“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” ~ Dr. Seuss
“The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.” ~ John Green, Looking for Alaska
“Lighten up, just enjoy life, smile more, laugh more, and don’t get so worked up about things.” ~ Kenneth Branagh
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can get so set on certain ways of thinking that I block the good things that could be coming my way. The movie The Valley of Decision (1945), book by Marcia Davenport, is a story about people who get caught up in that kind of thinking and every time I see the movie, I want the main character, Mary, to make different decisions so she and Paul can live happily ever after. But if she did that, I might not be reminded to recheck my own thinking.
I know, I’m bit of a harpy writing all the time about stories that teach me something, or stories from which I learn important lessons. I do enjoy stories that are just fun for fun sake, like Mama Mia!. I’ll try to write about those kinds of stories more often, but today, The Valley of Decision is on my mind because I was confronted with some of my own intractable thinking recently.
If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it for a number of reasons. First, Gregory Peck and Greer Garson play the lead characters. It’s sad they didn’t do more movies together, because they have fantastic chemistry. Second, the story is a little bit of a history lesson about the steel industry in the late 1800s Pittsburg. In a way it’s a story about ingenuity and the love of creating the best product possible to help America grow. That’s the kind of story many Americans like. That kind of story comes in lots of different packages, from the people who invented computers, or cars, or a new movement in art, and we never get tired of them. This story happens to be about steel and for that reason, it’s a little bit nostalgic. Third, all of the secondary and supporting actors are fantastic which helps the audience become emotionally involved in their on screen lives.
At the beginning, Mary Rafferty has just graduated from Catholic School. She and her family live “on the flats” in Pittsburg where most of the steel workers live. Her father, Patrick, once worked in the Scott mills, but was seriously injured and is now in a wheelchair. Mary needs a job, because her widowed sister has just come home with her baby.
One interesting thing about this story is, though this is before the formation of unions, William Scott pays Patrick a monthly salary because he was injured on the job. We get the feeling this is an unusual situation and that William Scott is an honorable man. In spite of this, Patrick has turned his mind to hating the Scott family, so when Mary announces that she has just secured a job as housemaid in the their household, he’s furious with the nuns for sending her there, and with her for taking the job. She defies him, however, because they need the money.
It turns out that Mary falls in love with the entire Scott family and they with her, but most especially Paul. He is the only one of the three boys and one daughter who is interested in working in the mill. The others just want the money they get as shareholders.
Paul arrives home, the day Mary is hired to work in the house. He’s been to Europe studying different types of steel made there and is particularly interested in the open hearth method used in Germany. Over the next year or so, he and Jim Brennan, a friend of the Rafferty family, experiment with this new method. As Mary watches Paul work late hours and eventually become discouraged, the two fall in love. But when Paul asks her to marry him, two things stand in the way of her saying yes. She knows her father would not approve, and she’s a servant of the household. In her mind, she’s not of the same class, even though Paul and his mother, Clarissa, tell her that doesn’t matter in the least. They live in America after all.
In the end, after many years, Mary saves Paul and the mill when his mother bequeaths her shares to her. He finally finds the courage to get rid of his shrewish wife and he and Mary are able to be together.
The book continues on from that ending of the movie. Mary and Paul never marry, because she’s convinced the curse her father put on their union is real. But she becomes his housekeeper taking charge of his household affairs and raising his children when his wife dies. Every night they discuss plans for the mill, and his sons. Their relationship lasts until Paul’s death. Mary continues to live in the house which Paul left her until her death many years later.
Even though Mary and Paul find a measure of happiness in the end, their lives could have been so much richer if she had been able to see that it was her beliefs that kept them from having the full relationship they might have had.
Every time I watch the movie, and as I read the book, I compare Mary to myself. How have I blocked the happiness I might have had because I don’t think I deserved it. Watching it makes me want to stop being like Mary Rafferty and embrace all the wonderful things waiting for me to experience.
Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. I appreciate it. Have a fun weekend and maybe take time to watch The Valley of Decision.
Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018
Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.