Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: The Reader (04/15/10)
TITLE: "My Dearest Meg..."
By Kate Oliver Webb
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126 Dole Street
Territory of Hawaii
January 6, 1899
My dearest Meg,
It seems odd to write my name as above, when this letter is to you, who have never known me as Mrs. Jerome Osgood. To you I’m just your big sister Lizzie—and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But as I am now an old married woman of 6 months, I thought I would do the proper thing and write my name that way this time. I will continue writing my name that way when writing to Mama, as you know how she is about propriety.
Now that my new homeland is somewhat more familiar to me, I feel I can take a little more time and share with you what life is like here.
First, I wonder if I will ever get used to this heat! I can just see you as you read this: where you are I am certain you are still having to shovel your way through the snow to the privy on those dark, icy mornings in Boston, while trying to imagine me—in mid-winter—wiping the sweat from my brow simply after playing a hymn on the piano!
I cannot mention this to Jerome, but sometimes I envy the native women who wear little but a loose wrap or drape of fabric (they call it a “pareu” here). I am sure they are more comfortable than we missionary women who are not only covered from head to toe, but have too many layers of underthings as well to keep us overheated. Last week, Lucy Willard confided to me that she has shortened her underthings and fashioned them a little looser, so she gets a little more air circulation!
Now, Meg, I see you blushing. It is amazing how freely we missionary wives talk amongst ourselves, particularly as the differences between “us” and “the native women” becomes so clear. It makes me wonder: what does God really expect us to do about such cultural differences? Perhaps when I have been here a while longer, I can figure it out. For now, I’ll speak about it to you, and to Lucy; but to Jerome, the least said, the better! He is presently on a mission to cover up every native woman he sees.
The work has been interesting. As you know, Jerome is assisting a doctor who has been here for two years, and is fairly comfortable with the people, and they with him. The poor man lost his wife to a spider bite a year ago at Christmas, and for a while he was nearly inconsolable. However—and this is the strange thing, Meg—he has become special friends with the widow of a plantation owner who was murdered during a worker uprising.
We are all appalled and yet, I do not see clearly why we should be. She is a lovely woman, attends our weekly services regularly, and volunteers at the clinic, helping to care for sick babies. But…Meg, she is Chinese. The plantation owner, one of the experienced Puerto Rican plantation workers who contracted to bring workers to Hawaii, married Mei Ling because he needed an educated and cultured wife to assist him in running his business.
Dear Meg, can you see my dilemma? I cannot find it in my heart to judge the doctor and Mei Ling, because I see how well they will get on together, and their circumstances—if they were of the same race and culture—would surely make no difference. Yet another subject I do not discuss with my husband; the love we have for one another somehow doesn’t extend to those kinds of conversations.
What I am able to discuss with my husband is the matter of managing the smaller “livestock” that take over the house. Honestly, Meg, the cockroaches are two inches long! And I know you are horrified to hear about them, but they are so common, even the poshest homes in town have them! The little house lizards (“geckos” here—a new word for me) are supposed to eat them, but as of this writing, the cockroaches are winning.
I wanted to share a little more of life here, but Meg, I have so needed to unburden myself to you that all this came tumbling out. I am comforted, however, that you will read my letter with that special insight you have into the heart of
Your loving Lizzie
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