“Hey, wasn’t it thrilling when Douglas Fairbanks cut the sail with his sword and the wind carried him up
to the rigging like he was flying? What a swashbuckler!” Racing to the movie poster of this recently released film hanging
in the lobby of the Liberty Theatre, I stared longingly at one of the handsomest faces on earth, Fairbanks, as The Black Pirate. Sighing, I told the man in the poster, “Oh,
Douglas. If Mary didn’t already have you, what I wouldn’t do!”
Giggling at my own antics, I grabbed Fred’s arm and dragged him outside. A little after nine, daylight was long
gone and though it wasn’t cold, a crispness settled over this late September Saturday.
“Did you like
the movie, Fred?” I had gotten around to asking what he thought but was half listening as I replayed the sword fight
scenes in my head.
“Yes it was quite
an adventure. Pretty good stunts too.” Fred laid his hand lay over the one I’d hooked through his arm. “Should
we head for the street car?”
“The next one’s at nine thirty, so we have a few minutes. Let’s go window shopping!” Next to the Liberty was Eiderman’s Clothing. In the dark windows, headless human shapes stood draped
in the latest fashions. I admired the blue shift that hung in a straight line and stopped just below the knee.
“Scandalous isn’t it, Fred? How the hemlines are going up and up?”
Catholic girls weren’t supposed to admire the new fashions, but I did. The simple lines and freedom this new
style afforded women were much appreciated especially those in their twenties, like me, who endured the pain and torture of
a corset day after day.
the skirts are getting shorter and all the guys I know hope they’ll go even higher!”
We laughed together at his joke and both knew it was quite true that the shorter the skirts, the higher the men wanted
I lifted mine a couple of inches, tilted my head inquiringly and asked, “Do you like my legs, Fred?”
“Mattie! Put your skirt down!” He grabbed my hands away and my skirt fell again to an acceptable albeit
an inappropriate six inches above my boot tops.
“I have nice legs, so why shouldn’t I show them off? I’m going to buy that dress. With what I’ve saved, I can get a hat to match too.”
“Mattie, I thought you were saving so we could get married.” Here it came, Fred’s monthly, “When
are we getting married?” whine. To be fair, I did kind of string him along. I had no intention of getting married for
quite some time but I didn’t want to lose Fred as a steady boyfriend. His friends were quite nice and we’d be
dancing at the Gardens with them if it weren’t for the new Fairbanks movie we both wanted to see. Fred was a great dancer,
had a wonderful sense of humor and always treated me right. Why mess it up?
I grabbed his arm again and led the way toward the streetcar stop. We jumped when a car’s bell clanged behind
us but saw it was the wrong line.
“Fred, I have to help Mom and Ed. He’ll get a job soon and then I can put more money away for a nice wedding.
Till then, maybe I’ll look for another job with higher pay. I saw an ad for the perfect job in the paper today.”
I gave him a sideways glance to gauge his reaction.
“What kind of job?” His question was tentative as if he didn’t know what to expect from me. I kind
of liked that I kept him on his toes but I think I scared the heck out of him sometimes with my crazy ideas.
Rummaging through my handbag, I pulled out the scrap of paper from the Want Ad section of the Times-Star. “Here’s
the ad. Let me read it to you.”
I hurried toward The Stag, a popular bar turned respectable restaurant after prohibition cut off its liquor and beer
sales six years ago. The open front door spewed voices, yells, and a few cheers along with cigarette smoke and the smell of
Not wanting to go inside, I stood in the dim light of the window, Fred peering over my shoulder as I read the tiny
“Wanted – clerk. Must have experience in keeping books and answering telephones. Apply in person to
Billings and Finley Investments, 225 East 4th Street, Cincinnati.” Concentrating on returning the ad
to a safe place in my handbag, I waited for Fred to respond. He hadn’t said a word, yet I could see his hands shoved
deep into his pockets, his feet planted firmly, as if in drying concrete.
Gathering my courage, I said, “I’m going to apply tomorrow.”
from Fred. Inside the Stag, men and women sang along with a tinkling player piano.
“You can’t.” He said with authority, as if he actually controlled my life.
“What do you mean, I can’t? You can’t tell me what to do and what not to do!” I wanted to stamp
my foot in indignation but acting like a two year old wouldn’t get me anywhere with Fred.
He tried to reason with me. “Mattie, you have a good job. Why do you want to leave it?”
“A good job? You call spending ten hours a day on my feet as a pitter in the cherry factory a good job? It’s
the most boring thing anyone could ever do with their life! Push the handle up, pit the cherries two at a time, sort the meat
into one container and the pits into another. My fingers are raw and my nails will never be white again. The warehouse has
no heat in the winter and we bake in that tin shed in the summer. I’m twenty-four but soon I’ll be just like the
other women who work there, old before their time, stooped from the labor and stupid from the monotonous task of cherry picking.
I have a brain, Fred Reineke, and I plan on using it!”
Taken aback at my outrage, Fred tried another tack. “Marry me. Then you won’t have to work. I’ll
take care of you and make sure your family is taken care of too.” He reached for my hand and just as he grasped the
fingertips, I pulled it back.
“Fred, I don’t want to get married right now. I want to use my head. I kept books for father for three
years before he died and I liked doing it. I know the insurance business and I’m positive that if I put my mind to it,
I’ll learn investments too.”
A bell clanged alerting us to the approaching streetcar, the Number Five that would take me home. Swiftly crossing
the street, we waited in stilted silence as the car made its way along the last two blocks.
I put my hands on both of his arms and turned him so I could see his face. His eyes narrowed at my forcefulness. “Fred,
I am going to apply for that job tomorrow.”
He sighed. “Mattie, there are things about the business world you just don’t understand. Men in firms like
Billings and Finley won’t want you. Women don’t have the head for bookkeeping. You’ll be taking a man’s
job and there are others who are more qualified. I don’t think you quite know what you’ll be getting into and
I am just trying to protect you.”
His eyes shifted right letting me know that the streetcar had stopped behind me. Though I desperately wanted to settle
this, I wouldn’t let Fred tell me what to do.
“I neither need nor want your protection. What I want is your encouragement but it’s evident you don’t
have that to give. It’s all about what you want, not what I want.” I spun on my heel, stepping into the waiting
trolley feeling incredibly sad yet angry enough to show Fred my back.
As I climbed the three steps into the car, I heard Fred declare, “I’m warning you, Mattie. Don’t
apply for that job.”