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  • Mothering:The Story of a Revolt
  • Nina Sutherland Purdy

Mandy Higgins and I had dropped into Mary Dingman's for an after-supper call. It wasn't a starched parlor call, the kind we women make once in a dog's age when someone new moves into Benson Hollow, or when we get a little fad streak of being up-to-date and parading our manners by wearing gloves, carrying card cases pretentious and societylike, sitting straight and stiff on company chairs, and staying for only fifteen minutes.

We never make more than one or two of these kind of calls before all the high-tonedness and the wanting to be just-so according to book etiquette slips off from us and we are glad to be natural and ourselves again. They're too uncomfortable and distant. You're like a check-reined horse. You can't let out the best of yourself, nor nose around and get to the best of anybody.

Mandy Higgins never made these kind. She always held that they were just people paying respects to people, not folks heart-warming to folks. Besides she couldn't, not if she had wanted to or had tried to. Mandy always fluttered into folks' kitchens or wherever the family happened to be, took hold of the things to be done, cheered everybody up, and set everything right if there was anything wrong almost quicker than a wink, unless there was something special wrong, like I sensed there was tonight at Mary Dingman's. Then Mandy pondered, took her time, but puckered her brow into its little pitchfork wrinkle which means she's planning something, and set her brain busy thinking out some way to right that special wrong.

Mandy Higgins was Benson Hollow's tonic. All of us folks from the head of the valley to its foot agreed that we had no need of patent medicines or iron pills or onion syrup like lots of women make their families take regular each spring for toning up, so long as Mandy Higgins lived among us. Along with being Benson Hollow's tonic, Mandy was president of Benson Hollow's Women's Neighborhood Improvement Society—always helping us women to be happier by encouraging us to be more individual and more efficient.

When you looked at Mandy you thought of a spring day, of home with its windows open and it curtains blowing out gentle, of suppers with warm biscuit and honey, of all dear, common, homey things. But that wasn't all you thought about. Somehow when you looked at Mandy Higgins you saw with [End Page 136] her into the things just beyond today, into the things of tomorrow that were going to be, and somehow you knew that she was helping them to be.

Tonight when Mandy and I were going up the Dingman's walk, with Mandy tripping along ahead and humming happy, we heard Mary Dingman dressing out her girl Ellen with her tongue. Mary is like that. When she gets riled at anything she spits out what she has to say slap dab like wasp stings, and then right afterwards, she's all over it and sorry.

We heard her saying crispy, like she had been rubbed the wrong way, "I guess if it's good enough for me, Ellen Dingman, it's good enough for you. You needn't think just because you're away studying and getting new-fangled notions into your head that you can run my house. Well, you can't, not by a long shot."

Mandy went on up on the porch humming a little louder, making out she hadn't heard, with me tagging after her. If it had been anyone else but Mandy I would have felt that we were sticking our bills in where we had no business, but no one ever thought or felt that way about her.

Just before she got to the screen door she called out cheery in her warm, rich voice that sort of spreads all over folks and takes them in like she was hugging them: "Shucks! Mary Dingman, what a foolish tilt for you to be fretting and...


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