Promised Land

 

This is from an historical novel I am working on – enjoy and comment on how to improve – context is that Lizzie has her newest daughter-in-law, Mary, living with her as her son, George, is serving in the Navy at Pearl Harbor 1944.  Lizzie is telling these stories through memory/flashback and diary entries as she gets to know Mary.

 

Lizzie’s tiny frame was barely able to hold the weight of a full-term babe on that unseasonably warm (meaning not below freezing) Nebraska winter night in 1900.  As she began the first urges toward birthing, her own howls mixed with those of ever-present January’s winds.  Her father, John, and her brothers paced outside the door as their neighbor Annie delivered a very strong, healthy boy into the candlelight.  “Ah, Lizzie, the wee one ain’t so wee now, is he?”, Annie exclaimed.  Lizzie felt faint and the tears came slowly from the corners of her eyes as she fixed her gaze on the face of this tiny stranger.  All the pain, all the breathless and sleepless nights filled with discomfort and despair were over

John came into the room and kissed her forehead, greeting little Willie with a tear and quivering chin.  “Ah, Lizzie.  Look what good comes of it all”, his voice cracked with emotion.  Annie swaddled the bundle and handed him off to his PawPaw as Goodboy and Frank entered warily.  After hearing Lizzie moan and scream they were a little afraid of what they might find.  Leaning over their father as their eyes opened wide at the sight of such a fragile being.  “Hello, little man.  I am your Uncle John and this here is your Uncle Frank”, Goodboy whispered in reverence.   Now they had this tiny man to take care of and their plan to leave this wind-swept god-forsaken flatland was drawing near.  They named him Willie, after their late mother, Wilhelmina.

 

Lizzie’s Diary Entry (*) January 3, 1900

The first 16 years of my life had been spent playing outside, helping father on the homestead, learning the ways of a farmer’s’ life.  I have no idea of how to take care of an infant. Having lost my mother so many years ago and being the only girl in a house of male characters with no inkling of the domestic way of life, I am in need of comfort.  I feel very lost in the uncertainty of it all, having only recently lost my childhood as well.

I saw this lovely poem, written by one of my most favorite poets, in a magazine Goodboy brought home from the grange today and will add it to my growing collection:

From Life’s Springtime – a poem by Ella Higginson

Oh, tell me where is the little girl

With the wind-blown hair and the fragile hand

Who in the beautiful days of long ago

Dwelt with God in Violet-Land?

She talked with him in childish speech

She walked with Him and He held her hand

One might have known by her lifted eye

That she dwelt with God in Violet-Land

But, oh for the word of the baby lips,

And oh, for the touch of the baby hand!

And oh, for the throb of the raptured heart

Of the little girl in Violet-Land!

I stand and look through the distance far,

My eyes grow dim beneath my hand,

For I seek and call, but I never find,

The little girl of Violet-Land.

 

One month later

The ad in the Broken Bow Republican says the Northern Pacific Railway brought in 2000 new residents in a month to the Seattle area.  Papa bought four tickets and Willie rode along for free.

Lizzie didn’t sleep much the night before and neither did anyone else since Willie was up most of the night.  A newborn cannot possibly know what’s going on but he must have sensed the excitement.  She fed him one last time before the drayman showed up at 6am to take them and their few belongings to the station in the pre-dawn, starry, frozen darkness.  The cold January wind blew Lizzie’s hat down the dusty platform just as they were leaving the platform.  Her unruly mouse-colored hair covered her face then whipped back in a bit of a mess as she shrieked and startled the finally sleeping Willie.

 

 

 

*Lizzie’s Diary Entry* – February 8, 1900

My eyes watered, not for the sorrow of leaving that place behind, not for losing my hat to the ever present wind, but to the relief of being on our great adventure westward at last!  Having never ridden a train, it was a great mystery and adventure for all of us.  GoodBoy jumped off the platform and ran after my hat but it ended up under the carriage of the train, never to be seen again –hopefully, just like Nebraska.  I hate this desolate place and dream of the paradise we are heading toward!

Papa has said it a million times in the past months in his thick German accent (that I shall attempt to imitate here!):  “Lizzie, it’s like vee art mooving to da Promist Land!  I heard down at da grange a fella readin’ ‘bout a farmer in dis place callt the Skagit River Delta.  Dis man raises oats by da ton and sells dem for $18 for each ton!  Why, he has sheep dat produce vuhl und he makes money selling it!  And you won’t believe it but thar’s hay harvest twice in a year sometimes!  A man can live very well in this har place!”

So, we are setting out to buy a farm on the “Skagit River Delta” in a place called Bow.

We got settled into our train car just as the whistle bellowed, making the baby startle once again but he quickly went right back to sleep.  Last night I wrapped up his diapers, blankets, and knitted sweater that Annie gave him.  I don’t have a proper travel container so I tied it all in a bundle in another blanket.  It was so hard to leave behind so many things, but as the homestead is going to be foreclosed and the money we have is going to fund this big move, we had to be careful not to take too much.

 

 

Lizzie’s Diary Entry – February 13, 1900

After a long week aboard the trains, we finally saw the glorious Puget Sound!  I have not been feeling well.  All this travel by train does not agree with me after all.  When I looked out the window as we pulled into Seattle, though, my heart melted as I saw the sparkling water, the tallest mountains and that clear blue February sky.  I even saw the Sunset Land Ella Higginson had so beautifully described in the poem that led us here.  I’m sure this must be heaven.  The sounds of the city are overwhelming.  So many people, especially scruffy, bearded, over-paced men heading for boats to the Klondike.  Papa made friends in the line at King Street Station with a fellow German who is heading there.  He got papa so excited about the idea of prospecting I had to interfere quite forcefully!  Thankfully Papa has relented but it was really close! We left the city of Seattle, heading north.

The men heading to Alaska are Mr. McLean and Mr. Wells.  They have traveled there before and told papa all kinds of wild stores of riches galore and all the beauty of creation.  They are heading from Seattle to Edison to buy dogs for tracking in the Yukon.  Mr. Wells said they would have all kinds of dogs to take with them and would be spending the week in the area buying dogs of all shapes, sizes and colors to take on their great adventure north.

When we arrived in Belfast station, tired and hungry and with all our belongings—two crates of all we had been able to keep, Papa’s favorite rocking chair and fiddle,  and bundles of clothing and bedding, Papa hired Mr. Otis, a drayman, and we were taken to Edison to stay at the “Freedom Hotel”.

Willie was a good baby all the way, thank goodness.  We arrived the day before Valentine’s Day.  The bumpy, muddy road out there was difficult but I cannot describe how absolutely green everything is.  There are a million trees, hills, fields, farms, and stumps as far as the eye can see.  The Samish River here in Bow is narrow, much less a river than a creek, and nothing like the one we crossed days before, the Columbia.  The Skagit is just so beautiful in its majestic meandering.  And even more exciting is the salt water of the bay where it all empties!  The beautiful Puget Sound, filled with islands and even whales they say!  The air here is so refreshing, so brisk and pure.  With the exception for all the burning stumps, of course.

 

Up on Colony Mountain, about a mile from their farm, there was a commune of socialist people trying their best to live together peaceably.  It was called the Equality Colony.  When they were in Nebraska, John and the children often shared in the goings on of Equality through their weekly newspaper, Industrial Freedom.  John, having come from Germany when it was the 1870’s, is very interested in the ideas the colony and the Brotherhood of the Cooperative Commonwealth.  Their utopian and idyllic ways were fascinating and the people were very warm and friendly from what they have heard and read.

Lizzie’s Diary Entry – February 28, 1900

We had decided to check out the colony first and the hospitality of the families there was heartwarming.  The women took to Willie and didn’t ask questions as to where his father might be.  Papa and Mr. Willig, who makes barrels of sauerkraut from the thousands of cabbage grown on colony land, have become fast friends.  Papa is one of those people, charming I say, who others are drawn to.  He has a lack of guile that endears him and a sense of adventure that keeps him open faced.  There is a lot of activity, especially in the woods, mills, and shingle mills.  There are so many children in the colony and all seem so happy and well-behaved.  Apparently a lot has changed in the two or three years the colony has been operating.  There are now only 150 adults, as over half of the colonists have moved on to other colonies or moved back to what the colonists call “anarchy”… the common word they use for capitalism!

The people in the colony have decent shelter–far better than our old sod house in Nebraska!  There is a community dining hall where we were treated to delicious dinner of home cooked stew filled with all manner of vegetables and Mr. Davis’ mouthwatering bread.  The butter was rich and creamy, like none I’ve ever tasted.  We had fresh milk, boiled eggs, and for dessert the most amazing apple pie made from everything grown right here!  There is a cooperative store operated by Mr. Blairs where one can buy well-made shoes, tailored clothing, medicinal items, and crafts such as mounted leaves and ferns, as well as practical items carved and constructed from the plethora of cedar, fir, and maple trees.  There is furniture, kitchen utensils, and tools that have been crafted by the colonists in such a way that the care and craftsmanship are the finest I’ve ever seen.

While it was tempting to spend the little money we had and join the colony – it cost $160 for the whole family—Papa had visions of owning our own farm in a land of plenty, so he spent the money on 25 acres at the bottom of the Colony Mountain.  There are Saturday night dances up at the Colony as well as at the IOOF hall in Edison.  Papa has his violin, which he dearly loves to play, and we attend religiously to the social opportunities our new community provides.

 

Two months later

Blanche Ewing, a young neighbor, has been helping out with Willie.  She and Lizzie spent the morning at the colony.  They took Willie and went up the road that led up the hill, crossing the creek on the small, slippery bridge.  The view of the bay was so beautiful as they sat by the gigantic boulders and had a picnic lunch on a quilt spread on the slope.  The early spring air was refreshing.  They took turns holding little Willie and sat looking at the beautiful blue March sky over the blue of the islands and the bay.  Lizzie said, “Who knew there could be so many shades and tints of blue?  In Nebraska blue was blue but here blue can be any kind of blue from blue grey to blue green to deep dark blue to clear brilliant blue to sapphire to aquamarine… so many, many blues!”  While they were chatting and laughing, Harry Ault came upon them and introduced himself.  Harry and Lizzie were about the same age but Harry had a baby brother the same age as Willie so he was rather drawn to babies.  Blanche asked Harry to join them on their walk back down the hill and he agreed, as he had some business in town to take care of with his printing press.  They all walked together, crossing the creek again and following the road back toward Edison, each taking turns carrying Willie, who was fast asleep.  Harry told them about his printing press and the socialist newspaper he was working on for the young people.  He told them about his sisters, Lulu and Little G, his brothers Harold, Herschel, Howard and about their journey from Kentucky two years ago.  Along the way they met Harry’s family friend, Mr. Monnich, who was returning to the colony from town.

Mr. Monnich had a loud voice and a boisterous disposition.  “You lovely ladies make sure to come up to the colony store to get fresh honeycomb”, he declared, as he was a beekeeper.  They thanked him and he began telling them a story about a bee tree encounter he had back in ’98….

As they parted ways, Harry chuckled as he told Lizzie and Blanche about the many characters from the colony—from the captain to the preacher to the farmer, he regaled them with funny stories and tales of adventures on land and sea.

When they arrived at the cutoff to the Ewing place, Mr. Hoehn, the colony postmaster, was passing by with in the wagon he used to pick up and deliver mail.   He was on his way to daily pick up from the Steamer from Seattle.  Mr. Hoehn stopped and offered a ride to Harry, who gratefully accepted as he had to attend to some business in town with the printing press.  Lizzie’s brother, Frank, was down the way and saw Lizzie and Blanche with these strangers and his heart quickened.  Blanche called out and he hurried toward her.  His face turned red but he maintained his voice as introductions were made and Harry extended a hand of friendship, inviting Frank and Blanche and Lizzie to join him at the colony dance that night.  This was the beginning of a longtime friendship.  Mr. Hoehn offered to pick them up on the way back from town and Blanche was excited when everyone agreed to meet back at this spot around sunset.  The roads were muddy and full of ruts.  There were no sidewalks or outdoor lighting, so getting around, especially at night could prove quite challenging.  They were willing to overlook these minor conveniences in light of a social event.

 

From Lizzie’s Journal **Dated April 14, 1900

 

Willie is leaving infancy behind quickly as he guzzles the milk from my breast at a rapid pace.  Papa and the boys are quite smitten by him.  He reaches for Papa’s mustache now with purpose.  There is a rhythm to our days now as I adjust to his need of me and the needs of the farm Papa bought.  The boys have no lack of work here.  Frank has gone fishing, oystering, and clamming, and he helps on the farms around us.  We have no lack of food or work.

My closest neighbor, Maggie Moon, has been my most reliable friend these past months.  The day we arrived, her husband Herbert, got kicked in the leg by their pony, causing a broken ankle that is only now healing; we have been helping Maggie and Herbert with their farm and it has been a lot of work.

Maggie Moon is 29 years old, tall and thin with a long, thick braid down the middle of her back and one thin streak of white hairs perfectly down the middle of her parted dark brown hair.  Her eyes are brown and framed in the thickest lashes I’ve ever seen.  Behind the quick smile and softness of spirit is a bitter sweetness that emits itself in quiet moments.  As we work together often in our respective homes, taking turns with the baby and Minnie’s four year old son, Delbert, she can go deep within herself as she presses water from the wet laundry, hanging it on the line George put up for her last month when hers was destroyed in a terrible wind storm.

We finish up the laundry before all other chores every Wednesday morning.  As soon as the last diaper and sock were hung we bid each other a good day and headed in to make breakfast.  This has become our weekly routine over the past few weeks and I look forward to the task because Maggie is there and it is spring and this valley has the sweetest air, the freshest breeze, and such beauty all around.

 

Lizzie entered the warmth of the tiny kitchen and mixed the dough for the biscuits.  They are down the last two jars of strawberry jam Maggie shared with them from her cellar.  She has promised to show Lizzie how to make fresh jam this summer.  Maggie said there are so many strawberries and blackberries growing wild here that they would be very busy over the months to come picking and eating and preserving.  Lizzie has never seen wild berries so she is very excited about this possibility.

As it was the first spring here in their new home there was much to learn about preparing a garden, planning for seasons, and the different conditions here with weather and soil and crops.

Lizzie’s Diary Entry – April 22, 1900

Having just finished milking the cow and spreading feed for the chickens, Goodboy and Frank entered the kitchen singing and laughing-so early in the morning.  Frank milked Millie every morning and evening.  He is calm so he gets her to give more milk than John can.  Frank has a soothing manner, quick reflexes and experience to be sure no cow kicked over the milk pail or put her foot in it.  Every cow has to be stripped carefully for the last milk is the richest—cream rises even in the udder, we learned quickly. The fresh milk was placed in shallow pans in a cool place for several hours to allow cream to rise.

John likes to move and whistle and is too impatient to make a cow happy.  He is good with the chickens, though.  We have ten hens now which provides us with plenty of eggs.  Maggie’s Delbert loves to come over and help gather eggs with John.  When we get an abundance of eggs, Papa takes them to Mr. Gilkey’s store and trades them for treats like fresh fruit, flour, sugar, or one time he even brought home raisins!  I put them into my cinnamon rolls and we had quite a feast!

Today I counted three dozen eggs in my basket so Maggie and I are going to make noodles.  She says we will have chicken and noodles for dinner all week and I am very much looking forward to this!  One of her chickens has stopped laying so that will be used for the chicken dinner.  I have never made chicken, or seen a chicken killed, but she is an expert on all such things and is going to show me how it’s done.

Frank got Millie to give so much milk this morning we were able to save the extra to add to the sour milk I’ve been saving and now I have enough to churn some butter.  Usually we have very little milk left over and the soured cream gets used up in my biscuits. When enough cream is accumulated, it is churned into butter.  Maggie says it does not matter if the cream was soured.  If the butter is well washed, no sour taste remains after it was salted and shaped in the butter mold.  Papa got a churn when we arrived and Maggie showed me how it’s done.  Whenever I get enough cream set aside, the skimmed milk can be fed to the pigs, calves, or chickens—or it can be used to make cheese!

Mr. Monnich, the boisterous beekeeper, stopped by to help Papa put in a hive today.  He brought me a piece of honeycomb and we had it with our biscuits.  Mr. Monnich makes me a bit uncomfortable as he moves a little too close when he is talking and looks me right in the eye.  He says I can call him Julius, but I am unable to do so.  Mr. Monnich he will remain.

I went to the post office with papa today to check for that latest news from Nebraska, hoping to find a letter from Annie with the latest gossip.  Mr. Watkinson was there, also, and he and Papa got to talking, which is definitely nothing new for my father.  He makes friends wherever we go. Papa is preparing a plot of our yard for a garden.  He got seeds and starts from Mr. Watkinson and has been clearing a patch on the south side of the house to put in cabbage, beets, peas, onions, potatoes, German millet.  Mr. Watkinson also gave me a parsley and a chive plant as a welcome gift.  He is very kind and generous with his knowledge of all things green.  We bought nuts and apples from him as well.  His root cellar is a truly amazing sight!

In only a few short months we have made a good friend or two and have learned a lot about our new home.

Copyright 2018 Belinda Botzong

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