March 30, 2011
Lately, Alice has been forcing herself to read books that feature devout Christian women trapped on remote homesteads during Dakota blizzards in the 1800s. Frost thick as cake icing covers every window. A handsome but forbidden male stumbles in from somewhere, shakes the snow off his boots and settles in. The North wind blasts through chinks in the walls in search of a meager fire to startle into wild, flaring activity and then abandon, leaving behind a heap of flickering embers.
Any reasonable character in such circumstances would go mad with cold and dread of more cold, but these women are easily distracted by envy, greed, lust (usually) and other sins that require an explanatory prayer every ten or so pages (as if the Lord may have lost track of the plot). The prayers go something like this: Read the rest of this entry »
March 20, 2011
(This is the final entry in a series called “A Family Secret.” I recommend reading the first three entries before you read this one.)
A year or so before she died, Mattie and I sat at a table covered with piles of old photographs, newspaper clippings, letters, diaries, family histories typed up by distant relatives and sent to her to check over, her brother Lew’s army medals, township maps, datebooks, postcards, and scraps of family stories she’d started to write and hadn’t finished.
One of the unfinished pieces was about what happened to Siri. When we began to discuss it, she revealed a shocking fact she hadn’t included when she’d first told me Siri’s story on a previous visit.
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March 13, 2011
March 10, 2011
As a small child, Mattie followed the moon, amazed that every night brought a change. She would follow it still as an old woman, standing out on her back steps in North Dakota—never mind sub-zero weather. She wanted to see it without the filter of window glass. Her devotion was absolute.
March 7, 2011
Mattie was ten years old the summer of 1921 when her cousin Siri moved to town and got a job at the post office. All day Siri stood behind a narrow window on one side of a high-ceilinged room with a wooden floor, and Mr. Peaks, the druggist, stood at his own counter on the pharmacy side. Farmers, merchants, and housewives drifted in and out for pills, powders, syrups, letters, packages, and stamps. Mattie, a child in love with books and the moon, soon fell in love with Siri too.
Siri stayed in a second-floor room at a boarding house at the end of Main Street. Her window overlooked the railroad tracks and was partly shaded by a spindly cottonwood. She was nineteen, and this move from the family farm into town was meant to be a new beginning. Instead it was the last summer of her life.
The circumstances around her death were secret and shameful. To counteract them, the editor of the local paper wrote a flowery obituary for his four hundred readers that made it sound as if she simply floated off one day into heaven. I found out what happened to her because Mattie, when she reached her eighties, told me what she knew. Read the rest of this entry »