Navigate the Chapters of this Book


I was, therefore, completely disillusioned by life, by religion with its orthodox presentation and by people, particularly my own husband whom I had idealised.  No one needed me, except three babies, and I used to be needed by hundreds and thousands.  Only a small handful of people cared in their busy lives what happened to me and I used to matter to lots of people.  I seemed to have reached the point where I was absolutely useless, just doing the chores and the ordinary routine of small town living which hundreds of women, with less background, education and brains were probably doing better.  I was tired of washing diapers and cutting bread and butter.  I knew the meaning of complete despair.   The only comfort which I had were the children and they were so tiny that their healing quality lay in their lack of understanding.

The climax of this came on a day when I was quite desperate and, leaving the children in the care of a neighbor, I went out into the woods alone.  For hours I lay on my face wrestling with my problem and then, standing up under a big tree, which I could probably find again if that piece of ground has not been built over, I told God that I was quite desperate, that I would take anything that I had to take if it would only release me to a more useful life.  I told Him that I had exhausted the resources of doing "everything for Jesus' sake"; that I did do everything for His sake, as far as I could; that I swept and dusted and cooked and washed and looked after the babies to the very best of my ability, and so what.

I remember so distinctly the depths of my despair when I got absolutely no response.  I was so sure that if I was [128] desperate enough that I would get a response; that I would again have some kind of a vision, or that I would hear a voice as I had at times heard a voice, telling me what to do.  But I had no vision; I heard no voice:  and I just trotted home to get supper.  Yet, all the time, I had been heard but didn't know it.  All the time plans were being laid for my release, but I was quite unaware of it.  Unseen by me a door was opening and even though I did not realise it, I was facing the happiest and richest part of my life.  As I told my daughter years later, "We never know what lies around the corner."

The next morning I went down to one of the great sardine canneries and applied for a job.  I got it, as it was the rush season and they needed hands.  I made an arrangement with a neighbor to look after the babies, paying her half of what I earned, whatever that might be.  The work was piece work and I knew that I was quick and I hoped to earn good money and I did.  I went down each morning at 7 a.m. and returned home around 4 in the afternoon.  For the first three days the noise, the smells and the unfamiliar surroundings and the long walks to the factory and back to the cottage affected me so much that the moment I got into the cottage I fainted dead away.

But I got accustomed to it, for Nature is very adaptable, and I regard this period as one of the most interesting experiences of my life.  I was down among the people; I was just nobody and I had always thought I was somebody.  I was holding down the kind of job that anybody could hold down.  It was unskilled labor.  At first I went into the labelling department, labelling the large, oval cans of Del Monte sardines; but I could not make enough money at this to warrant my effort.  I met with much kindness in this department.  I think everybody saw that I was scared, for one day the man who threw the cans of sardines on [129] the table to be labelled poked me in the ribs, in an uncouth way, and said, "Say, I've found out who you are. My wife's sister comes from R—- and she told me about you.  If you need a man to stick up for you and to stop anybody being rude to you, just remember I'm here."  He never intruded again but he kind of watched over me.  I always had cans to label and I am very grateful to him.

I was advised to go into the packing department to pack the sardines in cans and this I did.  It was a much rougher group of factory hands—rather tough women, Mexicans and the type of man I had never met before—even in social work.  When I first went into this department they made it hard for me by poking fun at me.  I didn't belong, apparently.  I was obviously too good and, of course, exceedingly proper and they did not know what to make of me.  A gang of them used to collect near the gate of the factory and when I hove in sight they'd start singing, "Nearer my God to Thee."  I didn't like it at first and used to shudder at the thought of going through the gate but, after all, I'd had a lot of experience in handling men and little by little I won them, so that I really had a good time.  I never lacked for fish to pack.  A clean newspaper would find its way mysteriously on to my stool.  They watched out for me in all kinds of ways and I would like again to point out that this had nothing, whatever, to do with me.  I did not know the names of these men and women.  I had never done them a kindness in my life, but they were just straight good to me and I have never forgotten it.  I learnt to like them very much and we grew to be good friends.  I never, however, learnt to like the sardines.  I made up my mind that if I was going to be a packer I would make it financially worth while.  I wanted money for the children, so I brought my mind to bear on the problem of packing.  I watched the other [130] packers.  I studied every movement so that there would be no waste effort and in three weeks' time I was the show packer in the factory.  I handled an average of ten thousand sardines a day and packed hundreds of cans.  Visitors to the factory were brought to watch me and then I paid the price of my good work and had to listen to comments such as, "What's a woman like this doing in a factory?" and "She looks too good for her job, but is probably no good."  "She must have done something to have brought herself down to this kind of work."  "Better not be taken in by appearances, she's probably a bad egg."  I am quoting literally.  I remember once the foreman of the factory was standing by listening to a group talking about me in this way and watching me squirm.  The comments had been particularly rude and my hands were literally shaking with fury.  After they had passed on he came up to me and said, with the kindest expression on his face, "Never you mind, Mrs. Evans, we here call you 'the diamond lost in the mud'."  I found that full compensation for all that had been said.  Is it to be wondered at that I have an unalterable and unshakable faith in the beauty and divinity of humanity?  If these had been people who were under obligation to me, the story would be different, but all this expressed the spontaneous kindness of the human soul to people in similar difficulties to their own.  The poor are usually kind to the poor.

Let me tell one more story which expresses even more fully this attitude of human kindness.  One day when the lunch bell went, a great, hulking, dirty, elderly man—whose appearance was terrible and who smelt to high heaven—came up to me and said, "Come around the corner with me.  I want to speak to you."  I have never been afraid of men and I went around the corner with him.  He stuck his hand down into his jeans and hauled out half a clean, white [131] apron.  He said, "See here, Miss, I swiped this off my wife this morning and I'm going to hang it on a nail here.  I don't like your drying your hands on that dirty rag in the women's room.  I've got the other half and will hang it up when this gets dirty."  He turned on his heel before I had time to thank him and never spoke to me again, but there was always a clean rag for me on which to wipe my hands.

I am quite sure that we get what we give in life.  I had learnt not to be snooty; I wasn't preachy; I just tried to be polite and kind and, therefore, got politeness and kindness from other people and anyone can do the same—which is the moral of my tale.  I remember a few years ago a woman who came to consult me in my office in New York.  The burden of her story was that she was having an awful time; everybody was gossiping about her; she did not know how to stop it.  She cried and she wept; the world was cruel in what it said and wouldn't I please help her.  Never having seen her before and not knowing any of the facts of the case, I did what I could.  Curiously enough, a few days later I went into a restaurant and sat down with my husband, Foster Bailey, in a booth.  In the next booth I saw this woman though she did not see me.  She was with a friend and talking in a loud, clear voice and I could hear every word she said.  What she didn't say about her friends is beyond belief.  Not a kind word passed her lips.  She was giving to her friend what is vulgarly called "the dirt" about all her acquaintances.  By listening to her I solved her problem, and when she next came in to see me I told her about it, perhaps rashly for I have never seen her since.  She probably did not like me and she certainly did not like the truth.

This work in the factory went on for several months.  Walter Evans, in the meantime, had left Montana and had [132] gone to a university in the east to take a post-graduate course.  I seldom heard from him.  No money came from him and in 1916 I consulted a lawyer about getting a divorce.  I could not face the prospect of going back to him or subjecting the children to his tempers and sulkiness.  He had given no indication that he had learned anything and evidenced no sense of responsibility where the children and I were concerned.  In 1917, when the United States entered the war, he went out to France with the Y.M.C.A., and was in France for the duration.  He did most distinguished work and was given the Croix de Guerre.  I, therefore, cancelled the divorce proceedings at that time, as there was a strong feeling against women getting divorces when their husbands were absent at the front.  It never seemed to me really logical, because the man at the front or the man at home are just the same people.  I've never understood, either, why every single soldier in the army is regarded as a hero.  He has probably been drafted and has no alternative.  I know soldiers very well and I know how they detest the "hero" talk of the newspapers and the public.

I had given up writing to him and began to feel a great sense of relief because he was so far away.  The children were well and a great joy and I was all right though I only weighed 99 pounds.  I had managed to take care of them and I seemed to be slowly weathering the storm.  I was still in the dark, spiritually, but was too busy earning money and taking care of the three little girls to have time to wonder about my soul.