The true coming of age story of Margaret Mead — one of the heroines of the twentieth century — that reveals events and relationships she hid from the world during her lifetime and beyond.
Targeted Age Group:: ages 18 — 70, women
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 3 – PG-13
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
My interest in Margaret Mead was triggered by a chance encounter I had with her many years ago, when she was an old woman and I was coming of age. From that point on I was interested in the period of her life, before she became famous, so I could understand the forces that shaped her into the woman she became.
from Chapter 9: A Cottage on Cape Cod
Margaret stood at the glass, looking out. The sea stretched out gray and flat, projecting a lassitude that was not comforting. She opened the windows to let in the smell of the ocean. In the distance she could see Luther walking across the rocks down onto the beach. Gulls flew low over his head, squawking their shrill cries. She turned away from the window, and began to unpack her belongings, putting a pile of books on the kitchen table.
Although they were not unacquainted with all matter of information about sex, both Margaret and Luther were virgins. Luther, having grown up on a working farm, observing the cycle of life, had a robust interest in sex, although he didn’t discuss it with Margaret. Margaret’s knowledge of sex came entirely from books written by the experts of the time. She had read Sigmund Freud, Richard von Krafft Ebbing and Havelock Ellis.
One semester Ellis’s black market best seller, Sexual Inversion, had made the rounds through the dormitory, with the girls excitedly passing the thick volume in its anonymous dark green binding from one room to the next. Margaret had pored over some of the chapters three or four times, finding interest in the definition of “inverts,” or individuals who preferred sex with others of the same gender. In writing about women who were attracted to other women, Ellis had made the distinction between the “true inverts” who remained in same sex relationships their entire lives, and a second group who “developed the germs of it” when they were adolescents, usually during a “crush” on another woman, but as they matured, passed through that stage. Margaret was heartened by Ellis’s theory that temporary attraction to others of the same sex was a natural phase in a young girl’s life.
In regard to sex with men, while totally inexperienced, Margaret was game to try. Again, she found Havelock Ellis and his theories interesting. Ellis’s analogy was that sex was like a musical instrument that the participants learned to play; if one played with feeling and technique, achieving an orgasm was possible.
She wondered if that was true. Certainly not if you didn’t have any experience. And what if she didn’t like it? Or if he didn’t?
Clearly, Luther did not share any of her trepidation. For the last year, he had made it abundantly clear that he was bursting with impatience to lose his virginity, after their wedding, of course. So eager was he to share a bed with his bride that he filled his letters with images of what he would do when they were man and wife:
My flesh aches for the touch of love flesh beside it with a bitter inconsolable pain. My whole being is crying for you, you, you, to kiss and caress you, to rumple your hair about and kiss it till it won’t be still, to see the love in your eyes, to whisper again and again I’m yours, yours, yours. To kiss your lips till they are like two roses, to feel rest after it all calm and peaceful in my arms.”
He was prepared for her to be defensive. He had tried to ease her skittishness by reassuring her that she was desirable, taking advantage of the moments when they were alone to murmur endearments into her ear. “My body is calling for yours,” he’d say, “when we are… wife and husband, our love will be like a treasure with a hoard of gold stored up till the moment comes for its use.”
Finally the waiting was to be over.
* * *
The sky was darkening as Luther returned to the cottage. His cheeks were flushed and his hair wind blown. He was carrying a bottle of wine and a small package wrapped in brown wax paper and tied with a string.
Margaret was sitting at the little table reading. He noticed that she had changed into a crisp sleeveless dress. She looked as pretty as he’d ever seen her. With a flourish he unwrapped the bundle, revealing several pieces of perfectly prepared fried cod that he’d bought at a roadside stand. Margaret put plates out on the table and they sat down for a leisurely meal. Over dinner Margaret told Luther about the paper she was working on for her first graduate seminar. Pointing to an overturned volume on the kitchen counter she said, “That enormous tome is nearly impossible to wade through.”
Luther reached for the book, saw it had something to do with intelligence testing and the army. “Poor little girlie,” he said, “it’s written by some duffer at Princeton.”
Luther blew out the kerosene lamp that sat on the table and came around to where Margaret was sitting on the window seat. He sat down next to her, his leg pressing against her leg. He ruffled her hair. He leaned in and kissed her neck.
She twisted her neck away from him and slid herself over on the seat. Her arms pressed down stiffly on either side of her, forming a fence around her body.
He tried again, but Margaret, holding herself away, said, “Tonight I’m going to take the other bedroom. I have some skull-splitting thinking I need to do.”
Luther stared at her.
Not meeting his eyes, she said, “I have a seminar paper to write. A book report to give. It’s due right after we return.”
As Luther regarded her he fought to cover the pain, the humiliation. He hoped to God his face wouldn’t give him away. He stood up. “Which room do you want?”
“That one,” said Margaret, pointing to the smaller room, the one that did not have a view of the ocean. “I’m going to sleep in there.”
Looking, he saw her valise was already sitting open on a stand at the foot of the bed.
That night they did not consummate their union.
One night sleeping alone, in separate bedrooms, turned into two.
The following day Margaret wrote a three-page letter to her mother, filling it with news about the relatives and family friends they had visited in Cape Cod. “We took Aunt Nellie, Cousin Elizabeth and Betty out in the car. Picture that! And they guided us all around Woods Hole and Falmouth.” She reported that one of her cousins had flunked his college boards, and the other had taken a temporary job working on a cranberry farm. In a telling remark about how she was viewing the prospect of motherhood and the constraints it would put on her career, she said, “By the way your friends the Waibasses have a million dollar estate. That’s how she can be active and still a mother!” She ended her letter with a wry jest about the monotony of the local architecture, including a pencil sketch of three box-style Cape Cod cottages, all nearly identical.
Luther did not write letters home. Even if he had someone he could unburden himself to, he was too humiliated to reveal what had happened. No one would understand anyway. He looked for chores to keep himself busy, went for long walks and dallied over the small outdoor stands where the locals sold their wares.
One afternoon Luther discovered a nearby farm where an old man was selling blueberries and apples. Walking among the barrels, picking out red and gold apples, he was suddenly reminded of one of his favorite Greek myths. The tale was about the maiden Atalanta who didn’t want to marry. She told her father she’d only agree if he could find a suitor who could beat her in a footrace; if the suitor lost, she made her father promise that he would be put to death. Many died until a young man named Melanion thought to ask the goddess Aphrodite for help. Aphrodite gave him three golden apples. During the race Melanion dropped the golden fruit, one by one, distracting Atalanta and enabling him to win the contest.
The more Luther thought about it, the more he realized that these last few days had all been about Margaret’s “fear and hostility to the commitment of marriage.” He was sure Margaret was “seeking to avoid an experience and a possible emotional commitment.” He also knew that it was he, more than anyone else, who appreciated Margaret, this “lovely, not beautiful, young woman,” now his wife. She was “willful at times, stubborn, sometimes quixotic, never simple, brilliant, goal-oriented and her course laid out, not permitting any interference with her steady progress in that direction.” He realized that they were running a race, a long distance race. Not only would he have to pace himself, but he would also have to find golden apples to throw in her path.
The next day they drove along the cape, looking out at the low sandy beach under the long skyline. When they reached Provincetown Luther pulled the car over to the side of the road. He looked over at Margaret who was staring out at the ocean. Her eyes were opaque, Her chin set in a determined line.
“If this is how it’s going to be,” he thought, “I can stand it.”
Once they were on the beach Margaret took off her shoes and walked ahead of him. Luther followed, watching her step lightly over the stones, making her way down to the water’s edge. She stood at the water line, letting the waves lap around her ankles.
Crouching down on his haunches, his back to Margaret, Luther began to sort through the smooth round stones. He cupped a handful in his palm and shook them until one caught his eye. It was a translucent red gold, an agate. He plucked it out from the bunch and dropped it into his pocket.
In the car driving home they remained mostly silent. The late afternoon sun slanted through the upright pines. As they neared Hyannis, Margaret quietly reached over and put her hand on Luther’s pants leg. He did not look in her direction. A moment later she edged her hand up along the cloth to his inner thigh, allowing the side of her hand to rest up against his crotch.
“You’d better watch out,” said Luther, “or we’ll end up in a ditch.”
Margaret just looked over at him, keeping her hand in place.
The small cottage was almost dark inside and it took a moment for Luther’s eyes to adjust. Margaret walked toward him. Even in the near darkness he could see that her eyes were laughing. She reached for his hand and turned him toward the room where she had been sleeping. Feeling the pressure of her hand on his, hearing her low and excited laugh, he let her pull him down on top of her onto the bed.
Afterward, lying side by side, Luther could see the crescent of the moon through the small window. Margaret slept peacefully at his side.
After dinner they went into town to see Branded, a moving picture show. Sitting side-by-side in the darkened theater, watching the silent Western, Margaret leaned in close and whispered, “Luther?” And then in a teasing tone, “Have you put your brand on me?”
“Yes,” Luther said, but thinking, “No, you put my brand on you.”
The next few days at the cottage were more relaxing. Margaret had Luther move her suitcase into the main bedroom. In the mornings she was happy to lie in bed, listening to the waves rushing up the rocks, then receding. She allowed herself to sit for long hours at the breakfast table and talk. Luther was an attentive listener, always willing to take up her ideas with an enthusiasm that matched her own.
Even so, still there was a disconnect. She later said, “Our enjoyment of these long lazy hours did not mean that even after an engagement of five years there were not moments of strangeness and disappointment to overcome.”
On the morning of their departure Luther cleaned the kitchen while Margret packed their bags. He carried their suitcases out to the car, and she followed him outside.
“I’ll give the place the once-over,” said Luther. Walking back toward the door he thrust his hands into his pockets, letting his fingers close over the smoothness of the agate. His eyes took in the details of the room where he had experienced both pain and pleasure.
He noted the watercolor of the fishing boats, faded and hanging slightly askew; the window seat where Margaret had positioned herself each morning so she could look out over the flat indigo sea. Taking in a last breath of the salty air, he took the beautiful agate out of his pocket and tucked it into the corner of the windowsill, trusting it would be there the next time they returned.
Margaret was waiting in the car, in the passenger seat. Luther swung himself in behind the wheel. He leaned toward her and they kissed. It was a long, lingering kiss. When he pulled back he saw that her gray-blue eyes were shining. He patted her hand and, starting the motor, he glanced in the rear view mirror and backed the car out of the driveway.
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