“Papa, papa, papa!”
“What is it Hannah?” papa shouts as he nearly trips over a dining room chair while running into the house from our backyard.
I hand him the envelope.
“Laura!” papa shouts walking away from me. “Laura! Come down!
Mama comes running down the stairs.
Father hands me back the envelope as we stand huddled around the dining table, I tear it open.
Most women in my town don’t work. They marry, have children, care for a home. A few venture out in to the city. But most were born in and live and die in this town. In all the years only one has gone to college and that was nearly ten years ago, in 1875. None have gone to medical school.
Mama was almost another to go to college. She wanted to in her youth, but wasn’t able to afford the tuition. So she stayed in town and became a teacher. Papa did go to college. He grew up in a wealthy family in Boston, graduated from Harvard and then Harvard Medical School. Now he’s the doctor of our town.
How papa and mama met is a cute story. Papa was visiting a friend in town one Saturday afternoon and they went for a walk by the lake. Mama was there too, on a walk with some of her friends. Well mama is clumsy sometimes and she stepped awkwardly as she walked along the rocky edge of the lake. She almost fell into the water. Papa saw her fall and ran over to help.
The fall left some bruises and a slight swell to her ankle. Nothing too serious, but papa treated her, making sure she was alright. They talked during this time. He was smitten and came to visit her the next day to see how she was. They talked more, laughed much. They learned a bit about each other, their lives. Then he proposed to her. On the couch near the fireplace, without anything but a desire to share life with her.
Mama said no. They were different, from different classes of society, different walks of life. Papa was a city guy, she loved the small country life. But papa came every weekend for the next few months. And on a warm summer afternoon, as they walked the same lake of their first meeting, papa asked her about marriage once more. This time she said yes.
Both families objected to the marriage, but his family disowned him. Him marrying down crushed his parents. Why I don’t understand, but they felt that was more important than family. So he left his Boston life behind, moved to mama’s small town and opened a practice.
He missed his parents, I reckon much about his past life. But he never did regret his decision. “Marrying your mama has been the best decision I ever made,” he’s always said.
Papa and mama started teaching me from as long as I can remember. They both love literature and on most nights we’d huddle around the fireplace and read books together. As I grew older, papa started teaching me about medicine. Sometimes at night if I was done with my homework, I’d go with him to visit patients in their homes. He never rejects anyone, even those who can only pay with a warm smile and a thank you. After each patient visit we’d walk home and talk. Then at home, papa always sat down with me to read his medical books to better understand his patient’s needs.
By around fifteen I could pass for a doctor and sometimes in the store or at the park people would ask me for medical advice. I never gave it, sheepishly telling them they’d have to speak to papa.
It was around then that I said to him, “I want to be a doctor like you.”
Papa got up and walked to his bedroom. He came back with a box and handed it to me. I tore at the box. Inside there was a brand new stethoscope.
“You’re going to be a great doctor,” he said, tears streaming down his soft cheeks. “But promise me you won’t quit on your dream. No matter what people say or how many rejections you get.”
I made that promise ten years ago. Now three years out of college, each year has come with only rejections from all the schools to which I applied. There is never a reason, but I reason that being a woman has at least something to do with my outcome. There are very few women in medical schools today and most programs will not accept one.
Which makes taking this letter out of the envelope both worrisome and exciting. I take out the letter, put it on the table for us all to see.
None of us read past that word. I look at papa and mama and can see the beaming pride in their eyes. “You’re going to do great, Hannah. We’re so proud of you,” papa says, the tears once more streaming down his soft, now wrinkled cheeks.
Note: this is a work of historical fiction. The story, characters, and incidents are fictitious.