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By Sheldon Vanauken | June 1990
Sheldon Vanauken is a writer in Virginia and a Contributing Editor of the NOR. His award-winning A Severe Mercy is still in print from Harper & Row.

This is the story of a frightened young girl, who was later my wife, Davy, and is now dead. It is also a way of looking at a di­visive and infuriating issue right-side-up in­stead of upside-down, as we usually see it. My book A Severe Mercy was about Davy, but the story of her being a frightened young girl was not in it because, when it was written in 1976, there was no resolution to it, only a beginning.

In the beginning, then, years before and hundreds of miles from our meeting in the dead of winter, the young girl, Jean Davis, al­ready called “Davy” from her surname, had recently entered high school. Two years earlier her father, a Methodist Episcopal minister, had died, leaving his wife and three children. Like many ministers’ children, Davy, with perhaps less parental supervision than before her father’s death and coming into the less supervised world of high school, was running a bit wild. Thus we come to her fright. At the age of 14 she found herself pregnant. There was nothing to do but tell her mother, who, along with her older sister, stood by her. All this, of course, is an old, old tale among womankind.

In due course she bore the child — a blue-eyed girl-child whom she was to remem­ber all her life as blue-eyed and beautiful — and she named her Marion. After brief days with her tiny daughter, Davy had sadly to give her up for adoption — adoption, it was specified, by a Christian family. Later Davy was sent to a good prep school for girls.

Half a decade later, far from her home, we met in the dead of winter and we fell in love. One evening not long after our meeting, she said somewhat tensely that she had something she must tell me. I noticed that she was pale. Was she perhaps about to tell me she loved another? No, I thought, not that. I sat down and lighted my pipe. “All right,” I said. “Tell.” And so she told me of the little lost Marion. I was somewhat shocked, I recall. I don’t quite know what she expected. Moral standards between the world wars were more relaxed than before the first war but more rig­orous than after the second. Perhaps she thought I might rise and say coldly that all was over between us and stalk away. Any­way, when her pitiful little tale was done, she looked at me and her (lovely) eyes were full of tears — tears, it may be, because she was frightened but, even more, for the little lost Marion. And I — I put down my pipe and stood up, not speaking, and walked over to her, holding out my hands to hers, pulling her to her feet. Then I put my arms round her and kissed her, murmuring, “It’s all right, dearling….”

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