Charley’s Tale Part 11

Dr. Graves, Charles’s colleague, recommended Ellen be admitted to the sanitarium  in Dallas for rest. Surprisingly, Ellen welcomed the idea.  She was familiar with the sanitarium.  It was more resort than hospital.  She had no qualms at leaving her infant, especially after Reverend Graves visited assured her the christening could easily be put off till the baby was six months old.  She packed her address books and made arrangements for the stationer to visit her at the resort with samples of birth announcements and christening invitations.  She didn’t want to overlook any detail in planning celebration of her “first” daughter’s birth.

She procured her mother’s promise to come to Dallas to shop for her own dress and a christening gown for the baby.  Now the reason for her unexplained weight gain was resolved, she looked forward to dazzling her friends on her return to society.  “Mama, do you remember when Lessie caught her husband with the maid?  It was such a scandal.  She went to Dallas for a couple of months and David was begging her to come home.  She must have lost twenty pounds while she was there.  Don’t say where you heard it, but she said she met someone and was tempted to stay.  She came home looking years younger.  She went to the spa every day…………” She nattered on an on about shopping for a whole new wardrobe while she was in Dallas.  She’d be swimming, playing tennis, and dressing for dinner every night.  She’d not had a chance to shop in Dallas in several years. She might even get her hair lightened or maybe even tinted red if she could get the nerve. She’d been a cotton-top as a child.  It would be good to relax, socialize, and only have herself to attend to for a while.  These last days had been stressful.

Charles and her mother both looked worried as they dropped her off at the “resort.” Charles offered to stay to help her settle in and have dinner with her, but she was anxious to have them off.  If they left now, she’d have time to swim and get her hair done before dinner.  Geneva got on her nerves with her fussing and she’d put up with far too much of Charles lately.


Charley’s Tale Part 11

Charley was miserable with her measles, but worse than measles was the separation from Cora.  The child asked after her constantly.  Because she was unsure if she’d ever had measles, Dr Evans asked her not to visit Charley.  Ellen demanded Cora’s attention constantly, anyway.  Charles was afraid for Ellen to be alone with the baby, so Cora kept it at her side as she worked.  Ellen was still abed, but called for the baby, despite Cora’s assurances she’d bring the baby to the minute she stirred.  Ellen insisted on calling her Charlotte, though Charles had said that wouldn’t do.  She flew into a rage when he opposed her, so he avoided the subject.  Ellen had a wild look in her eyes, and Charles began sedating her when he had to be out, fearing Cora might not be able to handle her.

Back at Geneva’s house, Charley was settling in with Josie to read to her and play games.  The child had never held anyone’s complete attention before, so she revelled in it.  Her father and brothers came to visit daily.  Birdie made her special treats.  Her grandmother loved having her in residence.  Once the initial misery of her illness was past, she was quite content, never thinking to ask after her mother which was fortunate, since her mother continued to ignore her existence.

Charles had mentioned Charley and her measles to Ellen a time or two, but Ellen acted as though she didn’t hear. When the baby was three days old, Charles decided to take on the problem of agreeing on a name before Reverend Parker came by to discuss the christening.  Ellen had begun calling her Charlotte, over Charles’s objection.

“Ellen, please listen to me.  You’re still confused since this new baby surprised us.  That happens after a baby once in a while, but you’ll be clearing up soon.  Our other little girl is Charlotte.  She’s been with your mother because she has the measles, but she will be home with us soon. I’d like to name this baby after my mother and yours.  What do you think of Geneva Catherine?  We can call her Genny.”

Ellen flew into a rage at his words.  “Why are you tormenting me?  You’re trying to convince me I am crazy carrying on about that other Charlotte.  You’re not getting rid of me that easy! I know all about that trashy little nurse of yours!  Get out of here!  Cora! Cora!  Get my mama over here!  Cora!”  She hurled the knife off her breakfast tray at him.collapsing into a paroxysm of frantic weeping as Cora came in to help him settle her down.  Cora finally got her to take something to relax her, since she wouldn’t have anything from his hand.

As things settled down, Charles realized Ellen needed more help than he could give her.  He made a phone call to a colleague.



Charley’s Tale Part 10

The new baby thrived despite its presumed prematurity.  Charles decided perhaps it was just a tiny, full-term infant, after all.  Ellen couldn’t have been happier.  Her mother reminded her that she had weighed a bit less than five pounds at birth and had done fine.  A dainty little girl was what Ellen had always wanted, anyway.  “My boys are fourteen and twelve now.  I’ve been lonesome at home all by myself.  Cora, you have to get my Christening Gown from Mother.  Ask Reverend Parker to stop by so we can schedule the Christening.  I’d love to have it in six weeks, but we may not get everything done by then.  This is the prettiest baby of all, don’t you agree, Charles?”  Ellen’s eyes glittered.  It seemed she couldn’t talk fast enough.  She slapped at Cora, who was brushing her hair.  “Damn it, Cora!  You are pulling!” Cora put the brush on the dressing table, out of Ellen’s reach.  Ellen had never treated her warmly, but this behavior was bizarre.  Geneva looked shocked at her daughter’s behavior.

“She’s a beauty, but I think she looks a lot like  Charley.  She’s just not as big.”  Ellen turned on him in a fury.  “Who is this Charley you keep talking about?  I told you I don’t want to hear any more about him.”  With this, she broke down into ragged weeping.  “Why can’t you leave me alone?  I told you I wanted to name this one Charlotte, after you, but you just keep at me.”  She screamed at Charles in her fury.

“Now, Ellen!  Don’t go working yourself up!  You are jostling the baby.”  Charles efforts to calm her had the opposite effect.  Ellen hurled her hand mirror at his head, barely missing him.  “Get out of here, you filthy, lying bastard.”  Charles moved to the bedside and restrained his wife, gesturing for Cora to take the baby to safety. 

“Ellen, let me get you something.  You are getting too worked up!” Charles got her tonic as Ellen sobbed hysterically, though she did rally for her medication.  Ellen had always been demanding and imperious,  but this was something entirely different.  He’d never heard her curse.

“Why can’t you just let me enjoy my baby?” she demanded.  “Mother, make Cora bring my baby back.”  Geneva stepped out when Charles gestured he’d stay with her alone.

“Ellen, I don’t mean to upset you.  Let’s don’t talk anymore.  I’ll just sit with you till you drift off.  Cora can take care of the baby

Charley’s Tale Part 9

Charley’s fourth birthday marked a major turning point in her life.  Her mother unexpectedly went into labor.  At the age of forty-three, Ellen hadn’t had a menstrual cycle in eighteen months and of late had gained a few pounds.  She’d been extremely moody and fractious about her weight gain and loss of sexuality so her husband had steered clear of the sensitive subject

Coincidentally, Charley awoke with a fever and cough.  When Ellen’s screaming started, Charles did an exam and found her in labor.  Cora took Charley to Geneva’s house. Ellen  gave birth to a seven-month baby girl after twenty-four hours of bloody labor.  The baby was tiny, but perfect.   Ellen was ecstatic.  “I finally have a daughter.”

“Ellen, this is our second daughter.  Don’t forget Charley.”  Charles reminded her.

“I never had a girl named Charley.  That’s crazy.  I finally have my little girl.  My life is perfect.”  Ellen was euphoric.  Her eyes glittered strangely.

“No, Ellen, Cora took our girl Charlotte to your mother’s house while you were in labor.  This is our second daughter.”  Charles persisted.  I need to send Cora for Charley now you’ve delivered.”

“Cora’s not going anywhere.  I need her.  I don’t have a girl.  Let me rest.  Have Cora wake me when the baby needs nursing.  I think I want to name this one Charlotte after you since she’ll be the last.”

“Ellen, are you trying to tell me you don’t remember our little girl?”  He feared her mind was unhinged.

“This is my daughter.  Now, let me rest, Charles.”  Ellen closed her eyes. “Don’t be talking to me about another baby.  I won’t have you mocking me.”

Charles left the room puzzling over his wife.  He’d seen baby-blues before, and heard of madness after giving birth, though he’d never actually seen it.  He hoped Ellen would rally after rest.  She’d always been high-strung and subject to mood swings, but this was delusional.  Surely she’d rally when Charley came home.

Geneva called for him to come see to Charley.  As soon as he saw her, he knew she’d contracted measles.  “Miss Geneva, I am so sorry to put this on you, but I can’t bring her in the house with a new baby.  Can you keep her if I get someone in to help?  I’d send Cora but Ellen and the new baby are keeping her tied up.  Ellen seems a little confused and I don’t want her alone with the baby.”

“Of course, Charley will be fine here.  My help Birdie’s daughter Josie has already said she’ll help us out.  What’s wrong with Ellen? She’s always been notion.  Her daddy spoiled her so. Is the baby okay?”  Now Geneva was really worried.

“The baby is tiny, but I think she’ll be alright.  We’ve got her in a basket on the radiator, so she’s warm.  Cora’s waking her every two hours to feed and she’s always hungry.  That’s good.  Frankly, Ellen worries me.  She doesn’t remember Charley.  She says this is her first girl and wants to name her Charlotte.  I believe she will come to her senses in a day or two, but I am worried.”  Charles poured his worries out.,

“”One of my aunts was real queer after a baby.  She kept saying it wasn’t hers and she didn’t want anything to do with it.  She swore her husband had brought one of his women’s babies in.  Poor Wilbur sure was hurt hearing her say that.  He hadn’t ever been anything but good to her.  She finally came around but it was nearly six weeks.  Most of the time she did good after that, but she did have a few bad spells over the the years.  Ellen will do after her female problems settle down.   I sure hope so.”  Geneva’s words worried him.  He didn’t know if hearing the family history made him feel better or worse.




Charley’s Tale Part 8

Indulged since birth, Ellen was completely unprepared to deal with disappointment. She felt angry and cheated that Charley was so unlike the daughter she’d envisioned.  Rather than examine herself, she avoided the situation as much as possible.  In her mind, she was wronged, denied the child she was entitled to.

A few months before her fourth birthday, Charley and the four-year-old Barnes twins from next door were making mud pies in the back yard while Cora put the final touches on petit fours for a tea Ellen was hosting at Geneva’s house.  Ellen parked her car and walked in the back yard to find the three children muddy and naked as the day they were born.  Donnie, the little boy, inspected the two little girls and announced to no one in particular, “Charley’s peach ain’t like Sissy’s.  It’s got a little peanut on it.”

“What’s a peanut?” Charley asked.

“Boys got peanuts, girls got peaches.” shared Donnie.  “See.”  With that, Charley educated the girls about peanuts.

At Donnie’s horrifying announcement, Ellen grabbed a broom hanging near the back steps  and flogged all three children, shrieking “You filthy little beasts….”

The children had no idea what hit them as they cowered.  Cora came flying out the back door, restrained the mad woman, and told the children to run.  The twins fled screaming next door as Charley clung to Cora’s skirts, trying to escape her overwrought mother.

“Miss Ellen, you got to hit a holt of yourself.  They just babies.  They don’t know what they doing.  Git on in the house and let me take keer of this.”

With that, Ellen flew in the house, just as Mrs. Barnes showed up with two crying children.  “What’s going on.  The kids said Ellen whipped them with a broom!  Surely she didn’!”

“Oh, no ma’am.  They was makin’ mud pies and Miss Ellen come in the back gate an’ saw a snake slippin’ up on ’em.  She took a broom to it an run it off.   One of ‘me might a caught a lick. She’s all to pieces it skeet her so.  I need to git in an’ see ’bout her now.  I shore am sorry she skeet the younguns a whalin’ on that snake, but at least none of ’em got bit.”

Mrs. Barnes was mollified and left with her children. Cora took Charley in for a bath and went to check on Ellen, who’d shut herself in her room.

“Bring me my tonic.  My headache is killing me!” Ellen demanded as Cora helped her out of her muddy dress.  What am I going to say to Sarah Barnes?  I can’t go back to that tea like this.  You’ll have to call Mama and tell her to handle things.”  She fell on the bed crying.

“Now, don’t fret, Miss Ellen.  Miss Barnes done come over to see what happened.  I told her you seen a snake ’bout to git the kids an’ beat it off of ’em with the broom.  She was proud you saved ’em.” Cora explained.  “Do you want me to call over an’ let Miss Geneva know to go on without you?”

Hearing this, Ellen rallied, feeling quiet heroic. “No, just call and let her know I’ll be delayed changing clothes.  I’ll tell them all about it when I get there.  Help me into my new yellow organza.  I was saving it for Delores Parker’s wedding, but I’ll just have wear it today”



Charley’s Tale Part 7

Things settled into a new normal once Ellen reluctantly returned to her home.  Little Charley made every step Cora made, unless she was lucky enough to catch the boys playing indoors, when they captured her total attention.  Like all babies, the toys of the older children were the most delightful, especially when they grabbed them and ran.  Ellen punished the brothers for calling her Charley but soon tired of the effort and gave it up as a lost cause.

Ellen left more and more of the care of the children to Cora, immersing herself in her volunteer activities.  She was president of the Altar Guild, Secretary of the Missionary Society, headed up the Donation Committee, and Representave to the War Widows and Orphan Benefit Society.  Not only that, she was very active in her Sorority.  As a doctor’s wife, she was expected to take a leading role in the community.  She was formidable.  As the children grew, she began to host her social functions at her mother, Geneva’s house, ostensibly to lessen her mother’s.  Though her husband provided a gracious home, her mother’s home and things were far finer and didn’t come along with boisterous children.

Cora was relieved to have Miss Ellen occupied outside the house.  It was a relief not to deal with headaches, tears, and outbursts at the children, especially Charley.  The baby was completely as ease in Cora’s care, happily toddling behind her banging on pots and pans.  The boys were old enough to be outdoors most of the time.  The family was settling in comfortably.  Dr. Evans was gratified to have peace in his home thanks to Cora’s skillful management.

With the children out of sight, out of mind, Elle’s life suited her far better.  She only saw the children at bedtime, if at all.Being the wife of a handsome, prominent doctor suited her.  With her time  her own, she looked forward to a generous inheritance.  Unfortunately, she suffered a nervous setback should she receive an invitation to a baby shower or christening, but by and large, her life was good.



Charley’s Tale Part 6

With Cora to champion her and her brothers for company, Charley thrived..  Her father is pleased to see his daughter is smart and active.  When Ellen has been gone a month, he called her.  “Ellen, you need to come home.  Your children need you.  I need you.”

“Oh Charles, I don’t feel well enough yet.  I have been taking the hot baths daily and am just starting to put a little of the weight back on I lost when my nerves were so bad.  The doctor here thinks I would benefit from a longer rest.  He told me today I should plan on another six weeks.  I was going to call tomorrow and let you know.”  Ellen had a tremor in her voice as she bargained for more time.  She hadn’t even asked after the children.

“I am sure that doctor’s pocket would benefit if you stayed.  Ellen, I am your husband and I am telling you.  Come home tomorrow.  A month is time enough to rest up. You have responsibilities.  The baby is sleeping nights and trying to take steps.  The boys need their mother.  You can’t expect Cora and me to manage any longer.  Edna Jones has brought casseroles over twice.  The neighbors have been asking when you are coming home.”  Charles wasn’t leaving her room to argue.

Ellen was miffed at the mention of Edna Jones and the casseroles.  “What business does that hussy, Edna have sniffing around my kitchen?  She claims to be so Christian and she’s after you with her husband not dead a year!  I’ll catch the train tomorrow.”  It was one thing to be a delicate doctor’s wife needing rest and another entirely to have a woman after her husband.

Ellen caught the early train and was home by afternoon.  She dumped the leftover casserole in the trash, dish and all.   Charles and the boys were ecstatic at her return, but Charley clung to Cora, not remembering her mother.  Ellen was not pleased to hear the boys referring to their sister as Charley, but decided to leave that matter for tomorrow.



Charley’s Tale Part 5

Ellen’s disappointment in her child grew apace with Charlotte.  Charlotte was a big baby, bigger even than her brothers had been.  Ellen had expected a dainty, quiet child, not this bawling, thrashing baby Charlotte became.    She screamed with colic from six in the evening till after three every morning, spitting up till she ruined all her mother’s gowns and wraps.  Neither Ellen nor Charles could console her.  During the worst of her colicky spells, her belly became rigid and thrashed her arms and legs wildly.  By morning, Ellen was exhausted and gladly handed her off to Cora and headed black to bed.  She insisted Cora put the baby on the bottle, saying the crying had spoiled her milk.  Typically, as colicky babies often do, she slept deeply and well, off and on all day.  Finally, in desperation, Charles started giving her a drop or two of paregoric, an opium derivative, to ease her agony.  She developed a tolerance for it and Ellen increased the doses with the unavoidable side-effect of constipation.  Despite intractable colic, she grew like a weed and looked like a short, fat bald man at three months, a fact that did not endear her to her mother. Over time, it reached the point that Charlotte required a daily enema.  Charles told Ellen to  limit paregoric use, but Ellen said she couldn’t bear to see the child in agony, so the dosing continued for months until Cora appealed to Dr Evans on the child’s behalf.  “Dr. Evans, if we don’t get this youngun off that stuff her bowels ain’t ever gonna work.  I don’t believe no nine month old baby still has colic.”

Dr. Evans obviously had left matters regarding the children to his wife.  “I didn’t realize she was still getting it.  I’ll talk to her mother.”  He also told the pharmacist to discontinue its sale to his wife.

Without the paregoric Charlotte, spent a miserable week or two, hardly sleeping and crying continuously.  Ellen pleaded with him, insisting the child needed medicating.  When he refused, she accused her husband of being heartless and fled to spend a few days with a friend in Hot Springs, swearing she couldn’t bear the child’s misery .

Cora moved in to care for the children and run the household for the duration.  Charlotte recovered and woke to the world around her.  She discovered her brothers, doing her best to toddle behind them.  They were delighted with her in turn, dubbing her, “Charley.”


Charley’s Tale Part 4

Geneva’s reference to Cousin Jean was the last thing Ellen wanted to hear.  Her cousin had been a frequent presence in Ellen’s young life. Once Ellen was old enough to dread her friends’ criticism, she cringed when her mother championed Cousin Jean at family events, making it clear Cousin Jean was dear to her heart.  A masculine-appearing woman, Cousin Jean wore dark tailored suits with brown oxfords and beige cotton stockings when society demanded at weddings, funerals, and christenings.  Otherwise, she caroused with her young cousins clad in overalls, men’s shirts, and brogans.  Though her own girls were beautifully dressed, Geneva made no reference to Cousin Jean’s unusual wardrobe.

As a young child, Ellen, along with her mother and sisters, spent wonderful times at the farm where Cousin Jean had raised Geneva after she was orphaned.  They fished, did chores, and worked on the farm, right along with Cousin Jean, who farmed as well as any man.  They spent long summer days playing outdoors and balmy summer nights sleeping on her screened back porch. As Ellen approached puberty, she felt embarrassed confusion at Cousin Jean’s differences in the company of her friends, while being torn for her love for her “odd” cousin. She felt so free in her love for Cousin Jean in Jean’s territory, the farm.  It was only when she saw Jean through the eyes of her friends that her affection waivered. She loved and wanted to be a part of Cousin Jean’s life at the farm, was miserable at seeing Jean through her friends’ eyes. Why couldn’t Cousin Jean just try to be more like everyone else?  When questioned about Cousin Jean, Geneva excused her with “That’s just Jean.  She’s the only mother I never knew.  I won’t hear a word against her.  Don’t ever forget that!”

Ellen resented her mother’s excusing Cousin Jean’s eccentricity while diligently pushing her daughters conform to society’s expectations, never realizing her mother must have struggled with the same issues until she eavesdropped on a conversation and learned her mother had rebuked a friend who’d spoken snidely to Cousin Jean.

“I could have slapped her face for that.  There’s no need to be so hateful!” Geneva spewed.

“Geneva, I learned a long time ago not to waste time on small people.  I can’t change who I am for anybody.  If you and the girls love me, that’s enough.  Some people go through their whole lives with nobody.  Don’t concern yourself on my account.”

From this, young Ellen knew Cousin Jean knew how “odd” she was, and resolved to love her, but felt Jean could fit in if she tried a bit harder.  I would have made life so much easier for everyone.

As an adult, she’d conveniently catalogued Cousin Jean as an eccentric, and was genuinely glad to see her on the rare occasions their paths crossed. She was much more comfortable not seeing her on a regular basis.