Our only may amelia, p.3
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       Our Only May Amelia, p.3

           Jennifer L. Holm
 
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  And we’ll keep on haunting you as long as you keep shooting at us! Alvin shouts.

  Get offa my farm, Olaaf Kuula moans, sounding scared.

  He really thinks they’re ghosts, I say.

  He’s drunk as a skunk May, Wilbert says.

  Olaaf Kuula peers at Alvin and Ivan and moans some more.

  Hurry! Wilbert calls to Ivan and Alvin, and they run quickly toward us.

  We jump into the rowboat and start rowing as fast as we can. Olaaf Kuula rides his horse along the bank. He takes aim and fires at us. We all duck down. The shot clips our boat and splinters go flying.

  Stay offa my farm, you blasted ghosts! Go back to Jyväskylä, he hollers, shaking his fist.

  The fast-moving Nasel rescues us and when we look back he is just a speck on the shore.

  Wilbert eyes the spot where Olaaf Kuula got the boat. Pappa’s gonna kill us, he says with certainty.

  That’s the truth for sure.

  By the time we reach Astoria nearly four hours later after the long walk and then the boat ride, we are exhausted for sure. But as we pull into the harbor my eyes widen at the very sight of this town. It is like nothing I have ever seen.

  This is Astoria: a seamen’s village with houses perched on the cliffs overlooking the bay like eggs on hay, waiting to teeter off. The houses are fancy, nothing at all like the farmhouses of Nasel. Astorian houses have scallops of gingerbread trim around all the porches and roofs and doors and some of them are painted so pretty that they look just like cakes waiting to be eaten by a hungry giant. The docks are crowded with boats and sailors and Chinooks and gillnetters, the salmon fishermen. Gillnetters have their own special boat called a bateau which has sails that look like the delicate wings of a bat. Uncle Henry says that the bateaux resemble boats from China called junks and that sometimes when he looks down at the bay crowded with bateaux he thinks he is back in the Orient.

  Pappa says that Astoria is a wild roughneck town full of lawless roughriders and swindlers and harlots but it looks pretty tame to me. In the teeming crowds I notice strange-looking men with slender eyes and long black pigtails. They are all wearing loose-fitting trousers and long tops that resemble nightshirts. They aren’t Chinooks but what could they be?

  Wilbert catches me eyeing the strange-looking men and says, Why, they’re Chinamen May. Haven’t you ever seen a Chinaman?

  No Wilbert, I say, exasperated, I’ve never been out of Nasel—how do you expect I would ever have seen a real live Chinaman?

  I have heard of the Orient and the Chinamen from Uncle Henry, but this is the first time I have seen one in person.

  Whew, Wilbert says, crinkling his nose. It’s stinkier than a cow stall.

  And he’s right. Between all the smells of fresh fish and ripe sailors it’s pretty smelly down near the docks. There is a salmon cannery setting right on the docks and it appears that they are just throwing all the fish guts right back into the water, and that is no doubt the cause of the fierce smell.

  As we make our way up the winding road to Aunt Alice’s house at the top of the hill, the salty ocean air breezes across my face. It is quite a climb to where Aunt Alice lives and it is getting dark.

  Wilbert tugs on my arm and says, Look around there will you May?

  I turn around and see the most glorious sunset on the bay, it is as if the very sun is sinking into the water, bleeding every color pink as it goes down.

  Red at night, seaman’s delight; bloody in the morning, sailor takes warning, Ivan says. That’s what Uncle Henry always says.

  I wonder when Uncle Henry will be back from his voyages.

  Soon I imagine, May Amelia, says Alvin. He was only going to San Francisco, not very far at all.

  When we reach Aunt Alice’s house, she is sitting on her pretty porch on a rocking chair with a glass of something in her hand. Wilbert says it is wine.

  She is so very beautiful, my aunt, with her shiny bright hair twisted high on her head like a lady, not like Mamma with her knot all falling apart. She is wearing a dress the color of a robin’s egg and from the way it shines I know it is silk and there are tiny polished buttons from the top to the bottom. She looks like a real live princess.

  I was worried about you gentlemen, Aunt Alice says. Did you have a late start?

  Wilbert says, Well you see—

  Ivan cuts Wilbert off and says, Pappa wanted us to help him bring in the sheeps and they were in an ornery mood.

  I can see what Wilbert means about Ivan and Alvin being so sneaky. It is not a bad lie.

  Yeah, Alvin says, we had to dig ’em out of the muck in the swamp.

  Oh my, she says. It sounds like a real adventure.

  Alvin, Ivan, and Wilbert roll their eyes and give me a look that says only Aunt Alice would think that sheep mucking is an adventure.

  May, what a cunning little dress that is on your doll. Did your mamma make that for you? Aunt Alice says.

  Wendell made it, I say. With gunnysack.

  Wendell made it? Well that’s not something you hear about gentlemen doing every day, she says, arching her eyebrow.

  I have been practicing my sewing and mending on Susannah, my doll. She is a rag doll with a cotton face and button eyes, not fancy like the baby doll Aunt Feenie gave me. I don’t play with the baby doll for fear of it breaking.

  My brother Wendell who is very clever at mending and sewing things has been teaching me how to draw dress patterns and stitch them up. He even made Susannah some hair out of yarn he had saved. So now Wendell and I are making Susannah a whole new wardrobe out of gunnysack and flour sack. I tell him that he will be a very good doctor indeed if he can sew up folks half as good as he sews for Susannah. She is a lucky doll.

  Well, Aunt Alice says, I am simply thrilled that you are at my humble house, so please dears, do come inside and let’s retire to the dining room. I’ve prepared all your favorites. Baked salmon, clam chowder, Yorkshire pudding, and roasted potatoes, I believe, she says, ticking off her fingers.

  I look at the table she has spread out and say, All Of This is for us children? There is so much food I cannot remember when I ever did see so much food. It has been a bad year on the farm on account of two of our milking cows getting stuck in the tidelands and dying.

  She says, Of course May Amelia, go on child, eat, before you faint from hunger. You could use some meat on your bones.

  It is a feast. I eat and eat. There is so much food, I eat almost as much as Wilbert and Ivan and Alvin, but they eat more because they are boys and have much bigger stomachs. The food is not like what we usually have at the farm. At home we most often have Finnish dishes. Why, even the gravy Aunt Alice serves with the salmon is made with real cream and it is white and delicious, not all gristly-looking like what I am used to, especially when I am doing the cooking.

  This is nice food, I say.

  I’m glad you like it dear. It’s English food.

  Aunt Alice has not kept to the Finnish ways. She almost always speaks English and now she is cooking English food. She is good at being American.

  After supper we sit on the front porch looking down at the whole town of Astoria sparkling below. There is a bright full moon, and the boats in the harbor are lit up and dancing in the inky water. Aunt Alice gives us big bowls of blackberries with fresh-whipped cream for dessert. Both Ivan and Alvin love fresh cream. They gulp theirs down fast.

  Can I have some more? Ivan says.

  Me too, Alvin says.

  And me, says Wilbert.

  I want some too, I say, holding out my bowl.

  Aunt Alice shakes her head and says, I don’t know how much cream is left.

  Well I asked first, Ivan says.

  I want some too, I say. You’re such a hog Ivan.

  Children, behave, Aunt Alice says. Ivan and Alvin, why don’t you go into the kitchen and make up bowls for everyone?

  Ivan and Alvin gather up our bowls and disappear into the kitchen. They come back with big bowls of berries with cream on
top. Ivan gives me the bowl with the most cream. Aunt Alice smiles approvingly.

  Well done, Ivan. A gentleman always looks after the ladies.

  See, I’m not the hog this time May Amelia, he says.

  Thank you kindly, I say.

  What nice manners you have, May Amelia, Aunt Alice says.

  All of a sudden there is a huge noise from far below on the docks. It is the sound of a dozen guns firing, and there are sparks throwing off light. I can hear laughter and clapping.

  What’s going on? Wilbert says, leaping up to look down below at the commotion.

  That’s the Chinamen and their firecrackers, Aunt Alice says. They must be celebrating something. Lord knows they have little enough to celebrate.

  What are firecrackers? I say.

  They’re these things that crackle and pop. All the Chinamen love firecrackers. They’re very festive. Kind of like a shivaree.

  A Finnish shivaree is when a bunch of folks get together and bang pots and pans and make a lot of noise to celebrate. They usually do shivarees at weddings and birthdays.

  I want to get me some of those firecrackers, I think.

  I sure do miss living back east, in Boston. It was such a fine place to live. Aunt Alice sighs, staring into the fire.

  I look around her porch and think of her fancy house and it seems pretty fine to me. Why, there are real crystal lamps and woven rugs from India and everything a body could want.

  Aunt Alice, I say, how come you got so much money and no husband?

  Aunt Alice just laughs and says, You are such a dear thing, May Amelia. I have a gentleman friend and he provides me with money and such.

  Wilbert gives me a wink. I wonder why.

  I take a big bite of my blackberries and cream. My face scrunches all up and Ivan and Alvin start laughing. They didn’t put cream on my berries—they put the leftover cream gravy from dinner!

  Is something wrong with the berries, May? Aunt Alice says.

  I shake my head. Mamma always says Mind Your Manners.

  Alvin whispers into Wilbert’s ear and he starts laughing too at my predicament.

  I fix all the boys with a look.

  Why I would sure like one of them gentleman friends, Aunt Alice, I say. There ain’t no gentlemen on the Nasel. Just a bunch of no-good brothers.

  That’s the truth for sure.

  CHAPTER THREE

  There Are Miracles and There Are Sheeps

  The preacher’s sermon today was all about miracles.

  I usually sleep during the sermon on account of it being so boring but this time I paid attention as everyone is always telling me that I Am A Miracle. I suspect that there are other sorts of miracles besides no-good girls.

  After the service, Wilbert and me and Ivan and Alvin and Matti are walking and I say, It certainly was a miracle that Pappa didn’t tan our hides for getting the boat all shot up.

  Alvin says, Yes indeed it was a miracle.

  Ivan says, Yep, it was a miracle.

  Wilbert says, That’s for sure.

  Matti laughs at us and says, It will be a Real Miracle if you can manage to stay out of trouble for more than a day May Amelia.

  When we get back to the farm, Pappa has a stern look on his face.

  I want all you children to tend to the sheep today, he says. Round ’em up, count ’em, and mend ’em.

  But Pappa, I say. Me and Wilbert were set on going to the Baby Island and fishing. It’s Sunday.

  May, I’m only telling you once. I want you to go out with your brother Isaiah and help him with the sheep. The fish will still be there another day, Pappa says with a scowl.

  Tending to the sheeps. A more trying thing I cannot think of doing because all about our land are hedges and hedges of evergreen blackberry vines with prickly thorns. The sheeps get stuck on the thorns and mew like cats until they rip themselves free and then they are hurt real bad. There is wool all over the blackberry bushes.

  Isaiah says that it looks as if the Jackson family is raising wool bushes, not sheeps.

  My brother Isaiah loves the sheeps better than us children, I sometimes think. It is his job to mind them most of the time and Mamma calls him her Patient Shepherd. Isaiah has a soft voice and gentle touch and the sheeps don’t startle when he is near. He spends so much time tending to the sheeps that he most often smells like one. Isaiah’s blond hair has a curl to it and Wilbert says it looks woolly like the sheeps.

  Isaiah says the sheeps look more like people than animals and he gives them names after all our neighbors. There’s Jacob Clayton who lives across the way and has a long face; there’s the Widow Katja Krohn who always has a sad look about her; and there’s Mrs. Petersen, Lonny’s ma, who lives out by the south field across the swamp.

  Maybe Isaiah is a little crazy naming all the sheeps after folks, but sometimes I think he has a point. Wilbert tells me they are practically as stupid as people, the way they are always getting tangled up in the blackberry brambles.

  Me and Wilbert and Ivan and Alvin and Kaarlo and Wendell and Isaiah walk out to the back pasture where the sheeps are grazing. Isaiah has built all the fences around the pasture where the sheeps graze and they are fine fences—they never fall apart like other folks’. Isaiah is the best builder of the boys, always on hand to do something. Besides tending sheeps, Isaiah loves carpentering. He made my dresser and the stand in the kitchen. He is so good with wood and all that I suspect he will someday make his mark with wooden things.

  Kaarlo grouses. Those sheeps were a lousy investment, he says. Old Mr. Krouer tricked your pa into buying them.

  Kaarlo is almost always in a bad mood and there is nothing he hates more than tending to the sheeps.

  Isaiah looks hurt. You’re wrong, Kaarlo. The sheeps are good, he says.

  Kaarlo laughs but not in a nice way. He thinks Isaiah has spent so much time with the sheeps that he thinks like one.

  Good? The wool’s no good ’cause it ends up on the darn bushes, and they ain’t even good-tasting animals.

  Isaiah goes all pale. He hates it more than anything when Pappa has to slaughter a sheep. He never eats mutton when I cook it for supper. He says he’d rather starve.

  Hush Up Kaarlo, Wilbert says, eyeing Isaiah, the sheeps are no trouble at all.

  I think Wilbert should be a judge or lawman when he is big, the way he is always trying to keep the peace between us children.

  We spend all day rounding up the twenty-nine sheeps and checking to see if they’ve cut themselves on the brambles and it’s no fun for sure. It’s hot as can be now that it is July and the sheeps are in a real ornery mood.

  One of the sheeps has got some bad cuts and Ivan and Alvin must slather some flaxseed poultice on it so it doesn’t get infected. But this sheep is cranky and bad-tempered, and when Alvin tries to slather on the medicine it takes a bite of his hand.

  Dumb sheep! Alvin says with a grimace, shaking his hand. It got me good.

  Ivan swats the sheep’s back end and hollers, Bad Sheep! No Biting!

  Isaiah goes running over and hollers, Don’t Yell At The Sheeps!

  There he goes, Kaarlo says rolling his eyes, acting all crazy.

  The sheeps smell real bad, worse than horses and cows put together. I remember the sermon.

  Boy, these sheeps sure aren’t miracles, I say.

  It’ll be a miracle if we finish tending to them before bedtime, Kaarlo mutters.

  I smell like a sheep, I say.

  You smell fine to me May, Isaiah says.

  He would say that, seeing as he smells like a sheep himself.

  You’re the smelliest girl in Nasel, Wilbert teases.

  I’m the only girl in Nasel, I say.

  And that’s the truth for sure.

  After we have finished and are washing up for supper Isaiah comes running home. Jacob Clayton is by and is helping Pappa mend the barn.

  Isaiah opens the door and yells, Hurry! Mrs. Petersen has broken her back out in the south field.

 
He runs back off toward the field and Mr. Clayton and Pappa drop what they are doing and Pappa says, Go On Wilbert, go fetch Lonny and tell him to head out to the field—his ma’s hurt.

  So Wilbert takes off and Mr. Clayton and Pappa and I run out to the south field, and sure enough we see Lonny Petersen and Wilbert running toward us and there is Isaiah in the middle of the field, in the tall grass, waving his arms.

  We get there and Isaiah is petting a sheep lying on its side.

  Pappa’s out of breath and Mr. Clayton too. Lonny says, Where’s My Ma, Isaiah?

  Isaiah looks up at us and starts to blush.

  Pappa’s looking around now and says, Yes, Isaiah, where is Mrs. Petersen at?

  She’s lying right here Pa.

  You mean that sheep lying there?

  Yeah Pa. That’s what I call this here sheep and her back is surely broken.

  Wilbert starts laughing and laughing and soon enough we are all laughing, even Pappa. Pappa laughing is a sight indeed, because his white eyebrows scrunch up. Pappa hardly ever laughs.

  Isaiah, we thought you meant Mrs. Petersen, Lonny’s ma, I say.

  Yeah, says Lonny. I’m sure glad it ain’t but you are right Isaiah that sheep does bear a resemblance to my ma, but don’t tell her I said so.

  Pappa had to shoot Mrs. Petersen the sheep ’cause we could do nothing for her and I suspect we will be having mutton stew for supper.

  I am the one who ended up cooking Mrs. Petersen for supper.

  Aunt Feenie is most often late for dinner on account of her having to feed all the men at the logging camp. I thought she would be around the house more, but she is gone before I get up in the morning and real tired by the time she gets home at night. She says it is a lot of work to cook for twenty-five men. I am still knee deep in chores, at least until Mamma has the baby.

  There’ve been a lot of accidents lately at the camp, Aunt Feenie says at supper.

  I notice that Isaiah is having none of the mutton stew, only vegetables. Every few minutes he gives me a hurt look, a look that says, How Can You Eat Mrs. Petersen?

  Like what? Pappa asks.

  Aunt Feenie lowers her voice like she is telling a secret.

  Well, she says in a confiding tone, all the logging men have been saying that the woods are cursed by the Indians, there being strange accidents and all. Anja Printh’s son Oscar had a tree fall on his leg today and was hurt real bad and it gave all the men a chill. They had to take him upriver to Dr. Gray and he might lose his leg.

 
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