- Box Set
for my great-aunt Antoinette (Nettie) Bope, 1880–1902
Nettie in a pine box. The family Bible says died young. Erased. Then written in again. A scandal, my mother says. Botched. Back alley. In all the papers. My mother’s name is Moo. He took advantage. Got her drunk. My great-grandma, Nettie’s mother Susan—I’m named for her—saw a bell of fire in Nettie’s shoes left out on the landing. Why don’t you go back to teaching? Names. Begottens. A line of heroes, toting muskets, bugles—our ticket to the DAR. Proper. Nettie’s name erased. Who wrote it back? Moo says Our people didn’t slight. Men’s names, doing muskety things. No family tree for Antoinette. Antoinette (Nettie) Bope. Frenchified Ohio. My mother’s name is Moo. She told me everything she knows. My name is Sudie. Sudie, don’t brood. No one likes a gloomy puss. Nettie has a lovely tombstone down in Thurston. [End Page 1]
Lovely tombstone down in Thurston. After the doctors and their implements: spoons bent in different directions to suit the operation. After weeks convalescing at Mrs. Beatty’s, not a place the average reputable physician would think of sending a patient. After Nettie’s father was finally notified. Called in Dr. Klous, who moved Nettie to Grant Hospital, as I considered that a more respectable place to die. Who did last-ditch surgery—pointless, but he saw something. Next day, Nettie in her coffin, at the Columbus train station—next train, Thurston. But Klous rushing to the station. Hauling her back to the hospital. Hell bent on doing an autopsy. Why? Daily Press, front page, June 1, 1902: Mysterious Circumstances Surround Girl’s Death. Klous and his autopsy. Opened her up—opened Pandora’s box. Is it true Nettie wasn’t pregnant?
Is it true Nettie wasn’t pregnant? But she thought she was—did she try one of those mail-order concoctions? The parsley seed cure? Did it screw up her hormones? Everybody took them. Ads in church bulletins: for blocked menses. But she was seen by doctors. Hoskinson and Cookes. Did they even know how to do a pelvic exam? They inserted implements. Bent spoons. Penholders, wire attached.
repeat? 1968. Baltimore. X waiting in a bar. While I go to the doctor’s. To get a “rabbit test.” To get a phone number so somebody could drive me someplace in Pennsylvania. Blindfolded. X had had a few beers by the time I got back to the bar. The doctor’s waiting room was standing-room-only. Thick with smoke. [End Page 2]
Standing-room-only. Thick. I was twenty-four. Nettie was almost twenty-two. I found her. Loved her. Made her into myself. For years, I had only one newspaper clipping: It is said the girl was taken to the place of a Mrs. Beatty on South Pearl alley some time ago, and it was claimed she was in a delicate condition at the time. Beatty, no first name. Licensed midwife, whatever that meant in 1902. But in 1902, university-trained doctors (regular doctors) were on a crusade to license themselves. To squeeze out the competition—the irregulars, like Mrs. Beatty. Who diluted the profession. Like me in 1976, apprentice-trained at a women’s health center. For years, I had only one clipping and thought Mrs. Beatty was the abortionist. Nothing in the paper about doctors. You don’t do abortions, do you, Sue, Moo asked me once.
No one should do abortions, said the regular doctors. Except themselves. Hospital boards. Yes. No. Checks, boxes. Regulars will regulate. Begottens. Though concerns re preserving the stock. Who is this Antoinette Bope? Frenchified. Farmer’s daughter. Grocery clerk. Convalescing for weeks. Who is the author of her ruin? Cy Stewart? Regular docs? Sudie, don’t brood. A student at Ohio State, Cy Stewart claimed to know a great deal which he could tell about the girl if the press would promise not to use his name, but as he intimated it was reflections on the girl’s character rather...