Our only may amelia, p.2
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       Our Only May Amelia, p.2

           Jennifer L. Holm
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  It sure is pretty May Amelia, Wendell says. I reckon I could help you make another dress for it.

  What’re you gonna call her May? Wilbert says.

  Baby Feenie, I say, looking at my aunt.

  Aunt Feenie smiles.

  A minute later my big brother Matti comes in carting a wooden crate. He sets it down in front of me with a grunt.

  It’s from all us boys, May Amelia, Matti says. Happy birthday.

  I take the lid off the crate and inside is a fine, sturdy-looking carved wooden pirate ship attached to a long string.

  It’s for Susannah, Alvin says. Susannah is my rag doll.

  So that she can search for treasure, Isaiah suggests.

  And go out on the Nasel, Ivan says.

  Even when you can’t May Amelia! Wilbert says, and everybody laughs, even Kaarlo.

  Wilbert and I go out to the porch where Uncle Henry is sitting with Pappa. Uncle Henry is a famous sea captain and has traveled everywhere. Why, he has been to the Sandwich Islands and the East Indies even. He always has stories about sailors being shanghaied all the way to the Orient. He says they fall asleep in their beds and wake up on a bunk in the rolling waves. You can take me to China anytime, I always tell Uncle Henry. I’d do anything to get away from Nasel. I’d be happy to get shanghaied, even if I did wake up on the China Sea.

  Uncle Henry leans forward and puffs on his ivory pipe.

  I was just telling your father here about the time I sailed around Cape Horn up to San Francisco and toward the Shoalwater Bay. I very nearly didn’t make it that time. When we reached Cape Disappointment, our ship got caught in an awful storm and nearly crashed into the cliff rocks, he says.

  I guess that’s why the old sailors call it Cape Disappointment Uncle Henry, I say.

  He says, I guess so Miss May Amelia, and wasn’t I nearly the fool to pay no mind to the salty old dogs?

  At supper Mamma tells us children that Aunt Feenie is going to stay with us for a spell on account of Uncle Henry’s sailing trip.

  Where are you off to now Henry? Aunt Alice asks.

  Heading to San Francisco, Alice, Uncle Henry says between bites. Fine stew you got here Alma.

  Aunt Feenie says she’ll be right lonely with Henry being gone and has decided to get a cooking job with Nora Fuller at Ben Armstrong’s logging camp which is situated a few miles away up the Nasel from our farm. The forest heading up to Ben Armstrong’s is too thick for roads so the loggers use the Nasel to get the logs down. We live at the bay of the Nasel, and that’s where all the logs from Armstong’s logging camp eventually float down to.

  We’ll be happy to have you here Feenie, won’t we May Amelia? Mamma says with a wink at me. The boys will sort you out a bed.

  I am so excited I can hardly contain my own self just imagining Aunt Feenie living with us! It will only be until Uncle Henry gets back from sea she tells me but I say fine, fine, that’s plenty long. It’s almost as nice a gift as the baby doll.

  When everyone is in bed I whisper to Wilbert. Wilbert and I share a room at the back of the house, near the barn, and sometimes I can hear the cows lowing.

  I wish we could live with Uncle Henry and Aunt Feenie in Astoria, I say.

  We can’t May, Wilbert whispers back.

  How come?

  Because we just can’t, he says. We have to help mind the farm.

  I know this too but I wish we didn’t have to always Mind The Farm. I am busy with chores and whatnot nearly all the time now since Mamma has got the baby coming, there is hardly ever any time for tricks and adventures these days. We are up at the crack of dawn and in bed later and later every night.

  The door creaks open and Wendell creeps in and sets on our bed. Wendell is my second-favorite brother after Wilbert. Wendell wears eyeglasses on account of being blind as a bat and he squints at us in the candlelight. Pappa had to go all the way to Astoria to fetch the glasses for him.

  Kaarlo’s snoring is too loud, he says, I won’t get a wink. I’m sleeping in here. Shove on over Wilbert.

  Wilbert moves over and now there are three children in a bed meant for two.

  I’ve been telling Wilbert here that I want to leave the farm, I say.

  I want to leave the farm too, May Amelia. I’ll never learn to be a doctor in these parts, Wendell says.

  Wendell has always wanted to be a real doctor and I suspect one day he will if he ever gets off the farm. Wendell is always saying that I can do whatever I want to do, that the best thing for me would be to get off the farm and go out into the wide world. He always tells me that I have sisu, which is Finnish for guts, and that I can do anything. It always makes me feel better when he tells me this.

  Outside the window the sky is black and the stars are winking at me. I watch the fireflies dancing in the field and realize my birthday is nearly over, and I haven’t made my secret birthday wish yet. Mamma says that a wish made on a birthday always comes true. I don’t know about that, though. Last year I wished for Kaarlo to stop being so mean to me all the time but he’s still the same mean old Kaarlo.

  Still, it can’t hurt to try. I think hard but it’s an easy wish. I can’t tell anyone, not even Wilbert and he is my very best brother. I can’t tell him because he’ll never understand what it is like to be me, May Amelia Jackson, the only Jackson girl, and the only girl in Nasel.

  I squeeze my eyes tight and wish hard with my heart that Mamma has a little baby girl so that I can have a sister.

  I just made my birthday wish, I whisper. But Wilbert and Wendell aren’t listening to me.

  They’re too busy snoring.


  There Ain’t No Gentlemen on the Nasel

  When Auntie Alice leaves in the morning she asks Mamma if the twins, Ivan and Alvin, can go to Astoria to help mend her roof. We are in the kitchen discussing this when Alvin and Ivan come banging down the stairs. Their hair is all mussed up from sleeping funny, and it’s sticking straight up in places. The twins squint sleepily at us.

  It’ll be nice to have gentlemen around, Aunt Alice says, skeptically eyeing the twins.

  Mamma just sighs.

  Since Aunt Alice has no man of her own she has to borrow my brothers which is just fine by me. I do not mind one bit lending them out from time to time.

  I’ll send them along to you tomorrow, Mamma says. May, you and Wilbert can go too. I need you to shop for me while the boys tend to Alice’s roof. We need just about everything.

  I can barely stand the whole rest of the day. I can’t wait to go to Astoria, and for the whole weekend! I have never been to Astoria and have only heard about it from the boys. Pappa always says it is Too Rough And Wild for a young girl like me.

  Aunt Feenie comes down and I tell her the good news.

  I am going to Astoria, I say.

  Good for you May. I’ll look after your mamma while you are gone. I know how much work you’ve been doing around here lately but I’m here now and I’ll lend a hand when I can.

  I am the first one up in the morning and finish my chores quick as can be. Pappa comes down the stairs and says suspiciously, What are you doing up so early May Amelia? He knows I am not fond of getting up early.

  Pappa always calls me May Amelia when I am in trouble.

  We’re going to Astoria, I say.

  Pappa frowns and says, I don’t know if that’s such a good idea.

  Mamma walks in and pats Pappa on the shoulder and says, I need May to do some shopping for me. It’s too far for me to travel with the baby on the way and I can’t spare anyone else right now. Let her go, Jalmer. The boys’ll keep an eye on her.

  Pappa just looks at me long and hard, so hard his shaggy eyebrows meet, and finally he says You Best Not Get Into Mischief! and stomps out of the kitchen.

  Mamma says Be Careful Children; May Amelia Be Sure To Mind Your Brothers and be back by supper on Sunday.

  Out here in Washington there are no roads but we have the Nasel. We use the Nasel to go everywhere, even to sch
ool. It is the only way to get around. I learnt how to navigate on the Nasel when I was only five, Wilbert taught me, and I think I’m good but Wilbert’s the only one of the boys who will let me steer the boat.

  Our schoolhouse is on the Smith Island which is in the middle of the Nasel. We are close enough to the Pacific Ocean that sometimes we cannot go to school if the tides are not with us. You also have to be careful of all the snags in the water, what with the logging men sending lumber downriver. Sometimes they pile up like beaver houses and the boat gets stuck.

  Me and Wilbert and Alvin and Ivan must go to Knappton, where we will catch the boat to Astoria. We can take the little rowboat partways, but then we will have to tie it up and walk the rest of the way to Knappton, which is quite far indeed. One time Pappa had his tonsils taken out by a doctor in Astoria at the St. Mary’s Hospital with no ether or anything and then he took the boat from Astoria to Knappton and then ran all the way back home! After the boys heard that story, Alvin and Ivan ran the whole way from Knappton to our house, never once stopping only just to prove that they were as strong as Pappa. I am sure I could run that far myself, even though Kaarlo says that girls can’t run for spit. But he forgets that I can spit right well.

  The sunny sun is out a-shining which it hardly ever does and the Nasel is as calm and smooth as the inside of a clam shell. We pass by the Petersen farm and our friend Lonny Petersen waves to us and runs down to the side of the water. The Petersens are the only Finnish family on this part of the Nasel that have a savusauna, a smoke sauna, and so folks are always dropping by to enjoy it.

  Pappa helped Mr. Petersen build the sauna, which resembles a small cabin. They used cedar wood so it smells real fine and it sets right on the Nasel so a body can have a dip when it gets too hot from the rock furnace which it most often does. All the Finns love the sauna, including me, especially in the winter. We undress down to our drawers and sit in the hot sauna till our bones feel like they’re melting. Then when it gets too hot we run out and jump right into the Nasel and cool off till our skin tingles all over. It’s heaps more fun than taking a bath and you get just as clean. Mamma says that back in Finland the doctors wouldn’t see a body unless they’d been in the sauna first.

  Hi Lonny, I say.

  Where ya going May? Lonny says. Lonny is a little slow, and has trouble understanding things. He has a terrible hard time speaking English in school. Me and Lonny always speak in Finnish when we are not in school even though Mamma says I am not helping him one bit.

  We’re going to Astoria to see my Aunt Alice.

  Can I come?

  No Lonny, I say. Not this time.

  He shakes his head sadly. Lonny is a big boy, wide and strong, but his mind is like a small boy’s on account of an accident he had when he was small. You have to explain everything to him.

  How come? he says.

  Just because Lonny. We’ll see you when we come home, I call.

  ’Bye May, ’bye Wilbert, ’bye Alvin, ’bye Ivan, he yells, waving.

  And as we turn the bend in the Nasel, Lonny is still there, waving to us from the shore.

  Alvin and Ivan are rowing the boat and Wilbert is cleaning his gun. These brothers of mine are always cleaning their guns, you would think we were in the middle of a war right now. They are always talking about wars and Confederates and Unionmen and such. They go and hear stories from Jacob Clayton on the next farm over, who fought on the Southern side and lost three fingers on his left hand. He has only his thumb and forefinger, and when he points it looks as if his hand is a small gun; that is the shape it makes.

  Mr. Clayton is always telling my brothers about the battles, and the ambushes, and all the men he saw killed. He talks about having the dysentery all through one winter, no shoes to speak of, nothing to eat but dried-out rotting venison and how he deserted the army after he got his fingers shot off by a boy of no more than twelve. He says he had to crawl over piles of dead bodies to get off the battlefield and that when he got off he passed out from the pain and woke up in a farmhouse with all the other wounded and a surgeon was going to saw off his hand. When he saw the surgeon with the sawblade he pulled out his knife and put it to the surgeon’s throat and told him that he’d gut the man sooner than let him cut off his hand. After that he ran away, joined up with a group of homesteaders who were heading west. And now he is our closest neighbor two miles over on the Nasel.

  I am always amazed that he traded all that excitement just to be a farmer.

  The barrel of Wilbert’s gun is glinting in the sun and I say, Let me see your gun here Wilbert.

  Wilbert hands me his gun and I look down the long barrel.

  I want to learn how to shoot, I say.

  Alvin and Ivan look at each other at the same time and Ivan shakes his shiny blond head. All my brothers have fine blond Finnish hair except Wilbert whose hair is white. When Wilbert goes hunting with Wild Cat Clark he puts mud on his hair so that he blends in with the pine trees which I think is a very good idea. Me, I don’t have any Finnish blond hair; mine’s brown as the bottom of the Nasel. I don’t think Pappa likes me because I haven’t got blond hair like the rest of the boys. Mamma says that I stand out like a brown elk in a blond herd. It makes me lonely sometimes, being the only one that’s different. It makes me wish even harder for a little sister.

  Pappa’ll kill us for sure if we let you shoot that gun, Alvin says. Shotgun shells are very expensive indeed. They are so expensive that when the boys go hunting Pappa tells them that if they do not kill two geese with every shot then we are losing money.

  But what if I’m by myself and a cougar attacks me or a bear even? I say. There are black bears everywhere and they are very fierce. Kaarlo and Matti got chased nearly all the way home by a bear one time. Why, the bend in the Nasel by Jacob Clayton’s farm is called Bear Bend on account of the bears always fishing there. Mamma always says No Swimming At Bear Bend.

  Wilbert is on my side. Yeah, May ought to know how to shoot, he says.

  She’s a girl, Alvin and Ivan say together.

  But she’s twelve now! Wilbert says, exasperated.

  Alvin and Ivan exchange a look. Sometimes I wonder if they read each other’s thoughts because they are twins. Mamma says that when Alvin and Ivan were born it was like a miracle. Imagine having two whole babes where there was only supposed to be one.

  Well? I say. Can I?

  They both nod reluctantly.

  I want to learn right now! I say, excited.

  But Aunt Alice is expecting us this afternoon, Ivan says.

  Alvin and Ivan seem like they’re always minding everybody, ’cause they never get into trouble like me. But Wilbert tells me that they are really mischievous and that they never get into trouble on account of being so sneaky and sly.

  She won’t mind if we’re a little late, I say. We’ll be there all weekend.

  We are not far from Olaaf Kuula’s farm.

  Let’s tie the boat up over by that stone, Wilbert says.

  Alvin and Ivan paddle us to shore.

  Is it safe to stop here? Alvin says.

  Everybody knows that Olaaf Kuula has been crazy ever since the Nasel flooded his farmland. It’s now mostly marshy tidelands, but Olaaf Kuula won’t leave and he survives by boarding local gillnetters. Olaaf Kuula claims that his land is haunted by ghosts that followed him over from Jyväskylä, Finland. Pappa says Olaaf Kuula has been in the bottle ever since the flood and sees strange things on account of it.

  Sure, Wilbert says, not sounding very sure at all.

  We walk a little bit into the tidelands where no one is likely to see us. Alvin ties a cattail around a tree with the brown furry piece in the front. You’re gonna aim at this right here, Alvin says, waving the cat.

  Wilbert puts his gun in my arms and shows me how to hold it. It’s big and nearly as heavy as Bosie.

  When you fire it’s gonna hit your shoulder, Wilbert says. You have to look down the barrel to aim.

  I take a deep breath and ho
ld the gun. It is my only chance. I just know if I miss the boys won’t let me try again. And I know I am just as good as any boy. Wilbert is staring at me hard, a stare that says You Can Do It. Time’s a-wasting. I pull the trigger and the gun explodes. It jerks out of my arm and fires into the air and I land flat on my back.

  Are you all right May? Wilbert says.

  Did I miss? I ask.

  All of a sudden there is a gunshot in the marsh and a flock of ducks goes flying into the sky. A wild-looking man appears riding an old shaggy mare. The mare and the man resemble each other, they are both so scruffy-looking. The man is waving a rifle in the air and shaking his fist at us.

  It’s Olaaf Kuula!

  Where’s Alvin and Ivan? I say, looking around, but they are nowhere to be seen.

  Come on May, Wilbert says, pulling at me. Hurry!

  Olaaf Kuula is riding fast toward us on his mare.

  You ghosts get out of here before I tan your backsides! he hollers, taking aim at us.

  We ain’t ghosts! I shout but Wilbert grabs my arm and says, He’s Crazy May Run!

  But Olaaf Kuula’s gaining on us and he fires a shot, just missing.

  Faster May! Wilbert shouts.

  All of a sudden Alvin pops up in the middle of the marsh.

  You crazy old man! Alvin yells.

  Olaaf Kuula whirls around and takes a shot at Alvin.

  Alvin ducks down quick as can be.

  I hear him moan like he is shot.

  Got ya good, you trespassing ghost. That’ll teach ya! Olaaf Kuula yells shakily.

  Alvin’s shot! I say.

  He’s faking, says Wilbert. Let’s go.

  Olaaf Kuula turns his attention back on us, and we duck down into the grass.

  Just then, on the other side of the marsh, Ivan pops his head up. He is the exact picture of Alvin.

  You crazy old man! Ivan hollers, repeating Alvin’s words like he is a ghost.

  Olaaf Kuula looks at Ivan, and then back over to where he fired at Alvin.

  I just shot you! Olaaf Kuula says, confused now. You’re haunting me, you ghosts!

  Alvin pops up and the twins say in unison, We surely are.

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