Short Story #280: Miss Tempys Watchers by Sarah Orne Jewett

Title:  Miss Tempys Watchers

Author:  Sarah Orne Jewett


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Mrs. Crowe and Ann Binson have been delegated as watchers for Temperance Dent's corpse, their childhood friend.  They spend the evening and night together in her home and in preparation of the funeral in the following day.  The nature of the event lends the two of them to share intimate thoughts and secrets.  The two are of different social standing.  Mrs. Crowe has money and is married while Miss Benson must work hard to support her widowed sister and six children.  In fact, Miss Tempy's plan was to have these two share this time together to better understand one another's social situation.  Miss Tempy was deeply loved by her friends and family for her generous nature.  Mrs. Crowe explains that she always chided Tempy because she gave too much without concern for herself and that humans have "a duty to ourselves."  Mrs. Crowe further explains that it's harder for her to give than others.  She just isn't as generous as Miss Tempy and so it's challenging.  Rather than chide Crowe, is moved by the confession and gives her encouragement.  Binson moves into describing one of her experiences with Tempy's great generosity and how she loved to care for children.  She then describes the most caring thing that Tempy ever did.  She gave some sixty dollars to help a woman who was in rough shape and needed to reconnect with her uncle.  Crowe exclaims that Tempy made only ninety a year so it was a very large sum to give to the woman--especially because part of sending the woman off was that it would include a trip to Niagara Falls--a place that Tempy always wanted to visit.  The relevation of Tempy's kindness overwhelms the two into silence.  Mrs. Crowe then goes to explain that she is challenged to change things in her life because there has been no change.  Since she did not have children, changes have never been made and thus, it has become to make changes including spending money on things whether it is for charity or for frivolity.  To this, Binson agrees that given Crowe's more worldly and overall experience with money, she has better judgment about spending.  At this break in the conversation, they go and check on Miss Tempy.  They observe that wherever they are in the house, they feel deeply connected with Miss Tempy.  Binson recalls the last words that Tempy said to her when she was dying and Crowe recalls what a doctor had said about those who die peacefully in bed.  The two decide to have their first meal.  Crowe has made some cupcakes and Binson has preserves that Tempy had given her.  The two are very pleased with the food.  They reflect about how active and lively Tempy was up until a few years ago.  She was a central part of the community.  The conversation peters out and Binson slowly begins to fall asleep.  Crowe sees this and allows it to happen, taking new care for Binson.  However, she too falls asleep.  When they awake in the morning, they realize that their sleep was Tempy, once again, taking care of them.   


Another story by Jewett that I found fascinating.  The conversation between the two as they negotiate their position and lives was fascinating.  I also found Temperance Dent's death as a force bringing them together well executed.  That she was "Temperance" and put a "Dent" in the views that these two women from different classes had for one another worked quite well.  Then of course there was also the discussion of charity and giving and what does it mean to give and is giving something to be measured by amount or by means of internal sacrifice.  

Short Story #280 out of 365
Rating:  4 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  9/15/2014
Source:  You can find the full text of this short story on this website.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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