Wednesday, February 26, 2014

MAGGIE'S JOURNEY - Lena Nelson Dooley


September 1867
On the Oregon Trail
Florence Caine huddled near the campfire outside their wagon, one of over thirty that were circled for the night. Winter rode the winds that had been blasting them for the last few days. Their destination couldn’t come soon enough to suit her.

She brushed her skirt with the palms of both hands trying to get rid of the ever-present dirt. Why did I ever agree to Joshua’s plan? If she’d known all the dangers they would face along the way, he would have had to make this journey without her … if he kept insisting on going. Her husband’s adventurous spirit had first drawn her to him, but she would have been happy to stay in Little Rock, Arkansas, until they were old and gray. Instead, she finally yielded to his fairy-tale vision—a new start in the West. The words had sounded romantic at the time, but their brilliance had dulled in her memory.

Florence rubbed her chapped hands, trying to help the warmth to go deeper. Her bones ached with the cold. After months of traveling the plains through scorching heat and choking clouds of dust, she had welcomed the cooler temperatures when they crossed the Rocky Mountains. That respite was the only thing she liked about the treacherous route they had to take. Because of the steep trail that often disappeared among the rocks and tree roots, they had dumped many items the men thought weren’t essential.

Huh. As if men understood the desires of a woman’s heart and what brought her comfort. The tinkling and crashing of her precious bone china from England breaking into a million pieces as the crate tumbled down the hill still haunted her dreams.

Florence kept many of her favorite things when they traveled from Little Rock to Independence, Missouri, where the wagon trains started their journeys. She had struggled with what to sell to lighten the load before they left. The one piece of furniture she’d been allowed to keep, her grandmother’s small rosewood secretary desk, had probably been used as wood to stoke some other traveler’s fire out there on the prairie where trees were so widely scattered. When they had to dump the treasure, a piece of her heart went with it. She’d twisted on the wagon seat and gazed at the forlorn piece until it was just a speck on the empty horizon. Joshua had promised there would be other secretaries, but that didn’t matter anymore. She squeezed her eyes tight, trying to force the pictures out of her mind. Regrets attacked her like the plague.

More than the journey sapped her strength. She doubted there would be the proverbial pot of gold at the end of their travels. No promised land for her, because what she really wanted, a child of her own, wouldn’t be found in the greener pastures of the untamed wilderness.

Clutching her arms tightly across her chest, she forced her thoughts even farther back, all the way to Arkansas. Their white house with the green shutters nestled between tall trees that sheltered them from the summer heat and kept the cold winds at bay. She remembered the times the two of them had sat before the fire—she knitting or sewing while Joshua read aloud to her from one of their favorite books. Or he might be poring over one of the many newspapers he often brought home after work. Now for so many months, they hadn’t heard any news except whatever they could glean at the infrequent stops along the Oregon Trail or from the few riders who passed the wagon train. Sometimes the men stopped to share a meal and spin yarns for the ones on the journey.

She had no idea how much of their information was even true. But the men hung on to their every word. Loneliness for family and the desire to know what was going on back East ate at her.
A shiver swept from the top of Florence’s head and didn’t miss a single part of her body on its way to her feet. Even with multiple layers of woolen hosiery, her toes felt like ice. She’d often worried that one of them would break off if she stubbed it. She yearned for the snug house where never a single cold breeze seeped inside. Would she ever feel warm again?

She glanced around the clearing, hoping Joshua would soon return to their campsite. If not, dinner would be overcooked or cold. Sick of stew that had been made from rabbits or squirrels these last two weeks, she longed for fried chicken or a good pot roast with plenty of fresh vegetables. At least the wagon master assured them they were no more than a three-days’ journey from Oregon City. Taking a deep breath, she decided she could last three more days. But not one minute more.

Strong arms slid around her waist. Florence jumped, then leaned back against her husband’s solid chest. His warmth surrounded her, and she breathed deeply of his unique musky scent mixed with the freshness of the outdoors.

“What were you thinking about?” Joshua’s breath gave her neck a delicious tickle.
“That our journey will soon be over.”

She could hardly wait to be in a real house with privacy. She had never felt comfortable knowing that people in nearby wagons could hear most of what went on in theirs, and she knew more than she ever wanted to know about some of the families on the train. She moved slightly away from him, but missed the warmth he exuded. Suddenly an inexplicable sense of oppression or impending disaster gave her more of a chill than the cold wind. This time the shivers shook her whole body.

He turned her in his arms, gently held her against his chest, then propped his chin on top of her head. “I know how hard this has been on you, Flory.”

He didn’t often use the pet name he gave her while they courted. The familiarity warmed her heart for a moment.

“You’re just skin and bones, but soon we’ll be in the promised land, and I’ll make sure you have everything you’ve ever wanted.”

Words spoken with such conviction that they almost melted her heart … almost, but the strange cold dread wouldn’t depart.

She pulled away and stared up into his eyes, basking in the intense love shining in them. “You’re all I’ve ever wanted.” That wasn’t exactly true, but she wouldn’t mention their inability to conceive a child. No use bringing that hurt to his eyes. “So what did Overton have to say to the men tonight?”

“Not all the men were there. Angus McKenna wasn’t. Neither was the doctor.”

A stab of jealousy jolted through her as she realized this could mean only one thing. Lenora McKenna was in labor. Florence stuffed her feelings of inadequacy and envy deep inside and tried to replace them with concern for Lenora. The poor woman had ridden on a pallet in the back of the McKenna wagon for about three weeks. She was actually the reason they took the easier, but longer, Barlow Cutoff instead of crossing the Dalles. The wagon train wouldn’t continue on to Ft. Vancouver as originally planned. But the wagon master assured them plenty of land awaited near Oregon City. No one but her minded the change. At least, no one complained, and she didn’t voice her feelings about prolonging her time on the hard wagon seat. No use letting anyone else know how she really felt. No one would care.

“Should I go see if I can help?” Florence really didn’t want to, but she didn’t want Joshua to see the ugly side of her personality. She didn’t want him to think less of her.

Thunder’s deep rumble in the clouds hovering low above the wagon bounced against the surrounding mountains and back. Lightning shot jagged fingers above them, raising the hairs on her arms. She had never liked storms, even from the inside of their house. Out here in the open was far worse.

Joshua hugged her close again. “I think a couple of the women who’ve … had children … are there with the doctor.” He dropped a kiss on the top of her head. “No need for you to go. The wagon would be too crowded.”

He didn’t mean the words to hurt her, but her greatest shame was her inability to give him children. She had watched Joshua as he enjoyed interacting with the various youngsters on the wagon train. He really had a way with them, and they often gathered around him when they were camped, listening intently while he regaled them with wild tales.

He had told her it didn’t matter to him that they didn’t have children, but that inability mattered to her … more than anything else in the world. What kind of woman am I? Ten years of marriage should have brought several babies into their family. Every other couple they knew had several by the time they had been married as long as she and Joshua.

She slid from his arms and bent to stir the bubbling stew, hoping he wouldn’t notice how his words bothered her. Without turning her head, she gritted her teeth. “Hungry?”

His melodious laughter, which always stirred her heart, bounced across the clearing, and some of their neighbors glanced toward them. “That’s a foolish question, woman. When have I ever turned away from food … especially yours?” He patted his flat stomach for emphasis.

Florence went to the back of their wagon and withdrew two spoons and crockery bowls before ladling the hot soup into them. She had already cut the hot-water cornbread she baked in her cast-iron skillet over the coals, so she grabbed a couple of pieces. They sat on the split log bench they carried in their wagon and set out at each campsite.

Joshua took her hand and bowed his head. “Lord, we thank you for your provision during this journey … and especially for tonight’s meal. Bless these hands that prepared this food for us.” He lifted her hand and pressed a soft kiss to the back of it. “And Lord … please be with the McKennas tonight.”

His words brought a picture into her mind, of him caring for her while she was in labor with their child. She needed his tenderness, but that was one kind she’d never have. She swallowed the lump that formed in her throat and blinked back the tears.

Since the McKenna wagon was at the far side of the circled wagons, Florence hadn’t heard many of the sounds of the labor. Occasionally, a high shrill cry rose above the cacophony that divided them, announcing Mrs. McKenna’s agony. Just that faint sound made Florence’s stomach muscles clench. She wouldn’t relish going through that kind of pain, but the reward … Oh, yes, she would welcome it to have a child.

Her stomach growled and twisted. Hunger had dogged her the last few weeks as the food dwindled. They dove into their bowls, and she savored the stew which contained the remnants of the shriveled carrots and potatoes they’d bought at Fort Hall, the last place they had stopped that sold food to the wagon train. She wasn’t sure what she would cook when this pot of stew was gone, but they should have enough to eat for a couple of days, maybe three if they were careful. At least the cold air would keep it from spoiling. Hopefully by then, they’d be at the settlement.
Joshua cleared his throat. “By the way, Overton mentioned that the impending birth might delay our departure tomorrow.” Then he shoveled another spoonful of stew into his mouth, grinning as he closed his eyes and relished the taste. A habit he’d formed soon after they married.

Florence’s food turned bitter in her mouth. She rubbed her hand across her barren belly where her empty womb mocked her. A few tears leaked from her eyes. Why had God chosen not to fulfill her desire to be a mother? And this news was most unwelcome. She might go mad with the delay.

Another flash of lightning, followed by a loud burst of thunder, opened the brooding clouds. Cold rain sprinkled down on them, then gradually grew in intensity. They scrambled to gather their belongings and thrust them into the wagon. Last she covered the stew pot and hung it at the edge of the wagon bed. Then they clambered under the protection of their canvas roof. At least the rain kept Joshua from seeing the tears, which would upset him. He tried so hard to make her happy through their arduous journey.

Long after her husband’s comforting snores filled the enclosure, Florence laid awake, listening to the storm and imagining how she would feel holding her child to her breast. Lullabies filled these daydreams, and her fingers could almost feel the velvety softness of a sweet cheek and silky curls. She wondered if her babies would have blonde hair like hers or the rich brown of Joshua’s.
Once again, tears leaked from the corners of her eyes. She carefully brushed them away and willed herself to fall asleep and squash the thoughts that plagued her. Just before her eyes closed, a light appeared at the opening of the wagon. Florence slid their Wedding Ring quilt up to her chin and sat up, but Joshua didn’t stir.

Reverend Knowles stood in the glow of the lantern, water dripping from the brim of his floppy felt hat. “I’m sorry to bother you folks, but I’m asking everyone to pray for the McKennas. She’s having a hard time … and it’s difficult for him, too.”

“Of course, we’ll pray.”

Florence whispered the words so she wouldn’t awaken Joshua. He had been really tired lately. She could keep a prayer vigil throughout the night because she knew she wouldn’t sleep with the storm raging around them. For hours she whispered petitions for Lenora McKenna, interspersed with occasional prayers for a child of her own. She knew it was selfish, but since so many people were praying to the Almighty right now, maybe He would answer her personal request as well.


The screaming wail that reverberated all around the clearing broke through Florence’s slumber, jerking her wide awake. Nothing like the weak sounds she’d heard earlier, and the voice was too deep to be a woman’s. She shook her head and glanced out the opening to the soft, predawn light. Evidently, she had fallen asleep, but she didn’t feel rested.

Joshua stirred beside her. “What was that?”

“I’m not sure.” She sat up and clutched the quilt close to her chest. “It almost sounded like a wounded animal … but not quite.”

He started pulling on his trousers. “I’m going to see what’s going on.” He kissed her on her nose. “Don’t leave the wagon until I get back and tell you it’s safe. You hear?”

She nodded.

He leaned to give her one of his heart-melting kisses. “I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Florence didn’t want anything to happen to him either, but he wouldn’t appreciate her asking him to stay with her and let the other men take care of things. After he jumped down from the wagon, she stretched a sheet of canvas across the opening and started to dress for the day.

Joshua loved her so much. Her father had never kissed her mother in front of anyone, even the children. But Joshua showed her how much he loved her no matter who was around. Why wasn’t his love enough for her? If only that love would produce a child.

God must be tired of hearing all her petitions for a baby. But just as Rachel in the Bible kept telling God that without a child she would die, Florence would continue begging Him for one, until she had no breath.

She slid the covering from the opening and peeked out. Sunrise lit the area with a golden glow. Everything looked new and fresh after the rain washed away the dust. Even the bare branches of the trees glistened with diamond-like drops clinging to the bark.

Joshua hurried across the circle toward their wagon. He was deep in conversation with Overton Johnson. Even from here, she recognized the seriousness that puckered both of their brows. She wondered what they were discussing so intently.

A few feet from the wagon, her husband glanced up and waved. She stepped down and waited for the two men. Maybe Overton would stay while she fixed breakfast. A single man, he often took turns eating with the families.

Overton approached. “Miz Caine, sorry the yell woke you. Miz McKenna died birthing three babies. Her husband took it real bad. What with the three babies and all. He shore weren’t prepared for such a thing.”

“Three babies?” Florence clutched her dress above her heart. Pain speared through her. She could almost feel her empty womb heave inside her.

Could anything be worse? She couldn’t even have one baby, and they had three. Her breathing deepened, and she fought to hide her thoughts from the men.

But Lenora died. The words bounced around inside her brain. Chagrined, Florence kept her mouth shut. How could she be so callous and selfish?

Joshua slid one arm around her and cradled her by his side. “What’s going to happen now?” He aimed his question at the wagon master.

Overton pulled off his hat and held it in front of him, turning it nervously in his hands. “We’ll have a funeral service and bury ’er today.”

“I could help plan a group meal.” Florence had to do something to redeem herself … at least in her own eyes.

“That’d be right nice, Miz Caine.” He scratched his bearded chin. “Mr. McKenna’ll have his hands full caring for those triplet girls. That’s for sure.”

The long day rushed into eternity. A funeral and burying. A grieving husband. A somber noontime meal. Three baby girls without a mother. Everything ran together in Florence’s mind while she hurried to aid whomever she could. Late in the day after nursing the child, Charlotte Holden placed one of the babies into Florence’s waiting arms before she headed back to her wagon to nurse her own baby.

Having never held a newborn, Florence couldn’t believe how tiny the infant was. She settled onto a stump and cuddled the crying child, trying to calm her. Emotions she’d never experienced before awakened inside her, and a mother’s love flooded her heart. As Florence rocked back and forth and held the infant close, the cries diminished, and the tiny girl slept. She cradled the baby in one arm and with the other hand lightly grasped one of the tight fists until it loosened. The skin felt just as velvety as she had imagined. She tucked the baby’s arm and hand inside the swaddling blanket and touched the fuzzy red curls that formed a halo for the tiny head. Everything going on around her in the crowded circle faded from her awareness. She couldn’t get enough of studying everything about the baby girl.

Wonder what your father will name you. She gathered the fragile baby even closer against her and dreamed of holding her own child. Surely it wouldn’t hurt for her to pretend just for a little while that this infant was hers.

Florence lost all sense of time while she enjoyed this little one. The baby rested in her arms, totally trusting that Florence would take care of her. She hadn’t thought about what it would feel like for someone to completely depend on her. She leaned over to kiss the baby’s forehead and crooned a nameless tune. Is that what a real mother does?

Florence.” Joshua’s voice drew her back to the clearing between the circled wagons.

But her husband wasn’t alone. All the clamor of the camp had masked the sound of the approaching footsteps of the two men. Mr. McKenna accompanied him with a blanket-wrapped baby in his arms. For a moment she almost hadn’t recognized the man they’d known for so many months, but the sleeping baby on his shoulder was a good clue. He looked as if he hadn’t slept for a month. Bags hung under his red-rimmed eyes, and the remnants of tears trailed down his cheeks. He hadn’t shaved for at least a week, and his clothes hung on him as though they belonged to someone else. He resembled a man at least ten years older than she knew him to be. He clutched the baby, as if he were afraid someone would take her away from him.

Florence rose, knowing what that felt like. He’s going to take this little angel from me. What could she say to a man who had been through what Mr. McKenna had? She had no words to offer. And after luxuriating in the feel of this child in her arms, how could Florence ever give her back to her father? The pain would be like amputating another part of her heart. How many more hits could her heart take before it completely stopped beating?

“Mrs. Caine.” Angus McKenna came to an abrupt stop and cleared his throat before starting again. “I’ve come to ask you something that … I never dreamed I’d … ever ask anyone.” His voice rasped, and he stopped to take a gulp of air, staring off into the distance.

She couldn’t take her eyes from him, even when the baby in her arms squirmed. “How can we help you?”

New tears followed the trails down his cheeks and disappeared into his beard. He grabbed a bandanna from his back pocket and blew his nose with one hand.

“I’ve just lost the most important thing in my life.” He paused and stared at the ground. “I don’t know how I can go on without her.” His voice cracked on the last word. Once again he paused, but much longer this time. His prominent Adam’s apple bobbed several times. “I’ve been crying out to God, but I don’t think He’s listening to me right now. If He were …”

What a thing for a man to admit to them. Florence knew he must be near a breakdown. He did need help, but what could they do?

“I’ve decided … it would be best to find another family to raise one of my girls.” He stood straighter. “I’ve watched you with Margaret Lenora …”

“Is that what you’ve named her?” Florence gazed at the sleeping baby, and her heart ached for the child. To grow up without a mother.

“Yes.” He stared across the clearing with unfocused eyes. “My wife’s parents couldn’t agree on a name for her … Her father wanted Mary Margaret … Her mother wanted Catherine Lenora. So they gave her all four names.” Mr. McKenna seemed relieved to be talking about something else besides what had happened that day. “I’ve named this one”—he indicated the baby on his shoulder—“Mary Lenora.”

He didn’t say anything about the third girl, and Florence was afraid to ask.

Angus looked straight at Joshua, and her husband gave a slow nod. “Your husband has told me … how much you’ve wanted a child.”

For a moment, anger flared in her chest. Joshua shouldn’t share her secret with anyone. She took a deep breath to keep from saying something she’d regret. Even though she didn’t even look at her husband, she could feel his gaze deep inside. She was grateful he couldn’t see the ugly jealousy and covetousness that resided there.

“What I’m trying to say, Mrs. Caine, is …” His Adam’s apple bobbed again. “Would you consider adopting one of my daughters and raising her as your own?” He snapped his mouth shut and just stood there … waiting, staring at the ground and clinging to the tiny baby in his arms.

As her own? Was this God’s answer to her prayer for a baby? It could be. She knew she should try to encourage Mr. McKenna to keep his daughters. He might marry again and want all three of them, but she pushed those thoughts aside before they could take root. This might be the only chance she would ever have for a child, and she didn’t want to lose it. Finally, she turned her attention toward Joshua.

“I’ll be happy with whatever you decide, Florence.” Love poured from her husband and enclosed her in its warmth.

How could she refuse? She held this precious bundle close to her heart right now, and she didn’t want to ever let her go.

“I’m just asking you to keep the name I’ve given her.” Mr. McKenna looked as if he might collapse at any moment.
“I’d be honored to have your daughter. I love her already.” She kissed the fuzz atop the sleeping baby’s head.

Finally, it hit her. I’m not going to have to give Margaret Lenora back. Florence swayed. Joshua was instantly at her side with his arm supporting her.

“I’ll send some clothes and blankets for Margaret Lenora. Melody Murray will come over a little later to nurse her. She and another woman are working together to feed the babies.”

Her heart broke for him as she watched Mr. McKenna turn and trudge toward his own wagon. Along the way, other people spoke to him, but he just kept going as if he didn’t even notice them.

Florence didn’t even think to tell him that Charlotte Holden had already fed Margaret Lenora. She clutched the baby girl close to her breast, rejoicing over his gift to her … to them. If only she didn’t feel so guilty for what she’d been thinking.

Chapter 1

September 1885
Seattle, Washington
Margaret Lenora Caine sat in the library of their mansion on Beacon Hill. Because of the view of Puget Sound which she loved, she had the brocade draperies pulled back to let the early September sunshine bathe the room with warmth. Basking in the bright light, she concentrated on the sketch pad balanced on her lap. After leaning back to get the full effect of the drawing, she reached a finger to smudge the shadows between the folds of the skirt. With a neckline that revealed the shoulders, but still maintained complete modesty, this dress was her best design so far. One she planned to have Mrs. Murdock create in that dreamy, shimmery green material that came in the last shipment from China. Maggie knew silk was usually a summer fabric, but with it woven into a heavier brocade satin, it would be just right for her eighteenth birthday party. And with a few changes to the design, she could have another dress created as well.

Once again, she leaned forward and drew a furbelow around the hem, shading it carefully to show depth. The added weight of the extra fabric would help the skirt maintain its shape, providing a pleasing silhouette at any ball. She pictured herself wearing the beautiful green dress, whirling in the arms of her partner, whoever he was. Maybe someone like Charles Stanton, since she’d admired him for several years, and he was so handsome.

“Margaret, what are you doing?”

The harsh question broke Maggie’s concentration. The charcoal in her hand slipped, slashing an ugly smear across the sketch. She glanced at her mother standing in the doorway, her arms crossed over her bosom. Maggie heaved a sigh loud enough to reach the entrance, and her mother’s eyebrows arched so quickly Maggie wanted to laugh … almost, but she didn’t dare add to whatever was bothering Mother now. Her stomach began to churn, a thoroughly uncomfortable sensation. Lately, everything she did put Mother in a bad mood. She searched her mind for whatever could have set her off this time. She came up with nothing, so she pasted a smile across her face.

“I’m sketching.” She tried for a firm tone but wasn’t sure it came across that way.

“You don’t have time for that right now.” Florence Caine hurried across the Persian wool carpet and stared down at her. “We have too much to do before your party.”

Of course her mother was right, but Maggie thought she could take a few minutes to get the new design on paper while it was fresh in her mind. She glanced toward the mantel clock. Oh, no. Her few minutes had turned into over two hours. She’d lost herself in drawing designs again. No wonder Mother was exasperated.

She jumped up from the burgundy wingback chair. “I didn’t realize it was so late. I’m sorry, Mother.”

Florence Caine took the sketch pad from her hand and studied the drawing with a critical eye. “That’s a different design.”

Maggie couldn’t tell if she liked the dress or not, but it didn’t matter. Designing was in Maggie’s blood. Her grandmother was a dressmaker who came up with her own designs instead of using those in Godey’s Lady’s Book or Harper’s Bazar. And, according to Mother’s sister, she never even looked at a Butterick pattern. Aunt Georgia had told her often enough about all the society women who wouldn’t let anyone but Agatha Carter make their clothing. They knew they wouldn’t be meeting anyone else wearing the exact same thing when they attended social events in Little Rock, Arkansas. Not for the first time, Maggie wished she could talk to her grandmother at least once.

With the news about people being able to converse across long distances with something called the telephone, someday she might talk to her that way. But Maggie wanted a face-to-face meeting. Knowing another dress designer would keep her from feeling like such a misfit. Mother kept reminding her that she didn’t really fit the mold of a young woman of their social standing in Seattle. At least, Daddy let her do what she wanted to. She didn’t know what she’d do without him to offset Mother’s insistence, which was becoming more and more harsh.

According to Aunt Georgia, the business Grandmother Carter started was still going strong, even though her grandmother had to be over sixty years old. Maggie planned to go visit her relatives in Arkansas, so she could tour the company. She hoped her journey would happen before she was too late to actually meet Agatha Carter. Her deepest desire was to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps, since she had inherited her talents.

The sound of ripping tore through her thoughts. Aghast, she turned to catch her mother decimating her sketch. She lunged toward the paper, trying to save it, but Mother held the sketch just out of her reach.

“What are you doing?” Tears clogged her throat, but she struggled to hide them.

Dribbling the tiny pieces into the ornate wastepaper basket beside the mahogany desk, her mother looked up at her. “Just throwing it away. You had already ruined it anyway.”

Anger sliced through Maggie’s heart, leaving a jagged trail of pain. She still wanted to keep the sketch. She could use it while she created another. Her plan was to ask her father to help her surprise Mother. The design would set off her mother’s tall stature and still youthful figure. She planned to ask him for a length of the special blue satin brocade that would bring out the color of Mother’s eyes. The dress would make Mother the envy of most of her friends when the winter social season started in a couple of months. Now she’d have to begin the drawing all over again. So many hours of work and her dreams torn to shreds.

“Darling.” That syrupy tone Mother used when she was trying to make a point grated on Maggie’s nerves. “When are you going to grow up and forget about your little pictures of dresses?”

Little pictures of dresses? The words almost shredded the rest of Maggie’s control. She gripped her hands into fists and twisted them inside the folds of her full skirt.

They’d had this discussion too many times already. She gritted her teeth, but it didn’t help. In a few days she would be eighteen, old enough to make decisions for herself. Whether her mother agreed or not.

She stood as tall as her tiny frame would allow her. “Those aren’t just ‘little drawings,’ Mother. I am going to be a dress designer.”

The icy disdain shooting from her mother’s eyes made Maggie cringe inside, but she stood her ground.

“Margaret Lenora Caine, I am tired of these conversations. You will not become a working girl.” Mother huffed out a very unladylike deep breath. “You don’t need to. Your father has worked hard to provide a very good living for the three of us. I will not listen to any more of this nonsense.”

Maggie had heard that phrase often enough, and she never liked it. Mother swept from the room as if she had the answer to everything, but she didn’t. Not for Maggie. And her sketches were not nonsense.

She tried to remember the last time she pleased her mother. Had she ever really?

Her hair was too curly and hard to tame into a proper style. And the hue was too red. Maggie wouldn’t stay out of the sun to prevent freckles from dotting her face. She could come up with a long list of her mother’s complaints if she wanted to take the time. She wasn’t that interested in what was going on among the elite in Seattle. She had more things to think about than how to catch a husband.

Maggie wanted to get married … someday. But first she would follow her dream. Become the woman she was created to be. That meant being a dress designer. Taking delight in making other women look their best. If it wasn’t for Grandmother Carter, Maggie would think she had been born into the wrong family.

The enticing aroma of gingerbread called her toward the kitchen. Spending time with Mrs. Jorgensen was just what she needed right now. Since she didn’t have any grandparents living close by, their cook and housekeeper substituted quite well in Maggie’s mind.

She pushed open the door, wrinkling her nose and sniffing like the bunny in the back garden while she headed across the brick floor toward the cabinet where her older friend worked. “What is that heavenly smell?”

Mrs. Jorgensen turned with a warm smile. “As if you didn’t already know. You’ve eaten enough of my gingerbread, for sure.”

Pushing white tendrils from her forehead, the woman quickly sliced the spicy concoction and placed a large piece on a saucer while Maggie retrieved the butter from the ice box. Maggie slathered a thick coating on and watched it melt into the hot, brown bread.

“Here’s something to drink.” Mrs. Jorgensen set a glass of cold milk on the work table in the middle of the large room.

Maggie hopped up on a tall stool and took a sip, swinging her legs as she had when she was a little girl. Mother would have something else to complain about if she saw her. That’s not ladylike and is most unbecoming. The oft-spoken words rang through Maggie’s mind. But Mother hardly ever came into the kitchen. Mrs. Jorgensen met with Mother in her sitting room to plan the meals and the day’s work schedule.

“This is the only place in the house where I can just be myself.” Maggie took a bite and let the spices dance along her tongue, savoring the sting of spices mixed with the sweetness of molasses.

Yah.” The grandmotherly woman patted Maggie’s shoulder. “So tell me what’s bothering you, kära?
Tears sprang to Maggie’s eyes. “Why doesn’t Mother understand me? She doesn’t even try.”
She licked a drip of butter that started down her finger, then took another bite of the warm gingerbread. Heat from the cook stove made the enormous kitchen feel warm and cozy, instead of the cold formality of most of the house.

Mrs. Jorgensen folded a tea towel into a thick square, then went to the oven and removed another pan of the dessert. “What’s the bee in her bonnet this time?”

Maggie loved to hear the Scandinavian woman’s quaint sayings.

“She won’t consider letting me continue to design dresses.” Maggie sipped her milk, not even being careful not to leave a white moustache on her upper lip. “I’ve drawn them for our seamstress to use for the last five years. As many of them have been for Mother as for me. And she’s enjoyed the way other women exclaimed over the exclusive creations she wore. I don’t understand why she doesn’t want me to continue to develop my artistic abilities.”

“Your father is a very wealthy man, for sure.” The cook’s nod punctuated her statement. “Your dear mother just wants what is best for you.”

“Why does she get to decide what’s best for me?” Maggie felt like stomping her foot, but she refrained. That would be like a child having a tantrum. She would not stoop that far now that she was no longer a child. “Soon I’ll be eighteen. Plenty old enough to make my own decisions.”

Yah, and you sure have the temper to match all that glorious red hair, älskling.” She clicked her tongue. “Such a waste of energy.”

After enjoying the love expressed in Mrs. Jorgensen’s endearment, Maggie slid from the stool and gathered her plate and glass to carry them to the sink. “You’re probably right. I’ll just have to talk to Daddy.”

The door to the hallway swung open.

“Talk to me about what?” Her tall father strode into the room, filling it with a sense of power.

“About my becoming a dress designer.”

A flit of pain crossed his face before he smiled. “A dress designer?”

Maggie fisted her hands on her waist. “We’ve discussed this before. I want to go to Arkansas and see about learning more at The House of Agatha Carter.”

Her father came over and gathered her into a loving embrace. “I said I’d think about letting you go. There are many details that would have to be ironed out first. But I didn’t say you couldn’t go.”

Maggie leaned her cheek against his chest, breathing in his familiar spicy scent laced with the fragrance of pipe tobacco. “I know. But Mother won’t let me. Just you wait and see.”

He grasped her by the shoulders and held her away from him. “Maggie … my Maggie, you’ve always been so impatient. I said I’d talk to her when the time is right. You’ll just have to trust me on this.”

His eyes bored into hers, and his lips tipped up at the ends. She threw her arms around his waist. “Oh, I do trust you, Daddy.”

“Then be patient.” He kissed the top of her head, probably disturbing the style she’d work so hard on this morning.

Mrs. Jorgensen stopped slicing the gingerbread and held the knife in front of her. “I thought you weren’t going to be home for lunch, Mr. Caine.”

“I’m not. I’ve only come by to pick up my beautiful wife. We’ll be dining with some friends at the Arlington House hotel downtown.” He gave Maggie another hug and left, presumably to find her mother.

“Would you be wanting another piece of gingerbread, kära?

Maggie shook her head. “I don’t want to ruin my lunch. I have some things I need to do. Can I come back to eat a little later?” She hoped her father could prevail against Mother’s stubborn stance on the question of a trip to Arkansas.

Mrs. Jorgensen waved her out the door. “You’re probably not very hungry after that gingerbread.”

Maggie went into the library to retrieve her sketch pad, then headed upstairs to her bedroom. She wanted to get the drawing on paper again before she forgot any of the details. She pulled her lacy panels back from the side window and scooted a chair close. With a few deft strokes, she had the main lines of the dress on the thick paper. Then she started filling it in. As each line appeared on the drawing, she felt an echoing movement in her spirit. Deep inside, she danced through the design as it took shape, much faster than the first time. She was so glad she could recall every detail.

While she drew, her thoughts returned to Grandmother Carter. Everyone said she took after her grandmother … everyone except Mother. Why isn’t she happy about my talent?

Maggie wandered through her memories, trying to recapture how it was when she was a little girl. She remembered Mother playing with her when they lived in the smaller, but comfortable house in Oregon City. They didn’t have servants then, but the three of them laughed and enjoyed life together. Then for some reason, her mother had started talking to her father every chance she got about moving to a larger place. Now that Maggie looked back on those memories, she realized that her mother seemed almost frantic to get away from where they lived, as if something were wrong with the town. Maggie never understood why.

She couldn’t have been more than five years old, but some of the events stood out. The hurry to leave town. The long trip. For quite a while after that, she missed playing with her friends. And she didn’t make new ones when they arrived. No other small children lived in the neighborhood. Even when she started school, she stayed to herself. She had been shy as a young girl.

After they moved to Seattle and Father bought one of the empty buildings and opened Caine Emporium, Mother changed. Became more distant … almost cold. She was no longer the laughing woman. If Maggie didn’t know better, she’d think something made Mother bitter. Maybe that was one reason she wanted to design this special dress. To brighten her mother’s life. Bring back the woman who sometimes flashed through her memory at odd times, making her long for the warmth she had luxuriated in as a small child.

Finally, the drawing met her approval. Just in time to eat lunch. Maybe this afternoon, she could finish the other sketch with the changes to make the dress more appropriate for her mother than herself.

Once again the kitchen welcomed her, and she enjoyed eating there with Mrs. Jorgensen. If Mother had been home, they would have had the meal in the formal dining room, complete with china, crystal, and silver. Such a fuss for an ordinary day.


“Maggie.” Her mother’s voice rose from the foyer below. “I’m home.”

Looking at the names of people she’d placed on the invitation list, Maggie finished writing Charles Stanton’s name and put the pen down. “Coming, Mother.”

She rushed out of her room and stood at the top of the staircase. “Did you want me?”

“Yes, dear. I thought we could get some shopping done this afternoon.” Her mother still wore her gloves and cape.

“Is it cold?”

Mother nodded. “It’s a bit nippy, so wear something warm.”

“I’ll get my things.” Maggie hurried back to her room and gathered a light jacket, a handbag, and her gloves.

When she arrived in the foyer, Mother stood tapping her foot impatiently. “I had hoped we could buy most of the things we’ll need today.”

Maggie bit her tongue to keep from reminding her that she wasn’t the one who had frittered away so much of the day. If Mother wanted to go shopping, why didn’t they do it earlier? She could have gone along for the lunch with Daddy. But evidently Mother preferred spending time with Daddy instead of her. She took a deep breath and followed her mother to the coach sitting in front of the house.

Mrs. Jorgensen’s son, who was their driver, stood beside the open door, ready to assist them into the conveyance.

“Erik, please take us by the Emporium.” Mother took hold of his hand as she stepped up into the vehicle.

Maggie followed suit. “Why are we going to the store? Are we going to shop there?”

The door snapped shut, and Erik climbed into the driver’s seat.

“I forgot to get money from your father when we were at lunch.” Mother settled her skirts as the coach lurched forward. “I believe your father is signing papers with young Charles Stanton this afternoon. It will be nice to see him again. Did you add him to your guest list?”

Maggie nodded, a faint blush coloring her cheeks. She hadn’t seen Charles since she was about sixteen, but she still remembered the girlish secret infatuation she’d had when she was younger. He’d been so handsome, and kind too. Would he be changed since he’d graduated from university? She would soon find out.

She settled back into the carriage seat, suddenly looking forward to the afternoon’s  events.

I hope you have enjoyed this peek into my book. If you did, please tell your friends. 

If you have a book club and want to use this book, I'll gladly either call you on the phone or Skype with you during a meeting, so you can ask me questions.

Were you adopted, or do you know anyone who was?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Let's Celebrate Diversity in Fiction!

Image courtesy of Ambro /

In honor of February being Black History Month, I wanted to take a few moments to celebrate diversity in fiction. Not only for African Americans, but for all people of multicultural heritage.

It wasn't too long ago that if you wanted to find a book that featured characters of multiethnic descent, you would have to go to a special section of the bookstore. That always left me with mixed feelings. While I was happy that books were being written that featured diverse characters, I was also concerned as to why they were tucked away in their own little corner. Why couldn't they be displayed along with the other romance, mainstream, and literary fiction? Was this a deliberate separation, or simply a way of showcasing all of the multicultural stories at once? It's certainly debatable, and I'll leave you to come up with your own conclusions.

Nowadays, the book industry is coming around to reflecting what most of us already know about our world: that we live in a diverse, beautiful, God-created world filled with people of different races and cultures. But we're all equal, and we all have a unique story to tell.

I considered it a milestone when Charisma published my first historical romance The Preacher's Wife, featuring a heroine of Comanche descent. Not only does the model's heritage reflect beautifully and boldly on the cover, but I received many compliments from readers of different ethnicities who said they were drawn to the book because the cover was different. Because Charisma was brave enough to let this heroine's story be told. Because Charisma was brave enough to publish an African American author's book.

Which is why I am so excited to now be working on the third novel in the Brides of Assurance series, tentatively titled The Soldier's Choice. This historical romance follows the journey of Violet Emmers, an African-American daughter of a ranch owner and Adam Campbell, a Buffalo Soldier. I get even more excited when I anticipate seeing what the cover of their story will look like. If the cover of my first novel is any indication of the Charisma design team's capabilities, then I have no doubt that they will find a lovely African American model to reflect Violet's brave and faith-filled spirit.

Although there is quite a bit of way to go when it comes to seeing more ethnic characters on the covers of books, I know that we're well on our way to a new era of acceptance. I hope one day we won't need a separate section for African American fiction, or Latino fiction, etc. Will things ever be perfect? Of course not. But every new multiethnic story that enters public consumption is a start. And as Christian writers and readers, we ought to be at the very forefront of this. God made each and every one of us in His image. Let's act like it in a show of praise for Him and all the diverse people that He has created.

When you read fiction, do you gravitate towards the familiar, or stories that take you on an unexpected path?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Books, Books, Books

Here we are in the middle of February already. Time is flying by even faster than last year. This year will mark my 78th birthday, and I’ve been thinking about how much the Christian fiction selections have changed through the years.

When I was eight years old in 1944, I rode the bus to Jefferson Avenue in Dallas and transferred to a streetcar to get to the library. Since I went every week at the same time of day right after school, I became friends with people on the trolley line. They took care of me, too. Imagine letting an eight year old girl do that today.

The selection for young girls was sparse. I read all of Louisa May Alcott’s books and cherished Little Women. I read Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink and books by Mark Twain and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. A writer named Janet Lambert wrote novels about teenagers that whetted my appetite to write my own stories. As a teenager I found a shelf of books by Grace Livingston Hill at our church library and read every one of them.

I ended up reading books over and over again because there were so few of them available that my mother would allow me to read. Today, we have shelves full of Christian novels that spark the imagination. Mysteries, romance, suspense, fantasy, and young adult books give every type of personality and appetite something to read.

I am thankful for those who took a giant leap into Christian fiction and provided us with so many good books. The walls of my office are lined with books by my favorite authors, and now my Kindle and Nook are loaded with books as well. I am never at a loss for something to read. May we never lose the desire to lose ourselves in a great story of Christian faith at work.

What books do you remember reading in your childhood? Did you have a wide selection?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentines Day

Madison King's photo.
Since many of us write romance I thought I'd give a little information about the holiday. The day is associated with romantic love and started in the middle ages. It flourished in the middle ages by a man named Geoffrey Chaucer who started what he called, courtly love. In the 18th century England, the tradition of giving gifts was expressed, so came flowers, cards and confectionary treats became popular. Valentine symbols include a heard shaped outline, doves and a winged Cupid.

I hope you shared the day with someone special today!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Every Student Needs a Teacher Like Wayne Ohashi

Most writers who have been published for a while have heard from readers about how we've changed their lives in some way. Last time I received one of these messages made me think about who changed my life and possibly created a desire to do what I do. Of course, my family played a major role, but so did many of my friends and some of my teachers.

I think all of us have favorite teachers who gave us confidence, taught us something we still use, or offered kind words when we needed them. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Mildred Cooper, showed patience and compassion as I adjusted to the new setting in Orlando after we moved from Mississippi mid-year. Ms. Donna Chun, my favorite high school P.E. teacher, was an example of a very feminine woman who loved sports and fitness, and she acknowledged and praised sincere efforts. Mr. Zan Skelton from Biloxi High School encouraged me to do something with my writing because he said I had a unique and unexpected way of relaying information in my essays. And then there's Mr. Ohashi who taught speech at Radford High School in Hawaii. He had a great balance of discipline and fun in the classroom. 
Mr. Wayne Ohashi

I've stayed in contact with Wayne Ohashi who still makes me smile to this day. I'm sure he never saw me as a future author because in his class, one of my closest friends Mary Lou Holmes (Hardisty) and I were so silly. But he accepted us where we were at that time, and he worked with what he had. I still give him credit for showing me some of the techniques of getting and holding an audience's attention when I have to give presentations to groups. He also enabled and encouraged us to think "outside the box" while telling stories during our speeches.

Since Mr. Ohashi was such an influence in my life, I decided to talk to him about his experience at Radford High School that served military "brats" from Hickam Air Force Base and Pearl Harbor. I asked him how he dealt with the revolving door of students whose parents were transferred at all times of the year.

"I've always felt that Radford was and is probably the most interesting school to teach at because of the diverse student body," he replied. "Sure, there were problems with students coming and going all year, but because they'd been to so many different places around the world, I enjoyed hearing about their experiences."

Although Mr. Ohashi's band teacher influenced him to become an educator, he chose to teach other subjects. In addition to speech and drama, he became certified in several other disciplines as the need arose at the school, and he coached wrestling. This gave him the opportunity to work with a wider variety of students.

"One of my former wrestlers joined the Marines and flew for them. Now he's a pilot for United Airlines. Another student recently retired as an instructor pilot for Delta," he said. "On the way to visit my cousin in Gainesville, Florida, I stopped at a strip mall to get something to drink. As I was walking around, a guy came running out from an office and told me I'd been his teacher. Fortunately, I remembered him. He was the campaign manager for a politician. Other former students include a chef, teacher, school bus driver, auto parts store manager, UPS driver, accountant, nurse, owner of storage units, defense contractor, and who knows what else?"

I asked him if he had his life to do over, would he still become a teacher. "Because of all the people I've met, I don't regret my decision. However, now that I'm retired and have time to get involved in different areas, I think I might have enjoyed being a biology teacher or a researcher."

I think he was surprised by how much he influenced my life. "Who would have thought you'd become an author?" he joked. "It is extremely rewarding when kids have 'aha' moments or when they come back and mention how much they were helped by what they learned in my class." Mr. Ohashi went on to say that if he were to start teaching now he'd get more involved with students who weren't perceived as good students. I asked friends on Facebook if they remembered him and had immediate responses from another close friend Teriann Kimbrell (Selby) and journalist Burl Burlingame who also had fond memories of him after all these years.

One of the highlights of my adult life was when my husband and I returned to Hawaii almost 30 years ago. I'll never forget standing outside the Outrigger Hotel and chatting with Wayne Ohashi, my old friend Mary Lou, and her husband Rob. It brought back so many warm memories, and it made me realize how great of an impact these people had on me.

After reading Darrel Nelson's blog post last month, I know that his wife influenced his writing. Is there someone in your life – a teacher or mentor – who influenced you to become what you are now?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Exciting Announcement - Lena Nelson Dooley

The February edition of Book Fun Magazine announced the my blog, A Christian Writers World, was voted the First Place winner of the 2013 Blog of the Year Award. I praise the Lord and all my book friends for making this happen.

It's the first time I've ever won a Readers Choice Award.

On this blog, I interview other authors and help promote their books. My readers love getting to know the Christian authors. The often thank me for introducing them to authors they've never heard of. You should visit and see if it is what you'd like to read: 

If you'd like to read the interview of me that is in the February issue, here's the link.

My article starts on page 130, but you'll want to read the whole magazine. It's one of the best ezines for both authors and readers. Share it with all your reading friends. They'll thank you. And so will I.

Do you read other Christian ezines? Which ones do you read, and which one do you like best?