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Our Summer Place
That Monday morning, the big, dark-haired Kimball girl who worked for us during the summer brought us our mail from the Nahcotta post office as usual. After she had carried in the breakfast for the four of us Abbotts, she took an envelope out of her apron pocket and said, "There's a letter for you from Mr. Abbott again, Missus."
Mama said, "Oh, yes, his Monday letter. By the time we come up here to Ocean Park for the summer next year, the telephone lines should be installed. Then Mr. Abbott will be able to call us and not have to write. Did you know we've had telephones down in Portland since 1892, Anna?"
"Uh-huh, Missus Abbott, you told me that before. All four of you have told me that. That's what's wrong with big families. Everybody's always repeatin' himself. You ought to hear what it's like when all eight of us kids are at home at the same time."
"Yes, I can just imagine." Mama, who wasn't interested in Anna's family, stared at the table and asked, "Anna, where are the strawberry preserves?"
"Right under your nose, Missus, in the little covered bowl." The hired girl gave a sniff and left for the kitchen.
Nobody who lived summers at the beach would ever say that the beach people who worked for us were like the servants Mama hired in Portland. The people there were quiet and soft-talking and polite. The beach people didn't much like summer people and they often let us know it.
The minute after Mama had had her first sip of coffee and set the cup down, she opened Papa's letter. She read his big handwriting fast. Suddenly she let out a soft little cry. "No, no, not yet! That'swhat I was afraid of." I saw her hand go to her heart. "Oh, dear, it's worse than I'd thought. Bankers do not have hearts."
I'm Marcella, the oldest of the three Abbott children. At twelve I'd learned that the world could sometimes be a place where wicked things happened to a person who didn't deserve them to happen-like having your pet bird get loose and get caught by a neighbor's cat or your horse breaking a leg and getting shot or getting the mumps the day before you were going on a school picnic. But bankers and hearts?
I asked, "What's wrong, Mama?"
She shook her head. "I'm afraid, children, we won't be returning to Portland next month, but will be staying on here in the house Grandmother Grover willed to us when she died. We've got to stay to help your father out in his troubles."
"Stay all year long?" asked Florence, my ten-year-old sister.
"Yes, that long for certain and more than likely even longer."
Alec, my nine-year-old brother, squeaked, "We'll be stuck here all the rest of 1895 then?"
Florence didn't give Mama time to reply to Alec. She said, "But we always leave the beach by the first of September!" Her greenish-gray eyes had got dark with worry, and she was twisting her blondish-brown hair around one finger as she did whenever she was upset. She looked like Alec and me, and we looked like Mama, who was from a very old Portland family, the Grovers.
Alec asked, "What about Papa? Where'll he be?"
"He'll have to stay in Portland, Alec. He has a lot of work to do," replied Mama.
Working? Papa working? That wasn't any real news to any of us. He'd sent us to the beach with Grandmother Grover and Mama every summer for as long as I could remember. We'd figured our summers would always be spent on the peninsula part of western Washington State for the rest of our lives. But to stay here all year long? The only time Papa ever spent with us on the beach was the one week in June when he'd take time off from our dry goods store and come up on the train to get us settled in for the summer. He'd hire a beach girl to do the work in our summer house and he'd vacation with us for a few days. Then back he went to Portland.
He'd gone home ten weeks ago to our big brick house on Park Street. I missed him and was looking forward to being with him the rest of the year. Papa usually kept his mind on our cloth business, but when he took all of us out to dinner in the nicest restaurants in Portland, he was fun to be with. We got to dress up then in our Sunday best, and I liked that.
I asked, "Why will we be staying here at Ocean Park all year long?"
Florence added, "It ain't natural, Mama."
"It isn't natural, Florence. Somehow you've been in the company of the local people so much that you're beginning to talk like them."
I put in, "Well, it really isn't natural." I hadn't given in to the Peninsula people's bad grammar.
"No, it certainly is not," she said with a deep sigh.
"Then how come it's happening?" asked Alec stubbornly.
"Children, I didn't want to tell you our troubles and upset your summer before now. It's all because of that terrible flood last year, when the Willamette River came all the way to the second story of the Abbott building on Front Street."
Alec said now, "The flood was fun. I liked going around town in a rowboat and not having to go to school. I went fishing and caught a carp out of the second-floor window of our store before it got flooded."Sarah and Me and the Lady from the Sea. Copyright � by Patricia Beatty. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.