An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Twenty-Three

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Twenty-Two

Emma Dumpke, April 1912

April 5, 1912

Dear Hedda,

St. John’s Lutheran Church

Fear not for my safety from rebels to the south. Texas is huge. San Antonio is far from the border with Mexico.

The Good Friday service yesterday stretched from noon to three o’clock. The sermon Father Haas delivered endured for so long I felt I personally was experiencing each minute of the final three agonizing hours of Christ’s life. Rising from the pew and escaping to the sunshine felt like the Resurrection. To celebrate the end of Lent, I immediately headed to the Creamery Dairy Company in search of a whole gallon of bisque ice cream – heaven – all of which is now gone.

Despite only allowing myself Grape-Nuts for supper, I awoke this morning in need of a skirt in a larger size. The newspaper carried an advertisement promoting a sale at Dalkowitz Brothers, so I hopped aboard the trolley. I should have finished reading the newspaper first.

Have you heard of the famous “Girl in the Pink Mask,” Miss Dolly Dimples? The great mistress of disguise has been in town since April Fool’s Day, baffling those in quest of a $200 bounty for spotting her at prescribed times in set locations. Two-hundred dollars is prize enough to attract a mob to wherever the newspaper says she will appear. Yet Miss Dimples successfully has fooled the teeming hunters at the baths at Hot Wells Resort, in the middle of a busy intersection on Houston Street downtown, at numerous hotels where she pretended to seek lodging for an assortment of imaginary relatives and even in the midst of a throng squeezing into the Original Archambault’s Faultless Dry Cleaning. 

In the crush of the crowd at the dry cleaners, feathers flew. A rather handsome, giant stuffed ostrich stood in the window for years following Mr. Archambault’s legendary battle with him in Africa. The brave hunter shot the fierce bird after it killed, with one swift vicious kick, the very horse he was riding. No doubt the bird objected to the mission of the man’s African quest, mountains of plumes to curl and dye for hats for the fashionable ladies of San Antonio. Alas, the bird hardly fared better in the Dimples’ melee. The once-noble creature took a hard fall and lost many a plume and any remaining dignity.

In “The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax,” Mr. Sherlock Holmes scribbled in his notebook: “One of the most dangerous classes in the world is the drifting and friendless woman. She is… the inevitable inciter of crime in others.” While Miss Dimples is the migratory one, it was I who felt like “a stray chicken in the world of foxes.” 

The elusive Miss Dimples was due at Dalkowitz Brothers at the very same hour I arrived in search of a more ample skirt. “Pardon me,” a man shouted as he rudely grabbed my arm just as I entered the store. “You are the mysterious Miss…,” he spat in my face. Suddenly everyone at the store was tugging at me, screeching the same phrase over and over: “…Miss Dolly Dimples of the ‘San Antonio Light,’  the fastest growing paper in the south.”

The unruly mob began arguing over who spotted me first, while I vainly protested the mistaken identity. I am convinced I spied Miss Dimples herself at the front of the mob, but there was no way I could make myself heard. She slipped away well before I could escape. Like Lady Carfax, I almost was gobbled up leaving no one behind to notice my absence. 

The story would be a horror one were it not for my excitement of having such a tale to spin for Mr. K. He will find the escapade highly amusing. You would enjoy his sense of humor.

As my yard was bare (A yard! I never dreamed of such a luxury.) and Mr. K is quite the horticulturist, he chauffeured me in his automobile in search of proper plantings brought in by some gentlemen from Seattle last week. We bumped all the way past Uvalde to Big Wells through countryside blanketed in rainbows of wildflowers. Although their names try to capture their beauty – Indian paint brush, winecup and bluebonnet – they simply cannot. The trip was a most magical one. 

Buying for both the Koehlers huge yard and mine, we packed the car with persimmon trees, granatapfel and so many cuttings of black Hamburg grapes and calmette de noir figs, there was scarcely room for me. We were squeezed in so tightly that Mr. K could hardly turn the steering wheel.

He stopped by last evening en route to pick up Mrs. K for the Casino Association’s “Baile Mexicano.” The enormous straw “sombrero” he sported was so out of character for the dignified German, making it all the more charming. This is San Antonio’s high season. The socialites have multiple parties every night, and there are several parades each day. 

Which brings me to the subject of my loneliness. Mr. K stopped in for just a minute, and then I was alone, alone in this house, like the night before and the night before that.

I know I must sound like a whiner who is never happy. I complained of the lack of privacy at the boarding house, and now I say my house is too big for me. While San Antonio certainly is no gunslinging frontier town, I find myself afraid. The neighborhood is secure. There is even a kind justice of the peace and his wife living next door. Yet I hear the slightest sound at night and then lie awake trembling for hours to come.

Unlike you, I have never, ever lived alone. In fact, the room at the boarding house was the first in my life that I did not share. At night, I always had sisters within arm’s reach. In nursing school, I always slept soundly, somehow feeling you would protect me. I ‘ve never even lived in a dwelling that stands alone, no neighbors on the other side of the wall who could be easily alerted if danger arose. 

Mr. K laughs at my baseless fears but is understanding. He says I should take in a boarder. Instead of a boarder, though, I want you. We always had such fun cooking together, discussing our readings over a glass of wine until almost dawn. We need not be lonely, each in separate cities with only our books for friends. 

Circle swing and roller coaster, San Antonio Electric Park, Trinity University Coates Library

Please come. You will have a room of your own, and the good doctors Herff surely could use your nursing skills. 

While you will find no battlefront perils here, there is a coaster at the Electric Park with dips guaranteed to make you shriek. I can’t summon the courage to board it without you beside me, emboldening me to meet its dare. 

Abandon the coldness of New York City for balmy San Antonio. Your nagging cough will vanish. You will enjoy this stand-alone house, and soon there will be ripe figs right outside the front door.

Love,

            Emmy

Footnotes

While San Antonio events shaping the daily lives of the Koehler, Wahrmund and Stevens families are somewhat easy to trace in the political, business and society pages of the daily papers, what was life like for a single woman? To portray the possible day-to-day existence of the nurses, the Author inserted them into local happenings around them and guessed their reactions to current events and books popular in the nineteens.

The Author has no idea of the structure of Emma Dumpke’s family when she was young, but Hedda was not an only child. Again, trying not to overpopulate these pages, the Author chose not to acknowledge her actual family members left behind in Germany.

Continue to Chapter Twenty-Four

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