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One Dark December
Author's note: This book for me was a joy to write as I got to know a special little girl named Stephanie and saw the world through her eyes. This book will help remind tween and teen readers alike about the sorrows and losses of life and how to deal with grief yet still be able to move on and never give up.
Wednesday, October 17th, 1917-page 11
What am I supposed to write in a diary? My life is not so interesting and I am quite certain that if I did write about my life I would fall asleep in mid-sentence. Well, I guess I could write about myself and my family and the events of today. That is enough for today’s entry. I will worry about what to write tomorrow – when it is tomorrow. Just as Father says, ‘Take it one step at a time.’ Well, we are an average size family I will say. There are nine of us; Mother, Father and seven children. I will tell you about them in order, from youngest to oldest.
Emily Belle- Emily Belle is 5 years old. She has bright, brown eyes and long, black hair that she can sit on. She is very delicate and gets sick quite often. Being the baby of the family, she gets away with everything.
Susannah and Charlie – you are probably wondering why I put them together. Well, they are twins, and at the age of eight – quite mischievous – always partners in crime. Both have blue eyes and scarlet red hair and they are always together, as twins often are.
Stephanie and Aaron – I am Stephanie by the way, and I have a twin also. Yes, two sets of twins is what gets this family noticed! Well, my twin brother, or should I say almost twin brother? I was born at 11:59am and Aaron was born just as the clock had finished striking 12:00pm. We are not as close as Susannah and Charlie are. Also, we look nothing alike. Aaron has wild, curly hair while I have straight, calm hair. The only thing that is the same is our hazel green eyes. The last time grandmother came to visit she said she had never seen eyes so green.
Colleen – Colleen being next in line – is 15 and is what Mother calls, ‘the odd man in the family’ While the rest of us are loud and rambunctious, Colleen is the quiet one and would rather have her nose in a book than anything else. I am not saying that I do not like reading – I LOVE it, but Colleen is ADDICTED to it.
Hugh – last, but not least – was the first born. He is off in the trenches fighting the Huns in this terrible war. When he was younger, Father used to tell him all about when our great-grandpa fought in the War of 1812. Well, Hugh became so motivated that when he turned 18 he moved out and enlisted in the army training. He was shipped to France at the outbreak of the war. He has blond hair and is my favourite brother. Do not get me wrong, I love Charlie and Aaron too; it is just that he is special to me and if anything happened to him I would just be an empty shell. Hugh completes me.
Mother - Mother, let’s say, is a very strong woman who stands up for what she believes in. One time, when I was 10, I had bought a doll with my own money but it broke on the way home and I came in the door crying. Mother marched me right back to that store and demanded a new one, no charge. After a lot of prodding the storekeeper finally gave in and even threw in a yard of ribbon for my hair! I love my mother!
Father - Father kind of scares me just a little bit when he gets mad. He sometimes spanks us if we are bad. It is not hard or anything and Father hates doing it as much as we hate getting it. I do not think he knows what else to do. Whenever Father spanks one of us, Mother just gets up and leaves the room. One time when Charlie was getting spanked for stealing some money for some gum at the corner store, I peeked in to his study and saw tears in Father’s eyes. Father is very hard to figure out and he hardly ever cries except for the time that his mother died.
Anyway, that is the Bates family for you! Well, about today. Today, Aaron and I turned 12! We got up in the morning and came down for breakfast. We had cinnamon rolls, my favourite. Mmm! Then it was present time! Belle gave me a family of paper dolls she had cut out herself and had pasted on clothes she cut out from a magazine. I thanked her sincerely, even though at 12, I am now too old to play with dolls. Susannah and Charlie pooled their money together and bought me a new hat for church and 2 yards of ribbon for my hair! Aaron got me the china doll I had had my eye on. (Okay, you know how I said I was too old to play with dolls, well, I meant paper dolls.) Colleen got me a gift certificate to the salon to get my hair curled, since my hair is straight and I want a new look. Also, Hugh sent me a box of chocolates in the mail! Mmm! But the best present of all was from Mother and Father. After breakfast they took Aaron and me outside and presented to us … BRAND NEW BICYCLES! My old one was forever getting small. Aaron and I rode our bicycles to school to show them off and got hundreds of compliments on them. Our old bicycles will go to Susannah and Charlie. They are happy about that. Well, dear friend … I guess I could call you that. Mother is calling me to bed and my hand aches from writing so much. Good night and sleep tight!
Thursday, October 18th, 1917
Why hello, faithful dear friend. Did I mention that my brother, Hugh, is at war? Well, if I did not, would you like to hear of the exact day he left? It was two years ago today. I think all of us knew that because mother went around all morning with her face scrunched up tight like she had tasted something bitter. Father locked himself in his study and said he had a new case to work on (If I have not mentioned it before, he is a lawyer). I have to admit our dog Cassie was even quiet today and even though Emily Belle is too young to remember Hugh, she was not her normal happy self. Oh, there, I got off rambling! What was I going to say? Ah, that’s right – the day Hugh left to join the army. Well, I know it was two years ago, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. Okay, well not that clearly, but you know what I mean. It was a cold October day and a few flurries fluttered down from the sky. It was a school day, but we skipped the morning. We all woke up an hour before dawn because the soldiers had to be there by 6:00am to board the Olympic, the sister ship of the Titanic that went down in 1912. We were all hopeful this one would not have as tragic a journey as its sister. Well, the air, as I said, was cold but crisp. The autumn leaves swayed in the wind and slowly fluttered to the ground. It was a slow walk to the waterfront. We did not know if we would ever see Hugh again. Emily Belle would have been only 3, the twins 6, Aaron and me 10 and Colleen 13. The Olympic gave one last blow and Hugh boarded the ship with the other soldiers in his group. As he disappeared, Mother burst out crying and Father blew into his handkerchief. Emily Belle and Susannah were wailing babies. Charlie, who was ‘too tough’ to cry, I think sniffled a bit. Aaron just looked rejected that his big brother was leaving him and Colleen dabbed her eyes and sniffled. I simply just stood there trembling. When we got home I ran upstairs and burst into the room Susannah and I share and jumped on the bed. I stared at the wall and I remembered feeling like all my insides were being sucked out of me. It was the worst feeling I ever experienced. Oh, I remember not speaking, hardly eating and hardly sleeping for seven days straight. It seems like life did not matter anymore. Sometimes I blamed myself for Hugh leaving and sometimes I blamed him. It was not until about a week later that Susannah came into my room and started laughing and talking about something funny at school. Well, as I listened, it just started to boil up in me and I suddenly exploded. I mean I was absolutely furious. I screamed, ‘How can you be happy when Hugh deserted us? You should be grieving. Do you even care, you worthless brat? Or are you a devil who has a mean enough soul not to care?’
I know dear friend, how cruel could I be? Well, poor little Susannah burst out crying and yelled back a stream of … well, let’s just say the words she said got me out of my trance.
‘Me? I am the worthless little brat? Well, you have not been helping out with the chores all week. You just sit around feeling sorry for yourself and you do not care one little bit! You know Hugh would be disappointed in you, Stephanie Aaron Bates!’ (That’s right, Aaron is my middle name. As bad as that may seem for me, poor Aaron’s middle name is – well – Stephanie!) Anyway, back to the story. Well, Father stormed up here, his face red as a beet and he added to the yelling by belting out, ‘Hush up a bit and act ladylike, people can hear you two screeching all the way to Timbuktu.’ (Well, isn’t that a funny expression dear friend? I wonder if there really is a Timbuktu?) ‘Now smarten up or I will use the strap on the both of you!’
Well, Susannah and I shut up after that! But after both Father and Susannah had left I just burst out crying and oh, dear friend – the crying did not stop! I was like that for weeks, always bursting into tears over the silliest of things, like when Mother had told me I missed a spot when I was cleaning the parlour window. After two weeks of crying, I finally ran out of tears and life returned to normal. Well almost. Susannah was mad at me for over two months! But she finally broke down one day on the way to school and just hugged me and said she was sorry. I hugged her too and felt better. Well, I should stop writing; Mother is calling me to bed!
Friday, October 19th, 1917
Same old routine. Woke up, said morning prayers with Mother, got dressed by the fireplace – all before school chores, then breakfast, school, after school chores, knitting group (working on socks for the troops overseas), piano lessons, getting ready for supper, bedtime prayers, then bed – which is right now dear friend. Good night.
Saturday, October 20th, 1917
So far, dear friend, I have not missed a day yet. Has it only been four days that I have started this diary? It feels like a lifetime! Oh, you would think the one holiday of the week would be restful, but oh no. Chores, chores, chores! Mother told us to pick the last of the raspberries for this year and we spent the whole day making jam and putting them in jars down in the cellar to use come winter. We would have done it earlier this year but we just did not have time with Mother always helping out at her Red Cross meetings-knitting socks, putting together care packets for the wounded soldiers and rolling bandages. Finally, around dinner, I got a break and decided to I walked up to Abby’s house to see if she wanted to come down to the creek with me. But she was too busy caring for the new baby and all. Oh, I have not spent one good decent minute with her at all since her mom had Rose. She has even taken days off school to help look after her little brothers and help with the house work. Her father left them when Abby was only a little girl. Well, I went to the creek myself and what do you know, Alexis was there from school. I do not know her that well, but since Abby has been so busy I have been hanging around Alexis a bit more. She is a nice girl. Maybe a bit too nice because whenever I complain about my brothers she always shakes her head and says, ‘Well Stephanie, at least you have brothers.’ Well … imagine yearning for a brother. Who would want such a thing? I guess being an only child she does not know all the work they are, but seriously – I mean she could have at least wanted sisters instead of brothers! Well, that is typical Alexis for you, always pointing out something you would not even dream about! Well, that is enough for tonight – with all that jam making today I am too tuckered to write more!
Sunday, October 21st, 1917
Halloween is coming up in just a few days and I have no clue what I am going to be. (I was considering staying home to help hand out bags of popcorn and candy apples but Mother urged me to go.)
‘Stephanie Aaron Bates, go and be a kid for goodness sake! Even though you are 12 now you are still a child. Go out and have some fun!’
Well, I decided to go, but still wondering what to dress up as, I took my problem to Emily Belle as she is the creative one on the family and always has good ideas. Emily Belle looked up at me and said in the oldest voice she could possibly muster, ‘Stephanie Bates, do you really think I am going to tell you?’
I stomped upstairs and went to bed, but just as I was drifting off to sleep I came up with the greatest idea possible! Thank goodness I have a twin. I sat up bolt straight and ran to the room Aaron and Charlie share. Well, Charlie was snoring away but luckily Aaron was up reading. He put his book down when I burst in the room.
‘Slow down Steph, what’s wrong?’
I took a deep breath and blurted out my idea. ‘For Halloween, I can dress up as you and you can dress up as me!’
Well, I thought that Aaron would be as excited as I was, but he just made a face and said, ‘Dress up as a girl … no way!’ Well, he must have seen my disappointment because be sighed and said, ‘Fine Steph, but only for you! If any of the boys from school see me though, you will be dead.’
I practically jumped on him, dear friend. He made a squeal, so I got off him real fast and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. Then Mother came in and crossed her arms.
‘What is all this fuss about you two? Do you not know that some people in this house are sleeping?’
Mother shook her head and managed to smile. ‘Okay, what is this about?’
Aaron and I looked at each other and I winked. ‘It is a secret Mother,’ I said slyly.
Mother smiled and said, ‘Okay now Stephanie, get back to bed this minute and Aaron, turn the lights out.’
That is one thing about Mother, she is always happy one moment and a grump the next! Well, I came back here and had to write this all down. Susannah is stirring beside me so I think I will stop now! Good night dear friend and sleep tight!
Monday, October 22nd, 1917
I got a letter from Hugh today. I will copy it here.
Hello my dearest Stephanie,
How is everything? Good I hope. Oh Stephanie, I hope I do not scare you with these further details, but I could not possibly tell Mother and Father as you know they would worry too much. But you dear Stephanie well you are as solid as a rock and I know I can dump all this stuff on you and you will not flinch one bit. We are in a place called ‘No Man’s Land’. I can understand why it is called that, for it is a place so inhuman it is just sick. Bodies are piled up as high as me and there is mud everywhere. There is always bombing and that makes the ground shake. My battalion moved up to the front line for about a week and I can tell you my heart was racing the whole time I was there. You were close enough to the enemy you could hear them sneeze. Those filthy Huns. There are giant rats everywhere and I itch all over due to the blasted lice. Sometimes the trenches are so full of mud that it can get up to your knees. This war seems to go on forever and ever. Will it ever end? Oh I hope so. I miss you dearly and the others too. I am glad I can have someone to tell the truth to. Please pray for me and keep up with your knitting. The socks you sent in the last package were heaven and feet are always cold. We are back behind enemy lines but 3 men in our group perished when we were at the front line. Oh dear God, keep me safe so I can get back home to you.
From your favourite brother,
P.S. I hope you like the chocolates I sent you. Happy Birthday!
I cried after I read that letter. What a horrible time war can be! It has been going on for three years. Will the war ever end?
Tuesday, October 23rd, 1917
Hello again, dear friend. Sorry I did not write much yesterday. I was all but too sad from Hugh’s letter. It is true that he does not tell Mother or Father the nasty parts of this war, but I think they find out anyway from the newspaper. I would not know because they never let me read it anymore. They say it is ‘too gruesome for a child of your age’. Well, after reading Hugh’s letter, I do not think that the paper could be all that worse.
Just a few minutes ago Father came and stormed in here and started shouting at Susannah and I. (Susannah was reading and I was writing in here.) Well, in case you do not know, when he had arrived home from the waterfront (where he works) he saw a light in our upstairs window. Oops! Oh, this blackout is driving me crazy! I remember before the War when the whole family would walk down to the waterfront and just gaze out at across the river at the lights of Dartmouth. The way they would shine across the water and add to the moonlight. Oh, it was just beautiful. And on cold nights when I could not sleep I used to gaze out the windows and look down the streets and see the lights in the windows. This stupid, STUPID war! Well, at least we do not have to black out the starlight. Like we ever could! At least we have them to gaze upon. Oh, but when we went down to the harbour, all the ferries glowed with lights. Stephanie, stop yourself – that will once again happen! That’s just me. Always thinking about how things were instead of what we have now. The other day I was complaining about the War never ending. Father threw down his paper and bellowed at me, ‘Young lady, are you a young man in the trenches fighting for his life? Are you a nurse helping wounded soldiers in France? Are you fighting for our country?’ That got me quiet. ‘Well, you have it pretty good where you are, so stop complaining and help set the table for supper!’ Then Father got a sad look in his eyes and he excused himself to his study. After he left, a cold silence fell across the room and everyone glared at me. Like it was my fault! I remember before the war when Father always used to joke around and laugh that loud laugh of his and he would not strap us nearly as much! Oh, how I just wish Hugh would come home. Oh, there I go off again. Stop it, Stephanie!
Wednesday, October 24th, 1917
I cannot believe it, dear friend, I just cannot believe it! When I was out taking Cassie for a walk with Aaron and the twins, we spotted Colleen flirting with some sailors down by the harbour! Well, lobsters and a kettle o’ fish! That is something I though Colleen would never do! Aaron and I just gasped and the twins giggled. Well, when we were not looking, Cassie got away and off her leash and raced down to Colleen, barking up a storm. She is such a sneaky thing. Anyway, what happened next was like out of a moving picture. Poor Cassie, being a big dog and all (Great Dane), knocked the sailor Colleen was flirting with right into the harbour. Well, poor fellow. Cassie jumped in right after him thinking he was drowning. Cassie tried and tried to save him but he just kept pushing away. We had pretty much given ourselves away by now because you could hear our laughter all the way to Timbuktu. Colleen glared at us and went to help the sailor out of the water. Well, he just brushed her off and walked away. Cassie (who was dripping wet) climbed out of the water and shook herself off onto Colleen! Well, her cheeks turned red and her eyes popped out! She stormed over to us and said through seething teeth, ‘If you tell Mother or Father about me being out (she’s supposed to come home after school straight away) I will tell them about you letting Cassie off her leash and knocking an innocent gentleman into the water!’
Boy oh boy, did she get us there! Ever since Cassie first came into our family, Father always stressed to never let that ‘enormous dog’ off his leash. Well, all I can say is we would be in deep water (no pun intended) if Father knew. Anyway, enough writing for tonight, it is bed time and I have not finished my home work!
Thursday, October 25th, 1917
At school today, our teacher, Mr. Mellows told us of an exhibition of War Trophies in town. He said it was our ‘patriotic’ duty to go for it would give us a better understanding of the War if we saw things firsthand and asked questions. At piano lessons today, Mrs. Lathy rapped my knuckles with her ruler. She says I have not been practicing my scales. Well, try practicing piano when your little brother and sister are running around the house screaming and playing some wretched war game. Well, speaking of which I think the twins are in bed so I can go downstairs and practice.
Much Later – 2am
I just had the most frightening dream and woke up screaming. Colleen, being the only one awake, rushed into my room to see what was going on. Well, when she came in and saw me sitting there bolt upright she came and sat down beside me. ‘Stephanie what’s wrong?’
I just burst out crying and Colleen hugged me. That is not like Colleen. Usually she keeps her space from me. Anyway, she asked what was wrong and through my tears I managed to tell her my dream.
I was in a trench and there were giant rats everywhere. I tried to run away, but the mud kept getting deeper and deeper. I could hear guns echoing in the distance. All of a sudden I saw Hugh. He was a few feet in front of me and calling out my name. I tried to take a step towards him, but I could not move. The mud kept getting deeper until it was up to my neck. I looked behind me and saw Huns chasing after me. I tried to move and screamed out for help – but I could not. Hugh’s image disappeared and the mud was now up to my nose. I could not breathe. I looked behind me and the Huns were getting closer. I looked in front of me and found myself staring into the eyes of a giant rat. I felt an icy cold hand on my back. I screamed and that is when I woke up.
By the time I finished telling her, I had both Colleen and me bawling. Susannah was awakened and she joined in. We sounded like three babies wailing for our mommy. Mother came in and sat with us and we all cried together. Then Mother made some hot cocoa and that put Colleen and Susannah right to sleep. But I could not get my eyes to close so I got up and decided to write in here. So here I am. I am starting to feel drowsy so I will stop now. Good night, dear friend.
Saturday, October 27th, 1917 – Early Morning
I am the only other one awake besides Father. I am in the parlour right now snuggled up in the big comfy armchair. I have a blanket around me. Oh, I almost forgot, yesterday Emily Belle did the cutest thing. Everyone else was in town but I stayed behind to look after Emily Belle because she had caught a cold, also to finish up on some homework. Well, I had finished my homework so I came down to the kitchen and decided to make Emily Belle and I hot cocoa. When I came into the kitchen I saw Emily Belle sneaking around.
‘Emily Belle, what are you doing?’
Well, she took one look at me and started to cry. I came over to her and hoisted her onto my lap as I sat down. I hugged her and assured her everything was all right and asked what was wrong. Well, she took one look at me with those sad eyes and said, ‘I knew if I got any sicker Mommy would give me Cod Liver Oil so I poured it out into the sink and filled it with tea since it has the same color.’
Well, that just got me to laughing and it started up Emily Belle too. The two of us laughed and laughed and laughed. After a while we calmed down and I told Emily Belle what a smart girl she was and told her this would be our little secret. Then I made us some hot cocoa. It felt good to laugh like that. I have not done it in a long time. Today is the day that the War Trophy exhibition is in town. At first, Mother was not sure if she would let Aaron, the twins and I go on a Sunday, but Aaron persuaded her by saying if we did not go Mr. Mellows would be mad. She finally gave in to him. Well, I hear someone else moving around upstairs so I better go before they get a peek at my diary.
Sunday, October 28th, 1917
Well, lobsters and a kettle o’ fish! I HATE Colleen. I cannot even believe we are RELATED!! Today when we got back from the War Trophies exhibition (I will l tell you about that later), we came in the door and saw Mother and Father glaring at us.
‘You let Cassie off the leash and she knocked a sailor into the water?’
Well, Aaron and I and the twins were dumbfounded.
‘How do you know that?’ Susannah asked nervously.
‘Colleen told us!’ My Mother shook her head as though she did not know us.
‘Well, we saw Colleen flirting with a sailor,’ Charlie piped up.
‘What you call flirting was Colleen helping the poor fellow out of the water!’
Well, the little sneak; turning the story around so she would look good and us bad! Susannah started to say something but Father gave her a look that would silence the whole world pretty much. He told us to get to our rooms so he and Mother could talk about our fate. I ran up here dragging Susannah with me. When we got into our room Susannah burst into tears. I told her if she wanted I would take most of the blame. She perked up a bit and started reading, so I am writing to you dear friend. I hear footsteps on the stairs; I better stop. I am so nervous I am sweating!
An Eternity Later
Father opened up the door and Susannah gripped my hand tight. He called Charlie and Aaron in and he yelled at the four of us for an hour. He said our actions were ‘irresponsible’ and that it caused an innocent gentleman to fall into the water. Then he marched each one of us down into the study one at a time. All I can say is ouch! Emily Belle was crying the whole time, but Colleen just looked smug. Well, my sentence includes having extra chores for a week, an earlier bedtime and I have to come right home after school, no friends. Well, I’ll be. Cassie getting let off her leash was an accident. Yeesh! Emily Belle is going around all scared of everyone. Well yawn, yawn, yawn! What a day. The War Trophies thing was downright boring. All the talk about war and everything – it is not worth recording.
Wednesday, October 31st, 1917
I have just not had time to write, dear and faithful friend. Mother has the twins, Aaron and I working to the bone. Whenever we thought we were done she had more for us to do. Air out the mattresses, do the laundry, beat the rug, dust the piano, set the supper dishes, clean the supper dishes, do the ironing, clean the parlour windows! The list went on and on! I finally got a break for myself today. Oh, I am so excited, for tonight is Halloween. The twins, Aaron, and I are going to dress up as each other. Did I tell you that the sailor we saw Colleen flirting with came over to the house to thank Colleen for saving him? Well, he did, and then he asked if Colleen would be allowed out for a stroll. Mother gave permission and Colleen went to get her wrap. When we were alone the ‘gentleman’ gave me a sneer. I was about to respond with a nasty comeback when Colleen walked into the room, took the sailors arm, his name is Harry, and they walked out the door together. Poor Emily Belle cannot go trick or treating for she still has a case of the sniffles!
Tonight went just swell. Everybody in the neighbourhood loved our costumes and could not tell which of us was which. Many said, ‘Okay, you are Stephanie. No ... wait. Is that Charlie?’
We got loads of popcorn, candy apples, caramel and hard candies and from Mrs. Lovely – taffy! I have a tummy ache from all the candy I ate. Mother made us take three big glasses of water when we got home. I shared some of my stuff with Emily Belle and she was happy about that. Oh, I almost forgot! At around 10:00pm when we were getting ready for bed, Colleen walked in the door with Harry. Well, I called Mother to the door and ran upstairs to spy. When Mother walked in she saw Colleen and Harry kissing! Well that blew her off. She had gone to get some hard candies for Harry but she just shoved him out the door yelling at him, ‘You disgusting brute. Get off my property!’ Since Colleen is ‘too much of a lady to get the strap’, Father lectured her for what seemed an eternity about the human body and how to control it around a man and all that other stuff. I have to say when Colleen came out of his study her face was flaming red. When she walked past, I giggled but Colleen just gave me a look and walked away. I think I will write a letter to Hugh about this week’s events. It certainly has been interesting. Now the only one left to get a lecture by Father is Emily Belle. I wonder if Mother will find the bottle of cod liver oil.
Thursday, November 1st, 1917
Well what a happy way to start off November. A letter from Hugh! I will paste it here!
I am thinking you will be getting this around Halloween. Happy trick or treating! In this letter, I have decided to tell you a story a British soldier told me. It may sound unbelievable, but he said it was true, so here goes. It happened on Christmas Eve, 1914, the first Christmas of the war. Some German troops lit candles on little Christmas trees and the British, French and Belgian troops started singing carols. The front lines were so close that the Germans heard them singing, ‘Silent Night’ and joined in. They sang other carols too, all in their own language. Then something wonderful happened. They threw down their weapons and came together in ‘No Man’s Land’. It was a Christmas miracle. The troops ate and drank together and even exchanged addresses. Here is the sad part. The generals got mad and ordered the troops to start shooting again. You may not hear from me till after Christmas, so I just wanted to tell you that, Stephanie. Never give up hope. If that REALLY did happen then this war will soon end
All my love,
Boy, did I cry buckets after that letter. I showed it to Alexis when we were down by the creek today and she just shook her head. ‘That’s beautiful,’ she said – and it is.
Friday, November 2nd, 1917
Lobsters and a kettle o’ fish! I am so excited right now! Okay, I am going to calm down and tell you the story. Well, today I was walking out of church and Alexis stopped me at the door. She asked me if I wanted to come down by the creek. Mother said yes, so I agreed. We walked down together and when we sat down on the bank, Alexis got all excited. She said that she and her family are going to Peggy’s Cove to visit some friends for a week. They are going to be in a cottage right by the water. Her mother said that since Alexis may be lonely she could invite a friend to come along. She said she had invited me! I practically fell into the creek because I was jumping up and down so much! I have always wanted to go to Peggy’s Cove and now I am actually going. Mother said I could go, so hallelujah!
Saturday, November 3rd, 1917
It was the first snowfall today! All of us kids ran outside and played around in the snow until we were practically freezing. Mother made us hot cocoa. In two days I will be at Peggy’s Cove with Alexis! I was able to catch a few minutes with Abby today and told her about Peggy’s Cove. Well, I thought she would be happy for me, but she just mumbled and said her mother wanted her home. She has been acting strange lately. Today our whole family went to the arena to see a moving picture, it was a news reel called, ‘Canadians Capture Vimy Ridge’, the big battle that had happened this past April. Mother and Father wanted to go to see if they could spot anyone they knew. They pointed out a few people I did not know but we did not see Hugh either – too bad. He fought at Vimy Ridge and amazingly came out without a scratch! At times it seems unfair that our Hugh survived when so many of our boys died. How does God choose which ones will be spared? How does He decide? I asked mother and she shook her head and said, ‘Only He can answer that.’
Sunday, November 4th, 1917
Tomorrow I will be at Peggy’s Cove with Alexis! I was just reading over my diary and realized how much I have written and how much I enjoy it! Did I mention that I am reading Little Women? Oh, it is such a good book, but I think maybe Beth is a little too good. I asked Mother who she thought I was most like and she looked at me for a minute, smiled and said, ‘Jo, definitely Jo.’
Well, I guess I am a little spunky but I do not jump fences for goodness sake! I would say I am like Meg and Amy in a way, with a bit of Jo mixed in. But not Beth! No, not me! Well, just at that moment Emily Belle walked in and asked, ‘Who am I?’
Mother smiled, picked her up and said, ‘You are my little Beth.’
She was certainly right about that!
Saturday, November 10th, 1917
I am so sorry, dear friend, I forgot you when I went to Peggy’s Cove. Oh, it was wonderful! It took us a day to get there but once we pulled up to the cottage I just knew it was worth it. Alexis’s mother’s friend had a few children who were our ages, Jenny who was eleven and Jasper who was thirteen. We all played fairly well together. Alexis and I shared a room and we played by the waterfront and ate out some nights. I am going to record what I did each day.
Sunday, November 4th, 1917
Got up early and Aaron and the twins walked me down to Alexis’s house. When we arrived, all piled onto her wagon and off we went! It took us almost the whole day to get there and I was tired from hardly getting any sleep the night before, being so excited and everything. We got to Mrs. Goll’s friends’ place, the Longinburrows and there were a lot of screams between the two ladies. We met their children. Then we all sat down for a supper of beef stew. After that the Longinburrows showed us to the place where we would be staying. It was just lovely, dear friend. It is on the Longinburrows’ property and they built it themselves. It sure is a cute little place with an outhouse, two bedrooms (Alexis and I sleep in the attic), a kitchen and a dining room complete with a parlour. Alexis and I were downright happy when it came to bedtime and were asleep in a matter of seconds after our heads hit the pillows.
Monday, November 5th, 1917
We awoke with the sun and ate a yummy breakfast. We met up with the Longinburrows and all headed for the beach. Oh dear friend, the ocean was just BEAUTIFUL!!! We had a grand time collecting seashells of all different shapes and sizes! We even walked a mile up the beach to explore. They have these HUGE piles of sand that Alexis said are called sand dunes. They sure were fun to climb on! After a fun-filled day we all packed up and headed into town for dinner. It was luxurious! The way the food was arranged on the plate. Oh, and I looked just grand! Mrs. Goll had curled my hair beforehand and boy, did I look like a princess. Another day well spent.
Tuesday, November 6th, 1917
Today, Jenny and Jasper took us fishing by the creek. Alexis was not as squeamish as I and she baited her own hook. Well, in my case, Jasper baited mine. Guess what, dear friend? Before, I thought fishing was boring and a waste of time, but not today! No siree. I even caught two small fish! I let them go of course, they fishes, just for fun. After that we pulled our hooks in and ate lunch. Then we walked into town and I bought everyone a souvenir with the money I had saved up. Eventually, Jasper and Jenny left so Alexis and I went into pretty much every shop on the block! I got a new hat for Colleen, some liquorice and hard candy for Emily Belle, some ribbon for Susannah, some horse figurines for Charlie, some little toy cars for Aaron, a new bible for Father and a pretty new overwrap for Mother. I also got myself a cheap doll. Alexis got one too and they are identical. We went out for supper AGAIN and Mrs. Longinburrow treated us all to ice cream! Mmm!!
Wednesday, November 7th, 1917
Today I got up early, ate breakfast and went on an all day hike. We got to a very pretty lookout that overlooked a little valley with a creek running through. We had lunch and hiked back. Supper was fish.
Thursday, November 8th, 1917
Today we went on a ferry ride across the cove. We had a guide and I learned a lot of new things. Mrs. Goll bought everyone lunch – fish and chips. Afterward, we played with our dolls and went to bed.
Friday, November 9th, 1917
On my second last day we packed up a picnic complete with ginger ale and cake! We hiked to a pretty spot up on a mountain and spent the day playing tag, reading and eating cake – yum!
Saturday, November 10th, 1917
Today, we woke up an hour before dawn and packed up our things and left just as the sun was coming up. We got back to Halifax around suppertime and I was greeted by a running mob. I was showered with kisses and hugs. I thanked Alexis a million times and then they drove away. We got in and had supper, then after we all gathered in the parlour and I told everyone about my trip. I gave out my presents and then Mother sent us to bed. And that is what I am going to do right now, dear friend. Good night.
Monday, November 12th, 1917
Sorry I missed yesterday. I was too tired and I slept all day. I am so excited, I can hardly speak! Guess what Mother just told us a few minutes ago! Okay, to keep the suspense I will start from the beginning.
Susannah and I were getting ready for school when Father appeared at the doorway and said in a stern voice, ‘Family meeting, and now.’
Susannah and I looked nervously at each other because family meetings are almost never a good thing. We followed Father down to the parlour and joined the rest of the family. I sat down in the comfy arm chair and Susannah sat on the floor. Father walked over to Mother and put his arm around her. The suspense was killing me. I wanted to yell out, ‘What the heck is it already? What did we do?’ but knew better. Finally, after what seemed centuries, Mother took a deep breath and Father smiled.
‘We are going to have a baby.’
At first everyone just stared and then all of a sudden Emily Belle said, ‘Does that mean I will be a big sister?’ (She has always wanted to become one.)
After that everyone started talking at once and hugging each other and laughing and crying. After that Father quieted us down and told us that the baby would be due around August. Imagine that – another sister or brother! We will be a family of ten! Imagine! And I already have three younger siblings. I also have three older ones, including Aaron. I was the middle child of the family, smack dab in the middle. Just then I had another thought and I blurted out, ’What if it is twins?’
Susannah must have been thinking the same thing because we said it at the same time. Emily Belle answered that one for us.
‘Then we will just have to sell one of them,’ she said sarcastically. What do you think? Then it will be twins and there is nothing more to it!” Then she pretended to act all mad.
‘Then we will just have to make room,’ Mother said.
I have not seen her as happy as this in years. So what do you think dear friend? Pretty exciting, eh? Well, I will be off to school to tell Abby and Alexis!!
Tuesday, November 13th, 1917
Oh dear friend, I must tell you that I am quivering with anger. Today, just as school let out, Abby came running up to me. I thought she was going to walk me home, since Alexis, who usually walks with me, was sick. Well, Abby marched right up to me and said the coldest meanest words ANYONE has EVER said to me. She said, ‘Stephanie, I do not want to be your friend anymore.’ Then she ran away and joined a group of girls from our class. Well, I just stood there until Susannah shook me out of my trance. She, Charlie and Aaron were all staring at me. I shook my head and ran home. Now I am writing this to you, dear friend, because I am too angry to do anything else. You know what? I do not need Abby – I have Alexis! So there Abby, who needs you anyway! She didn’t even seem excited for me when I told her about the baby!
Wednesday, November 14th, 1917
I was reading over what I wrote yesterday, and dear friend, I am really sorry I just dumped all my troubles on you. It is a wonder you listen! But now that I think about it, it is my fault that Abby does not want to be my friend anymore. I have realized that since Abby has been busy with the baby, I have been hanging out with Alexis far more often and I have not been paying the least of my mind to Abby. Well, I have to say sorry! Mother asked if something was wrong, but I just told her I had a slight headache and excused myself upstairs.
Thursday, November 15th, 1917
Sorry I did not write much yesterday. It is just that I do not feel like anything really matters anymore. I hurt all over and I yearn for Abby. With Alexis still sick and Abby ignoring me, nothing feels right.
Friday, November 16th, 1917
I feel like I could just fly into the clouds! I did dear friend – I talked to Abby. I told her I was sorry for the way I acted and that it was my entire fault. I also told her I really do like Alexis but nobody could replace her; she is my best friend after all! I also asked her if she was willing could we be friends again. She just broke into a huge smile and hugged me tight! I asked her how the baby was doing and she said quite swell. I also reminded her about Mother being pregnant and I can tell you that girl was almost as excited as I was this time around! I guess she forgot that I had even told her! We walked down to the creek together after school and had a picnic. Also, we went over to Alexis’s house together and asked her mom how she was coming along. Her mom told us she would be back to school on Monday. It feels so good to have my best friend back!
Saturday, November 17th, 1917
Nothing of much importance is happening, but I just realized that Christmas is no more than a month away! Oh, I remember last year when it was Christmas Eve the whole lot of us went out into the woods and Father chopped down the perfect Christmas tree! We brought it home on our sled and when we walked in the door Mother had hot cocoa waiting for us! I also remember the year before that. It was the year Hugh went off to War and we went around the town and knocked on every door and sang Christmas carols. I also love going to church on Christmas Eve and listening to the minister tell the story of how Jesus was born. And, how the whole congregation would sing Joy to the World and the church would be filled with the flickering glow of candles. And how we would hear the snow outside and the wind whistle and how we would all go to sleep and wake up in the morning and open presents. The memories, the memories!
Sunday, November 18th, 1917
Well, dear friend, it seems like the whole house has a cold! Everyone is going around sneezing and coughing. Pray to the Lord that I do not get too sick, or out will come the mustard plasters! Uh oh, I just heard a shriek from down stairs. I will be right back! Mother is calling me.
One hour later
Remember when Emily Belle filled the bottle of cod liver oil bottle with tea? Well, Mother found out and poor Emily Belle got yelled at! Mother called in Father and told him the situation. He looked down at Emily Belle and said, ‘Sweetie did you fill the bottle of cod liver oil with tea?’ Poor girl. She nodded and then much to our surprise, Father burst out laughing. As they say, ‘laughter is contagious’, and we all started laughing along, even Mother, who had looked like she could have strangled some one! Father picked Emily Belle up and gave her a big kiss. ‘Thank you Emily Belle, you have made my day’. And so it was, but Mother made Emily Belle and Father go into town and pick up a bottle. So Emily Belle’s plan had not worked – too bad.
Monday, November 19th, 1917
Everything is fine and dandy! I officially introduced Alexis to Abby and after school we all went down to the creek! We walked to my house and Mother said that they could stay for supper! So they did and we had a wonderful time! After that we walked up to Abby’s house and saw the baby. Oh, dear friend, she is so cute! She is just learning to sit up and she has the cutest little face – it could melt the devil! Then we went to Alexis’s house to drop her off and her mother said next weekend Abby and I could sleep over! We would sleep in her room and make supper. I am so glad I have such great friends. Charlie and Susannah are acting sneaky about something. I tried to find out but the little rug rats would not open their mouths.
Well, now I know what those two are up to. They sure are rug rats (no pun intended), but they swore me to secrecy. They are keeping a pet rat! Yes, a PET RAT. They found him in the cellar and it is now living in a cardboard box up in Charlie’s room. I tell you, Mother and Father ought to find out soon for Cassie keeps barking at their bedroom door. I am pretty sure I will tell Aaron, despite my promise not to tell anyone.
Tuesday, November 20th, 1917
After school today, when Susannah and I walked in the door, Mother was crying. My heart just about stopped. I started thinking about all the bad things that could have happened to Hugh. Luckily it was not Hugh. It was a poem Mother saw in the paper and it was so beautiful it made her cry. It made Susannah and I cry too after she read it to us. It sure is beautiful. I have it memorized already. I will jot it down here.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
between the crosses, row on row,
that mark our place; and in the sky
the larks, still bravely singing, fly
scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
the torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
we shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
We are having a concert at school in a few days and we each get to recite a poem of our choice. I think I will recite this one.
Wednesday, November 21st, 1917
Today was the most rotten day of my life! Mr. Mellows had to leave for a few minutes at school and he put me in charge. Well, everything was going great until this boy in my class, named Brian, started chanting, ‘Stephanie loves Bobby!’ I said that I thought no such thing and that he had best be quiet or I would give him the strap. Well, just at that moment Mr. Mellows walked in.
‘You would give who the strap, Ms. Bates?’
I looked down at my shoes.
I slowly walked to the front and Mr. Mellows brought out a ruler. ’Hold out your hand, Ms. Bates.’
My hands were shaking and sweating so much that when he brought the ruler down it hit my wrist instead of my hand. The whole class laughed. Well boy, did Mr. Mellows make up for it! He even slapped my face a few times! After that, he said something that made me turn red with shame. ‘I would never have expected this from you, Ms. Bates. No, I never would have, acting so rude to a young gentleman.’
Well the anger sure was boiling up and I turned and shouted out in a shaky voice, ‘Brian started it, really, it is not as it looks.’
Well, let us just say I had to write lines after school and take a note home to Mother and Father talking about my behaviour. Boy, do I hate Brian. I hid the note away but I think Susannah might tell on me so I better show my parents the note first.
Well, I did it. I showed Mother the note and she went and told Father. Father asked me to come into the study and Mother came out as I walked in. Father told me to sit down and he just stared at me. I burst into tears right then and there and Father hugged me and asked me to tell him the story. So I did, dear friend, word for word. Father told me I had no right to talk to the teacher that way, but what Brian did was wrong and he understands why I acted that way. He told me that it was up to me if I wanted to say sorry or not and he would drop it right then and there. Well, say sorry? That is something to think about.
Dear friend, I just cannot get to sleep. I wish you were here right now to talk to me and help me make a decision about whether I should apologize or not. If I do not apologize then Mr. Mellows might give me bad grades for the rest of the year. But if I do apologize, then he could hate me even more because he will think I am a suck up! Decisions, decisions!
Thursday, November 22nd, 1917
Well, I did it. I said sorry. Mr. Mellows smiled after I had said my speech. He smiled, dear friend. Smiled! He has never smiled before – ever, for as long as I have known him!
Friday, November 23rd, 1917
We have a class project – fill a Christmas stocking. The Red Cross is collecting thousands of stockings from all over Canada and sending them to the wounded Canadians who have to spend Christmas in hospitals in England and France. Halifax has to contribute one thousand stockings. The stocking is huge, but we can do it! After supper, Aaron, the twins and I collected a few things from our neighbours. Small things like candies, soap, a comb, some socks and such.
I am so excited because tomorrow is the sleepover with Abby and Alexis! Oh, I just remembered, Aaron found out about the rat. I started to tell him and he said that he had found out earlier that day when he was looking for something under the bed and came up with a rat. He told Charlie to get rid of that thing or else he would tell. Charlie said he would, but being stubborn Charlie, I do not think he will.
Sunday, November 25th, 1917
Well, lobsters and o’ kettle of fish! That sleepover was the best time I have ever had. I will tell you about it. Abby walked over to my house around noon and we walked together to Alexis’s house. She told us to all bring our dolls and we played house. We were all mothers who had children and we would come together every week and make up stories about our past. It was such fun telling about the past. I said that when I was young, my husband and I sailed around the world, but one cold night a huge wave came over the ship and he was flung into the sea. What fun we had! Then we made sandwiches and went to the creek for a picnic. Afterward, we all went for a walk into town and called on a bunch of friends from school. We all went to the pond and skated on the ice. We skated and skated and skated until every bone in my body ached. We ran home and got undressed and into our nightgowns by the wood stove. Then we went up to Alexis’s room to get ready for bed, Alexis in her bed and Abby and I on the floor with blankets. But did we go to sleep? Never! I tell you we talked and talked and talked. When the grandfather clock struck twelve we all crept down for a midnight snack of peanut butter cookies. Mmm mmm mmm! Then we went back upstairs and tried to sleep, but we just could not, so we got out our dolls and continued our game. I think we fell asleep just as the sun was coming up. Alexis’s mother let us sleep until the last minute. She woke us up just in time to get to church. After the service we went home with each of our families. I was so tired, I just went to sleep. Mother woke me up for supper and then I had some chores to do. Now it is time for bed and I sure am tuckered. Goodnight dear friend! Sleep tight.
Monday, November 26th, 1917
The funniest thing happened just seconds ago. I can still hear Mother scolding Charlie and Susannah. I was doing my homework in my room and Susannah was reading when Charlie ran in. He looked frantic, his eyes wild and searching the floor. Susannah put down her book.
‘Charlie what’s wrong?’
Charlie mouthed the words, but I knew and I jumped up almost instantly.
‘The rat escaped? How?’
‘He must have chewed through the box!’
Susannah and I started to help him search the floor. Aaron ran upstairs and said the rat was not in the parlour or the dining room.
’What about the kitchen?’ Susannah asked.
Just then we got our answer. A scream was sounded from the kitchen, a high-pitched, startled scream. All four of us ran downstairs and there was Mother, standing up on a chair yelling and screaming. The poor little rat was scurrying around under the chair. Charlie and Susannah ran over to him and picked him up. Father stormed in and saw Mother standing on the chair and Charlie holding the rat. Poor Charlie had to let the rat outside and then Father marched him and Susannah into the study for the strap. You can still hear poor Susannah wailing! I guess I am being a little bit mean. They were just trying to save a poor rat after all – were they not? Oh, Susannah just walked in the door now and she is bawling her eyes out. Bye!
After Calming Susannah Down
Well, I should not have thought that it was the least bit funny! Susannah started wailing when I asked if she was okay. I sat her on the bed. I told her Father loved her and that she did something wrong, so she got the strap and that there was nothing we could do about it. That was just the way Father was. Well, she calmed down a bit and said something that made my eyes water. ‘Stephanie don’t you see what this war does to people? It made Father into a bad man. It makes him angry and sad and scary. This war is killing Hugh. Stephanie, what is it like in a world with no war? Have you ever wondered? I always pray that this war will end – but it never does. What if we do not win Stephanie? What if we lose? Will the Huns kill us, or will God save us? Is there even a God? Sometimes when I read the names of the dead in the newspaper, I wonder if there is a God. I wonder if God wants Hugh to die.’
She paused and then said, ‘I wonder if Father even loves me anymore.’
Mother must have heard that speech because when I came down to get Susannah a glass of water, Mother gathered me in her arms and we cried together. Now I am starting to wonder. What if we do lose? What if Hugh dies? Does Father love us anymore? Oh stop it, Stephanie. This horrible, horrible war!
Tuesday, November 27th, 1917 - (This entry is marked secret. Only for the eyes of Stephanie Aaron Bates)
A letter from Hugh today! I will paste it here.
I just wanted to say thank you for the socks that you have been sending. The other soldiers in my battalion always envy my socks. They ask if you could knit them some. They are probably kidding, but could you slip in a few extra? Stephanie, I have something to confess. I have a lover. Yes, I am in a relationship. Her name is Anna and she is a nurse. Stephanie, I really love her and now she has asked me to marry her! I know that it is very unusual for the girl to do it, but I said yes and now I am wondering if I am making a mistake. What would you do Stephanie? Would you send me a letter telling me what to do? Please? I know you will know. How is everyone doing? Good I hope. Has Colleen been flirting with sailors? How much has Emily Belle grown? I heard Mother is pregnant! How are she and Father? Are the twins up to anything mischievous? Are you and Aaron getting along? How is Abby? Are you giving Cassie a lot of exercise? Give her a pat for me. Oh, so many questions. I love you Steph and hope to be home as soon as I can.
P.S. Please do not tell Mother and Father just yet, about Anna.
A lover? He is going to get married? What would I do? I do not know Hugh! I am going to have to do a lot of thinking then write him a VERY long letter, lecturing him first and then saying I love him. But does he really have to put the future of his relationship on my shoulders? Oh Hugh, you do not know how much of a worrier I have become!
Wednesday, November 28th, 1917
Hello, dear and faithful friend. It sure has been a while since I started this diary. I was just reading it over and Susannah asked if she could read it. I said that this was my personal diary and if she wanted to she could bother somebody else. Now, I am starting to feel bad. I mean she was, after all, just admiring her big sister. But would she tell Charlie, and would everyone now want to read my diary? I do not think so. I mean, she is very good at keeping secrets. She kept Emily Belle’s secret about the cod liver oil after I told her and Mother asked if she had anything to do with it and she said no. But would she tell her friends at school? No, I must not worry – this is Susannah we are talking about here – VERY annoying, but cute and mature. But if I let her read this diary, have I said anything nasty about her? Well, there is only one way to find out.
Earlier today I was talking to Mother about the War and said I felt so helpless just sitting on my butt doing nothing while Hugh is fighting out in the trenches! She said I could come to her Red Cross meeting with her on Friday and help roll some bandages or make care packets for the soldiers. Then she knelt down so we were eye to eye and said in a very quiet, serious voice, ‘The best you can do, Stephanie, is to keep praying and writing letters to Hugh. I know you are his favourite.’ Well, clearly nothing gets by Mother’s eyes!
Thursday, November 29th, 1917
I did it dear friend! I let Susannah read my diary! Right after I put it away last night, Susannah came into the room and eyed me enviously. I handed her my diary and winked at her. I did tell her not to read the entries marked secret though. I do not want her finding out that Hugh has proposed and then she go and tell Mother! Well, lo and behold! She read straight through supper all the way to bed time! When I was getting on my nightgown she came up to me and hugged me and said, ‘Stephanie, the way you put words on a page is just a wonder! Keep writing and you ought to show that to Mother.’ Well, I really did not think it was that good, but I may consider showing Mother.
Did I tell you that Aaron and I are in a fight? Oh dear friend, I am MISERABLE. Try having your SOUL MATE ignore you! I feel terrible, but whenever I try to tell him I am sorry he just gets up and leaves. Here is what happened. After school today, Abby, Alexis and I were all going to go into town to go shopping. Well, I was just about to leave to meet them at Abby’s house when Aaron confronted me and said, ‘But Stephanie, you promised to go fishing with me since all my friends have the flu.’ I admit that it had just flown out of my mind! I apologized and thought nothing of it. Well, at supper tonight I asked Aaron if he would mind getting me a glass of water. He looked at me and said, ‘Well sure, Stephanie.’ He got it for me and before you know it he had splashed the water all over me! I started yelling at him and I pushed him into the beef stew. He got beef all over his face. Well, Father stood up, yanked us apart and each gave us a slap on the cheek.
‘Behave or go upstairs!’ he yelled.
Well, ‘smart’ old Aaron stood up and just waltzed out of the room and up the stairs. Father then crossed his arms and looked at me.
‘Stephanie, go upstairs with your brother and when you think you are old enough to act appropriately you may join us.’
Well, I stomped upstairs and we have not spoken to each other since then. I think I will say sorry again. Good night dear friend.
Friday, November 30th, 1917
I went with Mother to her Red Cross meeting tonight and boy oh boy! Lobsters and a kettle o’ fish, that was tiring. We rolled bandages, made up care packets for the soldiers, wrote letters to the ones who have no relatives, then we knitted socks, the women chatted and FINALLY we went home! I am too tuckered to write much but I must tell you, Aaron is so mean! He has pretty much Colleen, Emily Belle, Susannah and Charlie against me! NO ONE will talk to me and when I told Susannah how pretty she looked in her Sunday best, she just sniffed and walked away. I better say sorry before everything gets worse!
After Saying Sorry
Well, lo and behold … I said sorry. I went to find everyone and I peeked in the door to Colleen’s room. There were ALL my siblings crowded around a paper Colleen was holding up entitled, How to make Stephanie’s Life Miserable. I took a deep breath and walked in. Colleen turned to look at me and scrunched up her face.
‘What do you want?’
My other siblings glared back at me. I made my way to the front of the room and stood before their glaring faces. I took a deep breath and out came my apology. I told Aaron how sorry I was about forgetting to go fishing with him and how I just blew him off like that. I said I was sorry for pushing him into the beef stew. I told him life was miserable when we are not talking, and I tell you, by the end of it, I was blubbering like a baby. Aaron walked up to me and hugged me and said he was really sorry to turn everyone against me and then ordered everyone to hug me. We got together in a big group hug and I tell you, at that moment, when I was surrounded by all the people that I love, I felt a new spark inside of me glow and become stronger. I stood up on a chair and smiled and said, ‘I know Hugh is not here today, but I wish he were with us and I love him and hope he is okay!’
Everyone then sat in a circle and told funny stories about Hugh. I had so much fun! It is very rare that the six of us get together.
Did you like how I kind of made that like a story? I realize I do that a lot! Well, good night dear friend! Love you, Hugh!
Saturday, December 1st, 1917
I am almost too sick to write this, but I will keep going for you, dear friend. Let me just say that last night did not go too well. I was up all night with a headache and a sick tummy. I threw up six times and felt miserable. Today, Mother got everyone right to work making certain that someone was responsible for giving me cod liver oil and mustard plasters. Even still, I do not feel one bit better. That is all I can write, dear friend.
Sunday, December 2nd, 1917
Well, what do you know? Emily Belle has gotten it too! We are both side-by-side in bed coughing up a storm together. Susannah moved into Colleen’s room and Emily Belle moved into our room. I feel slightly better but am still not feeling well enough to write.
Monday, December 3rd, 1917
Last night, right after I put my diary away, Mother came in to see how I was doing (Emily Belle was asleep). I did not want to talk much, but Mother told me that Susannah had told her that she had read my diary and thought it was amazing. Well, before Mother could say anything more, I handed her my diary and said, ‘Enjoy, but please do not read the entry I marked as secret!’
This morning, when I was hobbling around, Mother came in with diary in hand and tears in her eyes. She gave me a hug.
‘Stephanie Aaron Bates, you sure do have a talent. Keep it up.’
Then she told me of how she had shared little bits with Father and they laughed and cried and just enjoyed every minute of it. I am glad I can make them happy.
Tuesday, December 4th, 1917
I feel so useless sitting on my butt and not going to school, helping with chores or anything! I hate to think about all the homework I have to catch up on. Mr. Mellows does not pity the sick, that is for sure. I did get up and walk around a bit today and Emily Belle feels a little better too. Sorry I am not writing much these days. Being sick takes away all the fun.
Wednesday, December 5th, 1917
I cannot write but I have to. It is the only thing that will keep me going. It is morning time, already 10am, but no one has had breakfast. The whole house is in gloom. Dear friend, my brother Hugh has been … I cannot write it… I cannot.
Maybe writing about it will help ease the sadness. We got a telegram from the war office today and it said … the tears are coming. I am trying, but I cannot write anymore.
Dear friend, you are probably dying of suspense. I am so sorry, but Mother made us all hot cocoa and everyone feels a bit better. Let me try this again. Okay, so we got a telegram from the war office today that said, ‘Hugh Bates, missing in action’. Yes, dear friend. What has happened to my Hugh? Why has God taken him away? Where are you Hugh? Are you up in Heaven safe and sound or are you lying somewhere in No Man’s Land calling out my name? I need you Hugh! Please, I need you! You promised you would never leave me. You promised! Why is there this terrible war? Why are our boys dying? Why is God not making us win? WHY? WHY? WHY?
I do not think I will ever sleep again. Susannah is back in our room but Emily Belle wanted to stay with us too. So I am in the middle of my two sleeping sisters. I feel like throwing this diary at the wall. I wish you were here, dear friend. I wish you could hug me and tell me everything will be all right … I wish.
Thursday, December 6th, 1917
I am the only one awake right now, besides Father who is reading the paper. The sun has not even risen fully in the sky yet. Well, dear friend, I did sleep. I actually fell asleep when my head hit my pillow, because all I remember is closing my eyes and ‘BAM’, I woke up and heard Father downstairs. I am snuggled up in the big comfy chair in the parlour and am under a wool blanket. The house is still freezing because the wood stove has not fully heated it up yet. I think I hear Emily Belle coughing upstairs. Time to pull out the COD LIVER OIL …
I am in a hospital in the corridor right now. Emily Belle is asleep beside me. How did we get here? What happened? I do not think I can live much longer. The corridor is jammed with people. Blood is all over the floor. People are crying and screaming. Glass is everywhere. My hand hurts. My head hurts. I do not want to think about what is happening. This is all a bad nightmare and I will wake up any second, but it does not go away. How did my diary get in my pocket? Where is Aaron? What is happening? I know what has happened. The war has come to Canada. The Germans have attacked. This is No Man’s Land.
Emily Belle has woken up and she keeps crying that she cannot see. She asks if someone can turn on the light. She is crying and clutching my hand. People keep coming in and out calling out names, looking for loved ones. Every once in a while I hear a happy cry as someone spots a familiar face. Another little girl is on the other side of me. She is clutching a doll, calling out for her mommy. I wish Father would come.
Some people are lying on stretchers and soldiers are sorting through them. Emily Belle whimpers whenever I let go of her. She just grasps for me again. I do not think she will ever let go. A soldier came by and asked for our names. All I could tell him was Emily Belle needs a doctor. The soldier put a hand on my shoulder and said that they are doing the best they can.
I am in a ward now on a bed. The little girl who was beside me is lying at my feet, sleeping. Why has this happened? I am crying endless tears. Some nurse has taken Emily Belle away. She screamed and cried and called for me, but all I could do was sit and stare. She keeps her eyes closed. She probably was blinded from the glass. That is what one of the nurses said. She says I am lucky I can still see. But how can I be lucky?
Thursday, December 6th, 1917 – Ten pm
A nurse has told me that my sister is in another room where all the people with eye injuries are kept. She says it is still December sixth, but how can all of this have happened today? It feels centuries long. I know why Father has not come. I just know, but I cannot think. Is he dead? Is Mother or the twins or Colleen or Aaron alive? I know now that two ships exploded in the harbour. The Germans did not attack. The War is still far away. The nurse said I need sleep, but I have to wait just in case someone comes looking for me. But I can hardly keep my eyes open …
Friday, December 7th, 1917
It was an explosion of two ships in the harbour. One was called the Mont Blanc, which was full of explosives and hit another ship called the Imo. All the glass shattered. There are no windows in the hospital, just blankets to keep the wind from coming in. The wind is howling outside. One of the nurses, who told me her name was Carrie, said that the people who were trapped in the rubble and cannot get out have probably frozen to death. I got stitches put in the side of my head and in my hand. It should have hurt but it did not. Nothing hurts anymore – I just feel numb all over. I was able to get up and walk around a bit today. The girl with the doll is gone. I do not know where and I am afraid to ask. Emily Belle … I asked about her, but the nurses said I could not see her. When she was well enough they would bring her to me.
A nurse just cut off my hair; it was matted with soot and bits of glass. She also ripped off my clothes and gave me a nightgown. I hope they do not have to cut off Emily Belle’s hair – it is so long and beautiful. Some ladies from the relief committee came to see me. They asked about relatives, but I just shook my head. I did not want to think. They gave me a dress, some boots and a winter coat. They told me to keep up hope and they hugged me. Even though they were strangers it felt good to know that someone cared. I know I should write down what had happened with the explosion, so I will try.
Mother and Father had left for work and the twins and Colleen and Aaron for school. Emily Belle and I were still home with a cough and a slight fever. Emily Belle was sitting at the table and I was making us some cocoa when we heard a commotion outside. We ran to the window to watch but I said we would get a better view outside. So we ran towards the harbour and in the sky I could see thick, black smoke. I passed some children from school and they said a ship at the harbour was on fire. Well, when the ship came into view we just stood and stared. It was quite a sight to see. The fire was so big and the way the smoke was billowing up into the sky – it was amazing. Emily Belle asked if we could go closer. I finally gave in and when we were about half way there... I am sorry, I cannot go on … I just cannot.
I will try again. The explosion happened so fast. There was no warning. There was a white flash that shot up from the ship and I felt a tremendous blast of air. A whirlwind swept me up and I landed on the ground a few feet away. A loud bang blasted and I was thrown backward. I landed on my head and hand--hard. There were bodies lying everywhere. No one spoke, nothing moved and then the screaming began. I thought it was the end of the world. Then a black, oily, sooty rain started to fall. It soaked through my dress and stuck to me. I looked down and noticed my hat, scarf, gloves and coat were gone – blown off by the blast. Everything seemed unfamiliar. Whole houses were flattened, trees uprooted, a trolley off its tracks. My only thought was to find Emily Belle. I screamed and called for her. Finally, I ran back to the spot where we were standing when the explosion happened. There she was screaming and crying, calling out my name. When I ran to her side and picked her up, she grasped me and kept saying, ‘Stephanie. Stephanie, help me, please, I cannot see!’ Then she handed me my diary. I asked her where she found this and she just clutched me crying. We started walking toward home. We passed people with burnt and blackened faces, some without an arm or a leg. I saw horrors I never thought I would. A headless body, a face split in two, a person still alive but on fire and hanging from a telephone wire, dead horses, dogs, little children. I will not go on.
We made it back to our house and it was completely flattened. Suddenly, I saw some soldiers coming and I called for help. I guess they did not hear me because they ran on past. There was fire everywhere. I dragged Emily Belle back onto the street and suddenly someone started yelling, ‘The Wellington Barracks! The magazine’s on fire and it is going to explode! Leave the area, go to open spaces!’
People who could hardly walk had to drag themselves or lean on others. I carried Emily Belle in the direction of the people. The streets were crowded with horse-drawn wagons, fire trucks and motor cars, anything that could fit the injured or the dead in it. People were huddled around fires, standing in groups, praying and calling out names. After awhile, soldiers came around to tell us that the magazine was no longer in danger of exploding and that we should head to the hospitals. A group of soldiers came around and one of them told me that he was taking me and my sister to Camp Hill Hospital. They picked us up and put us in their motor car. I must have fainted because the next thing I knew, we were in the hospital on the floor. That is my story. I have to stop now as I am thinking about the rest of my family.
Saturday, December 8th, 1917
So it is true. I prayed and I hoped. I really did dear friend. I thought that maybe, somehow they would have... I cannot go on dear friend.
I will tell you dear friend as there is no point in hiding from the truth. I just wish it were different.
Abby’s mom came today. She told me that Abby was still alive, but two of her little brothers were not. She, the baby, and little Timmy had all survived. Mrs. Rubbar had said that she had called on some friends and when she heard the blast she rushed home to find that Abby, Timmy and baby Rose under a bed, all safe and sound. Alex and John had gone off to the harbour to see the ship and had not come back yet. She said that she had visited the morgue and had identified Mother, Father and Colleen’s bodies. I cried for awhile after she told me that. Then I asked about the twins and Aaron. She said she did not know but gave me a copy of the paper and told me to read through the lists of the injured and known dead. She told me she had visited Emily Belle and she said that she was fine but would not tell me what was wrong with her. She said that after I left the hospital, I could stay with them. I thanked her and started to read the list. I got as far as Brian Mcfurgy and had to stop. Poor boy, I did not like him but no one deserves to die. In a weak voice, I told her about Hugh and she said she would keep her ears open for me. I cannot believe I am an orphan. I prayed that Hugh was all right so he could take care of me and Emily Belle. I may be the only one left who can.
I cannot sleep. I keep thinking about Mother, Father and Colleen. I wish that they had lived, but what is the point in wishing when nothing can be redone? I wish my life was a story where I could go back and rewrite over the bad things, making them good. But it is not, this is reality, harsh and cruel reality.
Sunday, December 9th, 1917
I find it difficult to believe it has only been three days since the explosion. I have good news. It has cheered me up a little bit since last night. Alexis is alive. I read her name and her parent’s names in the injured list. The nurse, Carrie, came by last night and took my diary away from me telling me I needed to get some sleep. She gave it back in the morning saying how sorry she was and apologized.
‘I know it gives you comfort, I am sorry.’
I really did not mind. I hate this diary! I wish I could write about a normal life, but I cannot. But I have to keep writing. My diary is all I have. I promise that if Hugh is still alive out there then I must write down what happened, for him. He deserves to know.
I got a letter from Anna today. Remember the girl Hugh was falling for? She told me that she is taking care of Hugh in a hospital right now. More good news, it as if God is trying to cheer me up. I will admit, it is partially working. There was a big, bloody battle and after the shooting stopped, Anna and a team of other nurses and soldiers went onto the battlefield to look for the wounded and the dead. They were about to leave when they heard a moan way of to the side, and what do you know, there was Hugh. He was alive, but just barely. I will copy some of her letter down here.
We found your Hugh, alive! He was falling in and out of consciousness. We rushed him to the hospital and prayed and hoped that he would be okay. The next morning, as I was sitting by his bedside, he lifted his hand and whispered, ‘Anna?’ I hugged him so much! Now I know this has been a bit of a shock to you because you never knew I existed until now, but please send him some letters. He keeps asking for them.
It was originally written to Mother and Father and sent to our house, but it was redirected and they were able to get it to me. Oh no, I just had a thought. This letter was dated November fifteenth. Hugh does not know about the explosion. He has no idea that they are gone. I have to tell him. It is up to me. I will tell him towards the end of the letter, keeping things light and not too descriptive. But how can I bring myself to tell him? I do not think I can, but I have to.
Monday, December 10th, 1917
Every day seems to drag by so slowly. I keep thinking about how things used to be. I remember how, at around this time of year, our whole family would be getting ready for Christmas and Emily Belle would fly around the house singing Christmas carols at the top of her lungs – Joy to the World, Away in a Manger, Silent Night and many more. I am always thinking of where Aaron or the twins are. I cry myself to sleep every night and have terrible dreams. Thank God that Hugh was found and for that, I am happy. Carrie told me that Hugh may be able to come home on Compassionate Leave since I am an orphan and he is the only adult figure in my life. I have to stop now, I am getting tired.
A reporter just came in and asked us for information. This time I was able to tell him about Aaron and the twins and he said he would put a notice in the paper. I hope they are still alive. I do not think I could bare living without them. I was reading the beginning of my diary and realized how much I took for granted in my life, even life itself. I will never do that again because you never know when life will turn against you and you will lose everything.
Tuesday, December 11th, 1917
The doctor checked my hand and head again today and said I would be able to leave the hospital in a few days. I asked about Emily Belle and he said he would see. I might be able to visit her, but the doctor did not sound too confidant. I keep asking what is wrong with her but the doctors will not tell me. Is she not going to make it? Is she blind? Did she get an arm or leg amputated? I wish I could go to her. She must be scared and confused and aching to see me. You know what? I think I will go see her tonight, after dark, when everyone else is asleep. I will give her my diary to keep with her so she can always know I am close by. I will write on some loose pages until we leave this horrible place and get my diary back from her. I know that a hospital should not be horrible, but it is. It has the smell of death and the taste of blood hangs in the air. I always see new patients being wheeled in every day. Some die. It is horrible because the man who was talking yesterday may be dead today. It is just so sudden. You go to sleep and when you wake in the morning you see another dead face staring back at you. How do you know you are not going to be next?
Abby came today! She just walked right up to me and gave me the biggest hug in the world. We sat and talked and laughed and cried together. Abby told me her story of the explosion and I told her mine. I will write down Abby’s story here.
Abby woke up in the morning and realized her mother had left for Sackville to call on some old friends. She woke up John, Alex and Timmy and got them ready for school and fed them breakfast. All of a sudden they heard shouting and a commotion outside. Alex and John ran out the door before Abby could stop them. That was the last time she ever saw them again. A few minutes later they heard a humongous blast. All the glass shattered and threw Abby and little Timmy off their feet. Baby Rose started crying from her crib, so Abby took little Timmy by the hand and they all got under the bed and hid. They feared that the Germans had attacked. After a while they heard running footsteps and someone kicked the door down. They called out Abby’s, Timmy’s and baby Rose’s names. Abby recognized her mother’s voice at once and cried out to her. Well, her mother pulled them out of the house and said that fire was spreading. Then they went around and called out John and Alex’s names until their voices were hoarse. With hope that they had already gone home, they set out for home themselves. Luckily their house did not catch fire and since they lived far away from the explosion, the only damage was shattered windows. Two nights after, they all went to the morgue and found John’s and Alex’s bodies.
Abby cried at that part. At least I still have hope that my siblings could still be alive. Each day the newspaper adds the names of people to the lists of known dead and injured. Hopefully I will find them. I miss them terribly.
I did it! I saw Emily Belle. I am right furious with this blasted hospital. Once I shook her awake and said it was me she started crying and crying, clinging to me, pleading me to not go. ^I found out that she can no longer see. Her eyes had to be removed because they were full of glass and splinters. She has two ugly bandages covering her face where her eyes used to be. Well dear friend, I held her and we cried together quietly. She asked me where Mother was and all I could say was that she was in a better place. It broke my heart when I had to leave. I told Emily Belle that I would be back very soon and stood up. She held out her hands and waved them in the air crying and saying, ‘Please Stephanie, do not leave me, please.’ I reached over, hugged her and handed her my diary. She asked what it was and I told her it was my diary and she could keep it for now. Well, she threw it on the floor and cried out, ‘But why can you not stay?’ I promised her I would come back and I picked up my diary and left her crying. What a horrible sister I am, but to see her in so much pain makes me weep buckets. I must stop as I am crying too hard.
Wednesday, December 12th, 1917
I am down in the dumps all the time now. I need my family by my side. I do have some good news though. I will be leaving the hospital tomorrow with Emily Belle! The doctor said we can go. I just cannot believe that Emily Belle is blind. It does not seem real. I asked the doctor today if I could visit her and he said yes. So I did, and boy oh boy, when Emily Belle heard my voice she clapped her hands and hugged me. I asked her if she remembered Abby and she said she did. So I told her that we would be leaving the hospital tomorrow and going to Abby’s place. Emily Belle did not show it, but I am sure she was as happy as a clam. I led her around the hospital a bit. At first she was hesitant, but I told her that I would not let go of her and after awhile I think she was even having fun. I wish I could bounce back as quickly as Emily Belle, but she does keep my spirits up. When it was time to go I said the time for us to be back together was only a sleep away. She hugged me and said she loved me. I love Emily Belle.
I thought that I would never smile again, but I just keep smiling and smiling! Emily Belle was moved into my bed at my request and she is sleeping beside me. I still have tears of joy running down my face! I kept hugging and hugging Emily Belle and telling her I love her! I even took Emily Belle out to the garden for some fresh air. Dear friend, you are probably dying of suspense, so I will start from the beginning.
Okay, so right after I had stopped writing in my diary, Carrie came in with a big smile on her face. I asked her what was going on and she smiled and said the words I had been longing for. ‘Your brothers and sister are in Queen Victoria Hospital in Truro. The hospital telephoned the Information Bureau looking for a Stephanie, Emily Belle and Colleen Bates. They are being brought to the hospital by train in a week!’
I keep jumping for joy! I cannot believe that they are alive! Here is the worrisome part though. Charlie is not in good condition, so he is going to have to stay at this hospital until he recovers. I just had a thought – Abby’s mom is not able to take care of five kids! What am I going to do? I cannot put that burden on her – I just cannot. She already has three at home. She will not want five more joining her. What will I do? Come on Stephanie, think!
Usually, I would title this part, ‘bedtime’, but there really is no bedtime anymore, so ‘later’ seems more suitable. I took my problems to Carrie and she said she would arrange for a couple to take us in. She says that people who have not been directly affected by the explosion are willing to take in orphans until they can be placed in an orphanage. She says it will be like a foster home. She is not certain if she can get all five of us together, but she will try. Thank God for Carrie! Seven more days!
Thursday, December 13th, 1917
A week has gone by since the explosion, but I am in good spirits with Hugh being found and the twins and Aaron still alive. We are leaving the hospital today and are going to the Halley’s. They are an adult couple that will be happy to take in Emily Belle and I. We do not know about Aaron and the twins, but I pray that we can be together. It has been almost too long since I have seen them. Emily Belle keeps smiling too. But whenever I look at the bandages that cover her face, an aching pain spreads all over. Imagine a world where everything is black like night. But my Emily Belle keeps going and going and living life. I sent my letter out to Hugh this morning. I kept things light and made it funny. I just kept writing pages and pages asking questions and ensuring him that I am fine and everything is going well. Carrie came up to me and asked how the letter was going, I smiled and said fine. Carrie started reading it and then looked at me with sad eyes.
‘Stephanie, he has to know.’
I started crying. It is too hard to write down the details, but I know Hugh will want to know everything – so for him – I did. I told him my experience of the explosion and the hospital. Then at the end I said that the twins and Aaron were found and then I took a deep breath and told him about Mother, Father and Colleen. I know it will break his heart, but just like Carrie said, he has to know.
I have been reading bits of my diary to Emily Belle and she laughed at the funny parts and cried at the sad parts. Whenever I stop reading she hugs me and says, ‘Stephanie, I love you.’ I have never been this close to her before – it was more Susannah, but I guess the explosion changed that. I love this diary. I am able to put all my thoughts and feelings in it. It gives me great comfort and now Hugh will know about the explosion.
10 Minutes Later
I just had two thoughts. Where is Alexis? I read her name and her parents’ names on the injured list in the paper, but that is it. I wish I could see her. Is she okay? Where is she? The other thought made me cry hard. A fourth person in our family died in the explosion, the baby that was yet to be born. Now Emily Belle will never have a younger sister--ever. I wonder if it was a boy or girl—or even twins! I have to stop for I am starting to cry again.
At the Halley’s
I am snuggled up on a comfy bed in the Halley’s house. They seem like nice folks. Mrs. Halley came to take me and Emily Belle to their house and she brought me and Emily Belle new dresses. They are both beautiful and they even gave Emily Belle a stuffed animal and me a locket. When we got in the front door, Mr. Halley and three other children came to greet us. Mrs. Halley introduced us to Olivia, who is eleven, Mathew, who is seven, and Kali who is five. Mr.Halley explained to us that they had taken in three other children too. They said that Mathew and Kali will be leaving in a few months to go live with their aunt in P.E.I. Olivia, however, will stay until further notice. They said that they could take in Aaron and Susannah, but when Charlie is well enough to leave the hospital, the twins will be moved to another home.
Mathew and Kali are downright cute and I know Mathew will be a good playmate for Susannah and Kali for Emily Belle. They are both so talkative and fun to be with. Olivia, on the other hand, is always giving me sad looks and does not talk much. I so want Abby and Alexis by my side as I am lonely without them. I will try to break Olivia in. Who knows, we may end up as great friends in the end. That is funny – in the end. I thought that it was the end, but it is just the beginning of a new life. The future scares me, dear friend. What will happen after the Halleys? Really, what will? I pray that Hugh will be able to come home and be with his family again. If only that could be true.
I am so sorry to dump all my troubles and thoughts on you dear friend, but you have been dear to me and have always listened. I should be happy! Hugh was found alive and may be coming here to take care of us. The twins and Aaron were found, and I am out of the hospital. But something does not feel right, something is missing. Oh yes, my family. I wish Mother and Father and Colleen were here. We all sat out on the front porch and watched the sun set today and it almost felt like I was back at home watching the sun set with the nine of us on the porch … together. Mother, Father, Colleen, if you are out there, did you see the sunset tonight? I was thinking of you, were you thinking of me? Oh I must stop, the tears, the tears.
Friday, December 14th, 1917
I almost forgot about Christmas. It is less than eleven days away, but it does not seem like Christmas. Christmas will never ever be the same. I could try until I died, but it would NEVER happen. Sorry, I will try to stay on top of things. Oh yes!
Last night when we all went to bed (Olivia and I share a room) I said goodnight to Emily Belle who sleeps with Kali and Mathew. I went into my bedroom and shut the door. I really did want to talk to Olivia, but she already seemed asleep so I blew out the light and hopped into bed. I closed my eyes, dear friend, but sleep would not claim me. I tossed and turned and tossed some more. Finally, I just lay on my back and closed my eyes. But, boy oh boy, that was of no help because I kept seeing pictures of the explosion race through my mind. I had thought about writing in you, dear friend, but I did not want to wake Olivia, so I let out a loud sigh and just started up at the ceiling. Suddenly, a tiny voice from out of nowhere said, ‘What is that book you write in?’
Well, I jumped up and asked, ‘Olivia, right?’ I heard the movement of a nod so I kept going. ‘The book I write in is my diary, my journal, you know.’ There was a pause and I said, ‘Olivia … would you like to be friends?’
I know, dear friend, being bold like that, but I had to. I just knew that this girl was going through a lot of pain and she needed a friend, so I volunteered.
‘Sure,’ Olivia answered.
The voice was flat but I could hear a spark of excitement behind the dullness. Then, dear friend, Olivia asked something I did not want to answer, something I did not want to think about.
‘What were your parents like?’
I sighed and closed my eyes. My mother’s warm face came into my head.
‘Well, my mother always had a smile and explanation for everything. She was a bold woman who stood up for what she believed in. She had enough love for us seven children and more. She could change moods really fast, be happy one minute and grumpy the next. She was beautiful and almost never wore her hair up in a bun. I know a lot of ladies disapprove of that, but she said that hair is a women’s beauty and God gave it to her to show off, not hide away.’ I think Olivia smiled, so I went on.
‘My Father was a rough man. He kind of scared me a bit and gave us the strap occasionally, but he hated giving it as much as we did receiving it. He had a good, strong laugh that could bring the house down with laughter, along with everyone in it. He did not speak much and was a serious man, but sometimes that hidden side of him burst out and tickled us or teased us and acted goofy.’ Then I paused and said, ‘What were your parents like?’
‘I do not remember. They died from scarlet fever when I was little. My aunt took me in because she was the only relative I had left, but she died, as you know, in the explosion.’
I paused then asked, ‘Where will you go after here?’
Olivia paused, ‘I do not know.’
Then, dear friend, she burst into tears so I went to her bed and sat with her until she fell asleep. A bit later, I collapsed onto my bed and fell asleep too. Hopefully we will still be friends after our talk. I feel badly, as I did not mean to make her cry. She said hello when I passed her in the bathroom brushing her hair and I said hello back, but that was it. Dear friend, did you know that I still do not know what I look like? I mean, with my short hair and everything. I want to know and I actually could because the Kesslers’ mirrors did not shatter in the explosion, but whenever I muster up the courage to look – I cannot bring myself to do it. I guess I do not want to remain unchanged, but I have changed – a lot.
Cassie is here! I am so giddy with excitement. Okay, I had better calm down and start from the beginning. After I had finished writing to you, dear friend, Mrs. Halley came and sat on my bed. She handed me a newspaper and said that she read about some dogs that were in a kennel and needed a home – one of them was a Great Dane. She said not to get my hopes up; but that it may very well be Cassie (Emily Belle had told her we had a dog.) Emily Belle and I finished dinner around noon and went to the kennel with Mr. Kessler. Well, what do you know, when they brought the dogs out from around back, there was Cassie! She rushed at us and knocked over Emily Belle! She showered us with wet kisses and a wag of her tail. Mr. Halley says we can bring her home. Did you notice that dear friend? I said home. I never thought I would say that word again, but here I am, alive and well. Maybe things will turn out all right after all. Now, back to the story.
When we got home, Cassie rushed right in the door and jumped up on the couch beside Kali and Mathew! We all had a laugh and right at this moment, Cassie is at the foot of my bed sound asleep, and that is what I am going to do now too. Good night, dear friend.
Saturday, December 15th, 1917
We went to the clothing line today and I got some new boots and dresses. It feels strange wearing somebody else’s clothes, but they feel lived-in and comfortable. The newspaper prints daily lists of the dead and they just keep coming and coming. They are finding bodies every day and the morgue is packed with corpses. Since Mother, Father and Colleen’s bodies have been identified they can now be released to family. As there is no one left, that “family” is Emily Belle and I. We are going to have the funeral service in two days. I remember I have always hated funerals. The church was always stuffy and everyone was in a very depressed mood. I really do not want to see Mother and Father and Colleen’s bodies, so cold and lifeless. Well, at least Emily Belle will not see them. Poor Emily Belle, she is just not the same. Sometimes she just “stares” into space as though she still had eyes. She either wears bandages or eye patches now over her eyes as the empty sockets beneath them would make anybody looking at them faint. It hurts me to see her in so much pain. Mr. Halley says she is old beyond her years. That is exactly what Mother used to say.
Sunday, December 16th, 1917
Our church burnt down in the explosion, so today we all went to Saint Paul’s, which is the Halleys’ church. It is a much bigger church than ours and the organ fills the church with a beautiful sound. Mrs. Halley said we did not have to go if we did not want to since it was a Catholic church and we are Presbyterian. But I wanted to go and so did Emily Belle. It was okay, but when it came time for two minutes of silent prayer and everyone bowed their heads – I just could not bring myself to do it, dear friend. I mean, if you really think about it, if there was a God in Heaven he would not have done this. I felt guilty for not praying, so when the organ music started and everyone stood up to sing, I bowed my head and said a quick prayer for Hugh – but it was really just talking in my head.
When lunchtime came, I asked Mr. Halley the question, ‘If there is a God in Heaven, then why would He do this, the Explosion and everything?’
‘Stephanie, God did not do this,’ he said. ‘It is us humans who did this … not God. He is up there trying to help us. He saved us.’
I looked up at him confused. He shook his head and scratched his beard.
‘You are still alive are you not, Stephanie? Your little sister is still alive. You are counting your lucky stars, missy. Start thanking the good Lord for what you have.’
Well, I ran right back up to my room and knelt beside my bed and prayed and prayed and prayed. I really should feel lucky, but I still do not understand why God did not save us all. Was he trying to teach us a lesson? Did we do something bad? The questions, the questions.
Monday, December 17th, 1917
I realize I have been writing a lot in here since it happened. I guess, dear friend, that you are my comfort zone, my anchor. I realize that whenever I get sad I come and write in here, dear friend. I come to you.
Well, it looks like Olivia and I are still friends. Weird – she was ignoring me for the last two days and just today she came up to me and asked if I wanted to sit out on the porch swing. I guess I looked surprised because Olivia grabbed my hand. ‘I need to talk to you.’ So out we went. When we were seated, Olivia broke into tears.
‘I am so sorry I have been avoiding you. It is just I am scared, Stephanie. I am scared for what is to become of me when I leave here.’
I hugged her tight and said that God is watching over her. She hugged me back and she cried even harder. I asked her to tell me her story of the explosion. So she did. She told me everything right down to the second she woke up. I asked if she would mind if I wrote it in here.
‘I would be honoured,’ she said.
Here it is.
She woke up in the morning and heard her aunt cooking breakfast on the wood stove. She got up, dressed and gobbled down her breakfast, noticing that she was late for school. She said she remembers kissing her aunt goodbye and running out the door. About half way there she stopped and remembered she had forgotten her lunch. She raced home … and never got there. She heard a gigantic boom and saw black smoke billowing up in the sky. Suddenly there was a loud blast and the last thing she saw before blacking out was a piece of brick coming straight at her.
She woke up and realized she was lying on the ground. Her head was pounding. She heard screams and cries. She felt big strong hands pick her up. This next part she says is kind of scattered because she kept drifting in and out of consciousness.
She was put into a wagon and laid next to an old man who was moaning. Then after a short bumpy ride, the wagon stopped and someone picked her up and put her down on the ground. She heard someone say, ‘Sweetie, we do not have room for you in the wagon, go on to the hospital.’ She says she remembers getting up and stumbling in the same direction that others were headed.
She suddenly collapsed and a women and child ran to her side.
‘Mommy, she has a big cut on her head,’ the child said.
The women called to some people and this time she was put in a motor car and then carried inside somewhere and placed down on the floor. The next thing she remembered was waking up and discovering that it was Sunday morning and she was in a hospital with a big bandage on her head.
Well, tomorrow is the burial and the next day the twins and Aaron are arriving. I cannot wait for them to come but the burial is going to be hard, very hard.
Tuesday, December 18th, 1917
The tears, the tears! And I thought I had already cried my share. The burial was today and Abby and her family came. We hugged each other as the three bodies were lowered into the ground where they would rot and become nothing but skeletons. Mother and Father and Colleen looked so cold. I looked away and cried for most of the ceremony. The minister said a few prayers and I put some flowers on their graves and walked back to the Halleys. When we got home, nobody was in a good mood. It was very sad. Just like I said, I hate funerals. It really helped to see Abby and I introduced her to Olivia. They hit it off right away which was good. I asked Abby if she knew anything about Alexis and she shook her head. I said I had seen her name and her parents’ names in the paper in the injured list. I miss Alexis, but I cannot keep my spirits down. Guess who is coming tomorrow? I am jumping all around the house. Emily Belle keeps smiling too. The thing that breaks my heart is that as Emily Belle gets older her memories of Mother and Father’s faces will fade. Even if there are photographs of them she will not remember for she cannot see them, and never, ever will again.
Dear friend, I cannot stop shaking. I did it. I looked. I saw myself. I saw my reflection in the mirror. It terrified me, dear friend. I looked so different from what I had imagined. My hair is cut short and my face has an ugly scar. I vowed NEVER to look at myself again, dear friend … EVER. It is too terrible. I burst into tears once I saw how much I had changed. It just makes the explosion more real. What really broke my heart was when Emily Belle asked me at supper tonight what she looked like. I winced. They did have to cut her hair, but only till her shoulders. I said she looked beautiful and the smile on her face was priceless, but those bandaged eyes still haunt me when I think what is beneath the bandages.
I tried to close my eyes and walk around the house to see what it was like to be blind, but by accident I bumped into Emily Belle. She grabbed me and I steadied myself. I do not know how she knew, but she put her hand on my arm and said, ‘I know you feel sorry for me, Stephanie, but really I do not mind being blind, really.’
I nodded, but realized she could not see me, so I hugged her, but afterward I stumbled to my room and cried. Why does a little girl have to suffer so much so young? It just does not seem fair. But I could not stay mad for long. The twins and Aaron are coming tomorrow! We are going to the train station to pick them up. We will only get a glimpse of Charlie because he has to be hospitalized immediately. He has a broken arm and a broken leg. Still, I can hardly wait!!
Wednesday, December 19th, 1917
I am heartbroken and yet so happy at the same time! Aaron and Susannah are here! Where to begin? I guess I will have to start from the beginning!
Okay, well, we had to wake up early to get to the train station on time. All of us went, the Halleys, Kali, Mathew, Olivia, Emily Belle and I. We got there just as the train was pulling up. People poured out but we could not find them. Suddenly I saw them. Charlie was on a stretcher and a nurse was wheeling him our way. I told Emily Belle and we started jumping up and down screaming their names. They finally saw us and I ran to Aaron. They dropped their bags and I hugged him so tightly Susannah had to pry me off of him. I hugged Susannah too. Then Emily Belle came along, her hand waving around in front of her. ‘Susannah, where are you?’
Susannah held out her arms and Emily Belle collapsed into them. I could tell Susannah was heartbroken to see that Emily Belle could not see her. Then our attention turned to Charlie. I hugged him gently and hoisted Emily Belle up beside him. Charlie smiled weakly, his right arm and left leg both in a cast. The nurse then said she had to wheel him away. Dear friend, his face was in so much pain. I could tell his eyes were pleading, ’please don’t leave me!’ I wanted to cry out to him, but could not. I was in tears the whole walk home, just hugging Susannah and Aaron over and over. I realized that they did not know about Mother and Father or Colleen. My heart was broken, but I told them. We cried a good many tears and by the time we got home we were exhausted. We collapsed onto the couch and just lay there. Suddenly, Cassie bounded into the room. Another happy surprise! Susannah is at the doorway to my room right now … I have to go.
I motioned for Susannah to come sit on the bed and she did. She was not saying anything, but suddenly she burst into tears. I hugged her and told her everything was fine and asked what the problem was. These were her exact words; ‘Charlie’s not going to make it.’ Well, that sank my spirits lower than Hell.
‘Why do you say that?’ I asked, concerned.
‘You were not with him at the hospital, Stephanie. I saw him, his face. He was struggling to survive. He said he could only live until he saw you and Emily Belle again, and now he has. He is going to die tonight.’
Well, my heart just about stopped. I know it sounds insane, but one thing about being a twin, I know when Aaron is in trouble. If it is the same with Susannah and Charlie, then Susannah is probably right. No! Do not think about it like that! He will live! He only has a broken leg and arm! They will heal. But Susannah said that he also has a broken heart and soul.
‘He is dying, Stephanie, as we speak, he is dying.’
Well, did I clue out on something or what? The grown-ups must be hiding something. I want to know, but at the same time I do not. Emily Belle must have wandered away from her room where she was sitting and felt her way down the hall to the door and overheard our conversation because she came running into the room her arms flying every which way. I do not know how she managed to find her way to our room from down the hall and how she did not fall down the stairs but somehow she did and when she came flying into the room she was screaming and bumping into the walls until I was able to go to her and stop her.
‘He’s not dying, he’s not dying – he’s not!’
I rushed towards Emily Belle and took her in my arms.
‘Shh. It is all right.’
Well, those words were as fake as could be. But, dear friend, what if Charlie does die? Today started out as the best day of my life and turned into the worst. God should not tease us like that. Have Charlie survive and then die. But by the look on Susannah’s face, I knew she was speaking the truth, the absolute, bloody truth.
Very Late – 1am
Sleep has become impossible. I am downstairs sitting at the kitchen table. Aaron is reading. Emily Belle is sleeping on the couch and Susannah is weeping. Everyone else is asleep and I was surprised when I came down here to see my siblings awake. Aaron found out or he just knew. But we are not speaking, just waiting, praying. Please Mother, Father and Colleen up there; we need Charlie, most of all Susannah. They cannot be separated. Please. The tears have started and have not stopped. Mrs. and Mr. Halley told us not to be silly and that Charlie is fine, but I could see a sad look in their eyes. Why is it, that no one will say anything? This is Hell.
Thursday, December 20th, 1917
Charlie died early this morning. Susannah was right. I cannot bear to write these words – but I must. He had more than just broken bones. He had a damaged heart and soul. A nurse came from the hospital this morning with a telegram. The world is crashing down around me. I can be so happy one minute and devastated the next. Susannah has not even cried yet. She just sits staring into space. I worry about her and poor Emily Belle dealing with four deaths at the age of five – all in less than three months. Christmas is in five days, but it will not come … ever. I feel as though the devil is on my back, weighing me down. Charlie will be buried beside my parents’ and Colleen’s graves. The burial will be sometime next week. I will NEVER be happy again. Even Kali, Mathew and Olivia, along with the Halleys, have cried their tears. More tears, more sadness, more deaths – more, more, more. Will this ever stop?
Friday, December 21st, 1917
I could not write more yesterday. I just felt numb all over. But I think I feel better today. I had a dream last night. It was of Aaron, Emily Belle, Susannah and I standing in the emptiness. All of a sudden, a bright light covered us and four angels appeared – Mother, Father, Colleen and Charlie. They surrounded us and hugged us. Then a voice said, ‘I will bring you a saviour.’ That is all I remember. But what does it mean, dear friend? Who is this saviour? Why did God send me this message?
Olivia came into the bedroom today and hugged me. ‘I am sorry for your loss. I will not comfort you, because when my parents died and people comforted me, I hated it. But I want you to know that I ache all over too, for you.’
Upon hearing the news, Abby came by and we went out for a walk. It feels good to be with my best friend. We talked about the old days, when Charlie was little. We talked about before the War. We talked about now. We talked about the future.
‘Where do you think you and your brothers and sisters will be in the future?’ Abby asked.
That question only brought on more tears and worry.
Susannah is not doing too well. She clings to me like the world just ended. I ache for her. If there was only something I could do, something I could tell her … wait! I will be right back! I know what I must do!
Ten Minutes Later
I did it. I told Susannah my dream – with the angels, and the voice. Susannah hugged me and said, ‘Thank you, Stephanie, but unlike you I know who the saviour is, I can feel it.’
I stared at her but she just smiled and walked away. Who could this mysterious saviour be?
Saturday, December 22nd, 1917
We went to the food depot today and got some food. Halifax is doing so much to help those affected by the explosion. They are even building new apartment buildings for those who lost their homes and have nowhere else to live. I feel sad inside, but the world must go on and I with it. The Halleys have been a world of comfort. Mrs. Halley feels like a mother and Mr. Halley like a father, though they could never replace Mother and Father. It still saddens me to see the pain on everyone’s faces. But a huge burden has been lifted from my shoulders for I am able to see Susannah’s and Aaron’s faces every day and that comforts me. Olivia and I have grown closer and we can talk about almost anything. Sometimes though, I feel as though I might die, and then at other times I feel so happy for how lucky I have been. Now I know there is a God in Heaven and four angels watching over me.
Oh my, I just remembered Christmas is in three days! I am excited like always but certain sadness still pains me. The thought that I will not be able to share this happiness with the people I have lost unfortunate. How I wish you were all here with me this moment. Wait a minute – I just felt that you are.
Oh my! I feel as happy as a butterfly! Kali and Mathew’s aunt has come for them! She was not supposed to come for a few more months, but she arrived on the doorstep and here she is. There was a tearful hello and now Kali and Mathew are clinging to their aunt--Mrs. King--like she is their master and they are puppies. They are down in the parlour now, having tea. They are going to leave soon. Oh, how I will miss them. Their aunt wanted to be able to take them to her home in PEI by Christmas. What a wonderful gift!
I do not know if this is bad or anything, dear friend, but I feel a twinge of jealousy. I mean, I guess I wish it was me. But I cannot stay mad or sad forever. Life goes on and I go right along with it.
Sunday, December 23rd, 1917
The house is so quiet with the little ones gone. Now poor Emily Belle does not have a playmate. Just a few minutes ago I heard Olivia weeping in our room. I went in and said that it was okay to cry if she missed Kali and Mathew, but it was not the end of the world. Well, she looked at me with that tear-streaked face and said, ‘Stephanie you have a brother and two sisters who survived the explosion. You have a brother, who at the end of the War, can come home and take care of you. You have everything. I lost everything. Stephanie, I have nothing … no relatives, no friends, no place to go … nothing.’
Well, dear friend, I hugged her and told her that she did have someone, that someone was me.
‘We are the best of friend’s, right?’ Poor girl, but it is true that besides me she has nobody.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and I feel so excited. Emily Belle came to me in tears this morning and said, ‘We are not in our own house so Santa does not know where we are.’
I reassured her that Santa knows exactly where we are and he will indeed come. But then I got worried that maybe I had spoken too soon. Thank God for Mr. Halley, for he said, ‘Santa will indeed be paying us a visit.’
I am glad it is going to be a happy Christmas for Emily Belle. She always cherished Christmas as much as her own birthday. I thought the explosion would change that, but, thank God it has not.
Monday, December 24th, 1917
I am almost too tired to write this. The minute we woke up, Mrs. Halley put us to work, holly and ivy here, boughs of cedar there, candles on the mantle, candles on the tree, ornaments hanging from every branch, setting up the Nativity scene, Christmas carolling--the list went on and on. After supper we sat by the fire and Mr. Halley read, A Visit from Saint Nicholas. Then he gave us each a stocking to hang by the fireplace. Emily Belle and Susannah put out milk and cookies for Santa and now it is almost time for bed. Good night, dear friend, and Happy Christmas Eve!
HUGH IS COMING HOME!!! I am so excited I can hardly speak! A person from the war office came by just a few minutes ago and gave us a telegram! Hugh got my letter and he is coming home on compassionate leave! Right after Mr. Halley had read it, Susannah smiled at me and something clicked in my head. Hugh is the saviour God has sent us! I just keep smiling and smiling. What a perfect Christmas gift! I wish Charlie were here. Well, I must be off to bed if I want morning to come faster. But how will I ever sleep?
I cannot sleep. I woke up with my head swirling and came down here to write. This Christmas will be the saddest Christmas of my life, with the explosion and Mother, Father, Colleen and Charlie dying. I know it seems I have been just happy and jolly since Charlie’s death, but the thing is, dear friend, I have been hiding it. I try to stay on the positive side of things for Susannah, for she has been very, very brave. But I can see the sadness in her eyes. Oh, I remember when I started this diary I wondered about all the wonderful stories I would write down. Now that I think about it, I wish my life was boring. It sure is better than exciting. But I must say, and no offence to ANYONE, this has been quite a heck of an adventure. Many years from now, I will look back on this diary and remember it is the Halifax Explosion diary of me, Stephanie Aaron Bates. When I look back on this, where will I be? What will I be doing? The questions, the questions. I must go to sleep soon for I want to be wide awake on Christmas morning!
Tuesday, December 25th, 1917
Well, lo and behold. Christmas day was amazing. It was still the saddest Christmas of my life, but I thank the good heavens for the Halleys. They brought in gift after gift after gift. I have never seen so many brightly wrapped parcels in my life. Now I feel bad that I did not get them anything, for they have been so kind to us. After the presents we had apple cider and cinnamon rolls for breakfast. But right when I bit into the roll I tasted Mother’s cinnamon rolls and the sadness came rushing back. It is so strange like that, dear friend. The tiniest thing can make the world turn upside down. After breakfast we went to the Christmas service at Saint Paul’s and the room was filled with the Christmassy feeling. We sang hymns and I prayed to Mother, Father, Colleen and Charlie up in Heaven. I thanked God for having a place to stay and for Hugh coming home and for finding Abby again, and I prayed I would be able to track down Alexis. The rest of the day we opened and played with our presents. If someone looked in on us they would think we were family. We all tried to make it happy for Emily Belle and Susannah, and of course, Charlie up in heaven. I think they did have a merry Christmas, but I am glad it is over.
Wednesday, December 26th, 1917 – Boxing Day
Well, Christmas is over, just like that. The saddest thing happened today. Aaron, Susannah, Emily Belle, Olivia and I went to the devastated area. That is the place where we lived and all the houses were flattened. At first, I did not want to go because I did not want to see the house, but Mrs. Halley told me I should go along with the others to see if they had found anything. We bundled up really well and all headed out. We had to get an official pass to get through. We walked by all these flattened houses, and it took all I had not to cry. People were searching through the ruins. When we got to our street, I could feel the butterflies in my stomach. Olivia grabbed my mitted hand and we walked slowly towards our house. When we got there I burst into tears. Aaron hugged me and I felt a little better. All that is left of our house is the foundation. One of the soldiers looking through our basement looked at our passes and said we should not have come. It is too gruesome for children. Aaron told him we wanted to say goodbye to the house before the rest of it was destroyed and taken away. Well, we did find some stuff in there. Some pretty amazing stuff. Hugh’s letters, which we always kept in a bundle, were all still there – every last letter. Emily Belle’s cornhusk doll was found and Mother’s china tea set. The most shocking thing that was found was the belt Father used to hit us. Susannah broke down in tears at the sight of that. Emily Belle asked what she was crying about and I was about to make something up but Aaron nudged me and told me to tell her the truth, so through my tears I did. Emily Belle responded with a wail and Susannah pulled her into a tight hug.
We took home the letters, the cornhusk doll, the tea set and even the belt. These possessions are all we have left of our old life, and we will cherish them forever.
The burial for Charlie will be held tomorrow. Susannah was in very low spirits today. I feel sorry for her. My hair is slowly starting to grow back, but only a little bit.
The scariest thing happened today when I was up in my room with Olivia, Aaron and Susannah. The Halleys had gone to the food depot to get some more food. All of a sudden, we heard a crash and then a cry. We all rushed out of the room and saw Emily Belle lying at the bottom of the stairs. We flew down the stairs and I picked up Emily Belle and pulled her onto my lap. She was screaming and crying. I hugged her and told her it would be okay. She babbled out a bunch of stuff through her tears about the Explosion and being blind. I could feel the anger vibrating in every cell of my body. I wanted to go and blame someone, shout, scream, cry, kick the wall. I just wanted to let the anger out, so I did. We all did. We all sat and cried and screamed and pounded the floor, and lo and behold, it did feel good. I just felt the anger rushing out of my body. After a while we all calmed down. Aaron wiped a stray tear from his eye and cleared his throat.
‘I think we should make an oath to NEVER talk about the explosion ever again.’
All of us were silent for a moment then one by one we agreed with him. Aaron put his hand in the middle and said the oath. Then we all shook our hands and threw them up in the air. Here is the oath Aaron said:
‘I solemnly swear never to speak of that tragic day, December 6th, 1917. It causes too much pain and grief. We have lost some, but have gained some. We will remember them in our souls and hearts, but not with our mouths. We all swear to never speak of this again.
I know the ending is not really official, but we could not think any other official way to end it. I know we will not speak of it again, but it will haunt us for the rest of our lives. It will stay with us. No matter where we go, no matter what we do, that tragic day will follow us forever, for as long as we live and even after we die. The thought scares me, but it is the truth. Forever and ever it will haunt me. It sends shivers down my spine.
Thursday, December 27th, 1917
I do not want to go. I will not go. I cannot stand it. I do not want to face it, but I have to.
We were literally swimming in our tears. Charlie’s burial was today. Boy, oh boy, had I dreaded it, but once I got to that cemetery, that blasted cemetery, and Charlie’s cold lifeless body was lowered into the ground to rot, the tears came and this time would not stop. Well, they did eventually, but only after Aaron slapped me! Yes dear friend, slapped me he did! Right on the face to tell you, and not a gentle slap but a hard slap that I know will leave a bruise. It is still stinging! But despite how much it hurt, I needed that slap. Afterward, Aaron seethed through his teeth, ‘Quit the crying Stephanie, you have me! Emily Belle has Susannah, but Susannah does not have Charlie. Let her be the one to grieve. Charlie was her twin after all!’ He was right. I smiled and hugged him.
Some days I just sit around feeling sorry for myself until Aaron snaps me out of it. I forget how much pain everyone else is going through.
Friday, December 28th, 1917
Last night, we all sat together by the fire in the living room and opened up the bundle of letters Hugh had sent us over the past two years. Boy, did it bring back memories. Thank goodness those letters were spared. Mr. Halley says to think of it like a gift from God. I laughed so much my sides hurt. When Hugh told us about the trenches I tried not to cry, but I think a tear or two slipped out.
Saturday, December 29th, 1917
The Halleys sat the four of us down and told us that we are being put in an orphanage next month, after Hugh’s visit. We will be there until the War ends and Hugh comes home at the end of the War to take care of us. I never really thought about that. I mean, I thought about Hugh coming home, but I did not think he would have to leave again. How can he just leave us? I do not want to go to an orphanage. I hear they are terrible. Lucky Olivia, the Halleys have decided to adopt her. I think they like her more than us. We may not all be put together in the same orphanage, Mrs. Halley said. I am sorry, dear friend, I just cannot write about anything happy these days! I want to cry, but I think I have finally run out of tears. An orphanage, I never thought of myself being an orphan. But, I guess that is what I am.
I went to see Abby today. She and her family are moving to British Columbia. I cried when she told me that. I wish this stupid Explosion never happened.
I had to stop. I have read my diary entries since the day of the Explosion and I am miserable all the time! I must seem so down. From now on I will stay on the happy side of things … I will, I will!
Tomorrow is New Years Eve. I think I will take a break from this diary for a while. You know dear friend – to see what it is like. I do not want to be betraying you. It is just if I do write then I will be writing about depressing stuff, and dear friend, you have already heard enough of that! Well, farewell, dear friend. See you soon.
Saturday, January 12th, 1918
Well, dear friend, I took a break and now I think I will start up again. Not much has happened, but since the New Year I feel everyone is in a better mood. Here is my one and only resolution.
I will never ever take life and all the things in it for granted ever again. I will live every day to the fullest and live the rest of my years in peace and harmony.
I think I can keep it. I hope so. I just have a feeling that 1918 will be full of surprises. I wonder which ones. Oh, I almost forgot! We got a letter from Hugh yesterday. It was quite short. The tone was happy, but I think he just could not write more. He said he will arrive here February 1st, or so he hopes. I cannot wait. We went to the cemetery and brushed the snow off Mother, Father, Colleen and Charlie’s graves. We spread flowers and evergreens on them. They deserve to smell fresh and sweet. School will be starting up again soon, in about a month or two. The last of the dead was buried today and they closed down the morgue once and for all.
Sunday, January 13th, 1918
I think things are finally starting to look up! I got a letter from Abby today. The letter said she and her family made it to Quebec, but they turned back for they decided it was not for them. According to the letter they are arriving tomorrow! I am so happy! Aaron and I went for a walk with Cassie today. I was happy to get out of the house and into the fresh air. We made it to Citadel Hill. When we saw children sledding down it, we raced home, grabbed Susannah and Olivia and came back with a sled. Oh, the fun we had! (Too bad Emily Belle would not come. But she said she was too scared to go as she cannot see. I would not go either if I was blind so I cannot blame her. Though it is a shame she missed out on the fun.) We almost crashed into three dogs, including Cassie, and four people! We made a crash landing in a snow bank. Still we had a fun time and stayed out until we were freezing. Then we came home and Mrs. Halley made all of us apple cider. Mmm. Just like Mother used to make.
The five of us are writing a book! It is going to be dedicated to all of the people who lost their lives in the explosion. It is going to be about a young girl who loses everything and then a nice couple comes to the orphanage and adopts her. It was Aaron’s and my idea. Olivia and I are in charge of writing the book. Susannah and Aaron are drawing the pictures and Emily Belle is the supervisor. It is so cute; she comes around, but since she cannot see, she asks us what we wrote. We read it to her and she either tells us to change it or that she likes it. Then she asks us to tell her about the drawings and does the same thing as she does with the writing except we describe the picture to her. I am glad to see everyone having a good time. In the book, the girl’s name is Hope. Emily Belle came up with that name. She loses everything, as I said, except for her super hero dog named Cassie who finds her a family! We only have the first chapter, but it is already really good. We have fun thinking up what powers the dog has and what funny things happen in the story. Mr. Halley said we ‘took a tragic day that had no bright side and found one’.
Monday, January 14th, 1918
Abby arrived back and we went to the creek. It was frozen over, but we still had a good time. It felt almost normal to be laughing with my best friend again. I feel as though I am able to smile again without faking it. I still want to just cry forever sometimes, but things are getting better. Anyway, I am glad Abby is back. Strange though, still no word from Alexis. I wonder where she is. I wonder if she is alive. I hope and pray and dream and wish – things I do a lot more of now.
Our book is coming along fine and we have Chapter Two complete. Early this morning I heard someone go downstairs and I smelled coffee from the kitchen. When I went down there though, no one was there. Who is this mysterious coffee drinker? Only God knows.
Tuesday, January 15th, 1918 - Early Morning - 4:30am
Well, I have found the culprit. Aaron! Yes, Aaron has been going down and making coffee at four every morning since he and Susannah arrived here. I will tell you what happened.
The Kesslers have this HUGE grandfather clock in the hallway that chimes every quarter hour. I asked if I could sleep in the spare bedroom which is right across the hall from the grandfather clock. They said I could, but did not know why. I mumbled something about trying different rooms. Then I went upstairs and moved my stuff. Well, let us just say I had a TERIBBLE night – I pretty much got no sleep at all. Every time I was just getting off to sleep, the grandfather clock chimed the quarter hour. But...it was worth it! I got up at a quarter to four and slipped down to the kitchen. At exactly four, I heard someone creeping downstairs. As Aaron walked into the kitchen, I jumped out from behind the table and caught him. He looked so startled that I started to laugh. He joined in too. After a while he got some coffee brewing on the wood stove and we sat down at the kitchen table.
‘So,’ I said.
‘So,’ Aaron repeated.
‘Why are you coming down here at four in the morning to make coffee every morning?’ I blurted out.
‘I don’t know. It has just sort of become a ritual. It gives me time to think about, you know, everything.’ He was quiet after that.
‘You really miss them?’ I asked.
Aaron nodded as tears streamed down his cheeks. He quietly got up and poured two mugs of hot coffee. I was about to push mine away but decided against it.
‘We all miss them Aaron, you are not alone.’
Aaron sighed and stared into his coffee mug. ‘I know. It is just…’ his voice cracked. ‘It is just sometimes at night, when I am laying there, I just want to kill myself so I could be with them. Stephanie, one time I even considered it. I got as far as holding a steak knife to my throat.’
Well, that sure scared me and I burst into tears, quiet tears though, so no one would hear. Aaron got up and came around the table to hug me.
‘Stephanie, I would never leave you, I promise.’
I hugged him back tightly.
‘I just cannot bear to lose someone else,’ Aaron sighed.
‘I know. I am sorry.’
We drank the rest of our coffee [bleck!] and went back up to bed. I did not sleep though. So I gazed out the window until the sun came up.
Oh, dear friend, mystery solved. I think tonight I may go back down there and join Aaron – if he does not mind. I liked that time with him. It helps me bear with my losses.
Wednesday, January 16th, 1918
Well, not much has happened today. Actually, nothing is happening these days. I just wish this hard, cruel winter would be over and done with! We went sledding and skating on the pond near the Halleys’ house. That is pretty much all we do now.
It is strange; I had a dream last night. It was most wonderful. I dreamed that the Explosion was all a dream and that I was still living in the same house, going to school and living a normal life. The scary thing was I woke up and it felt like I had woken up into a nightmare. The favourite moments of the day are the first few seconds when I wake up in the morning. I do not remember anything and then I look around the room and everything comes rushing back. I know it is hard for you to imagine this, dear friend, since you are not me, but I feel as though nothing will ever be happy again. I hate winter now with its long, cold blizzards, its freezing cold nights and few hours of daylight. I hate it. I cannot wait until the snow melts and the first of the buds appear on the trees. Then the sun will come out and I will be happy again. No, I will never be happy again, not fully and with meaning anyway. I will feel relieved. Until then, I can only look forward to those first few minutes at the beginning of each morning, when I wake up.
Okay, now that I am done pouring my heart out let us move on to happier things. About the book that we are writing, we have come to a problem. I think that the girl’s parents should live, but Olivia thinks they should die. Well, I blew up and yelled at her, ‘I do not want any more tragedy! Have we not had enough? Let it be a happy ending!’ Then I burst into tears and fled our room. No one came up to see if I was all right until later when we were getting ready for bed. Little Emily Belle approached me and took hold of my hand. She was in my room and sitting beside Susannah on Olivia’s bed. They were just hugging each other when Emily Belle slowly walked over to me, feeling her way with her hands. She found me, and I grabbed on tightly and bent down and asked her what was wrong.
‘You are not the same anymore. You have changed. Please, Stephanie, I want things like they were before,’ she replied. I hugged her.
‘Emily Belle, things will never be the same.’
Then Susannah came up and said, ‘We can try.’ I smiled. I love my little sisters.
Anyway, when the light was turned out, Olivia said quietly into the dark, ‘Hope’s parents can live.’
‘No, you are right. It should be like reality.’
Olivia sighed. ‘Yes Stephanie, but what is reality? I don’t know anymore. Have you ever thought that this is all just some bad dream and any minute we will wake up and it will be all over?’
‘I think you are wishing on false hope.’
I knew Olivia would get mad. That is just the way she is, dear friend. She always gets mad when you do not agree with her. I did not want to get into a debate, so I said, ‘You are right, I bet this is all a dream. You know what? I bet that when we wake up in the morning we will be in our own beds, in our own houses, and none of this will ever have happened.’
It really hurt me to say those words, dear friend, because it was a downright lie and I sure well knew it. But the scary thing was, for a few seconds there I almost believed that theory. No – I wanted to believe that theory. Well, I heard Olivia breath heavily.
‘Thanks, but I know this really happened, it really did.’ Then she went to sleep, discussion closed.
Have you noticed that, dear friend? Olivia and I always seem to have our most heartfelt and serious discussions when we are half asleep. I guess that is when we think about these things.
Thursday, January 17th, 1918
Cassie got off her leash today when she saw Abby coming up the walkway. We were just about to step out the door for a walk. Cassie ran right out of the house and down the street. We have not seen her since. We spent all afternoon looking for her, but she has been nowhere in sight. My voice is hoarse from calling her name. Where did she go, dear friend? Why has she not come back? She is usually a good dog and comes back when I call her. (Except for that time we caught Colleen flirting with that sailor.) Did she hear something? Did she see someone we knew? I miss her terribly. I know she is just a dog, but everything we lose these days is always a pain to the heart. The other day I lost a hair ribbon that was in my hair the day of the Explosion and had survived. I cried for hours on end. Mrs. Halley could not understand why.
‘It is just a hair ribbon dear; if you want I can buy you another.’
Susannah told her it was from the Explosion and she got quiet. ‘Oh,’ she said and did not pester me after that, but I think she still did not fully understand.
We have decided that Hope’s dad will live and her mom will die.
‘We have come to a conclusion,’ Emily Belle announced. She insisted we have an official meeting about it since we are official authors. She is so cute. As she brought down a mug on the table (substituting it for a judge’s gavel) ‘We have come to a decision.’
She makes me smile. Anyway, we are done Chapter Three and are on to Chapter Four. Hope has just found her dad in a hospital and is living on the streets trying to get money for a costly surgery he needs. It was so funny, because earlier this morning, as I was walking into the hallway, I heard Susannah singing. I peeked into our bedroom and there she was dancing around and around in her nightgown singing about getting money for her dad like she was Hope (from the story). I knocked on the door and asked, ‘So, are you busy?’
She abruptly stopped and stared at me, her cheeks reddening. ‘No, uh … no,’ she stammered.
Sometimes she just makes me laugh.
Late – 11pm
Where is Cassie? I thought she would come back later today but now she could be out freezing to death. I cannot bear another loss. We went out again after supper and called until our voices were hoarse. I do not think I will be able to sleep. The thought of her lying on the ground, shivering, breathing her last breath, truly scares me.
Yes, this is a truly miserable night. I am the only one awake. I am sitting at the dining room table in the dim glow of the lantern. It is so weird because before the Explosion I usually fell asleep just as my head hit the pillow. But now, I struggle getting to sleep at night--all the time. On a good night it takes me an hour. On a bad night ... well, you do not want to know. The clock has just chimed the quarter hour. It bangs once and the sound booms throughout the house. Usually, if we are up, Cassie barks. I miss her bark. I am getting a little bit sad now so I am going to read right from the beginning of my diary.
Friday, January 18th, 1918 - 2:30am
I have just finished reading my diary, front to back. I love it. It comforted me a great deal. It is weird. When I first started my entries in October I had no idea what would become of me. I said, ‘I wonder what adventures we will have together.’ Well now I know. It is strange how the future, past and present work. If I could go back in the past and change one thing, it would be to not take my life for granted as much. I would cherish the moments like a king cherishes his treasure. I guess I learned the hard way.
Saturday, January 19th, 1918
Cassie has still not come home. I could not write yesterday evening. I wonder why she ran away. I had a dream of God telling me she was sent away for a reason. I wonder why? We got started on the fifth chapter of our book, but we were not in the spirits.
Mrs. Halley has heard of a blind school for Emily Belle. It is in Truro, not far from here. The Kesslers are planning to send her there when we go to the orphanage. They have told us not to mention it to her yet. Dear friend, I wonder if we will get separated in the end. I mean, what if the blind school accepts Emily Belle and what if Susannah, Aaron and I are put in different orphanages? I know we will be back together at the end of the War when Hugh comes home, but... What if Hugh dies? Will we be adopted into different families? Will we ever see each other again? I just pray that Emily Belle can stay with us. I know she will hate it at the blind school. I know she will!
Sunday, January 20th, 1918
We went to church today. They are going to start building another church somewhere, but for now we still go to the Halleys’ church. We sang Jesus Loves Me. But does He, dear friend? I mean, if He loved us would He let this happen? I wonder. But the part where it says Jesus loves me this I know for the bible tells me so... well, I have decided to read the bible again. I always used to, I even had a copy of my own, but I lost it in the explosion. It would give me comfort. I asked Mrs. Halley if I could borrow her bible and she gave me a big smile and told me to keep it. I have read the first five books of the law. I am starting to feel a little better, but not much. I wish Mother were here so I could hug her.
Mrs. Halley has sent a letter off to the blind school asking if they will take Emily Belle in. I am furious. Does she not realize that we have lost so much already? How can she separate us? I expressed myself to her, but she got all quiet and said, ‘You know Emily Belle would have no chance at a regular orphanage. It would be better if she was with people like her.’
I was so close to stabbing myself in the eyes just so I could go with her! Do not worry, dear friend, I will not. But what will Emily Belle think when she hears this? Has she not been through enough already? It is just not fair!
Monday, January 21st, 1918
Cassie still has not come back. Today I saw Mr. Halley move her bed and ball into the back shed. I asked him why he was doing that. He did not answer, just got a grim look on his face.
‘She’s not dead!’ I yelled and ran up to my room. Of course, no one believes me, but I just know she is out there. I do! So I am not going to worry about her. Obviously God sent her away for a reason and is going to keep watch over her. I just hope that my Cassie is safe.
No reply yet from the blind school. Well, the letter was only mailed yesterday. It will probably not arrive until sometime next week. I wonder what will happen if they do accept her, I wonder what the future will be like for her. It is hard to imagine the future. Where will I be at the end of this? What will my fate be? Father used to say, ‘You ask the questions and God knows the answer’. I suppose that is true.
Olivia and I are yet again in a fight. I was complaining about possibly being separated from my siblings when Olivia started saying how lucky she was about being adopted by the Halleys. I got downright furious and told her that they only decided to keep her because they felt sorry for her. Then she went off arguing that at least we had Hugh to come back at the end of the War to care for us. Then I said, what if Hugh dies? She then said, well, for you, I hope he does. Then I said I wish she had died in the Explosion and it got all nasty until Mrs. Halley separated us and sent us to our rooms. Later I heard Olivia go downstairs and ask the Halleys if they could get the adoption papers signed soon. I heard Mr. Halley mumble something about doing it when we were gone because we would feel left out or some rubbish like that.
Now I wish I had waltzed down there and said for her to go ahead and get the adoption papers signed as it would not bother me. But I could never do that and now I am starting to feel a bit guilty about it all. But, then again, the last time we fought I apologized first, so now it is her turn. So if she wants an apology then she better say she is sorry first! It is settled!
Tuesday, January 22nd, 1918
The days just seem to drone on and on! It is bitter cold and my coat hardly keeps the chills from creeping up my back. My boots are full of holes and I have only thin mitts. Schools are going to be starting up at the beginning of March and Hugh should be arriving in a few days! He said in his last letter that he would inform us when he was to come, but no letter has arrived yet. The nights are freezing even with the thickest of the quilts and we have doubled up in beds to share body heat. Olivia and I are in one bed and Emily Belle and Susannah are in the other bed. Poor Aaron, he has to sleep all alone. Mrs. Kessler said if we wanted we could sleep in the parlour on the floor which is right next to the kitchen and the woodstove. I remember hearing somewhere if you get frostbite you should strip off your clothes and huddle next to a person so you can conserve body heat. Even if that works you will not find me doing that! Still no Cassie, but I still believe that she is alive.
Wednesday, January 23rd, 1918
We went to the clothing depot and I got some warmer mittens, new boats and an overcoat. Then we went sledding and we met Abby there with her little brother. Timmy is so cute as he just flies down the Citadel Hill screaming at the top of his lungs. Emily Belle stayed home though. She is still too scared to go sledding because she thinks she will crash into something, not being able to see and all. Still no reply from the blind school. Maybe the letter got lost in the mail. Boy, I hope so.
I feel toasty warm now that I have new clothes and all. My boots are lined with fur and sheepskin. My coat has a furry hood and all these little pockets. My mittens are as black as coal, but keep my hands right toasty. Mrs. Kessler put some chunks of hot coal wrapped in rags in all our boots to keep our feet warm. They help but they also give me blisters and it is truly uncomfortable to walk around with a chunk of coal in your shoe.
Thursday, January 24th, 1918
We went to the cemetery today to visit Mother, Father, Colleen and Charlie. We were all in tears by the time we came home. Sometimes I forget how much I miss them. Let me see … other news? Well, Cassie has still not returned, and thankfully no letter yet from the blind school. The fight with Olivia and I is not going too well. Dear friend, try having someone you hate sleep in the same bed as you. It is as though I am slumbering with the devil by my side. I know it is mean and all, but it is true. Whenever we are even in the same room you can feel the tension. Aaron has tried to talk me into apologizing, but I am not going to go there unless I grow desperate!
Late – 10pm
I cannot take it much longer! Every little bit of me yearns to have Olivia as a friend again. I so want to go to her but I just cannot bring myself to do it! But I cannot stay mad at her forever! I shall express my feelings to her in the morning.
Friday, January 25th, 1918
The fight is over at last! Thank the good Lord! I heard Olivia get up in the morning and head down the hall to the stairs. It was quite early and no one else was up yet. I slipped out of my nightgown and into my dress and tippy toed downstairs. I heard Olivia banging around in the kitchen getting porridge ready on the wood stove. I crept in and Olivia turned around at once and stared at me.
‘What?’ she snapped. I pulled up a chair and motioned for her to sit down. She did.
‘Olivia I have come to express my true thoughts and feelings.’
There was a pause so I began. ‘When you started talking about being adopted by the Halleys, I felt jealous.’ Before I could go on Olivia sprang out of her chair.
‘You, jealous of me?!’ she screeched. ‘I should be the one jealous of you! You have siblings and a brother who loves you! You think I do not know that the Halleys adopted me out of pity?! Well I do Stephanie! It is true and I am no fool not to notice!’
I was quiet at her words.
‘Olivia, they love you and want you for their own. I am happy for you.’ By then Olivia had tears streaming down her cheeks. She rushed towards me in a great big hug.
‘I hate it when we fight.’
‘I say we never have another quarrel again!’ We shook on it and we remain friends! We then went sledding with Abby.
I am so happy I can hardly speak! Not only do I have my best friend back, but we got a letter today from Hugh! It was dated January 1st. He said he should be arriving at the end of January on board a hospital ship from England. He says he is fine and doing well and is growing stronger each day. Just think, dear friend, I have not seen him in two years! There are going to be hospital ships arriving on the 29th and the 30th. Hugh could be right here at the Halleys’ in four days! The whole house is merry and a bustle of activity. Mrs. Halley is getting the spare room (the one by that dang grandfather clock) ready for Hugh’s arrival and she has us cleaning everything up and airing out all the mattresses. I feel as though spring is already here!
Saturday, January 26th, 1918
It just fell upon me that Hugh does not know that Charlie has passed away. It will be up to me to tell him. Also, I do not remember telling him that Emily Belle has been blinded. The anticipation for his arrival has been nail-biting. It will be a sad arrival, but a happy one too. He can only stay for four weeks at the most because he has to go back and fight. It will be hard to see him go, but why think about that when he has not even arrived yet?! Abby, I think, is a little bit too excited to see him. From what I remember before, she was sweet on him. Well, no matter, but I get to hug him first! He will also be happy to know that we found Cassie. Oh, I pray that she will arrive back before Hugh comes home. I do not think Hugh knows that we will be sent to an orphanage after he leaves us. We had a meeting, just us kids this morning. Aaron says that we should not mention what might become of us after he leaves. If he knew, he would only feel bad about it and he has enough to deal with already.
Sunday, January 27th, 1918
We went to the Kesslers’ church today and I prayed that Hugh would arrive home safely and that we would not be sent to an orphanage. My stomach is nervous about his arrival. What if he has changed? What if he does not like the Halleys? I asked these questions to Aaron and he reassured me not to worry.
They are almost finished building the apartment buildings for the homeless. Slowly but steadily Halifax is getting back into order.
I went down by the creek today and sat on the bank. I did quite a bit of thinking. I almost didn’t notice Abby sneak up behind me.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Just thinking,’ I said.
She sat beside me and we stared over the ice. After awhile Abby jumped up and said, ‘Enough of this moping around all the time! Let’s do something fun!’
So she pulled me back to her house to get Timmy and then back the Halleys’ to get Aaron, Olivia and Susannah. Then we all raced downtown and went in and out of shops, looking at stuff and window shopping. Then Abby treated us all to ice cream and we raced down to the waterfront to watch the sailors and the ships going in and out of the harbour. We arrived home just before dark. I tell you, this was the best fun I have had in days! Always leave it to Abby to brighten your spirits!
Monday, January 28th, 1918
Oh, dear friend, just think, Hugh could be here tomorrow! That is only twenty-four hours away. Just imagine! The whole house is in high spirits. Emily Belle is jumping all about, Susannah has a huge smile on her face and Aaron keeps hugging me. Olivia is anxious to meet him and of course Abby is giddy! I feel some light is coming back into our world that had been dark and dreary for too long. Slowly light is breaking through the darkness. I ponder and ponder where Cassie has gone. I can just imagine her lying on the ground, that big, strong body now weak and helpless. Ugh! What a way to think the day before your brother is coming home! Think happy thoughts, Stephanie.
We are on Chapter Seven of our book. It is becoming quite long. We read it to the Halleys after supper tonight and they said all five of us should be writers! We all smiled, but I could see the sadness on Emily Belle’s face. I hope in her lifetime they will have a surgery to make her see again. For what job can you get as a blind girl? There really is no job out there for blind people, especially blind girls. It still pains me to see her like that. Sometimes we just sit and cry together. She is always asking me how she looks. She says I have become her mirror. She says I am her eyes. We are so close now. Before we hardly spent half the time we spend together now. She is still close with Susannah, but not as close as with me. I think Susannah has not fully let go of Charlie yet. He was her companion though and I do not know how I would live without Aaron. But I guess I would just have to cope with it, or kill myself, and I tell you that is crossed off my list!
So much I have written in this mangy old book. I remember when it was gleaming and brand new, now it could pass as garbage, but I love it more than anything and you too, dear friend, you too.
Tuesday, January 29th, 1918
My stomach is flopping all over the place! Hugh could be here in this very house in a few hours! The hospital ship arrives at noon and all of us, including Abby, are going down to the dock to see if he is among them. Today Susannah took me aside and asked me how she looked. She said her hair was a nightmare and she wanted Hugh to think of her as a young lady. The last time he saw her she was only six! Emily Belle, of course, also had to look appropriate so Olivia and I washed them up, brushed their hair and put Susannah’s in a high bun and Emily Belle’s into braids along her back fastened with hair ribbons. We also dressed them up in their Sunday best. To add the final touch, we borrowed Mrs. Halley’s perfume and added a dash of it to them. They certainly do look like young ladies. Olivia and I also dressed up a bit as well and Aaron wore his suit. Mrs. Halley is calling me. We are heading down to the harbour! Good bye, dear friend!
Oh my! Where do I start? Hugh is in the house this very minute! He is now downstairs talking with the Halleys.
Well, we went down to the dock and the ship was just pulling up in the harbour. They docked it, and let the railing down. Wounded men started streaming off the ship, and I tell you, I searched every face for Hugh’s. Finally, when the crowd started to thin out, I spotted a handsome young man hobbling down the gangplank carrying a duffle bag. I spotted him and all of us started yelling and screaming and yelling and screaming! He turned his head towards us and I tell you his face lit up like the sun! It looked like he had not shaved in a while, but other than that he was just what I remembered, only two years older! He started half walking, half running towards us, but I tell you, Aaron, Susannah and I with Emily Belle on my back, literally raced towards him. Emily Belle started waving her hands around calling out his name. She hardly remembers him. When we got to him Emily Belle’s outstretched arms found his face, and I tell you, she practically jumped from my arms to Hugh’s!
Hugh hugged her tightly and with Emily Belle still clinging to his neck, he gathered the rest of us into his arms. Olivia, Abby and the Kesslers were trailing behind. For about five minutes we did not move, we did not speak, we just stood there clinging to each other. Then his first words were, ‘Susannah, Emily Belle, Aaron, Stephanie, when I heard the news I hoped and prayed and here all of you are with smiling, bright faces.’ His voice broke after that and he did not say anything else. That is when Mr. and Mrs. Halley came charging through and shook hands with him. They explained that they were taking care of us. Hugh shook their hands and then gave a warm welcome to Abby. I introduced Olivia and they shook hands. The walk back to the house was lovely, but thoughts kept swirling at the back of my head. He must already know that Charlie is dead and Emily Belle, blind. But he has not said anything. We talked earlier about telling him about Cassie but decided to leave it. We also talked about Susannah telling him about Charlie, but she just said she would not talk about it. She asked if I would do it, I said I would, though later I regretted it.
We got back to the house and ate up Mrs. Halley’s welcoming home dinner! It was good! After, we all gathered around in the parlour for a chat. But before we could get started Emily Belle stood up and announced in the sweetest voice possible, ‘I will not talk about this matter after today, but you might as well know.’ She pause, wringing her hands and then said in the quietest voice possible, ‘I was blinded in the explosion.’ Then she sat down.
There was no more talk, but Hugh had a sad look on his face that made me want to cry.
‘Emily Belle, come up here and sit on my lap,’ Hugh urged, so she did, dear friend, and as we talked he hugged her with all his might.
Later today we are going to take a walk down to the graveyard. But it will just be us five.
After supper all five of us; Emily Belle, Susannah, Aaron, Hugh and I took a walk. We did not tell him where we were going, but I think he knew. When we got to the graveyard we did not say anything, just led him to Mother’s, Father’s, Colleen’s and Charlie’s graves. The four of us stayed back while Hugh knelt on the ground before them. He prayed and then kissed the ground. We all knelt beside him and he cried. It was the first time I had ever seen him cry, dear friend, and it scared me. But no, he cried like there was no tomorrow. Through his tears he told us about when he heard about the Explosion. He prayed we were still alive, but as the days went on and the dead in the papers kept piling on, he lost hope. It was not until a few weeks after the Explosion, he got my letter about Emily Belle and I being in the hospital. He was sick also, but he arranged to come home on Compassionate Leave. But hospital ships kept sailing and he could not get any room on one. Finally, after almost three weeks of waiting, he got notice that he was booked a sail on the Flyer and left on January 20th. He arrived nine days later at the harbour in Halifax and here he is! We all told each other our stories of the Explosion and swore never to talk of them again. Then we went home.
Today sure has been an eventful day! Good night, dear friend. Sleep tight!
Wednesday, January 30th, 1918
I do not know what to write! I am just so happy! Can you believe that Hugh has finally come home?! It just fills me with a warm bubbly feeling. It is almost like having Mother and Father back, but not quite. I do not feel a need to write every day, now that Hugh is here and I have him to comfort me. Do not worry dear friend, I will not forget you, but I do not need you as much anymore. I will see you in a few days!
Tuesday, February 5th, 1918
I cannot believe it! I just cannot believe it! The worst, most terrible thing happened today! Okay, I will calm down enough to tell you the story.
I awoke this morning and it was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and it was surprisingly warm out. I dressed myself and went downstairs. I ate my breakfast and went out for a walk with Hugh. We had a lovely time and when we came back I went into the house and Hugh got the mail. I was just taking my hair ribbons out in my room when I heard shouting in the kitchen. Hugh and Mr. Halley were fighting. I heard the words, blind school and froze. Right then and there I knew that Hugh had found the returning letter from the blind school. He had found out and he was not happy. I ran to Susannah’s room to tell them, only to find Emily Belle and Susannah frozen in their places, they had heard too. Susannah put her finger to her lips. We quietly walked across the hall to the staircase. We were only to be greeted by Aaron and Olivia. The five of us leaned over the banister listening intently. We heard bits of conversation.
‘An orphanage... separated... been through enough!’
‘Had no choice... tried our best... we cannot do that!’
The conversation was getting pretty heated and we needed to do something. We slowly came down the stairs and stood quietly outside the kitchen. I was about to walk in when I bumped into Hugh. I fell to the ground but he did not help me up. He just stood there fuming. He held up the blind school letter, his face full of rage, and shouted, ‘So you did not tell me! I could have done something! I guess it is too late now!’ Then he ripped it up into pieces and stomped upstairs. Emily Belle heard the ripping and knelt on the ground picking up pieces of the letter. She had tears streaming down her face.
‘A blind school, I am going to be sent to a blind school!’ With that she ran into the kitchen screaming and bumping into things. Mrs. Halley picked her up and went into the parlour to try and calm her down. Olivia had fled upstairs into her room and Aaron had run outside. Susannah helped me up and we looked up at Mr. Halley. He gave us one look over and walked past us. Susannah went into the parlour to try to calm Emily Belle down and I ran upstairs to write this. The whole house is just a mess and I do not know what to do. I can hear Hugh in his room crying. I think I will go and talk to him.
I went and talked to Hugh and he was downright mad at me for not telling him.
‘I could have arranged something different, Stephanie. Now it is too late.’
I told him we decided not to tell him because we did not want to make him worry about us. When I told him that he snuggled me up close and said, ‘Worry about me? Stephanie, you and Aaron and Emily Belle and Susannah have already been through so much and you care about what I think?’ I nodded and he gave me a great big hug.
‘What is going to happen to us?’ I asked.
Hugh smiled, but it was a sad smile.
‘You guys will probably be put in an orphanage, probably ‘till the end of the War. Then I can come get you.’
‘What about Emily Belle?’
‘The Halleys are good people, Stephanie, but they are only doing what is best for her.’
He did not really answer my question, but I think he meant that Emily Belle would be going to the blind school. I left Hugh and went downstairs to talk to Susannah. She was at the kitchen table just staring into space.
‘Emily Belle okay?’ I asked.
She did not answer for awhile then said in a quiet voice, ‘Not really, she has taken to her bed. She is making herself sick.’ Then she just burst into tears. I sat beside her and asked what was wrong.
‘Why did the Explosion have to happen, Stephanie? I mean, Emily Belle is making herself sick. She is vomiting. She does not want to be sent away! I know, I can see it in her face!’
I sighed and chose my words carefully.
‘Susannah, God does not just make these things happen. There was a reason all of this came to be. Maybe the reason for Emily Belle was to teach her to be strong in tough times. Maybe the lesson for you was to learn to let go.’
‘Of what?’ she asked me quietly, but I knew she knew.
“You know Susannah,” I told her.
Susannah nodded and went upstairs. That is just like her. She is quiet, has an outburst, and then she gets all quiet again. Sometimes she is very hard to figure out.
As for Olivia and Aaron, well, Aaron has not come back yet since he ran out of the house when Hugh had an outburst. I am not worried though. Sometimes, when he needs to think things out in his head he goes for long walks. One time when he and Mother had a fight he stayed out all night! Then when we were all eating breakfast, he calmly walked in and went up to bed. The next day he acted as if nothing ever happened.
Wednesday, February 6th, 1918
Emily Belle got up this morning and went for a walk with Susannah. I could hear them talking outside when they came back, but when I tried to talk to Susannah she just gave me a glare and walked past me. Emily Belle seems mad at me too. What did I do!?
Aaron is back. Luckily, he came back last night. I was the last one awake and getting ready for bed when he walked in the door. He just smiled and went in his room.
I have basically given up hope of ever finding Cassie. I just pray that she is alive and someone took her in.
On the other hand, Hugh seems to have cooled down and all of us are enjoying the rest of his visit. Tomorrow we are going to take the train to Peggy’s Cove and stay for a week. It should be fun, except for the part that Susannah and Emily Belle are not talking to me!
Tuesday, February 12th, 1918
Well, Peggy’s Cove was joyful and fun! It was a fun trip but it brought back memories. Dear friend, remember when Alexis and I went to Peggy’s Cove? Well, we drove past the house we had been staying at and it brought on a flood of tears. The first day was fun and so was the second day, but on the third day, Emily Belle, Susannah and I got into a huge fight. On the fourth day we made up and I found out that they were mad at me because I did not tell Emily Belle about the blind school. We were friends for the rest of the trip and that is pretty much it.
How is Emily Belle taking the blind school news? Since it was decided that she would go, she has not really said anything about it. I think she is trying to forget it, but come the beginning of March, she will have to go.
I liked going into the woods with Hugh and just talking about different things. We talked about the Explosion and I gave him my diary to read. After he gave it back to me, he pulled me into his lap (even though I am way too old for that) and said, ‘Stephanie, you are our family’s keeper. You keep us all together.’ That comforted me and I hugged him really tight.
Friday, February 15th, 1918
Sorry I keep missing days, dear friend. I just do not have time to write! Okay, well maybe I do, but I am trying to spend every minute with Hugh. He told us he would be leaving March 1st. That is only fourteen days away! But I will try to clue you in on what is happening in the real world every once in a while.
Still no sign of Cassie.
Susannah and I went to Abby’s house today and we all went to Citadel Hill to go sledding. We have also finished our book and have decided to give it to Hugh as a present for when he goes back to France.
I had a long talk with Emily Belle today about the blind school. I read the letter out loud to her (after we glued it back together) and told her what she could expect. She would learn to read Braille and make new friends. I could tell she was listening and even sensed a spark of excitement. But she never said anything, just nodded and ‘stared’ at me with those bandaged, unseeing eyes.
Saturday, February 16th, 1918
Just a few quick words and then off to bed. Today we got a letter in the mail informing us that schools will be opening again in March. The Halleys told us we have a choice, we girls anyway. We can either go to Halifax Ladies College or Tower Road School. Aaron, Olivia and Susannah have decided to go to Tower Road. I cannot seem to make up my mind though! Mother went to Halifax Ladies Collage (HLC) when she was my age, but I will not know anyone. But I want to be able to walk the same halls and sit in the same classrooms that Mother did. I do not know what to do! I talked to Abby today and she said that she has not made up her mind either. What will I do?
Sunday, February 17th, 1918
We went to church today and I prayed to let God lead me to the right decision. My answer came when the Minister said, ‘Those who we have lost will always be with us in our hearts, no matter where we are. Surround yourself with friends and family.’
I told Abby I had decided to go to Tower Road. She told me that is where she has decided to go too. I am happy that I will be with all my friends again. Well, almost all of them. I still wish Alexis were here.
Monday, February 18th, 1918
The days seem to fly by so quickly! Having Hugh here is starting to bring joy into the world again.
Today, Emily Belle, Susannah and I went down to the creek to have a picnic. We raced around in the meadow and played tag, it was quite fun! Though Emily Belle had to hold my hand the whole time so she did not trip, it was still quite fun. But whenever I see Susannah and Emily Belle laugh it reminds me of what it used to be like. I know there is no turning back no matter how much we want to, but I suddenly got a whole new perspective on the meaning of life. It is not what you are doing or where you are, it is who you are with and how you spend your time. Before, I used to live my days wishing something interesting would happen, but now I enjoy every minute. We only live for so long.
Tuesday, February 19th, 1918
Sorry I have not been writing much these days, dear friend. It is just that my mind has been somewhere else, somewhere far away. I cannot believe we only have a few more days with Hugh before he goes off! I have been following him around like a lost puppy reunited with its master. Today we went into town and bought new school books. The Halleys insisted on paying, but I would not let them. We used the money Mother and Father had left us in their Will. I sat down at the table and did a little bit of math just to get my brain flowing again. It sure has been a while since the last time I went to school – about two and half months ago!
I was feeling a bit sad today after we came back from shopping. It reminded me of when Mother and I used to shop for my books before school started. I took out the bible Mr. Halley had given me and read over it. I feel a bit better now, but not much.
I had a long good talk with Hugh about how I was feeling. He told me it was all right to cry and feel this way, but the important thing was to pick up afterward and get on with life. I love talking to Hugh. I told him about Cassie. I know we had sworn not to tell him, but he had a right to know. After I told him he said, ‘Thank you, Stephanie, I appreciate you telling me.’ Then he went off to his room to think.
Thursday, February 28th, 1918
Sorry I missed so many days dear friend! I lost my diary and could not find it anywhere! When we were turning over the mattresses today, there was my diary. Somehow it must have slipped under the mattress. Well, I missed you, dear friend. I had so much to say, so I spilt it all on Hugh. After awhile he said to me, ‘Do you ever shut up, Stephanie?’ but with a big smile on his face.
Well, Hugh leaves tomorrow. I think everyone is dreading it. I do not feel good at all. I wish he did not have to leave. Whenever I think about it my stomach gets all funny and I feel like crying. What if something happens to him, dear friend? What if he never comes home again? Will we live in an orphanage the rest of our lives?! I cannot even bear to think!
Bedtime - 10pm
We had a big farewell supper and invited Abby, her Mother, Timmy and Baby Rose. We certainly had a feast and enjoyed ourselves with Mrs. Halley’s pumpkin pie! She is almost as good a cook as Mother was … almost.
Everyone is asleep and I should be as well, dear friend, good night.
Early Morning - 12am
I had to do it! I just had to! I could not bear the thought of Hugh leaving! I ran away, dear friend. Yes, ran away. I know it is wrong but I just cannot let him leave. Now that I am gone, he will have to stay. I will come back looking so pitiful he will have to stay! I ran down to the creek, and here I am writing this by the light of the moon, leaning on a tree up on the river bank. I forgot my overwraps in a rush to get away and I am only in my nightgown and nightcap. I am shivering something terrible but it will all be worth it in the end, won’t it? I am so tired but I cannot fall asleep or else I will freeze to death. I do not want them finding my body in the morning.
I think I fell asleep. I am too foggy to remember. I was awakened by a soft whining and realized it was Cassie! Where did she come from? All I know is her body heat is the only thing keeping me alive. The faithful dog. Good girl, Cassie, good girl! I do not know what time it is, but I am guessing around maybe three am. The moon is as bright as ever.
Friday, March 1st, 1918
Light is starting to streak across the sky. It is the crack of dawn and faithful old Cassie is still at my side. My hands are almost too cold to write but I have to keep going. I am blowing my breath on the ink bottle to make sure it does not freeze over. Sorry if my handwriting is sloppy. I am just shaking so much. When Hugh sees me like this he will not leave, he just cannot.
I am curled up under warm covers with the fire crackling. You are probably wondering what has happened, dear friend. Let me start from the beginning.
I fell asleep after I last wrote and then woke up to hear voices and a dog barking.
‘Here she is! Come quick! I found her!’
I remember being lifted into a wagon and driven to a house. From there I was stripped of my clothes and put into a hot bath. I was slipping in and out consciousness and was not able to tell anyone anything. All I remember is the hot water against my body. It felt so good. I was then dressed into a nightgown and placed in a warm room. When I awoke another time, a familiar looking girl was giving me spoonfuls of soup.
‘There you go, hang in there Stephanie, you will be fine.’
Another time, big, strong arms wrapped me in a tight hug and I heard a, ‘Goodbye, Stephanie, I love you.’
Finally, I woke for real and realized I was in the Halleys’ house. I looked around me and noticed a little girl sleeping beside me. It was Emily Belle. I shook her awake and she shot up turning her head every which way. She found my face with her hands, put her hands on my eyes, realized they were open and yelled, ‘Stephanie!’ Just then Abby, Susannah and ALEXIS ran into the room!
‘Stephanie!’ Alexis cried and practically jumped on me! I smiled and asked what the heck had just happened. So Susannah, Emily Belle, Abby and Alexis all shared their sides of the story.
Emily Belle’s Story
She had woken up at the crack of dawn and was about to go to sleep when she said she had the strangest feeling. She said she felt like I was not there, that she was alone. So, she got out of bed and walked over to my bed and felt under the covers. She realized she was right; I was not there. Then she ran to wake Susannah. Susannah checked and then raced to wake up the Halleys while Emily Belle woke up Hugh. Everyone got dressed, except for Olivia who said she was not feeling well. Susannah, holding onto Emily Belle, went all around the house looking for me, when Emily Belle had an idea. She told Abby and Susannah and all three of them raced to the creek. They found me barely alive and called for help. Mr. Halley and Hugh lifted me into the wagon and raced me home. When she was walking back to the house with Susannah and Abby she heard a familiar bark. She heard Susannah gasp and when Emily Elle asked what was wrong, Susannah told her Cassie and Alexis were running down the road. She did not know how they had gotten there, but was overjoyed to pet Cassie once again. They all raced home to find Alexis’ parents getting into their wagon.
‘Alexis, honey, we will be right back, we are driving Hugh down to the harbour.’
Emily Belle said she went with them and promised Hugh that I would be okay. She said he sounded very frantic and worried because she said she felt him shaking and breathing hard. Just before he left she said Hugh knelt down and said, ‘Emily Belle, please tell Stephanie that I love her.’ Emily Belle said she would and handed Hugh our book we had made for him. He hugged her tightly. Then he was gone. They got back to the house and Emily Belle went in to check on me with Susannah. She jumped on the bed and fell asleep and Susannah left. Next thing she knew, I was shaking her awake!
She awoke to Emily Belle shaking her awake. For a minute she could not quite make out what Emily Belle was saying, but after awhile, she got the gist of it and ran to wake up the Halleys. They got dressed right away and ran outside to look. Then she and Emily Belle ran to get Abby and they started a search party. It was Emily Belle who had the idea of having them go to the creek and that is when they found me. Susannah saw my diary and brought that back too. They called for help and Mr. Halley and Hugh put me into the wagon and raced me home. Just then she saw Cassie and Alexis! Susannah said she was overjoyed to see them. They raced back and while Emily Belle went with Alexis’ parents to go see Hugh off, she, Abby and Alexis ran inside. Susannah said, the minute she saw me, she prayed her hardest I would be all right. Then she left and came back in later with Emily Belle. Next thing she heard Emily Belle’s screams from the bedroom and ran in to find me awake.
My hand is getting tired. I am going to stop for a bit and rest.
Okay, I think I am ready.
She was getting Rose ready for breakfast when she heard banging on the door. She ran to the door really quickly and swung it open. Emily Belle and Susannah were there panting. ‘Guys, what is wrong?’
‘Stephanie is missing.’
With that, the three girls ran out the door and onto the street. Emily Belle said I might be at the pond, so they raced down there to find me asleep leaning against a big tree, shivering from the cold. They called for help and as Mr. Halley and Hugh were putting me in the wagon, she saw Cassie and Alexis running down the road! Abby cried tears of joy and hugged Alexis really, really hard. They all ran back and went up to see me. They were heartbroken when they saw me lying there – motionless. They went downstairs and prayed, and as if their prayers were answered, Emily Belle’s screams summoned them upstairs where they found me sitting up in bed, wide-eyed!
Now, dear friend, here is Alexis’s story. I cannot believe she is here!
On the day of the Explosion she ran down to the harbour to see what all the commotion was about. Just before it blew she said a man from the post office ran down the street yelling at the children to come away from the harbour because the ship was going to explode. A lot of the children ignored him and stayed, but Alexis knew by his frantic look he was afraid and ran away as fast as she could. When she was about fifty feet from the edge of the harbour, a white blast shot up from the ship and a loud bang rang in her ears. The force of the Explosion picked her up and dropped her on the ruins of a collapsed house. She had a huge gash in her forehead and could not see properly due to all the blood pouring down her face. So she waited and prayed. After about an hour she saw her mother running towards her. Her mother was leading her father who was crying and waving his hands around. He had been blinded from the glass. They quickly walked to the hospital and were released a week later. They went back to their home only to find it in ruins. So they took a train the Truro to live with their grandparents who kindly took them in. They stayed there for awhile, but realized it was not for them so decided to come back and buy one of the houses that they heard were being built for the people who had lost their homes in the Explosion. They were planning to leave on a train the next day, but the night before they found a hurt, skinny and dirty dog lying at their door. It was January 27th. Cassie had made it to Truro in ten days! Alexis immediately recognized the dog as Cassie. She took it as a sign that we were still alive and well. They delayed their train tickets and mended Cassie until she was well. Then again, the night before they were to leave, Cassie ran away. They looked and called for her all night. Alexis’ parents suggested they go back to Halifax. So they headed home and took their wagon. They galloped those horses all night long, and just as the sky was lighting, Cassie came out from behind some bushes. They started to turn back, but Cassie stayed where she was. Finally, they followed her and at full daybreak they rounded the corner only to find, us! Alexis jumped out of the wagon and followed Cassie down the hill. They were quickly told what had happened and rushed back to the Halleys’ to find her parents driving Hugh off to the harbour. She said a quick hello and goodbye and ran into the house. A few hours later, around noon, they heard Emily Belle’s squeals and ran into the bedroom to find me awake.
So that is the story. Cassie had run away to find Alexis and then ran back and stayed with me all through that night. I am so happy that God sent Cassie on that journey. It has brought the last of the lost back together again. Alexis and her parents are going to spend the night here and then go back home tomorrow and get their luggage. Then they will find a house here and settle down! Meanwhile the Halleys said they can stay at our house!
Hugh is gone. In all the excitement I did not realize it. Now I wish I had not run away. I want to die.
Why do we do the things we do? I asked this to Alexis and she just shrugged. She says there is always a reason for why things happen, but I have not figured this one out. Hugh is gone and I may never see him again. He saw me, but I was asleep. I never got to say goodbye. I realise now that I had put Hugh in a very awkward position. He must be worried sick about me! What I thought would prevent Hugh from leaving did not turn out and my silly actions only made the problem worse. I want to kill myself. Literally throw myself into the harbour and drown! I realized if I did that I would put a big burden on the people I love. So now all I can really do is write a letter to him. And I did, dear friend. It will be waiting for him when he arrives in France. I told him that I am begging on my hands and knees for him to forgive me, but I will live if he chooses not to. After I wrote it out, I mailed it.
It is strange how you can feel like nothing could be better one minute and feel like the world is crashing in on you the next.
Monday, March 4th, 1918 - 5am
Schools are starting today. I spent the last few days in bed regaining my strength. This morning I said sorry to everyone and they forgave me and that was it. It is over and done with.
I am so happy that Alexis is here! I seriously am. I never thought I would ever see her alive. I had prayed I could at least say goodbye to her body. But to see her walking and talking, after all this, it is a miracle.
We are starting school today, as I said. Well, everyone except for Alexis and Olivia. Olivia is not feeling too great. She might have fever. I pray not. A lot of people have died from it. Alexis is not going because she and her parents left early this morning to go back to Truro to get their things. I know it is really early but I have already dressed and eaten. I cannot wait!
Things went great on our first day back! I even made some new friends. We girls did not talk about the Explosion and who had died, but I could tell people were searching faces to try and see who was missing. I love our new teacher! Her name is Mrs. Malone. Mr. Mellows died in the explosion. Mrs. Malone does not rap your knuckles or yell. She is a pretty, young lady and I am glad to have her as my teacher. I have to go now. I have a lot of homework to do.
Late – 11pm
I know it is really late, dear friend, and no I have not run away! But Alexis and her family just walked in the door and I could not get to sleep. Poor girl though, she fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. She is going to start school tomorrow. As for Olivia, she is getting better, but must spend a few more days in bed!
I just had some thoughts in my head. Is it really that we are starting a new school term? It seems only yesterday the Explosion happened, yet here I am writing, alive and well. I can simply not believe it. The Explosion was a terrible thing I know, but doors have been opened and there are new opportunities to seek.
Thanks for listening, dear friend, good night.
Tuesday, March 5th, 1918
Hello, dear friend. Alexis had her first day back at school and the three of us had a good time. We have already made a new circle of friends. Mr. and Mrs. Halley talked to Emily Belle, Aaron, Susannah and I tonight. We are going to the orphanage next Monday. Alexis helped me pack up a little bit of my stuff tonight. I felt like crying and longed too, but kept my head strong. I did not want to burden her with my problems.
Saturday, March 9th, 1918
I only have a few more pages in this rugged diary. Sorry I missed the week. I was just having a hard time getting back on schedule. I almost forgot about you, dear friend! Oh, I just remembered! Alexis’ parents found a house and are moving into it tomorrow. It is amazing how things can happen so fast! On Monday we will go to school and then come home and get our things and go to the orphanage. Emily Belle is being sent away on Monday. She cried out when she was told that. I told her she could have my diary if she would like. She just shook her head and said, ‘What is the use when I cannot see it, let alone read it?” I wished I had not asked her that question.
Sunday, March 10th, 1918
We went to church today and I prayed for Hugh’s well-being and our well-being. I just wish we did not have to go to the orphanage. It is not a home there. It is a place you sleep and eat and are cared for – but that is it. We met the orphanage ladies who run the place today and they seemed nice. We will all sleep in a big room with thirty beds and rise at 6am each morning then go to bed at 8pm. It is a very controlled life.
Olivia is well and back on her feet. I asked Alexis if she wanted to come with me, Olivia and Abby down to the creek, but she said she had to talk to her parents about something. Very mysterious.
Monday, March 11th, 1918
Well, it is Monday evening and I am not at the orphanage! I smell freshly cut wood and the room I am sitting in is bare, except for a few boxes. Can you guess where I am, dear friend?! I am at...ALEXIS’ NEW HOUSE!!! That is right, dear friend. No orphanage for me! Alexis’ parents invited the four of us to LIVE WITH THEM!!! Well, until the end of the War to be precise. We were told late last evening. I guess that is what Alexis wanted to talk about with her parents! When we were told, Emily Belle and Susannah jumped out of their chairs and screamed in delight. I ran and hugged Alexis, and Aaron just kept smiling and smiling. I do not know how I can EVER thank Alexis’ parents! I feel just like family with them! Now Alexis will have three sisters and a brother! I just CANNOT BELIEVE IT!!! Alexis and I will share a room and Emily Belle and Susannah another. Lucky Aaron gets a room to himself! Since it was too late last night to go over and tell Abby, we told her first thing this morning. We all jumped up and down in happiness! Olivia is also happy for us too. Even though she says she will miss our late night talks. Now she will have the house to herself! The Halleys and Olivia are going to get the adoption papers and sign them saying Olivia is their child under the law. That will happen sometime next month. Emily Belle still went off to the blind school, but she seemed happier about it knowing she will not come back to an orphanage at the end of the year. It was sad to say good-bye to her at the train station but we hugged each other and promised to see each other soon. It will be a long four months until she comes back home for the summer break but we can do it. I love you Emily Belle! Also, Cassie is allowed to live with us too! OH, I AM JUST SO HAPPY!!!
Saturday, March 16th, 1918
I fear this is goodbye, dear friend. I only have one page left in this diary. I was just flipping through the pages and noticed how much the diary itself tells a life. In the beginning the pages are crisp and clean and the dates march along in an orderly fashion. Then, when the Explosion occurred, the pages are blood and tear-stained and then slowly they get cleaner and crisper until they are as clean as they were in the beginning.
Dear friend, I just want to thank you. You have listened to all my times of sorrow and sadness. You, dear friend, have been through it all - through thick and thin and you never once left these pages. Dear friend, if you are really out there, then I will find you and maybe we can be best friends. But, dear friend, if you are in a different lifetime or a different world, just know that you will always be with me wherever I go.
Dear friend, I feel a new beginning coming on. The snow is melting away and the buds are starting to blossom once again on the trees. I am truly starting to feel happy again. A whole new life is opening before me. Welcome, dear friend, to the beginning.