Katherine is an inspiring Christmas story about a New England family during World War II. The story reveals the complexities of heartbreak and love in a family struggling with the hardships of war. The narrative examines a mother's faith and her loss when there seems very little hope for the future. Katherine's story is an insightful novel about marriage, love, family, happiness, and sorrow.
'Deep emotions and high family drama are in store as this uplifting and heart-warming tale discuss the themes of faith and love during a seemingly hopeless time in world history.' Reviewed by READERS' FAVORITE - Five Stars
Katherine is a historical novel set in Maine during the Christmas holidays of 1944. In this gripping, emotional story, we find the titular character, 34-year-old Katherine, struggling to hold her third marriage together as she copes with difficult times. Guilt plagues Katherine after her seventeen-year-old son enlists in the U.S. Army and fears of his death begin to mount.
Meanwhile, Katherine is desperately trying to cope with an alcoholic husband, who is on the verge of destroying their marriage. As Katherine tries to hold on, she finds herself on the verge of losing faith in God, a spiritual strength that has guided her through years of hardship as she tries to raise her two other children; ten-year-old Glenn, who is failing in school, and her fifteen-year-old daughter, Anna, who is maturing too fast.
Katherine is a compelling drama of a family trying to find a degree of normalcy on the American home front during the harrowing events of World War II. However, can Katherine's faith prove strong enough to keep her son alive in a war that seemingly has no end? Can she trust in a higher power to help her husband overcome the addiction of alcoholism? Most importantly, can her third marriage survive as this intense drama unfolds to its climactic ending during the Christmas holidays?
Thursday, September 14, 1944
In Northern New England, summer comes to an end during the September equinox. By October, the summer tourists have long left the state, and the Sandpiper Willets and long-legged Herons have flown south for the winter. In Maine, the countryside changes from green to dazzling hues of yellow and red as the autumn foliage nears its peak. After a short spell, the colorful vista of elms and maple trees quickly lose their seasonal coats, and the familiar scent of burning leaves fills the air from one neighborhood to the next. It's what people in Maine expect, and many welcome it.
For some, autumn brings a change in disposition, like the gloomy feeling when October winds blow, and the air turns frigid before the first cold rains. It's as though Mother Nature ends her summers with a wistful mixture of sunny days served with lemonade, and the anticipation of things to come, leaving us with an intoxicating blend of melancholy and cheer.
We enjoy the splendor and magic of autumn's foliage for a brief moment, and then poof, like magic, the enchantment is gone. The trees stretch their long sinuous branches and shed their colorful gowns for a long winter's sleep, leaving behind memories of hot summer nights and forgotten dreams.
Of course, not everyone in town feels so aesthetic about the passing of summer. The old-timers, who perch on the front steps of the Congregational Church in downtown Westbrook, see autumn for what it is, the end of warm weather and the beginning of unwanted fuel bills. In plain Yankee English—a cold pain in the arse.
However, as long as the days remain warm, the old boys gather on the church's white, rickety steps, smoking their pipes, spitting tobacco, and watching traffic move along Main Street. It's an iconic scene, one you could find in almost any small New England town, a few retired men lounging on steps or a sidewalk bench along the main thoroughfare. Their sweat-stained fedoras tilted forward, shading their tired eyes from the sun while chatting about the good old days and not hooting about anything other than the local news and what's happening with the war in Europe.
Across the street from the church is the Five and Dime, and Sally Watkins, a sprightly twenty-three-year-old store clerk, is all too happy to see summer end. She loves the smell of burning leaves in the fall, the cocky smiles of jack-o'-lanterns staring out from the front steps of homes during Halloween, and the freshly baked aroma of pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving. Sally looks forward to decorating the store windows for the holidays and gets excited about displaying the new Christmas merchandise when it arrives.
She has always been a winter person, a snow queen of sorts, intrigued by fairy tales and captivated by stories of young, handsome knights in shining armor. Yet, in the heat of summer, Sally takes on a prickly mood and hates things like flypaper, sweat, and the feel of sticky clothes on hot, humid days.
For others, like Mr. Knight, who owns the hardware store just up the street next to Pete's diner, September adds a few extra dollars to his daily receipts. It's the store's best month for selling McGuire bamboo leaf rakes, and of course, every time the cash register rings, it makes Mr. Knight a happy retailer.
The kids in the town of Westbrook know that autumn means back to school, and for the young at heart, it also means no more Sunday drives to Old Orchard Beach or family picnics at Sebago lake. But, all things at the end of the summer are not lost. There is always the October ritual of trick-or-treating, bobbing for apples, and dressing up like a hobo for the school's Halloween party. And who doesn't like a big fat turkey on Thanksgiving Day or watching a child compose their first letter to Santa Claus? It's just the way things are in Maine; some people love summer, while others look forward to winter. Although today, folks had other things on their minds, like the hurricane working its way up the coast and now swirling across the Gulf of Maine.
It was four-fifteen in the afternoon as heavy clouds gathered like a dark shroud over the city's landscape. Tiny black dots began speckling the sidewalks as raindrops started trickling down, prompting downtown shoppers to hurry about their business before being caught in the rain. Retail merchants were already reeling in their storefront canopies as winds funneled down Main Street and across the Presumpscot River.
Mr. Welch, the pharmacist at Hood's Drugs Store, glanced out the store's front window, frowning. "Looks like it's starting to rain out there. I hope you have a ride home," he said, smiling at Mrs. Belanger as he rang up Father John's medicine bottle.
Mrs. Belanger's young son had come down with whooping cough, and she was a firm believer in the family cough tonic, which contained no drugs or alcohol. "Oh yes, my husband, Leo, is outside waiting in the car."
The two of them exchanged a few pleasantries, and then Mrs. Belanger said thank you and bid him goodbye before leaving the store. As she passed through the front door, Mr. Welch looked out at the cars backing up at the stoplight and pondered, wondering if the storm would reach Maine by nightfall. His eyes narrowed, and he frowned, shaking his head, annoyed at not knowing what to expect, and went back to preparing customer prescriptions.
On the next block, Mr. Albert stood by the front display window inside the Men's Shop, scrutinizing the dark clouds while watching the traffic officer direct motorists at the stoplight. "Looks like we're gonna get that storm after all," he said to Charlie Vaillancourt, one of his best salesmen.
Charles looked up from straightening a shirt display. "I hope not. I still remember the last one we had. What did they call it—oh yeah, the Great New England Hurricane? We were lucky it didn't hit us as hard as it did Massachusetts," Charlie said, glancing out the front window. "Let's hope we don't get another one like that."
Mr. Albert looked across the street to Warren's Furniture Store and saw no one going in or coming out. "Not good for business," he grumbled and went back to unpacking a new arrival of men's sweaters.
Heavy rain started pouring down a few minutes later, glazing the streets with a mirror of moving shadows and wavy tire ripples. The wind grew stronger, swirling along Main Street and circling up Brackett Street's steep incline and across Irish Hill, rustling trees and rattling stop signs along its path.
At a house near the top of Central St., Mrs. Girard made a last-minute dash to gather laundry off the clothesline before they were completely soaked. A few houses farther up the street, Katherine Wilburn stood looking out her kitchen window, feeling somewhat apprehensive as she watched the raindrops pelting hard against the windowpane. The sound grew louder with each wind gust. She could sense the nearness of the storm and knew what to expect.
Since early morning, she had been uneasy after listening to the local weather report from Portland's WCSH radio station. The Weather Bureau had issued a hurricane warning, forecasting high winds and heavy rain by late afternoon, and Katherine felt it was a harbinger of what might come.
Katherine had been worried all day, wondering how bad the storm would be. The only hurricane she had ever experienced was in 1938, and she remembers a few buildings and trees damaged and a power outage in the city. However, the winds were well below hurricane strength, and there were no casualties or deaths in Maine. As Katherine stood staring out the window, she scowled at the thought of higher winds, silently praying that the hurricane would lose strength before it reached Maine and do any severe damage.
Katherine whispered, "damn this weather," and went to the pantry to prepare for supper. Tonight was a pot roast, something the whole family enjoyed.
Katherine was fishing around in the potato bin when her daughter, Anna, came strolling into the room and flopped down on a chair at the kitchen table.
Anna placed the movie magazine she was carrying on the table and spread the pages open. "It's raining cats and dogs out there," she said without taking her eyes off the magazine.
Katherine selected a few potatoes from the bin and then searched the cutlery drawer for the potato peeler before conversing with her daughter. "It's part of that hurricane that's been moving up the coast from Florida," she said, looking over to Anna.
Anna did not respond. She was too absorbed with her copy of Movie Life, its pages filled with Hollywood stars and the latest bevy of handsome leading men. Like most fifteen-year-olds, Anna ignored her mother whenever her mind was a thousand miles away, dreaming about who knows what.
Katherine turned and stared at her daughter before speaking a little louder, trying to make contact. "It's supposed to get worse tonight."
Anna looked up, brushing a strand of dark-brown hair from her face. "Can I turn on the light? It's getting dark in here?" And without waiting for an answer, she got up and turned on the kitchen light. "That's better," she said, moseying back to the table.
Katherine raised an eyebrow. "Don't you have homework or something?"
"I already did it, and besides, you said you needed help with the laundry."
"Yes, I did, and that was an hour ago when I asked you to help bring the clothes in off the line. I guess you were too busy because you disappeared upstairs to your bedroom."
"Jeez, Ma, I didn't know you meant right then."
"Well, when did you think? After the rain got them all soaked? Katherine said, shaking her head while peeling potatoes.
Katherine was fretful of the storm and on edge, which brought to mind something her father used to tell her when he was still alive. "You're just as snippy as your mother used to be whenever she was worried about something."
Katherine's mother, Mary, died in childbirth when Katherine was born, leaving her raised under a strained relationship with her strict father. A complicated kinship that Katherine could never fully reconcile. She blinked the thought away and turned back to Anna. "No telling how long this storm will last. The radio said it's supposed to move out to sea by tomorrow."
"Do you think there'll be school tomorrow?"
"I don't know, maybe." Katherine placed a pan of potatoes on the stove and looked at the wall clock above the kitchen table. It was four-thirty. She turned and stared briefly out the window, somewhat abstracted, wondering if her husband, Aaron, would be coming home early because of the weather. Today was not a good day for him to be out drinking, she thought.
Katherine's husband was a decent provider but had one major problem. He was an alcoholic. However, Aaron was the kind of man who would never admit to such a thing.
Katherine never knew when her husband would head downtown to Sammy's barroom after work. It was a routine that Katherine abhorred but could do little to stop. Aaron had been consuming more alcohol ever since the war broke out and would often come home in a foul mood. Whenever Aaron was drunk, he became short-tempered and often staggered into the house with a mean streak, looking for any excuse to start shouting and raving for no apparent reason.
As Katherine stood silently gazing out the window, her train of thought was interrupted when a strong current of air slapped the rain hard against the windowpanes, causing a sudden loud noise like hailstones striking against the glass. Katherine's head jerked back, and she blinked. Damn rain, she cursed silently and went back to the pantry to wipe down the counter, rinse the sink, and wait for Aaron.