An Excerpt From Journey of Hope
An excerpt from Chapter 3 from Journey of Hope by Melina Druga
Lavinia Fox Winthrop’s shriveled and cracked hands appeared two decades older than the rest of her 42 years. While the skin on her face still appeared youthful, though tired, her hands betrayed a lifetime of drudgery. Claire eyed her mother and wondered if she was viewing a vision of the future, should she manage to survive two more decades, and wasn’t certain it was a future she wanted. Of course, there was no escaping it. She was a farmer’s wife.
The elder never lived outside Fredericton, but life transformed from uneasy to perilous after Claire’s father and brothers died. Lavinia worked until her back bent from stooping over for hours, and she ate so little that, for a time, she was not more than skin and bones. In physical appearance, she was perhaps the same height as her daughter, when she could straighten her back, and they both shared a head of auburn hair, although grey streaked Lavinia’s.
Lavinia lifted her mug to her dry lips, and her elbows could be seen through her dress’s well-worn fabric.
“It’s been a lovely visit, Mama,” Claire said, even though she felt it wasn’t.
On her knee, Junior alternated between babbling and sticking a fist into his mouth. He reached for Claire’s plate, and she moved it from his grasp while keeping her eyes locked on Lavinia.
Lavinia’s expression did not change. “You had best keep an eye on that child before he puts something in his mouth that he shouldn’t.”
“Yes, marm. Do you think of Papa ever?” Claire said, examining Lavinia’s room for signs of Major Horace Winthrop, but his effects were long ago used or sold.
Lavinia’s stoic expression changed only in the corners of her eyes. “It’s been ages since he died.”
Claire felt her stomach turn. For a second, she imagined her mother might share a story or admit a feeling, but her mother had no room for sentimentality and even less room for feeling.
Claire nodded. “Fifteen years is a very long time, but I try to remember sometimes.”
Lavinia set her half-finished toddy on the naked table. “Why? You’ve spend the majority of your life without him.”
“That’s exactly why I want to remember,” Claire said, voice rising.
Lavinia scoffed. “That’s the absurdist thing I’ve ever heard. Aren’t you a bit old for flights of fancy?”
“Fancy is better than this world at times.”
Lavinia picked her mug back up and gazed at her daughter over its rim. “Harold’s father on the bottle again?”
Claire bristled. “He’s rarely off of it.”
“Idol hands do the devil’s work.”
Claire didn’t immediately answer, uncertain how to respond considering Lavinia made the toddies using a shot of rum in each mug even if she did serve them with a baked potato to balance out the alcohol.
“Mama. Harold wants to move west. We’ll be leaving shortly.”
“It’s good to leave your father-in-law’s land.” Lavinia took another sip. “How far?”
Claire swallowed. “To Upper Canada.”
Lavinia raised an eyebrow. “How far is that?”
“Nine hundred miles.”
Her mother shook her head. “That’s higher than I can understand yet alone count.”
“Nor I. But it is very far.” Claire’s eyes fluttered to the window and then back to Lavinia. “I shan’t see you again once we leave.”
Lavinia took a drink but said nothing else. Claire blinked. What was her mother thinking? Was she devastated? Of course not, Claire reminded herself. This was the woman who refused to remarry and preferred instead to send her 10-year-old daughter out to work. If this were truly their final meeting on earth, some tenderness would be appreciated, even if she knew none was coming.
“Mama, I need to return home before it’s dark.”
Two miles separated the village from the Appleton’s farm. It was not a difficult journey, but it was one Claire preferred not to take after sunset.
Lavinia glanced out the window, the setting sun creating a prism as it shone through the ice.
“Yes, of course. You must make haste.”
Claire tried to smile, tried to appear polite, but couldn’t quite manage. She stood, removed her coat from the back of her chair and pushed her arms through the sleeves. Next, she created Junior’s sling out of the old blanket and secured him inside. She worked slowly, hoping Lavinia would stop her, smother her with a goodbye hug and kiss, but she did not.
“I’d say I’d write,” Claire said, “but we both know I cannot write a letter any better than you can read one. Not to mention the expense.”
Lavinia nodded. “I understand. Perhaps you can let the Porters know when you’ve arrived safely.”