May Day in the Ozarks – When the Suffrage Crusade Lagged by Alice Curtice Moyer Wing

Alice Curtice Moyer Wing wanted equal voting rights for women. She traveled the Missouri Ozarks with her horse La Belle in the 1910s, talking to people about voting rights. Her experiences were chronicled in a series of articles published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1916-1919. Missouriwomen.org is featuring Moyer Wing’s articles as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s voting rights. For more information about Moyer Wing and her activism, see Alice Curtice Moyer Wing and Woman Suffrage in the Ozarks, 1916-1919.

The following was Moyer Wing’s thirtieth article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on September 1, 1918:

So intent were the woman crusader and La Belle on Etta’s attempts to see her future intended in a mirror at the well, and Pansy’s efforts to read the future with apple seeds, that they forgot entirely to ask whether they believed in votes for women.

By Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing

This story should have been written in May, that the gods, instead of memory, might have dictated. If, therefore, written many weeks later, there is something lacking, you may put the blame where it belongs, upon Pansy – Pansy of the apple orchard, Pansy of the blue-gray eyes and bright brown curls, Pansy who scorned my proposed snapshot and demanded that I wait for the regular “store pitcher” she was expecting in due time via Uncle Sam’s mail carrier. Yessir! The mail carrier who came once every week, rain or shine, winter and summer.

“Pansy, if you please, had been to Poplar Bluff. On the train! No little “kodaks” for her, thank you. And so – But you will hear more of Pansy presently. I am putting her second in the story because that is the way it happened.

It was May 1. I had not had in mind the fact of the day nor the spell of it. I just knew that it was glorious spring time and in the joy of that knowledge I had given no special thought to May day – the day when the gods decide things for you and give you a peep at tomorrow. And though La Belle and I had already traveled several miles, it was still early when we discovered Etta, the goddess of the well. La Belle had stopped short at sight of her, ears forward, head erect, every muscle taut with expectant interest. Not that Etta herself was such an unusual sight. She was a trim, plump, pretty girl, but La Belle had seen many pretty girls. It was the mystery of the thing that Etta was doing – something La Belle had never seen done by anybody before – and she blinked in surprise as the mirror held above Etta’s head sent a flash of sunlight into her astonished eyes.

30 2

“Haven’t you seen him  yet?” I asked.

The goddess looked up quickly, but just as quickly smiled and answered my query with another:

“Do you know about this kind of fortune tellin’?”

“Surely I do,” I replied.

“Did you ever try it – really – ever- try it?” she asked eagerly.

I said I had.

“Did – did – you ever – ever truly see anything – or anybody?”

“Never.”

“O-h!”

There was genuine pathos in that prolonged “O-h!” And disappointment. “O-h!” she said again.

“But the fact that I never saw anything or anybody does not mean that there is nothing in it,” I hastened to assure her. “There are a great many people who continue to try it. Let’s see. You hold the mirror so its reflection is seen down in the well and you have to look straight into that reflection and wait for the face of someone else to appear beside yours, don’t you?”

“Shore. But they say you’ve got to believe in it powerful strong and that sometimes it don’t always somehow work out, er nothin’, but my aunt’s sister-in-law knew a girl oncet whose mother had a friend who seen a feller’s face right smack dab in the middle of the shadder in the well. It skeered her so bad she never could remember jist how he looked, but she always knowed it was the face of her future intended and that the reason she never got married was jist because he couldn’t never find her.”

“You have to try it early in the morning, don’t you?” I asked reminiscently.

“Yes. And if it is a well where nobody lives it is jist that much better. And they say it is still better if the house is old and hanted.”

“Is this one ‘hanted’?” I asked.

Etta looked at the one window of the old house doubtfully. “They do say,” she half whispered, “that sometimes they’s a noice in it at night, and Sim Coos, he said he seen somethin’ a-peekin’ out at the winder oncet.

“But, say! Wouldn’t it be plumb pitiful if he wasn’t to never find a person and jist go through life a-lookin’ fer her and a-waitin’” – Etta stopped, chokingly.

“It would,” I agree. “But why not see the face of someone you already know – someone who has already found you.”

“It couldn’t be – not now.” Etta shook her head decidedly. “Me and Harve’ll never make up. Never.”

“Never is a long time,” I told her. “And one cannot be too sure.”

“Ain’t it quare how jist a little thing can grow into a mountain,” she resumed. “It commenced about nothin’. Jist nothin’.”

“It generally does,” I replied, as Etta looked thoughtfully off into space. “But who” – I stopped. Something told me to. A young man was coming up across the garden, down back of the well.

“Harve has got a awful temper,” said Etta.

The young man had stopped at the garden gate. His quick, comprehending glance was followed by a boyish grin. He pushed back his hat and put his finger on his lips as I looked at him.

“And he has curly hair,” she continued; “the purtiest red curls” –

I had already taken note of the mop of curly red hair.

-”but it ain’t got nuthin’ to do with his temper,” Etta was saying. “Mine is purty nigh black, and my temper is wuss than his’n. And so, the fust thing we knowed we wasn’t speakin’.

“Say!” with renewed interest in the “fortune tellin’” job. “Say! Do you reckon it is too late to try it agin? They say it ort to be awful early in the mornin’, but”-

30 1

“No,” I told her. “I don’t think it is too late. In fact,” I said, “I think this would be the very best time of the day for you to try it again. And one must be alone, too, you nkow, so as to be the very surest of seeing something. No – lift it a little higher – almost over your head – there – doesn’t that throw the reflection at exactly the right place? Now look close – awfully close – for a minute or two – and I almost know you will see something. Good-by.”

“Good – good-by,” said Etta, her voice trembling with excitement. “Come – come back again.

“Wait!” she called after me, half fearful at being left alone with the fates. “Do you shorely reckon I’ll see a face – er somethin’? Wait a minute. O-h-h!”

Etta had seen “the face er somethin’.” The mirror splashed into the well and a curly red head was bending over the nearly black one while –

“La Belle,” I said, “this is no place for a third party. They’re on speakin’ terms again.”

And after a time we found Pansy – Pansy of the apple orchard, who gave us the only other interview of that long forenoon in a country of magnificent distances. She stood under a tree as we came upon her. There was a half pout on her childish, pretty face. “I jist somehow cain’t make it come out even, ‘pears like, and I’ve ate 17 apples. It jist natcherly won’t come out the same way three times hand-runnin’, no matter what I do.”

“What won’t?” I asked.

“Why, the seeds – the seeds of the apple you have to eat to try your fortune. Didn’t you ever try it? It goes this way: ‘One I love, two I love, three I love, they say; four I love with all my heart and five I cast away; six he loves, seven she loves, eight they both love; nine he comes and ten he tarries, eleven he courts and twelve they marry.’ Jist any old day of the year is all right fer tryin’ it, but it is a right smart no more so if you try it on May day – only on May day the apples is ginerally awful green – and if you eat too many –

“But, you see, it’s got to come out the same way three times hand-runnin’. They was eight seeds twicet, eight they both love. And they was twelve twicet together – twelve they marry, you know.”

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Thirteen,” replied Pansy. “But I ain’t a-aimin’ to git married any ways soon. Fact is,” she added, confidentially, “I ain’t a-aimin’ ever to, ‘less I change my mind a heap, but if I ever was to happen to change my mind, it’d be plumb handy to have a chance a-layin’ around loose somewheres, so I’ve jist been a tryin’ it to see whuther – But I’ve ate apples till I”m purty nigh busted, and it ain’t come out right yet.

“What would you do, if you was me?” she asked, suddenly.

“I’d quit eating green apples for, at least, today,” I told her.

“I might have better luck with four-leaf clover,” she mused. “Ever find any of ‘em? You know, you make a wish, and if you find a four-leaf clover, especially on May day, your wish is jist natcherly got to come true. But mommy says hers never did. Did yours?”

I shook my head, but Pansy, undaunted, merely wished that “love vines” grew on May day. “I reckon,” she remarked, “that everybody knows about love vines. They’re the purtiest things, all golden-yaller, and jist a-curlin’ up and a-growin’ around without roots on weeds and things, and if you pull off a passel of ‘em and make a wish and throw ‘em over your left shoulder with your eyes shut – if it grows, your feller loves you. Shore sign. But mommy says it would grow anyhow. It always does, she says.”

I nodded approval, remembering the habits of this dainty air plant that grows no matter which shoulder it is thrown over and even if your eyes are wide open.

“But there’s the Sweet Williams,” said Pansy, hopefully. “If your feller’s name happens to be Bill and you was to plant Sweet Williams, and they was to grow – well, they say it’s a right smart of a sign that” Pansy stopped, blushing.

“So his name is Bill,” I remarked.

“Who told you?” But, without waiting for me to reply: “Mommy says that Sweet Williams is the easiest things growed they is, and so” – Pansy sighed and smiled ruefully. “Ain’t it a plumb sight about a person’s future bein’ all locked up frum ‘em and handed out to ‘em frum day to day, jist a little snack at a time, when we’re plumb starvin’ fer a full meal? But mommy says”-

And Pansy repeated the wisdom words of “mommy” – “mommy,” who explained in the same old way we all explain the unexplainable.

“And so,” concluded Pansy, “I’ve just about decided that I’ll wait to see what happens. I cain’t count apple seeds ever’ day of my life, can I? I shore cain’t. And I cain’t always be a-botherin’ around about four leaf clovers er love vines ner not even Sweet Williams. Shore cain’t. ‘Sides what if his name ain’t always Bill. I’m jist a-goin’ to wait, no difference what people says about it. That’s what. And I don’t aim to make myself miser-ble while I’m a-waitin’, nuther,” she added, sagely. “But,” wistfully, proving that sages, after all, are human, “long about August, when the love vines is a-growin’ – well, you don’t reckon it would do no harm to” –

“No,” I told her, “I don’t reckon it would. Not a bit.”

“La Belle,” I said, accusingly, when, at noontime, I sat dinnerless on a log by the road while she took a half-hour off for lunch, “I should think, La Belle, that your conscience woudl hurt till your teeth were on edge. But you’re as happy over that grass as though you had spent this whole forenoon in duty well done. What do you mean by forgetting your job? Not a word have you said about suffrage for a good half-day – and tomorrow is Thursday; the next day is Friday, and the next one Saturday. A whole week gone and nothing done. What is your object, traveling about over these hills? Just for the fun of the thing? Huh? Or is it for your health? How do you know that Harve wants Etta to vote, or that Pansy believes in women suffrage? You didn’t ask them. You didn’t. And I want to know why.

La Belle looked at me with eyes that saw nothing but the green, green grass that furnished her a fresh, juicy lunch.

The trees about us were full of melody, with splotches of red  and blue and gold, as individual songsters gave tantalizing glimpses of themselves.

The morning dew was still sparkling whenever a chance ray of spring sunshine flashed into the shadier, more protected places.

A delicious cool-warm breeze, as balmy as only the breeze of spring can ever hope to be, fanned the face of the world with the caressing indulgence given only to the very young.

There! That was my answer. The spirit of a young world was in the air. And youth is forgetful. It was May day.

 

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