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One Woman's Opinion



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A Year to Remember: 1965 (Part 1)

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Mary Wakefield Buxton

by Mary Wakefield Buxton

Urbanna, Va.— As the Karmann Ghia pulled into the drive at 914 Shore Drive in the elegant Christopher Shores section of Newport News of spacious homes that overlooked Hampton Roads, she realized her life was about to change. Dr. Buxton, his second wife Virginia, Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Bill Styron were at the door to greet the young family.

They had come a long way home, arriving from a trek east from Japan where they had been stationed in the U.S. Navy. They had their one-year old-baby daughter with them who had just begun to walk.

After a joyous reunion, they settled under the twinkling lights of the crystal-chandeliered dining room where Julia, the family cook and maid, who had raised her husband from infancy, served dinner. The food was southern fare and very good: fried chicken, summer squash, mashed potatoes and gravy, stewed tomatoes, and chocolate pie. 

He was to start law school at William and Mary while she would get a job and support the family for the next three years. They had big plans for the future and the family was keenly interested in hearing every detail.

She did not yet know her husband’s family well, at least beyond the usual perfunctory wedding festivities in Ohio two years ago. But as she looked them over that first night together, not as a young bride of 21 but as a 23-year-old woman who had spent the last two years as a Navy wife, she had a sense that such a family could be overwhelming. The genteel Old Virginia Guard, with its deeply ingrained traditions, expected wives to fit into rigid roles of lovely ladies. Such a role might be difficult for her, rather like forcing a rock into the very delicate socket of a diamond ring.

She was fiercely independent, her worst trait, and while earlier attending Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, she had learned that southern society expected women to conform to their proper roles as determined by their position in society. Could a woman ignore social mores and do her own thing?

As she sipped the unending supply of wine, she took in her mother-in-law’s gentle, melodious voice, with every sentence punctuated with cute, southern, female mannerisms. She could already feel the velvet yoke touching the back of her neck that would guide every detail of how a wife from this family must behave, think and speak.

She imagined cocktails and dinner at the James River Country Club, playing tennis or golf with the senior partner’s wife, smiling at all the right people, saying all the correct things, afoot in Junior League, garden club . . . following every prescribed step expected of a lawyer’s wife who was expected to do all she could to help her husband become judge, which was what the family expected.

Her husband, the eldest son, was supposed to have carried on the family profession of medicine, but at a mere 10 years of age he had failed the traditional family “Test of a Doctor” that was administered to each male in the family. Dr. Buxton had taken his son to the hospital to witness surgery, just as he had been taken by his father (and later would take her son), but (in both cases) upon return he had solemnly announced . . . “He is no doctor.” It was imagined then that the son would become a lawyer for he had to become something, didn’t he? 

She considered her responsibilities to this family. Now that military duty was completed (one did not dodge military service, run off to Canada or burn draft cards; not in this family), ambition and serious purpose had taken over their lives. They had to be a success as it was expected of them. Yet, she could feel dangerous stirrings deep from within. She had a husband to launch, as if a great ship, but . . . what about her? Was she to be sacrificed for family?

She wanted to become a writer; to express thoughts honestly, to come to the world as she was, with no pretension, no running from unpleasant truths, and with no society roles forced upon her. She wanted to hold onto her Ohio small-town values that she believed were the heart and soul of America and not be forced into becoming the next generation of lovely ladies who had stood by their husbands’ sides . . . smiling graciously, raising children, being perfect hostesses . . . but were, perhaps, unfulfilled, to the end.

But women writers in Virginia in 1965 were rare. Most who wrote in newspapers offered advice to the lovelorn or shared favorite recipes. They ignored all passion—hopes, fears, dreams, failures or, as Jane Austin called it, “the stuff of life.” One certainly never wrote anything that might upset Grandmother.

She glanced in the gilded mirror that graced the green screened silk on the dining room wall and saw a woman with wild eyes staring back at her. Who was that lady? She shivered. She knew the woman reflected in the mirror would most certainly damn every torpedo and write anyway.

Part 2

©2014

posted 03.12.2014

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