That Scar on Grandma's Breast
When Grandma was twelve she met another twelve-year-old girl who would become her best friend for life.
Her name was Emma Caroway.
Grandma and Emma were as different as two girls could be. Grandma was one of four children being raised by her hard-working, single mother. Grandma was poor and (she says) homely. She had thin, mousy-brown hair and an eye that would tend to cross when she was nervous.
She was clumsy and chubby - had a slight lisp and a slight limp – a reminder and remainder of the bad case of rickets she had as an infant.
Emma was an only child with blonde, curly hair, dark-blue eyes and even dark lashes which was rare for someone with such light-colored hair.
She was the most beloved and doted upon daughter of her wealthy parents, Mr. and Mrs. Caroway. Mr. Caroway was a pharmacist and Mrs. Caroway was a beautiful blonde woman who turned heads everywhere she went and dressed in the latest fashions.
Grandma said Mrs. Caroway not only looked like an angel, but she also acted like one. Mrs Caroway saved Grandma from many predicaments and situations that her own mother would have punished her for or worse, not understood at all.
Because Emma’s parents were well-off and Grandma came from a broken home and was poor, Mrs. Caroway offered to pay for Grandma to take lessons with Emma. That way they could travel the bus lines together, practice together and keep each other company.
So Grandma took elocution lessons, dance lessons and piano lessons with Emma. She spent every spare moment she had at Emma’s house; Emma had the piano, Emma had lots of good food, Emma had her own bedroom decorated in lavender and cream chintz and a double bed all her own.
Somehow, Grandma knew that her own mother would not be happy about Mrs. Caroway paying for Grandma’s lessons so she neglected to share this information with her mother.
Single mothers were rare in the 20s and Grandma’s mother had to work all day at an upholstery company and much of the evening as a seamstress for a local dry cleaning store to make her “frayed” ends meet. She also took in sewing for her spare time: weekends and late evenings. Somehow she kept her family together which, I’m sure, is why later on Grandma was able to do the same when times were hard for her during the Depression.
Grandma and her three siblings had numerous chores they had to accomplish, but after that – they were free to be away from the house because their mother was hardly ever home. Grandma would do her chores as fast as she could and then run all the way to Emma’s house.
Grandma remembers this time as one of pure joy.
She loved her piano lessons and became very good at playing; she loved her elocution lessons and lost her lisp while memorizing beautiful poems and speeches she could still recite till her death.
Most of all, she loved the dance lessons. Her limp disappeared as her dance skills improved. She slimmed down and grew breasts. She was blossoming and soon she excelled in both tap and ballet as did Emma. They were the pets of the class.
She kept her tap and ballet shoes (provided by Mrs. Caroway) in Emma’s closet, but she managed to practice in her own home in socks and her Sunday shoes.
It was on the way to dance lessons, a warm day in April, 1924, that it happened.
Emma and Grandma had just gotten off the city bus and were heading towards The Graham Academy of Dance, laughing , half-running and feeling free and happy, when Grandma felt a thwack on her chest.
That man, walking in the other direction -- swinging his arm, must have bumped into her by mistake, she thought. But when she looked down at her white Catholic-school blouse she saw a circle of red seeping into the cotton fabric.
Emma was screaming so loud that Grandma had to tell her to calm down. Nothing hurt, thought Grandma, so where was that blood coming from?
Something weird was happening to Grandma and she didn’t know what it was. Then Grandma’s knees buckled and she went down with a thump onto the street. Her skirt hiked up so high, Emma had to pull it down or people would have seen her underpants.
In a few minutes, Grandma sat up.
It was fear that had made her faint. And not fear of the blood stain on her blouse. Fear of what she would have to tell her mother: Where she was when this happened and why she was downtown with Emma.
Once the truth was out and Grandma’s mother realized that Mrs. Caroway was paying for Grandma’s dance lessons, the lessons would stop.
Maybe her mother would stop her from going to the Caroway house all together. Maybe her mother would be so angry she’d forbid her to see Emma ever again, and if that happened, Grandma would have to curl up and die right on the spot, she thought.
“It’s going to be okay,” Emma said. “My mother will fix things. She’ll understand.”
Emma handed Grandma a beautiful handkerchief with purple pansies embroidered on it and dark purple tatting on the edges. Put that over where you’re bleeding and let’s get out of here now.
On the bus ride home to Emma’s house, she held the hanky over the spot that was bleeding and tried to breathe normally and not faint again.
Mrs. Caroway looked pale when she saw Grandma with the blood stained blouse and the scared face.
“Well, what on earth has happened here?” she asked.
“Oh please don’t tell my mother Mrs. Caroway. She won’t let me take dance lessons with Emma if she knew you paid for them.” Grandma cried for the first time since the incident.
Mrs. Caroway did understand.
She made Grandma take off her blouse and she could tell in an instant exactly what had happened.
She cleaned the v-shaped wound with brown soap and water, gently dried it and placed a bandage over the wound. It would heal up fine, Mrs. Caroway said.
“Emma, get her one of your school blouses please…I’ll keep this one and wash it and you can get it some other time dear,” she told Grandma.
Over lemonade and gingersnaps, Mrs. Caroway told Grandma about a bad man she had heard about, who was attacking young girls. He had a sharp object and would aim for their bosom, not wanting to kill them, but just to draw some blood. He was talked about in the papers and had been dubbed, The Mad Stabber.
Up until this incident, he hadn’t been in their city, but apparently he had moved to another area where the police weren’t expecting him.
“I should call the authorities,” Mrs. Caroway said, but Grandma pleaded with her not to-- so she never did.
Maybe The Mad Stabber found religion or got run over by a bus. Maybe he didn’t like Grandma’s city or maybe he got worse and didn’t just jab at young girls but went on to kill or rape – one thing is for sure, he never was in the local papers again after Grandma got stabbed.
Just what did he stab her with? Maybe you have an idea. It left a perfect V-shaped scar on her upper left breast, faint but there. It was rather high up on her breast and once in a while, she’d wear something with a round or vee-neck and we could see the place where he got her.
Mrs. Caroway never told anyone what happened and Grandma continued to take dance lessons until she and Emma were fifteen and landed a job at a local burlesque theater.
But, that’s another story.