An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Sixty-One

an ostrich-plumed hat
Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Sixty

Hedda Burgemeister, April 1914

Pealing bells from the first mission awaken Hedda from a deep sleep. The discordant clangs are unlike the melodic chimes from the bell towers downtown.

Dr. Herff claims the bells of St. Mark’s on Travis Park were forged from cannon used in the Battle of the Alamo. If only Kaiser Wilhelm would assign such a peaceful purpose to his arsenal.

Like roosters at the crack of dawn, these mission bells call people to worship early. Every Sunday.

She loves Sundays. Sundays are hers. Unlike the rest of the week, she is not confined at home on the off-chance Otto might find an opportunity to escape his increasingly abundant business, social or family obligations. Lately, she does not hear from him for days. Yet he remains adamant she not work.

Yesterday, Hedda did slip out briefly. Every building downtown is aflutter with festive flags and bunting. During the Saturday morning concert at Wolff & Marx, she sighed with the other women when the handsome Mister Buford stood up to conduct the orchestra. “The San Antonio Swing” was catchy indeed. No wonder his composition is the carnival prize winner. She treated herself to both a cameo and a pearl set of scarf pins, each on sale for fifty cents, before rushing home.

What should have been a pleasurable outing almost was ruined by her fears. What if Otto unpredictably dropped by during her absence?

The more Hedda remains cloistered at home; the more her thoughts dwell on him. With little else in the confined life he dictates she live, she agonizes over how to please him. She paces the floor in hope of hearing his footsteps at her threshold.

His departures have become abrupt. She fails to refrain from clinging to him as he leaves her bed. She bites her tongue to not criticize the distance between visits when he arrives, but the question of when he will return invariably escapes her lips.

She realizes Otto is repelled by her dependence on him; yet his edicts feed her obsession. The more her passion intensifies; the colder his.

If only he would permit her to work a few hours a day for Dr. Herff, she could maintain a balanced perspective on life. But she and Otto have gone round and round about the issue. Her hand rises to her cheekbone, responding to the painful memory of the most recent argument. 

Accustomed to dealing with concrete business problems he can dismiss quickly, Otto fails to comprehend why Hedda could possibly have any complaints. His method of dealing with her is to throw money at her. Money—his solution to everything in life.

Early in their relationship, she told him she must work to secure her future. He assured her he would one day leave his wife and marry her. She would never want for anything. Why had she nobly said no? He never raises that possibility now.

Yes, Otto has taken care of her financial needs. First with the house. Then the bank notes. The notes are her security, but both were delivered as bittersweet repentance on mornings after his temper had exploded to the point she was frightened.

The issue is not money. It is sanity. She yearns for something in her life besides his infrequent visits. Imprisonment is not healthy.

Hedda brakes the downward spiral of her thoughts. Sunday. She is free.

What was it that Winston Churchill wrote about Sundays in the book she struggled to find interesting last night? She picks it up off the nightstand: “Sunday was then a day essentially different from other days—you could tell it without looking at the calendar. The sun knew it and changed the quality of his light….”

She skims down a little farther: “…by church bells. You were not allowed to forget it for one instant. The city suddenly became full of churches, as though they had magically been let down from heaven during Saturday night. They must have been there on weekdays, but few persons ever thought of them.”

Obviously, the author of The Inside of the Cup is writing about his hometown, St. Louis, not San Antonio. This is a city where the Mexicans duck into their churches for some reason or another daily. If they are not venturing inside to light a candle to persuade a santo to intercede to help them overcome obstacles life presents, they never fail to pause, genuflect and make the sign of the cross as they pass by the church doors.

She is one of those not giving much thought to St. John’s Lutheran Church during the week. But Sundays are indeed different. Church is a place where a single woman can go by herself and visit openly with others afterward without others raising their eyebrows.

She can put on one of her finest dresses and her favorite hat and mingle amongst the respectable married women. The assembled Lutherans are so reserved they are almost as warm and friendly to her as they are to the fellow worshippers they have known their whole lives. She pretends for that brief bit of time she fits in with them.

~     ~    ~

San Fernando Cathedral

After church, Hedda strolls up toward Alamo Plaza and then all the way west to San Fernando Cathedral. She watches scenes repeated every Sunday.

No command of Spanish is required to comprehend the niños’ interactions with their parents and grandparents. They plead for change to buy fresh tortillas sizzling on a vendor’s comal; the strange tongue-tingling powders combining intense sweet, sour and fiery chile flavors from a toothless old woman; or wooden toys that her husband makes dance magically around his feet, an art the disappointed children who purchase them can never duplicate. 

A man in a suit is handing out currency of some sort, and children quickly surround him. They shriek with glee and rush toward their favorite vendors, only to be turned away. Hedda takes one of the proffered green bills. There are a pair of large number 20’s imprinted on one side. “Veinte Pesos.” “El Banco del Estado de Chihuahua.” She turns it over to find a large “FALSO” stamped upon it. Now-worthless Pancho Villa money confiscated at the border.

Hedda buys, with American coins, both English-language newspapers, a fresh bar of Mexican chocolate and two warm, pumpkin-filled empanadas. Instead of waiting for a crowded streetcar and then transferring to another, she splurges on a hack ride home.

~     ~    ~

Molinillo

Hedda pours milk into a saucepan and breaks off a chunk of the dark Mexican chocolate. As the chocolate melts and releases its cinnamon and nutmeg infused aroma, she rapidly rolls the handle of the wooden molinillo back and forth between her palms to whip it into a froth. Balancing a cup of it and her other purchase, Hedda retreats to the front porch to enjoy the pleasant spring day.

Neighbors returning from town stroll by and offer cheerful greetings. Aside from promising Herr Cordt some split-pea soup for him and his wife, Hedda avoids any involved conversations. She pores over almost every word in both papers. When she first arrived in New York, this habit enabled her to become fluent in English.

Now it is compulsive. She tries to glean every shred of news for insight about how people who are free to go places with their loved ones live. About what Otto does on the days she does not see him. His descriptions of social occasions are parsimonious. She thirsts for ample colorful adjectives to imagine herself there. Newspapers help bridge the gap.

Mrs. Otto Koehler. Her name is listed as a patroness for a benefit tomorrow evening at the Majestic Theater for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. That rules out a visit from Otto tomorrow. And the next night is a dinner at the Travis Club. Otto is on the board.

Scholz’s Palm Garden

To how many clubs must Otto belong? What is wrong with public restaurants? Emmy and Hedda dined once amongst the verdant ferns in Scholz’s Palm Garden. It seemed more than pleasant.

As if answering her question about what distinguishes San Antonio’s private establishments, the article lauds the amenities of the new eight-story club: a swimming pool in the basement; all types of exotic baths; a buffet and billiards on the second floor; and an elegant rooftop garden. Dinner on the rooftop sounds romantic, but the club’s complete replica of a little German village sounds silly.

Of course, nothing will equal that one dinner she got to share with Otto in New York City. She insisted on reading the entire extensive menu at Delmonico’s and still was indecisive. The waiter recommended lobster a la Newberg. The most wonderful thing she has ever tasted. Perfect. If she ever returns, she will not even open the menu. Lobster a la Newberg will be her choice.

Naturally, the Koehlers will attend the coronation of the queen. The newspaper says the duchesses “have practiced their curtsies day after day.” Attired in exquisite fanciful gowns, the daughters of the elite evidently must perform some contortionist-worthy deep sweeping bow.

The Battle of Flowers Parade is Friday. There is no way Otto will darken her door that day. Hedda resolves to attend.

The society page says these annual events launch the “whirlwind of gayety that leads into the season of weddings,” of which she will not be a part. Otto will.

She heaves a sigh of envy over the story of the marriage of the “wealthiest man in the world,” Vincent Astor, to his childhood playmate. Hedda would blissfully settle for the wealthiest man in San Antonio. Otto. Even if he had not a pfennig to his name.

 She decides she can skip an absurdly long feature on the importance of beautiful ears cautioning, “Be careful not to bend your ears while sleeping.”

Alderman Chapa is campaigning for sidewalks in front of all buildings. She agrees with that. But he also is pushing for fences to be removed from the front of homes, pronouncing them a “relic of barbarism.” Does that mean he is “Otto the Barbarian?”

“Money refunded if Pearl does not suit you better than any foreign beer.” Has anyone ever challenged Otto’s brewery about this boast?

A recipe for Spanish cream. She will buy some Knox Gelatine and prepare the recipe for Otto. He does love custard dearly. Maybe two boxes so she can take one to the Bremers. Lucile has little time to devote to cooking since the arrival of the baby.

A photograph of “Joan of Arc” leading the Suffragette Parade in New York City. Below it: “Mrs. Winston Churchill.” The wife of the novelist she was reading last night. Mrs. Churchill is right there next to Joan leading the parade of more than 15,000 women.

Hedda chomps at the bit for the right to vote. She is more capable of determining what politician would best represent the greater good than a large percentage of men roaming the streets.

She mentioned wanting to watch the San Antonio Equal Franchise Society’s version of the open-air rally. Otto scowled saying any such association instantly would transform Hedda into a figure as dour and ugly as the “old maid Brackenridge.” Whom Otto despises. Although not quite as vehemently as he dislikes Miss Eleanor Brackenridge’s brother, George. He describes the Suffragettes as a bunch of old biddies who could not attract men if they handed out hundred-dollar bills. He also claims putting ballots in the hands of women will be his ruin.

There is no denying it. The women pictured at the San Antonio rally are a rather dreary looking lot. But some of those in New York look could be Gibson Girls. Mrs. Churchill is particularly attractive and fashionable. Hedda wonders how her husband regards her passionate participation in the cause. Hedda has come across no clues about his view of women’s suffrage in his book, but then again, before spotting the photograph of his wife, she planned on returning it to the library unfinished. She might give his writing a second chance.

Ugh! Another one of those hateful half-page editorial cartoons by that Mr. Powers. Not only is his depiction of Suffragettes offensive, but, even worse, it serves as an excruciating reminder of how much better her relationship with Otto was a year ago.

She snatches up all the newspapers and hurls them into the trash bin.

~     ~    ~

People everywhere. With rain and the resulting mud forcing the cancellations of some of the parade slots earlier in the week, rescheduled events were squeezed into the weekend. Downtown is packed.

Ernestine Edmunds and Gunpowder, The Conservation Society of San Antonio

A horn honks; a horse whinnies; people on the sidewalk gasp. The teacher, Miss Ernestine Edmunds, riding her white horse Gunpowder, barely avoids a collision with Mrs. Liobhold’s sight-seeing car. Not a fair match at all. Mrs. Liobhold’s new vehicle is so long, it accommodates thirty rubbernecking tourists at a time.

Along the streets, spectators perch in every available window, hang on fire escapes and lean out from rooftops. Somehow Hedda finds a spot right off Alamo Plaza, with the post office at her back to shield her from some of the pushing and shoving. Employees riding the commercial floats fling foodstuffs—packages of vermicelli, candies, miniature cakes and even tiny sacks of flour—toward the outstretched hands of spectators.

Joske Brothers’ representation of the new dreadnought Texas cruises slowly down the street. Decorated in pink and white and strung with enormous American Beauty roses, the ship is more peaceful-looking than battle-ready. The next truck bears a cabin, its walls built of coffee cakes and its shingles of rolls baked by Solcher Steam Bakery.

Roped together and herded under guard, the novices of the Ben-Hur Temple of Mystic Shrine manage to smile as they pass by. Those smiles surely will vanish the closer they get to Casino Hall where they will be forced to cross burning sand, barefoot, as part of their Shriner initiation ceremony. A queer practice indeed.

St. Bernard dogs wearing way too much fur for San Antonio plod by. Now prissy prancing poodles. Next, dogs by the yard, dachshunds. Proud pet parents push vest-pocket editions of the canine world along in perambulators. The San Antonio Kennel Club must have close to 300 show dogs on parade.

The crowd sings loudly as a marching band plays “Dixie.” They clap along as another trumpets “The San Antonio Swing.” Graceful swans atop a beautiful float draw Lohengrin’s boat across the Rhein to rescue the young duchess from the Castle of Cleve. William Tell is poised with bow and arrow to shoot an apple atop the head of his son Walter.

Sixteen men of the Liederkranz Singing Society harmonize “Jesu, Meine Freude” aboard a spirit of the Rhine float. Not quite as catchy a tune as “The San Antonio Swing.” Saint Cecilia, the patroness of music, waves to the crowd. A truckload of happy frogs? Do croaking giant bullfrogs represent the same caliber of music as the preceding floats?

Mrs. Colquitt rides by in a flower-bedecked Victoria with Colonel Wahrmund, followed by Daughters of the Republic of Texas pelting flowers at the crowd who scramble to throw them back. “Dixie” again as the band from Fort Sam Houston marches by. Flowers everywhere. American Beauty roses. Hydrangeas. Flowers overwhelm the XXX signs on Pearl’s Pierce-Arrow truck.

And then the famous plays. Beauty and the Beast. “Let’s Give Three Cheers to the Sailor’s Bride” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore and “For He’s Going to Marry Yum-Yum” from Mikado. Cleopatra lies seductively before Anthony. The fiery mouth of hell gapes on the Faust float. A kimonoed Madame Butterfly fans herself. Ah, and Romeo courts a fair young Juliet.

Suddenly, shouts. “Nuevo Laredo Burning!” “Marines and Bluejackets Seize Vera Cruz!” The crowd surges around the newsboys, stripping them of their supplies of newspapers.

Are we at war?

Reality suddenly trumps the Battle of Flowers.

Footnotes

What shape was Hedda and Otto’s relationship in by April 1914? And was Hedda a church-goer? A book-lover? A sympathizer of Suffragettes? The reader is free to concoct a different vision of Hedda, but these pages belong to the Author.

How could the Author fail to take you to Fiesta? The major liberty taken is a timesaving one. There used to be many more street parades, sometimes several in a day. For example, the Shriners staged one; there was a commercial one; Fiesta San Jacinto was a music-centric one featuring a dozen bands; the San Antonio Kennel Club parade was a first that year, but actually was cancelled so mud would not muck up the coats of the show-dogs; the Battle of Flowers was a day parade; and the Famous Plays parade took place at night. But lucky you got to attend them all compressed into one tidy page-saving parade package.

The Marines and the “bluejackets” of the American Navy seized the customhouse and a large section of Vera Cruz on San Jacinto Day, April 21, 1914. Mexican Federal troops fleeing the advancing Constitutionalists under the command of Pancho Villa dynamited the post office, the custom house, the theater, the municipal building and the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo on April 24, 1914. On the day of the Battle of Flowers Parade, the city of Nuevo Laredo was set ablaze.   

Continue to Chapter Sixty-Two

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