• Vol. 09
  • Chapter 01

The end of innocence

In memory of my prairie grandmother

The autumn sun, rising, caught us in its soft spell, and Miriam, pausing between mouthfuls of her breakfast porridge, clucked at her favourite hen, busy on the threshold. From upstairs, the murmurings of delight and declarations of love seemed to bounce down to us, before Papa did bounce in, eyes like sparkling stars, leading Mama into the kitchen, their faces wide shining moons.

Mama clasped her arm around Papa’s waist, and then sat down at the table. She looked at us with such joy – I remember it as if it were yesterday, though I’m now a granny several times over – and exclaimed, ‘We’ve a new one on the way! This morning I felt it move!’

Papa threw his head back and laughed his big hearty laugh. ‘To see you both, your eyes as big as egg yolks in the pan!’

Miriam opened her mouth, closed it, opened it again to ask, ‘A new baby?’

I was bashful, all of a sudden. I knew how it all came about, for how could I not, brought up on a farm as I was. I didn’t like to think of such things, not yet in my young life, but I moved to Mama and embraced her, wondering if she was fragile now.

‘That’s not quite a hug, my girl,’ Mama chirped. ‘Give us a good squeeze, here now.’ And she reached both arms around me and squeezed my breath away. My face felt red and hot, but when Miriam joined us in a hug, and then Papa held us all together, the tears now beginning to track down his cheeks, my embarrassment fell away in the excitement. Puss must have ambled over, as I felt her head rubbing roughly against my leg, heard her purring in shared contentment.


The end of innocence

‘We are blessed, dear ones,’ Papa’s voice caught in his throat, ‘more than we could ever hope to deserve. And yet it’s true. The baby should be here in the spring, after the snow has disappeared.’

Miriam clapped her hands together. ‘Might it arrive on our birthdays?’

Mama chuckled, ‘You never know my dear, you never know. We must wait and see.’

A kind of awed silence fell upon us, and we were all alone with our thoughts, and yet all together within the family circle.

Mama broke into our reverie. ‘Time to be getting on with the chores, don’t you think?’

Papa wiped his eyes and with a final embrace, we dropped our arms and stepped back. The day was beginning.

I look on that morning as the end of my innocence, now as I think back on it. Without fully understanding, I felt my own destiny beckoned, and I hoped I could welcome it as Mama did. The shadow of the future lay upon my shoulder, and I shivered, just a little.

Mama sensed this, somehow, and she smiled at me. ‘I will need you to be our baker, Ethel, when the time comes.’