Throughout the Saint Maggie series, Maggie Blaine Smith must stand up to her fears. However, in Seeing the Elephant, much of the story’s action involves her husband Eli and her daughter Frankie. But even though she is not the center of attention, Maggie’s ability to stand up to her fears is tested in the story.
One thing that is consistent throughout all four books is Maggie’s faith. When faced with a worrisome situation or a danger, she uses two faith practices to anchor her and help her find hope. The first is writing in her journal.
When Frankie gets a live-in position as an attendant at the new hospital north of Blaineton, Maggie worries. The hospital is an insane asylum and even though Frankie is working in the women’s “convalescent ward,” for women who are nearly ready to return to their homes, Maggie still worries. This is because the building also houses the “general ward” for people who still struggle with their illnesses, and a “violent ward” for those who are liable to hurt themselves and/or others.
After taking Frankie to the hospital and helping her unpack, Maggie returns home and records her feelings in her journal:
Oh, Journal! It was difficult enough for me to bid Lydia farewell, but how much greater it was to release Frankie! After all, Lydia has had experience of the world and has been married. But my dear Frances is still a child. At least she is so to me, no matter how adult she feels about it.
I know I should not worry. My Frances is resourceful and bright and has a deep faith that shines a light on her path. But, dearest Lord, please keep her from stumbling and grant her courage and wisdom and kindness of heart.
You'll note that Maggie employs her other faith practice at the very end of the entry: prayer.
She continues to pray when Eli’s nightmares, stemming from his experiences in the war, appear to be growing worse. Eli decides to seek help from Dr. Winston Stanley, the superintendent of the Western New Jersey Hospital for the Insane. He and Eli work out an arrangement where Eli will stay in one of the cottages behind the hospital, work on an article about the asylum, and receive treatment at the same time.
Naturally, Maggie is concerned. Today mental illness still carries a stigma; however, in 1860 it was much worse. What if the town discovers Eli has been a patient at the hospital? Will he be labeled a "loony" and have his opinions as an editor discredited? Also, Maggie doesn’t know what will happen to her husband in the course of treatment, how it might change him, and whether he will get better. She yearns to be near him to make sure he is safe. In short, Maggie has many questions and few answers. In the excerpt below we find her sitting in Blaineton Methodist Episcopal Church after Sunday worship.
The sanctuary was empty. All the parishioners had moved outside to greet Mr. Lowry. Maggie, though, remained behind. Still seated in her pew, she stared at the small table the church used as an altar. Her focus was on the little wooden cross sitting upon it. The simple icon had been made in the early 1800s when the congregation had no church building and met in parishioners’ homes.
Maggie bowed her head. Father, my husband wishes to go away once more. It is only a few miles, but we will be separated for weeks. I am afraid, and I don’t know why. Please ease my mind. Give me courage. Please.
Maggie prays first. She opens herself up to her God and asks for courage. Then, in the scene that follows, she opens up to Eli, first confronting him, and then realizing that it is necessary for him to go to the hospital and receive treatment. Finally she comes up with a solution that will help ease her fears. (By the way, Faith is their baby daughter and Eli is holding her in the scene.)
Eli said, “Don’t worry, Maggie. Please.”
She couldn’t stop herself. “You said you wouldn’t leave again.”
“Maggie!” He shifted Faith in his arms. “I’ll only be few miles away.”
“I know, but I won’t be able to speak with you, or see you, or know how you’re doing.” Tears suddenly wet her eyes. Seeking to control her emotions, Maggie stared at the ground. “I don’t want to go through that all over again.”
“Oh, sweetheart, if that’s the way you feel then…”
She sniffed, pulled herself together, and met his eyes. “No, I am being silly. Of course, you must go! I want you to stop having nightmares.”
Eli studied his wife’s face. “There’s no guarantee Dr. Stanley will be able to help me.”
“I should like you to try anyway. But why must you work on a story while you’re there?”
“Maggie, I’m a newspaperman. There’s a story in that hospital, something that may change the way its patients are treated. But if this is going to cause you to worry…”
She forced a smile. “Well, of course, I shall worry, Elijah, but…” She sought the right words. “It would help if Bob, Faith, and I could visit with you once or twice a week. I should worry less.”
And, yes, she does receive permission from Dr. Stanley to visit Eli twice a week for an hour or two each day. It's not as much as she would like, of course, but it is something. In addition she can bring their children, Bob and Faith, to visit with him, too.
Over the years of working with Maggie as a character, I realize she is able to handle most situation because she is rooted in prayer and reflection (writing in her journal). She stands up to her fears by praying for strength and clarity and by writing out her feelings, and sometimes by talking out her feelings, especially with Eli. Once she has done these things, she is able to take action and move through the issue toward a resolution.
I wish I could emulate Maggie in my own life. I am not a consistent journalist – I used to journal frequently years ago, but not so much now – and my prayer life probably has more in common with Eli’s than Maggie’s. However, I think in many ways that writing a character who approaches life through her faith practices has had an impact on me.
In A Time to Heal, Maggie’s family is accused of aiding and abetting a wounded Confederate soldier. Maggie's husband Eli and Gideon Opdyke, a New Jerseyan who joined the Confederate army, are arrested. How and why Gideon's escape comes about is not the subject of this blog. Rather, I am interested in how Maggie handles the situation.
When she is first told about her husband’s arrest, Maggie response is a bit on the humorous side:
Maggie rolled her eyes heavenward in a mix of exasperation and anxiety. “Oh, Elijah!”
Yes, Eli has done things before in the name of peace, non-violence, and the safety of others. And he’s at it again.
At this point in the story Maggie is about six months pregnant with a child, something she and Eli have hoped and prayed for. She also has been injured in a fall during the confusion caused by the arrival of Union troops on their property. Maggie is taken upstairs to a bedroom so her medically-inclined daughter Lydia could check her over. Despite, her injuries, Maggie springs into action she learns what has happened to Eli and Gideon.
Maggie swung her feet over the edge of the bed. “Emily and I will go to Gettysburg. You and Frankie shall stay here and care for the children.” She stood and, as she put weight on her injured foot, winced.
Lydia came to her side. “You need to rest, Mama.”
Maggie turned a pair of determined hazel eyes on her daughter. “The baby is fine. I have a small headache and a sore ankle. I shall live. I want to make sure that your stepfather does the same. We’ll have no further discussion.”
And she does just that by going to Gettysburg and taking Emily, Carson, and Emily’s husband Nate with her. When she finally arrives at the jail, Maggie is ready to take on the world to see Eli and to assure herself that he is well. In her journal, she records how she feels upon arriving at the jail.
Maggie’s Journal, 5 August 1863
I was a piece of iron. My resolve was strong. I would not brook the word “no,” no matter where or from whom it came. My singular focus was to see my husband first and then face Captain Frost and whomever else I had to face in order to be present at the hearing. There was a story the officials did not know yet needed to hear, one which I was sure would sway them in our favor.
As we entered the yard of the Adams County prison, my soul felt as if it had been made of the same stone as the massive wall surrounding the yard. I told Mr. Carson to wait for me and strode confidently, despite my sore ankle, into the prison. The place was dark and imposing, no accident I assure you, Journal. It was designed to put fear into the heart of all who entered its walls. But I was stronger than its visage. Indeed, I felt stronger than the walls themselves.
The man at the reception desk looked up as I approached and asked if he might help me. I said, “Yes. I understand you have a prisoner here by the name of Elijah Smith.”
“I am Mrs. Smith. I wish to see my husband.”
The man looked me up and down. When he saw that I was in the family way, his expression softened. He rose and bade me come with him.
We first went through a heavy door, which he opened with one key among many hanging from a large ring in his hand. He told the guard standing on the other side that I was there to see Elijah Smith.
The guard nodded. The door shut behind me with a solid bang, the key turned menacingly in the lock, and we were secured inside. I refused to be intimidated by any of it. I knew it was all a façade – an outward expression of the power of the law.
As we walked down a corridor, we passed rows of cells, each containing a door with a large barred window. Finally, we stopped at the last cell on the right. The guard called through the window, “Smith! You have a visitor.”
I thanked the man. My smile and the tenor of my voice were pleasant but determined.
Ah, but the second Eli appeared at the window, what was once iron melted away and I felt nothing but raw relief at seeing my husband and fear of what might lay ahead for him, and for us.
Obviously, Maggie is not all iron. But she is determined to make the power that be see that her husband is innocent and have him released – for Eli is looking at imprisonment or, worse yet, a death sentence. Maggie requests to be present at the hearing of the District Provost Marshal, and her request is granted. When she realizes that the hearing is the next day, the import of what she is about to do almost overwhelms her, but she does what Maggie always does: turns to the Bible for clarity. Let me make this clear: she is not one of those “open the Bible and find an answer” people. Maggie knows her holy text well enough to find what will give her strength – and it does.
She found comfort as she thought about the concluding verses. They said she did not have to have a grand speech prepared when she went up before the District Provost Marshal. She needed to tell the truth. She only needed to explain what had happened to her and to Emily and what Gideon had done to help.
And that was precisely the trouble. She needed to tell what happened. She was going to have to talk openly and before a strange man about Lemuel’s attack on her. Could she do that? Could she talk about the thing that had traumatized her? And would the District Provost Marshal believe her?
And then there was Emily. Would she be able to tell a strange white man that she had shot another white man and killed him, regardless of the consequences it might hold for her?
Maggie shut her eyes and prayed for guidance. When she was finished she felt lighter.
Maggie turns to her faith for strength, and it is a good thing, for she is going to need both faith and strength at the hearing. Suffice it to say she finds herself having to speak up and with everything hanging in the balance for Eli. By the third book in the series, Maggie has grown into a strong, determined woman who understands the danger that sometimes comes in response to an act of compassion.
On Friday, we’ll see how Maggie stands up to her own fears when Eli begins to have debilitating nightmares.
I’m sorry to get this blog up late, but it’s been a big weekend.
I spent all day Saturday at the Saucetoberfest at Schaefer Farms (Flemington, NJ) where I was selling and signing books. Good news! I sold five books! I was surrounded by other vendors who were friendly and fun, got to listen to a great live band, and heard about the results of hot sauce and pepper tasting contests. (Sadly, I don’t have the stomach to participate in the tastings!)
That was followed by another all-day event at First United Methodist Church (Somerville, NJ). It had nothing to do with book sales, but with my other vocation. Every year, our congregation has a day that starts out with the usual worship service and then shifts into a day of hands-on service. I spent the day outside at our “free rummage sale.” Basically, it’s a “here, have some free stuff” thing aimed at helping those who may not have the expendable cash to buy clothing, household goods, etc. Good news! We met some lovely people in our community, hoped we did some good during disruptive times, and got a chance to enjoy one another's company. All this despite the occasional occurrence of light rain. As you can see, we put most of the items under a bunch of canopy tents and carried on.
My exploration of how Maggie Blaine Smith stands up to people and the world in general will have to wait until Wednesday because my last beta reader submitted her edits to me and The Great Central Fair will be published this week. So more good news!
I am very excited because the release of this novella signals new possibilities for my characters. Maggie’s daughters Lydia and Frankie are entering womanhood and the likelihood is very strong that they will be moving into full novels of their own.
I want to thank my beta-reading team of Dan Bush, Laura Wimbrow, Carol Brosen Drews, Carl Suk, and Laurie Doscher. They make sure my characters stay in character, look for problems in the story, and uncover grammar and usage errors, as well as typos. We don’t always catch everything, but we’ve finally got things down to a science, and I am so grateful to have them on board!
In Walk by Faith, Maggie Blaine Smith must stand up on a number of occasions and in several ways before, during, and after she relocates to Gettysburg in 1863.
In the fourth chapter, Maggie is forced to stand up to Eli. Usually the two are on the same page and work together as a team, but now things are different. Eli left to be a war correspondent and Maggie was responsible for getting the Gazette printed and distributed. For months, she worries about her husband's safety, and then finds her own life endangered when her house and the Gazette office are burned to the ground by arsonists. Fortunately, her brother Samuel takes the family into his home.
Upon learning the news, Eli and Carson return to Blaineton. Relieved to have her husband home, Maggie assumes that he would be interested in rebuilding – but that is not the case. Eli, now concerned for his wife and family’s safety, has arranged with his sisters to occupy the old family home in Gettysburg. However, he does not tell this to his wife right away. In the excerpt below, the truth has finally come out and Maggie opposes Eli’s decision.
“I don’t want you to go back.” There. She said it.
“And I want you out of Blaineton.”
“Well, I shan’t go.”
His eyes snapped in annoyance. “On the contrary, Maggie, you shall go.”
The tone he used was as close to an order has she had ever heard from him and it stunned her. “I beg your pardon?”
“I said you shall move.”
The room vibrated with tension. Maggie sank into a terrible sense of betrayal. “Elijah! You said we would make this decision together.”
Frustrated, he took a step toward her. “Listen to me, Margaret Smith. It is not safe here. You heard the sheriff. And since I am head of this household - ”
“Head of this household? Elijah Amos Smith! I was under the impression that we were partners! I thought we reasoned together and decided together.”
He took a deep breath as he sought to moderate his tone. “Under normal circumstances, yes, but there are times when that cannot be so, and this is one of those times. So understand me: I am the head of our household and it is my duty to make sure that everyone – including you – is safe. We are moving to Gettysburg and that is the end of it.” He stiffened his back as he repeated what Samuel had said earlier to Abigail. “The end of it, understand? I will broach no further argument from you.”
How dare he treat her as if she were somehow less than he? Where had her tender husband gone? What had happened to her understanding Eli? Maggie’s eyes grew narrow. “Ah. So I see how it is now. Well, sir, there is a trundle bed in Bob and Natey’s room and it would be well if you slept there.” With that, she turned on her heel and swept out the door.
Eli thumped after her. “Do what you will, Mrs. Smith! You’re still going to move!” And then her last sentence registered. “What? It would be well if I slept where?”
Maggie whirled around. “Anywhere but my bed, sir.”
And, yes, she does keep hubby dearest at bay – for a while. Eventually, they do come to terms, but it takes time and some work.
Once the family moves to Gettysburg, they find tension gradually growing among its citizens. There are rumors and more rumors about Confederates crossing the border and coming in the Pennsylvania. Like the others in town, Maggie is fearful of a possible invasion by Confederate forces. When she finally realizes that such a thing not only is possible, but probable, Maggie records her fears in a journal entry:
Journal, my heart flutters at the thought of Confederate soldiers coming into Gettysburg. I cannot imagine what they would do here and what we would face. I must protect our goods but above all, I must protect those most likely to be hurt by the invaders
When the army of the CSA comes into the town and as the battle begins to rage, Maggie makes an emotional shift: she begins to see her nation’s enemy as human beings, especially once her home becomes a makeshift hospital for the wounded, with her daughter Lydia serving as the doctor. While Maggie remains true to her beliefs, being faced with caring for wounded Southern soldiers changes the way she views the men.
I still believe the slaves must be freed, for our Declaration of Independence says all men are created equal. I have learned that people with dark skin are those who merely happen to have dark skin, nothing more and nothing less. They are created by God and as such are God’s beloved children just as surely as white people are also God’s beloved children. But now…these demons I feared, these Confederates, these monsters from the South also are changing into children of God right before my eyes. When I previously thought of them, my heart would thump terribly and my head would spin, but not so now. I see they bleed the same color and in the same way as our men. I hear them cry and moan and plead just as our men do. I hear them tell of their girls or wives and children, their mothers, sisters, fathers, and brothers. They speak of going to church and of praying. And they die, Journal, just as our men die.
Maggie confronts her own fears when she is forced to confront Confederate soldiers. This type of battle leads to the growth of her compassion.
However, toward the end of the battle, a significant event occurs in which Maggie is forced to stand up and fight for her life. I can’t reveal what happens and why (because "spoilers, Sweetie"), but suffice it to say, Maggie finds herself in a life or death physical struggle, and fights not only to preserve her own life, but also that of her unborn child.
Sadly, the fighting isn't over after the battle ends, and we will explore this in my next blog.
On Monday: Maggie stands up to her government.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder