Mrs. Mike, by Benedict and Nancy Freedman (Published in 1947)
I don’t know exactly how old I was when I first read this book, but I’m going to guess that I was probably about twelve years old. I know it was at a time when I was just beginning to notice boys as something other than playmates. I was just developing romantic notions about what it meant to get married (notice I said “get” married, not “be” married) and for me, in my family and in that time and place, that meant that I had started my “hope chest”.
My mother gave me an old trunk that had always sat somewhere in the house full of memorabilia — pictures and the like. I had some linens that had been embellished with tatting (I wonder if anyone still knows what tatting is?) or embroidery and they went into the chest. I’d been taught to crochet and knit and had played around with a little bit of quilting so that I could start to create my own guest towels, dish towels and bed linens, that would go into the chest. When I worked alongside my mom when she was trying to learn to make jelly, I bought my own canning kettle and mason jars and they went into the chest. I cut pictures out of magazines of wedding gowns and home plans, recopied some of my mom’s best recipes on my own recipe cards and all of these things, along with my hopes for a future home and family, went into that chest.
Like so many young girls, my dream went only so far as the romance of a proposal, the engagement ring, the bridal gown and being carried over the threshold of some new house where I would unpack my hope chest and start to make my own home. Mrs. Mike changed all that.
This book is a true story of a frail young Irish girl from Boston who is sent to her uncle in Calgary in hopes that the climate will cure her pleurisy. It is a love story between her and a young and dashing Canadian Mounted Policeman who takes her into a hard northern country life in the early 1900s. It’s a story of the deep love between man and woman with all of its joys and struggles as they build a life together. Children are born and die, Kathy and Mike fight and separate and come back together. It showed me a side of love that was as romantic as I hoped, but taught me that true love is as much a decision as a feeling, maybe more a decision than a feeling — that lovers must decide day after day to keep doing the work that will take them through the tests of life to forge bonds that will last for better or worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until they are parted by death.