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River of Memories
By Jean Taylor Murphy
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2009 Jean Taylor Murphy
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE FAMILY
"We're gettin' there, Lizzie, there's the Warwick Road!" cried Katie. Her heart began to pound faster as her father made the turn onto the dry, graveled road. Huge clouds of dust mushroomed from under the rear tires of the car and slowly dissipated into the air. As they passed homesteads, people in the yards waved to them, a common courtesy afforded all strangers in their community. Katie and Lizzie happily waved back to them. It would not be long now before they reached their destination. With giddy anticipation, 12-year-old Katie and 11-year-old Lizzie stuck their heads out the rear car windows looking for familiar landmarks along the way as the 1949 Chevrolet sped up the hilly, winding road.
It was here in the Little South West District of New Brunswick that the girls' parents, Virginia and Patrick Donahue, were born, their mother in Halcomb in 1904 and their father down the "back road" in Lyttleton in 1905. In the early 1930s, they married, moved to Maine and within the next 10 years three children were born, Erin, Kathleen (Katie), and Elizabeth (Lizzie). Every summer, the parents would load their children into the car and head "over home" to visit for two weeks with their sisters and brothers who lived in villagesalong the Miramichi River; on many occasions, Erin, Katie and Lizzie were allowed to remain for a longer stay. Katie and Lizzie spent their vacation in Halcomb with their favorite relatives, the McIvers, and the remainder of the family went "down the road" to stay with relatives in Sillikers or Chatham.
The land encompassing many small communities along the Miramichi River in the South Esk Parish of Northumberland County was originally inhabited by the MicMac Indians who named the river "Mlkikney Mirma'si" or The Mighty Miramichi. The mouth of the river in Miramichi bay flowed from the northeast coast of New Brunswick, Canada, into the Gulf of St. Lawrence and wound southwest to its source near Juniper. Not only did it provide a means of transportation for the early settlers, but it was rich in game fish as well, particularly salmon and trout.
It was not until the 1700s and 1800s when immigrants, seeking a new life, flooded the area to rent land from the MicMacs which included Loyalists from the United States, Irish Protestants from North Ireland, Irish Catholics mostly from County Cork, Acadians from Nova Scotia, Scots from Scotland and Americans. The Donahue's relatives were of Irish, English and Scottish descent who settled along the shores of the Miramichi back in the 1800s.
Approximately 20 miles from a small town called Newcastle, the village of Halcomb nestled along the Miramichi River with its windy, graveled road bordered by a scattering of houses, outbuildings, and hay fields. Along the way, barefooted children frolicked in the farmyards and fields, an occasional small herd of cows dotted the countryside, and a few farmers, slouched over horse-drawn harrows, tilled the rocky terrain.
The majority of the laboring class worked the woods in the winter for lumber contractors on the South West Miramichi and its tributaries and worked in the saw mills or other lumbering jobs in the summer. The women kept the home fires burning, reared the children, and managed the homestead. Many of these families were related to the Donahues, and as they passed familiar houses along the route, their excitement heightened in anticipation of seeing loved ones.
It was a perfect day for traveling; white, fluffy clouds drifted leisurely across a deep, blue sky, and a faint breeze softly whispered in the stands of spruce, pine, hemlock, birch, and poplar trees that bordered the roadside. Patrick noticed the road had recently been graded and was in excellent driving condition which relieved him since he did not want the new automobile to get nicked or damaged from flying gravel. It wasn't long until they reached the hill which led down to Red Bank, a small village of two general stores, a Roman Catholic Church with a fenced-in graveyard, and an Indian reserve inhabited by natives who lived in government-constructed homes along the Miramichi River shore. Beyond the general store the road forked - the right led to Sunny Corner and straight ahead led to the small village of Sillikers. Nearing their destination, the children grew restless, anxiously waiting for the moment their father would drive into Aunt Henrietta's roadway. The car rumbled through Sillikers, crossed the Somers Bridge just below the Matthews Settlement, turned left at Foran's Corner and embarked on the final lap of their journey.
Both girls sat on the edge of the car's back seat, straining to see through the front windshield. When they spotted Great Aunt Bessie's house situated on a low hill, they knew the next house would be their destination.
"We're almost there!" exclaimed Lizzie.
Sure enough, there it was! Turning into the dirt driveway, their father slowly maneuvered the car down the slope to the McIver home. Katie and Lizzie felt an irresistible urge to jump out of the car and run ahead, but they knew their parents would not tolerate such a notion. When they reached the house, their relatives were already outside waiting for them and by the time the car came to a stop, the girls were out and running to Aunt Henrietta who enveloped them in enthusiastic embraces. Amid boisterous laughter and screams of delight, the girls were swept up, danced around, and "bear hugged" by their cousins.
"I'm so glad ta see ya', Aunt Henrietta," cried Lizzie. Her aunt laughed and crushed Lizzie to her ample bosom.
"We've been waitin' fer yer car ta come down the drive," answered Aunt Henrietta, "and we're so glad ya' finally got here!"
The girls' parents emerged from the car, all smiles, and were soon enveloped in equally exuberant greetings from the family.
"Well, come in and give us the news," exclaimed Aunt Henrietta, "I've baked some cinnamon rolls and bread ta have with supper. Ya' must be famished from drivin' all the way from Maine." As the group gathered in the kitchen, Aunt Henrietta scurried around preparing the tea while her daughters set the table.
"Mom," asked Katie, "can we go swimmin' after supper?"
"Not for at least an hour after your meal," replied Virginia, "you might get stomach cramps because the water is so cold. Eat your supper first, settle down for a bit until your food gets digested, and then we'll see."
Katie frowned but obeyed her mother. She plunked down in a chair next to her cousin, Eileen, and waited impatiently.
When the supper was finished, it was obvious that the roast beef, mashed potatoes, dumplings, peas, corn, and bread had been thoroughly enjoyed by the participants since contented sighs and happy laughter resounded around the table. Rising, the girls began cleaning up the dishes while Virginia, Patrick and Aunt Henrietta retired to the front parlor to get caught up on the latest goings-on in the community.
After visiting for an hour, the Donahues bid their adieus, hugged everyone, admonished their daughters to behave themselves, and walked out to the car. The girls, along with the McIver family, waved goodbye as the Donahues slowly drove out of the driveway.
The McIvers were a closely knit, fiercely proud family blessed with brains, natural musical talent, and perpetual vitality. Most were born in this house by the Miramichi River in New Brunswick, and out of this clan emerged a myriad of personalities.
The oldest, Patricia (Patty), age 16, was a devoutly religious girl who possessed a simplistic love of God and a deep affection for farm animals, especially the work horses. She was unusually tall for her age, long-limbed, with wide-set brown eyes, pug nose, generous mouth, and fair skin. Inordinately shy, Patty preferred the company of animals over people and often spent long hours in the barn grooming (currying) the horses after their return from a day of hauling logs in the woods. Paradoxically, her bashfulness dissipated when she attended church functions; and because it was a comfortable realm for her, she enjoyed participating in activities which included singing in the church choir.
On the other hand, Eileen, age 15, was the studious, pretty one who possessed a decidedly demure, feminine aura. Impeccable in her personal hygiene and attire, she was disinclined to raucous behavior preferring peace and quiet. Academically, she excelled at school, often attaining the highest grades in her class. Auburn tresses accented her pretty, peach-complexioned face that embodied large, expressive blue eyes, tiny pug nose, and a small, perfect mouth. She was different from the other children. Reminiscent of a lovely, poised swan, she possessed a natural regality that advocated civil exchange rather than emotional outbursts. Her ethereality and delicateness were sometimes met with derision from her brother, the antic-loving Sean.
Then, a miraculous surprise occurred for the McIver parents. Two boys, fraternal twins, came into the world on a cool May morning at the homestead and Tim and Rory, now 14 years old, were as different as day and night.
Timothy (Tim) exuded a tranquil presence that optimized the sensible, solid approach to life, always remaining steadfast in his convictions, sometimes so inflexible that it bordered on rigidity. His face, dominated by a long nose that seemed out of place with his symmetrical head, was rather plain, but his startlingly blue eyes captivated females and he was never deprived of their attention. Though he generally appeared serious and introspective, humor was not alien to him. Blessed with Irish wit, he could blandly slip in one-liners that would send everyone into gales of laughter.
However, there was a dark side to Rory. Sullen and quiet, he rarely demonstrated any kindness or thoughtfulness, preferring to distance himself from his siblings. His dark hair fell over his broad forehead to meet two fierce brown eyes, a wide pugilistic nose and thin severe lips. Resembling a football player, he had a short, thick neck, large arms and legs and short, stocky frame. From the moment he entered the world, Rory was rebellious, paranoid and defensive; unlike his siblings, he harbored a mean streak that erupted without provocation.
Sean, 13 years old, was an intelligent, hand some rogue with large, dark hazel eyes, blond hair, aquiline nose, and full mouth. Endowed with a keen mind, scholarly distinction came effortlessly to him, and he reveled in competing with his peers in school. Impulsive and quick-tempered, he often demonstrated his impatience by cuffing his sisters when they became too bothersome. Devilish pranks directed at any unsuspecting family member or farm animal were an integral part of Sean's daily activities, and all, including the animals, kept a wary eye out for him.
And then there was the "baby", 12-year-old Tara, a fun-loving rascal who reveled in mischief and chicanery as well. True to her Irish heritage, she possessed an impish twinkle in her small blue eyes, the McIver pug nose, and full - sometimes, when the mood suited - rakish mouth. Never one to accept life as mundane, Tara conjured up ways to turn calm into chaos, challenging Sean's bid for supremacy in the practical-joke arena. Between the two, life in the McIver household was filled with boisterous shenanigans, moderated only by parental discipline.
The children were the consummation of two people who were devoted to each other-Henrietta and Michael. Honest, hard-working folks descended from Irish, English and Scottish lineage, they reared their children in a religious, loving, yet strict environment.
Short and rotund with snapping brown eyes, Henrietta ruled the roost with decisive command tempered by an undying passion for her "brood". Though she seldom demonstrated overt affection, she revealed her devotion with a protective zeal akin to a mother bear. No one, but no one, would dare harm her children lest they were prepared to endure her wrath. Hence, she was lovingly dubbed "Mother Hen" by her family; however, the family did not apprise their mother of the endearing nickname knowing full well she would not appreciate its implication.
In sharp contrast, Uncle Mike had a happy-go-lucky disposition, and his craggy face, smiling blue eyes, and wide grin gave an observer the impression he worked hard and played hard. Good-natured and compliant, he was highly respected in the lumbering business as a conscientious, knowledgeable woodsman.
This eclectic, high-spirited family lived life to the fullest, be it glad, mad, bad, or sad, and Katie and Lizzie shared some of this life with them. To the children, it was a time of unabashed joy when their senses absorbed the natural beauty around them; a time of naivety when their responses were unfettered by theoretical reasoning; a time of simplicity when no worries of financial responsibilities cluttered their young minds. But, unbeknownst to them, they would eventually discover that it was also a time of personal growth when exposure to life and death would alter their childish perspectives, and an unfamiliar maturity would emerge to encroach upon their carefree world.
Chapter TwoTHE HOMESTEAD
Early in the morning Katie awakened to the clunk of kindling wood being thrown into a stove; lazily, she rolled over and snuggled deeper under the bedclothes. She listened as Aunt Henrietta scampered around the cook shed, hauling out condiments from the cupboards. The cook shed, a small building separated from the main kitchen by a breezeway, contained a wooden table covered with a red and white checkered oil cloth, two chairs, a crudely- built wood bin and a monstrous black stove with silver trimming. Every summer, the stove would be moved from the kitchen into the cook shed in an attempt to reduce the suffocating heat within the house.
Soon, a blazing fire roared, and fluffy cotton balls of smoke floated from the chimney carrying the aroma of burning wood into the two upper bedrooms. Inhaling the pungent odor, Katie's lips widened in a contented smile; she felt so comfortable in this home. Her Uncle Mike, with no formal training as a carpenter, had built this house himself - a story-and-a-half home sheathed with cedar shakes enclosed by a large, open veranda on the front and right side of the ground floor.
The first floor had a small living room off the large kitchen with two windows facing the front of the house on the long wall and another window looking out onto the upper field on the short wall; beside this room was the boys' one-windowed bedroom where Sean, Tim and Rory slept in single beds. Off the kitchen at the foot of the stairs was Aunt Henrietta and Uncle Mike's bedroom.
The second floor, relegated to the girls, consisted of two open bedrooms with slanted ceilings. Katie and Eileen slept in the "upper" bedroom which housed one double bed, a small table and a single window overlooking the side yard. Lizzie, Tara and Patty occupied the "lower" bedroom which contained two double beds and large dresser; between the beds stood a small nightstand under the window that offered a view of the barn and chicken coop. Between the bedrooms were two dormer windows overlooking the front; directly across from the windows, a staircase led down to the first floor.
Katie could hear her cousins whispering and giggling in the lower bedroom and wondered what manner of deviltry they were scheming; she did not have to wait long. Suddenly, a shoe flew into the room followed by an entourage of squealing cousins. Pillows were airborne, bedcovers were wrenched away, and the two girls disappeared under a mass of squiggling bodies. Rascals, the family pet, joined the fracas, barking excitedly and vying for space among the flying arms and legs. Katie laughed hysterically as she wrestled to remove the fingers tickling her ribs.
Unbeknownst to the fun-loving children, Sean, who was soundly sleeping, was brutally awakened by the upstairs fray and involuntarily propelled from his bed to the floor. Roaring in fury, he ripped off the bedcovers tangled around his body, threw them on the bed, hauled up his loose pajama bottoms, and tore out of the room. Bounding upstairs, two steps at a time, he lunged into the girls' bedroom.
Tara was the first to experience the ferocity of her brother's wrath when suddenly she felt herself being roughly lifted by her pajama top and thrown to the floor. Patty, seeing her brother's hulk looming over Tara, wisely extricated herself from the entangled limbs, hopped off the bed, and bull-scooted to freedom; albeit, rather painfully, since she half fell down the stairs. Those who did not escape sat clutching the bedcovers in terror.
Excerpted from River of Memories by Jean Taylor Murphy Copyright © 2009 by Jean Taylor Murphy. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Wonderful story of a family's struggles, happiness,love, loss, booze, and death. The author truly creates a story where you can feel actually there and keeps you captivated throughout the entire story.