Out of Place

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The Story

1913: Where is home when nothing is certain… 

Out of Place is a story of ordinary and extraordinary courage. Martha a fifteen-year- old orphan is sent from Ireland to Canada to live with a family she’s never met. Anna her cousin greets her with warmth and delight, not so her aunt who appears to loathe Martha because of an old family rupture. 

Anna travels as a Canadian Nursing Sister to France to care for the wounded in the midst of the horror of The First World War. She succumbs to the barbarity and brutality and becomes lost in what some called “hysteria” but in fact is Shell Shock. Yet Martha after receiving care at a convalescent hospital in England, makes a decision to return to the war where she believes she still has “work to do.” Martha too has a sense there is more she needs to do and leaves her adopted family to travel into the farmland to become a “farmerette,” those young women who learned farming in order to feed the soldiers overseas. Thus, Martha becomes, farmer, mother and wife to Charlie who returns from the war, broken. The war leaves no one untouched.

And, in 1938, “the war to end all wars” the phrase used to describe The First World War, becomes a lie. Another is on the horizon, one that calls forth Martha and Anna once again. Simon Lansky a Jewish Professor asks Anna’s father for help in rescuing his daughters from a dreadful fate.

Anna and Martha become embroiled in the wake of another war and travel to Europe to bring the girls home to Canada. 

Is there any certainty in life when war defines purpose?

Are we here to ever grow larger than we might have planned? 

Excerpt from Chapter One

As I was readying to sail across the Atlantic, I assumed I was going to be with the children from the Home who’d become my friends and my charges. I thought I’d be traveling, like them, to a farm somewhere in Canada, maybe even with them to a new home like Mrs. McCarthy’s. But Ma changed everything. Miss Ashcroft had a letter from my ma that Mrs. McCarthy had kept. From that letter, I discovered I had family in Canada. There, written in Ma’s faded script, I learned she had a sister who lived in Canada in a town called Kingston, Ontario. Ma had made no mention of family. But, truth told, she had a sister who lived in a place called Kingston. My world, my safe place, was uprooted again like the dog-violet we’d transplanted in Mrs. McCarthy’s garden.

I read the letter Miss Ashcroft gave me, my fingers pressed into the paper like pincers.

To Martha McGrath’s Guardians
When I am gone, please be sure that my girl, Martha, goes to my sister’s home in Canada.
My sister’s name is Emily Johnson and she lives in Kingston, Ontario, on King Street. Her husband is a professor at the university there. I know this because he is the one who has kept in touch with me over the years. His name is Owen Johnson and he has a daughter, Anna.
My sister and I have had some differences, but I am sure she will not turn away my girl. Emily, Owen, and Anna are Martha’s family and I know they will care for her. Mr.Johnson and Anna took in my sister Emily, I hope she will see her way clear to accept her only niece.
I ask this with the hope you will be kind and look after my girl.
Sarah McGrath

I tried to understand why Ma wanted to send me so far away from Ireland to a country where I’d live among strangers. My family members were the children I’d learned to care for in Mrs. McCarthy’s home. I feared what life might be like among strangers who had wanted nothing to do with my mother.

Excerpt from Chapter Eighteen

Nights were the worst. Charlie slept in his old room, in his bed he’d had since he was a boy. Earl helped him when he needed to move down the hall or go out to the privy. The Charlie I experienced during those first days was not the Charlie I’d known before. That hopeful, sunny young man was lost somewhere out in the trenches of Vimy Ridge in France. There was a sadness about him that crept into his face and his body. He’d be there, talking, and without warning his eyes shadowed, his shoulders sagged, and he’d sometimes rock in his chair as though he wanted to dislodge an unwelcome phantom. Some nights when I heard his moans, I’d creep up the stairs and slip into his room. There I’d pull his old wooden chair to the bed and sit. He should not be alone, I thought. I’d pull back the curtains to let moonlight fall across his bed. Some nights I sang a song I’d sung to Ma when the consumption overtook her.

Over in Killarney
Many years ago,
Me Mither sang a song to me
In tones so sweet and low.
Just a simple little ditty,
In her good ould Irish way,
And I’d give the world if she could sing
That song to me this day
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, Too-ra-loo-ra-li

If my throat tightened with my sadness, I’d stop singing. But Charlie, eyes closed, would murmur, “Don’t go away,” as though I might be some sort of dream and he, back in the trenches was reaching up to me.

The nightmares left him perspiring and breathless. He’d call out orders, “Over we go lads, over! Take cover!” 

One night I crawled up beside him, put my head on his chest, and listened to his heart race. I thought surely, he would die, but when his breathing slowed, his body relaxed into the softness of the flannel sheets. Like a child, he was asleep in an instant.

Only at night were we alone, yet in all the days he’d been home, we’d not spent time just us. It could have been that Earl and Rose were protecting him from the news I held. Or Charlie himself was locking his spirit away from me. Whatever he was feeling, whatever sadness had overtaken him, he was not ready yet to take me in.

Earl would help him down the stairs to the kitchen, where we’d have breakfast, all of us.   On the good days, Charlie would ask to be wheeled out to the barn where he’d give orders to Ryan about milking and tossing hay, to the joy of the boy. On the rough days, Charlie would shut himself away in the parlor with pen and paper, where he’d write letters to the families of young men he’d served with. I knew because he asked me to take the letters into town to the postmaster.

I never asked what he’d written.