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Authors: Ami McKay

The Birth House

BOOK: The Birth House
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The Birth House

A Novel by

Ami McKay

For my husband, Ian
My heart, my love, my home

Contents

Prologue
MY HOUSE STANDS at the edge of the earth. Together,…

Part One

1
EVER SINCE I CAN REMEMBER, people have had more than…

2
BETWEEN MY PRAYERS and Miss B.’s spooning porridge into Mrs. Ketch’s…

3
LATE IN NOVEMBER we bank the house, always on a…

4
THINKING IS SOMETHING that Father says I do entirely too…

5
THREE TEAMS OF STURDY horses hitched to three beautiful new…

6
MY SATURDAY VISIT with Miss Babineau the following week was…

7
EACH SUNDAY AT the Union Church we recite the Apostles’…

8
I SPOKE WITH MOTHER about what went on at Miss…

9
ANGELS AND SHEPHERDS, three Wise Men and a Virgin all…

10
AUNT FRAN MAY HAVE married into her share of money,…

11
PRECIOUS HAS BROUGHT a new book, Dr. A.W. Chase’s Information for…

12
AUNT FRAN POKED HER HEAD through the door of the…

13
“GET UP! WE’RE GOIN’ to see Miss Ginny. I got…

14
REVEREND PINEO ARRIVED this week, his first sermon titled “Forgive…

15
AUNT FRAN HAD BUILT a fire in the kitchen stove…

16
NOT LONG AFTER (or perhaps because of) the mess at…

17
FATHER ASKED ME to help him choose the spot for…

18
“GET ME TWO long-handled spoons and grease ’em up good…

19
EMBROIDERED SILK ILLUSION. Seed pearls and blown glass beads. Fine…

Part Two

20
THE FIRST THING I DID upon settling into the house…

21
BERTINE TUPPER CAME to the house, pulling her youngest child…

22
THE FIRST OFFICIAL MEETING of the Occasional Knitters Society included…

23
ONCE AUNT FRAN got wind of the Occasional Knitters Society,…

24
ARCHER’S POSTCARD WAS enough to send me back to the…

25
MY GREAT-GRANDMOTHER Mrs. Mae Loveless used to say, When you fail…

26
THERE WAS MUCH COMMOTION in Mr. Gordon’s shop the morning of…

27
I HAD ARCHER READ Dr. John Cowan’s thoughts concerning sexual congress…

28
THE NEWS THAT SOMETHING was wrong with Ginny Jessup came…

29
THERE’S A HUNGER THAT comes with long February nights a…

30
WE HAD SUNDAY DINNER at the Bigelow house, Archer, Hart…

31
WE SET UP THE TINY windmill at the Seaside Centre…

32
THE PINK MOON, April’s moon, pulls the green of the…

33
EVERY BIRTH’S A LESSON.

34
I SENT PRECIOUS HOME at first light with strict instructions…

35
ARCHER ARRIVED ON A SUNDAY morning at the church. As…

36
FULL MOON, CLEAR SKIES. The Dulsin’ tide. By day the…

37
WIDOWED AT THE AGE of nineteen.

Part Three

38
IT WAS THE FIRST OF August when Mrs. Ketch came to…

39
I DIDN’T ATTEND THE FUNERAL. I did, however, leave Wrennie…

40
I RAN ALL THE WAY to Spider Hill, only to…

41
THE JOURNEY FROM SCOTS BAY to Boston was uneventful as…

42
THE DAY AFTER MY ARRIVAL, Maxine declared that I should…

43
A GROUP OF WOMEN, including Rachael and Judith, read from…

44
A CASE OF INFLUENZA brought me to Miss B.’s, once.

45
HART HAD THE HOUSE open and ready for my arrival.

46
WHEN WORD OF THE ARMISTICE came, we met at the…

47
BY SPRING, HART WAS coming up to Spider Hill almost…

Epilogue
THERE WASN’T MUCH CALL for three-masted schooners after the war.

Notes from the Willow Book

Author’s Note

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Credits

Cover

Copyright

About the Publisher

prologue

M
Y HOUSE STANDS
at the edge of the earth. Together, the house and I have held strong against the churning tides of Fundy. Two sisters, stubborn in our bones.

My father, Judah Rare, built this farmhouse in 1917. It was my wedding gift.
A strong house for a Rare woman,
he said. I was eighteen. He and his five brothers, shipbuilders by trade, raised her worthy from timbers born on my grandfather’s land. Oak for stability and certainty, yellow birch for new life and change, spruce for protection from the world outside. Father was an intuitive carpenter, carrying out his work like holy ritual. His callused hands, veined with pride, had a memory for measure and a knowing of what it takes to withstand the sea.

Strength and a sense of knowing, that’s what you have to have to live in the Bay. Each morning you set your sights on the tasks ahead and hope that when the day is done you’re farther along than when you started. Our little village, perched on the crook of God’s finger, has always been ruled by storm and season. The men did whatever they had to do to get by. They joked with one another in fire-warmed kitchens after sunset, smoking their pipes, someone bringing out a fiddle…laughing as they chorused,
no matter how rough, we can take it.
The seasons were reflected in their faces, and in the movement of their bodies. When it was time for the shad, herring and cod to come in, they were fishermen, dark with tiresome wet from the sea. When the deer began to huddle on the back of the mountain, they became hunters and woodsmen. When spring came, they worked the green-scented earth, planting crops that would keep, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, turnips. Summer saw their weathered hands building ships and haying fields, and sunsets that rib-boned over the water, daring the skies to turn night. The long days were filled with pride and ceremony as mighty sailing ships were launched from the shore.
The Lauretta, The Reward, The Nordica, The Bluebird, The Huntley.
My father said he’d scour two hundred acres of forest just to find the perfect trees to build a three-masted schooner. Tall yellow birch, gently arched by northwesterly winds, was highly prized. He could spot the keel in a tree’s curve and shadow, the return of the tide set in the grain.

Men wagered their lives with the sea for the honour of these vessels. Each morning they watched for the signs.
Red skies in morning, sailors take warning.
Each night they looked to the heavens, spotting starry creatures, or the point of a dragon’s tail. They told themselves that these were promises from God, that He would keep the wiry cold fingers of the sea from grabbing at them, from taking their lives. Sometimes men were taken. On those dark days the men who were left behind sat down together and made conversation of every detail, hitching truth to wives’ tales while mending their nets.

As the men bargained with the elements, the women tended to matters at home. They bartered with each other to fill their pantries and clothe their children. Grandmothers, aunts and sisters taught one another to stitch and cook and spin. On Sunday mornings mothers bent their knees between the stalwart pews at the Union Church, praying they would have enough. With hymnals clutched against their breasts, they told the Lord they would be ever faithful if their husbands were spared.

When husbands, fathers and sons were kept out in the fog longer than was safe, the women stood at their windows, holding their lamps, a chorus of lady moons beckoning their lovers back to shore. Waiting, they hushed their children to sleep and listened for the voice of the moon in the crashing waves. In the secret of the night, mothers whispered to their daughters that only the moon could force the waters to submit. It was the moon’s voice that called the men home, her voice that turned the tides of womanhood, her voice that pulled their babies into the light of birth.

My house became the birth house. That’s what the women came to call it, knocking on the door, ripe with child, water breaking on the porch. First-time mothers full of questions, young girls in trouble and seasoned women with a brood already at home. (I called those babies “toesies,” because they were more than their mamas could count on their fingers.) They all came to the house, wailing and keening their babies into the world. I wiped their feverish necks with cool, moist cloths, spooned porridge and hot tea into their tired bodies, talked them back from outside of themselves.

Ginny, she had two…

Sadie Loomer, she had a girl here.

Precious, she had twins…twice.

Celia had six boys, but she was married to my brother Albert…Rare men always have boys.

Iris Rose, she had Wrennie…

All I ever wanted was to keep them safe.

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