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
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder