Needlework by Julie Showalter

Needlework, A Novel By Julie Showalter

Needlework, A Novel By Julie Showalter

Athens Evening Globe
Athens, Missouri, February 4, 1964

Athens Girl Wins Scholarship

Jaynice Ray Hopewell, daughter of Mr. And Mrs. Jimmy Ray Hopewell, and a senior at Athens High, has been awarded a full-tuition four-year scholarship to Winchester College in Whittier, Illinois, near St. Louis. John Larkin says it is the largest scholarship an Athens student has earned in his five years as high school guidance counselor.

Jan is currently ranked fifth of 157 in the Athens High class of 1964. She was co-captain of this year’s debate team which won the Southwest Missouri tournament in Joplin, and she starred as “Aunt Abby” in the senior class production of Arsenic and Old Lace. Other activities include Altrurians, Presbyterian Youth, and yearbook staff.

Her father, Jimmy Ray Hopewell, is the proprietor of Hopewell’s Restaurant on Old Route 42. Her mother, Mildred, is bookkeeper at Methias Haney Hospital.

Winchester College, often referred to as “The Harvard of the Midwest,” is located on 50 scenic acres just outside Whittier, Illinois. The liberal arts curriculum, geared to the small student body, is enhanced by the individual attention given each student and a faculty-to-student ratio of 1 to 3. Cultural events are frequent at the newly-endowed Wellington Arts Pavilion. Additionally, students have access to the wide range of activities available in nearby St. Louis.


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Athens Evening Globe

Athens, Missouri, June 5, 1965

Hopewell-Harrison Betrothal

Jaynice Ray Hopewell and Richard Allan Harrison have announced their engagement. The bride-elect, a 1964 Athens High graduate, recently completed a year of study at Winchester College in Whittier, Illinois, and is employed by Foodtown Incorporated. Her parents are Jimmy Ray Hopewell, of Reyerson’s Real Estate World, and Mildred Hopewell, Business Office Manager of Methias Haney Hospital.

Mr. Harrison, a 1962 Athens graduate, works at Harrison’s Dairy Farm, owned by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Harrison.

The wedding is planned for September 1 in the First Baptist Church. The reception will follow in Fellowship Hall.


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Prologue

You’d think that the co-captain of a trophy-winning debate team would have what it takes to be successful in college. Mrs. Crawford always told us that debaters would be winners in life because we could think on our feet. But that just wasn’t enough at Winchester.

When Mother and Daddy took me, we all kept whispering around the big buildings and the students driving up in red convertibles they hauled all my stuff up to my fourth floor dorm room.

I’d brought the stereo Richard bought me for graduation, but there wasn’t anyplace in the room to set it. My roommate’s things were in the room. She didn’t have a stereo. I looked in a couple of other rooms and they didn’t have stereos either. Maybe stereos weren’t allowed. Maybe they weren’t cool. Daddy would be mad if I asked him to carry it back again. But there was no place to hide it if it wasn’t the right thing to have.

You see? I was thinking on my feet, but it got me nowhere.

The stereo was blue fabric with a handle. It looked like a sewing machine. My roommate had a clock radio that fit right by her bed. That was obviously what college girls had – small clock radios, not bulky cheap stereos.

I told Daddy to take it back.

Maybe that one story shows you why I was never happy at Winchester. With all that thinking on my feet, I didn’t once think about whether I wanted the stereo there. I just thought about what other people would think about me.

It got worse. We dressed up for dinner at Winchester. We wore high heels and stockings with seams, and the boys wore sport coats and ties. We sat at tables for ten with upperclassmen at the ends. The tables were covered with white linen, delicate china, real silver. Students on work-study scholarships brought huge trays in balanced on their palms. They rested the trays on stands behind the tables. Then each dish was presented to the student who was designated host of our table. I watched. No one made eye contact with the students serving. As they passed around the table, transferring food to each plate, the conversation continued. As if they weren’t there. As if they were the servants of the other students.

I was on scholarship, but no one had to know it. I didn’t have to serve cafeteria line at lunch or carry heavy trays at dinner. But I knew I was only one step away from the students who were ignored.

I watched closely. I removed my napkin ring, placed my napkin in my lap, listened to a conversation about how the French eat pie, how one summer abroad had been just one piece of lost luggage after another, how a fired gardener had resulted in one student’s having to do yard week for the month of August. I sipped my iced tea and set it precisely on the white indentation it had come from. I did not volunteer my summer activity – washing turkey eggs for a hatchery.

This was the world my mother had wanted for me, a world of bright, talented, wealthy people. A world I wanted for myself.

“I’m the last chick out of the nest,” a girl next to me said. “My folks are planning to play golf from now on. When it gets too cold, they’ll just go someplace warmer.”

I didn’t say that my father had just come off a ten month bender, that he and my mother were trying for the third time to be married to each other.

It wasn’t that people there were mean to me. They were polite; some even liked me. I did well enough in my classes that some teachers singled me out for praise.

But no one thought I was special. How could they when mainly I was trying to hide everything I was. There was one girl, a loud Texan, who laughed about her family – “Texas trash who struck oil” she called them. She let her ignorance show, made it the butt of her own jokes. I considered trying to be like her, but couldn’t find a way to make my inadequacies funny.

I didn’t belong there.

Nobody loved me there.

I quit going to class, and skipped meals. I slept until two in the afternoon while all the confident girls with their Madras skirts, their Bass Wejuns, and their perfect bubbles of hair laughed in the hall on their way to someplace interesting.

And all night I wrote letters to Richard. We’d gone steady since I was a sophomore and he was a senior. Two things had gotten me through the year when Mother and Daddy fought, divorced, remarried – knowing I was smart enough to get away, and having Richard love me until I could.

Richard wanted to marry me. That’s what he told me when we had sex the first time, that’s what he told me now in every letter.

I looked at my choices: I could stay at Winchester where I was miserable. I could transfer to JuCo and be with all the kids who couldn’t get into a real college. Or, I could marry Richard.

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Julie Showalter was my much-beloved, fiercely smart, wickedly sexy wife, who died in 1999 from cancer diagnosed the week of our wedding nearly 20 years earlier. She was also a prize-winning writer.

This blog includes many other posts about her and the unlikely but true story of our romance (See Julie FAQ) as well as several of her short stories and other pieces. Most of Julie’s fully edited and buffed literary efforts are already available under the heading, Julie’s Writings, in “Categories.”

Unpublished Julie is a group of pieces I’ve found on her computer or in her office that range from workshop exercises to story fragments to projects set aside to finish at a later day to work that appears, at least to me, to be fully as polished and effective as her published stories.

Julie completed a novel, Needlework, by 1997 but was revising portions of it for some time afterward. I have searched her files and have compiled the latest versions I have discovered. I plan to publish the entire novel on the Heck of a Guy Blog, a chapter at a time in serial fashion. Links to all currently published portions of Needlework can always be found at Information About Needlework With Links To Published Portions.