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Abbie Ann
by Sharlene MacLaren
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Chapter One
Sandy Shores, Michigan
February 1907

Abbie Ann Kane marched through the blinding snow on her way to her family’s general store as howling winds curled their icy fingers around the buildings of downtown Sandy Shores, hissing and spitting and stinging about her nose and cheeks. She pulled her woolen scarf tighter about her neck, but the bitter air still managed to find a whole through which to pass, making her shiver with each hurried step.

The Interurban railcar rumbled past, its whistle alerting pedestrians and horses to make way for its journey up Water Street, Sandy Shores’ main thoroughfare. Through its frosty windows, Abbie made out a scant number of passengers and even caught a glimpse of someone drawing letters on a foggy pane. Probably some bored youngster, she mused.

Turning her gaze downward, she headed into the strong, easterly gusts, passing the Star Bakery, Van Poort’s Grocery Store, Thom Gerritt’s Meat Market, Jellema Newsstand, Moretti’s Candy Company, Hansen’s Shoe Repair, DeBoer’s Hardware, and Grant and Son Tailor Shop. Two more doors and she would reach her destination--Kane’s Whatnot. Normally, her oldest sister, Hannah, would be working there, but Abbie had assumed primary responsibility for Kane’s Whatnot since the birth of Hannah’s daughter on January 15. RoseAnne Devlin was Hannah and Gabe’s third child, and Hannah had her hands full also caring for eighteen-month-old Alex and their eleven-year-old adopted son, Jesse. Taking responsibility for Kane’s Whatnot was the least Abbie could have done, never mind that she barely had time to turn around, what with her teaching Sunday school, serving as president of the local Women’s Christian Temperance Union, assisting Grandmother Kane with the household chores, and visiting the elderly Plooster sisters as often as possible. Poor things depended on her to keep them abreast of all the news in town.

The bell above the wooden door tinkled as Abbie pulled it open, a cold blast of air scooting past her ankles. Her father looked up from his place behind the brass National cash register. “Ah, you’re back from lunch, and not a second too soon. I have an appointment with client at one o’clock. Can you take over from here?”

“Of course, Papa. Just let me hang up my wrap.” Besides owning Kane’s Whatnot, her father also partnered with Leo Perkins in the insurance business, and the Kane and Perkins office was conveniently situated directly across the street from the Whatnot. Both businesses thrived in this lively, little resort town on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan, where the winters could be bitter, but the summers were delightfully warm and cheery.

The line for the cash register wound around the center aisle. There were Maxine Card and her young daughter, Lily, their arms full of candles, two loaves of bread, a wooden bowl, and an eggbeater; Landon and Florence Meir, each toting grocery items; and Fred and Dorothy Link, Fred hefting a sack of flour over his shoulder, Dorothy holding some canned goods and a few other items. Abbie moved past her father to hang her winter gear on a hook in the small closet behind the counter, which also served as a washroom. After a quick glance in the tiny mirror on the wall to rearrange the side combs in her flowing, black hair, she rubbed her icy fingers together and joined her father on the other side of the curtain. She felt slightly perturbed that the stove at the back of the store was not giving off nearly enough heat to quell today’s subzero temperatures.

“My stars in glory, it’s cold,” she said. “In fact, I do believe I saw some icicles shivering on my way here.”

Precocious Lily Card caught the joke and giggled. “You’re silly, Miss Kane. How could icicles shiver?”

“Oh, but they can! And not only that,” Abbie added, leaning over the counter to tap the little girl’s nose, “but I heard that when the farmers have been milking their cows, they’ve been getting ice cream!”

This remark earned another rousing giggle from the child, as well as a few good-humored chuckles form the adults within earshot.

“Abbie Ann, where do you come up with these things?” Jacob Kane asked his daughter, shaking his head with a smile.

“If you ask me, it’s the worst winter we’ve ever had,” Landon Meir groused, obviously finding no humor in Abbie’s remarks. “Got more snow out there than Mr. Bayer has aspirin. Probably won’t melt till June, neither.”

“Or later,” his wife countered, ever the pessimist. For as long as Abbie could recall, the woman’s face had been pinched into a tight scowl.

Jacob finished ringing up Maxine Card’s order, put the items in her burlap sack, and then immediately set to ringing up the Meirs’ purchases. Maxine and Lily waved good-bye and exited as two more customers entered, ushering in with them a blast of cold air. Saturdays in winter were usually like this, with folks considering the weather and feeling the need to stock up ion supplies. Why, one turn of the wind could make for an all-out blizzard!

“You go on now, Papa. I’ll take over,” Abbie said, edging her father out of his place behind the cash register.

“All right, then,” he said, tallying up the last of the Meirs’ purchases. Abbie began to stack each item in a small crate. “You’ll find today’s receipts in the bottom drawer,” Jacob told her.

“Fine, Papa. Go, or you’ll be late.” The clock on the opposite wall registered two minutes to one.

Florence Meir stretched out her palm for her change of two dollars and some odd cents, which Abbie found interesting, since her husband had been the one doling it out. Jacob handed it over, and Florence dropped it into her little drawstring purse. “Come along, Landon; you’ve got wood to chop and stalls to muck and cows to milk and feed,” she murmured through pursed lips as she turned to go. “Best get your chores done ‘fore this weather kicks up.”

Landon shuffled along behind her. “Crack that whip, Mother.”

“Hush up, you ol’ fool.” The two were still going at it when they stepped out into the arctic air, the wind catching the door and closing it with a loud whack. Jacob raised his eyebrows and shook his head, then donned his winter gear and left in the Meirs’ wake.

“Ain’t them Meirs the happiest pair?” commented the middle-aged Fred Link as he laid a twenty-five-pound sack of flour on the counter.

Dorothy Link set her grocery items beside it and nodded. “I think they love each other in their own way, but Fred here thinks they drink vinegar for breakfast.”

“Oh, my goodness!” Abbie covered her mouth to hide her spurt of laughter. “You two behave yourselves.”

Behind them, Reba Ortlund chortled. “I’d guess the last time Florence Meir smiled was that Sunday Tillie Overmyer tripped on the top step on her way to the organ. There she was, all sprawled out like a gigantic tortoise on its back, her petticoats fanning her chubby--”

“Mrs. Ortlund!” Abbie cut in, her eyes traversing from Reba Ortlund to her young son at her side. The woman looked only a little sheepish. Fortunately, it seemed that Robert was paying no heed to the conversation, his attentions focused instead on his peppermint stick, which was creating a pink smear across his face that grew with every lick.

Abbie proceeded to tally up the Links’ items as quickly as she could with hands that were still thawing, biting her lip to hide her smile. Then, all of a sudden, a thundering crash outside the store shook the building’s foundation, shattering the front window and sending store merchandise in every direction. Abbie jolted violently and shrieked, Dorothy Link screamed, and little Robert Ortlund leaped into his mother’s arms, his eyes as round as pie shells. It took several seconds to figure out what had happened, but the tongue of a wagon and a bent wheel protruding through the broken window signified a buggy mishap, whether from the icy road conditions, poor visibility, or, perhaps, a spooked horse.

Meet the author:
Sharlene MacLaren

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