Every family has its secrets. In 1935, Hannah Parsons left her home in Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland, at the age of seventeen to work in service for Charles and Virginia Sinclair, a wealthy St. John’s family. While working for them, Hannah catches the eye of the patriarch of the household, and her life takes an unexpected turn. Now, sixty years later, Charles Sinclair has passed, and his last living will and testament is about to throw his family into turmoil. His children and grandchildren learn that no family is as perfect as it seems, and that some secrets refuse to stay buried forever. From a Good Home is a novel of family legacy among the St. John’s aristocracy. It is Trudi Johnson’s first book.
Friday, August 23, 1935
Shortly after 7:00 a.m., Hannah woke to the familiar cries of seagulls and became suddenly aware that she would likely never forget this day. She raised her head to meet a gentle breeze of cool sea air across the nine-patch quilt on her bed. She pushed back the frayed edge of her quilt’s green satin binding and winced as her eyes met the glare of the early morning sun casting a silvery glow on the ocean waves only fifty feet from her bedroom window. Looking down beyond the window ledge, she smiled as dozens of pink fireweed danced among the rocks. She wondered when she would see them again after today. Do they have flowers in St. John’s? Of course they do, but not these old flowers that grow whether anyone tends to them or not. Likely flowers that are planted and taken care of.
Hannah loved the smell of the fresh air. Despite her mother’s warning that she would “catch her death,” most nights, in the darkness, she would struggle to pull up the wooden-framed window in her bedroom until it loosened and a draft blew in. Hannah rarely got sick, and she doubted whether the salt sea air could cause a cold. If it did, she often thought, we’d be all dead by now.
The sun was well up over the horizon, so Hannah was not surprised that Frances, her older sister who shared her bed, was up and gone. Frances worked down harbour, cleaning and cooking for the minister’s family. She worked long hours but never complained because the pay was good. And their father, a fisherman since he was twelve, always said it was important to find a way to “keep body and soul together,” so the girls worked, too, if only to show their brothers they could work just as hard as they did.
Today, Hannah was going to prove to her family how hard she could work, how brave she really was. At the age of seventeen, she was going to leave her home in Falcon Cove, a small fishing community on the northeast coast of Newfoundland, and travel for the first time to work in a city she had never visited, for people she had never met. She convinced herself that she would do a fine job and her mom and pop would be pleased. And her brothers would never again make fun of her or say she was spoiled.
She let out a loud sigh and thought how her life had changed so quickly in only a couple of weeks. She smiled as she thought about her grandmother’s words. “Life happens that way, my dear. You don’t have time to think about it. Or get ready for it. And that’s a good thing,” she had said. But Hannah did think about it. Every minute of every day since her father came home a month ago to say that the Sinclairs, a prestigious family in St. John’s, were looking for a young maid from the outports to work for them. Her father had added that young outport girls were thought to be hard workers, and with a wink of his eye he added that truer words were never spoken. The family, he said, needed a young girl to do housework and, most of all, to care for their two-year-old daughter, Emily. Hannah’s mom had laughed out loud as she pushed more wood into the stove to help the baking bread along. “They only have one child? And they want someone to look after that child? Just the one?” she had asked in total disbelief, a tinge of disgust in her voice. Her husband felt obliged to comment, though he rarely talked about others. “Hettie, maid, they’re busy people, I s’pose. That’s all I know. They want somebody.”
And her mother let out that delightful laugh again and said, “And what am I, James, if not busy?” She only called him James when she wanted to make a point. Usually, it was simply Jay.
Hannah’s father had turned to his three daughters, Frances, Elsie, and Hannah, at the supper table that night and asked which one of them would be willing to go to St. John’s to work. Hannah had not hesitated. Everyone turned to look at her in surprise. She was the last one they expected. After all, Hannah rarely spent much time at the other end of the harbour. She was always within calling distance of their house. But she quickly nodded and told her father that she would. And just as quickly, she was running down the path that led from her back door to the water’s edge, a path worn by generations of neighbours and children, to her friend Adelia’s house to tell her that she was moving to St. John’s. She would be working for an important family, she explained, and she didn’t know when she would be back, likely not until next summer. Adelia, for the first time in her life, was speechless at the news. Even in their brief eye contact that evening, neither girl acknowledged the emotional reality of Hannah’s decision. They just swallowed hard and agreed to write as often as possible.
By the next day, she had realized the depth of her decision. She delivered the news to her relatives with a laugh and a shrug of her shoulders, but deep inside, she shook with fear as she prepared to leave on Friday morning. It was not the work she feared—she was used to work—it was the loneliness, being away from her brothers and sisters, Mom and Pop, her grandparents, Adelia, and even the wildflowers, now seemingly waving goodbye to her in the breeze. She twisted in the bed, tugged her nightdress up across her knees, and wondered why her mother hadn’t called her to get up yet. Perhaps she didn’t want to face what was to come that day. Perhaps her mother didn’t want to say goodbye to her daughter as she climbed aboard the steamer to St. John’s, to face a twenty-four-hour journey into an unknown life.
Hannah squeezed her eyes shut and tried to imagine what awaited her at the Sinclair house, but couldn’t. Will I wake to the sound of the sea and the foghorn? Do they even notice the sea in St. John’s or is it always too noisy? Do men like Pop come in from fishing? Hannah rubbed her stomach gently, hoping it would ease the flip-flop feeling she had there. She had promised her family and she couldn’t let them down, no matter how hard her stomach hurt. She’d take Falcon Cove with her, if only in her heart.
Set within a comfortable middle-class niche in a contemporary and geographically recognizable St. John’s (Stoneyhouse Street, Exeter Avenue), and framed by relationships, friendships and blooming romances and blood ties, ‘[From a] Good Home’ is an easy, conversational read.-- The Telegram --
Johnson has created a story with enough twists and turns to keep you on the edge of whatever seat you’re occupying.-- Northeast Avalon Times --