Book Title: Landscape of a Marriage
Author: Gail Ward Olmsted
Publication Date: July 29, 2021
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Page Length: 314 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
A marriage of convenience leads to a life of passion and purpose. A shared vision transforms the American landscape forever.
New York, 1858: Mary, a young widow with three children, agrees to marry her brother-in-law Frederick Law Olmsted, who is acting on his late brother’s deathbed plea to "not let Mary suffer”. But she craves more than a marriage of convenience and sets out to win her husband’s love. Beginning with Central Park in New York City, Mary joins Fred on his quest to create a 'beating green heart' in the center of every urban space.
Over the next 40 years, Fred is inspired to create dozens of city parks, private estates and public spaces with Mary at his side. Based upon real people and true events, this is the story of Mary’s journey and personal growth and the challenges inherent in loving a brilliant and ambitious man.
Summer had finally ended, and with the welcome relief of cool, crisp autumn days, Fred returned after five months in Washington. I was thankful as running a household with three active children, even with the help of a governess, was proving more than I could handle in my current stage of pregnancy. I desperately needed sleep these last several weeks, while the cooler weather also stimulated my appetite. I joked to Fred that if anyone was looking for me, I would most likely be at the kitchen table or in bed.
With my due date just two weeks away, thoughts on the new baby’s name were on all of our minds and everyone had an opinion. If a girl, I was in favor of a traditional name like Elizabeth, which Fred vetoed, fearing the child would be called Lizzie. Charley and Owen were lobbying for the names Todd or Abraham, after the Lincolns. Charlotte preferred Emily and wouldn’t even consider her new sibling might be anything but a sister. Fred was the most vocal on the subject and while he appeared convinced the child would be a boy, he favored the name Content.
“Content is a fine name for a girl. My grandmother Content Pitkin Olmsted bore the name proudly. But you,” he chastised me with a dramatic flourish, “don’t seem to understand the importance of family lines when naming a child. Perhaps it would please you if we named the poor child Nelly or Sadie or some such common-sounding moniker.”
I smiled, helping myself to another portion of apple cobbler. As long as the baby was healthy, I would be happy. And I got my wish.
Early one morning in late November, I went into labor and several hours later, gave birth to a daughter. The latest member of the household was healthy and possessed all the requisite fingers and toes, along with a powerful set of lungs she exercised frequently. She had a fine halo of ginger-colored hair and a nose Owen compared to a button. I was euphoric. That evening, Fred broached the subject of the baby’s name.
“Mary, about the name,” he said just as Charley, Charlotte and Owen rushed into the room.
“Papa, did you see? I have a sister at last,” Charlotte shrieked as she climbed onto the bed and gazed at the baby. Charley and Owen appeared less than thrilled, but both smiled at her obvious delight.
“Papa,” Charley said as he dug into his pocket. “Please tell us how you met the president won’t you?” He pulled out a letter Fred had written before returning home. “Tell us more,” Charley said. Fred removed a thin piece of parchment from the envelope and handed it to him.
“Why don’t you read it to us, my boy?” he asked, and nine-year- old Charley, who had been reading at a level well beyond his age for years, eagerly grabbed the letter. He read the carefully written text.
I hope you are fulfilling your duties as the man of the house while I am serving our country. Your mother and I count on you to set an example for your siblings. It has been an experience to be living and working in our nation’s capital these many months, but I am counting the days until I can return to my family in New York.
I had a very memorable experience that I will share with you. I went to the White House and saw our President Lincoln. He is very tall and states plainly what he is thinking. He is rather serious, but when he laughs, he laughs very loud.
Charley put the letter down and looked up at his father. “Really, Papa? Our President Lincoln laughed, and you heard him?” When Fred nodded, the boy continued. “But how does he sound? Like this?” He drew in his breath and emitted a deep chuckle. “Is that what he sounds like?” I laughed aloud at his silliness.
Before Fred could respond, Owen chimed in. “I think he must sound like this, Papa,” and he chortled.
Regaining his breath, Charley cut him off. “Of course not, Owen. Our president would have laughed more like this,” and he struggled to guffaw. I winked at Fred, who shook his head at their foolish antics.
My merry men, I thought with a smile. When I looked down, I realized Charlotte and the baby were huddled together and sleeping soundly. I was growing drowsy and struggled to stay awake as I watched Fred put a finger to his lips. He motioned for the boys to follow him out of the room, and I closed my eyes as they were leaving.
“Come boys. Let’s let your mother and the girls get some rest. We’ll go see what we can pull together for our supper. And you can continue practicing your presidential laughs,” he said as they headed for the kitchen.
Gail Ward Olmsted was a marketing executive and a college professor before she began writing fiction on a full-time basis. A trip to Sedona, AZ inspired her first novel Jeep Tour. Three more novels followed before she began Landscape of a Marriage, a biographical work of fiction featuring landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, a distant cousin of her husband’s, and his wife Mary.