I was born into a life of ease in Brattleboro, Vermont, the youngest child of Dr. Donald and Martha Farenthold, but my life wasn’t trouble free. Father was a drunk and not a jolly one, though no one in town knew the shadow we lived under.

A respectable member of the community, Dr. Farenthold was sober at his medical office and the hospital, but as soon as he got home, he’d fall into his big chair, open a medical journal, and uncork the bottle. By nine he was plastered and we lived in fear that someone would need him in the night and we would be exposed.

In the early days, Mother tried to divert him with outings and family games, but he would get belligerent. Sometimes he’d even bash her around. To stay away from him, she volunteered for various charitable organizations, the Children’s Home Society, the Red Cross, and the Lutheran Women’s Club.

Then, when I was fourteen, Mama got uterine cancer. . . . Ironic, a doctor’s wife dying of a treatable disease. She could have had a hysterectomy if they’d found it in time, but by then my parents were hardly speaking.

Our home, a big Victorian with a white picket fence around the lush lawn, not ten minutes from the Connecticut River, had been anything but peaceful, but after Mother died, it was a tomb.

For a few years, we had a maid and a cook, but eventually Father ran them off, and my brothers and I had to fend for ourselves. Darwin and William, nine and ten years my senior, who attended Amherst College just down the road, left for Harvard Medical School as soon as they could. That left Father and the house to me.

I was a pale child, bookish and withdrawn. In school, even if I knew the answer, I was hesitant to raise my hand. Though pretty enough in an old-fashioned way, I didn’t date, didn’t participate in sports or girls’ clubs, just got all As and went home to try to keep Father from burning the house down or doing something else self-destructive.

As soon as I was seventeen, just like my brothers, I applied for college. Girls didn’t go to university much in those days, but I argued that it would secure my future in case I never married.

“An attractive girl like you! You’ll get hooked before you get your degree. It’s a waste of my money,” Father whined, looking over his glass of amber liquid.

But I proved him wrong. I graduated from the University of Vermont with a teaching diploma in May of ’14 and didn’t marry for another six months. Luckily, Father was pleased with my choice, a young physician, Dr. David Myers, whom I’d met at a Chautauqua in Burlington.

Following our honeymoon in New York, father sobered up for a while. We moved into a new Sears Roebuck Craftsman house that he had built for us, and by September, David had set up a practice.

Everyone expected us to conceive right away, but we were having too much fun. We canoed the backwaters of the Connecticut River and danced in the ballroom of the Copley in Boston, but by late 1915 the party was over.

War in Europe was on everyone’s mind, and David began talking about joining the medics. You’d think I’d object, but I actually encouraged him. I was young. What did I know of the horrors of combat? My brothers were already in Spain, and I would have joined too, only I was a girl.

Within the month, David contacted a second cousin in Winnipeg and signed with the Canadian Army. Many of the young men from Vermont and Maine were doing the same.

Our last night together, we walked the banks of the Connecticut, as the full moon rode the ripples, breaking into little shards of light. The June air smelled of honeysuckle and growing things. I was twenty-three. He was twenty-eight, and we had our whole life before us.

“You are so lovely,” David told me, pushing a shock of his thick black hair back from his forehead. “Always stay this way, so beautiful with moonlight on your face.”

I laughed. “I’ll be old someday. Will you still love me?”

“Always, but you’ll never be old. Not to me. I’ll always see you like this.”

“Even when I have strands of gray in my hair and wrinkles around my eyes?”

“You’ll never be like that.”

“If you say so.” I mocked him and did a little jig, my hands on my hips in the silver moonlight.

“Trust me on this. Look at you; you’re too full of life.” He grabbed my hand and we ran along the grassy bank.

The next morning he left on the train for Montreal, so handsome in his new Canadian uniform, leaning out the window, waving. I never saw him smile like that again.


At dawn, a deafening blast rips open my dreams. Before I’m truly awake, I’m at the upstairs window of the little house with the blue door, staring down at a lean, leathered man wearing a black hat pulled down to his eyes, his firearm aimed at Dr. Blum, who is walking through the wet grass in his long underwear, straight at the gunman.

“No!” I yell, flying down the stairs, missing every other step and twisting my ankle at the bottom.

“No!” I yell again, slamming through the screen door, running toward the armed man to shield the doctor. “Don’t shoot.”

The man lowers his double-barreled shotgun, and I see that it’s Mr. Maddock the neighbor from down the hill. I had met him once or twice when I made home visits to his paralyzed wife.


“Don’t shoot,” I call again. “It’s me, Becky Myers, the home health nurse and . . .”

“Well, what are you doing here? I called out to that fellow twice that he was trespassing, but he didn’t answer, just glared with those crazy blue eyes . . . then he started to come for me and I fired a warning shot into the air. There are hoboes all over these hills taking up residence anywhere they like, tearing up property, stealing and selling whatever’s not nailed down.”

When I drag the doctor back to the porch and sit him down, I notice the front button of his union suit is undone. Maybe he was on the steps trying to relieve himself when Maddock showed up. (If it’s true, this is a first and would show some progress.)

“This is the doctor. Doctor Blum. He’s not himself,” I explain to Mr. Maddock. “It’s a stroke . . . or some kind of brain attack.” (I’m making this up to keep it simple, and a stroke is something people in Union County might understand.)

“I brought Dr. Blum home, thinking the mountain air might do him some good, but when I got to Liberty, Mr. Linkous, his attorney, told me the bank sold his house.”

Here, Maddock enters the yard. When he cracks open his shotgun and removes the shells, I take a long, shaky breath. The sun is just rising over the mountains, golden through the still bare branches of the oak.


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