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Literary Criticism

First Page: We Can Do It!

First Page: We Can Do It!

Welcome to First Page Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously. You can submit your own First Page using this form.

August heat blanketed our town. By dawn it reached 90 degrees, by noon it went much higher. Out in back of the high school, farmers’ wives and some of the women who lived in town ran the community cannery while their barefoot children played on the lawn. The children were told to stay out of the cannery, to stay away from the sharp knives and boiling pots.

One of the ladies working inside the cannery threw a tablecloth over the big thermometer mounted on the wall saying “You ladies don’t want to know how hot it is in here!”

I looked out the window, longing to go play with my friends outside, but proud to be called a lady. Pride kept me working there. At 14, I was the youngest lady in the all-women cannery crew.

As the Andrew sisters belted out the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B over the radio, we washed and chopped the vegetables we would can that day. Some of those cans would go home with us. Others were destined to go to our soldiers oversees.

We were very patriotic in 1943. President Roosevelt had explained in a radio address that the government provided the funds to build the canneries in rural communities to preserve food grown in our Victory Gardens and on family farms. Canning became necessary because so much food was going overseas. I thought the government must have provided more than just funds for our cannery. That would explain why our biggest kettle was labeled “U.S. Navy.”

The Middleton Community Cannery had opened its doors in June At first, the cannery superintendent Mr. Otis McFarland decided that each family would reserve a day to use the cannery by themselves to process and can food for their own family. A pitiful number of canned good left the building each day.

The women of the community changed Mr. McFarland’s mind about how he ran the cannery. By midsummer, each of us had bushels and bushels of produce destined for canning. Some of it was rotting before the family’s next reserved cannery day. We needed to get the fruits and vegetables canned at their peak so we began working in groups. Gradually Mr. McFarland lost his control over the cannery. Many days, he went fishing and didn’t darken the cannery door. As a result, he stopped keeping accurate records.

The cannery ladies started that hot August day off with snippets of gossip. That morning, a nasty rumor started to spread. Many of the hundreds of cases of canned goods we made for the soldiers had been stolen. Mr. McFarland told the Sheriff they never reached the train depot. We had a thief among us.

It was Superintendent McFarland’s job to count the number of cases as they were loaded on the truck leaving the cannery. When he got back the waybill from the train depot and compared the numbers, he discovered a discrepancy. Almost half of the cases had, as he said, fallen off the truck. They disappeared somewhere between the Middleton Cannery and the depot in Lexington, Kentucky. He didn’t seem overly concerned.

On our lunch break that hot, hot day, the ladies talked about catching the thief. We didn’t like it, but we had to consider that it might be Superintendent Otis McFarland himself. He was a much-respected high school agriculture teacher. I had a hard time imagining that he could, or would, steal.

First Page: Unpublished manuscript

First Page: Unpublished manuscript

Welcome to First Page Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously. You can submit your own First Page using this form.

This was what Hannah missed. Cool windy days in summer. Walks along the beach scattered with rocks, the occasional lava stones, seaweed and starfish. Seals and otters spying them on the shore and curiously watching as she walked with her dog. The fuchsia of fireweed come fall. Colors dancing along the ground against a backdrop of deep green spruce. Termination dust, the first snow to coat the mountains. Moonlight on the snow. Northern lights making a show late in the night. The curious quiet of winter when the snow muffled all sounds. The muted crunch of snow under boots. The bite of winter air and breath of wood smoke. Stars bright and bare against the sky.

Hannah recalled the night she arrived in Alaska well. She was 8 and wide awake despite having flown for over 12 hours from North Carolina. The lights of the town glittered ahead in the dark sky. Hannah leaned her forehead against the plane window and watched as the black night gradually filled with tiny lights. Hannah thought they must have been over forests and mountains for hours because she had seen nothing but darkness for as long. She peered down at the lights as the plane flew lower and the lights came close enough for her to see reflections on the water. Hannah knew the water must be the ocean for the town they were flying to, Spruce Creek, lay along the shores of Kachemak Bay. Hannah watched as the lights shaped a town in darkness for her, she saw the streets curving up hillsides and winding along the ocean. She could see what she guessed to be the downtown. A few neon signs shone boldly in the night. They appeared awkward in such a remote area, but they were easy to read, even from the plane. Hannah didn’t know if she should be comforted or offended that there was a McDonald’s.

The hum of the plane was strangely soothing. The runway shone out in the night, the lights inviting the plane down. As they landed, the tiny plane bounced and rumbled. The whir of the motors grew louder. Hannah would forever associate that particular sound with Alaskan nights. It heralded their arrival. She worried about arriving in the dark and cold. The plane felt warm and safe. She wanted to stay. Her mother hustled about getting their bags out of bins and shaking Hannah’s father awake. They clattered down the plane stairs and hurried across the cold landing area to the airport, if you could call it that. Small and utilitarian, the baggage area held about ten bags slid through by hand. There was one car rental place, staffed even past midnight.

Hannah remembered sitting in the car as they rolled slowly out of the parking lot. She heard the distinct sound of tires rolling over snow packed roads. Hannah’s memories of the rest of the night were vague. She recalled being covered in a heavy quilt some time later and then awakening to bright sun. Twenty-two years later, she remembered her first look out the window. She’d stared out at the mountains they’d flown over in the dark. Snow covered peaks stood stark against a bright blue sky. Deep green spruce trees dusted with snow were scattered across the view. Sun shone against the ocean bay, and Hannah had watched the wind whip waves along the water.

Hannah sighed and looked out of her apartment window. She was probably 4000 miles, give or take, away from Alaska. Her view here was of a coffee shop across the street. She lived in a small town in Western Massachusetts. The town’s main street was picturesque in its quaint charm, but it lacked the wild sense of Spruce Creek. After arriving in Spruce Creek, her parents had remained there, so the rest of Hannah’s childhood was spent in Alaska. Graduate school led her to Massachusetts. Just as she was finishing up her degree, the news came that her parents had died in a plane crash in rural Alaska. That was 6 years prior, and Hannah had yet to return to Alaska.