Seeing the Elephant is a rather large text and there are quite a few scenes I love. I chose this one because Frankie is growing up, Eli is protective of his stepdaughter, and Maggie mediates their argument – or perhaps more realistically, sets the parameters for the disagreement. She also reminds Eli in a not-so-subtle manner that she is not subordinate to him. Rather, they are equals.
The setting: Frankie has been offered a paying job as an attendant at the Western New Jersey Hospital for the Insane. Because she is seventeen, she needs to have Eli’s signature on the agreement of employment. When she presents the good news to her mother and stepfather, Eli reacts in a predictable manner.
“What??” Eli bellowed.
Frankie looked imploringly at her mother. Unlike her stepfather, who was doing a spot-on imitation of the wrath of God, Maggie was silent. She sat on the sofa not saying a word, although her mouth had fallen open in shock.
“I don’t know,” Maggie finally stammered. “You say you would be staying at the asylum?”
“I’ll be perfectly safe –”
“Safe?” Eli sputtered. “With violent people locked up downstairs? What the –”
“Elijah,” Maggie cautioned.
“What the heck was Dr. Stanley thinking, asking a green little girl –”
“I’m not a little girl!” Frankie shot back.
He pointed a finger at her. “You are seventeen years old, Miss Blaine!”
“I’ll be eighteen in June! And I’m not green!”
Eli pursed his lips. “You won’t be an adult ‘til you’re twenty-one!”
Straightening her posture, Frankie took a defiant step toward him. “Mama was married at nineteen, Lydia at eighteen. But you want me to wait ‘til I get gray hair and sit in a rocking chair before I do anything!”
“Now, you listen to me, you little –”
Maggie shot to her feet. “That is enough, the both of you! I shall not brook this discord in my house.”
“Your house?” Eli protested.
“Yes, my house. Don’t forget this place was bought with money from the sale of my lot.”
“My name is on the deed.”
“And mine is right beside yours, despite the lawyer’s objections.”
“Bunkum,” he muttered.
“You claim to be a free-thinker, Elijah Smith. Well, then, I suggest you practice some of that free-thinking right now.”
Chastised, Eli exhaled. His wife was right. As usual. “I’m sorry, Maggie.”
“Thank you. Arguing loudly is not how we solve our differences.” Maggie squared her shoulders. “Eli, I realize you believe it’s your duty to protect Frankie. That is admirable. Her father is dead and you, as her stepfather, have developed fatherly feelings for her. Many men would not allow themselves to be so vulnerable. That sensitivity on your part is one of the things I love about you. However, you must understand that Frankie soon will attain her majority and thus needs to practice making her own decisions and living her own life. It will not do to turn her loose and wish her well once she turns twenty-one.”
Maggie focused on her daughter next. “And, Frances, you must understand that your stepfather and I at times have difficulty permitting you the freedom to make your own decisions. Sometimes your growing up is problematical for us because we remember you as a child. It is not easy to let go of that child.”
Looking down at her feet, Frankie muttered, “Yes, Mama.” She peeked up and asked, “How come you never had this trouble with Liddy?”
“Liddy was a different kind of girl.” Maggie smiled lovingly. “I’m glad God had the good sense to make us all different. How boring would it be to have children who all act exactly alike?”
“I don’t think I’d mind,” Eli grumbled under his breath.
“Elijah…” Maggie warned.
“Well, I wouldn’t.”
Regardless of whether the job works out for Frankie, the family manages to find their way through disagreements and in the end support one another.
Tomorrow: a scene I love from Heart Soul & Rock’n’Roll.