Chapter 4: Busybody
The next day, Poppa sobered up and brought home a box of
chocolates. Then we all breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that
the drinking spree was over. I loved chocolates, but I didn’t have
the stomach for these ones.
When I was alone with Mamma, I said, “I hate chocolates.”
“Now, Kate, don’t be so quick to judge. Your father’s drinking
is his way of coping with trouble, and God knows he’s had his
share of worries this last while.”
“I didn’t think he was ever going to stop drinking.”
“Just remember, your father never hurts a soul when he
drinks. He’s not like Crazy Charlie who always goes into a rage
with the liquor.”
Mamma was right about our neighbor, Crazy Charlie. I’ll
never forget the day he threw the kitchen stove into the backyard.
The next morning, he built a fire in it and fried eggs on the lids.
All the neighborhood kids laughed at him but, deep inside, I
didn’t think it was funny at all.
When Uncle Pat heard that Poppa had lost his job at the
bakery, he got him a few shifts at the steel plant. But by the end
of September, work there had dried up for both of them.
A week later, Poppa heard by way of a letter from his ma,
Grannie Aigneis, in Margaree, that there were logging jobs on
“My prayers to Saint Francis are answered. I’ll get work at
the logging camp,” said Poppa.
The decision was made to leave for Margaree as soon
When Mamma heard the news, she dragged herself out of
bed. “I’m so relieved that your poppa will have work.”
When Mamma and Poppa were first married, they moved
from the Pier to the farm on Mount Pleasant in Margaree. I was
born there, but farming didn’t agree with Poppa, and it wasn’t
long until we moved back to Whitney Pier where Mamma’s
family lived. It never occurred to me that I would ever go back
there. The Pier was my home.
Ten days later, Aunt Jo, Mamma’s older sister, had taken Sarah
for the morning, so that Mamma could rest. However, instead of
taking it easy, she insisted on doing the laundry.
“I won’t get my strength back lazing around,” said Mamma.
“I’ll lend a hand and then I’ll go to school for the afternoon,”
“You’re so good to me, Kate. I’ve spoken to Mother St.
Francis and she’s agreed to give you extra help. You know, we
were good friends before she went into the convent.”
“So that’s why she’s always willing to spend time with me.”
“I didn’t think she was the type to be a nun, but she’s
devoted to her profession.” Mamma rolled her sleeves up over
her elbows and repeatedly dunked her arms into the steaming
water laced with bleach. I cranked the wringer handle. As she
shoved the clothes through the rollers, water splashed back
into the washing machine. I loved the warm tight feel of the
flat clothes as they dropped out of the mangle and into the
galvanized washtub to be rinsed.
“I loved it on the mountain, Kate, and I’m sure you will,
too. After we married, your poppa’s ma and pa took us in. They
treated me like one of their own for the short time that we lived
there. Grannie Aigneis doted on you after you were born, and
Grampa Hector even made a cradle for you.”
Whenever Mamma spoke about the country, the light returned
to her eyes. The prospect of going back there made her happy.
We were in the middle of the wash when a long tendril of
hair sprung loose from her bun and fell over her face. She ran
her fingers across her brow and squinted as if a headache were
“Sit here,” I said, pulling up a kitchen chair. “Let me help.”
I ran my fingers through the thin wisps of her hair and raised
the silky strands to my face, catching the scent of lavender water
that she used to rinse her hair. I lingered in her warmth. I wished
I could make her well again as I tucked the loose strands back
into the bun.
Mamma leaned her elbow on the table. “I’m dog-tired.”
She didn’t have the words out of her mouth when there was
a knock on the door and Aunt Flora breezed into the kitchen.
She removed her white gloves one finger at a time and flattened
them out on the table beside her purse.
The busybody. What was she doing here? It had been three
weeks since she had caused the last upheaval.
Then she took the hatpin out of her hat and removed it. She
shoved the hatpin back into the brim and placed the hat on the
table beside her gloves and purse. From the look of things, she
was settling in for a long visit.
“I’m dying for a cup of tea,” she said. Her eyes scanned the
room, lingering on the breakfast dishes in the sink, the frying
pan on the stove, Mamma’s dirty hanky under the table, and the
water spots on the window above the sink. I hoped she didn’t see
the milk rings on the tea tray, but I knew one swoop of her eyes
around the room and she would notice everything.
I wiped the milk off the tea tray with a wet cloth and placed
a doily under the cups and saucers. I poured the tea and offered
it to her.
“Kate, you’re not in school today.”
“She’s leaving as soon as we’re done with the laundry,”
Mamma barked at her.
“I see.” She bustled across the kitchen with her cup and
saucer in hand, not spilling a drop.
“After Mass this morning, the ladies stayed to get ready for
the Catholic Women’s League tea and sale this afternoon.” Aunt
Flora sipped tea through pursed lips. “Mrs. Rankin showed up
with nothing again today. Said she’d baked a cake that was so
light it blew away. That woman is as tight as bark to a tree.”
A smile stretched across Mamma’s face and I marveled at
the stories that Mrs. Rankin could make up as an excuse for not
baking for the cwl.
I returned to the laundry tub and scoured the socks on the
rough scrubbing board. The suds had little sparkles of ore dust
running through them.
Mamma glared at the grungy socks. “They’re not fit to wear.
I’ll be happy to be away from all that ore dust. What a scourge!”
Aunt Flora jumped on her words. “Maggie, stay with me.
You’re not fit to go traipsing off to the country.”
“The doctor said fresh air is good for me.”
“Be reasonable, Maggie. Winter’s coming and I hate to think
what’ll happen to you down on that mountain. You’ll be snowed
in for days on end and no doctor for miles of the place. Stay until
you’re at least steady on your feet.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Flora. You’ve
never been to Mount Pleasant. Iain’s family has always been
good to me.”
“You’ve told me yourself that they’ve even had to burn the
furniture to keep warm.”
“They don’t have much, I know that, but they’re fine people.”
“Promise me you’ll think about it.”
“I love the farm; besides, Iain will have work.”
“Don’t be stubborn, Maggie.”
“Don’t try to talk me out of it. It’ll do us all a world of good
to get away from here.”
“What’s wrong with us? Do we have warts?” My aunt
glared at her sister. “What’ll you do when they all get drunk on
“For heaven’s sake, Flora, stop preaching. Not everyone has
it as easy as you do.”
I was listening to the two sisters fight with each other as
I was stretching a mountain of socks onto the wooden sock
stretchers. I wasn’t part of the argument, so I was startled when
I heard my name.
“What about you, Kate? If your mamma doesn’t want to
stay in town, you could live with us and remain in school with
It wasn’t proper to talk back to my aunt. “I want to go to the
country,” I said, through clenched teeth.
Mamma’s tired eyes darted toward my aunt. “What are you
talking about, Flora? Children get educated in the country, too.”
“A one-room affair. It would be a darn shame if Kate ended
up like that Duguid girl who had to quit school and go into
service in Boston to wait on the high and mighty.”
I’d heard that Mary Duguid was living in a small room over
a stable and had to do all the cooking and cleaning for a large
family. Mamma wouldn’t let that happen to me. She’d make sure
that I got to school and didn’t go into service.
I wanted to speak up and say that I was going to Margaree
with my family, but I lost my nerve when Mamma slumped
further down in her chair. Dark circles fanned out under her
eyes, revealing the strain of the argument with her sister, who
was all business and about as sensitive as raspberry cane.
“I don’t know what I’d do without her,” said Mamma, gazing
at me. “It never occurred to me that Kate might end up in service.”
My aunt held her cup high over the saucer. “Kate, we’d love
to have you stay with us. Think of it as an opportunity.”
How could she say that? Mamma needed me. She said so
herself. Some days she could hardly turn a rag she was so weak.
“I suppose you’re right.” The fire in Mamma’s voice was
dissolving. Why didn’t she make her sister go away?
“Mamma, I want to go to the country with you.”
She took me by the hand. “It will be good for you to stay here
with your friends.”
“I don’t want to stay here without you.”
Mamma sighed. “There’s no sense uprooting everyone.
Besides, it’s not forever. When you finish your school year, you
can come and be with us.”
There was no way Mamma would listen to me with her sister
spurring her on. It was no use talking to Poppa. He would do
whatever Mamma wanted. Oh, God, I’d hate to see them leave.