Letter of Application
One of the most moving stories Maclean's has ever presented — A complete novelette by a new Canadian author
H. GORDON GREEN
ON MY DESK is a letter which I have just received from the registrar of a great medical school in reply to my request for information about admittance, and I am a little annoyed with it. Ten simple questions to be answered, a blueprinted transcript, and a photo—with these I must rest my case as to whether or not I shall be allowed to pursue the dream and ambition of my life. Can those men on the entrance board ever know what really lies behind the brief answers to those questions?”
Here is the letter:
Registrar’s Office Faculty of Medicine McGill University Montreal, P.Q., March 23, 1940. Re. Harry Wiltshire,
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Your letter regarding application blanks for entrance into the medical school of this University reached this office today and we are sending you the forms to be filled. Please send us as quickly as possible the following:
a. The completed forms.
b. An official transcript from the school where premedical work was taken.
c. A recent unmounted photo three by four inches in size.
You will be notified of your acceptance or rejection within a month.
A. K. Stevens, registrar,
I look at the application form.
Place of birth? . . . Date of birth? . . . Father’s occupation . . . Married or single ... If married have you any children? . . . If so how many . . . College where premedical work was taken . . . Date of entrance into this school? . . . Are you self supporting? . . . Wholly? Partially? Have you failed in any of the required science subjects? . . . Do you hold a degree? . . . State briefly your reasons for desiring to enter the study of medicine. Place of birth? Smoke Valley, Ontario. It is new country. The great forests of birth-flecked pinewoods still throw long cool shadows over the stumpy fields, and in the fall the blue blur of smoke from burning muck clings so heavily to the lowlands that the breeze cannot budge it. You smell it in your porridge.
Through the swamps the ragged ends of the old corduroy project at the sides of the narrow roads. The women help their husbands plow, pitch sheaves and saw logs. We are eight miles from the nearest store, three from the church and we go seventeen miles to the nearest doctor if we have money to pay him and the roads are passable.
Date of birth? January 12, 1914. I was the first of a long line that were to follow, so my father’s credit (being as yet untried) was good and he went for the doctor. The doctor, after two changes of horses and three snorts of whisky, got through the drifted roads in slightly under three hours. He was too late. They tell me I beat him a full hour. It didn’t matter much; when he arrived he was too drunk to be of much use.
Father’s occupation? Occupation is a pretty word. It’s altogether too polite to express what my father does. He works. Nor do I mean anything so refined as a matter or blueprints or tractors. He rolls up his sleeves, spits on his hands and sweats. It takes work to cut you a place in the sun when you have to take the thousands of trees one by one and then break the grip of their leathery roots from the black soil you must claim for your own. It takes work to plow often enough over the hillocks the trees have left until they lie even and gently undulating like a blanket with the wrinkles smoothed out. It takes work to gather the stones and blast the boulders from the fields you’ve made, and with your own hand split and square them to stable a barn. It takes work to wrest from primitive Nature and in a primitive way, enough food and warmth and clothing for a family of eleven growing children.
And to be an Ontario pioneer one must have imagination as well as the endurance and the will to work. He must be able to see smooth green meadows and silos and brick houses long before they shall have taken the place of the tangled forest. He must be able to see his children going to schools and high schools at the same age he had to wade through the snows to start clearing the way for them. My father had imagination. That is why I’m filling out this application tonight.
MARRIED or single? I met her first on Dominion Day of the year I was sixteen. Father had made a deal with a farmer in a distant part of the section and I had to lead a cow that had entered into the transaction. I came upon her and her father rolling a first cutting of alfalfa into coils. It was sí ill green and clung together like a vine. The tiny blue blossoms were scarcely faded at all.
It was early morning and the dew shone on her clean bare legs. The breeze was tossing bits of chaff into her face and onto her flowing hair as she lifted and molded the hay with easy grace. Her dress was sleeveless and came well above her knees. (You remember the brevity of feminine attire in 1929.) The sun had tanned the exposed parts generously and I thought her smooth brown arms with their perfectly molded strength the most beautiful I had ever seen. I just had to find an excuse to talk, but for her father’s sake I had to sound businesslike. And somehow I wanted to talk big because of the girl too.
"Don’t you think you’re coiling that hay too early in the morning?’’ I asked with a little swagger. "The dew isn’t near off yet. You’ll have a mow full of silage instead of hay won’t you?”
Her father said nothing and went on working. She answered.
"You don’t know very much about alfalfa or you wouldn’t talk so silly,” she said. "If we leave this here to dry out we’ll have nothing but a pile of stalks for the wagon to pick up. You’ve got to have it a little green or the leaves will fall off when you move it.”
I saw right away it was no use to talk to any woman who knew that much, so 1 changed the subject.
"What’s your name?” I asked
"Joan Marshall, what’s yours?”
I told her.
"Going to school next fall?” I wanted to know.
"Yes I’m starting to high school in the village. How about you?”
“Well,” I said with enthusiasm, "isn’t that something! I’m starting next fall too. Dad is going to let me drive the old Ford when the roads are good, and I’ll drive the horse in the winter when I can. We’re eight miles out, you see. Say it’s too bad you don’t live on the way. I could pick you up and take you in with me. How are you going to make it?”
"We’re only three miles out here. I’ll walk of course.”
Her father made a significant hint about the possibility of a rain coming up before they were finished,
"Have you any water out here with you?” I asked, for it would be very hot and I would be thirsty before my long trip would end. She came close to me and when she handed me the tin cup I caught a tang of horse-smell on her hands.
"See you at school next fall.”
BUT AT school next fall there were lots of girls and when you put Joan in proper school clothes, covered up the tan of her lithe full legs and the warm brown of her arms, when you brushed the blue alfalfa blooms from her hair and the dew from her feet and stood her in with a lot of village girls with their lipstick and rouge, she was no longer anything to make your heart change pace. Her nose turned a little skyward, her mouth was too big when she laughed and her teeth, though white and even, were strong and square. Her hair was straight and unexciting when there was no wind to blow it.
So I had my fun with other girls. I had lots to choose from, for I had a car. Somehow it always seems that a fellow with a car can get the girls even though he’s as homely as a wart hog. After school they would load into the old Ford until the springs bumped, and I’d take them for a little ride out into the country before I had to go home.
Along toward spring the school put on a play and I was in it. It was such a success that we were invited to repeat it in the neighboring town of Malverton. As we were waiting at the door of the school for the cars to pick us up the night of the play, I noticed Joan silently watching us.
“Hi!” I greeted. "Why don’t you come to Malverton with us tonight?” I was only joking. I liked to flirt with them all. But Joan didn’t know I was joking.
"Oh gee!” she paused, "I don’t know if I should or not. I’d love to though.” And then before I could explain she said suddenly, "Sure I’ll go! Are you sure you’ve got room for me?”
Explaining to her that I had asked her only in fun, and that we really had all the cars well-filled, was about the hardest thing I had ever done. She was hurt and humiliated and I felt she was fighting to keep back the tears. That night after the play was over and we were back home, I lay awake for a long time thinking of what I had done.
"Poor kid,” I thought, "I didn’t know she felt
unless they got to work, so I made ready to go. like that about me. I’ll bet she is lonely way out there.” She had no brothers or sisters and her mother had died some four years before.
The very next night after school, I got rid of the other girls and overtook her on the way home. I opened the car door for her and she jumped in. It was a hot afternoon, and with the formality of the school no longer restricting her she took off her sweater coat. I saw the lovely brown arms again and I took the next corner deliberately with a daring abruptness that made her grab at me in spite of herself. I put my arm about her to hold her there and then I stopped the car.
Love is a funny thing. If a girl swipes your hat and runs across the field with it, it’s perfectly natural to run after her, catch her and throw your arms around her to retrieve the hat, and if she kicks and squeals and protests, one isn’t shy about twisting her face around for a kiss. But this was different. There was no protest. We were just awkwardly alone. As for me I felt the embarrassment of a hound suddenly come upon a rabbit that would not run. 1 didn’t know what to do next.
"It’s awful hot,” I said finally. Then we talked about the most irrelevant things—school and livestock and elections, anything. None of it meant anything. Then abruptly and with desperate effort I got the words out at last.
"Can I kiss you?” My courage frightened me.
"I guess so.”
The first attempt our noses got in the way and we had to try it over again. And the kiss was not like these modern long-drawn-out amalgamations which remind one of a thirsty woodpecker sucking sap; it was a brief fearful little movement like a woodpecker sniping at a bee. But when it was over and I had headed the car toward her father’s farm I knew I would never be the same again. It was my first case of love, and it has been my only case.
"I’ll see you later,” I said as I opened the door for her to get out.
"Please do,” and when halfway down the lane she stopped suddenly and cautiously threw me a last kiss.
In the weeks that followed we saw so much of each other that our parents became alarmed. After all we were only a pair of kids. Restrictions were imposed and to get around them we both all at once became very religious. We were well aware that our godly parents couldn’t forbid our going to church as often as we wished and we started attending the weekly Y.P.S., choir practice, and prayer meeting as well as the regular Sunday services. That winter, after the roads became too heavy for the horse to plunge through each morning, I stayed in town. And with the parental restraint thus too remote to have further effect« upon me, I started the practice of escorting my love home from each of these numerous church meetings. When spring came, and I started driving to school again, our case was so serious that my parents gave up in despair.
"He’s gone near crazy over that girl,” my father complained, "but I guess it’s not much use trying to do anything about it. He might have at least waited until he was shaving age though.”
AS FAR as I can remember we were never - engaged. There was no one particular moonlight night when we stood on a willowed bank and made a formal declaration of our troth. We simply began talking of what we would do in the future. Neither of us had ever thought that anything but a life together was possible. I was going to be a doctor. I had always wanted to be one, and they needed one badly up here in our country. As for her, she planned to help me accomplish that dream. We would both work and save. And when the great day came, I would enter a college. It would be a long hard pull, but as we strode arm in arm along the drifted winter roads or clung to each other in spring orchards and considered these things, nothing seemed impossible or insurmountable.
After four years of high school we both were able to borrow enough money to see us through a year at the Provincial Normal School. The following year we were placed in little district schools a lew miles apart. At last, we thought, we would now be able to start saving that money for college. I got permission to take over an old cabin that stood near ny school and with a great deal of work and soap I succeeded in transforming it into livable quarters. I did not want to pay my hard-earned money for board at a farmhouse.
But it was surprising and disappointing to find how little we could actually save from our meagre salaries. And then there was Joan’s father. Most of the time until now he had been agreeable enough, pretending to show little interest in our affair at all. Like the other farmers about him he had little interest in anything except his stock and his fields, and most of all, the money he could make from them. He led a hard, grey life of monotonous routine. I remember that he had, however, two noteworthy possessions. One was a massive oak rocking chair, beautifully carved, which his father had brought from England, and the other a valuable gold-filled watch which seemed absurdly conspicuous against his rough denim or homespun work clothes.
“This watch and the rocking chair are about all anybody will want of my stuff when I’m gone,” he would say on Sunday afternoons as we sat about the fire. “I’m going to give them to my oldest grandson, if I ever have one.” And I used to catch Joan’s eye if I could and wink.
But now that his daughter was earning a little money, a sudden change came over the old man. Why should his daughter put her money in the bank to save for an upstart like me when it was he who had fed and clothed her all these years? Was it not right that he should have a little recompense for his effort now that his effort was paying dividends? And as the months went by, the breach between her father and us widened. There were no more Sunday afternoons by the stove, nor evenings patiently waiting for the old man to go to bed.
Instead she came to my cabin. We were careful to drive in together only after it was so dark that the neighbors could not see us. It was dangerous business. The conscience of the section was strict on such matters and especially with the teachers who were to set the example for their children. We knew we might both lose our jobs if we were discovered. But somehow love thrives under difficulty and in precarious places. Now that I had to spirit her away, she was all at once more precious to me. And I began to grow restless and indignant that the narrow code of ethics of a society that could not understand should thus strive to keep us apart. One night after we had come to the cabin it began to rain and storm. I had been waiting for just such a night.
“It’s awful weather to drive in,” I said. “Stay with me here tonight.”
The startled look that came into her eyes reminded me of a frightened deer. “Please Harry, no! Please!”
A sudden gust of anger swept through me. I was angry at myself for asking, I was angry with her for refusing, I was angry with a society that sought to confine and control our love to comply with its silly moral whims.
“Why?” I demanded, knowing full well what the answer would be.
“We have no right. We’re not married.”
“No right!” I yelled, “No right! Isn’t it enough that we love each other like we do? What more right would a marriage certificate give us? It’s nothing but a slip of paper! We would be married if we had money! Do you think God would bring love to poor people just to tantalize them! We can’t go on like this forever, just because we want to save and get ahead.”
She shook her head.
“I’d marry you tomorrow if you didn’t have to go to college. But I can’t spoil all our plans by doing that. You know I wouldn’t be allowed to teach if I got married.” She began to cry and I forgot my temper.
“Never mind,” I said, putting my arm about her shoulders. “I’m sorry I asked. Let’s get ready to go.” And I drove her to her boarding house through the rain. IT WAS her father who finally brought matters to a head. The friction between us had been growing more and more serious, and one day in an outburst of angry passion he changed his attitude from more or less passive resistance to one of militant action. Joan and I were positively not to see each other again. And to enforce the order, he demanded that his daughter leave her boarding house and drive to her school each morning from her home.
There was no lawyer in town, but I had as a friend a law student in Toronto to whom I wrote immediately. In three days I had an answer.
“It would seem,” the letter said, “that inasmuch as the girl in question is not yet of the legal age of twenty-one her father still has jurisdiction over her. He can, if he deems it advisable, keep the girl at home and even demand a portion of her earnings. There is, however, one clause under which the girl can escape her father’s jurisdiction if she desires. She is eighteen years old and can therefore marry without her father’s consent under the present laws of this province.”
The same day I drove to town and bought the license. Later that week 1 went over to her school at the noon hour and showed it to her..
“And college?” she asked.
“I wanted you and college both,” I said, “but if this is a choice between the two, I’m willing to forget everything else but you.”
The week before Christmas I bought a few secondhand articles of furniture, buzzed a season’s supply of cord wood, papered the walls, tamped rag about the window casings, put new straw in the tick, and the house was ready to receive my bride. Without daring to notify her father of our intentions, I called for her the last Friday before the holiday season, and took her directly to the parsonage. We reached home just as darkness was falling.
“You’ve fixed it up lovely,” she beamed as I threw open the door and laughingly carried her over the sill. “I can’t think of any honeymoon more delightful than to be snowed under in this cabin with you.”
We knew her father would drive up in his search for her, and we were a little frightened in spite of
"Say you won't see that fellow again or I'll beat you till you’ll promise me anything!"
our knowledge that the law was now on our side.
“Don’t let him in if he comes here!” Joan pleaded. “I don’t want anything to spoil this night.”
I bolted the door, and then as an afterthought I opened it again and tacked up our newly-signed wedding certificate on the outside. Then I locked it again.
About eight o’clock as we were washing the dishes from our wedding supper, we heard bells and looking out we caught the glint of a lantern across the snow. It was Joan’s father. Without any word other than a fierce “Whoa” to the horse, he strode up the walk, lantern in hand, while we huddled together breathlessly. He stopped suddenly before the certificate tacked on the door, and there was a long silence.
He never even put his hand to the knob. Through the crack in the blind I saw him driving away, his head bent low in his furs and without even the spirit to arouse the lazy horse from its lethargy. Joan threw herself across the bed and began to weep softly.
“I’m sorry it had to be this way,” I said helplessly. “I wish we could have married with his good will. But never mind, he’ll forget when—• when he has a grandson to claim that rocking chair and the watch.”
THAT NIGHT a storm blew out of the east shaking the windows and sending little vapors of snow mist under the door. The wind roared in the forest behind us and in the chimney. But in our snug room we kept the stove piled high with maple and the grate let through little ribbons of firelight to dance on the ceiling above us.
But it was not long before we discovered that the happiness of our new life together had not submerged the dream we had held of a college career. One night almost a year after our wedding, I found myself looking through a University announcement. Joan saw me too.
“You still want to go, don’t you?” she said coming over to my chair and putting her hand on my shoulder. “I knew the dream was too strong to leave you so easily.”
“It isn’t that I wish I had chosen college instead of you,” I replied. “I wouldn’t give you up for anything. I only wish there were a way to have you and college too.”
“Perhaps there is,” she suggested. “I can work you know. Why couldn’t we locate in a college town and why couldn’t I work to put you through? There might be a way.”
There was. That’s why I’m writing this application tonight.
The old enthusiasm awoke within me again and I couldn’t wait for the day when I should finally enter. The Canadian universities all ran on the yearly plan, and it would be next September before I could start a term with one of them. But across the border to the south, one could enter at the half year. Quickly my mind was made up. Exactly one year after Joan had left her school to marry me, I left my school and prepared to enter the University of Michigan.
One day in early February I stood at the village depot awaiting the southbound freight and passenger train. In my hand was a single fibre suitcase and in my pocket something less than a hundred dollars.
“I’ll send for you just as soon as I can dear,” I whispered to my wife as I kissed her good-by on the platform. “It won’t be long now. Keep your chin up !”
When I got inside the coach and saw her through the window I noticed that she was blowing her nose and her eyes were red. As the little village receded until it became barely distinguishable from the woods surrounding it, I felt myself suddenly lonely and a little frightened. Flow long would it be before a returning train should bring me home over these same tracks? And when that time came, under what circumstances would I arrive? Would the old station loafers mark my smart clothes and luggage and talk of my success, or would I come back humiliated and penniless on borrowed money?
On February 3, 1935, I arrived in Ann Arbor in the grey of the morning. From the first open drugstore I passed, I bought an Ann Arbor paper and hurriedly went through the list of rooms for rent. Selecting the address of the cheapest, I enquired the way and found the place. It was a little attic room simply furnished and with bare rafters showing, but I was not particular about anything except the price, and I took it. Three days later I secured a job in a bowling alley, setting pins from five until midnight for fourteen dollars a week. This was progress. The work was hard, but I was contented. When the next semester started a week hence, I would have at least enough to keep myself in college, and in the meantime 1 would be on the lookout for a place for my wife. The day before I was to register, the blow fell. At the bottom of the daily letter I received from Joan, was this curt note: “I think the grandson is on the way. What shall I do?”
I gave up my plans for registration, and sent for her at once.
If married, have you children? Yes.
If so, how many? We have two now.
The grandson was born late in July As the time drew near I was amazed at her courage and cheerfulness. She was not the one to complain or grow panicky or lament the lot of woman. She talked only of baby clothes and blue blankets, and silk-lined cribs. Then one morning before dawn she said simply, ‘T think my time is up; call a taxi.”
And when at the University Hospital I left her in charge of a nurse, 1 was frightened in spite of the reassuring smile Joan gave me.
‘‘I’ll be all right,” she said. “Please don’t worry.” “I’ll be here in the waiting room near you all the time,” 1 said feebly.
1HAVE no sympathy any more for the funny people who make jokes of the suffering endured by expectant fathers. And I have learned to understand that fever that comes over all living creatures as they attend the birth of their young. 1 know now why the gander is so absurdly insane when the goslings are hatching. Yet I cannot explain that feeling. Perhaps it is an instinct older than man himself, and no one can explain instincts. I only know that a strange unreasonable frightened anger came over me when I heard the first groan echo down the corridor.
At first I was sure that it could not be hers. It must be another woman’s. But the groans were hers and they became increasingly agonized. And mingled with the groans were mumbled prayers and exclamations. Suddenly the moaning gave way to shrieks and I started running up the stairs in their direction.
I caught myself before I reached the top, how-
I remember an oil painting of a smiling mother, a newborn baby and a thankful father looking at the doctor standing nearby. I was furious at it.
I tried to read the magazines, but my eyes saw nothing but blurred splotches of color. Suddenly I was aware of a group of medical students getting into their masks and gowns. I could hear them laughing softly and jesting. At the same time I could hear her screams in the room above and I wanted to take them one by one and tear them apart.
ever, and was glad that no one had seen me. Once again in the room below I began pacing back and forth.
They prattled on, rolling their tongues playfully around high sounding scientific terms. Then I
heard her call my name.....pleadingly. I heard it
again and then I started upstairs fully resolved that nothing alive could stop me now. The students were on their way into the delivery room, and I edged my way in with them.
All at once the fellow behind me tapped me on the shoulder and in a perfectly civilized tone asked me where I was going. I replied in the most vulgar language at my command that it was none of his business, whereupon he grabbed me and attempted to pull me aside. I caught him flush on the jaw with my fist and staggered him against the wall. Another student, seeing the incident, turned to help his comrade and then on second thought went into the room and brought out one of the doctors. I pretended not to notice him and walked directly toward the delivery-room entrance. He caught me by the arm.
“My wife’s in there and I’m going to see her,” I said hotly, “and by heaven there’s no one here going to stop me either !” The three of them faced me now but I was quite willing to take them all. The two students wanted to throw me out forcibly, but the older doctor, probably being well weathered in paternity cases, was more tactful.
“Well, it seems to me, you really should have the right to go in,” he said sympathetically, “But it just happens that this University has a rule forbidding the husband to attend at his own wife’s delivery. The rule applies even to the doctor’s themselves, so you see - ”
“Hell with the University!” I yelled and made for the door.
“Now look,” the doctor said following me, “you know that every little thing counts in a case like this. The doctors are working hard and any disturbance either to them or to your wife might be serious. You must think of the good of your wife.”
There was a sudden, peaceful quiet from the delivery room and the doctor’s words made me a little ashamed of myself.
“All right,” I said in a tone still resentful, “but it’s a queer thing when all your students can see my wife and I have to sit on the outside.” I went down stairs sullen and still hating everybody.
An hour later the nurse called me in to see my son. I could see nothing lovable or sweet about him. He was misshapen, ugly and red.
“Looks like a skinned muskrat to me,” I muttered without enthusiasm, “How’s my wife?”
“Oh, she’s just fine. Everything went along quite smoothly She had no trouble at all. You can see her this afternoon if you like.”
In the afternoon when I came into the ward I w’as greeted with the same smile that had bidden me not to worry that very morning. There was nothing about her that suggested the ordeal she had just passed through. In her hand she was holding a lovestory magazine.
“Good heavens, Joanie,” I said, “I thought you’d be so fed up on love you wouldn’t want to hear tell of it for a century.”
“Did you see the baby?”
“He’s a little dear,” I lied, “Just as cute as can be. I think he takes after you.” There were many other things wc wanted to say, but there were so many others in the ward that we contented ourselves with holding hands and a sly kiss or two.
“You’ll let my father know, won’t you?” she asked.
The birds were singing and the trees seemed greener as I walked out of the hospital that afternoon. I sang and whistled and when I got home I sent the following telegram to my father-inlaw:
“Dear Grandpa. Just Arrived. Weigh Seven And Half Pounds.
Mother Fine. Please Send Rocking Chair And
Watch Return Mail. Your Loving Grandson.”
I wired a more formal announcement to my own parents.
Two years later our second child was born. I was by necessity out of school at the time, working in a downtown store. I left my w’ife at the same hospital door at six one morning and a couple of hours later I went to work as usual. This time I was resolved not to make a fool of myself. Just before closing up for the night, I telephoned the hospital. Yes I had a fine baby girl. Born at ten o’clock that morning—why hadn’t I enquired before this? And why hadn’t I been in to see my wife?
Á couple of days later I bought two birth cards in the dime store and sent them to our parents. COLLEGE where premedical credits were obtained? University of Michigan.
Date of entrance into this school? September 1935. From the day I had first set foot in Ann Arbor I had worked at these jobs: washing windows, cleaning rugs, driving a truck, ringing doorbells as a dairy solicitor, and I had ended the summer buying and grading cucumbers for a pickle firm in a northern town. From it all I had been able to save about $120. It was enough to enter, but how could I get enough to keep me there? My wife had a child to look after now. Then too we must get some place a little bigger than that which we had then. (We were still in the little attic room.) It occurred to us that a house trailer might solve the problem of rent for a while, and one day I spent fifty of my hardearned dollars to buy a homemade affair in a trailer park at the city’s edge. I had only seventy dollars left. Tuition alone was fifty-five, and lab fee was another five. With luck I might make ten dollars start me out on books. But where would we go from there?
“Joan,” I said one evening after I had thought it all over, “I can’t possibly make it this semester. We’ve got to think of the baby now, you know.” “You’re going!” she told me with determination. “Your mother worked with a half a dozen kids hanging to her apron strings. Surely I can work with only one.”
When I had registered and bought only the books that were immediately essential, I had thirty-seven cents in my pocket. But at last I was in college.
Are you self-supporting? Only partially. For the most part, my wife supports me.
Immediately after entering college, I looked around for work. A few days afterward the bowling alleys opened up and I began setting pins again. My classes were from eight in the morning until two in the afternoon. Because I had to walk the two miles to the campus from the trailer camp, I got up at seven. At noon I sometimes bought a fifteen cent lunch but more often I remained in a vacant classroom to study for the next class and to munch a five-cent cake. At two I went over to the alleys and as business was slight until five, I would sit between my games with a book and pencil in hand trying to get a little work done while the place shook with the shattering thunder of crashing pins. At six I went out for what supper I could afford. From seven until nearly midnight the work was setting for tournament bowling and there was no letup.
Three thousand times a night we bent our aching backs to pick up the ten silly sticks of wood and place them for fresh assault. Three thousand times we lifted the weighty missiles to the return tracks and picked the hemp slivers from our finger nails. Three thousand times our tired arms vaulted us out of reach of flying pins so that a club of pasty-faced businessmen might thin down their beer-logged corpulence or that some moneyed students might show off to their fur-decked ladies in the gallery. Often, especially if we were tired, we had heaped upon us the curses of men who took this simple matter of knocking down sticks, as they took everything else in life—as a matter of immense importance. Saturday nights and holidays, drunks were frequent, and many were the wild bowls that came our way. One night one came crashing into me just as I stooped to pick up the first throw. I had to call a taxi that night, for my leg was all but broken. I could have endured the pain without much complaint but the loss of a day’s work was serious.
Still, for all my effort, we had little more than enough to meet our barest needs. Our trailer was small and the bed was only the spring from a single cot slung across the back end. If we put enough blankets on the springs to make a suitable mattress we hadn’t enough left to make a warm covering. The trailer was not insulated. In the sun it was torrid and stifling and in the night unbelievably cold. We had a kerosene stove, but the fumes bothered us. For two weeks we hadn’t even the money to buy a broom, and we swept with a piece of rag.
Yet I remember that as I walked along the highway toward this makeshift abode late at night, I was happy in spite of my aching muscles. I was in college. I was on the way to becoming a doctor. Had it not been for the baby we might have stayed for the winter.
Continued on page 39
Letter of Application
Continued from page 12—Starts on page 9
Then one night when I came home Joan had a job.
“I’m going to take care of a child while its mother works,” she said. “I can take ours there in the buggy.
I get two meals a day out of it, and four dollars a week.”
And every morning thereafter we went to town together, I with my books on the way to school, and she with the baby on the way to work. At five she wheeled the baby back again.
A few weeks later she left the job to work in a factory. Her shift started at midnight and ended at eight the next morning. With this change in our fortunes we left the trailer and moved into a single room downtown. When I came home from the alleys I was just in time to awaken her for the factory shift, and when she came home it was just time to awaken me for school.
Fortune was indeed beginning to be kind to us. Within a month the factory pay cheques had increased so that I could afford to spend less time in the alleys, and for the first time since I started to school, I could lay my book on a quiet desk to study. Little by little we were able to purchase the clothes and the baby things we had needed so long. And when the second semester came up we had put by just enough to pay for another tuition fee.
THE DISCOVERY that another child was soon to make its appearance was an unexpected blow to the plans we had for continuing in college. Still we were happy now in the knowledge that when it would be over, we would be able to start in from where we had stopped, without the doubt and hardship we had encountered at first. I spent the next year and a half working in a grocery store, biding my time. Then one day the factory called my wife to her old post, this time to work from four until midnight, and the following semester I was back in school on the way to becoming a doctor.
It had never occurred to me that the clean simple-living girl I had first seen coiling hay in a Canadian meadow could ever be influenced by the faster and more complex life of the city. I had not taken into consideration the fact that she was working among girls who went to work in silk stockings and fur coats, who smoked and drank their beer like I men, and who were often not averse ' to a midnight frolic with another woman’s husband. I had never doubted that she would always he far above any temptations that might come her way. But the second year I began to notice a change in her. The work was none too steady, and I thought at first she was worrying about the danger of a layoff.
Then one night she said: “I’m
getting tired of going to work night j after night in these old clothes. The I other girls wear nice things and have big cars and permanents. And after they get out from work they go down to the Lincoln and order up steaks, or j else they go out to the Midway to | dance. I work harder than any of ! them—why can’t I have a little fun ! in life too?”
It was the first time in all those gruelling months of struggle that I j had ever heard her complain. I didn’t j know what to say.
“You’re to buy yourself an outfit out of your very next pay whether you think you can afford it or not,” I said finally, “and when summer comes I’ll get more work and maybe ' you can get some of the other things you need. And if you want to go out | for a little fun after work to the | Lincoln or the Midway, you know I : won’t scold you. I want you to have a good time.”
A few nights later she did not come home right after work, but two ■ hours later a car drove up outside and I heard a man’s laugh. Peeking through the window I saw that no : one else was in the car but Joan and the man. I crawled back into bed and pretended to be asleep. She came in presently and I could smell cigarette : smoke on her. Pretending I had been sound asleep, I yawned and sleepily looked at the clock.
“It’s two o’clock,” I said, and then when she did not answer, “Where were you?”
She was a little defiant and reticent.
“Just out to the Midway. Had a little lunch and dance.”
“With the gang. Johnnie, the foreman, brought me home.”
“Well, are you going to raise a rumpus over a little thing like that?” she demanded. “After all, you told me I could go.”
“I didn’t say anything to scold you did I? Have I ever been jealous or narrow-minded?” I wanted to know. “It’s just that you never acted like this before. I don’t underj stand it. Come on, it’s late. Let’s get ¡ a little sleep.”
But that night I didn’t sleep.
THREE nights later she was late again. I asked her nothing, but when the car had driven up I recognized the same voice as before. The following Saturday night she dressed in her best and announced that she was going down to the Armory with several of the girls from the factory to dance.
“Is Johnnie going to he there?” I demanded.
She turned on me with a flare of anger. “Well, what if he is? I’m tired of doing nothing but work my fingers to the bone night after night and then come home to a husband who always has his nose in a book ! If someone thinks enough of me to take me out for a dance and a good time, that’s more than you’d do for me, and I’m not going to miss the chance! And you can’t stop me. I’m bringing in the money around here! In all the time we’ve been here we’ve not gone to a single party !”
“I haven’t had the clothes,” I said. She said nothing more and went on dressing. I didn’t know she could be so pretty when she used a little makeup and curled her hair. Then I noticed her hands were large and rough with work, and the one that she used to turn her wheel was thickly calloused on the palm. It suddenly occurred to me that I had been very stupid and unjust. What right had I to expect such sacrifices from a wife? And I resolved that if I should be able to guide our married life safely through the dangerous straits in which it now found itself, I should remember that I owed attention to my wife as well as my books. As for now, however, there was nothing to do but to wait and hope that the affair would blow over.
But the weeks went by and still the strange car and the strange male laugh haunted me from my sleep. One Saturday night as she was dressing to go out again I felt that my endurance was at an end.
“Joan,” I said, “for the sake of the kids, won’t you stop?”
I couldn’t stand it any longer. I unbuckled my belt and began to draw it out. “So you won’t!” I was furious. “You say you won’t ever see that fellow again or I’ll heat you till you’ll be willing to promise me anything! Promise me! Do you hear? Answer!”
But there was no answer, and I could see from the icy glare on her face that there would be none. 1 saw too that with her, no battle could be won in this way. It would only make her hate me more. Slowly I put the helt hack on. I went outside and began walking in the cool night air to clear the fog in my brain. In that hour I saw the lifelong dream of medical school falter and grow dim for the first time. There had been difficulties before but never had 1 experienced «anything to destroy my faith in ultimate achievement. This was different. I was frightened like one adrift at sea without direction. She had been a part of me so long that I could feel nothing but a ■ bottomless loneliness now that she seemed to be mine no more. And the children? I scarcely dared think of them.
When I came in again she had finished her dressing and was ready to go.
“I’ll get my things together tonight,” I said dully. “I’ll leave as soon as you come home to look after the children. As soon as I get a job I’ll do what I can for their support. I’ll sell my schoolbooks Monday. It will be a little money anyhow.”
She went out without a word. I began sorting my clothes and my books. Then I lay down, tired out by the storm that had passed.
I was surprised to see her come home so early. And the strange car had not brought her. The fearless figure that had faced me without flinching when I had held the belt in my hands was now shaken with bitter sobs. She threw herself across me and held me tightly.
“I’ve been a fool !” she sobbed. “I don’t know why I did it ! Don’t go! I won’t let you go. Never !”
Next morning I hung my clothes in the closet again and put the books back on the shelf. And when she goes to the Armory now on Saturday nights I go with her and we have a good time.
My wife still supports me.
HAVE YOU failed in any of the required science subjects? I got a D in Physics—36 in the 1938 Summer Session.
I knew we would have to derive the Angstrom formula and be able to describe Michelson’s experiments, but I had put off studying them until the last night before the final. It was a hot night, Joan was at the factory and I was alone with the two children. They were restless and cross, and as I held my head in my sweaty hands above my books, they hung to my elbows and pestered me until I thought I should lose my head.
“Take us to the park, Daddy,” they whined. “It’s awful hot!” “Children I’m busy—terribly busy. Please go away.”
“Can’t you take the hose and fill the tub for us like you did last night?”
“Go away!” I begged. “I’m studying. Your daddy’s trying to make a doctor of himself so that when you grow up you won’t have to work so hard and be so poor as your parents have been. Can’t you go outside, or upstairs, or down cellar—anywhere? Can’t you understand?”
But they were too young to understand. I sat down weak and helpless. Darn it, I thought, a fellow had no business trying to get through school like this. It wasn’t fair to your studies. It wasn’t fair to your wife.
It wasn’t fair to the kids. After all they had a right to a daddy these summer evenings. But I must wade through that Angstrom formula. 1 must get it no matter what happened.
The children began to cry in unison.
“Stop it!” I roared. The wails subsided to restrained blubberings ready at any moment to burst forth again in full eruption. Outside the ice-cream truck went by with tinkling uniformed attendant. How tantalizingly slow he travelled !
“Buy us ice-cream sticks.”
“There’s not a cent in the house. I can’t buy you any tonight.”
Again the crying started, this time louder than ever. I lost my temper. Berating them furiously, I let my book fly across the room and followed it with an ash tray that broke into a hundred pieces. The crying ceased abruptly at such a terrifying outburst and as they climbed the stairs to get out of the way I saw their dirty tearstreaked faces peering back in surprise and fright. The younger was clinging close to her brother, her blue eyes wide with terror.
I was suddenly ashamed of myself and after a while I went over and picked up the book and the splinters of glass. Then I went up to the head of the stairs where the children were still cowering and put my arms around them.
“I’m sorry I was so bad,” I said, “I won’t do that again. Shall we go up town for a little ice cream? Let’s get washed up.”
At the college book store I got a dollar and a half for my Physics text. We had a wonderful time teaching baby how to balance herself on the counter stools and picking nuts out of the butter-pecan sundae.
The next morning both Angstrom and Michelson were on the paper. I got a D in the course.
Do you hold a degree? Bachelor of Science, University of Michigan, 1939.
The day finally came.
That morning I had innumerable snapshots taken of myself in cap and gown. My father and mother had taken their first big trip away from home to be present at my graduation. The children clung to my gown all morning. Best of all Joan was proud and happy.
“But I wish you wouldn’t insist on the children going to the graduation,” she fretted. “I really haven’t decent clothes for them to go in.”
I looked at the boy’s shoes. They were in wretched condition in spite of the effort made to polish them.
“When you get there,” I ordered him, “put your feet back underneath the seat. People won’t notice your shoes then. And don’t forget to find a seat near the dividing fence if you can. I’ll be able to see you then.
Mother refused to go to the stadium. Her dress and her hat were ; too conspicuously old-fashioned she | thought, and she was ashamed of her coarse stockings.
“I’ll see you march in the parade,” she said, “and that’s good enough for an old farmer woman like me. I wouldn’t want you to be ashamed of me.” But nothing could stop my father. Ilis collar was beginning to fray and his tie was spotted and worn, but it didn’t worry him.
“Who’s going to look at me anyhow,” he said sensibly, “and if they do they don’t know me.”
And in the parade behind the strutting band down State Street, I remember that I laughed that I should be so nobly decked out in my cap and gown and still he treading on a ridge in my sock caused from folding it to hide the hole in the heel.
In the stadium my little family was sitting by the fence as I had wanted them to, and the children yelled “Daddy” to me as loud as they could. Father sat through it all proudly stiff and with his storm-seasoned face shining. I saw Joan twiddling the program nervously in her hard rough hands, and once I thought I saw her put a handkerchief to her eyes.
The speaker droned on. I watched that mass of two thousand restless mortared heads, their colored tassels fluttering in the summer breeze, and wondered what drama and suffering and struggle might lie behind that pyramid of diplomas on the platform.
My reasons for desiring to enter the study of Medicine? I must go on. That dream we built in the spring moonlight together in rural Ontario, is something too strong and too sacred to fade.
To the girl who at this very hour toils onward in the night, I must prove that I am worthy of her faith and her sacrifice. To the children who play in the neighbor’s yards illclothed and neglected while I study, I must someday make recompense. For the parents who struggled and saved that I might have a better chance than that given them and who now watch my progress with pride and confidence, I must succeed.
THESE are the things that crowd my mind as I go over each of the questions asked in the form. But these are things which do not fit into the allotted space. How then shall I fill the application?—
“Born at Smoke Valley, Ontario, January 12, 1914, the son of a farmer. I am married and have two children. I received my premedical credits at the University of Michigan, which school I entered in September, 1935. My wife supports me. I have one failure in required science. I hold a B.S. degree. I want to study medicine so that I may be able some day to go back to Smoke Valley, Ontario.”