31 pages 1 hour read

Alice Munro

How I Met My Husband

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1974

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Summary: “How I Met My Husband”

“How I Met My Husband” is a short story by Alice Munro. It appeared in her 1974 collection Something I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You. This guide is based on the Vintage eBook edition of the collection, published in 2014.

Fifteen-year-old Edie comes of age in postwar rural Canada. She is from a large, farming family. When she fails high school, she gets a job as the helper of Mrs. Peebles, the leisured wife of a veterinarian. The Peebles house has all the modern conveniences that Edie’s family home lacks, such as electricity and an automatic washing machine. Although Mrs. Peebles is a housewife, she is listless and unable to perform household tasks such as cooking. The Peebles have a nosy, interfering neighbor called Loretta Bird. While the Peebles assume that Loretta is a simple “countrywoman” and a self-sacrificing mother of seven, Edie knows that Loretta’s husband has a drinking problem and that the Bird family is of ill repute. Edie wishes to disassociate herself from Loretta, especially when Loretta encourages Edie to spy on the Peebles and check whether they use contraceptives.

One day, a plane lands at the nearby fairground and almost crashes into the house. The pilot is a former soldier named Chris Watters who has permission to use the local fairground to sell plane rides. Mrs. Peebles and her two children go out to have their haircuts and Edie is left at home alone. She does her chores quickly, goes into Mrs. Peebles’s room and opens the closet and inspects her clothes. She takes out a blue-green evening gown and puts it on. To get the full effect, she puts on makeup and goes downstairs to make herself an iced beverage. She sees a man watching her through the screen and realizes that it is the pilot. Chris asks to use the Peebles’ pump for water, and then asks Edie if she is going to a dance. Edie, embarrassed, admits that she is hired help. Chris tells her she looks beautiful. Edie, who is romantically inexperienced, feels uncomfortable and is uncertain how to respond. When he goes, Edie takes off Mrs. Peebles’s dress and hopes that Chris won’t tell the Peebles’ about their encounter.

After dinner, Edie puts the children to bed and goes out to the fairground to meets Chris. He offers her a cigarette and she implores him to keep quiet about her wearing Mrs. Peebles’s dress. Chris tries to flirt with her, but Edie is nervous and leaves quickly, grateful that he will keep her secret.

The next day, Chris comes over and asks why Edie does not go for a ride in his plane. She tells him she is saving her money, reluctant to admit that she is scared of flying. He asks her to come and smoke another cigarette with him. Chris hangs around the house a lot, eyeing Edie and talking to Mrs. Peebles. Edie finds that he tells Mrs. Peebles “things he hadn’t bothered to tell me” (64), such as about being a pilot in the war and being unable to get used to civilian life.

Soon, Chris’s fiancée Alice Kelling turns up. Although Edie does not find Alice pretty, she judges Alice to be an educated city woman. Alice, a nurse, says that she treated Chris before the war and that they have been engaged ever since. Chris, however, has not mentioned his fiancée to any of them and Loretta Bird rudely comments on the length of the engagement. When Chris turns up, Alice admits that she has been chasing him and he tells her that she will waste gas money that way. Edie notices the couple go out in Alice’s car after dinner and that when they return, they walk off separately. Edie, filled with sexual longing, imagines what it would be like if she came home with Chis.

The next day, Mrs. Peebles and her children go on a picnic with Alice. For Alice’s sake, Mrs. Peebles tasks Edie with telling Chris where they are going and that they will return by five. Edie bakes a crumb cake and takes it over to Chris. She considers wearing makeup but worries that it would remind Chris of her wearing Mrs. Peebles’s clothes.

Edie sits with Chris in his tent, and he tells her that he will be leaving soon. Edie asks if he is getting married and he laughs, saying that he will be gone before Alice returns. He tells Edie that he wants “a nice long time of saying good-bye to you” (70). He kisses her and they lie on the cot together, though he promises that he would never harm her. When he gets aroused, he uses cold water to cool himself off. Chris says he will write to Edie and that she should wait for his letter, which will have an address where she can come and visit him. Edie is happy to get away from him because she wants to be alone to enjoy the pleasurable memory of the visit.

When the others return from the picnic and find that Chris has escaped, Mrs. Peebles asks Edie whether Chris said anything to her. Loretta Bird is also present, attracted to the unfolding drama. Edie lies to give Chris more time to escape Alice and says he might go to a nearby town called Bayfield. Alice conjectures that Edie had “a little visit” with Chris (71). Edie admits that she made Chris a cake, and the older women suspect that Edie was sexually involved with Chris. Alice denounces Edie as a “little country tramp,” saying that girls like her have to use special maternity wards “because of their diseases” (72). Mrs. Peebles asks Edie whether she was “intimate” with Chris, and Edie says yes because she thinks that kissing is intimate. When Mrs. Peebles expresses her surprise, Edie starts crying. Loretta and Alice make further derisive comments about Edie, but Mrs. Peebles questions Edie further about what she thinks “intimate” means, deducing that Edie only kissed Chris. When Mrs. Peebles pronounces that she believes that Edie did not have sex with Chris, a furious Alice suggests performing a virginity test on Edie. Mrs. Peebles refuses to allow such a test. After sending the others away, Mrs. Peebles tells Edie that the subject of Chris is closed and that they must never speak of him again.

Though her relationship with Mrs. Peebles is more strained, Edie waits stoically for her letter and tries to put the kitchen confrontation out of her mind. She goes smilingly to the mailbox every day for weeks, anticipating future contact with Chris. Carmichael, the mailman, greets her, and Edie recognizes him as belonging to a large family in town because of his protruding upper lip. Carmichael tells her that he waits for her smile all day. One day, Edie accepts that Chris will never write to her, but she continues to go to the mailbox smiling, because “I thought of the mailman counting on it, and he didn’t have an easy life, with the winter driving ahead” (76).

Edie thinks about the many women just like her, waiting by mailboxes until their hair goes grey. She decides she prefers to be the type of woman who does not wait, and so stops going to the mailbox. Soon after, the mailman telephones and asks her on a date. They go out for two years and then get married after a year-long engagement. The mailman tells their children that Edie “went after him by sitting by the mailbox every day” (76). She does not correct this lie because it makes him happy.