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It is 1934
in Rensselaer, Indiana, when Elsie Wilkins meets John
McDonald-a man unlike any other. After feeling an immediate and intense ...
It is 1934
in Rensselaer, Indiana, when Elsie Wilkins meets John
McDonald-a man unlike any other. After feeling an immediate and intense chemistry, Elsie cannot take her eyes off him.
It's official-the handsome apprentice architect has just swept the independent-minded teacher off her feet. Despite the fact that Elsie is still married to a man who abandoned her without warning, she and John begin a fervent courtship as all social mores fall away. As the Great Depresssion continues to wreak havoc around them, John and Elsie feel no hunger other than for each other. Just when their infatuation transforms to a powerful love, Elsie's husband makes an appearance and suddenly, the joyful future they have planned together is threatened.
Despite an unbearable tragedy, John and Elsie's deep love for each other transcends sixty-six years proving that true love never dies.
Earlier in the afternoon the rain had fallen heavily, swooping in sheets across the wooden planks of the deck, and all passengers had taken refuge in their quarters below. But now, the downpour had subsided, and many of the passengers were on deck for fresh air, and any early glimpses of American soil.
Elsie was shedding her wool coat and smoothing her clothes underneath. She hadn't been able to wait for her birthday to wear her new, beige lace dress with matching wide-brimmed hat. Phoebe smiled, watching her carefully rub the dirt from her fingers onto her handkerchief to avoid getting any brown smudges on her white pinafore. She was proud that Elsie seemed to be growing up very nicely, despite the fact that she had never known her father.
Traveling from Liverpool, England, to America was a very bold move for a twenty-seven-year-old widow with a five-year-old daughter in tow, and Phoebe would not have ventured so far without a secure future. She was making the five and one-half day voyage to America to be married: an image to which she was still trying to adjust.
Phoebe collected her daughter, and together they picked their way starboard through a group of well-dressed, first-class passengers. As they walked, a strong gust of ocean wind surprised them from behind and pushed their dress skirts about in frenzies of lace and petticoats.
"Mummy!" Elsie giggled, holding onto her mother's skirt. "I'm going overboard!"
Phoebe reached for her daughter's hand. "You'll do nothing of the sort, young lady. I won't let go. Come along, now."
Elsie slipped her hand out of her mother's grasp and clapped it to her hat, reattached her grasp of her mother's skirt with the other, and allowed herself to be towed toward a throng of people who were leaning over the rails, talking excitedly and pointing.
Phoebe sidled up to a woman holding a youngster on one hip and shading her brow with the other free hand. The woman was looking toward the horizon at some low, rolling hills shrouded in fog.
"What is it? Do you see New York?" Phoebe had to shout over the din of cheers and whoops.
The woman pointed. "It's New Jersey just there," she said, returning the shout. "Slightly right ... that's New York City and Staten Island."
"Elsie, look!" Phoebe hoisted her up so that she could see over the railing. "Our new country."
"America!" Elsie squealed.
Leaning against the railing while Elsie played nearby, Phoebe gazed out into the choppy greenish-gray water, trying to sort out her new life.
The voyage had provided much time for introspection. There was something about being out in the middle of the ocean for nearly a week that cleared her mind, putting her thoughts into a cloudless perspective, though she still had mixed feelings about leaving England.
Her stomach knotted with pent-up emotions, as she was already missing her sister, Emma. Ever since her husband had died, she and Elsie had roomed with her in a small, two-bedroom flat on Union Street in Maidstone. Even though she was going to live with her other sister, Jane, in Akron, Ohio, she was also nervous about the idea of living so far from home. Until now, she rarely traveled outside the Maidstone city limits. How was she going to adapt to living in an unfamiliar country? How would Elsie adjust to having a father? The Campania steamed ever nearer to New York.
Why did she feel so melancholy?
In one week, she'd marry Frederick Obee, a man whom she had met back in Maidstone; it would not be such a bad life. Indeed, she had also spent the last few months happily planning for it.
Frederick had traveled to America one year ago to find suitable employment. He was highly motivated and willing to work as hard as necessary to gain a better life. Before he left Maidstone, he had presented Phoebe with an engagement ring, promising that he would send for her as soon as possible.
She had received Frederick's letter, finally, saying that he had landed a job working at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber factory in Akron, which also explained that after six months of hard work, he had been promoted to floor supervisor. He had decided it was the right time to make travel arrangements for Phoebe and Elsie to join him in America.
Second-class tickets were twenty dollars more than steerage class, but he felt they were worth the extra expense. He had experienced the horrors of traveling steerage, the area that comprised the decks below sea level where the steering mechanisms were located. He recalled to Phoebe the memory of his journey, saying it made him sweat just thinking about it.
Frederick's compartment was damp, with individual bunks stacked tightly in tiers. He could not breathe in his berth because there wasn't any circulation of air in steerage. There was no fresh water or satisfactory toilet accommodations. The food was limited and often infested with bugs. He said he wouldn't allow his girls to experience such inhumane conditions. He loved them too much for that. In second class they would have the luxury of a cabin, clean bed linens, and they would be able to eat appetizing meals that were served in a dining hall. And for entertainment, they could enjoy live music.
Elsie carefully walked on a row of slatted deck chairs as if she were balancing on a tight rope. She was happy just the way things had been with her mum and Auntie Emma. She was sad to leave home, but then a little excited too, though she didn't want her mummy to get married.
She lost her balance on the third chair, jumped down, and joined her mother who was sitting on a nearby ledge.
"Mummy, do you have to marry Mr. Obee?"
"Well, Elsie ... your mum does love him."
Elsie pursed her lips, deep in thought. "Will I get married someday?"
"Of course you will, silly goose. Someday you'll fall in love, too. You'll find a handsome man who'll be crazy in love with you. You'll get married and have children of your own."
"Will I be rich and live in a castle?"
"I don't know about that. But I promise you'll be happy."
"Are you happy?"
"I am. I'm just a little nervous, trying to do everything right on this long trip."
"It's been so-o long," Elsie rolled her eyes. "I like Mr. Obee, but does he have to be my daddy?"
"Yes, luv. You need a father to take care of you."
"I don't want a father to take care of me. I can take care of myself." She stood and proclaimed adamantly before her mother, "I'm six."
"Yes, that's right, luv. In just a few hours, you won't be five anymore."
Elsie pranced about the deck with her hands on her hips. "I'm six, six, six years old!"
Phoebe wished her natural father could see the joy on his little girl's cherubim face, its confident pout of authority framed in golden blond curls. But Thomas Wilkins's accident, with his buckboard cargo and horse, had left him crushed with fatal internal injuries. He had passed on, two months before Elsie was born.
Phoebe's thoughts of tragedy were interrupted with the announcement that the medical examination of first-and second-class passengers was about to begin. Because the weather had improved, and the ship was close to its final destination, steerage passengers were allowed on the upper deck for fresh air and socializing. These people were not eligible for examinations onboard and it looked to Phoebe that many of them paced with worried frowns. These steerage passengers, who would be ferried to Ellis Island after reaching the dock, were sometimes rejected from entry for a variety of reasons: disease, poverty, criminal records; the list was long, and those detained could face deportation.
Before their examination began, Phoebe wanted to see the Statue of Liberty from their vantage point aboard the ship. She grabbed Elsie by the hand and picked her way through to the port side of the ship where a crowd was gathering. It seemed like everyone on board jammed the rails to get their first look at a better life.
Phoebe drew a sharp breath. There, standing tall at the entrance to New York Harbor was the great lady, the Statue of Liberty; the symbol of independence, justice, and opportunity. The crowd around Phoebe was a mix of the elderly, the young, single men and women, and entire families. The all seemed to represent many different European countries.
A young fellow wearing a tweed cap and beaming with a ruddy radiance was pushed up against Phoebe by the crowd. "Being here is a dream come true," the man said with a Scottish accent. "That lady symbolizes my hope for the future. Are you arriving for the first time, too?"
"Yes," Phoebe answered, noticing the mist of emotion in his eyes. "It's a golden opportunity for me, as well. Good luck to you."
Yelps of delight erupted from those who had passed inspection. Phoebe reasoned that all first- and second-class passengers had the money for proper attire and the luxury of medical care before leaving the continent, so that they would be allowed to disembark with no problem. She and Elsie would easily pass inspection, as Frederick had informed her of immigration procedures, and she was ready.
As the interrogations continued, The Campania slowly sailed through the Narrows into Upper New York Bay, turning slightly northeast toward the tall buildings of Manhattan, and finally, to the west side piers of the Hudson River.
Phoebe was right; they had no difficulty passing their cursory medical examinations. She let out a big sigh of relief and went to sit on a nearby bench.
Elsie stood on her tiptoes along the deck railing, waving both arms wildly to people below on the dock. Other children joined in, and soon, about twenty youngsters were greeting the onlookers. One of the Irish boys suggested they play "Statue," which Elsie thought a wonderful idea.
She skipped over to where her mother was sitting. "May I play 'Statue' with the other children?"
"No, Elsie. We're here now. It will be our turn to see the immigration officer any minute."
"Please? I'm quite bored. I've been so good," she pleaded. "I'll be over there. Home base is right here," she said, pointing to a life preserver hanging on a hook.
"Very well, but don't venture out of my sight. I don't want to have to call you. Here, let me hold your doll."
She handed her mother the doll and ran to play with the other children. Elsie was "it" and turned her back while the others ran about and found positions. After ten seconds, she turned back, carefully watching for any movement. One girl had picked up a goblet and thrust it skyward to capture the pose of the Statue of Liberty.
The hubbub of the children giggling and racing about the deck did not help Phoebe's last-minute jitters; her hands were trembling. On the bench next to her sat a woman with brown, mousy hair and a pinched expression who seemed to be all alone.
"Your first trip?" Phoebe asked her, and the woman nodded. "Mine, too," she continued. "My daughter and I are going to live in Ohio, but we're from Maidstone. Are you familiar with Britain?"
"Oh, yes. I'm from Liverpool. I've been to Maidstone several times. But I won't be going back, will you?"
"No," Phoebe replied. "My fiancée has finally been able to send for us. We'll probably never see Britain again. Frankly, it's making me a trifle sad."
"I'm going to be married, as well." The woman fidgeted with a handkerchief in her lap, and went on to explain that she was a "picture bride" who had been contacted by a marriage broker about a man interested in marrying a proper English lady. She had sent photographs of herself to the prospective groom and was accepted by him.
"My husband died," the woman said, "and I thought this would be the best thing for me, but now I'm not so sure. I'm having second thoughts about it. I'm afraid I'm not so brave. I don't know if I've done the right thing."
Phoebe tried to offer reassurances that her decision had been the right one. She found that she felt much better after comforting someone else, thankful in her heart that her own situation was more mutually acceptable. After all, she was in love with her fiancée. She never let on, but thought how dreadful it must be to marry someone you never laid eyes on.
Elsie abruptly appeared in front of her mother, sniffling, with tears running down her face. "Mummy, I hate boys. They're all so horrid."
"What happened? Don't cry now. You'll get your dress all dirty."
The picture bride smiled at Elsie. "There, there," she said with consolation. "I'll bet you're a pretty girl when you're not crying." She patted Elsie's hand and stood to take her leave. "Excuse me. I've just heard my name called."
"Good luck to you," Phoebe offered. "I know you'll be just fine."
The woman smiled her thanks and Phoebe turned to Elsie.
"Now, Elsie. Tell me what this is all about."
Elsie wiped her nose. "Aboy said I was stupid, and said I couldn't see worth beans. I'm not stupid, am I?"
"No, dear. Of course not. Why would he be cross with you like that?"
"He cheated. He moved, but said he didn't move. I saw him with my own eyes. He moved his shoulder like this." Elsie rocked her shoulder back and forth.
"Okay. Don't get yourself upset. He's probably just angry that he's out of the game."
"I hate boys! I've never met a nice boy. Ever! They're all so mean."
"They're not all mean. You'll find a nice boy when you grow up."
"How do you know?" Elsie said, raising her voice.
"I know because you're so nice. You'll attract a nice, sweet boy."
"I only want to love a nice boy, and marry a nice boy. What's his name?"
Phoebe chuckled. "I'm not sure of his name, Elsie. You haven't met him yet."
"Will I meet him in Ohio?"
"I don't know, but you'll meet him somewhere in America."
"Okay, Mummy. Promise?"
"Come now. Our name should be called soon." Phoebe steered Elsie toward the officer's desk. "We've already passed the medical exam, now we'll be asked some questions," she explained.
Phoebe was grateful for the prepaid ticket, enabling them to travel as second-class passengers, and affording them the privilege of interrogation onboard, rather than being ferried to Ellis Island. Frederick had said the wait to leave the ship could be up to six hours for passengers traveling in steerage.
"Is it our turn, Mummy?"
"Yes, any moment now. You can't cry anymore," Phoebe said, handing Elsie her doll.
"Wilkins!" the inspector called.
"Yes, sir," Phoebe said, approaching the immigration desk and holding Elsie by the hand before the man.
Elsie forgot about the mean boy and showed the officer her doll. "This is Elizabeth," she said. "But it's my birthday tomorrow. I'll be six."
The officer smiled at her. "Will it, now? Well, happy birthday. And what is your name? It's Elizabeth, like your doll's name, is it?"
She curtsied and smiled broadly. "No, it's Elsie, Elsie Wilkins."
"Yes. Yes, here you are. I'll put a six right by your name." The officer turned to Phoebe with a stream of rapid-fire questions. "Name?"
"Where were you born?"
"Married or single?"
She paused and lowered her head. "Widowed." But she hurriedly added, "I've come to the United States to be married." She showed off her left hand with its engagement ring, moving it closer for scrutiny, and was rewarded with his smile.
"Congratulations. Will your fiancée be at the pier to meet you?"
She smiled. "Yes, he will."
"We'll be going to my brother-in-law's house." She reached into her dress pocket to retrieve the street number. "The address is four twenty-eight, Champlain Street, Akron, Ohio."
"How much money do you possess?"
"Forty-no, fifty dollars."
"Are you a polygamist?"
She shook her head. "No."
Elsie had wandered a few paces and the officer motioned to Elsie to return to the desk.
Phoebe nervously called to her daughter. "Elsie!" Elsie quickly turned from the windowpane she had been pressed up against and jumped down onto the deck. She dashed over and stood up straight for the man wearing the uniform.
He quickly scanned mother and daughter for any noticeable scars or distinguishing marks. He checked "none" on the manifest and asked several more perfunctory questions to make certain they matched up with Phoebe's immigrant tag.
Excerpted from Lifetimes Ago by Susie Schecter Copyright © 2010 by Susie Schecter. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted August 15, 2012
A great read! I couldn't put it down. Very charming story, I thought
about the storyline days later, which makes it a great book. I would
highly recommend this novel to others!
Posted April 6, 2012
Posted June 7, 2010
As a woman, I find romance novels to be a bore. I wasn't too interested at first, but it kept me reading because it was such a unique love story, and it continued to get more dramatic towards the middle. The ending was completely unpredictable and the story was easy to follow. Lifetime's ago was definetly well written, and the story behind the story was captivating. Dives you deeper into the world of hypnotherapy, that you don't hear about in most love stories. The credentials made the story more real, and it is a must read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 31, 2010
Posted March 28, 2010
What a fascinating book! I loved it. It was poignant and moving. It dealth with the spiritual aspect of reincarnation along with telling a good story.
The characters were true to life and it was well written. I also learned a few things about the 1930s.
I would highly recommend this book.
Posted March 31, 2010
No text was provided for this review.