I, however, was the “and wife.” Granted, the good doctor had done his share. It was his way of practicing medicine that was being featured. He had been the speaker at a meeting where he had connected with a filmmaker, but “and wife” had written the screenplay for the film. Together we had created an entertaining and meaningful film. Our sons were proud of us but after the article in the paper, they started calling me, “and wife.” They thought it was very funny.
In 1965, just ten years earlier, shortly after we’d moved to this town, I chaired a committee to organize a community theatre. My friend, Ann, the mayor’s wife, went with me to the newspaper office to tell them of our progress. We gave the editor the names of the two actors in our first show: John Jefferson and Sally Abbot. He asked if John Jefferson was a doctor at the local clinic and we said yes. “We never refer to Doctor’s by their first names.” he said. “We always list them as Dr.”
Then he asked what Sally’s husband’s name was. We told him. He said he had to list her by her husband’s name, Mrs. Ted Abbot. “But,” I protested, “this is the theatre. People are acknowledged by their first names, their own first names.”
“I’m sorry he replied, that’s the policy of the paper.”
“It should read, the part of Henry will be played by John Jefferson and the part of Eleanor by Sally Abbot.” I said.
“Sorry” he said, “that won’t work for us. We’ll list them as Dr. John Jefferson and Mrs. Ted Abbot.”
“You mean if I were in a play, I’d have to be listed as Mrs. Robert Rynearson?”
“That’s right,” he replied.
“What if it were Elizabeth Taylor,” I protested.
“Well,” he exclaimed, “this is just a small town.”
Until that moment I hadn’t thought of the site we’d chosen for our home as “just a small town.” I’d thought of it as a place where my husband could work at an excellent clinic, my kids could be raised in a safe environment and I could continue my work in the theatre. I’d met hundreds of people. Everyone I knew called me by my first name. I wasn’t an appendage of anyone. I didn’t even belong to the Medical Auxiliary, for heaven’s sake!
I could feel the blood rush to my head. I was about to shout at this impossible man who happened to be the editor of the paper, when Ann pulled at my arm and rolled her eyes. She thanked him and said we would be leaving. She was appalled too, but her life in politics had strengthened her tolerance and self-control. She was often referred to as “the Mayor’s wife.” Every time I heard it I wanted to shout out, “Ann, is her name. Her name is Ann!”
Then thirty-two years after our talk with the editor of the paper and twenty-two years after the Doctor “and wife” had won the award, it happened again. I honestly thought the world had changed. It was June of 1997. My husband was retiring from the clinic. Many people lined up at the reception to say good-bye. I was there beside him, the loyal wife, smiling at people I knew and some I didn’t. The reporters from the paper were there. It was quite a lovely event with good food and abundant flowers. It was as it should have been.
Again, we made the front page, shown standing in a receiving line. He was smiling at someone on his right and I was shaking hands with someone on my left. The caption under the picture was “Dr. Rynearson (the wife) Retires After Thirty-four Years of Service.”
I was lying in bed when my husband handed me my glasses and the paper. He told me to read the front-page article and he quickly returned to the kitchen for more coffee. “Is this possible?” I said to myself, when I first opened the paper? “Dr. Rynearson (the wife)….” It wasn’t even grammatically correct, much less appropriate. Had nothing changed in all those years?
In between the award, the theatre and the retirement, I’d actually accomplished quite a lot. People on the street knew me by my first name. I was publicly thanked several times and had my own name on the acting credits of a hand full of films. I’d even become a produced playwright.
So when a woman from a local club, asked me to be the main speaker for their monthly meeting, I asked if the local newspaper would be covering it. They said, “Yes,” so I said, “No.” The headlines would surely be, “Doctor Rynearson’s wife talks to local group about how one pursues ones dreams and establishes one’s own identity.”
But that wasn’t the end of the story. In 1999 our grandson was born. Bingo! He and his Dad were pictured on the front page of the paper. My husband again handed me the paper and again disappeared into the kitchen. “Where’s his Mother?” I shouted. She wasn’t feeling great and didn’t want to go back to the nursery where the photographer was waiting. I certainly understood that. “Read the rest of the article on the next page,” my husband shouted. On page two of the newspaper I read that he was the first baby to be born in the county in 1999 and was “the grandson of Dr. Robert Rynearson, who retired from the local clinic in 1997.” No mention of either grandmother! One was me, of course, and the other grandmother was a prominent lawyer in town.
Our son, Jim, who almost always finds the humor in life, read my story and sent this note. “Your story And Wife, sounds like a liberal feminist diatribe against all that is sacred and holy in our close to perfect male dominated world.
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Gentle Vignettes (And Some Not So Gentle)
Gentle Vignettes (And Some Not So Gentle)