Ethel 1937, Great Rapids Minnesota
The sun streaked through the thin gingham curtains in Ethel Gumm’s Room. Today was the day. Ethel looked silently as the clock ticked away as she was laying in bed it was five to six on a dreary November morning, the postman would be here any second. Ethel crept silently out of the wrought iron single bed she shared with her sister and replaced a big lumpy pillow under the covers hoping if anybody saw they’d think she was still sleeping.
Ethel had the foresight to slip her day dress under her nightgown the previous night. She quickly slipped it off and tiptoed out of the threadbare room in her socks.
Ethel’s stomach was full of butterflies. She had to suppress a giggle as she shuffled past her parents’ room. she peeked in and saw the tired lines on his father’s face acquired through a life of hard work providing for the family, barely keeping them treading water. She was going to Drama school! She was going to be an actress, the next Scarlett O Hara!
Just as she reached the front door the doubts settled in. What if she hadn’t got in? She was going to stay here forever! This made Ethel stop for a moment. Was it worth opening the letter if all she was going to face was an aa disappointment? Ethel gritted her teeth and bunched her fists as if she was trying to push those thoughts away. She’d come this far; saving up what little money she earned as a waitress at a diner for trips to New York for the school auditions, headshots etc. It took her ages to convince her mother and father to let her go. Whilst her mother didn’t want to see others talents to languish and having dreamed on being on stage herself, she just didn’t like the fact that her fifteen-year-old daughter would be alone in such a big city.
Ethel was quick to sort out this issue, her best friend’s sister worked as a telephonist in midtown and had agreed to look out for Ethel when she was attending. Naomi, her best friend’s sister had even gone as far as travelling to Minnesota to speak to the Gumm’s and reassure them. For Ethel, it was a shame that her best friend Alicia couldn’t join her on her adventure as she was expecting a baby in eight months time after a carnie had her way with her at the harvest fair in the middle of October. Alicia was easily wooed by a man’s promise of ‘love’ due to living a sheltered life with little romantic experience. As far as Ethel knew Alicia hadn’t told her folks yet. Ethel had found her that night crying behind the heater skelter, drunk and dishevelled. Luckily Ethel got her cleaned up in a rickety bathroom stall before helping her friend home with the excuse that ‘time’ had come and she needed to lie down with a hot water bottle. Ethel felt guilty as she trudged home, she shouldn’t have left alcid like that all becomes Jimmy Craig wanted to kiss her. That night she went to bed as her sisters were still talking animatedly about the fair and munching the rare treat of Caramel Apples. Ethel said nothing, the burden of the secret became very heavy and she wasn’t one not to share a problem with her sisters.
The girls agonised over the situation; getting rid of it was illegal and not to mention dangerous, Alicia couldn’t bear the thought of adoption. They’d reasoned she’d have to marry him quickly before the baby came or face the wrath of her devout Christian folks. The trouble was tracking the Carnie down. Some only stayed for a day or even a weeks time and they never said where they were going next.
It was Alicia that urged Ethel to apply without her. “Go now whilst you have a chance or risk ending up like me Eth.” Judy longed for a thing to be different and they’d go together but, you could not turn back the clock or predict the future, you have to live now. It wasn’t like her to abandon a friend in need nor embark on this unstable future but if Ethel wanted her life to change she had to do this. She’d already decided that once she’d made it that she’d rescue her family and Alicia from the breadline and they’d live comfortably in Los Angeles. When she told Alicia this she giggled, “Oh Eth you are funny! don’t worry ’bout me, I’ll get through. Just remember any free clothes I’m I size 5 in dresses and 4 in shoes… maybe a nice little white picket fence house too.” Ethel smiled warmly at the memory remembering nights where they’d lay on the bedroom floor and pretend to be the stars in ‘Picturegoer’. Now Ethel had a chance to be one and it all rode on this envelope. She took strength knowing how her family had rallied around to help with the fees. Her mother took in mending, pawned her wedding ring. Her little sister had donated her fifty dollar savings, Ethel worked like hell at the diner whilst her eldest sister cleaned people’s homes. As time crawled on they didn’t think they’d raised enough until her father came home one night and said he’d got a loan from his boss. “Dream on baby girl… I know you can do it.” When she’d kissed him that night she realised his cheeks were wet with pride. Her father works crazy hours at the quarry and now Ethel realised how much they’d all sacrificed for her.
Ethel was startled out of her thought’s by the juddering of the mailman’s van outside. Taking a deep breath she opened the door with her shaking hand and flew down the porch steps to await the delivery of her future all wrapped up in thick cream paper, typewriter ink and a thick envelope.
She greeted the mailman a little too enthusiastically for the hour and stood eagerly awaiting her precious mail like a puppy waiting for a treat from his master.
The mailman handed her three envelopes and tipped his hat climbing back into his truck for his next stop.
Ethel waited for him to leave before sifting through the mail until she found what she was looking for. Without caring who saw she sat down on her front yard by the mailbox legs crossed. She was careful when opening the envelope, preserving its elegance and all it stood for. Her deep brown eyes scanned the contents, she held her breath as she read the last few lines.
Irvin Walter’s was a bit taken aback for the excitable girl at this hour. She reminded him of a bouncing Labrador. He should have been used to her by now for she’d been out every day for the past week. Just as he reached the end of the street he heard a noise that made him jump. He recognised it as a cry of joy. He looked in his wing mirror to see the excitable girl jumping up and down, twirling and lastly kiss the letter.
It didn’t take a genius to work out that this was good news, he grinned to himself as he drove onwards to his next neighbourhood. “it looks I’ve made someone’s day.” He said allowed to himself. Looking in his mirror again he gave a small laugh at the girl’s celebratory dance before carrying on. He started to hum a tune to himself, drumming his fingers on the dashboard whilst the sun continued to bath Minnesota in a ray of glorious sunshine.