A New Century in a New Land
Nearly a year and a half had passed when, early New Year’s morning, Thomas, Rose, Jake and little Bridey McMahon rode up on a rented buckboard to the door of the LaRocque farmhouse.
Marc LaRocque opened the door wide and began to take their coats as they stomped the snow off their boots at the doorstep.
“Am I the first foot over your threshold in the new year?” Mr. McMahon asked, stepping in. “A tall, dark-haired man is good luck.”
“First foot in the new century,” Mr. LaRocque acknowledged. “There’s got to be extra luck in that.”
Margaret LaRocque welcomed them into the parlor and gave Mrs. McMahon a quick hug. “Happy New Year!” she said. “Anna’s up to her elbows in the kitchen, but she’ll come soon. No Tommy?”
“We dropped him off at Dennis’s farm,” Mr. McMahon said. “He’ll help with the chores so they can come in the sooner. Wait, now!” He took his coat back from Mr. LaRocque long enough to reach into the large front pocket for a small paper sack.
“Best of luck in the new year, Missus,” he said, handing it to Mrs. LaRocque.
She began to unfold the top of the sack, but suddenly stopped and crushed it shut. “I smell it already. Oh, but it can’t be!” She opened it to look inside, then handed it to her husband. “Oh, look what they’ve brought!”
He took the bag and looked inside, then reached in and brought out a small chunk of light brown sugar.
“Where on earth did you find this?” he asked, popping it into his mouth with a grin.
“A drummer who sells the store Eastern hardwoods brought a sack of it at Christmas,” Thomas said. “I saw it on the boss’s desk and said, ‘I know someone who needs a half-pound of that!’”
“What is it?” little Bridey asked, standing on tiptoe and trying to see better.
“Maple sugar,” her father answered. “The year I was lumbering in the Adirondacks, well before you were born, that’s all the sugar we had.”
“We made it each spring when I was growing up on the farm in Chazy,” Mr. LaRocque said. “But I haven’t tasted maple in 20 years, not since we came west.”
Jake was looking at the bag, and his father guessed what he was thinking. “Go tell your sister ‘Happy New Year’ and see that the wood box next to the stove is full,” he said. “You’ll get a taste of maple, if not now, soon enough, as many meals as you eat here!”
Jake headed for the kitchen and Mr. LaRocque smiled after him. “He’s never had a meal here that he hadn’t earned,” he said. “I enjoy having him come out to visit. He works as hard as if he lived here. He’s a good boy, Thomas.”
“Your Anna is a gem, as well,” Mrs. McMahon said. “We’re lucky to have found the pair of them.”
“The young ones are all doing well,” Mr. McMahon said. “We start this century with a great deal to be grateful for. Our Tom is working hard in high school and then at the newspaper at night. You know, Jake worked at the newspaper in New York, but I don’t think his heart was ever in it. He’s happier coming to the lumberyard after school to help out, or to do chores with you. But Tommy has found his place at the newspaper, and he’ll make that his life, I’m sure.”
Mrs. LaRocque lowered her voice a bit. “Do you know, we have a problem with Anna. She’ll finish grammar school this spring, and she wants to go on to high school and then become a teacher, but she won’t do it. She feels she owes it to us to stay home and work the farm like the other children in her class.”
“Have you spoken to her about it?” Mrs. McMahon asked.
“Not yet. We’re not supposed to know,” Mrs. LaRocque said. “She told Tommy, Tommy told Dennis, Dennis told us.”
“There are many things those four know that we’ve no idea about,” Mr. McMahon said.
Mr. LaRocque nodded, “Beginning with how Dennis persuaded that thief to give him back the money for that worthless gold mine.”
Mrs. McMahon raised her hand and turned away. “All’s well that ends well, and I’m sure I don’t want the details,” she declared, as the other three laughed.
“However it happened, Dennis is a better man for it,” Mr. LaRocque declared. “And not just the money. He’s a better man simply for knowing the three of them.”
“I think all four are better for knowing each other,” Mrs. LaRocque said.
“As are we all, all of us,” Mr. McMahon said. “It’s good to have found such friends.”
The dog barked in the farmyard, and they looked out the window to see Dennis and Tommy driving up on Dennis’s wagon. “They didn’t take much time on those chores,” Mr. McMahon said.
“I’m sure Dennis was up before the rooster, as well as he loves holidays,” Mr. LaRocque chuckled. “You’re lucky you didn’t leave the boy off and then find Dennis already here!”
The parents paused at the parlor windows, watching Dennis and Tommy climb down from the wagon. Tommy, who was about to turn 16, was as tall as Dennis and nearly as tall as his father.
They came up the porch steps and into the front hall as Anna and Jake came out from the kitchen. “Anna made four pies!” Jake declared. “And there’s a huge ham!”
“Oh, Tommy, ” his mother said, coming into the hall. “When you boys go to put the horses up, bring in the sack from our wagon. There’s a loaf of soda bread in it, and the things I need for colcannon.”
Then she turned to give Anna a hug.
“Happy New Year, Anna, dear,” she said. “Happy New Century.”
“Happy New Everything!” Anna replied.
Text c. 2010, Mike Peterson
Illustrations c. 2010, Christopher Baldwin