Our only may amelia, p.9
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       Our Only May Amelia, p.9

           Jennifer L. Holm
 
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  So my Pappa and the boys go to fetch Nora.

  Nora Fuller’s body is in our front parlor at this very minute, it is just lying on the couch waiting for Isaiah to finish building a box to hold it.

  I didn’t know Nora very well, but, my, she looks real terrible I cannot say how very terrible. Dead people do not look very happy at all.

  Mamma and Mrs. Petersen are sewing her up with a big thick needle and Pappa’s black fishing twine.

  Mrs. Petersen keeps leaving and throwing up until finally Mamma says, Ida I’m the one with a babe on the way and I cannot stand being around sickness more than once a day so kindly leave me to finish here. You aren’t a speck of help in the state you are in. This girl needs putting back together, and it’s never gonna happen with you hovering and retching.

  Mamma says, May Amelia, fetch your brother Wendell for me. He has a good hand with the needle and thread.

  Which is the truth for sure but the last time I saw him sew it was to make a new dress for Susannah. Who would’ve thought he’d be stitching up Nora Fuller?

  Pappa is worried about Micah Andersen being out and around and he says, May Amelia, don’t you go out to the pastures till Micah’s been found, you understand me? Take a hard look at that poor woman lying in our parlor. You don’t want to end up like her, now, do you? And no sassing me about wanting to take the boat on the Nasel—you’re not going anywhere unless you got one of the boys with you. Wilbert be sure to mind May Amelia, see that she don’t go wandering off dreaming like she does.

  So now Wilbert is stuck to me like my very own shadow and all the boys must carry their guns.

  I wonder where Micah Andersen has gone to, I say to Wilbert.

  The sheriff from Astoria and the men from Ben Armstrong’s camp are looking for him, he says. They’ll never catch Micah. These woods are too big—nobody knows them ’cept Dead Men And Indians. It’s easy to disappear.

  Jacob Clayton comes by and shakes his head. First Matti and now this. My, we sure are living in some bad times when a man will do such a thing, he says.

  Pappa says, Yes indeed, Jacob, times sure have changed. These are bad days indeed.

  The luck just gets worse.

  Bosie has been whining every night since Matti left and finally his enemy, the big mean raccoon who lives behind the milking barn, hears him going at it and they get into a terrible fight. The raccoon bites Bosie real good and when we go down for breakfast it’s clear he is a beaten dog. His cuts are bloody and nasty-looking and his eyes are glazed.

  Bosie looks bad Wilbert, I say.

  Mamma says, I don’t have medicine for animals. You best take that dog of yours over to Jane. Maybe she can mend him.

  Jane is a Chinook princess, and she is Old Man Weilin’s wife. Everyone knows that the Chinooks have a way with healing. Why, when Wild Cat Clark was just a young man, he shot himself in the leg while cleaning his gun and the Chinooks found him and nursed him through the whole winter. Wild Cat Clark always says that Chinooks are the best neighbors a fella can have, that they sure keep warm houses that smell real fine. He means the split cedar lodges, the kind that Jane has.

  Wilbert bundles Bosie into a sling and we carry him over to the Weilin homestead. Wilbert and me go around back to where Jane lives. Old Man Weilin says he can’t tolerate having a woman in the house and that’s why he built on the other house for his wife. Wilbert says that Old Man Weilin is just plain crazy.

  Jane seems pretty content to me in her own house, which is a Chinook-style lodge of split cedar logs. There are woven rush mats on the floors and a warm fire in the center of the room. Her place is clean and has a nice smell to it.

  Jane is very pretty with long black hair parted down the middle in braids and big brown eyes. Jane speaks real good Finnish. She’s been trying to teach me the Chinook jargon but I am not a very good pupil. She is busy weaving a basket when we knock on the door.

  Hi Jane.

  Hello May Amelia, Wilbert, Bosie, she says, nodding her head.

  That’s what I like about Jane, she even says hello to our mangy dog.

  The raccoon got him, Wilbert says.

  He certainly did, Jane agrees, inspecting Bosie.

  Jane is always kind to animals. She says the Chinook believe that souls come back as birds and beasts, so you must always treat them with kindness and respect.

  Can you fix him? I say. Bosie looks pretty bad.

  Why don’t you leave Bosie here with me and I’ll see what I can do.

  Will he be okay? I say.

  May will you let Jane have a look, Wilbert says, making me sit down on the rush mats so that Jane can tend to Bosie.

  Did you hear? Our brother Matti’s been shanghaied! I say.

  That’s terrible May, what bad luck.

  Yeah, nobody knows where he is. I suspect he is in the Orient.

  Bosie gives a low sad whine.

  Is Bosie gonna be okay, Jane? He’s been in a bad way ever since Matti left. Matti was his favorite person.

  Jane shakes her head sadly.

  An animal has to have the will to live, she says.

  And looking at Bosie and knowing that he’s missing Matti, I’m not real sure that he does.

  I sit on the stairs and listen to Jacob Clayton talk with Mamma and Pappa.

  Any word about Matti? Mr. Clayton asks.

  Aarno hasn’t heard hide nor hair of him, Pappa says.

  A real shame, Mr. Clayton says. He’ll turn up—don’t lose hope.

  Pappa just says Huummph!

  Least he’s not dead, Mr. Clayton says. The O’Casey girl, Mary, from way downriver, has gone missing.

  That Irish family? Mamma says.

  They think she might have drowned in the Nasel. She took a boat out by herself a week ago and hasn’t been seen since.

  The poor parents, Mamma says. She was their only girl, too. I can’t imagine.

  Well, her parents are real anxious to find her body and give it an honest burial, so tell the boys to keep an eye open on the river.

  They have gathered all the gillnetters in the valley along the Nasel, and they are dragging the river from here to the Smith Island with their nets to see if Mary O’Casey’s body turns up. Kaarlo and Ivan and Alvin are out with the gillnetters, lending a hand.

  I sit on the dock by our house and watch them. The Nasel, usually so clean and clear, looks dark and cloudy from the dredging and I cannot imagine being on the bottom, like Mary O’Casey, on the bottom where it is black forever. I toss a stick into the water and the strong current sucks it swiftly away. I remember how Matti would toss a stick in the river and Bosie would jump in and fetch it for him. Bosie wouldn’t do that for anyone else—he’d just sit there and look at you as if to say go on in and Fetch It Yourself. And now Matti is gone. I can’t believe ole Bosie is sick and might die and Matti’s never coming back. I am the saddest girl in Nasel. There’s got to be some way to turn the bad luck around.

  Wilbert, I say, why don’t we try and catch Micah Andersen?

  Have you gone plumb crazy like Olaaf Kuula? Wilbert says.

  We know these woods real well, I say.

  May Amelia get that fool idea outta your head right now. Micah Andersen is a Wanted Man, and he already sliced up one woman.

  But Wilbert—

  No May and I mean it. Pappa’s right about this one.

  I can’t believe Wilbert is siding with Pappa, and him being my best brother and all.

  I discuss the situation with Buttons in the barn.

  What do you think Buttons? Do you think I can catch that mean old Micah Andersen?

  But Buttons isn’t much interested in what I’m saying, she just wants to have her ears scratched.

  It’s clear as can be that I’m gonna have to do it alone. I sneak out of the house early in the morning before everyone else is up for chores. It’s Saturday and there is no school. I take Wilbert’s gun. Even if he misses it, I know he won’t tell on me. Not Wilbert.

  I take the tra
il that leads up to Ben Armstrong’s logging camp. It’s real early but all the logging men are already up and working and there is hollering everywhere. It doesn’t make good sense that Micah Andersen would hang around here after committing such a Horrible Crime so I start up a path that I know leads away from our valley and to the other side of the mountain. Us children are forbidden to go to the other side of the mountain but that seems plain silly, it’s not as if there’s gonna be anything on that side that’s not already on this side. It takes me until noon to get to the top of the mountain, and the view from the top makes my heart pound real fast. Why, a body can see everything from there—the Nasel, our farm, the Petersen farm, and Jacob Clayton’s too.

  Well, I say to myself. If I was Micah Andersen, I would surely hide on the other side of this here mountain. The other side is a thick woods, dark-looking and scary even. Exactly the sort of place a murdering scoundrel would hide.

  I start down the slippery slope and there, beyond a big old pine tree, are two small baby cub bears. They are as cute as can be, all roly-poly. I go over to the cubs. They see me coming and they flop on their backs for me, all playful like. The smaller one nuzzles my hand and I give it a good scratch on its belly.

  You sure are the cutest animals I ever did see, I say. The cub does a little flip and I laugh.

  And you’re just full of tricks, why I bet you could be in the circus, I say.

  All of a sudden I hear loud growling and it’s not coming from the cubs. I turn around slowly and hear a roar. It’s the mamma bear and boy is she ever mad!

  The little cubs run on over to her but she doesn’t pay them any mind, she’s got her sights fixed on me, May Amelia Jackson. She takes off at a tear toward me and well, I’m just so scared that I drop Wilbert’s gun and scramble up that old tree as fast as I can. The mamma bear is trying to get up the tree after me but I’m a real good climber and I go higher and higher and finally she lets out a roar and falls back down to the ground. I have heard that bears are real good climbers too but this one doesn’t seem much inclined to doing it.

  And now I am stuck in this tree and cannot get down on account of the mamma bear and her cubs sleeping at the bottom. I suspect she is waiting for me to come on down so that she can eat me. I have no luck at all it seems.

  It’s really dark. The stars have been out for a long time. I am so cold that my teeth are chattering. I cannot tell what time it is and I’m getting awful tired of setting in this tree. I cannot fall asleep or else I will surely fall off this branch and into the mamma bear’s big teeth.

  I wonder if anyone is missing me, if they’ve even noticed I’m gone. I bet they don’t miss me one bit. Why would they care if a no-good girl’s disappeared, one that’s always getting into trouble. It sure is spooky in the woods late at night; there are all sorts of weird sounds. Jane always says that the bad spirits walk around at night and make animal noises to trick people. I sure wish I’d listened to Wilbert and wasn’t stuck in this tree waiting to be eaten by a bear.

  I must have fallen asleep in that hard old tree ’cause I wake up and nearly fall off the branch I’m on. I can see spooky-looking lights in the distance, and they are just dancing through the woods. I hope it’s not old Eino’s ghost tracking me down ’cause I cannot escape from the tree, that’s for certain sure. They get closer and closer, why they are heading right at me! It’s not enough that the bear’s gonna get me, but do the mean old spirits have to also? The mamma bear starts growling low in her throat and then I hear a shot and the mamma bear and her cubs turn tail and run. It’s not the spirits at all—it’s a whole posse!

  May Amelia Jackson you get down outta that tree right this minute! Pappa hollers. He is holding a torch and Jacob Clayton’s next to him with a smoking gun.

  I slip-slide down the tree as fast as I can. I’ve never been so happy to see Pappa in my whole life. And he’s got everyone with him, all my brothers and Uncle Aarno and Mr. Petersen and Ben Armstrong and the sheriff and even crazy old Olaaf Kuula. Why, he’s got practically the whole valley with him.

  How’d ya find me?

  One of my men saw you sneaking by the camp earlier today, Ben Armstrong says. He suspected you were headed up the mountain.

  I was trying to find Micah Andersen, I say.

  All the men start laughing.

  Girl we’ve been searching for you half the night! Pappa hollers. What were you thinking of, scaring us all like that with your foolishness? Why I’ve half a mind to send you to the Our Lady School just to keep you in one piece!

  Pappa’s real mad; his eyebrows are twitching and his lips are all tight together. A storm is brewing; I’m gonna get whupped for sure. I want to run but the sheriff is standing behind me and he has his hand on my shoulder to keep me from bolting I suspect.

  Well Jalmer, now that your girl here is safe why don’t we head on home? It’s nearly sunrise, the sheriff says.

  Sure enough, the sun is peeping out over the mountain. Pappa looks hard at me and there is a gleam in his eye. I wonder if I’m gonna get my backside tanned in front of all these folks. There is a moment of silence while Pappa scratches his beard thoughtfully. And then he says, Everyone come on back to the farm. May Amelia’s cooking a breakfast for all of you!

  The men let out a cheer and Wilbert turns to me and shakes his head. He knows I hate cooking more than anything in the whole wide world. It is a fitting punishment indeed.

  You sure got your work cut out for you, May Amelia, he says.

  I guess, but they haven’t had my cooking before, Wilbert, I say and we both laugh and set off down the mountain.

  We are nearly back at the house when all of a sudden I hear barking.

  Bosie!

  Bosie comes running over, yelping and jumping around and licking my face; he sure is glad to see me. His cuts are all bandaged.

  Get Down Bosie, I say.

  Jane’s coming down the trail.

  He’s better now, Jane says, smiling.

  Come on Bosie, I say and run over to the Nasel with him. I toss a stick into the water and Bosie just sits there and stares at me.

  Same old Bosie, says Wilbert, and we all laugh.

  After breakfast I sneak out and give Bosie some scraps of bacon. He is so happy that his tail is just a-wagging. He rolls around in the dirt at my feet and his bandages get all dusty. I think my luck has finally turned around.

  You sure are a dumb dog Bosie, I say.

  Bosie barks at me and wags his tail.

  But you’re the only Bosie we’ve got.

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  Mothers Grow Up Young Here

  We are on our way home from Sunday service at the Rukoushuone, the Nasel Prayer House. Old Man Winter has arrived in the valley, and he is in a bad mood indeed. It is freezing cold. The Nasel is frozen over in parts and the air is icy. Everyone keeps saying that it is the coldest winter anyone can remember.

  We are near May’s Snag when Mamma’s hand flutters to her belly and she says, Jalmer, you best get me home. This baby has decided it wants to be born this very minute.

  Pappa goes all pale and says, Right Now?

  Mamma says Isn’t it Just Like a Jackson baby to want to get born on a boat on the Nasel?

  I can hardly believe that the baby is finally here. It has taken just about forever for it to decide to get born!

  You’re gonna have the baby right here? I say. In this boat?

  The baby doesn’t know we’re in a boat May Amelia, Mamma says with a weak smile.

  All of a sudden there’s a pool of water at Mamma’s feet.

  This baby’s coming fast! Mamma gasps.

  Wendell and Wilbert and Ivan and Alvin and Isaiah grab up all the oars that there are. They row and row as fast as they can. They almost resemble the Indians who saved me in the canoe.

  Faster! Kaarlo hollers, acting like the skipper.

  We’re going as fast as we can! Wilbert shouts back. But he’s not mad at Kaarlo; he is just worried about Mamma who is not lookin
g too good. Mamma’s breathing hard now, huffing and puffing and moaning. Our house is still nearly two miles away.

  I’ll never make it home Jalmer, Mamma cries.

  Pappa, I say, let’s go to Lonny’s sauna. It’s closest and it’ll be warm.

  Good thinking May, Mamma says, patting my hand. I knew I could count on My May.

  When the boat reaches the shore Kaarlo jumps off and ties it and Pappa carries Mamma to the bank.

  May Amelia, Mamma says on a moan, go and fetch Mrs. Petersen.

  My clever brother Wendell who wants to be a doctor has turned pale.

  Wendell Jackson, you stay here with me, Mamma says. If you want to learn doctoring, now’s as good a time as any.

  Wendell looks real shaky but nods.

  So Pappa runs Mamma with her big belly heaving all the way to the sauna. Wilbert and Ivan and Alvin and me run ahead of him to the Petersen house while Kaarlo and Isaiah tie up the boat. The Petersen place is a ways back and when we reach it we don’t bother knocking on the door, we just run right in.

  Mr. and Mrs. Petersen and Lonny are sitting down to a nice dinner of roast duck, and it looks mighty tasty.

  Hi May, Lonny says.

  Mamma’s having her baby! I say.

  Where? Mrs. Petersen asks.

  In your sauna!

  Mrs. Petersen stands up, calm as can be, and says, Lonny, run out and fetch me some water.

  Mrs. Petersen and me run down to the Nasel to the sauna.

  Alma? Mrs. Petersen calls in through the sauna door.

  She’s right here, hollers my Pappa banging open the sauna door. A waft of cedar smoke hits my face.

  Ida! Mamma wails at Mrs. Petersen.

  Jalmer, why don’t you go on to the house and set with Oren. We’ll be a while here I think, Mrs. Petersen says, nodding at my pappa. Go on!

  Pappa comes out looking gray.

  May, take your pa on up to the house, Mrs. Petersen says, closing the door. And make sure Lonny brings me that water right away. Oh, and send down Wilbert with some towels too.

  Behind the door Mamma is groaning.

  Come on, Pappa, I say, grabbing his hand and pulling him up the slope. I have never seen Pappa like this before.

 
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