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Book Excerpt




from  Chapter 4

Anna, now seventy-four, had always lived in this small house.  She supported herself as a cook at the local school preparing the noon lunch, and she cooked at the dormitory for teachers and students who lived in the country and stayed in town during the week.  After Anna turned sixty-two and retired, she took in ironing and sewing to supplement her pension. 

Marka leaned down and kissed the top of Anna’s head.  She had survived all these years without a man.  At twenty-five, Marka still had not managed to get a husband.  By Ridley standards, she was considered a spinster.  Once, when Marka asked Anna why she never married, Anna replied, “I have to live the life I’ve been given.  I guess if God wanted me to have a husband He would have plunked one in my lap.”  Marka’s mother, Rachel, had felt sorry for her sister, yet envied her freedom and independence.  “My sister, Anna, is made out of strong stuff.”

“Aunt,” Marka whispered in Anna’s ear.  “Oh, it's okay, you sleep.  I'll take a walk around town and come back for you, then we'll go over to the house.”  Marka tiptoed across the living room and closed the door behind her. 

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from Chapter 4

Marka put the lid on the tin box and put it back in the dresser.  She picked up a small cardboard box covered with faded purple crepe paper.  She and her mother always made a May Day basket for Anna, a custom carried over “from the old country,” her mother said.  They filled the basket with homemade cookies then they waited until dusk and snuck to Anna's house.  They placed the basket beside the door, knocked, and ran home.  She made this basket when she was twelve, but never delivered it because she was too grown up for childish games.  It was during the time she became interested in boys.   Marka picked up a small white book with the word “Diary” etched into white leather.  Boys had replaced making paper baskets.  She tucked the book under her arm and pinched the handle of the May basket between her fingers.  She would take these back to Anna's and they would reminisce over fun times.

A white sweater lay folded on the bed.  It was the one she wore to the funeral.  Another memory pierced her heart; her mother’s face before she died, as she lay in the hospital bed.  And her mother’s words, “Something hidden in the house.”  What could it be?  She wrapped the sweater around the diary and basket and walked towards her parents’ bedroom.  The light in the house had faded and it was almost dark.

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from Chapter 9

“Ach, Gott, it’s almost suppertime, and I haven't any idea what to fix.”  Anna walked back and forth from the refrigerator to the pantry.  “How about some potato soup?  First, I’ll put coffee on.”

She peeled potatoes and onions, put them in a kettle of salted water, and placed the kettle on the cook stove.  “After you left Sophie’s, we got to talking about that Senator McCarthy.  There’s so much going on now with our government and Russia.”  Anna put the peelings in the bucket under the sink.  “Our people can’t afford to draw attention to themselves, you know.  A person’s got to be so careful nowadays about everything they do and say, or else they’ll be called a communist.  That McCarthy just may be out to turn the country against our people.   We have many German Russians in Ridley, you know.”

Anna sat down at the table.

“We're German?  Why would the government be interested in us?”  Marka asked.

“Yah, we’re Germans, but we are also five generations in Russia; so really, that makes us Russian.  But, we are the lucky ones who left.  We still have relatives there, you know.  They went through hard times.  Many of them starved to death because Stalin was so ruthless.  Sophie tells me what her cousin reads in the Die Welt Post, the German newspaper.  Our people work so hard. Work, work, work.  That's all we know.  Earn respect.  Be good American citizens and church goers.”  Anna started to cry.  She took a hanky out of her apron pocket and dabbed the corners of her eyes.  “During the war it was not good to be German.  People actually spit on us.  And now because of the Cold War with Russia it’s even worse to be Russian.  People call us stupid Rooshians, but that don't mean we're communists.”

“Anna, please try not to get so upset.  I doubt the government will be interested in a little town like Ridley.”

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from Chapter 13

The weeds had grown tall behind the garage.  Marka rolled down her dungarees to cover her bare legs.  She walked over to the big cottonwood, to the little spot of ground under it that had once been her sanctuary.  The wooden bench had rotted away and lay in a heap.  The lilac bush was overgrown.  Her special place; she hadn't been there in years.

Marka tromped the weeds down and sat under the cottonwood tree.  It was under this tree now shading her from the sun that she would think things over.  Her parents would be in the middle of one of their battles and Anna wasn’t available because she’d be cooking at the school or busy sewing.

Who was that little girl who sat under this tree?   Did she want to remember?  She hated thinking about it.  Tears streamed down her cheeks and fell like rain watering the soil.  She took the handkerchief from her pocket and wiped her face.  She missed her mother.  She hugged her legs close to her body and rested her head on her knees.  She couldn’t understand what happened.  Why did things have to turn out like this?  Marka wept in short gasping breaths.

Anna called.  “Marka.  Marka.”

Marka rose to her feet, the muscles tightening in her legs.  She had been here for a long time.  She made her way around the side of the garage and headed toward the house.

“What were you doing back there?” Anna said.

Marka rushed to Anna and threw her arms around her neck.  “Oh, Anna, I hurt.”  Tears squeezed out of her eyes and ran down her smudged face.

Madchen.  You should see yourself.”  Anna smoothed Marka’s bangs to one side.  “You look just like you did when you was a little girl and you would come to my house all upset about something.  You'd be crying and feeling so blue.”  Anna tilted her head to one side, then the other.  There was gentleness in her voice and softness in her eyes.

“I feel like a little girl.  I feel like I haven't grown up,” Marka wiped the tears from her cheeks.

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    Chapter 30

By 9:00 a.m., cars lined Main Street.  They nosed in vertically against the sidewalk, the best way to park on the small street when a crowd was expected.   On auction day, it was likely that twenty-five cars or more would show up.

The men paced the wide sidewalk in front of Ruby's Pool Hall.  They stopped now and then trying to peek behind the sheets that covered the large plate glass window.  They discussed the latest news about the missile sent into outer space.

“The Russians have launched another satellite.  This time they put a dog in it.” George announced to the crowd.

Harry Paddock yelled for everyone to hear: “Hey, did you see President Eisenhower speaking on nationwide television?   Well, he held up the nose cone of a rocket for all to see, and said:  ‘This has been hundreds of miles into outer space and back.  Here it is, completely intact’.”

The men discussed the fact that the Russians beat the United States to outer space with their Sputnik.  Who is more powerful the United States or Russia?

“How the hell are we going to keep ahead of the Reds?” Joe Stobner asked.  He just happened to have the Clayton Post tucked under his arm. He proceeded to read from it. “Listen to this:  The most difficult problems in perfecting an intercontinental ballistic missile are the obstacle of firing it into space and bringing it back without having it burn up from friction.”  Joe put the paper back under his arm.  “Hell, if I understand Eisenhower right, our scientists and engineers have solved the problem.”

George was standing beside Joe and Harry.  He told them and everyone else standing in front of the Pool Hall that his son, Jack, was an engineer and worked for NASA.

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    from Chapter 42

When she left Denver, she was determined to return to Ridley and make a life for herself.  Was it like the geese going south in the winter and returning home in the spring?  George had told her, “Geese have instincts; we humans sometimes cannot explain the actions we take.  We feel motivated to do things, and we don’t always understand the reasons why.”

Marka had taken a hard look at herself.  She had looked inward; she had examined her feelings, but mostly, she looked outward; she looked at how others reacted to her and her behaviors.

Anna had helped her to see many things about herself.  Anna told her that lack of forgiveness would destroy a person’s spirit.  She thought about what she had learned from Anna about her ancestry.  Anna found pride in being German Russian, and Marka thought she was beginning to.  She didn’t know what the future held for her and her people where the Cold War was concerned, but she felt strong and secure.  No matter what happened, she knew she would be all right.