A New Start

Chap I, “Louisa’s Story”

                                                                         A New Start


                                                                          Al Murdach

      Louisa took off her shoes and nursed the big toe she had just bruised with a mallet while playing croquet on the front lawn.  Except for the slow ticking of the grandfather’s clock, the thickly carpeted hallway was quiet.  She could barely hear her father speaking to Grandpa Bodner in the sitting room.  Suddenly something urgent in Father’s voice made her get up and move closer to the heavily draped doorway.  He was saying something about free new land in Canada and starting all over again.  Louisa could tell by the way the floor creaked that Father was walking across the sitting room towards the large window.  She leaned forward and craned her neck to hear Grandpa’s response.  There was a long pause and when he finally spoke his voice was choked with impatience.

     “George, I realize that you are young and full of the spirit of adventure, but this is no longer the wild west.  This is 1910, and you’re supposed to be practical these days.  I don’t think you realize the risks involved in what you’re proposing.  Farming in Canada isn’t the same thing as farming here in Kansas, it’s very…..

     Now Father became impatient.  “I know all that, father,” he said loudly.  “You’ve said this before.  But I’m sure we can make a go of it.  The government brochure says the land is rich, and we are willing to work hard.  Large portions of good farm property are being deeded to homesteaders who are willing to settle and work the land.”

     “George, be sensible,” Grandpa said.  “You’ve got a growing family to consider—a young wife, a six year old daughter, and a ten month old baby.  They aren’t used to the kind of life you’re proposing.  I’m prepared to offer you a substantial position as foreman on our farm.  You and your family could continue to live here with your mother and me and make a good life for yourself and your family.  Those Canadian winters are severe, George.  Think of your family, for God’s sake!”

     Louisa heard  Father striding across the sitting room toward the hall.  Grandpa called after him, “George, please stop and think!” but Father didn’t answer.  He threw back the hallway curtains and strode down the main hallway to the rear door, jerking it open and  slamming it closed. 

     Limping down the hall in her stocking feet, Louisa passed the entrance to the sitting room and saw Grandpa hunched over in a chair, wiping his forehead with a handkerchief while he stared at the floor.  Louisa thought he looked very sad.  She hobbled down the back steps and walked through the newly watered grass to join Mother, who was sitting in a straight-backed chair under one of the large shade trees feeding John, her baby brother, enthroned next to her in a tall high chair.  Father stood a few feet away, arms crossed across his chest, quietly speaking to Mother as he slowly kicked the ground with the toe of his shoe.  As Louisa approached, he abruptly raised his voice.

     “He doesn’t want us to go, Clara.”

     “Well, George,” she responded wearily, “I think we already knew what his response would be.  He’s very stubborn.”

     “I realize that, but I thought I would try once more to change his mind.  However, he’s resolute.  I was hoping to leave with his blessing but I can see now there is no use.”  Father turned away from Mother and stood silently for a moment gazing out over the nearby cornfields, shining and tossing in the late afternoon sun.  Mother rose and touched his shoulder.

     “What do you plan to do, George?” she asked softly. 

     Father came close to Mother and placed his hands on her shoulders.  To Louisa he seemed to tower over Mother, but in a protective rather than threatening way. 

     “I’m going to take the train to Canada in two weeks with or without his permission,” he said.  “I’ll start building the homestead and send for you and the children as soon as possible.  I’m going inside to tell him about this now.”  Mother reached out and grabbed Father’s hand, but he pulled away and rushed up the back steps into the house, banging the screen door behind him again.

     Mother slowly sat back down in her chair and resumed feeding John.  Louisa was surprised how quiet John was throughout all this confusion.   Mother fed him very carefully and slowly, singing to him softly.  Louisa sat on a nearby rock wall for a few moments watching Mother feed John.  Her face, dark hair and eyes, her gentle, agile hands, playful gestures and relaxed posture fascinated Louisa.  To her, at this moment, Mother seemed to be the most beautiful woman in the whole world.  Eventually she got up and leaned on Mother’s shoulder and watched her wipe Baby John’s face.  She saw Mother stop for a moment and seem to gaze wistfully at the trees and carefully clipped grass in the back yard.  Pulling Louisa close to her, she spoke softly in her ear.

     “We’ll be leaving all this soon, Louisa.  Daddy’s taking us to Canada to live.”

     Louisa’s heart began to beat wildly.  Stories about pioneer life she had heard leapt into her mind: images of covered wagons, vast mountain ranges, attacking Indians, mountain men, buffalo.  She pulled herself closer to Mother.

     “Are you scared, Louisa?” Mother asked, as she put her arm around her shoulder.

     “A little bit,” Louisa said, looking up at Mother.  “Why does Daddy want to move?  Doesn’t he like it here in Kansas?”

     “Well, Louisa, Daddy wants a new life.  And it might be fun!  We’re going to have our own farm.”

     Louisa tugged at Mother’s sleeve.  “Momma, is John coming too?”

     “Of course,” Mother chuckled.  “We’re all going.  Louisa, your socks are soaking wet!  Where are your shoes?”

     “I forgot them.  What’s Canada like?  Is it like Kansas?”

     Mother pulled her even closer.  “I don’t know, Louisa, I just don’t know.  I don’t think Daddy does either.  But I’m sure we’ll all find out soon enough!”

     Louisa looked into Mother’s face.  It seemed to Louisa that Mother was looking past her, past the back yard and the nearby fields and fences, past the nearby clouds, and even past the distant blue-tinged horizon.  Louisa thought that she might be trying to see as far as Canada.  She could see that Mother’s face grew increasingly serious and even a little sad as she peered into the distance, and she was no longer singing.

                                                                     The End

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  • allisonmurdach  On September 20, 2010 at 7:09 am

    ” A New Start” is the first chapter of a series of stories I have written about a young woman growing up on the plains of Canada and her subsequent experiences after her family moves to Washington state. The stories are based on my mother’s life.

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