A young friend of mine ( who also happens to be my hairdresser) gave me a copy of her grandmother's journal to read and to use in a story if I wished. For Rebecca..do not open is the result of my first attempt at using this interesting description of a woman's life. I have kept the parts of the journal she gave me pretty well intact and anywhere I had to add a bit of clarity I tried to use her voice. The errors in the journal sections are supposed to be there!! Lizzie was not well educated.
No one in the family knows why she decided to write her journal later in her life.
I have changed the names and added text between the journal sections that are complete fiction and since I love a mystery I had to include one.
Hope you enjoy reading about Lizzie as much as I did. And thank you to Rebecca for sharing your grandmother's journal with me.
PS I write under the name Mary Sawyer
For Rebecca Do not open
Lizzie put the phone back on the wall while tears streamed down her cheeks. Lawrence had called to tell her that Brenda had given birth to a baby girl around five in the morning. He sounded close to tears when he told Lizzie the news. That wasn’t like him. He had called her when his son was born and she had heard the absolute joy in his voice at having his first child and a son to bear his name. But this time his voice was softer and a bit wobbly. Lizzie was so relieved when she heard him say that both baby and mom were fine. Maybe that was what was making tears leak from her eyes. Lawrence was her baby, her second son. Her two boys were good sons; they grew up causing little fuss and stayed close by. Maybe having a girl child in the family was turning waterworks on for her and Lawrence. Wiping her face on her old terry cloth robe Lizzie moved to the wood stove to get it going for the day. The kitchen was much the same as it was the day it was built. There were a few upgrades in the coffee pot and a small microwave but the old cook stove sat by the back wall with hot water still sitting in the small cistern on the side. There was an electric hot water heater sitting behind the stove connected to the pipes running to the kitchen sink and to the upstairs bathroom but Lizzie liked the water warming in the small cistern just the same as it had for over forty years. The cupboards hugged the wall as you came in the back door from the summer porch. They had their third coat of blue-grey paint over the years but the grey streaked counter top was the original. Her favourite rocking chair sat by the window in front of the stove. A cot that had seen many more years than Lizzie herself cozied up between the outside wall and the stove. Her curtains were bright and always fresh, covering the one large window that faced the road.
Reaching for a stick of firewood from the wood box she heard a truck pull up out front of her house. It was early for a visitor. She went to the window to see who it was. Matt, her oldest son got out of his truck at the end of the muddy driveway. Normally he would pull in when the ground was frozen but not today. She hoped he would spread some more hay on the driveway before he left. She hated mud being tracked into her kitchen. Anyone visiting who came to the back door and almost everyone did, could leave their muddy boots in the summer kitchen but the floor was so cold now that muddy shoes or boots often came in on whosever feet they were covering. She had thought about putting a heavy mat by the door and a sign that said, please remove your outer footwear, like at the Doctor’s office, but she hasn’t done it yet. Not likely anyone who came to see her would pay any attention to a mat or a sign.
Matt had banked her house with hay bales for the winter. He’d nailed plastic sheeting over the foundation but the wind tore at it so much before the snow came that he finally brought more bales and put them all around the house. He had spread a couple of them on the driveway but that was way back in November. Snow came in, storm after storm, and without a car, she hadn’t bothered getting her driveway plowed. The straw was now sunk deep into the ruts where the ground had repeatedly frozen and thawed since the beginning of March. The steps and a path to the road were all that was cleared of snow or ice this winter. Her house was practically on the road so when the big Department of Transportation snowplow came roaring past at dawn her whole front lawn and half the driveway was filled with snow. It would freeze and then there was no way any path could be shovelled.
Matt would come up and try to talk her into coming to live with him and Shelley until the spring thaw. So far she had managed not to do that. Matt said he figured it was easier for her to stay in her house because he and his wife Shelley climbed the snow banks on the worst days to be sure there was wood for her stoves and food in her cupboards. He would half-threaten that they were going to stop doing this for her, usually after a big storm when she was stuck inside until Matt and Shelley could get up the road. Lizzie wasn’t giving in. If she left for the winter she might never get back.
Matt and Shelley had lots of room in their new bungalow. Their youngest child was off to Fredericton going to Community College and the older one was living in Moncton. They were having a good time out on their own in the big cities and had stopped coming home much. Shelley would get cross and they’d show up for a weekend and try to act like they were glad to be home. But Lizzie could see them getting more distracted and restless as Saturday wore on. By Sunday, they were either on their way back before noon or standing at the window watching for their ride back to the city long before they were scheduled to leave. Oh yes, there was lots of room for her at Matt’s house when it was time to go.
Lizzie watched Matt until he was around the side of the house where she couldn’t see him. She realized the back door was still locked. She went and opened the door for him.
“Hey, ma. How are you today?”
“I’m good Matt. What brings you here so early?”
“Oh I was doing some work on my old truck and I needed a part so I came into town and decided I would stop and see you before I head back home.”
“Well, come in. I’m just getting the stove going,” Lizzie said, not believing for a second that this was Matt’s reason for being at her door. It was 6:30 and no stores were open until at least 8:30. Besides he enjoyed staying in bed longer on weekends. He had always been a boy that was hard to get out of bed on any day. When he grew up he always said he was going to stay in his bed as long as he wanted whenever he could and he had pretty well lived by that.
Matt hung his old jacket on a hook behind the stove. Lizzie noticed that he hadn’t taken off his boots at the door. He did take them off at the stove and set them on the floor under his coat. Lizzie shrugged it off thinking that this was not the day to tell him again that she wished he would take his boots off in the porch. She wanted to find out what had brought him to her house this early. If it were something really bad Shelley would have phoned her. But Matt still liked to talk about his concerns or worries with his mother even before he shared them with Shelley.
“Sure mom. I see you got your Tarot cards out.”
“Yes, gather them up. I was reading them last night after Lawrence called to tell me Brenda was going to the hospital. Her water broke.”
Matt turned and gathered up the cards while Lizzie got the iron frying pan from the warming oven and set it on a burner. A bowl of cereal with a banana was her breakfast most days but Matt and she enjoyed a good bacon and egg breakfast when they got a chance. This was going to be one of those times.
“Did Lawrence call you about his new baby girl?” Lizzie asked Matt.
“Yes, Shelley answered the phone when he called. ”
Lizzie put six slices of bacon in the hot pan and moved it to one side. The sizzle brought Matt to the stove. He reached for an egg pan kept in the warming oven. Lizzie got the butter from the refrigerator in the pantry. While Matt buttered the egg pan Lizzie sliced some bread and put two slices in the toaster. Matt would do the egg cooking while she made the toast. Both eggs and toast were finished just as the bacon was crisp the way they both liked it. Lizzie had her new coffee percolator set to come on just before she got up so the coffee was hot and ready. Neither of them would talk until their coffee was poured and the food was on the plates in front of them.
Matt had gathered up the cards but he hadn’t straightened the tablecloth back onto the table. Lizzie read the Tarot cards frequently and was much sought after by the locals for her readings. She used to read for people all the way down into Maine but her clients were older now so most of her new clients were from the immediate area around Perth. The cards wouldn’t lay flat on her bright green vinyl tablecloth. The Continental department store in Perth always had a good selection of these tablecloths and she bought a new one for each season. This green one was her preparation for spring. Lizzie believed Mother Nature could use a push to get spring started in this climate. The winters were long and filled with short days and piles of snow. Sometimes she liked being snug inside her house with lots of wood for her stoves, a pantry filled with canned food and a cold room stocked with root vegetables. But by March, it was time for a new beginning in her mind and a new green tablecloth was a start.
Lizzie smoothed the vinyl down and placed her salt and pepper shakers shaped like a carrot and a tomato in front of their plates.
Matt sat in his usual place where he could look at his mother and see out the kitchen window to the road where his truck sat. He worried about it sitting on the side of the road where it could get sideswiped. But parking in the driveway was out of the question.
They dug in. Both cleaned their plates with no sound other than the ticking of the old clock on the recessed shelf.
As Lizzie poured fresh coffee into their mugs Matt sat back in his chair and looked at Lizzie.
“Ma, Shelley told me that Lawrence said he thought you were upset when he was telling you about the baby?”
There it was out. This was the real reason Matt had shown up here so early in the day.
“Aw, Mattie I wasn’t upset. I was so full of joy I filled up with tears. Not tears of sorrow, though. I don’t even know where those tears came from but I couldn’t stop them if I tried.”
“Lawrence and I never see you cry much. We never did. Not even when Joe died. That’s what worried us. Shelley never saw you cry either and she says God knows you’ve had reason.” Lizzie had shed her share of tears and still did but kept them private. She had learned to keep her tears inside until it was safe to let them out. And safe to her was when she was alone.
Lizzie expected to talk to Matt about her tears this morning in her usual calm, rational manner. But when she started to, her eyes filled up, and she didn’t trust her voice. Matt panicked when he saw her face crumpling.
Lizzie waved her hand in his direction and got up to get another Kleenex.
“Are you sick Ma? Has something else happened?”
“No, Matt I’m not sick and if I wasn’t so teary eyed I’d have a good laugh at the expression on your face.”
Matt wished he had sat on the outside of the table even if his back was to the window. He wanted to get up and move but if he did that now he would have to move around to where his mother was sitting. He didn’t want her to think he wanted to leave. But truth be told he did want to leave. The crying aged his mother’s face right in front of him. He wished he had brought Shelley with him but he hadn’t even told her where he was going so early on a Saturday. She would know what to do with his mom right now and he wouldn’t be trapped in his chair with her crying and telling him she wanted to laugh.
“Matt I want you to stop worrying about me right now. I can tell by that look on your face you’re scared I’m losing my marbles or something. I feel fine I just can’t help if I cry when I think of that new baby girl.”
“Okay, Mom okay I’m not worried you are losing your marbles.” He did have a moment when he wondered if she’d had a stroke or something.
“For some reason, this baby is making me think of my own life. How I’ve lived it and what I want for her. More than when Robbie and your boys were born. It may be because she is my first granddaughter. I don’t know. I read the cards last night and all of them pointed to good things with the birth and with her life. So I’m not worried. I decided just before you came that I would do a reading of my own cards to see what might be happening with me. It’s nothing bad.”
Matt had grown up with the Tarot cards as much a part of his life as other kids had had religion in their lives. No one worshipped the cards but all big decisions or troubles were answered with what the cards told his mother. He had never really decided if he believed what the cards said. They were just there, like an old aunt or grandparent who dispensed advice. He believed his mother got wisdom from the cards. But most of the time he didn’t think about them at all. He knew his mother got her strength from the cards and he accepted that the same way he accepted that Shelley’s family got their strength from prayer.
“That’s good ma. I will tell you I was worried when Shelley told me what Lawrence said about you sounding sad. Maybe it is just that she is your first granddaughter.”
“I think it must be Matt. You know I love your boys and Robbie so it isn’t anything to do with my feelings about them.”
“Oh, I know. Our boys are so busy with their own lives now we aren’t sure if they even know any of us are still alive.”
“Kids do grow up you know. Even you had your time when I knew it was a chore for you to come and see me.”
When Matt started to protest Lizzie put her hand up to stop him.
“Ya, I guess you’re right. It seems so long ago. Been making my own decisions for so long now that I’ve forgotten when I wasn’t. I wasn’t that great at it, as you know. Best decision I made was marrying Shelley. Much as I grumble she’s kept me straight.”
“I know that Matt. Brenda is a good help to Lawrence too. I’m so glad you boys found a good woman to share your lives with.”
Matt was quiet for a moment as he searched for the words he needed to say to his mother.
“Yes, Lawrence and I are glad too. We don’t know how you managed to get through so much in your life.” Lizzie’s face flushed. She’d had four men she had loved in some way. Three of them had also been part of Matt’s life. Lizzie looked at Matt’s face for clues to how he might be feeling about how he was raised. They had never talked about what these men meant or in some cases did not mean to Matt. Lizzie wondered if she should have tried to share some of her feelings about her life but Matt kept a lot of his feelings to himself too and she had known since he was young not to push him. That pattern became their life together. The pattern continued with Lawrence. Lately, Lizzie couldn’t help but wonder if avoiding talking to her boys about her personal life was because of her fear of what they might say to her about how they were affected by her choices. It was easier to hope they were content and to pretend at times that everyone was happy than to risk asking.
“My life was hard at times yes. I used to worry that you boys might inherit my troubles. Both Shelley and Brenda have been good to me too, much better than I think I was with my mothers in law. But I’ve had lots of joy too. And today I am feeling some of that joy.”
Matt wasn’t convinced his mother was feeling only joy as he stood up and took their plates to the sink to rinse them.
“I’ll clean up Mattie. You go finish what you need to do.”
After Matt left Lizzie washed and dried the dishes. The stove had warmed the kitchen so the extra heat would go to the upstairs. It was warm enough now for her to get cleaned up and dressed for the rest of the day.
As Lizzie raised the washcloth to scrub her face her eyes saw a face in the mirror that didn’t look full of joy. If this was the face she showed Matt he wouldn’t believe that there wasn’t something else wrong. He might be a quiet man grown from a boy who kept his own counsel but the two of them shared a bond born of grief. Lizzie wasn’t sure what she was feeling nor what this strange rush of emotion was supposed to mean. Her mind had grabbed ahold of her past and seemed determined to explore it whether she wanted to or not. Going into her small bedroom to get dressed and make up her bed she wondered out loud? “What did it mean to be a good wife and mother? What would each of the four men who had shared her bed and a part of her life have said today if they were asked? What would her in-laws say about her?” The Tarot cards will answer these questions for her. Once she had her own answers she could stop this feeling and get back to her real self again.
Downstairs Lizzie set out her Tarot cards on the table after folding back the tablecloth. Lizzie loved her boys and they always knew that. They sometimes accused her of being too “lovey dovey” with them. Although they always knew how she felt about them she never shared how she felt about her men or her relationships with these men. They knew when she wasn’t happy with something they did or didn’t do or when she was pleased with them but her own sorrows were kept to herself. Maybe not sharing her deepest sorrows also meant she didn’t share her deepest joys either? Maybe a daughter would have wanted to know or would have asked her questions pushing her to talk. No. It wasn’t the fact that she had sons that kept her silent. It wasn’t fair to put the blame on them if there was to be blame.
Lizzie sat on a hard wooden chair staring at the cards in front of her.
“Why did this any of this matter all of a sudden?” The old clock ticking out the time over her head seemed to act as a countdown for her. She kept thinking of 10-9-8-7…
Now her mind was asking lots of questions of her.
“What about her first in-laws?” It was 1927 and she was only 20 years old when she married the first time. That was a long time ago.
Lizzie felt an overwhelming urge to share her past with her granddaughter, to share what it meant to have loved and to lose a love. The Tarot cards sat on the table silent, ignored. It was time to shed some of her tears on the outside.
Lizzie stood up too keyed up to sit still any longer staring at the cards. For the first time that she ever remembered the cards were not speaking to her. Maybe by writing out what was filling her head onto paper she could then control the questions and reach for the answers. Then she might be able to decide if what she had to say should be shared with her granddaughter someday or with someone else or with no one ever. At the very least she could empty her head of all the questions swamping her brain.
There was paper in the back of the long drawer in her hutch. Lizzie wasn’t much of a writer but there was usually a pen in the bottom of her purse. Rummaging through her bag that was hanging on the coat rack by her front door she found an old Bic pen. It dangled over the page in her thin hand. The paper was lined dime store paper picked up one time for some reason that was gone from her memory. It would do. She set her paper on top of an old recipe book so her pen wouldn’t poke holes. The vinyl tablecloth was too soft.
March 13, 1976, Journal of Elizabeth Ann Connors Grandmother of Rebecca who was the second child of my son Lawrence. This is for you Rebecca from me. I sure hope you find some time to read it and know that your grandmother did the best she could with her life.
The sound of the ticking clock receded. Lizzie’s senses were back in another time.
I met Harry at one of the dances right when I was tired of being a maid. His full name was Harry Mckenzie. He lived with his folks and worked their farm and doing odd jobs whenever he could get one. I was so young. I hadn’t gone far in school and my life was pretty simple. I worked in other people’s houses. I dint get to talk to many people outside of my sisters. I thought he would make me a Ideal husband. I don’t think he ever Relized he was a married man.
I figured once you married a man he was yours and you was his. My father even when he was sick was there for my mother. That’s what my mind thought marriage would be like. Harry came from good folks so everyone was happy we had got together. Looking back now I don’t suppose we really knew what we were doing. I really loved him. We always had a good time together he liked going out dancing and spending time with his friends. It was a treat for me. I thought he would take care of me so I wouldn’t have to work for other people. I used to write my name Mrs. Mckenzie with hearts all over it. I would fall asleep at night dreaming about being the lady of the house with someone cleaning for me. This stuff filled my head so much I dint’ give myself time to get to know Harry.
It wasn’t long after our simple Wedding in March 1927 that I saw that Harry’s fun loving ways were all that he was. It was like once I was in the bedroom at his folks house I was a plaything he had grown tired of. He would leave me behind like a used toy he was bored with and go out. He went to all the dances without me. I would stay with his parents and cry myself to sleep. Sometimes he would be gone for a week at a time then come back as if nothing was wrong with what he was doing this went on for six months.
My heart was shattering and he din’t even notice. I wasn’t used to speaking up for myself and I wasn’t used to married people arguing. My parents dint argue in front of us. Maybe they argued when we couldn’t hear them.
I tried to talk to him about how being left with his folks all the time made me lonely but he wouldn’t even listen. He would walk away or leave the house and be gone for a few days. I could smell cigarette smoke and Perfume on his clothes when he came back.
His mother ignored me most of the time. She went about doing her housework and getting the meals. I felt so bad that her son was treating me this way. I thought she blamed me for it. I just got plain fed up.
His father worked the farm with his hired hands. He din’t seem to know what was going on. Harry was his momma’s boy and she keeps himself all to herself. His father gave up trying to make him his son. I was back being like a maid for a family but this time all I was getting was Room n Board. After six months of marriage I stopped crying myself to sleep and started to go to Perth. I wanted some company. I was only 20 years old. On one of my trips I saw a local backery needed someone to work there. I went in and applied and got the job. They even had a room upstairs with furniture where I could live. I gave the owner the names of the people I worked for since I was eleven. I din’t tell him that I din’t do much baking on my own when I worked in those houses. I figured I could sort that out after I got the job. I had watched and helped lots of women bake.
I packed my suitcase and left. I had to phone a Taxi to come and get me. I was scared to be on my own but I had to get away from that dead house. After I decided I was going to get away I dint care if I spoke to Harry again. His mother heard me on the phone calling for a taxi. She came into the kitchen to listen. She was probably wondering why I was going to Perth without her. When I was talking to the woman I saw Ethel look at the suitcase by my feet and at my purse and coat on the chair. She raised her eyebrows and turned and walked out of the kitchen. My hand shook when I hung up the phone. I picked up my suitcase, took my coat and purse. I waited for the taxi by the front porch on the small patch of grass. I was leavin for good.
Mrs. Mckenzie never spoke to me again. I dint’ care since she hardly talked to me when I lived in her house. I was so glad to be out of that awful house.
Lizzie’s shoulders were rounded and her back was slouched making it difficult for her to breathe. Coming away from the past and back to her quiet kitchen she straightened her back and pulled in her breath easing her aching bones. Remembering was easier than she thought it would be yet her body seemed to have memories her mind had forgotten. Getting her first marriage out onto paper had pulled her body down and she was tired.
Wood in the stove crackled and spit. Maybe a cup of tea would energize her.
The late winter sun was not warm enough and the old house had no large windows to let in what sun there was this month of March. Her wood cook stove made the kitchen cozy until the fire burned down too low. Her morning fire had burned down while she was in the past.
Lizzie was a small-boned woman, wiry and strong. Age had shortened her stature and thinned her hair and skin. Her clothes were from Wal-Mart or Kmart but she prided herself on being stylish and clean. Even at home alone she wore a good pair of black polyester pants and a bright blouse. Today she had a red hand-knitted sweater over a white blouse. Her sister had always been a good knitter and Lizzie was proud of her closet full of beautiful sweaters that her sister Sara had given her over the years. Each sweater was kept in its own tissue in her dresser drawers. They hung loosely on her now but they still kept her warm.
Lizzie went to the stove and added another piece of wood. She filled the kettle and put it on the stove over the fire. A King Cole tea bag from the faded tin on the kitchen counter dropped into the old glass coffee pot that always made good tea. Her fingers ran over the counter. The grey counter top had cuts from thousands of knives used over the years. It should be replaced but there was no money for that.
Lizzie poured herself a cup and carried it back to the table. Sympathy was all there was left for Harry’s mother. Harry married another girl from the country and Lizzie thought they had stayed together. Bits of gossip would come her way from one of her sisters about Harry’s wandering ways every so often. The new wife must have resigned herself to living with a man who was closer to his mother than to anyone else. They always lived in his parents’ house. Lizzie shivered but not from the cold. She would have slowly smothered to death in a house with a husband who treated her as a plaything to be used and discarded at his whim and a mother in law who wouldn’t let her son grow up.
Lizzie set her cup down to massage her fingers and hand.
What had made her believe Harry was the one man for her? Was there something missing from her own family that she needed?
I was born on August 4, 1909, to my lovin parents. A long ways back from this day March 13, 1976. My Parents had more children after me. I was the second born. They did their best to give us care and to love us. Without no help and lots of babies my momma did her best to keep us fed and clean. We had fun with each other us sisters as we grew up.
I was the second oldest so I had to help a lot with the younger ones. People don’t seem to want big families now and even I only got to have two boys. I would have had more babies if my life’s Path made that work for me.
My sisters gave me great joy and some misery. Sara was two when I was born. We were almost like Twins after I learned to walk. She tells me I never left her alone for a minute. We had to sleep together. My next sister Elsie was born in 1912, which was pretty close to me. Raised in the middle like that made me more independent. Sara would tell you that I was stubborn in her way of thinking. But I got Bossed around a lot and then I had to boss the younger ones. I suppose I got pushy from that. Sara tended to listen to our momma more than me. I knew Sara was going to tell me what to do so I would stop listening and go off in my mind to something better.
Because I used to do that so much is why I can read Tarot cards and peoples futures so well. Imagining what people could be doing or could be thinking would put me in my own dream world until Sara or someone else would yank me back.
All of us girls had to work. We could go to school when we could get there until we were old enough to get work that paid us. I always worked at something and was independent because of that.
We moved to a little place called Tilly. We had two miles to school one way. My momma dint want me to go on the really cold days. I din’t have enough warm clothes and she would worry I could freeze to death. Sara dint go very often with me. She din’t like school enough to brave the cold like I did. Going to school got me out of the house in the winter and I got to see other kids my age. I would just say, “ I’ll be all right momma and off I would go.” There were many mornings after I got to the schoolhouse where I had to sit by the old heater stove. I would cry as my feet thawed out. They were burning instead of warming up. It wasn’t as bad on the walk Home cause it would still be light out. I would forget all about my cold feet and head out again the next day. We only had one pair of stockings each so I couldn’t take any ones since the floors in our house were cold in the winter. My other two sisters were smaller than me and they always got my old socks if I hadn’t worn them completely out. I luvved going to school Becca. I alrady think of you as Becca. Hope you don’t mind an old woman making your name shorter? Thats the name that comes to me when I think about you.
The memory of her sisters snuggled with her under the quilts on cold winter nights brought a smile to Lizzie’s face. Her momma worked so hard to keep their beds, covered with quilts and blankets, clean because of her fear of getting bugs in the house, in the beds, and on her family. Lizzie hadn’t realized how much her momma and poppa fretted about how to keep their children fed and warm until she was old enough to work at home and for other people. As a child, she believed her parents were strong and knew just what to do to keep the family safe.
Sleeping with their arms and legs tangled up she and her sisters gave each other the warmth so badly needed on cold January nights when heat from the stoves did not reach upstairs. As a small child, Lizzie had no idea who got up and kept the fire going at night so there would be hot water in the morning. It was only later that she learned that it was her mother. Her poppa was not well and couldn’t do this for his family. A weak heart couldn’t take the constant getting up and down or the bitter cold even if he slept on the cot by the stove. There was no time for stories to be read or sweet kisses when being tucked into bed. Lizzie took comfort from the soft murmur of her parents’ voices drifting up through the grate in the floor by her bed. In the summer time, the voices were still there but the windows were open to let in a breeze on hot summer nights and crickets would lull her to sleep. There was never a loud voice, nor angry words or shouting before she went to sleep. While drifting off to sleep the quiet comfort of the sounds of her home made her feel safe.
We din’t have many books in our school. The Teacher had the only Book and we had to listen to her read. I loved to listen to the stories and tales of far away places. We would learn words from the stories that we would write on our slates. We got one Scribbler, one pencil, and one eraser each term. We only put our very best work in it. I never liked doing my sums much but one teacher told me I was quick with numbers. That surprised me. I felt good about that. I always tried to tell my boys when I saw them do something good even if it was a small thing. With my daddy sickly I would have chores to do each day when I got home from school. I would carry water for three head of animals and brought in lots and lots of wood. Sometimes I was surprised that our house would have cold places with all of the wood I carried in each day to be burned up in our stoves.
Because my Daddy was sickly he could only work some of the time. We were very poor in those days. My dear mother would work out any time she could get anything to do. My poor Mama-I din’t like seeing her so tired all the time. When I turned eleven years old I started to try to help by taking care of myself. I got jobs during vacation time. There were a lot of large families living near us. We were four children but that was a small family. I think now that with my Daddy not able to work much my mother knew she couldn’t keep us all if she had more children. Some of the women from the big families could afford to hire someone to help out. That’s where I got my first job-working for one of them. I would have to live right with the Family either because they lived too far away for me to walk both ways each day or they needed me to help later in the night or early in the morning. Some of what I earned went for my food and lodgings but I made enough for a few clothes. I was happy to do this during my vacation time. It made me feel grown up. My sister Sara did the same thing as soon as she was old enough. Having the two of us fed and dressed by others for some of the time helped my Mother do better. Working made me strong as I grew up.
The fresh cup of tea finished and Lizzie flexed her fingers. This was more than she had ever written in one time her whole life. Memories kept coming. The women she cleaned and tended babies for were all different. One was flighty seemingly living somewhere else in her mind, thin and worn with five children under the age of ten. Lizzie remembered coming upon her behind the well house sobbing into her apron looking right at Lizzie with an expression that frightened her. A fleeting look that cut deep into Lizzie. She had lifted her apron, wiped her face and strode off to the clothesline. Lizzie watched her go before picking up the youngest girl who was tugging on the bottom of her skirt wanting her diaper changed.
That woman’s face in this moment was as real as if it had happened yesterday. Lizzie now knew that what she saw on that woman’s face was despair and panic, the expression of a woman who lived close to the edge.
Lizzie worked for them for one summer. Her momma told her they said they couldn’t afford to have her any longer than that. Lizzie had another family that needed her.
Had that woman’s expression reached so deep inside Lizzie that it stopped her from wanting any more than two children herself? Had that look of deep exhaustion and despair been seared onto Lizzie’s mind without her being aware of it? Why else is this memory so strong out of all the faces of the women she worked for?
Standing up from the table Lizzie went to the window and looked out at the frozen river across the road. The ice was breaking up a bit on the edges but there were more icy nights ahead. The river wouldn’t be thawing anytime soon. Lizzie could feel her past thawing inside of her. Her insides were shifting as if the sunlight was warming her from the inside out. In the past when she felt a glimmer of this sunlight inside her body she would distract herself from herself. She would talk to someone or bake something or lie down and sleep. She had been afraid. This time, there was no stopping these memories. Nowhere to hide or avoid them. There was a damn breaking and no one was there to hold back the water.
Lizzie couldn’t remember ever hearing about that family again. She wished she had asked her momma what happened to them. Maybe the mother grew stronger and made a life filled with more joy. The grey day and the frozen water were not helping Lizzie’s mood. A memory of her dad telling her not to be so serious all the time came to her as she stood looking out, her face somber.
When I was fourteen and in grade six I stopped going to school. When I stopped school altogether I went to work in another farm home. The people living there had a post office. I was a busy little girl. The lady of the house ran the Post Office while the man did the farming. There son was mostly looked after by the Maid. The maid was an older girl who worked there all the time. I was hired to help the maid. She had to cook for the whole family and all the hired hands at harvest time. I watched the little boy and did the cleaning up after meals. I got one and a half dollars per week and my Room n Board. I stayed there for two years and my wages went up to three dollars per week with board. It doesn’t seem like much money in 1976 but I helped my family with this money. Sometimes I wanted to keep the money to buy something for myself but I was always glad I could make things better for my parents and my sisters.
I was living away more than I was home so I was really looking after myself.
I would like to say that all the people I worked for were good and kind people. But when we grow up we meet people who aren’t good and Kind. I had my share of troubles with these kinds of folks at times. One family had me do all the laundry for six kids with no help. I could hardly move the laundry tub when it was empty so I sure had trouble moving it when it was full of clothes and hot soapy water. I had to carry the water from the stove across a crowded kitchen to fill the tub. It took me six trips with hot water and then four more with cold water. I used a big Paddle almost as tall as me to move the clothes around in the hot water until they were clean. I then had to add cold water so I could put my hands in to wring out the water from the clothes. The kids in that house were small so I could wring the water out of their clothes pretty easy but it was real hard to do the Mans farm clothes and the bedding. The mother was loud and always swatting one of the kids or yelling at someone. I worked in that house for a month during my summer vacation. They gave me the cot by the stove to sleep on. I couldn’t go to bed until everyone else did. I was the first one up to get the fire going for breakfast even on the hottest day in July.
My daddy came by one day to talk to the farmer and he saw me trying to move the clothes around in the big laundry tub. He stood in the kitchen with all the kids and the washing tub. He looked at the cot and he knew I was also sleeping in the hot kitchen. He dint say anything to me just turned and went back outside to talk to the Farmer.
He finished his talk with the farmer and then I saw him talking to the woman. She was shaking her head at him but no one raised their voice. My daddy came to the screen door and told me to get my things. I was going home with him. I wasn’t sure what had happened. I was afraid the woman had told my father I wasn’t doing a good job. I wanted the money and I was afraid I had let my family down. The woman din’t say a word to me when I walked out by her. Her face was red and I thought she looked like she was going to cry but she often looked like that to me.
When we got home my momma was extra nice to me hugging me longer than usual and making my favourite biscuits for supper. I was surprised my parents weren’t upset that I had lost this job. As I was getting ready to go up to bed my mother said to me, “Lizzie you never have to go back there. We need the extra money but we want you to earn it from a place where you are safe. We’ll find you a better place to go.”
Tears start down Lizzie’s cheeks. Crying for the second time in one day? Matt would be really panicked if he were here to see this.
She swiped her hand across her wet cheeks and drew a breath as she thought about the kindness of her poppa. It felt as is she was opening a door with rusty hinges into a room that she had not entered in a very long time. Not thinking about him kept her from feeling abandoned. Surviving was all she could do. In her late teens, Lizzie had wanted a life of her own. But remembering what her father did for her that day filled her breast with a searing longing to have had him in her life longer, to have taken some of the worries from her. To tell her that everything would be all right and that he would fix it for her. The tears were making it hard for her to see.
Starting to work outside my parent’s home at 11 and then for real at 14. By the time I was 17 I was tired of always doing other people’s chores. I had my share of boys liking me since I turned 13. I used to go for walks with them or sometimes to a local dance on a Saturday night. I din’t get much chance to make girlfriends since I worked in people’s houses cleaning. Their daughters dint make friends with the help much and the other girls who worked like I did would spend most of their free time with their families. I did too. My sisters were my closest girlfriends. I wasn’t home much when Rachel and Geneva were growing up. But we all were close. Maybe we were closer cause we din’t live together. In those days people started asking you when you were going to get married from the day a girl turned 17. If they weren’t asking you about it, someone was making a joke about you and some fellow or other.
Lizzie stopped for a moment to think about her infatuation with Harry Mckenzie. She knew now that that was all it was, an infatuation. Was it needing to be Mrs. Somebody or Mrs. Anybody that made her believe he was the answer to her dreams? Poor reason to marry someone. Where did the courage come from to go to Maine to work and then to get a divorce all on her own? Ignorance is bliss sure describes what happened. In the prime of her life and wanting to be loved for whom she was, not what she was. Just a wife? Staying in the house with Harry’s parents would have meant food and a comfortable place to live with a bit of spending money. And some respect for being a married woman although it would have been mixed with pity since everyone would know Harry was tramping around the countryside without her. But she could not do this. That would be living a lie. She wanted someone to really love her like she deserved to be loved. Her momma had told her they would find her a better place to go all those years ago. When she could not be in that house anymore she had to find herself a better place.
The man who owned the backery was curious as to why a married woman wanted a job and wanted to live away from her Husband and her family.
Lizzie put her pen down. Unburdening all of her stored up emotions onto Rebecca might be too much. Too strong and too personal. She had started this journal with tears that she had thought were fully shed many years ago. Her fresh tears were bringing back old hurts that must not have been finished for her. Would Becca care about Lizzie’s life? What she had started was too strong to let go of now. It had to be finished. Who was to read it could be decided when she finished. Hadn’t she already decided that? Stopping to worry that her granddaughter may be reading these many years from now was the ice trying to form over her insides again.
Me and Harry
I am happy with myself now although there was a short spell when I was truly lost. Think most people have times like that. Tragedies and troubles make some days very hard. Your daddy and momma and your big brother helped get me through much like my sisters did a long time ago. Families are important little Becca, and I want you to always remember that. Already there is so much love around you; you are glowing with it.
The room over the backery was clean and simple. It had a single bed and a small white painted dresser with a mirror. There was a large wardrobe against one wall with a deep cupboard for hangers and one deep drawer. A set of sheets, one quilt, and a pillow were on the bed ready for making up. I’d never had a bedroom to myself my whole Life. All this time I remember that little room that was all mine. I wasn’t sure how I would do sleeping all alone. I set my suitcase on the white painted chair and hung up my coat. Ed the owner told me I would start the next morning at 6 am. There was a washbasin and a pitcher on the washstand. The flush was downstairs at the back of the shop. It was near the stairs so I could use it at night without having to go into the backery. One of my jobs was to keep the flush and bathtub clean. There was one other room upstairs but it was full of bits and pieces of furniture and a few old empty flour barrels. At night I would hear noises from that room that made me scared until I got used to them. Sometimes I was so tired from working all day I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow and I dint wake until dawn. It was likely mice running through the walls. The whole place always smelled like freshly baked bread.
Ed spent his time picking up flour or eggs or other supplies we needed or delivering the foods we baked. The head Baker was a big tough woman named Mabel Kincaid. I met her that first morning when I came downstairs. I was good about getting up early and being at work on time. I was used to doing this from the time I started school. The short time I was married when it din’t seem to matter if I got up or not hadn’t changed that about me. As I made my way down the back stairs I heard someone in the kitchen. I thought it would be Ed. It surprised me to see a two hundred pound woman filling up the room, arms covered in flour with a frown on her face. She spoke to me without looking at me.
“Get an apron from the hook and start sifting flour over there.”
She pointed towards the huge barrels of flour sitting near the back wall.
I found the apron on the hook and put it on. I had to wrap it around me twice and tie it in the front. That apron had been made to fit Mabel.
“My name is Mabel and I run this kitchen. You’ll do what I say when I say it. If you have a problem you tell me, not Ed if you want to keep your job here.”
That was how I started my job. I did not see Ed all day. His Wife did bring lunch for me and Mabel. Mabel ate first at a table in the corner of the kitchen. She din’t tell me I could sit there when it was my turn to eat and she din’t clean up from her own lunch. I was too afraid to move any of her mess so I ate standing up by the barrels of flour. I had spent the whole morning scooping flour from a barrel, sifting it into large bowls that sat on the counter. Mabel took them when she needed flour. When she finished with one she put it in the line with the others. I bent over and scooped stood and sifted for eight hours. Mabel went home at 5pm. It was hard on my back but I was young and strong and I soon got used to it. The job was boring but clean and quiet. No dirty diapers or heavy laundry or silent mother in law, which made me happy. Time passed with me working all day and going to bed early. I dint have much of a social life.
One fine day Harry came there to see me and made all kinds of good promises trying to make me feel like a fool not to go back and try life over with him again. He begged me to come back. He told me we would get our own place but we would have to stay at his Parents till he got a place for us to move.
I was alone most of the time when I wasn’t working. I might as well have been alone when I was working since Mabel only gave me orders. So I did go back for a bit. But the day when things were going to get better, the day he was going to act like my husband never came. He just forgot about everything again and started on his same old way. So I left again.
I got my Head Tax papers and went to Maine to work. I worked in Fairfield Maine for three years. I had nice places to work. Mostly cafes and restaurants where I got to talk to people and make friends with some of the other girls that worked with me. I worked for a year in one place they were very good to me. Harry came several times and tried to get me to go back with him but I just made up my mind there wasn’t any use. I had to keep my own self all this time. He never gave me a penny so I paid for my divorce. I wasn’t long getting it. I din’t know anyone back home except my family to tell that I was divorced. I never knew what Harry told his friends and family. But I din’t care. I was away from him and his family for good.
I was free. I had my own job. I made myself a promise if I married again I would be careful and do better picking out my Husband.
Well, my life was better. I got bigger wages in Maine I got many more things that I never had before. I also helped my parents again, which I was very proud to do.
Then I got lonesome for home and wanted to come back. Harry was out of my life for good by then and I figured everyone else had moved on from caring much what I was doing. I went back to the backery. I couldn’t believe that it was still going strong and that Mabel was still filling up the kitchen. Ed told me he had a new girl scooping and sifting but she wasn’t good with the customers so he said he would take me back in a New York minute. The place had gotten busier so everyone had to help out at the counter serving customers except Mabel of course. So I came back. After my jobs in Maine I knew I wasn’t going to let Mabel treat me the way she did before. I was going to make a place for myself in that backery.
Alfred My dear, dear, husband
Alfred was a good man who worked at farming as if he was born to it. His parents and brother owned the farm and they all worked it He was a solid man with strong arms and a quiet manner. His mother used to come into the backery to get bread sometimes when the harvesting was busiest and she was working the Tractor and trying to keep everyone fed. The bread and cookies were a godsend to her she told me. Maybe that’s why she took such a shine to me.
When Alfred’s mother came to the bakery Lizzie had just taken over for Ed. Her hair was slipping from the hairnet in tiny tendrils around her face. Her cheeks were flushed with colour from the warm ovens. When Mabel brought out a new batch of warm dinner rolls Lizzie looked like a little china doll next to her. Mrs. Christianson had been thinking it was time her son Alfred got himself a wife. He worked hard but wasn’t the type to play hard. He mostly stayed home so he didn’t get many chances to meet women. Mrs. Christianson took one look at Lizzie that day and decided Alfred was going to meet her.
Lizzie did not know of her plan until after she was married to Alfred but she couldn’t help but smile when she thought about the first time she met Alfred.
Alfred came into the backery looking lost and out of place. He wore clean and pressed farmer clothes, kaki pants and plaid shirts. His boots were rugged but clean and polished. I had no idea who he was. Not many men came into the backery and those who did had a list from the women in their life. They would read from the list or hand it over to me. Then there would be some loud talk about why they were there instead of their Wife or mother. Mostly some sickness got talked about. I was quick to get the order which every single one of them was glad of even the ones who thought I was a pretty little thing. But I got them to buy one more thing, a box of tarts, a batch of their favourite cookies or a cake I was sure the woman that sent them would love to eat.
I could tell that Alfred was like the other shy men the moment he walked in the Shop. He had his mothers list in his big fist and was in a hurry to get the goods and get out of there before anyone came in and saw him. I worked fast to finish the order. I always liked Alfred’s mother from the first time she came in the backery.
I chatted away to relax him. I asked him what his favourite sweets were. I talked about brownies and tarts and pies and cakes and cookies for five minutes, pointing to each one as I filled the brown bags with bread and rolls. I explained to him how everything was made fresh each day. All the goods were put on sale at the end of the day and people were beginning to buy it up so there was no waste. I just keeps right on talking the whole time-about anything and everything.
I can see his face to this day as he listened trying not to look right at me. I remember having this urge to keep him there listening even if he wasn’t saying much himself. He courted me in a fine way. I was so happy.
Then on Nov. 9, 1932 we were married. He was a farmer. His home was in New Denmark so we settled down there. We had a nice farm and a very nice house. All of Alfred’s family made me feel welcome and like I was a daughter to them. We worked together. I was real happy. Two years later we had a darling Son who meant the world to both of us. We were very happy together. We both worked hard but enjoyed it. I dint want for anything in reason. He was a dear loving husband always ready to do things to please me. This was real happyness for me. We lived this way for thirteen years seven months.
Mattie grew like a weed while Lizzie and Albert tended their fields and animals. Lizzie tried for more babies. Alfred hoped to have a big family but it wasn’t to be.
Then one day God called him home. I was so broken hearted. No one will ever know how broken I was. Here I was left alone with my eleven years old Son bless his heart. He did everything he knew to do in his childish way to comfort me. He loved his daddy very much and missed him so much. The home never was the same—so here I am again with a broken heart, my little son was going to school. I was alone most of the time. The days were long and lonely. The days went by into weeks and weeks into months until one long lonely year had Passed. I have sit alone so many hours in this past year so I thought of all the good days we had spent together so happy there was so many pleasant memories to look back to then I would go to bed and be so lonesome I can’t say the many nights I cried myself to sleep. I wasn’t a good mother to Matt then. He started to act out in school. He would get into fights and be sent home. I tried to help him but I was lost in myself. I dint go out much. I had some real nice neighbours that I lived close to. Alfred’s parents were in despair too. They dint abandon me. They were very good to me. I still lived on the farm. I keep two cows—some pigs, hens. I had a garden so with the chores I had the work in the garden in the summer time. This took a lot of my spare time. I was glad to have something to do. But did I ever dread to see the winter come it was so long and lonesome I thought the days would never end. Matt and I spent the evenings by the stove. I made him do his homework and I talked some to him about his daddy but he wasn’t ready to listen. He stopped causing problems at school but he stayed quiet and on his own a lot. I had many chances for love affairs but somehow they din’t appeal to me. I was still living in the past.
Lizzie rested her pen on the table as she thought about Alfred. Writing about him brought a sense of warm peace to her belly. It had been a terrible blow when he died. Time and new loves had eventually dampened the sense of loss and what was left was a feeling of tenderness towards him. She knew now that she had been angry with him for leaving her. It wasn’t his choice to die but he had left her alone just the same. Her deep loneliness lowered her into a pit of depression for a long time. Where had this sense of being entitled to a man’s love come from? A love that meant he would never leave her. She had wanted him to love her the most. And if he had he would never have left her. But God had other plans for them. Plans she had no control over no matter who loved the most.
Thoughts of her life with Alfred continued to disturb her mind that afternoon. She slid the notebook into a box under her bed. It would be a month before it came out again.
It was early but the sun was warm and the air smelled fresh again. The wood stove needed to be on all day but gently with one large log burning slowly for a bit of warmth in the evening and for some cooking.
Lizzie hadn’t completed grade six. The struggle to find the right words to express what she wanted her story to tell Rebecca was wearing on her. Her spelling was poor and her mind needed a break from having to look up so many words in her worn dictionary. Not knowing how to spell words made it very hard. Old frustrations washed over her that had helped end her love for school. Having fallen so far behind she ended up feeling slow and stupid. The struggle to get her thoughts written for Rebecca was dragging her down. She was determined to finish the journal but she needed a break. The pages went into a box and out came her scrub bucket, mop and old flannel cloths. Cleaning she was good at.
The April sun would dry up her driveway and then it would rain for two days and make it all soupy again. Matt had said he would be down to take the straw bales away from the foundation as soon as he was sure it wouldn’t snow again. They could still have a blizzard and he did not trust that him removing those bales wouldn’t start one. He must have gotten superstitious from her Tarot card reading. The cards told her that she was at the right time to start bringing spring into her home. That meant around the outside too. The snow was all gone and it had left a sooty black residue on the bales that gave her house a dirty look that bothered Lizzie. What did her daddy used to say? “We might be poor but we don’t have to be dirty.” But there was no budging Matt.
Every surface and floor were scrubbed clean of all the winter dust and stove soot. The windows were cleaned on the inside and the curtains all washed, dried, starched and rehung. All the winter flies that were waking up with the sun coming in were vacuumed away.
Shelly took her to the Laundromat in town to wash her quilts and blankets. She loved the smell of them after they dried outdoors but her days of dragging wet blankets from her washer to the clothesline were over. Shelly tried to get her to take her sheets, towels and pillowcases too but Lizzie could manage those herself thank you very much. Matt had put the clothesline hook and pulley right outside her back door. There was only one small step to reach the line.
Now that the spring-cleaning was done there was no longer any excuses for avoiding her journal. It had been moved from under her bed during her cleaning back to the drawer in her kitchen table. On her last trip to Fredericton, she bought herself a couple of big lined pads of paper and a package of new Bic pens. Now if only these new pens helped her spell the words she wanted to use.
Lizzie had put off writing about Graeme long enough. It was time to get him on paper. It had to happen soon or she wouldn’t do it at all. The new Bic pen rested comfortably in her small hand.
Graeme my love
I lived this way for two years then one day I went to visit one of my sisters not a thing about a man or a love affair. I don’t know until this day what happened. I met a young man. I just talked to him as I would my friend. I went home still not thinking anything serius about him. But I couldn’t seem to get him out of my mind. I din’t seem to think too much about till two weeks later when I went to the hall for the dance.
Graeme was such a handsome man, tall with muscled arms and a flat stomach. Alfred had been a good husband and father but he was not a handsome man. That had never mattered to her. When he died and there was so much grief she mourned the idea of him, the kindness and caring of him. Not the physical of him.
She first met Graeme at a local dance her sisters talked her into going to. Tired of feeling sad, tired of being lonely, tired of her life being swamped with gloom she agreed to go. At thirty-five years old she could not stay in that fugue state any longer. That did not make getting dressed up and going out and leaving Mattie easy. Lizzie saw anger and blame in Matt’s eyes that night when she said good night to him. Her neighbour was going to stay with him. He was getting too old for her hugs and when she saw the expression in his eyes she knew she could not try to touch him. She wanted to wrap her arms around him and beg him to understand why she needed to do this. You don’t talk that way to your children. You don’t explain your feelings about what happens between a man and a woman who love each other. And you don’t tell them what it does to a person when one of them is taken from you. Lizzie hoped he would find that kind of love someday and then he might understand why she had to go out and find it again. As the veil of grief lifted a need stirred in her for someone to hold her again. To touch her in places that needed a lover to touch.
She left the house with a heavy heart joining her sisters at the side of the road.
Geneva, her youngest sister had a friend who was picking them up and taking them to the dance hall.
She almost asked the driver to stop and let her out. She was going to run back home. The car was full of carefree young people laughing at nonsense with the girls smoking cigarettes they would not be allowed to smoke at home. She was passed this wasn’t she? Had this ever been part of her life? Maybe in Maine but that was so long ago. She felt very old and out of place.
The car pulled into the side lot where the grass was trampled down to hold about twenty cars. Lizzie could feel a warm breeze on her arms as she climbed from the back seat. Her sisters ran into the hall leaving her to come on her own. The driver had gone over to a group of men who were smoking by the open trunk of a nearby car.
Lizzie can still picture every detail of that summer evening. The softening of the sun as it set over the fields all around the hall filled the corners of the building with dark shadows. Smoky haze floated out of the open door and windows. The music was country. Someone was yipping like a rodeo rider inside. She could see herself standing for a moment letting the sensation of life flow over and around her.
Her feet took her into the dance hall. The room was brightly lit since there was no way to dim the lights and turning them off made it too dark. Candles would be a fire hazard since the floor was strewn with hay to make the dancer’s feet slide more easily. Tables and chairs were placed around the outside of the dance floor and the raised platform where the band was playing was built up with more hay bales so open flames were not a good idea.
Lizzie saw her sisters across the room at a table. They were two of the prettiest girls in the room and all the boys hanging around their table were a testament to that.
Making her way around the dancers to the table she found herself face to face with the most handsome boy she had seen in a long time. He grinned a cheek-to-cheek grin and grabbed her arm. He held her fast to his side. He turned and put his hand on her back and started to twirl her around the floor. A square dance caller was up in front of the band and he called for the Circle Left/Right Forward and Back Promenades, Wheel Around Do-si-do, Star Left/Right Swing, Allemande Left/Arm Turns and all the other calls she thought she had forgotten how to do.
Her partner knew when to grab her and when to let her go. He never let her go far and the heat coming off of his body added to the sweat on her own. For every twirl and sashay, she wanted to do ten more. The other dancers were part of the excitement moving in and out of her vision. She smiled and laughed as they grabbed her hands one after the other. The caller seemed to sense the electricity in the air and he kept the calls coming. Her sisters had been grabbed up by partners and were twirling and sashaying right along side of her. She wanted to keep her partner for herself. She wanted those strong brown arms to fit around her and only her.
The rest of the night was lost in the fog of years gone by. Her partner’s name was Graeme and he became a part of her life. He was only 17 years old. Her mind brought her back to the day he told her how old he was. She hadn’t asked. She knew he was younger than her. Much younger. She told herself they were dance partners and friends only. They met at the dance hall every Saturday night that whole summer. Each night they danced until the end. Completely spent yet tuned into each other’s bodies in the way that dancers and skaters had to be with their partners. Her sisters enjoyed themselves at the dances glad Lizzie was having fun and was getting out of her gloom. Her sisters changed partners and no one noticed that Lizzie had the same partner all night. Or if they did no one said anything to her.
Graeme was finished high school. Lizzie was glad about that. Most boys did not finish at all and if they did they were often older than 17 as they had to take time off to work in the woods or on their parents’ farms. Graeme’s parents had done well enough that they could hire help so he could finish school. He did his fair share of work when he was home which built his muscles and gave him the tanned skin. He was working for his father in the woods when the summer ended. Lizzie had not yet invited him to her home. Matt got used to her going out on Saturday nights at least he appeared to be. There were no more glaring looks that summer. Matt was going out himself now, hanging out at the corner store with his friends from high school. Lizzie hoped he was not getting into any trouble by drinking or smoking. She did not check because she did not want to have to stop her dance nights. In the fall, Matt went to high school for grade nine. She never heard anything bad about what he was up to on those Saturday nights. Hopefully, this meant that there wasn’t anything going on.
Lizzie continued to look after the farm animals and took the last of the produce from the garden that fall. Her in-laws still farmed the fields and helped with the upkeep on the house. They were devastated when their son died but they had done right by Lizzie and Matt. Lizzie’s sister had married Alfred’s brother shortly after Lizzie and Alfred were married so the family connections were strong.
Lizzie thought about how that family connection was a blessing for her and Matt but also a curse for her. Graeme had started to see her during the day when Matt was at school. Graeme had less to do as they waited for the weather to turn cold and for the snow to come so they could get the sleds into the woods.
Her mind went back again to those cool fall afternoons in the upstairs bedroom. The doors were locked and the curtains pulled. There weren’t many visitors anyway and if someone did come they would see that the house looked closed. Only once had they been interrupted by a knock on the door. They stayed quiet holding their breath. Whoever it was, knocked twice and then left. Lizzie heard a truck leaving.
She drifted through the autumn months in a warm state of bliss. If Matt or anyone else noticed they stayed quiet.
By Christmas, Graeme wanted to tell everyone about their love for each other. This surprised her. He was so young and had so much to do yet. An unsteady feeling came over her when she thought about them as a couple. How long would he want to spend with a woman twice his age? When would he meet a sweet young thing and drop Lizzie for her? He was still going out on his own. She hadn’t been ready to be with him in public outside of the dance hall. What if he was like Harry? The same Harry who pursued her until he got her and then ignored her. She couldn’t take that again. Not ever. She told Graeme all about Harry and about Alfred. Graeme wanted to be an Alfred for her. That would make her laugh. He hadn’t lived long enough to be Alfred. He had to experience loss and forgiveness and some pain before he could be another Alfred. But it was sweet that he wanted to be this for her.
This went on for six months then I knew I was in love with him. He wanted me to marry him but all of my in-laws were against me going with him. But we were both so much in love that we couldn’t stay away from each other so this went on for a year. He keeps on coming and wanted me to get married. I loved him enough to marry him but my in-laws keep on they just dint want me to have anything to do with him but I loved him so much. I couldn’t stop going out with him. We went to all the square dances at the hall.
He would bring donuts from the bakery that was still going strong in town. Mabel was slower and had more help these days but her baking was as good as ever and she still ruled the kitchen with an iron fist.
He made Lizzie her lunch if he came over in the morning or served her toast and tea in bed after they made love. Lizzie wanted to stay aloof and distant from her heart but she was falling in love with this boy-man every day.
Her love for her son and her unborn child turned out to be stronger than passion. There were regrets. Regret for the loss of this love of her life, regret for the loss of his touch that brought her body back to life and regret for the loss of a life companion.
She never heard from him again. At one time she thought he might come looking for her or someone from around here would tell him she had given birth to his son and he would want to see him. She heard once that he was living in Montreal with a family of his own but no one said that he had ever returned to Perth. Did his parents ever know that they had a grandson living on the outskirts of town? No one ever talked to her about Graeme or his family after Lawrence was born. Alfred’s family continued to be kind to her and helped with both boys by letting her stay in the house on the farm. No one ever talked about any of it. Lizzie wasn’t going to either. In time, she persuaded herself it ceased to matter.
Then one day I discovered I was pregnant. I’ll tell the world I was in a terrible spot here I was going to have a baby by a man I loved and he wanted to marry me but it seemed as if the whole world was against us. I tried to make them understand how I felt but it was just like talking to the wind. They all thought if I married this boy it was the most awful thing that could happen to me. He was fifteen years younger than me. That was what was upsetting everyone. So here I was with more than a broken heart I din’t want to hurt my in laws for they all was so good to me through all the troubles when I lost my husband. So I thanked them with all my heart I love every one of them but I just couldn’t make them understand, here I am in love with this man and going to have a baby by him and he wants to marry me. He loves me and I love him still all my in laws don’t approve of our getting married. I sent him away from me.
So we dint get married. I was left all alone to bear all the shame and disgrace with a broken heart. No one will ever know how I felt as time went by so slow and the tears I cried would fill an ocean. Then on Dec 17 1949 my darling baby boy was born. It was an 8-pound baby boy. A sweet little fellow. Well, I took him home with me I did my best to bring him up. I loved him with all my heart. He looks just like his daddy. I did everything I could for him but I have felt so bad many times to think he couldn’t have his own daddy. Graeme never tried to see me again. I was glad for myself but deep in my heart there was a Hurt that he never tried to see his son. Not ever. A part of me couldn’t believe that I would love a man who would act as if he never had a son. I have did my best to make Lawrence a good boy out of him now he is almost 30 years old and your Daddy, Becca. He was a very good boy and a very nice looking boy. So I have got him up to this years of life and I pray that the Dear Lord will guide his foot steps in the right road of life so he will be a help to do something good for his country someday and be a man that the country will be proud of.
Lizzie banked the fire and set out her bread and a pot for boiling her morning egg. She filled the kettle and went up the steep staircase to her bedroom. Her stamina for writing was getting better each day but the memories would sometimes drain her of every bit of energy she had. So far she had kept the journal writing and the fatigue it created from her sons and their wives. She caught Shelley watching her one time she was over at their place for dinner and knew that she had let her face show her tiredness. How could she explain to her and Matt that what she was doing needed to be done? The time and energy she was expending to complete the journal were a lot but what she thought about and relived between the writing always gave her the feeling of a good tired. A tired that came from doing work that needed to be done and doing it well. None of that would make any sense to them and why should it? This was her life and her memories that were coming out of the past and out of the darkness too.
Lizzie got up at six a.m. not having slept much. Her mind kept going over the time she spent with Graeme. The sheer physicality of their lovemaking could still take her breath away. Graeme was a gentle lover but an unpracticed one so he explored her body in all ways possible. Those memories were clear and vivid. His scent, clean and sharp like the woods first thing in the morning.
Joe my friend and husband
Your Grandpa Joe came into my life just when I needed someone steady. My Neighbour John brought him by the house one time when I needed to have the motor on the oil burner in the parlour looked at. Joe brought a good feeling to my house. I read the cards after he left and they told me that I had met someone who was going to stay in my life — someone who would bring happiness with him.
When Lizzie thinks about Joe a soft quiet smile moves over her face. He came into her life when she was in her early fifties. She had been on her own for more than ten years. Raising her boys, reading cards and working a bit cleaning people’s houses.
Joe brought light and laughter to her house. He worked as a small engine repairman. Everyone came to him as much for how he lightened their mood as for his expertise. They always went home with a repaired toaster, or lawnmower or chainsaw and a smile on their face.
Lizzie went back to square dancing with Joe. They went to the local legion hall for their Friday night dances. The old dance hall where she spent her summer evenings dancing with Graeme was abandoned and almost completely covered in vines with small poplar trees growing up over the top of the old saggy roof. It won’t be long now before it disappears completely. Lizzie liked dancing at the legion. She and Joe got pretty good at it.
She still goes and watches, sometimes getting up for a dance or two with some of her and Joe’s old friends. The dancers are getting older and no young people are filling in their places. Square dancing is not what young couples want to do anymore. Funny how they think it is so boring and old fashioned. Lizzie could tell them a thing or two about how sensuous it can be twirling and sliding around one another on a hot summer night. But that was Graeme’s story, not Joe’s. Joe was always laughing and doing something silly right at one of the key twirls or swings that would put everyone in stitches so the caller had to work extra hard to get everyone back in line.
Lizzie loved those nights too.
Joe became Lawrence’s father right away. Matt was too old and was out on his own at this time. He liked Joe and had his own kids call Joe, Papa, as their grandfather. Lawrence and Matt always called him Joe but Lizzie was glad he was in Lawrence’s life.
He passed away two years ago in his sleep in this house with Lizzie by his side. She wasn’t ready to let him go and be alone but she had learned by now that what she wanted for herself and what the universe had planned for her was seldom the same thing. His wake was filled with fun stories and happy tears. His funeral was solemn and worthy of a man who firmly believed there was a place in heaven waiting for him. Lawrence told his mom that he was sure Joe was in his place in heaven making everyone laugh. Lizzie smiled at that. She knew he was there.
Her old housecoat was on the floor where it must have landed when she was thrashing around. It usually stayed on the foot of her bed all night and never moved. Her housecoat pulled over her shoulders and with her slippers on her feet she descended the steep staircase her hand firmly planted on the railing.
The box of old photographs was still there in the middle of her kitchen table. She had not taken the box out of the closet for a long time. Going back to the places she saw in each photo had helped her remember. There were a few she wished she had destroyed years ago. She reached for one of those now. It was an old photograph of Joe’s. Graeme was in this photo with Joe’s brother, Donnie. They had their arm around each other. Graeme was laughing right into the camera but Donnie was looking at Graeme. The expression on Donnie’s face was so sad and filled with such deep longing that Lizzie had dropped the photo onto the table shaking with dread. Donnie had loved Graeme. His eyes shone with it and his body looked like it wanted to coil around Graeme’s. How did she not know about this? Had Graeme known and not told her? Or was he oblivious to his friend’s longing?
This was too much for her to worry about now. Upstairs in her bed, she couldn’t stop the thoughts of Graeme and Donnie that should not be. In the morning as she looked at the photo again in the cold light of day she saw the same passion she had the night before. She recognized the feelings Donnie was trying not to show because she knew that a photo of her and Graeme together would have shown that same expression on her face.
I felt good about the cards so when John came over a week later to ask me to come to supper at his house I knew that it was because of Joe. John and Elly invited me for supper sometimes. Derek there boy played with Lawrence so they knew I was mostly on my own. Elly told me to bring the boys. We all went, the boys happy to get up in John’s big hayloft. Matt was too old to be playing like that but he would use Lawrence as an excuse. I was glad that Matt thought enough of his baby Brother to go with us. It gave me some peace knowing Matt was looking out for him. When we got to the house there was Joe’s truck in the driveway. I wondered if John needed a small engine repaired. Joe was there for dinner. Elly had a funny look on her face — she wasn’t sure how it was going to go once I saw what they were up to. I liked Elly and John and turns out I liked Joe a lot. That Dinner was the start of lots more-most of them took place at my kitchen table. Joe had never married. He said he never found the right girl till now. We spent time together for about six months before Joe asked me to be his Wife. I hadn’t been a Wife for a long time. Joe was steady and so good with the boys that I said yes. We had a good life together Becca. Joe was my Alfred but he came to my life at a time when I was used to loss. The cards told me to take this chance on love again. I stopped worrying about being Left. I luved the life he and I made with the boys. What the next day might bring was not for me to worry. Joe was the same. He worked hard for us but he seemed to know that nothing was going to stay the same no matter how much we wanted it to. That helped me to learn to let go. But Becca this old world is small all the same. Joe told me one time that his younger brother Donnie was a good friend of Graeme’s. He used to hang out with Graeme in Woodstock and they worked together. Joe was surprised I hadn’t met Donnie since he was Graeme’s best friend all his life. I never met him mostly because we dint mix our friends or Families together. Donnie was the big sadness in Joe’s life. He had gone in the woods one day and shot hisself. When he din’t come home for a couple of days Joe went looking for him. He found him. He had bruises on his face and his knuckles were banged up pretty good. When Joe found him he thought someone must have killed him but the coroner said no that he had used the shotgun on himself. The bruises and cuts on him happened at least a day or two before the suicide. Joe told me that Donnie was what he would call sensitive. Not strong and too attached to his mother. Joe loved his brother but I dint think he ever forgave him for killing hisself without leaving a note about why. I dint press Joe about it. It happend just about the time I had told Graeme we couldn’t be together. Joe told me he always felt bad that Graeme never came to the funeral or contacted any of Donnie’s family. Suicide is a very sad thing and families try to hide this. Joe said his family was the same. They din’t want many to know how Donnie died. The announcement of the funeral went in the paper but Graeme dint come.
Joe said he decided right then that his life wasn’t going to be spent in darkness or despair. I was glad he told me what happened to his Brother. He would be quiet on the day that Donnie died and I figured he was remembering. I did the same on the day that Alfred died. I even thought about Graeme on the day he left me for good. We go on with our lives but the memories don’t disappear. It helped me to know that Joe had this terrible sadness in his life yet he was truly happy.
When Joe left me for heaven I was sad. Yet I still feel he is with me when I laugh or hear a joke that makes me smile.
All this love, Becca and all this loss. Am I sorry for any of it? Life doesn’t often give you much of a chance to decide. I was busy living. My days were filled with caring for others trying to make a living so I could live on my own if I had to. So many times I had to. This wasn’t how I wanted to live my Life when I was writing my name in hearts as Mrs. Mckenzie. I had to choose a path not knowing where it would lead me - I always chose the path of Love Becca. If there was no love or it was lost or taken from me I chose another Path. As I look back I see that even if I lost love I would start to look for it again. My love for my Sons keeped me going for most of my life. We change when we become a parent. It is a good change. Love for our Babies is like no other. My love for men was different for each man that I chose to love but the love for my boys is the same and cannot be bent or broken. Lovers and husbands have to earn our love every day they are with us. We have to earn their love every day to. Sometimes I could get it to work and other times I couldn’t. God had other plans some days to and I sure had no say in what He decided for me. I have no magic for you my little girl. I have only my life to share with you. Make of it what you want. You are a love of my life.
Lizzie put her pen down one last time. A deep knot had slowly let go in her chest. Graeme’s disappearance from her life. He didn't mean to disappear from her life. The years of silence she had ignored, the pain of not being with him, the hurt that he hadn’t even tried to see his son, all released. She had sent Graeme away not from the world, just from her. But he had been taken him away from the world and Donnie had paid for that with his own life. This was a certainty that she could not deny and one that had lain buried deep inside her for a long time. Once upon a time, the cards had tried to tell her but she was not listening. It was beyond her capacity to believe them. She had had another son to raise. Her mind had closed down her fears. And even now or especially now no one else needed to know. Her new granddaughter’s life was not going to be marred by what had happened to her real grandfather. Rebecca would someday read an old woman’s tale of love and loss not one of jealousy and revenge. Lizzie took the photo to the stove and tossed it in watching until it was burned to ash.
Upstairs under her bed sat the metal cash box in which Lizzie kept her will and the deed to her house. When Matt and Shelley were checking the house for important papers after Lizzie’s funeral they retrieved the cash box. A folded brown envelope with Rebecca’s name on it was found in it. Under her name was written Do not open, for Rebecca only, on her25th birthday. Lawrence put it in his business safe at his house. He could keep it safe there for another twenty years. And he did.