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Twelve-year-old Maria Schmidt snuggled deeper beneath the heavy quilts layered on top of her. Against her back she felt the radiating warmth of her younger sister Elisabeth, whom everyone in the family called Libby. Maria could tell the temperature outside had plummeted in the night, even though only her nose was out of the covers.
The arrival of March meant spring should be just around the corner, but the storm that hit Minneapolis in the night made it clear that winter wasn't ready to leave just yet. Without opening her eyes, she wondered what had awakened her. She lay there, relishing the sublime feeling of being toasty warm on such a nasty morning.
Blinking once or twice, Maria saw that the electric lamp near the street in front of their house was still lit. Closing her eyes again, she heard soft voices in the narrow hall outside her door, as though Mama was in the boys' room across the hall. Every morning Maria's older brother Thomas and younger brother Curt rose up early to deliver papers on their routes.
Now the knob rattled on the girls' door, and the door scraped against the wooden floor as it opened. Papa kept saying he was going to plane the bottom of the door, but he never found the time. His work at Northwest Consolidated Flour Mill kept him busy from dawn until well after dark each day.
"Maria," Mama's voice whispered.
Maria lifted her head off the soft pillow. "What is it, Mama?"
"Curt has a fever. Will you go help Thomas this morning?"
"I sure will." Sublime comfort was forgotten as Maria crawled over Libby to get out of bed. Since she was older, Maria always slept next to the cold wall just under the eaves. Eight-year-old Libby gave a groan and burrowed deeper into the quilts. Maria pulled on her house shoes and grabbed for her heavy winter wrapper.
"Here." Mama handed Maria an armful of clothing. "Put on Thomas's knickers and wool shirt. Wear your long underwear and put on two pairs of stockings. The snow looks pretty deep."
"Yes, Mama." Maria could hardly believe her good fortune. A pair of Thomas's knickers!
As Mama pulled the door closed behind her, Maria switched on the small globe lamp that sat atop the bureau. The lamp lent a soft golden glow to the small slant-ceilinged room and cast a shimmer on the magazine pages Libby had pinned on the wall. Libby liked to cut out pictures of elegant ladies in pretty dresses and pin them up where she could see them.
Leaning down to peer out the low dormer window, Maria was amazed at just how much snow had fallen in the night. And it was still coming down. She was sorry that ten-year-old Curt was ill, but she was thrilled Mama trusted her to help Thomas with the route. Pulling on Thomas's clothes, Maria thought of all the times she'd told Mama and Papa that she could do anything Thomas did. Now they'd know it was true.
She ran the hairbrush through her pale corn-silk hair, plaited it in one braid down the back, and fastened it up with hairpins. She'd need it to be out of the way. Sitting down on the rag rug, she struggled to pull her shoes on over two pairs of stockings, then fastened the buttons with the buttonhook. In her excitement, she was all thumbs.
By the time she went down the steep narrow stairs, Thomas was at the kitchen door, pulling on his boots. He looked up and gave her his lopsided grin. His blond hair was tousled since he hadn't bothered to comb it yet. "Take the papers out of the toes of my old overboots," he told her. "You'll need them in this mess."
She nodded. The crumpled newspapers in the toes were to make the hand-me-down boots fit Curt. Even without the papers, the overboots were a tight squeeze for Maria. But she didn't care. She wrestled with them until she got them on over her shoes.
Mama stood in the kitchen, cutting up peeled potatoes and placing them in a stoneware bowl. Maria knew there would be fried potatoes and sausage when they got home. Mama was already dressed in her long, black skirt and white shirtwaist, with her hair gathered up into a neat, prim pompadour, ready to go to work. The cameo brooch she wore at her neck had once belonged to Maria's grandmother. Mama was an excellent typist, and because of that, she'd been promoted to head clerk in the offices of the Wynlan Freight Company, which made the family very proud.
"Has Papa gone yet?" Maria asked.
"He just left," Mama said. "And well that he has, too. I shouldn't want to think what he'd say to see his daughter in a pair of knickers."
Maria chuckled. "I think they look great on me!" Thomas handed her Curt's heavy coat and muffler and his hat with the earflaps. As she bundled up, she asked, "How's Curt? Will you call Uncle Robert?" Uncle Robert, Mama's brother, was a doctor. He tended to the various ailments of their entire family.
"A fever and sore throat. I won't bother Robert with that. Nothing that camphor oil can't cure. It's your brother's manly pride that's hurting worse."
Maria knew what that meant. Curt did all he could to keep up with his older brother, whom he adored. And now for Maria to take over his position-she knew it had to hurt.
"Ready?" The muffler wrapped around Thomas's face softened his words. Over his arm were slung the two canvas bags in which they would carry the papers.
"Let's go," Maria answered.
As Thomas pushed the back door open, the wind caught it, and he had to hold tight to push it shut again. Snow was deep even on the back stoop.
"Stay in my tracks," Thomas said. "I'll break the path." At age fourteen, he was almost as big as Papa.
Maria did as he said, keeping her head down against the bitter north wind. It was seven blocks from their house to the Tribune building on Washington Street downtown. The tops of the tall buildings disappeared into the low-hanging, snow-laden clouds. By the time they got to the Tribune building, Maria was exhausted. Stomping through the snow and pushing against the wind took every ounce of her strength, but she refused to let one complaint slip from her lips.
Thomas led her around to the alley. On the large concrete dock, which had been swept free of snow, men were stacking up rope-tied bundles. Down below in the alley, a pack of newsboys were milling about, slapping themselves on the arms to keep warm as they waited for their papers to be counted out to them. Maria was shocked to see that many of them wore threadbare coats and shoes with holes in the toes.
Of course, Thomas had told her about the street boys who sold papers, and she'd often seen them on their respective street corners hawking the latest news, but she'd never seen them up close. Especially not in such unpleasant conditions. Even with her layered clothing, she was cold. She couldn't imagine how they must feel.
She tried not to stare as two of the boys approached them. They appeared to be Thomas's age or older. One was stocky and barrel-chested. The other was taller and more slender and had a large birthmark the color of raw liver on the side of his face and extending onto his eyelid.
"Ho, Thomas," the boy said. "You gotcha a new partner there?"
"Where's the kid?" asked the other.
"Curt has a fever," Thomas told them. "This is my sister, Maria. She's gonna help me this morning."
The boy with the birthmark slapped his forehead. "A girl? What? You lost your senses? Ain't no girl can throw papers in this weather."
"Maria can." Thomas's confidence made a warm rush run through Maria in spite of the sharp cold. "Sis," Thomas said, "this here is Anthony."
The stocky boy made a funny bow. "But everyone calls me Tony. I'm leader of these here newsboys." He waved his hand to indicate all the boys in the alley, some even younger than Curt. Tony's chest seemed to puff out as he spoke. "They work the corners that I say they work."
"And I works the best corners right aside Tony." The boy with the bbirthmark took a step forward.
"This," Thomas said, "is Liver Lid. He can make a news call out of anything and nothing!"
Maria could hardly believe the boy would want to bring attention to the awful birthmark. But he seemed unaffected by the nickname as he stuck out his hand to Maria. His gloves had more holes than fabric. "Pleased to meet'cha."
Maria quickly returned his handshake. "Likewise."
They told her the names of several of the younger boys as well, but she couldn't remember them all. One they called Kicker Joe because when he was younger, he would kick businessmen on the shins while another boy did the pickpocketing.
"A slick team they made, too," Tony remarked. They all laughed like it was a wonderful joke. Maria tried to mask her astonishment.
Just then a man on the dock yelled out, "All right, you little urchins! Time to count out. Listen sharp. I ain't saying nothing twice this morning. It's too cold."
Maria noticed that Liver Lid and Tony moved Thomas right up with them to the front of the line. Thomas motioned for her to stay back. He'd bring her papers to her.
Thomas showed her how to fold the papers and pack them in the bags. The headlines on that day, March 18, 1914, were pretty weak. Maria wondered how the boys would fare trying to sell in the snow with no big news to shout.
Within a short time, Maria's bag was filled with the correct number of papers for Curt's route. The other boys struck out for their street corners, where they would stand and hawk papers until they sold out. Thomas and Maria, on the other hand, went back to their neighborhood, where subscribers had their papers thrown to their front doors.
Other carriers who lived farther away from the news office had their bundles delivered into their neighborhoods. Some of them, Maria knew, had bicycles to ride. While the bikes wouldn't do them much good on a morning like this, Maria still thought it would be great if Curt and Thomas could ride their routes each day. A body could carry more and go farther on a bicycle-and that meant more money.
Quietly, Maria fell into step behind Thomas as he broke the path for her through the powdery snow. Every electric street lamp spread sprinkles of golden light on the snow beneath it. Cold snow sifted down inside her boots as she walked, turning her feet into icicles. When they arrived at the point where the routes began, Thomas turned to her. Pulling down his muffler so she could understand him, he said, "Curt and I usually split up, but he knows every customer. You and I will work together on opposite sides of the street. I'll show you which ones to throw to."
Maria nodded. The weight of the canvas bag cut into her shoulder. All she could think of was lightening the load as quickly as possible.
"We start at the far end and work our way toward home," he explained.
Maria didn't even try to speak. Her mouth was too cold to talk. The biting wind and blowing snow cut like tiny knives. As she trudged along, throwing the papers where Thomas pointed, only the remembrance of his words "Maria can" pushed her on.
Dawn never really came that morning. The skies simply grew a lighter shade of dense gray. Maria suddenly realized it was no longer dark, just as she realized her bag was no longer full. She'd done it! She'd actually thrown an entire newspaper route. And in a snowstorm to boot! As they turned toward the house, she felt light and giddy inside. Instead of following in Thomas's path, she pushed out ahead of him in a burst of energy and started kicking snow into the air.
"Hey, watch it!" he called through his muffler.
"I'll beat you to the house," she called back once she had a good head start.
She squealed as he gained on her. She was running through the path they'd made earlier, but he circled out around her, passed her, and still beat her home. As they reached the back steps, she could hardly catch her breath from laughing so hard.
Opening the back door for her, Thomas said, "Thanks for helping, Maria. You're a trooper."
"You're welcome. Say," she said, punching him in the shoulder, "if Mama's already left for work, maybe I could wear your knickers to school!"
"Over my dead body."
Excerpted from Maria Takes A Stand by Norma Jean Lutz Copyright © 2004 by Barbour Publishing, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted August 29, 2004
This book is about a young girl named Maria who is fighting foe women's rights. Leave the future to a ignorant person just because that person is a male? NO WAY! Her family is envoled in this battle. Suddenly the world turns upside down when people are breaking her window and calling her rude names. But splendid things happen as well. She recieves a job as a newspaper girl, which has never happend before. This book is awesome!!! Read this outstanding book!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.