“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 can’t speak. Running towards him I jump into his arms and cry into his shoulder.
He pats the back of my head. “What’s wrong sweetheart?”
Dropping back to the floor, I hand him the letter.
“Laura!” papa shouts walking away from me. “Laura! She did it! She got in to Oberlin.”
Mama comes running down the stairs. There are already tears in her eyes too.
They both walk towards me with outstretched arms. “We’re so proud of you,” they say almost in unison.
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.
Mama was almost another. She wanted to go to college 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 and on a fine Saturday afternoon they went for a walk by the lake. Mama was there with some of her friends.
Well mama is clumsy sometimes and she stepped awkwardly as she walked along the lake. She almost fell into the water. Papa saw her fall and ran over to help.
The fall didn’t hurt her too bad, but while daddy helped her, they talked. He was smitten and came to visit her the next day to see how she was.
That day he proposed to her. She 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 she said yes on a walk along the same lake.
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 moved to mama’s small town and started a new practice. “Marrying your mama has been the best decision I ever made,” he’s always told me.
Papa and mama started teaching me from as long as I can remember. They both love literature and on most nights we huddle around the fireplace and read books together. As I grew older, papa started teaching me about medicine. Sometimes at night if I’m done with my homework, I 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 walk home and talk. And then at home, papa always sits down with me to read his medical books to better understand his patients needs.
By fifteen I could pass for a doctor and sometimes in the store or at the park people ask me for medical advice. I never give it, sheepishly telling them they 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. 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.”
And now sitting together as a family looking at my acceptance letter to Oberlin, the reality of leaving home for the unknown is sinking in. Likely I will be the only woman in my class. But I look at papa and mama and can see the beaming pride in their eyes, the girth of their will for me to chase my dreams in their hearts. They support me with money and more importantly with their love.
“You’re going to do great, Hannah. We’re so proud of you.”
Note: this is a historical fiction story. The characters and their interactions are fiction.