The Maternal Feminine
Called upon to describe Aunt Sophy, you would have to coin a term or fall back on the
dictionary definition of a spinster. "An unmarried woman," states that worthy work,
baldly, "especially when no longer young." That, to the world, was Sophy Decker.
Unmarried, certainly. And most certainly no longer young. In figure, she was, at fifty,
what is known in the corset ads as a "stylish stout." Well dressed in dark suits, with
broad-toed health shoes and a small, astute hat. The suit was practical common sense.
The health shoes were comfort. The hat was strictly business. Sophy Decker made and
sold hats, both astute and ingenuous, to the female population of Chippewa, Wisconsin.
Chippewa's East End set bought the knowing type of hat, and the mill hands and hired
girls bought the naive ones. But whether lumpy or possessed of that thing known as line,
Sophy Decker's hats were honest hats.
The world is full of Aunt Sophys, unsung. Plump, ruddy, capable women of middle age.
Unwed, and rather looked down upon by a family of married sisters and tolerant, good-
humored brothers-in-law, and careless nieces and nephews.
"Poor Aunt Soph," with a significant half smile. "She's such a good old thing. And she's
had so little in life, really."
She was, undoubtedly, a good old thing--Aunt Soph. Forever sending a model hat to this
pert little niece in Seattle; or taking Adele, Sister Flora's daughter, to Chicago or New
York as a treat on one of her buying trips.
Burdening herself, on her business visits to these cities, with a dozen foolish shopping
commissions for the idle womenfolk of her family. Hearing without partisanship her
sisters' complaints about their husbands, and her sisters' husbands' complaints about their
wives. It was always the same.
"I'm telling you this, Sophy. I wouldn't breathe it to another living soul. But I honestly
think, sometimes, that if it weren't for the children----"
There is no knowing why they confided these things to Sophy instead of to each other,
these wedded sisters of hers. Perhaps they held for each other an unuttered distrust or
jealousy. Perhaps, in making a confidante of Sophy, there was something of the
satisfaction that comes of dropping a surreptitious stone down a deep well and hearing it
plunk, safe in the knowledge that it has struck no one and that it cannot rebound, lying
there in the soft darkness. Sometimes they would end by saying, "But you don't know
what it is, Sophy. You can't. I'm sure I don't know why I'm telling you all this."
But when Sophy answered, sagely, "I know; I know," they paid little heed, once having
unburdened themselves. The curious part of it is that she did know. She knew as a woman
of fifty must know who, all her life, has given and given and in return has received
nothing. Sophy Decker had never used the word inhibition in her life. She may not have