Our only may amelia, p.4
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       Our Only May Amelia, p.4

           Jennifer L. Holm
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  Everyone at the table gasps.

  I cannot think of a worse thing. Dr. Gray is not even a real doctor but there isn’t anybody else who knows medicine in these parts and the nearest real doctor is all the way down in Astoria.

  But Dr. Gray just peddles fake tonics and pretends at being a doctor, Wendell says.

  Wendell’s right, Mamma says. I wouldn’t send Bosie to Dr. Gray. He’s got no learning and all he sells to sick folks is hope.

  They’re Indian woods, Pappa says. I warned Ben Armstrong when he told me he intended to set up that logging camp and so did Jacob Clayton. We’ve been here a lot longer than young Ben and know this area a sound sight better than him, all green like he is coming from New York. I have a bad feeling about those woods where Ben’s a-logging.

  Matti says, They’re sure for certain burial woods.

  Pappa grunts and nods his head in agreement. Pappa respects Matti because he is so responsible and because he is the oldest.

  Wilbert says, Pappa I’ve seen the Indians burying on the Baby Island.

  Pappa shakes his head like a cranky bear.

  That may be but Ben Armstrong’s woods are where the Indians used to bury the dead ones before we got here. There’s bad blood in the very ground, guarantee my words, I once found an elk all gutted up no heart there at all or eyes either and its blood was drawn all over the trees. No wolf or bear can paint blood on trees. You children stay away from those woods.

  The stars are so high in the sky that I imagine the angels themselves are holding them up and that this must be a miracle.

  There is a big owl hooting right outside our window. The Chinooks say that when an owl hoots it means that some spirit is wandering and I suspect that they are right but I sure do wish this owl would stop hooting so we could sleep.

  Wilbert, I say, I wonder if our sheeps are safe out in the pasture when a cursed Indian spirit is wandering around?

  Oh May, Wilbert says. Our sheeps smell so nasty that if I was a cursed Indian spirit I wouldn’t go near them.

  Then we’re safe too, I say, taking a whiff of my own sheep-smelling self.

  Wilbert laughs.

  At least until we get our bath, he says.

  Isaiah tells me that because I was such a help with the sheeps he will take me fishing on the Baby Island.

  I’d rather go with you Wilbert, I say.

  You hafta go May, Wilbert says. It’s not every day that Isaiah prefers your company to the sheeps.

  Wilbert speaks the truth. Isaiah’s still not talking to Ivan and Alvin on account of Ivan hollering at the sick sheep.

  We row out to the Baby Island and Isaiah takes me to a side of it where I know the fishies do not bite. I want to say something but don’t. Isaiah puts his rod in the water but there is no worm on it. Sometimes Isaiah is very strange indeed.

  We are sitting there not catching any fish when all of a sudden we hear singing.

  What’s that? I say.

  It’s Indians, Isaiah whispers. Get down!

  We peek around a boulder and sure enough there is a whole tribe of Chinooks and they are burying a dead Indian. A mamma Indian and her baby. It just about makes my own heart break looking at that tiny little baby swaddled up with its mamma. It gives me a real chill.

  Isaiah whispers that they’re Chinooks from over Deep River way.

  An Indian funeral? I say.

  I know how much you like adventures May Amelia, Isaiah says. Jane told me there was going to be a funeral so I thought I’d bring you here.

  Jane is the Chinook wife of one of our neighbors. It is something indeed that Isaiah has gone to all this trouble for me, May Amelia, and I am not even a sheep. I have no doubt. This is a real miracle.

  This sure is more exciting than fishing, I say.

  There must be about ten Indians and they are all big and strong-looking. One of them is wearing oyster-shell necklaces and a white blanket with a black stripe. He seems very sad indeed and is crying over the poor dead mamma and baby.

  They have the mamma Indian all laid out like she’s supper or something what with flowers and baskets of fruits and trinkets and cooking pots all around her. She’s wrapped in a blanket and lying in a big hollowed-out canoe with the baby cradled in her arms, and my, it sure is a tiny babe.

  I say, Isaiah I sure hope they don’t eat the lady, them being savages and all, and he says, Don’t be ignorant May they’re just honoring the dead with the fancy layout. They aren’t fixing to eat her. See, she gets to take all those things with her to heaven. Watch May, they’re going to set her up in the trees in the canoe.

  Why? I say.

  So that she can paddle that canoe right to the center of the Earth where heaven is; that’s the Chinook way.

  And sure enough they put the canoe on this wooden platform high above the ground, next to another platform that looks to have somebody on it too.

  Jane says this place is called Mem-a-loose Shwalpeh, Isaiah says, Chinook Indian Tree Cemetery.

  Why are there holes in the canoes? I say.

  Jane says they put holes in the canoe for the rain to drain and also so that no one will steal it, Isaiah says.

  I want a closer look at all this and wouldn’t you know I step right onto one of mean old Kaarlo’s traps. Kaarlo is always setting traps all about the homestead and even here on the Baby Island. One time Wilbert and I found a fox who had near about chewed off its foot trying to work itself free of one of Kaarlo’s traps.

  When I step on the trap I let out a yelp that can be heard clear to Astoria, and all the Chinooks, well they hear too and come running and see me sitting on the ground crying, trying to get the trap off my leg. It hurts real bad, and it’s only a small trap really, and I’m bleeding and Isaiah’s trying to calm me down like I’m one of his sheeps saying May May don’t you worry none May I’m gonna get you out of here safe and sound, you just calm down you hear me, you just calm down. Baa-baa-baa.

  Isaiah is standing over me waving his fishing pole like he is a sheriff or roughrider or Wild Cat Clark or I don’t know what.

  I can’t get the trap open and I scream, Isaiah Get This Offa Me but he tries and tries and can’t. One of the Indians, the Crying Indian with all the necklaces, moves Isaiah away and opens up the trap and I’m free.

  It feels like a Real Miracle. I know now for sure what it feels to be a rabbit or beaver or whatever and I will never eat anything caught in Kaarlo’s evil traps again. I do not care if I starve.

  The Crying Indian tears off a piece of his blanket and ties it around my ankle and then picks me up and carries me to a long canoe tied up at the shore.

  I say to the Crying Indian, Was that there your wife and little baby that died? but he just shakes his head; I don’t think he understands Finnish. So I make as if I am cradling a baby in my arms and point back at the island and the Crying Indian nods sadly. Yes, they surely were his.

  Isaiah points out our homestead up the Nasel. The Indians paddle smoothly and the sleek canoe is like a bird, it feels like it is gliding across the water, just skimming on the top. I think about how hard it is to row our little boat and I know that these Indians are strong men indeed to make this long canoe go so fast; why, they make it look like it is no trouble at all. Jane told me about these boats. She said they are called “dunking canoes” on account of them being so hard to handle; a person most often ends up getting dunked in the water.

  I see our house and the little dock and I can just about make out Wilbert and Bosie. When we reach the bank Isaiah shouts, May’s Been Hurt Come Quick! Mamma and Pappa and Ivan and Alvin and Matti and Wilbert and Wendell come racing to the Nasel and their eyes pop open when they see who is carrying me to shore but this big Indian.

  What have you gone and gotten into May Amelia? Pappa asks with a heavy sigh.

  Pappa goes up to the Crying Indian and holds out his arms and the Crying Indian puts me right into them.

  Thank you kindly, Pappa says, for taking care of my girl here. She’s a pack
of trouble but she’s the only May we’ve got.

  Pappa smooths the hair out of my face.

  The Crying Indian just nods and takes off one of his oyster-shell necklaces and puts it on my neck. And then he gets back into the canoe and they paddle away down the Nasel.

  Isaiah says that the necklace means that I am an Indian princess, and maybe I am. When I am better I intend to go back to the Baby Island and put flowers on the grave of the mamma Indian and the baby Indian. Or on their tree anyways.

  I sure am tired of setting here in bed waiting for my ankle to heal up. Mamma says I cannot play because it’s likely to get infected. I am going right crazy with nothing to do.

  Mamma says it is a miracle that the spikes did not break my bones and only cut me. She’s been slathering one of her healing medicines on my ankle, spruce gum pitch and bear grease, and it smells something awful. Mamma has a way with healing, and she midwifes for miles around, going away for days at a time to catch a baby. She says that babies come when they are least expected and so it is not unusual for some poor man to be at our door in the middle of a storm on account of his baby deciding to get born without consulting the mamma. When Mamma is not here I must do all the cooking for the boys and Pappa—breakfast, lunch, and supper—and that is no fun at all.

  Wilbert and Ivan and Alvin and Matti and Wendell and even Kaarlo come in to admire my leg.

  That’s a wicked-looking wound May, Wilbert says, envious.

  Yeah, Alvin says. It looks like a real—

  A real wound, Ivan finishes.

  Isaiah told me you were very brave, Matti says patting my head.

  It’s awful though, I say. It’s pink and nasty-looking and is starting to itch. And it still hurts.

  It’ll heal up fine May, Wendell says, sounding like a doctor. He peers at it through his glasses. I know something we can put on it to make it stop itching, he says, and runs out of the room.

  I hope it will be okay May, Kaarlo says anxiously. He is no doubt feeling guilty since it was his mean old trap that got me and that is why he is being kind. It would be a miracle indeed for Kaarlo to be nice to me for no reason at all.

  You should be proud to have such a scar on your leg, you look like a real soldier, Wilbert says. I suspect these brothers of mine have been listening to too many of Jacob Clayton’s tales and their brains are addled.

  Isaiah comes in with a wooden box and says, I’m really sorry your foot got hurt May. I intended the trip to be an adventure and it turned out a disaster.

  That’s okay. It’s not your fault.

  He thrusts the box out at me and says, Here.

  I look in the box and cannot believe it.

  Buttons the barn cat has had a new litter of kittens. They are tiny, small as a child’s fist and their eyes aren’t even open yet. The kittens are so soft and sweet and they are all sorts of colors. They’re all crowded around Buttons, angling to get at her milk. Buttons gazes up at me contentedly, she is a proud mamma.

  Mamma says, Those kittens have to stay in the barn but you can give them some milk every day.

  But Bosie’s allowed to sleep inside with Matti, why can’t the kittens? I say.

  Mamma says, May Amelia that cat of yours is just full of fleas and I suspect those kittens will be flea-ridden pretty soon too. I’ve just put fresh hay and duckfeathers in all our mattress ticking and I am not about to let those animals in and have them drop flea eggs everywhere, and that’s all there is to it. She stays in the barn and those kittens too. They’ll be plenty warm with all that hay to snuggle in.

  But Mamma—I say.

  Mamma ignores my whining and says, Isaiah Jackson get those animals out of here right this minute.

  Isaiah takes the box out but when he returns he shuts the door and reaches into his pocket. He pulls out a tiny kitten. Its eyes are closed and it fits in my two hands, it is that small. It’s got calico markings and it nuzzles against my hand.

  I’m gonna call him Little Chief on account of the Indians we saw yesterday, I say.

  That’s a fine name, Isaiah says.

  He’s a real miracle, I say, snuggling the kitten.

  Yes, Isaiah agrees with a smile.

  Well, I say, there are miracles and there are sheeps, and we both laugh.


  No Kind of a Brother

  There’s no accounting for luck, especially luck in getting brothers.

  It is nearly the middle of August by the time my foot heals and I am in the back pasture helping Wilbert when a girl comes stomping across our field.

  All the older girls in the county like my handsome oldest brother Matti. They come from miles around, from Deep River even and in the rain sometimes, all dressed up with ribbons in their hair. They are trying to snag him for a husband.

  This girl here is from pretty far away. I don’t even know her, and she tries at smiling at me.

  Hi May Where Is Your Brother Matti? she says, tossing her curls in my direction.

  I know she doesn’t like me because I am too young not seventeen like her. These girls won’t even talk to me unless I tell where he is which I usually don’t.

  She taps her shoe which has got manure on it from tromping in our fields and says, Well May, Where Is He?

  I lie and say, I believe Matti has gone up the Nasel and sailed away with my Uncle Henry Smith the sailing captain haven’t you heard?

  But she knows I am lying and ignores me and searches around the front pasture until she finds him. I hate these girls. I could hit them.

  Wilbert says, Ignore her May, she must be desperate if she’s chasing after Matti like a cat in heat.

  Matti is Pappa’s favorite because he looks like Pappa did when he was a boy. My brother Matti is big and strong and his hair is blond as straw and he has smiling gray eyes and looks the way a real Finn should. He doesn’t tease me like Kaarlo and is always telling Pappa that he shouldn’t be so hard on me when I get into mischief. Matti is so nice but sometimes I wish he wasn’t quite so nice because then these girls would stop coming around and bothering me about him.

  I tell him so too. When the girl has left I find him. I say, Matti I don’t believe one of these girls who has come calling is a real lady because Aunt Alice says real ladies let the men call on them which makes good sense when you think on it.

  Matti just laughs and says, You are right May Amelia and I’ll tell you something else. I don’t like these girls much either. I already have a sweetheart but it is a secret and you mustn’t tell anyone.

  But why? Is she ugly or has she got the pox or something?

  No she is beautiful but Pappa wouldn’t like her because she’s not a Finn. I have to keep it a secret. You understand May Amelia don’t you?

  Sure I do Matti, I say. If she’s not a Finn what is she?

  She’s Irish, he whispers.

  Now I know why Matti has not told Pappa about his girl. Pappa thinks that the Irish are nothing but trouble, always coming around and taking some Finn’s job. Why, he says that even some of the gillnetters are now Irish. Pappa says the Irish are like locusts. And now Matti fancies one?

  That’s bad luck, I say.

  May Amelia, I’m pretty sure that she’ll be nothing but good luck for me, Matti says with a grin.

  At supper Pappa says, Your brother Matti is going to live with Uncle Henry in Astoria for a spell and work on his ship. He’ll be leaving in a week with Feenie.

  When Kaarlo hears the news, his face gets all stormy and Slam! he’s out the front door. Kaarlo has wanted to live and work in Astoria forever it seems. And now Matti’s going, not him.

  I wish Kaarlo was going away instead of Matti, I say to Wilbert.

  Kaarlo has never been a good brother, maybe because he is really a cousin fostered over to us. Mamma is always saying Kaarlo may be your cousin but love him like a brother. Well that may be but Kaarlo is hard to love. He is always sullen and angry at everyone. He’s not handsome like my brothers because he is always frowning. Kaarlo is f
orever teasing me and saying I am Nothing But A Pest. Wilbert says it’s on account of the time I put tar on Kaarlo’s pillow which I wouldn’t have done if he hadn’t gone and dunked my pigtails in the inkwell at the schoolhouse.

  Pappa will have to let go of Kaarlo someday. It’s natural for a boy to want to go away and find his fortune, Wilbert says.

  Maybe Pappa will let him find his fortune real soon. Maybe he’ll go to Alaska or wherever and get himself eaten by a grizzly bear, I say.

  After I finish my chores the next day I watch Matti as he and Kaarlo fix the fence around the pen where the pigs live. Matti sees me and gives a big smile, his eyes light up and he says, Come and give us a hand May.

  Kaarlo grunts when he sees me coming over.

  Here, hold this down, Matti says, handing me a board.

  Like this? I say, balancing the board between two posts.

  Exactly May, Matti says. Matti is such a good brother, he’s always helping me and teaching me things. He is teaching me spelling in English because he says mine is wretched and do I want to spend my whole life being able to write only in Finnish?

  Matti uses both hands and a heavy mallet to hammer in his side of the beam.

  Your turn, Kaarlo, Matti says, wiping his brow. This is thirsty work, I’ll go get us something to drink. You stay here and help Kaarlo, May.

  Okay, Matti.

  Kaarlo fixes me with an eye and says, Hold It Steady May Amelia.

  Inside the pen, the piglets are squealing. They think it’s feeding time. Maybe I will play a little trick on Kaarlo.

  Kaarlo lifts his hammer back, and when he brings it forward I drop the board and it swings away. Kaarlo hammers right through the air and the weight of his swing hurls him into the pigpen, facefirst in the muck.

  I feel glad my trick on mean old Kaarlo went so well. But he is up in a flash and has me by my hair and is shaking me like a sack of flour.

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