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In Alice Munro's "How I Met My Husband," the author describes the ways in which Edie is intelligent, observant and intuitive as she works for the Peebles family.
Edie is aware of the social standings within her community, even though the woman she works for is unaware. When Loretta Bird arrives, Edie mentions details that most of the community understands; however, Mrs. Peebles mistakes Mrs. Bird as a woman above the station which she actually occupies in this small town:
She lived on the next place and the Peebleses thought she was a countrywoman, they didn't know the difference. She and her husband didn't farm, he worked on the roads and had a bad name for drinking. They had seven children and couldn't get credit at the HiWay Grocery. The Peebleses made her welcome, not knowing any better, as I say, and offered her dessert.
Edie is aware that Loretta Bird is a liar. As Edie gets down a can of peaches to open for Mrs. Bird's dessert, the woman points out that she can only digest home canned fruit. Edie knows for a fact that Loretta Bird has never canned fruit in her life.
Edie knows how to act in front the children she cares for. We cannot be certain whether she acts in this instance out of vanity or to set an example for the children, but Edie will not let them know she is afraid to fly. The reader knows enough of Edie to infer that Edie understands that in order to have the children take her seriously, they cannot know she is afraid of anything—in this case, flying in the plane that has landed on the field at the fairgrounds.
Edie is aware by the way Mrs. Bird wraps her feet around the legs of the chair in which she is sitting that she plans to stay for a while. Edie is observant.
Loretta Bird is a woman Mrs. Peebles would never have in her house if she knew what kind of person Mrs. Bird was. For instance, she tries to get Edie to gossip about the Peebleses while she is still in their home. After the doctor has returned to his office and Mrs. Peebles goes to take a nap, Loretta Bird, instead of leaving, remains behind and is critical of her hostess for napping in the day—something she says she could never do with so many children.
She asked me did they fight and did they keep things in the dresser drawer not to have babies with. She said it was a sin if they did. I pretended I didn't know what she was talking about.
The reader understands two things: at fifteen, Edie knows about contraception, and she refuses to engage in gossip with Mrs. Bird, showing her to be not only loyal, but also aware of decent social behavior.
It is true that Edie and high school were not the best match:
I was shy of strangers and the work was hard, they didn't make it nice for you or explain the way they do now.... The last thing I wanted, anyway, was to go on and end up teaching school.
When the newspaper had printed everyone's ranking in the newspaper, Edie's father, a farmer, felt it was not worth it to send Edie back, and Edie was fine with that. Dr. Peebles was at the farm that day and said he thought Edie was smart and that she could be a great assistance to his wife who needed help in the house and with their two children. It is easy to see that being a doctor's wife is much different than being a farmer's wife. Edie's mother shows polite understanding as she listens to Dr. Peebles, but Edie knows exactly what her mother is thinking—how nice it would be to have only two children, to not have to do barn work and to be able to complain about her work being too much for her. Edie is smart enough to understand what her mother's reaction is even though her mother has not said a word.
Mrs. Peebles is of a different ilk than Edie's family. Mrs. Peebles does not even know how to make a piecrust...
...the most amazing thing I ever heard a woman admit.
Edie does know. Mrs. Peebles does not have to launder clothes the way they do at Edie's house. Edie has to boil water, wash the clothes, put them through the wringer, and hang and take down every piece that is washed. Mrs. Peebles, on the other hand, has an automatic washer and dryer. Edie can bake different kinds of cake, but Mrs. Peebles is not interested, saying they try to watch what they eat. In terms of caring for a home, Edie can do things that Mrs. Peebles cannot do.
Edie is wise. She loves keeping the kitchen and bathrooms spotless because they look so nice in the light, something she does not have at home. But while things are much nicer here than at home, Edie believes that life at her house is easier in that she can perceive the way things are in the house in which she works, but how much harder it would be coming from Mrs. Peebles' house and trying to make sense of the way Edie and her family lived. This is a sophisticated line of thinking on Edie's part.
Edie works swiftly and efficiently, able to get her work done quickly. Though Edie is capable of doing much more than is asked of her, the Peebleses don't expect a great deal. She can prepare the meal, clean, do the laundry and watch after the children easily enough. However, at fifteen she is wise in understanding the social standing of the townspeople, is perceptive enough to know when someone is not being honest, and is observant, polite, and loyal.
Though she has not been raised in a fancy home, she is smart enough to know how to run a household, while behaving in the manner of a young woman who is aware of the complexities of life, and the behavior such things demand of her.
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