Our only may amelia, p.8
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       Our Only May Amelia, p.8

           Jennifer L. Holm
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  I’m older, Kaarlo says.

  Well if I’m going to be a sailing captain I need to practice at navigating.

  But it’s only the Nasel, says Kaarlo, not even the Shoalwater Bay or the Columbia.

  I take Wilbert’s side and say, Wilbert’s gotta practice Kaarlo even Uncle Henry says so.

  Kaarlo says, Shut Up May Amelia what do you know about anything anyway, you’re Just A Girl, not even a Proper Young Lady. Besides you always take Wilbert’s side.

  We tie up the boat and have to walk for about one half mile and the fields are soggy. When we reach the small stream that leads to Thymei’s bogs, we see that it is a rushing river on account of the rain and there is no way we can cross it on the log bridge. It’s been washed clear away.

  We’ll have to go up and take the swinging bridge, Wilbert says, and then loop around back down.

  Everywhere in the Nasel valley along the rocky steep areas where boats cannot go and the waters are too rough there are swinging bridges. The swinging bridges are made of thick rope and rough planks and are suspended over the water. They are ever so helpful on account of the fact that the log bridges can be awful slippery when it is wet and many a child including me has slipped off a log and into the cold water below.

  We walk all the way up until we reach the swinging bridge. It is an especially long bridge which Thymei put in some years back and some of the planks are rotted out in places. The fog is so heavy that we can’t even see across to the other side.

  That fog’s as thick as soup, Wilbert says.

  I’ll go first, Lonny says. I know the bridge.

  Hold on to the ropes May, these planks aren’t so good, Wilbert says.

  Lonny creeps out onto the bridge and me right behind him. The ropes are slippery in my hands. Wilbert’s right behind me and Kaarlo behind him. It’s pretty windy and the bridge, hanging high over the water below, is swinging and swaying.

  Don’t slip on this bridge, May, Wilbert says looking at the raging water below. Otherwise we’ll be fishing for girls.

  I hold tight to the ropes.

  We are nearly halfway across the bridge when Lonny, who has been quiet the whole way says, I hear a baby crying.

  Everyone knows that Lonny isn’t quite right in the head so Kaarlo says skeptically, A baby all the way out here?

  Hush Kaarlo, Wilbert says. Listen.

  Sure enough, through the rain and fog comes the clear tinkly sound of a baby crying from the other end of the bridge.

  Well I’ll be, says Kaarlo. It surely is a baby. Come on, let’s keep moving.

  Maybe someone abandoned it, says Wilbert as we creep along.

  What’s a baby doing way out here? I say. Why would anyone bring a baby out on a—

  Will you shut up May how can anyone get a thought out with you chattering, says Kaarlo.

  We need to fetch it, says Lonny, his voice lost in the swirl of wind. Lonny has always had a soft heart. One time he nursed back to health a sparrow that had broken its wing.

  Yeah, says Wilbert. It’ll die for sure if it’s left out in this cold rain.

  The baby’s crying is getting louder and louder.

  Why would a baby be all the way out here? I say. There ain’t any folks around here, and it sure for certain don’t belong to Thymei.

  Be quiet May, Kaarlo says. You’re just A Girl, what do you know about anything anyway?

  No wait listen, I say. Remember what Wild Cat Clark told us, how—

  But Lonny is moving closer to the other side and the baby’s cries are right in front of us. A fierce wind comes up and swooshes the fog and we can finally see, not a baby at all, nothing lying there small and pink like little Moses in the rush cradle, no, not that at all. We freeze where we stand, still as deer at the sight on that bank.

  And it comes to the boys at once, what I was trying to tell them, what Wild Cat Clark had told us. Wild Cat Clark, the legend of the valley, the greatest hunter, who’d caught and trapped with the best Chinook trackers, who kept a tamed wolf as his hound, and who’d seen an elk the color of snow high in the mountains. They remembered what he’d told us late one night last winter when we sat around the kitchen after he had taken the boys hunting.

  I once heard a cougar cry like a baby calling for its mother.

  ’Cause standing on the bank is no baby.

  It’s a cougar.

  Nobody moves. We are trapped in the middle of the bridge.

  The cougar starts growling low in his throat, no more baby crying sounds. No, he looks mean and thin and hungry. And I imagine we look like supper.

  Run! I shout and we all turn around and start to run back across the bridge.

  Ahead of me Kaarlo and Wilbert are moving fast as they can, as fast as the wind will let them and so am I. I am nearly halfway across when I hear Lonny calling me, saying May May Don’t Go May Don’t Leave Me May. I look around and Lonny is right where I left him, he has not moved an inch, he is frozen with fear, staring at the cougar. I run back and sure enough he is frightened to death, big old tears are rolling down his cheeks, and so I push him hard, in front of me, and say, Go Lonny!

  Lonny starts rushing across the bridge.

  The cougar is still growling on the bank, any minute it will be on the bridge and it will be Good-Bye May Amelia, Hello Supper unless I do something.

  I push Lonny forward.

  Kaarlo and Wilbert have made it to the other side and they are hollering Hurry May Hurry!

  I push Lonny as hard as I can ahead of me but all of a sudden the bridge gets the best of me—my foot breaks a weak plank and I go tumbling through. I grab the ropes.

  Lonny! I scream.

  Lonny turns around and sees me dangling from the rope and the mean cougar growling at us and he picks me up and tosses me over his shoulder like a sack of flour, barreling across the bridge. The cougar lets out a roar like nothing I’ve ever heard, worse than Pappa and Grandmother Patience put together and gathers itself to leap at us.

  Come on Lonny! I holler.

  And the mean old cougar leaps at us and it lands right on the broken part of the bridge, its big old paws just about on the broken planks. It hesitates for a minute, sensing trouble. I get an idea.

  Rooaaaaar! I roar at the cougar.

  The cougar’s eyes narrow and it pounces forward intent on making a meal of me. But it is too heavy and the rotted-out planks break, collapse, and the cougar goes tumbling down with the loose planks into the raging water below. When it hits the water it lets out a roar. I wouldn’t like to be the fisherman who catches that cat in his nets.

  Lonny plops me down on the ground.

  I cannot catch my breath.

  That was close, Wilbert says, shaking his head at me.

  Maybe next time you’ll listen to me when I’m right, I say glaring at Kaarlo. Even if I’m not a Proper Young Lady.

  Kaarlo eyes me and says, You’re not right about much, May Amelia, but I have to agree, you sure don’t look like any kind of Proper Young Lady I’ve seen.

  I’ve lost a shoe in the river from my fall and my sleeve is all ripped. I’m wet as can be and I’m a real fright.

  Well then, I say, I reckon it’s a Darn Good Thing I’m not a Proper Young Lady or you’d be that cougar’s supper right about now.

  Kaarlo starts laughing real hard.

  Yeah, May Amelia, I reckon you are right about that.


  Bad Days Indeed

  Wilbert says there are some days that are so bad there’s no mending them.

  I am thinking this is one of those days, what with having forgotten my dinner pail and my lessons. I went hungry at noon and got scolded by Miss McEwing.

  Ivan and Alvin and Wilbert and Wendell and Kaarlo and me are on the little boat. Isaiah stayed home from school today on account of one of the sheeps having a bad leg. Kaarlo has fetched us home from the schoolhouse and he is in a terrible mood. But I’m ignoring him and telling Wilbert my troubles.

  I say Wilbert
, this has been a bad day.

  We are on the Nasel near the bend by Lonny’s farm and I say, Wilbert, why am I having this bad luck?

  Kaarlo who is in a mean mood says, Hush Up May Amelia I’m tired of you always chattering, Can’t You Ever Be Quiet Girl?

  Kaarlo is always in a mood it seems since Matti left. A bad one.

  I say, I hate you Kaarlo you’re Always Awful to me and Kaarlo says, Shut Up May Amelia or I’m gonna put you on that snag over there and leave you for the monsters.

  It is a terrible snag on the Nasel, made up of scary-looking brambles and slimy green wood and all sorts of muck.

  Wilbert sticks up for me and says Yeah Kaarlo, stop being mean to May Amelia, she ain’t done nothing wrong.

  Yeah Kaarlo, Wendell says, leave May alone.

  Leave May alone, Ivan and Alvin say together which is strange because they usually don’t take anybody’s side except each other’s.

  Shut Up All Of You, Kaarlo hollers.

  Wilbert says, You’re just in a temper because Tyyni Honko won’t talk to you no more.

  Kaarlo’s eyes go all dark and stormy and he lets fly at Wilbert.

  No fighting between brothers, I say, but they don’t pay me no mind, me being only a sister and all. The boys are always fighting it seems and today is no different, even Mamma says it’s what they do best. They bang and push around the boat and shove me and sure enough I fall right into the Nasel.

  The Nasel is ever so cold in November, I cannot tell you how cold. It is not a good time to take a dip.

  It seems to take forever for us to get home and by the time we get there I am frozen straight through and shivering so hard that I think for sure my teeth will fall right out. Wilbert carries me into the house.

  Pappa is in the kitchen with Mamma and he takes a long hard look at us and says, Have you children been wrestling on that boat again how many times have I told you No Wrestling On The Nasel? Just look at May Amelia, soaked straight through, how did this happen?

  Grandmother Patience eyes me with distaste and says, That daughter of yours is nothing but a walking disaster. Just look at her!

  Pappa ignores her and says, Well? What happened?

  It was an accident, says Wilbert real quick and fixes Kaarlo with an eye.

  Ivan says, Yeah Pa it was an accident.

  Boat wasn’t balanced near proper enough and we hit a snag round the bend and May Amelia went tumbling in, Alvin finishes.

  Those twins sure are sneaky.

  Well how about that, Pappa says skeptically. Imagine a mean old snag getting the best of May Amelia Jackson.

  Yeah, says Ivan, it must be May’s snag.

  And now all the boys are calling that snag by Lonny’s farm May’s Snag and Wendell has drawn up a map of the Nasel and put May’s Snag on it and brought it to me where I am in bed on account of the dunking I got in the Nasel. Mamma has put a mustard plaster on my chest ’cause I am coughing so much. She says I need to rest and get better, that my cough sounds real bad. Pappa comes by and I ask him if I can take the boat out when I am better and he says No!

  It’s not fair, I say. The boys get to take the boat out.

  That’s why they get to take the boat out May Amelia, Pappa says. Because they are boys. Do you want to end up on the bottom of the Nasel? We’re living in the wilderness and it’s a dangerous place, May Amelia, and you girl have a got a Nose For Trouble.

  Pappa stomps away. Pappa is always so unfair to me all on account of Being A Girl. Maybe if there was another girl around he wouldn’t be this way. I hope for the hundredth time that I get a baby sister.

  I sure do hope my luck gets better.

  But things do not get better, they just get worse. Wilbert says that the Jackson family has no kind of luck.

  A few days later when I am up and feeling better, the General Custer, the mail boat, is tied up on our dock when we get home from the schoolhouse. We only get mail a few times a month in these parts, usually depending on Uncle Aarno’s mood.

  Uncle Aarno just brought the mail out a few days ago, Wilbert says, what’s he doing back here?

  Uncle Aarno is sitting at the kitchen table with Mamma and Pappa and Grandmother Patience.

  Hi Uncle Aarno, I say, excited to see him.

  Hello there May Amelia, Uncle Aarno says. But there is no laugh in his voice and he is not in a joking mood like he usually is with us children, even his mustache appears to be drooping.

  What’s going on Pa? Wilbert says.

  Your fool of a brother Matti was at Mariah’s tavern last night in Astoria and now he’s gone missing. Shanghaied. Aarno believes he is on a ship right now intended for the Orient.

  Shanghaied? Ivan and Alvin say in disbelief.

  Our Matti? I say.

  That’s certainly one way to travel the world, Wendell says shaking his head.

  You’re sure, Uncle Aarno? Kaarlo asks skeptically.

  That’s what I’m thinking, Uncle Aarno says, tugging at his beard. The boy has just plumb disappeared.

  What are you gonna do, Uncle Aarno? Are you gonna track him down? I say.

  Can’t track down what nobody’s seen, he says sadly.

  I cannot believe that Matti has gotten himself shanghaied, I tell Wilbert. He’s too smart our brother Matti.

  Wilbert says, You sure don’t know much about boys May Amelia.

  I know plenty, I say. There are enough of them around here.

  You sure don’t know about girls, then. I bet the Widow Mariah herself had something to do with it. She can be sweeter than maple syrup when she puts her mind to it, smart or not, Wilbert says.

  The Widow Mariah is real notorious in these parts because she’s the only woman who owns a tavern. She’s got long white hair that she wears in a braid and it nearly reaches the back of her knees. Best of all, she smokes a pipe and keeps her money in her stocking high on her leg and thinks nothing of hiking up her skirt and pulling down the stocking for a coin.

  She’s famous for shanghaiing men who drink in her tavern. Wilbert tells me she’ll slip something into their glass that knocks them out and then let them down a ladder to a rowboat waiting below where they’re rowed out to a ship. When they wake up, they’re far out at sea.

  The trouble started when Mariah had her own husband shanghaied for ten dollars. Rumor is that when she slipped him down the ladder into the rowboat he fell into the water and sank to the bottom of the bay and drowned and she told everyone he was killed by pirates. Uncle Henry says that all the folks in town know the truth but it doesn’t stop them from going to her tavern because the fritters are so good.

  The next day Wilbert and I are trying to cheer up Bosie in the yard. Bosie is a good dog, but he’s not very smart and he’s real stubborn too. He usually only listens to our brother Matti. Otherwise he just does as he pleases. Wilbert tells me Bosie thinks he’s a person. Matti was his favorite and he has been a sad dog indeed since he left. Matti used to save Bosie scraps every supper and sometimes breakfast too. Now Bosie is moping around the table and whining real sorry like and Pappa has banished him from the house until he learns to behave like a normal dog but he still howls through the door. He is feeling very sorry for himself.

  I know that Mamma and Pappa are worried something fierce about Matti. I worry too but mostly I just miss him.

  We are passing a ball back and forth but Bosie is in no mood for tricks and instead takes a bite out of Wilbert’s overalls and runs off with it. I suspect he intends to hide it under the house with the rest of his treasures.

  Bosie got you good Wilbert, I say, laughing at Wilbert’s overalls.

  All of a sudden Bosie runs back and he’s yelping and barking real excited like and there is Lonny’s ma running and crying and stumbling down the trail through the woods that leads up to the logging camp. She is hysterical for sure and her hair has fallen all around her head and she is saying Mayamelia Mayamelia Fetch Your Mamma, Mayamelia Fetch Alma Ohmylord.

  Mamma is in the kitchen makin
g biscuits and has flour all over her apron.

  Mamma Mamma hurry something’s the matter with Lonny’s ma! I say.

  When we go outside Wilbert is sitting next to Mrs. Petersen with his arm around her patting her back, and Mrs. Petersen is crying her very heart right out.

  Calm yourself Ida. What’s the matter for goodness’ sake? Mamma says wiping her hands on her apron.

  Nora’s dead! Mrs. Petersen wails.

  Nora Fuller’s dead? Dear heavens what happened?

  She’s been murdered! Split right open like a slaughtered animal you cannot believe the sight ohmylord Alma the blood everywhere look at me I have blood all over my apron I got Nora’s blood all over me we gotta sew her up she ain’t got no kin round here we gotta put her together we can’t leave her there like that all falling outta herself!

  Mrs. Petersen cries and cries, and Mamma clutches her big belly and looks real white.

  She says, Wilbert, take Mrs. Petersen home and put her straight into bed. May Amelia go fetch your pa and the boys and tell them to get home quick, I said so.

  Wilbert helps Mrs. Petersen up and then leads her down the path to her house.

  Mamma says, Go on May do as I say.

  And so I run and run as fast as I can to round up all the boys, first to Pappa out in the south field and then to Isaiah in the back pasture with the sheeps and then to Ivan and Alvin and Wendell down by the tidelands and finally on to Kaarlo in Jacob Clayton’s back pasture. By the time I get back all the boys are standing around the table listening to Mamma tell Pappa.

  Who did it to her? Pappa says.

  No one knows for sure. They suspect it was a loggingman, Micah Andersen, he’s gone missing. Ida says that Micah fancied after Nora and she wouldn’t have a thing to do with him.

  I’m not surprised she ended up like this, Grandmother Patience says nastily.

  Mother Patience! Mamma says.

  What did she expect working up at a logging camp with a bunch of wild men? A real lady wouldn’t have set foot in that camp, she says giving me the evil eye.

  Pappa just looks hard at Grandmother Patience and says, Come on boys, we have got to fetch Nora and bring her back here and let your ma tend to her. Her kin’s in Nova Scotia and she ain’t got no one else to speak for her.

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