Authors: Mary Razzell
Copyright Â© 1984, 2006 by Mary Razzell
First published in the USA by Groundwood Books in 2006
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Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Snow apples / Mary Razzell.
First published: Vancouver: Groundwood Books / Douglas & McIntyre, 1984
ISBN-13: 978-0-88899-741-8 (bound) ISBN-10: 0-88899-741-8 (bound)
ISBN-13: 978-0-88899-728-9 (pbk.) ISBN-10: 0-88899-728-0 (pbk.)
PS8585.A99S66 2006Â Â Â jC813'.54Â Â Â C2005-906986-4
Design by Michael Solomon
Cover photograph by Tim Fuller
Printed and bound in Canada
With thanks to the late Carol Shields, who encouraged me to tell what it was really like to be a young girl at that time.
scare you?” I asked Sonia. We had just jumped down from the school bus after classes, and we could see Helga Ness come out of the woods on one side of the road and start down the beach trail on the other. She looked skinny and old, and her running shoes flopped. Her eyes darted nervously at us, then away. Her dress was faded, with only traces of the original pattern remaining.
“A little...” said Sonia. “Look at her. Why is she always carrying a stick and hitting the salal bushes?”
“I don't know,” I answered. “It's like she's angry or something.”
“Maybe she's crazy.”
I agreed. “And she's always talking to herself.”
Helga was an old Norwegian woman who lived near us, and I often passed her on the way to the store.
“Are you coming to my place today, Sheila?” Sonia asked.
“Oh, I wish I could.” It was true. I'd rather go to Sonia Kolosky's house than my own. I felt more at home there, if only because her mother treated me as if I was a nice person. My mother had a way of making me feel the exact opposite. “But I have to pick up the mail and go right home. My mother says I spend too much time at your house.”
Before Sonia's family moved to the Landing from Saskatchewan a year earlier, I was so lonely, I thought I would die. We'd moved here ourselves from Edmonton two years before, and there were no other families with children. When the Koloskys came with their five boys and five girlsâand all looking like Mrs. Kolosky, with blonde hair and pale blue eyesâthe census was raised to forty-three. There must have been a Mr. Kolosky because there was a small baby, but no one had ever seen him.
There were other girls at the school at Gibson's Landing, four miles away, but almost all of us went in by bus or boat, so there were no after-school friendships for me. Until Sonia.
If I'd met Sonia in Edmonton I doubt that we would have become friends. For one thing, she was only fourteen, and I was almost sixteen. And we were too different. I would have been too busy going to the library or Guides
with friends I'd known since grade school. Sonia was more a home person. She was like a second mother in that house on the Upper Road.
I loved being in that house. Mrs. Kolosky was as plain and wholesome as a parsnip, but she treated me like I was kid number eleven in her brood.
I was thinking all these things as I waved goodbye to Sonia and headed down the road to the village store and post office.
Then, all of a sudden, the world seemed to split apart with noise.
There was a series of loud blasts from fish boats out in the Sound. I could see a tug circling round and round in a tight circle, and all the time it was blowing its whistle. Seagulls shrieked and scattered. Frightened birds flew in clouds from the trees on the side of the road.
I ran toward the beach. There was Helga Ness trying to drag her old boat from above the tide level down to the water's edge. She was pushing and shoving and straining like a crazy woman.
I felt I had to go over to help her. Together we got it into the ocean. She hesitated a moment, then looked at me as if she wanted me to get in. I didn't want to, but that's what she seemed to want, so I pushed the boat out and we both hopped in. Helga started the motor, and we headed out to the nearest fish boat to see what the trouble was.
As soon as we got close enough to the
, she called out to the skipper, “Did you find them?”
“I don't know who you mean, missus,” he shouted back. “All I know is that it's VE Day. The war is over. The war is over, thank God!” And he pulled on the boat's whistle once again.
Helga's head sank onto her bony chest, and she slumped as if she'd been hit. I had to reach around her to grab the rudder to straighten out the boat.
By the time I got the boat back to shore, Helga was sitting up again, staring out at the sea. I pulled the boat up as far as I could and tied it to one of the logs that lay above the line of dried seaweed ribboning the shore. But by the time I had finished, Helga was already off the sand and heading up the pine-needled beach trail.
Before she turned off the trail, she looked around and saw me watching her. The look in her eyes made me flinch, it was so desolate.
*Â Â *Â Â *
“There you are, Sheila. Two letters for your mother today.” Mr. Percy slid them through the wicket.
Mr. Percy runs the village store and post office, and there is nothing in the village that he doesn't know about. Some people say that he isn't above holding the mail up to the light, but I think it has to do with his eyebrows. They are thick and peaked, and when Mr. Percy gets interested in anything, his eyebrows rise higher and higher until they almost disappear into his hair. I've found myself telling
Mr. Percy's eyebrows things that I would never tell anyone else.
“Did you hear the good news?” he said. “The war is over. It's VE Day, Victory Day in Europe. It's just come over the radio.”
I told him about Helga. “What did she mean, Mr. Percy? âDid you find them?' Find who?”
Mr. Percy sighed. “Her two boys and her husband. They drowned in a canoeing accident. The bodies were never found. It was before you folks moved here.”
The old wooden clock over the counter ticked away our thoughts. Mr. Percy busied himself at the ice box. He handed me an opened bottle of 7-Up, then popped another one for himself.
“This is a day for celebration, nonetheless. A day for the history books. You can tell your children that there you were, fourteen years old...”
“Fifteen, I'm almost sixteen,” I interrupted.
“...and stood on the beach and watched the fish boats and tugs celebrate the defeat of Adolf Hitler. It's a day we've all been praying for.”
*Â Â *Â Â *
My mother wasn't pleased that I was late. I could tell by the way she rammed the alder wood into the stove and let the lid go bang. So before I hung up my jacket, I started talking. I told her about Helga, and about the war being over,
and by the time I had finished explaining, I had the potatoes out of the cooler.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her sit down suddenly at the kitchen table.
“Well, I never,” she said. She sat still for a long time, which in itself was unusual because she was always moving, always busy. Even when she sat, her hands were occupied, mending or knitting.
I finished peeling the potatoes, put them in a blackened pot and set the pot on the hottest part of the stove.
Still she sat.
“You want carrots?” I asked.
“Um, yes. You know what this means, don't you? The war over and all...” My lateness was completely forgotten. “It means your father will be back home.” She marched her fingernails on the table like so many troops. “And he'll be out of work, as per usual. At least with him in the service, I could be sure a check was coming in every month.”
I stiffened. As I cleaned the carrots, I thought about my parents. My mother is fifteen years younger than my father but you'd never know it. She acts older. I wondered why she said she loved him but was always complaining about everything he did. And, if he loved her, why did he cause her worry about money and food and taking care of us kids?
It had been this way as far back as I could remember. It was a relief for her when he joined the air force. He had lied about his age to get in; he was fifty-five but looked forty.
For the first time she had enough money, as she said, “to keep the home together.”
I set the table around my mother. She was scribbling something on the back of a used envelopeâadding, subtracting, calculating. It seemed to work out all right in the end, because she got up briskly and reached for the frying pan.