Alice Munro, “How I met My Husband”

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Alice Munro, “How I Met My Husband”

We moved into the “Love and Hate” section with “The Storm,” but it was more “Lust and Heat.” So here’s a fun love story.

Munro uses a first person protagonist narrator, but there’s a little twist. Edie tells her story basically from the perspective of the innocent fifteen year old, occasionally adding a more mature perspective.
Edie’s young, rambling voice is established immediately on the first page as she moves casually from one topic to another, adding information seemingly willy nilly as it occurs to her: “the first close-up plane I ever saw,” “Joey was his name,” “like any doctor,” “where the fairgrounds used to be….”
The advantage is that Munro can “have her cake and eat it too.” That is, she can have the young narrator with all her innocence and naiveté most of the time but allow the adult narrator to show mature understanding when it’s appropriate, as when she says “That was just when the trend was starting of town people buying up old farms, not to work them but to live on them” (4). The adult voice ends the story of course.
As Loretta Bird arrives, Edie betrays some of her standards or prejudices. She notes that her employers, the Peebleses, thought Loretta Bird “was a country-woman, 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 …. and couldn’t get credit at the HiWay Grocery store” (10).
Though Edie likes Mrs. Peebles, she comes up short in another of Edie’s judgments: “’Have a house without a pie, be ashamed until you die,’ my mother used to say, but Mrs. Peebles operated differently” (11). And later Edie knows that her mother, listening to Mrs Peebles complain, could only wonder “what on earth it would be like to have only two children and no barn work” (23).
In my previous four paragraphs, note how often we see that times, standards, people, “things” are changing. This isn’t a major theme as in “A Rose for Emily,” but don’t miss the point.
The general changing times motif mirrors the new experiences which Edie faces in the short amount of time the story covers: the airplane, the long dress she tries on, getting caught in it by Chris Watters, “necking” or “petting” with Chris, her first crush, meeting a “city woman,” being called a “Loose little bitch,” misunderstanding and then learning the word “intimate.” A few days filled with unforgettable moments for the innocent fifteen year old.
The plot thickens as “the other woman” arrives. The instant Alice Kelling introduces herself as “Mr. Watters;’ fiancée, Edie’s jealousy flames. Reread paragraphs 94 and 112, for example. Later she watches the two arrive at the house that night, admitting she didn’t know what she thought she was going to see (116). But at the end of the paragraph, her memories of conversations with Muriel Lowe make it clear that, however innocent or naïve, her thoughts are sexual.
The next day in an act of subconscious Freudian symbolism, she takes a cake to Chris. Already indicating he’s leaving, he begins kissing her and then she says he “rolled on top of me and we were sort of rocking together” (143). But fortunately for her, Chris decides he can’t take advantage of her naivete (Alcee and Calixta in Asumption) and literally splashes cold water on them both.
He promises to write and flies off. Alice returns, finds Chris gone. How many times has he “flown the coop” (couldn’t resist, sorry) and she tracked him down? When she arrived, admitting she was “chasing after him,” he prophetically responded, “You’re going to spend a lot on gas that way” (114).
Surely recognizing but refusing to admit that Chris avoiding her, Alice attacks Edie savagely. The misunderstanding over “intimate” is cleared up and Edie is sent to her room.
And now begins waiting for the promised letter from Chris.
At this point were you beginning to wonder what the title had to do with the story? As Edie begins to tell her conversations with the mailman, did you say “Ohhhhhh”?
Finally she decides “If there were women all through life waiting, and women busy and not waiting, I knew which kind I had to be. Even though there might be things the second kind of women have to pass up and never know about, it is still better” (198).
With that decision the story reaches one of its major issues. Obviously Edie can’t go on waiting the rest of her life for the letter that never will come. But, how long can/should/must we wait for the thing we thought we wanted, the thing we thought was going to happen, the thing, person, we had to have? How long before we “move on”?
There is of course no set answer. If your “significant other” decides one afternoon that the two of you need “more space,” you probably shouldn’t hit on the Domino delivery person that night. But how long do you wait for the “other” to come back to you? How do we know how long? After discovering that the calculus requirement will prevent you from getting that engineering degree you wanted, what new path, plan, do you take? See the first sentence of this paragraph.
A second issue, and this can be stated as a theme, is that things don’t always go as we expected, as we hoped. I think it was John Lennon who said, “Life is what happens while we’re making plans.” While we’re all been crushed at the moment something didn’t work out, we also can look back at a plan or a relationship we had in the past and be very happy it didn’t work. And sometimes great things happen serendipitously. But was it really just a “fortunate accident” or was it “predestinated”? Easy answer. We can’t know.

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