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Young Jess Newby longs for an education and for a life of possibilities. Not likely in the 1890s rural Midwest. Jess must struggle against opposition, poverty, and tragedy. Even so, she clings to her goals and her dream starts to come true.
When Jess enters high school, her path is a jumble of delight and adversity. She joins in the first Labor Day celebration and becomes intrigued by the Women’s Suffrage movement. She also confronts sexual discrimination and false accusations. Jess’s determination triumphs over despair. But will she have to sacrifice love to fulfill her destiny?
I ran through the yard and down the lane. Mama had vanished. She was out there somewhere, wandering around in her nightgown, barefoot, maybe confused and afraid. I had to find her before something terrible happened. If only I knew which way she had gone. And why.
I had to get help. I bolted toward Dick’s house, but before I’d gone far, a bit of white cloth fluttered by my face. I reached out and grabbed it and realized it was a piece of Mama’s nightgown. It had some blackberry thorns imbedded in the fabric. Now at least I knew which direction she’d taken. The berry bushes were on a path leading to the creek. It was a nearly overgrown path that Tina and I would sometimes take when we weren’t in any hurry to get home from school. From here it wound around to the deep part of the creek, made a circle around the base of the cemetery, and came out by the school.
I plunged down the path. Briars tore at my dress and ripped my hands when I tried to brush them away. My foot tripped in a groundhog’s hole, and I sprawled face forward into a clump of wild grape vines. I rubbed my aching ankle and worried whether Mama had taken the same tumble. I scrambled to my feet and hurried on. Mama might be in danger and it was all my fault for leaving her alone. I had to get to the creek before she did. We’d had a lot of rain lately, and the water in Sweet Creek was high, especially at Runaway Rapids, which was a section of the creek partially dammed by boulders. When the stream hit the big rocks, it turned into a mad whirlpool. Last year, Isaiah’s dog fell into the rapids, and its body was found a mile downstream.
I prayed as I ran and wished I knew more about those guardian angels Reverend Vanderdyke often preached about. If Mama did have a guardian angel, I really hoped he was on duty today. My thoughts raced as fast as my legs. Was Mama just wandering or did she have a purpose in coming this way? Maybe a deadly purpose? As I neared the creek, I kept calling, “Mama, wait for me. I’ll walk with you.” The only answering sound was an agitated jaybird that scolded me for disturbing his peaceful day.
When I reached the rapids, my heart and stomach both felt like they were fighting the angry waters. At this spot the creek bank dropped off sharply. The swirling stream lay directly below. It would be so easy to fall into the spinning current. Or jump. My eyes clawed the water, searching for any signs of Mama. I became so dizzy I had to sit down.
Memories of the past months churned in my head and created their own whirlpool. Tina skipping home from school happily splashing from one mud puddle to another. Me marching forward to receive my diploma with a heart full of dreams and hopes. Grandpa with his beloved pipe and newspaper. And Mama, strong and sure and invulnerable. “Oh, God,” I cried, “I’ve lost everything else. Don’t let me lose Mama, too!”
I looked away from the water and noticed some dry grass that had been crushed by recent footsteps. Mama must have stood in this very spot. But where was she now? Then I noticed that the crushed weeds and grass continued eastward away from the creek bank. Relieved, I jumped up and followed the trail. The path was more worn now and I could see prints of bare feet in the damp earth. They were headed toward the cemetery. I slowed down. Surely there could be no danger for Mama there. She was probably just going to visit Tina and Grandpa.
The path wove around the back side of the cemetery. I glanced up to the steep bluff where the children were always warned not to play. Suddenly, between two tall pines, I glimpsed a figure in white. It was Mama. She was walking away toward the edge of the precipice!
I was too far away to see her face but as I stood there, transfixed in terror, she raised her arms. Was she imploring the gods, or surrendering to them?
A sudden west breeze billowed her nightgown around her as she leaned into the wind. I didn’t dare cry out for fear of startling her. I had to get to her. I tore down the path to the cemetery’s entrance, sprinted up the hill, and dodged through the headstones to where Mama had been standing. She wasn’t there.
Helen Goodman is a registered nurse, a native of Michigan and now lives in North Carolina. She is the author of six published books and her short stories have appeared in two anthologies. The Blue Goose is Dead is the first in the Allison Aldridge Mystery Series. Jess is her first historical novel. She also has five published cozy mysteries.
“Jess is a rich history and a stirring story that transcends time.” -- Kalamazoo Gazette, Kalamazoo, Michigan
“Goodman’s skill in writing and extensive research illuminate an era in history.” -- Plainwell Enterprise, Plainwell, Michigan.
Book Publisher: Wings ePress
No. of Pages: 384
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