I'll Watch the Moonby Ann Tatlock
Winner; Best of Genre –Library Journal, 2003
A single mother embittered by an abusive marriage. An adventurous 14-year old son and the 10-year old daughter who adores him. A boarder in the house, a war refugee with a murky past. It’s the summer of 1948, hot, and/b>
Winner, Midwest Independent Publishers Association, First Place-General Fiction!
Winner; Best of Genre –Library Journal, 2003
A single mother embittered by an abusive marriage. An adventurous 14-year old son and the 10-year old daughter who adores him. A boarder in the house, a war refugee with a murky past. It’s the summer of 1948, hot, and Polio stalks the children, taking them one by one. When it strikes the son, will he be in an iron lung the rest of life? And when redemption comes, it comes from a most unexpected source!
“Tatlock continues to weave 20th-century history into absorbing, finely crafted literary tales with issues of spirituality springing naturally from the text. For all collections and readers who enjoy realistic and hopeful family dramas." -- Library Journal
Foreign editions in the following languages: Danish, Norwegian, Dutch
- Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas
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- 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.82(d)
Read an Excerpt
I was always on the lookout for a father, I guess because not only did I not have one, but no one ever talked about the one I once did have. Not even Ma. Maybe especially Ma.
My father died when I was four, and it was not so much a death as a disappearing act in which all traces of his life were wiped out, obliterated, paved over with a blacktop of conspiratorial silence. In fact, he was dead for a year before I even knew he was dead because no one bothered to tell me.
No one, that is, until Aunt Dortha decided I should at long last be let in on the secret. I don't know whether she decided it was my right to know or whether she just grew tired of my watching at the window for a father who was never going to come. Either way, she sat me down one day and told me my pa wouldn't be catching any train to St. Paul because he'd long ago died and was buried over where we used to live in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. She broke the news gently, of course, but that didn't ease the shock of it.
"If Pa were dead, Ma would have told me!" I argued.
"When your father died," she explained patiently, "it was just as though he'd never lived, as far as your mother was concerned. No use telling you about the death of someone who'd never lived."
That was probably the first time it struck me that the ways of grown-ups were beyond comprehension. Pa never lived? Of course he'd lived! I remembered him! I didn't have a whole lot of memories, but enough to know that the man with the mustache was no phantom of my imagination.
So I didn't quite believe Aunt Dortha at first when she told me Pa was dead. I was only five years old, but that was old enough to know that when someone dies, a funeral follows, sprinkled with friendly condolences, neighborly casseroles, and at least a smattering of widow's tears. There had been none of these a year ago when Pa had supposedly died. There had been an abrupt uprooting and shifting of our lives from Wisconsin to Minnesota, but that didn't mean my pa was six feet under. When we moved into Auntie's boardinghouse on Selby Avenue in St. Paul, I naturally began waiting for Pa to join us, which I assumed Ma was doing too.
Even though I was skeptical of Aunt Dortha's revelation, I was still afraid to ask Ma or Dewey to confirm the news of Pa's deathjust in case. For a time I kept my solitary vigil at the window, kneeling there on Auntie's lumpy old divan, my elbows on the sill, waiting for Pa to walk on over from Union Station. As I waited, I remembered again and again the day Ma, Dewey, and I left Chippewa Falls. I slowly and carefully played it over in my mind, looking for clues.
"Where are we going, Ma?" We stood on the station platform waiting to catch the early train west. The platform was dusty and hot and filled with strangers, and all I wanted was to be back in the familiar rooms of my home.
"St. Paul. And don't ask me again, Nova."
"But why, Ma?"
"Where will we live?"
"With Aunt Dortha. It's all arranged."
"But will we ever come back here?"
"But when will Pa be coming to Aunt Dortha's?"
I'd never seen Ma looking the way she looked that morning, and I don't think she ever looked quite that way again. It was as though sadness had made its home on her face and was determined to settle there for good.
When Ma didn't answer, I looked to Dewey. But he only turned away, shrugging. Later, when Ma was asleep on the train, Dewey told me Pa would be coming when he could, but I shouldn't expect him for a long, long time.
"But when, Dewey?"
"I don't know. Someday. When he's ready."
And so I kept watching for him even after we'd been in St. Paul for a year. Even after Aunt Dortha told me he was dead. I sat at the window and waited until Dewey himself came and told me I had to stop waiting. He said he knew what Aunt Dortha had told me and that it was true.
I didn't respond for a long time. I didn't even move. I just kept watching two little girls playing hopscotch on the sidewalk halfway down the block. Maybe, I thought, if I didn't look at my brother, I could pretend he wasn't there, that he hadn't said what he'd just said. Maybe if I just kept looking down the street as I had done a thousand times and for a thousand hours, I would finally see Pa coming from the station, a suitcase in his hand, a smile on his face.
At length I mumbled, "Are you sure, Dewey?"
"Yeah, I'm sure."
"Why didn't you tell me before?"
"Ma said I couldn't talk about it. But Aunt Dortha said you needed to know."
"Does Ma know you told me?"
"Yeah, she knows."
"But how did he die?"
"In a fire." He shrugged as he said it, as though it were commonplace, as though most everyone's pa died in a fire sooner or later. "Sorry, Nova," he murmured solemnly. And I remember trying to smile at him, because I knew he really was sorry that he'd had to tell me the truth. But my lips quivered, and the tears in my eyes spilled over, and Dewey, in his awkward way, put his little boy hand on my shoulder. He was, after all, only nine years old.
After that I pretended Pa was a war hero, that he'd been killed fighting the Germans like the father of the Newberry twins. I even told friends and acquaintances alike that he'd been shot down while flying a mission over Germany, his plane falling from the sky in a blaze of golden glory. His body was never recovered, I explained. It was gone, burned to ashes before it ever reached the ground. And that's why we didn't have a grave to visit or a marker with his name on it.
It wasn't that I was trying to lie when I told this made-up account of my father's death. I just needed somehow to fill in the gap. I needed something to explain the mystery of my father's disappearance.
Not until I was grown and very nearly old myself did I come to learn the truth about my father's death. It was when Ma herself was dying that she told me some of the stories I had never heard before. As I mentioned earlier, Ma's life was largely a closed book to me. She was by nature a reticent person, reluctant to speak of herself, and she remained so almost right up to the end. What made her open up to me shortly before she died, I can't say for certain, though she may have simply decided she possessed a gift that should be passed along rather than carried to the grave. I, for one anyway, ultimately saw her collective stories, the portrait of her life, as a gift.
The truth about my father, I learned, is that he was never even near the war. The closest he got to the conflict was to act as head of the draft board in Chippewa Falls, deciding who went and who didn't. The only uniform he wore was that of the civil servant, sounding the alarm in case of an air-raid drill and walking the streets afterward to make sure everyone had their black-out shades drawn. Pa was also a lead figure in the occasional victory parades that encouraged folks to invest in war bonds. One of the few memories I have of my father is of him waving at the crowds from the backseat of a banner-streamed convertible as it slowly made its way from one street to the next in our small Wisconsin town.
Ma said that while Pa had never suffered any health problems at all before Pearl Harbor, he had been deemed 4-F at the outset of the war, unfit to serve due to the sudden and ill-timed onset of asthma. While he bemoanedto all who would listenhis inability to defend his country personally, he was proud to do his bit by sending other men over. It may be of little surprise, perhaps, that the son of the doctor who diagnosed Pa's ailment was also kept Stateside during the war. Pa declared the young man 4-F, though he was hale enough to become athletic director at a private boys' school shortly after V-J Day.
My father was a handsome man, and charming, and people said he was aptly named. Royal Tierney, while something less than a king, was a man of some prominence in Chippewa Falls. A successful businessman, a church deacon, a political activist, and even a bit of a philanthropist, Royal Tierney was a man well known and well respected in his hometown.
And that's probably why my father's death produced such a scandal. For his body wasn't lost in a blaze of glory over Germany but was found in the arms of a Mrs. Forrest Brown, who also died of smoke inhalation when the Eau Claire apartment building where she lived went up in flames. The incident made front-page headlines in both Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls and had the phone lines humming for weeks between the two cities as reporters tried to dig up new tidbits to feed a hungry readership.
I don't know what happened to Mr. Forrest Brown. But Mrs. Royal Tierney caught the early morning train west on the same day her husband was buried. The funeral itself was probably well attended by the city's curious and perhaps even by a few genuine mourners, but the wife and children of the deceased weren't there. We were moving over the rails toward St. Paul and a new life, mother and children alike wondering each in our own way how on earth it had all so suddenly come to this and what in the world would be waiting for us at the other end.
I'll Watch the Moon by Ann Tatlock
Copyright © 2003, Ann Tatlock
Meet the Author
Ann Tatlock is a full-time writer who has also worked as an assistant editor for Decision Magazine. A graduate of Oral Roberts University with an M.A. in Communications from Wheaton College Graduate School, she has published numerous articles. All the Way Home is her third novel. She and her husband, Bob, along with their daughter, Laura Jane, live in Minneapolis, Minnesota. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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