A large part of The Good Community, my work-in-progress, has to do with the creation of a school for children of all races – a product of Maggie and Emily’s frustration when they learn that Blaineton’s public school no longer will admit children of color. Within the struggle to treat all children equally, Maggie also finds herself wrestling with her anger toward Josiah Norton, her main adversary. Normally, a quiet and focused woman, Maggie is challenged to speak up and do political and social battle – and it disturbs her. But she will have to do it.
Maggie's situation opens the door for a little role reversal. It is Eli’s turn now to be the voice of reason and help.
The scene below illustrates Maggie’s issues with Josiah Norton and Eli’s attempt to both smooth her ruffled feathers and give her advice.
A frustrated Maggie had retreated to the porch where she proceeded to take in a pair of Eli’s trousers. Since they had returned to Blaineton, he often would walk to and from town in fine weather and when his leg was not paining him much. Hence, his circumference had reduced a bit.
Maggie attacked the trousers with a vengeance, but it wasn’t Eli’s middle that had her in a fit of pique. She was pleased with his weight loss. What ate at her was the conversation she had had with Josiah Norton.
Try as she might, her mind kept replaying everything they had said to each other. The more she thought it over, the more vexed she became.
How dare the man take that tone with her? How dare he suggest that she ought to go before the school board and ask them – nay, beg them – for permission to start a school. And a private one at that!
How dare he –
She had poked the sewing needle into her finger.
She growled and hissed, “Blast!”
“Language, Mrs. Smith.”
“Not amusing, Mr. Smith.” She stuck her bleeding index into her mouth.
Eli sat down on the rocking chair beside hers. “Let me see it, sweetheart.”
Maggie sulkily held her hand out for him to inspect.
“Yep,” he concluded. “It’s bleeding all right.” He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket. Glancing up at his wife, he teased, “The hankie's clean.”
“I should hope so.”
Eli wrapped the handkerchief around her finger. “Now, now, would I do anything less when it comes to you?”
Maggie sighed. “I apologize. I am disturbed by a conversation I had today.”
“It was with Mr. Norton.”
And Eli gently said, “I know.”
“Yes. He came to my office to complain. About you.”
“Oo!” She flopped back into her chair. “That man!”
Eli laughed. “Yes. That man. He is officious and self-important. But…” He leaned toward her. “Please don’t let him upset you. That’s how he operates. He likes to nettle people, so they will become furious with him and make a mistake to his advantage.”
Maggie removed the handkerchief from her finger. “It has stopped bleeding. Thank you.”
Eli’s smile widened in love for her. “You’re welcome. So, did he?”
“Did he what?”
“Cause you to make a mistake?”
She shook her head. “No, but he did cause me to become furious. Oh, Eli, I don’t like feeling this way! It’s not who I am, who I aspire to be!”
“And the very fact that you are relating this also tells me that you are a better person than you think.”
Maggie laid a hand over her husband’s. “He is angry with me. Why? All I want to do is educate the very children he and the school board refuse to educate.”
“They’re afraid, Maggie.”
“Of what? Of children?”
“Of children with black skin who will grow up to be adults who will, in some people’s minds, compete for employment, wealth, and status they feel they is undeserved.”
Maggie sighed. “Life is not a competition.”
“Some believe it is.”
“No. Life is to be lived together. We are to help and serve and build others up.”
“Oh, my Maggie! You’re such a good, Christian woman. The trouble is not everyone follows that path.” Eli turned his hand over and interlaced his fingers with his wife’s. “But I know you. You’re determined and brave and, my love, you will have a school. I’m willing to stake this house and my life on it.”
“Nonsense. You shouldn’t bet. That's gambling.”
He fell into chuckles at her very Methodist attitude. “Oh, I do love you so!”
Will Maggie and her friends prevail and do what the town will not? Or will Maggie be cowed by Norton’s bully tactics?
Believe it or not, I’m still not sure how it all shakes out. I guess we’ll all find out together.