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Okay, first of all this is not an April Fool’s Day joke. To my recollection, I’ve never pulled an April Fool’s joke on anyone. Although, maybe as a child.
Today, we’re going to look at something serious: proposals of marriage. People fall in love, they get married, and start a life together. Sometimes things don’t work out. Sometimes they do. But love happens. It does in real life, and it does in the Saint Maggie series – several times. So let’s start with the first one, the middle-aged couple Maggie and Eli.
Their love story is unfolding at the beginning of Saint Maggie. This is not the "first rodeo" for either one of them. He is a widower and Maggie is a widow. When Eli comes to live and work in Maggie's little outbuilding, it has been a while since either has been involved with a partner. As time passes, they became friends. Then, slowly, they begin to experience other feelings. The experiencing "other feelings" thing is where we find Maggie (39) and Eli (40) at the beginning of Saint Maggie. In this excerpt below, Eli – in a bumbling way – takes the step of letting Maggie know that he’d like to be more than just friends.
For all his hemming and hawing in getting the question out, Eli does give Maggie's return question an emphatic yes. The two then enter upon a period of courtship, and both know exactly where they are headed. But four months after their agreement to court, Eli has yet to make a formal proposal of marriage. True to form, he does so in his own inimitable fashion and while they are at a camp meeting. A camp meeting, for those who aren’t into Methodist history, was a week-long or longer camping event that focused on preaching and prayer. It may not sound terribly exciting today, but remember they didn't have social media or movies or vacations to Hawaii. Heck, they didn't even have electricity!
In the scene below, Eli and Maggie have managed to sneak away from the camp – Gasp! How daring! Being on their own for the first time, they have a close call, sexually. Look for the reasons Eli calls things to a halt and the thing that leads to his proposal.
The thing that snaps Eli out of it is a Bible verse. As we know, he's not religious, but as his mother was. But it could also be that he knows Maggie is a woman of faith. Is the Bible verse therefore a good escape clause, considering the woman he's with? At the same time, Eli doesn’t want to marry Maggie simply so they can have sex – although that is a perk. As he explains, sexual activity could lead to pregnancy and pregnancy could lead to scandal. Remember, there is no such thing as effective birth control aside from not having sex.
Eli is not a spring chicken. He has had a rather promiscuous past as a young man in New York, having had what today would be called casual sex with willing women. All right. They probably were prostitutes. (Somehow he escaped catching a venereal disease.) After all that crazy living for 4-5 years, he then settled down and married a young woman named Martha, all by the time he was 20. Upon the event of Martha's untimely death, a grieving Eli leaves New York City, heads west, and, as we learn in Seeing the Elephant, has another significant relationship. But in Maggie Blaine he finds the love – barring disaster and death – that will last the rest of his life.
As for Maggie, she married John Blaine at age 19. The two had a good marriage lasting ten years and producing three children. But heartbreak came in the form of rheumatic fever, taking both John and their little son Gideon. John had been tall and thin, and from a wealthy family. In fact, he was the son of the business competitor to Maggie's father. John also was a Methodist. It is clear that the young couple had a great deal in common.
Eli, on the other hand, is portly, near-sighted, and not the greatest of dressers, He came from a Quaker family, but no longer has a Meeting, thanks to a dispute with his father. Now, he claims to be agnostic and a free-thinker. But in the middle of her life, Maggie falls for Eli because he is smart, devoted, and a compassionate human being. They also share a dedication to the cause of abolition. Oh, and Eli is amusing, too. I don’t know about you, but if a someone can make me laugh, that person has my attention, if not my affection. It is no different for Maggie.
So… one couple down. Several more to go.
On Wednesday, we’ll look at Maggie’s youngest daughter, Frankie, and Frankie’s beau, Patrick.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder