Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The August Gale (excerpt)

The August GaleJack O’Leary stood to the fore of his Da’s ketch, watching the shore as the boat drew closer. He saw the children on the beach, running back and forth. They looked like a bunch of scurrying crabs at this distance. A little closer and they regained their humanity. From time to time, one of them would stop and pick something up off the beach—probably a colorful stone or shell. If it was glass, he hoped the sea had long ago smoothed its sharp edges. Some of the children waved to the incoming boats, but none were distracted from their games for long.

“What’re ye at now, Jack?” Michael O’Leary stood back and smiled at his own wit. “Work’s not done till the last fish is unloaded.”

“I know that as well as any man,” Jack snarled, then added with a wink, “Save your phony brogue for the girls. They’re the only ones believe in it.”

“Ah, but the lilt ‘tis as pleasing to their hearts as ‘tis to their ears.”

“Toss them on the ocean for a few days, then see how their stomachs fare.”

“Enough out of both of you.” Da, looking more wind-burnt and stoop-shouldered than when they set out, hauled himself along the starboard rail. Jack and Michael cast sideways glances at each other and fought to suppress their smiles. “A sorry day indeed when I let you two hooligans on my boat. Get going now.” He stomped his foot. “Go on. Work. And don’t be stopping till an hour after I says quit.”

“Yes Da,” they said as one, ducking and running aft to avoid being clipped by their father’s heavy hands. Once out of his reach, and making sure his back was still turned, they both started to laugh.

“The old coot.”Jack snorted. “He gets more contrary each day.”

“Mind your tongue,” Michael said. “He’s still our Da. Don’t matter how crippled or DEAF he gets.” He’d fairly bellowed the word “deaf”, but their father didn’t flinch. This set them to laughing all the harder.

Jack stopped abruptly and, catching Michael’s eye, pointed aft. Their brother, Patrick, stood watching the receding horizon. If he heard them, he’d surely repeat every word to Ma, who’d then feel obliged to tell Da.

Michael puckered his lips and squinted. “Don’t be worrying about him. He can’t hear nothing over his daydreams.”

“Do you think that’s all it is? Sometimes I think he’s, you know, a little daft?”

“So he don’t talk to no one but Ma. Got plenty enough to say to her. Just don’t have no voice left for the rest of us. Hup! The old man’s turning.”

Jack scurried below decks, flashing Michael a wink and a smile. “Last one done drives the buggy tonight.”

“Best be telling Annie to wear her long red woollies, then.”


“The August Gale” is historical fiction, loosely based on my Irish ancestors’ lives in rural Nova Scotia during the very real and very damaging storm that struck the region in August 1873. Genealogical research on my O’Leary ancestors led to a connection with the Great Gale of 1873. Connection led to fascination and ultimately to inspiration, teaching me, once and for all, that genealogy without history is little more than dry facts. Understanding the historical context of my ancestors’ lives helps me tap into the emotional context of their lives.

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