Written in beautifully structured verse, Helen Frost's Crossing Stones captures nine months in the lives of two resilient families struggling to stay together and cross carefully, stone by stone, into a changing world.
Maybe you won't rock a cradle, Muriel.
Some women seem to prefer to rock the boat.
Eighteen-year-old Muriel Jorgensen lives on one side of Crabapple Creek. Her family's closest friends, the Normans, live on the other. For as long as Muriel can remember, the families' lives have been intertwined, connected by the crossing stones that span the water. But now that Frank Normanwho Muriel is just beginning to think might be more than a friendhas enlisted to fight in World War I and her brother, Ollie, has lied about his age to join him, the future is uncertain.
As Muriel tends to things at home with the help of Frank's sister, Emma, she becomes more and more fascinated by the women's suffrage movement, but she is surrounded by people who advise her to keep her opinions to herself. How can she find a way to care for those she loves while still remaining true to who she is?
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|Product dimensions:||6.15(w) x 9.05(h) x 0.58(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
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By Helen Frost
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2009 Helen Frost
All rights reserved.
My Mind Meanders Like the Creek
My Crooked Mind
You'd better straighten out your mind, Young Lady.
That's what the teacher, Mr. Sander, tells me. As if I could
stretch the corners of my thoughts like you'd pull
a rumpled quilt across a bed in an attempt to make
it look like no one slept there, no one ever
woke up screaming from a nightmare, or lay there
sweating till their fever broke, everybody
scared they'd die — but then they didn't, they got up
and made the bed. My mind sets off at a gallop
down that twisty road, flashes by "Young Lady,"
hears the accusation in it — as if it's
a crime just being young, and "lady"
is what anyone can see I'll never be
no matter how I try, and it's obvious
that I'm not trying. It's history class, which,
as far as I can tell, they might as well call
war class, all those battlefields, and Generals,
and Secretaries, capitalized like that —
not secretaries like Aunt Vera, who
works for the city of Chicago, and travels
on her own with money she has saved
even after she has purchased both the hat
with three red feathers and the one of deep blue
wool that's lined with silk. No, the Secretaries
whose names we have to memorize for Monday's test
are important people: Secretary of the Treasury,
Secretary of the Interior — in other words,
men. Which is my mistake, to point that out.
Why is it, Mr. Sander, that in real life
secretaries are always women, but here
in school, all the ones we learn about are men?
It's a perfectly reasonable question, but everybody
turns to stare, first at me, then at the teacher's blaze of anger:
Miss Jorgensen, are you being smart with me? How
do you answer a question like that? No, I'm
not, or Yes, I am — either way just gets you
in the same place, only deeper. I try for
middle ground. Maybe I am, I say, maybe
I'm not — trying to decide what it might mean
to be smart like Aunt Vera and express my own opinions,
compared to what it means when Mr. Sander says it.
I keep on thinking back and forth along
those crooked lines while he is giving me a
talking-to I barely hear until he gets to that
last line — I'd better straighten out my
mind? No thank you, Mister Sir Secretary
Reverend General Your Honor, I think
but do not say. I like the way my mind meanders
like the creek that flows into the northern tip
of Reuben Lake, out the southwest side
into the Little Betsy River, and on and on
from there to who knows where, until
eventually it joins the wild sea.
Our Lives and Our Fortunes
We've all heard what is coming: we know
the president will take us right into the middle
of this war they're fighting overseas, yet I can't help
hoping against hope that someone, somehow
might find a way to keep us out of it.
Our neighbors, Emma Norman and her parents,
step carefully across Crabapple Creek on their way
to our house to listen to the president address the nation.
Mr. Norman brings his usual peppermints for Grace,
and she, as always, passes them around until there's only one
left in the bag, then gives the bag to Mrs. Norman —
Take this home, she says, and save it
for when Frank comes back. She's done that
at least once a week for the past six months,
since Frank left for basic training. I have no idea
if Mrs. Norman actually saves them, but the thought is so
big-hearted for a seven-year-old child, maybe Frank
can taste some kind of sweetness; even all those
miles away in Kansas, he must know that here
in Michigan we're missing him. And never more so
than this evening, as we gather close around
the radio and hear the president proclaim: The world
must be made safe for democracy ... To such a task
we can dedicate our lives and our fortunes,
everything that we are and everything
that we have. He needs an army of 500,000 men;
he invokes the principle of universal liability
to service. Ollie stands up, puffs out his chest,
and glances across the room at Emma.
Tell me, Mr. President, is my brother
"everything that we are" or is he "everything
that we have"? I only know I'm grateful
he is just sixteen, not old enough
to offer up his everything into your hands.
I remember last September, before
Frank left for basic training, he and Ollie
waiting in the apple trees — Ollie on their side
of the creek, and Frank on ours — watching for Muriel
and me to cross Crabapple Creek. Halfway across, where
an eddy spins between two stones, I looked up just in time
to see Ollie throw an apple down at me. I caught it, threw it
back, and to everyone's immense surprise, I somehow hit
Ollie in the arm, which made him lose his balance. I'm
still not sure how he got from tree to water, but there
he was in the creek, spluttering his staunch denial:
I didn't fall, I jumped! Sitting on his backside,
laughing. Tonight I'm remembering that jolly
scene. Muriel, Ollie, Frank, me — us four.
Sit down and play a tune, Pa suggests.
Should we? In wartime, is it right for us to
make music? Almost half the senior boys, like
Frank and his friends last year, are planning to enlist.
I'd go with them if I could — heck, I'd join up tomorrow
if I thought they'd accept a sixteen-year-old. Could I gain
enough weight, go down to the recruiting office, and try to
bluff my way in by claiming to be eighteen? I bet I'd get a
different reaction from Pa than Ma. Ma would take it in
stride, or try to act like she did. Pa would be furious:
(Blankety-blank) President Wilson thinks he can just
take away our sons to use for his cannon fodder!
Would he actually try to stop me, though?
It's likely — so I wouldn't tell him.
Have you raised this girl with no moral compass?
Mr. Sander questions my parents, then turns
to me: If you continue to question our president
and the decisions he has made, other students
may wonder if their classmates are risking
their lives for nothing. You should be ashamed.
Mama does hang her head in shame, but I don't, so
Mr. Sander pushes on: If we can't stand together
as a free country, what are our boys fighting for? At that,
Papa looks straight into Mr. Sander's eyes. He doesn't say
what he sees (the eyes of a coward?), because Papa is kind,
thoughtful about others' feelings. I know my daughter
is opinionated, he says, but there is no law
against that. (So far, he mutters under his breath.)
Muriel has every right to speak her mind.
Mr. Sander withers under Papa's steady gaze, and we
go home. Papa drives the horses gently; we ride in silence
for a mile or so, and then he says, You're graduating soon;
don't worry too much about what Mr. Sander thinks —
but there are others like him in this world.
Be a little careful of such people, Muriel.
"A little careful" — maybe — but then Mama adds,
You may need to learn to bite your tongue.
Is that what women — "ladies" — are supposed to do?
Bite off little pieces of ourselves,
our very thoughts? Chew on them
until they don't seem so worthwhile —
and then what? Swallow them? Or spit them out
and crush them underfoot, until we can
be absolutely sure no one will know
they ever crossed our minds!
Fragrance of Lilacs, Sweet Scent of Skunk
Such good solid stuff
Ollie is made of — these words
declaring war are playing on his mind.
When anything "must be made safe," Frank
and Ollie always volunteer. Now, with Frank's life
on the line, Ollie tries to help my family. Our fence has
been broken for a month; no doubt he started fixing it today
because it keeps his hands occupied as he tries to find a way
to think about what this war will mean, for all of us. He's as
quiet as the fence itself: measure the wire, open the knife,
cut the wire, close the knife, quick twist, hard yank —
yes, the fence will hold. Above us, the kind
of sky that greets a thousand bluebirds.
So sweet a day. So tough.
Thirty-seven years ago in Denmark,
two sisters married two brothers. It's
like an anthem, the way Papa tells it: To
this day, your Danish relatives would claim you
if you walked into the old family home.
But when Mama tells the story, she's seeing
Ollie with the Normans' daughter, Emma —
and me with Emma's older brother, Frank,
pairing us up like she rolls up pairs of socks,
that little sigh of satisfaction when they come out even —
or "close enough," if there's one black sock,
one navy blue, left over at the end.
Emma is my closest friend; Frank and Ollie
are like brothers. Mrs. Norman comes here
with her sewing almost every afternoon,
or Mother goes to their house — they seem to think
they know us better than we know ourselves.
But I don't see myself going down the road they
see me on, leading to a clean white farmhouse
not too far from here, me out in the yard, my
apron pockets full of corn I'm scattering
for biddy hens. I love Emma like a sister, and
I'm as scared as anyone that Frank will be
sent overseas to fight this war — I'm delighted
that he's coming home on leave next week —
but slow down, Mother: I have no
intention of becoming the Mrs. Norman of your
imaginary future. Who I am remains to be seen —
and I alone intend to be the one to see it.
Gray sky, all-day rain,
thunder coming closer. Lightning
struck the barn in just this kind of storm
last summer. It took us the entire fall and winter
to rebuild the part of the hayloft that burned in the fire
that night. Our work is sound — Pa and I work well together,
though I wonder: Will he do as well without me? Ollie, let me
show you something! Grace runs up. I've told her we can use the
scrap wood for a playhouse; now she's found a place to build it.
You said you would, Ollie. Come on — look! If I work hard and
fast I might get it done in my spare time. (Maybe, with
luck, I'll build up my muscle and look older.) I sort the
lumber. I might not finish it before ... I start to
say. Before what, Ollie? I don't answer.
Ten Days Home
Frank has finished his training; now
he has ten days of home leave. Then —
nobody can say for sure, but it looks like
he'll be shipped overseas. We meet him
at the station — I'm the first to see him (I can't
help noticing how his shoulders fill his uniform),
but I stand back when three girls surround him
as he jumps from the train, swinging his duffel bag
across his back. He scans the crowd — his eyes light on us
(on me?) as Grace sees him and runs to hug him.
He lifts her in the air and swings her high (she
almost kicks Edith Morgan in the jaw),
and Frank is ours for these few days.
We all gather at the Normans' house for dinner —
Mrs. Norman slices a clove-studded ham; Emma's baked
a batch of "Grandma Jean's Best Dinner Rolls";
Mama and I made a four-layer devil's food cake;
and after Frank has eaten three large pieces, he plays
a few tunes on his banjo, Papa plays his fiddle,
and we sing until long after dark. Mama
lets Grace stay up an hour past her bedtime —
Frank shows her how to pluck a few notes
of "It's a Long Way to Tipperary,"
and teaches her six verses, nodding to her
when he sings "to the sweetest girl I know."
Grace smiles up at him — she may just be
the sweetest girl any of us will ever know.
I breathe in this all-together of our life —
how can there be war in a world where
Ollie's baritone and Emma's alto
harmonize so perfectly?
Frank's home leave threatens to eclipse
my graduation, until he asks if I'm going
to my graduation dance with anyone —
Well, no — and, if I'd like him to take me.
I'm so surprised, I almost ask the question
that pops into my mind: Was this your mother's
idea, Frank, or yours? I stop myself because
he stutters as he asks me — M-M-Muriel,
shifting from one foot to the other — Frank
who is always so confident and full of fun.
I can't help smiling as I answer: Yes, I'd like that.
He stops stuttering, grins, and says, Our mothers
will be happy. Exactly what I'm thinking.
A little too happy for my taste, I say.
Frank shrugs. Who says we have to tell them?
We agree — we don't! As I'm sewing my dress
(blue satin that swirls around me when I walk), I refer to it
as my graduation dress. And when Mama asks me
if I'm going to the dance, I simply say, as she
so often does, We'll see, when the time comes.
Excerpted from Crossing Stones by Helen Frost. Copyright © 2009 Helen Frost. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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.
Table of Contents
My Mind Meanders Like the Creek / April 1917,
Fragrance of Lilacs, Sweet Scent of Skunk / May 1917,
Circles for the Crossing Stones / June 1917,
Conversation Through a Thick Curtain / July 1917,
Like a Rain-Soaked Wool Jacket / August 1917,
A Few Eggs, Five Peaches, All the Peas / September 1917,
White Shirt Crumpled in the Mud / October 1917,
A Sharp Yes-and-No Shoots Through Me / November 1917,
Bluebird Stitched in Such Detail / December 1917,
I Step onto the Train / January 1918,
Notes on the Form,
Also by Helen Frost,
About the Author,