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  • Writer's pictureLinda Odhner, with photos by Liz Kufs

Excerpted Inspirations #77


    Once I was taken to see an old woman who had come from Ireland as a young girl, just after the great famine in '47, and had gone to work for Grandmother, who was then only sixty-three years old.  She told me this story. in her thick, early-nineteenth-century brogue, which I will not try to reproduce here:  "There was a pretty girl, young and happy-looking, that lived up the road with her father, a poor weak rag of a man with a backbone like a piece of string.  He'd married for his second wife a hard, hard woman.  And when they found out the girl was in trouble, and her sweetheart that was the cause of it off up in the North Country for the winter to work as a lumberjack, didn't the stepmother turn the poor girl out -- yes, out like a dog.  And old Mrs. Canfield -- that was some kin to you, I forget what -- where I was working, she went right out and brought her in, and kept her there safe all winter, treating her as nice as anybody, letting her sew to pay for her keep, and helping her make the baby clothes.  She'd go with her to church every Sunday, the girl right on her arm, and nobody daring to say a word, for fear of old Mrs. Canfield's tongue.  'For,' she used to say, 'let 'em say a word if they dare, and I'll tell a few things I know about some folks in this town, which ones had to be married in a hurry, and which ones' babies came into the world ahead of time.'  You see, she was so old she knew everything that had happened from the beginning almost.  She'd say, 'There's lots worse things done every day in this town than anything Margaret's done,' she'd say, and nobody to answer her back a word.       "But everybody was thinking it very certain that the man would never come back, and if he did, he'd never own the child, nor have anything to do with Margaret, poor girl!  You see, in those days there weren't any mails that were carried 'way back off in the woods, and she never had any word of him nor he of her.  Well, old Mrs. Canfield knew what people were saying all right, and I could see that she was troubled in her mind, though she never lowered her high head by an inch.  Margaret's time drew near, and no sign from John Dawson that was away.  But Margaret never lost her faith in him a minute.  'When John comes back,' she'd say, just as sure of him as if they'd been married by the priest; but I could see old Mrs. Canfield look queer when she heard Margaret talking that way.       "And then one morning, in April 'twas, and we'd all the doors and windows open for the first time, Margaret had gone down the walk to look at the lilac bush to see if there were any buds on it, and around the corner came John Dawson!       "Her back was to him and he hadn't any idea she was there, so when she turned round, they stared at each other for a minute, as if they'd never seen each other.  Now he had come, Margaret stood there frozen, waiting, like a little scared, helpless -- I had the half of me hanging out the kitchen window to see what would happen, and I'll never forget it -- never -- never -- never -- the look on his face, the astounded look on his face, so strong with pity and love.  'Margie!  Margie!' he said in a loud voice, and threw his sack off his back and his ax from his hand, and ran, ran to take her in his arms.       "Well, when I could see again, I went off to tell old Mrs. Canfield, and there was the old lady in her own bedroom, standing bolt upright in the middle of the floor, and crying at the top of her voice.  Her wrinkled old face was just a-sop with tears.  Faith, but it was the grand cry she was having!  And the good it did her!  When she came to, she says to me, 'Well,' says she, 'folks aren't so cussed as they seem, are they?'      "'And then we went downstairs to get the fruitcake and the brandied peaches; for the minister married them in the parlor that afternoon."  Dorothy Canfield, "Almera Hawley Canfield" (1921), in A Harvest of Stories (1956), pp. 71-73


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