wild child just might be wilder than she thought – wild in the sense that God is calling her, a calling that indeed grows throughout the series.
Later, Frankie stands at a camp meeting and addresses the people after Jeremiah’s sermon. This is a big no-no. Women were not supposed to preach and, even though Frankie’s words might be considered “exhortation” (encouraging the audience to attend to the message they have just received), it still ruffles a few feathers, especially those of Maggie’s brother, Samuel.
Of course, none of this has any impact on Frankie. Throughout the novel, she continues to speak her mind, reminding the people in her church and town to follow the path of love and forgiveness – especially after a murder has been committed.
While many people are appalled at Frankie’s behavior, one person does find it intriguing. His name is Patrick McCoy, the undertaker’s assistant who lives at the boarding house. As Saint Maggie progresses the two engage in confusing bits of flirtation. Confusing for Frankie, that is. By the end of the book, when they go off for a walk around the Square, and they are holding hands. Love has found the wild child.
In my novella, The Enlistment, set in August of 1862. Frankie has just learned that Patrick and Lydia’s husband Edgar are going to Camp Fair Oaks in Flemington to enlist in the New Jersey 15th Regiment. This both frightens and angers the sixteen-year-old, but then she gets an idea. Frankie’s plan – determined and a bit harebrained – is to disguise herself as a boy and enlist, too, so she can be with the love of her life. (By the way, there is actual history behind this. At least 400 women that we know of dressed, enlisted, and fought as men in both armies during the Civil War.)
Once at Camp Fair Oaks, though, nothing goes right. Frankie’s attempt to look like a man falls flat and the soldiers at the recruiting desk believe she is a boy. When she asks about becoming a drummer boy, they tell her that all the places are taken. Frankie is left to wander around the camp, trying to find Patrick and wondering how to stay with the regiment. That is, until she sees an encampment of laundresses who take her under their wing.
Eventually, Maggie and husband Eli learn what Frankie has done and travel to Flemington to find her and bring her back home, which they do, much to her disgust. But Frankie’s little adventure at Camp Fair Oaks will not be her last.
In Walk by Faith, the second full-length Saint Maggie novel, the family has relocated to Gettysburg. The family arrives in the town in late winter, during which time sixteen-year-old Frankie pursues a theological education by visiting the head of the Lutheran seminary and petitioning to be admitted. In the end, she is allowed to audit classes, where she makes friends with fellow student Gus Schultz, who finds her interesting:
“You sure aren’t like any girl I’ve ever met. You study theology, you shoot a revolver…”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing. It’s just you’re different.”
Frankie is seventeen when the battle begins on July 1, 1863. Gus shows up at the family’s door and excitedly announces that people can see a skirmish from the seminary. With the briefest of goodbyes to her mother, Frankie runs off with him. The skirmish turns into a Union retreat and the two students get pushed out of town ahead of the soldiers. Fortunately, Gus has an aunt who lives past the Spangler Farm where they can shelter. Frankie spends the rest of the battle with Gus’s family and also serves at a nearby field hospital. Patrick eventually finds her after the battle.
Upon the young couple’s return to the old Smith home, something important happens, something to which Eli is an unwilling witness:
“She even made [the wound soldiers] biscuits.” Patrick chuckled. “I’d say our girl is ready to get married now.”
Frankie smiled at her soldier. “Maybe I am ready to get married. But I’ll tell you one thing: I’m not going to chain myself to a stove. I hope my future husband doesn’t mind doing some of the cooking.”
“I think he might put up with that so he could have you.”
“Put up with? – Have? –” Suddenly Eli was overcome by paternal panic, “Wait! Who said anything about getting married?”
“I think I just did.” Patrick grinned broadly at Frankie.
“Married?” Eli babbled. “No, no. Hell, no! Not yet. You…wait. You…just… wait!”
Yes, Maggie’s girl, her wild child has received and accepted a proposal. Thus ends Frankie’s “difficult years.” Or not.
A final blog about Frankie Blaine’s late teens is coming next. But I’ll leave you with something Patrick says in The Enlistment, “Oh, Frankie, you’re crazy as a bedbug, but I love you. I really do.”
In the meantime, take care and be kind.
Janet R. Stafford
Maggie's Wild Child
Image from Clip Art Library, http://clipart-library.com/clipart/pT7dG8zpc.htm
See these two girls in the drawing? Neither of them are Frankie. They’re too clean, too put together, and way too… well, girly-girl.
The truth is Frances Deborah Blaine is Maggie’s “wild child.” As a little girl, she runs with a gang of boys and doesn’t mind getting into fights or adventures. Traditional female occupations annoy and bore her. She’s also a fighter for all things right and good.
All things considered, she is all that different from her mother, Maggie Blaine Beatty Smith.
So let’s take a look at redheaded, green-eyed, freckle-faced Frankie as a child. And let’s start with “The Dundee Cake,” which takes place in December 1852, when Frankie is but six years old.
The story is set in December of 1852, only two short years after Maggie’s husband John and their young son Gideon die of rheumatic fever, and not quite a year after the death of John’s Aunt Letty (who helped Maggie start and run the boarding house).
“The Dundee Cake” tells of a friendship that develops between Maggie (who is white) and Emily (who is Black). It has an old-fashioned feel to it and echoes some of the sentiments found in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.”
As I’ve said this before, Frankie has a lot of Josephine March in her, as does Maggie. However in Maggie’s case Jo lurks beneath the surface, since Maggie has needed to repress some of her iconoclastic tendencies in order to survive.
That said, Frankie bursts into the kitchen in “The Dundee Cake” and Maggie notices that the child’s scarf is disorderly and her coat is “half-unbuttoned and soaking wet.”
When Maggie asks what happened, older sister Lydia tells her that Frankie had a snowball fight with “the boys,” a pack of semi-civilized youngsters with whom Frankie runs.
Why does prim, Methodist Maggie let Frankie get away with such things? Well…
Frankie was most like Maggie had been as a child. Maggie had preferred running races with the boys and climbing trees to sitting in the parlor and learning how to sew. She had chafed at the restrictive bit of a ‘girl’s place’ and knew that Frankie would do the same. So, she did not push her daughter to conform to the usual expectations. Maggie was not sure whether she was taking the right approach, but her heart wouldn’t let her do otherwise.
Frankie’s feisty little spirit is also on display when two of Maggie’s boarders – young lawyer apprentices – barge into the kitchen and see that Maggie and her daughters are baking cookies. Lydia promptly tells them that the cookies are for someone else and that they may not have any. Then Frankie steps in:
Frankie took her place at the table too, presenting the young men with a diminutive but fierce barrier. ‘Leave our cookies alone.’
Hungry young guys in their late teens definitely present a threat to freshly-baked cookies. There is no doubt about that. However, Maggie resolves the little dispute, by telling the lawyers-wanna-be that they may have two cookies each, but no more.
Frankie’s girl-power is on display once again in “The Newcomer.” Set in March of 1855, the short story relates how Elijah Smith comes to live in Blaineton, begins a friendship with Maggie Blaine, his landlady, .and learns that there is an Underground Railroad stop on her property.
But at the beginning, all Eli finds himself doing is standing in front of a two-story out building. As he moves around the structure and tries a doorknob to enter the interior, he is interrupted by an urchin of a little girl.
…he turned to find a small girl dressed in a dark blue coat that was way too big for her. A mass of wavy, red hair plotted to escape from under her homemade, knit bonnet. This was tied under her chin in a sloppy, lopsided bow.”
She obviously is far from a “girly-girl” type: No one looks like that from sitting around and demurely sewing samplers.
Fun fact: Frankie, who now is eight years old (going on nine), introduces Eli not only to his landlady but to the woman who later becomes his wife. Essentially, his life changes with three words: “Whatcha doin’, mister?”
After questioning the child, who reveals that her nickname is Frankie and that she hates her given name (Frances), Eli asks if the outbuilding might be for rent. Frankie doesn’t know, but offers to lead him to her mother, saying that Maggie runs a boarding house. Then she adds…
“…we have a room open right now.” With that, she began walking again, saying to the air, “You can rent that, if you want.”
“Actually,” the man said, “I’m more interested in that little house back there.”
At this, she turned. “That might cost more than a room, you know.”
“Oh, I figured as much.” He chuckled, amused that he was dickering about housing with a little gal of – what? – eight, nine years of age?
But Frankie is an observant child, who knows that her mother needs a full boarding house to keep things afloat, and has no qualms at all about identifying potential boarders and bringing them to her, something of which her mother is quite aware.
“I’m sorry if she’s bothered you, Mr. Smith,” Maggie commented as they continued into the hall. “Frankie can be quite a precocious child.”
“Actually, she’s quite a delightful child,” he replied. “We had an interesting conversation outside. She’s the one who told me that you run a boarding house.”
“She does that all the time.”
Now, there’s a mother who knows her child.
Next time, we’ll look at Frankie as a young teen, between the ages of 13 and 16. She is maturing, of course, but she’s still not your typical young lady. Meanwhile, Maggie struggles to preserve her daughter’s personality even as she tries to instill some positive values and behaviors.
Have a good week. Stay well. Be kind.
Janet R. Stafford
LYDIA, PART 2
Image taken from https://www.kcet.org/shows/daring-women-doctors-physicians-in-the-19th-century. The photo is from a series on KCET about female doctors in the 1800s. I would love to watch it, but I don’t live in Los Angeles. So, it looks like I need to need to track it down on my local PBS stations.
In Seeing the Elephant, book 4, the old boarding house family returns to Blaineton. More changes are afoot, but most important is that their financial situation is about to improve. Eli becomes editor-in-chief of The Blaineton Register, owned by Miss Tryphena Moore; Nate Johnson resumes his work as a carpenter and wheelwright; and Emily Johnson (who announces that she is pregnant again) begins baking cakes, pies, and muffins for Miss Amelia’s Tea Shop.
Only a few days into 1864, though, 21-year-old Lydia departs for Gettysburg. I’ll let Maggie explain why and describe her eldest daughter’s accomplishments thus far:
She has done amazing things for one so young. She is a midwife and a competent surgeon. She and Miss Adela Edler founded the Gettysburg Infirmary for Women and Children. Liddy tells me that it is becoming common for a doctor to attend a medical school, rather than apprentice under an experienced physician. She would like to attend, but since few medical schools admit women, it is unlikely. Thus, she reads books and papers and pamphlets and journals. I daresay she is as knowledgeable about new learnings as school-taught doctors. In addition, she has the advantage of working with Miss Edler, whose native language is German. She reads the latest medical books and journals from Germany and explains their content to Lydia. It is a fine partnership. (From Seeing the Elephant)
But in early May, Maggie writes to Lydia, requesting that she return to Blaineton. The reason? Emily’s former midwife, Sister Brady, has passed away and Emily needs someone to assist the birth. Maggie also has a few other reasons for Lydia to come home, one being that things are not going well at the Western New Jersey Hospital for the Insane, where Frankie currently is employed.
Nearly a week later, Lydia is back in New Jersey, which is a great comfort to Emily. But she soon is drawn into medical service beyond midwifery. Maggie’s concern about the situation at the Western New Jersey Hospital is warranted. Things explode as the male patients stage a riot. Knowing that there will be casualties and confusion, Lydia jumps in to help.
After the riot, there is a badly needed change in leadership. However, the hospital is in need of repair and closes for the duration. The former superintendent, who has been returned to his position, tells Lydia that when the hospital reopens, one wing will be for reserved for physical maladies and the other dedicated to the treatment of emotional and mental illnesses. Then, to Lydia’s surprise, he offers her the opportunity to serve as a doctor in the physical maladies wing.
Throughout the end of 1863 and into 1864, Lydia and Capt. Philip Frost have corresponded regularly with each other and, as a result, grown closer. Their relationship comes to a head in the novella, The Great Central Fair. The two, along with Frankie, Patrick, and chaperone Chester Carson, take a short trip to Philadelphia to visit the Fair before both Philip and Patrick report for duty at Mower General Hospital. During the visit, Lydia and Philip impulsively elope.
This caught me off guard. After all, eloping is something Frankie would do. But it is clear that Lydia is tired of putting life off. And, although it has been not quite a year since Edgar’s death, the Civil War has changed so many things, including the strict time periods reserved for mourning. When war could take a man’s life without any warning, Lydia takes action. She knows that she loves Philip and wants to spend as much time as possible with him.
In A Good Community (book 5), Lydia is fully employed at the Western New Jersey Hospital for Physical Maladies. She also helps Emily give birth to the Johnson’s baby girl, Jarena. However, Lydia pops in and out of most of the story, and does not play a large role until the end, when a fire threatens to engulf Blaineton. At this point, Lydia comes to the fore , treating and comforting burn victims and injured people. She even performs the 19th century version of CPR on a young child, thus saving her life.
When A Balm in Gilead (soon to be published) begins, Lydia is 22 years old, a skilled physician, and a married woman. She also reveals that she is pregnant. The novel itself deals with a typhoid fever epidemic, and Lydia does play large role in trying to discern how the epidemic occurred and what can be done to stop its spread. However, because she is expecting, mentor Dr. Lightner curtails her activity. This, of course, does not go down well with Lydia. But Dr. Lightner, as well as nearly everyone else she knows, insists that she needs to take an administrative rather than a hands-on role until the baby is born.
On the upside, Lydia is able to enjoy a brief reunion with Philip, who returns to Blaineton from Mower Hospital on a brief leave.
I thoroughly enjoy writing Lydia’s character. She is competent, smart, compassionate, and logical. Women like her forced their way into male roles over howls of disapproval claiming that women were too emotional, lacked intelligence, and/or were too unskilled to work outside the home.
That said, Lydia is going to find herself experiencing the pull that many women encountered and still encounter between career and family. It will be interesting to see how she balances her calling as a physician and as a mother.
Will she and Philip remain in Blaineton? My sense is “yes,” but I could be wrong. My characters have been known to surprise me. Lydia’s elopement is a clear example of that. I didn’t even know it was going to happen until I arrived at one particular scene.
Next week, we’ll tackle Maggie’s “wild child,” Frankie. Well… maybe “wild” isn’t the right word for her. It could be that she just knows what she wants. That makes her like her older sister, except Frankie just goes about it in a different way.
Stay warm everyone! (We’re anticipating yet another snowstorm here in New Jersey.)
And please stay safe and well.
Janet R. Stafford
LYDIA, PART 1
Image: 19th Century Doctor’s Bag from:
Australian Family Physician, Evolution of General Practice, Volume 45, No. 9, September 2016, pp. 636-638.
The image is of the Gladstone Bag, which was created in the mid-nineteenth century by G. J. Beard, a London leather dealer. Beard named the bag after a man he thought highly of: Prime Minister William Gladstone. It was used by physicians for nearly a century. (Note: Lydia’s medical bag would not look quite so old!)
When writing the Saint Maggie series, which takes place over a number of years, I realized that the characters could not remain stagnant. They need to grow. This is especially true of Maggie’s daughters. When we first meet them in Saint Maggie, Frances (aka Frankie) is 14 and Lydia is 18.
The next two blogs will take a look at Lydia, Maggie’s eldest daughter.
Lydia is calm, caring, considerate, and possesses an interest in all things medical. In fact, she is the boarding house’s “nurse.” In 1860, caring for the ill in one’s family, or in Maggie’s case the boarding house “family,” was a woman’s job. Women saw to their loved ones’ injuries and illnesses and learned how to diagnose and treat them. When something was beyond their capabilities, they called for the town’s doctor.
Lydia is a girl taking her first steps into womanhood. In fact, when she makes her entrance in Saint Maggie, she is already involved in household medicine. She has been caring for James “Grandpa” O’Reilly, who is in bed with a cold. Throughout the book we see her carry out this familial vocation and toward the end of the book she even assists Dr. Fred Lightner, the town’s doctor, when a surgery needs to be performed. As a result, Lydia eventually is accepted as one of Dr. Lightner’s apprentices.
But she also is a blossoming young woman. Lydia is in a relationship with Edgar Lape, a struggling young lawyer who lives in the boarding house. Under normal circumstances, they would have had a long period of courtship and engagement. However, this is cut short by the threat of Civil War, and by the knowledge that, once the war starts, Edgar is likely to enlist or be drafted. With that in mind, the young couple decide to marry sooner rather than later. Fortunately, Maggie understands the situation, and the two are wed on 22 December 1860.
Lydia and Edgar are able to have a little over a year and half together, and then (as related in the novella, The Enlistment) Edgar joins the New Jersey 15th Volunteers and goes off to war in August of 1862.
In the second book in the series, Walk by Faith, things change drastically for Lydia and she is propelled headfirst into adulthood.
While Edgar is away, the boarding house family moves to Gettysburg, a major upheaval for them since the move comes on the heels of a threat to the family’s lives. Once they have settled in Eli’s old family house, Lydia seeks and finds a job as a midwife under the tutelage of Adela Edler.
She naturally worries about Edgar. And her concern for him is evident in her letters. However, all the loving letters and prayers in the world cannot stop Edgar from being wounded during a battle in Chancellorsville, Virginia. He dies in a field hospital on 5 May 1863, and he and Lydia never have the opportunity to see each other again. To her great sadness, he even is buried in Virginia. Embalming was a new process in the 1860s and an expensive one. Only people with money could afford to have a loved one embalmed and sent home in a coffin for burial in the family plot. And Lydia and her family do not have much money.
Now Lydia is a widow and without a child to comfort her and remind her of her husband. All she has of him is their wedding photo, his small Bible, and his deathbed words to her, dictated to her stepfather, Eli Smith, who was present at his death.
But this young woman is made of stout stuff. While she grieves deeply, she continues to work as a midwife. Two months after her husband’s death, when the war comes to Gettysburg, she (like many women there) is thrust into caring for soldiers who have been wounded in the battle. But Lydia goes one step above caring for casualties and, having assisted in surgeries with Dr. Lightner, she tries save soldiers' lives by amputating festering leg and arm wounds.
In the third book, A Time to Heal, the battle of Gettysburg is over, and the USA is in control of the town. Within a very short time, the military organizes and constructs a medical tent city called Camp Letterman General Hospital. Plans then are made to move the wounded from private homes and public buildings to the camp, where they will continue to be cared for.
And that is how Captain Philip Frost, whose job it is to evaluate patients and facilitate their removal to the temporary hospital, shows up at old Smith house. As he explains what he is charged to do, Philip finds himself attracted to Lydia. And why not? She is a capable physician, medically knowledgeable, compassionate, and a handsome woman to boot. What he doesn’t know is that she is in the early stages of mourning. So, even though she notices Philip’s interest, she makes it known that she is a recent widow and cannot return his attentions.
Just the same, sparks do fly between the couple – including some rather contentious ones, which develop from a serious misunderstanding over an act of kindness that technically is against the law. By the end of the book, though, Philip and Lydia are reconciled, parting as friends and agreeing to correspond with each other as such.
Her storyline will continue on Saturday.
Until then, be brave. Be kind. Stay strong.
Janet R. Stafford
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder