Badger, Newfoundland. March 10, 1959
The night Theresa told her parents she was pregnant she barely touched her food. Hot baked beans with pork rinds and molasses; her favourite. She pushed it around her plate, sick with nervousness. Six o’clock came. Then seven. Her boyfriend, Albert, had promised to be there by four o’clock but it was obvious he wasn’t going to show.
She thought about putting it off but she was already 12 weeks along and just starting to show.
“Not gonna finish your meal?” her mother frowned.
“Eat up,” her father commanded.
Lillian, Theresa’s 14-year-old sister had cleaned her plate and was already halfway through a warm piece of mincemeat pie.
“D’ya have homework Lillian?”
Lillian shook her head and glanced at Theresa. She wished she could quit school too, but her mother wouldn’t hear of it.
“You’re the smart one. Keep studying and you could be a secretary or something.”
“Theresa’s not in school. What will she be?”
“She’ll be someone’s wife,” her mother had said.
Theresa stood and brought her plate to the counter where she wrapped it with Saran Wrap and put it in the fridge. Her mother ran warm water and piled the dirty dishes into the sink. Theresa’s hands shook so badly she had to take special care not to drop one. Finally, she took a deep breath and turned to face her mother.
“I got to tell ya something.”
“G’wan then,” her mother said. Theresa’s tongue froze.
“Well, what is it?” her mother said sharply. She rinsed off the last dish with hot water and passed it to Theresa to dry.
Theresa’s younger sister, Lillian, flounced through the kitchen holding her pajamas and housecoat.
“I’m gettin’ in the tub!” she sang but stopped sensing tension.
“Are you okay?” she asked, Lillian was 14 years old, two years younger than Theresa.
“I’m pregnant,” Theresa said. The colour drained from her mother’s face. Lillian stayed rooted in place, her mouth hung wide open.
“Edgar, get in here this minute! Your daughter has something she wants to say to you.”
Theresa wanted to die right there on the spot.
“What? What’s so important?” he asked. Theresa’s legs shook. Her hands shook. Her heart pounded in her chest. She looked at her father, strong and tall, waiting patiently.
“WELL?” her mother shouted. “TELL HIM!”
Theresa looked away.
“I’m pregnant,” she said quietly.
Her father was momentarily speechless.
“You’ve committed a mortal sin,” her mother cried.
Her father shook his head and shouted , ”NO! This can’t be. How’d you know for sure?”
Both parents stood wide-eyed, shocked.
“I went to the doctor,” Theresa said quietly, her face crimson. She’d asked her friend, Virginia, to get an appointment with their doctor because she couldn’t bear facing her own. She thought he’d examine her belly and order a blood test. She didn’t know she’d have to undress from the waist down and lie flat on a papered table. She kept her ankles and knees pressed firmly together until the doctor forced her feet into the cold, metal stirrups. Theresa had closed her eyes, trying to conjure pleasant images. Instead, she recalled stories overheard from friend’s of her mother’s.
I was in labour for three straight days.
I needed ten stitches ‘cause I ripped so much.
I pushed so hard I burst every blood vessel in my face.
“GET THE HELL OUTTA MY HOUSE!” her father shouted. Theresa knew her strict Catholic parents would disown her and thought she was ready for their wrath.
Lillian dropped her pajamas onto the kitchen floor and grabbed Theresa by the elbow. “What do you mean get out? Where’s she gonna go?”
Theresa covered her eyes and cried. Her father narrowed his eyes and pointed at Lilian.
“Let this be a warning to you! Good girls keep their legs shut until the wedding night.”
Lillian ran upstairs with Theresa, shocked that this was happening. Theresa, however, had prepared for this and had a bag packed. What she hadn’t prepared for was Albert not showing. The plan was to move in with him. He was ten years older than Theresa; a navy man.
“It’s cold and dark out there! You can’t just leave!” Lillian cried. Theresa wiped her tears and pulled herself together for her sister’s sake.
“I’ll be fine. I’ll get settled and then I’ll let you know where I am. Okay?”
“Now, can you do a favour for me?” Theresa asked.
“Go get my winter jacket and stuff. Gonna need my mittens and hat. Just be quiet about it. I don’t want to face those two again.”
Lillian sniffled and hiccoughed.
Once she was dressed for the weather, she had Lillian follow her to the back staircase that lead to a closed off corridor, sealed during the winter to conserve heat. Theresa hoped to avoid her parents.
“Okay,” Theresa said stoically. It took a minute to pry open the door where it had frozen around the frame. Finally, it gave way and a cold blast of wintery air and puffs of snow blew into the porch.
“I’ll call you as soon as I can.”
Theresa had never felt lonelier or more afraid. The cold air stung her throat and made her cough. She forced herself to stop crying because the salty tears made her cheeks raw. Her feet burned from the frigid cold.
Theresa’s family lived on a residential street, not far from the town centre. Although there was very little street light she knew that in five or ten minutes she’d be in a brighter, more populated part of town. Less scary.
In order to get to Virginia’s house, Theresa would have to walk straight down Main Street, past the Irish Tavern and the one place she dreaded – Tabitha Place, a home for unwed mothers. She had talked to Al about it, knowing she’d be kicked out of her home, but Al had promised to look after her.
Theresa hunched into the wind and picked up her pace. A truck sped past and laid on the horn. Theresa looked up and noticed how much busier the streets were than normal. She was relieved to finally spot Virginia’s house.
A light glowed from their living room. Theresa knew if she knocked, she’d have to explain her sudden appearance to Virginia’s parents. Instead, she pried a few small rocks from the frozen driveway and threw one at Virginia’s bedroom window. Theresa saw the curtains move and a minute later, Virginia opened the back door .
”Theresa?” she said. “Oh my lord you told them!” No further explanation was needed. Virginia put her finger to her lips and without removing jacket or boots, Theresa followed her upstairs.
“You’re freezing!” Virginia whispered. She pulled a quilt from the bed and wrapped it around her friend. “I thought Albert was going to take you to his place?”
“He. Didn’t. Show. Up,” Theresa cried. Now that she was safe, the reality of Albert not showing, of her parents kicking her out, of her pregnancy, amplified.
“That prick!” Virginia whispered vehemently.
Theresa wiped her tears and stretched her tired legs the full length of the bed. Suddenly, a loud CRACK filled the air. Theresa held her breath, worried Virginia’s parents would come in.
“What was that?” asked Virginia.
It happened again.
“Virginia?” her mother called from downstairs. “Is everything okay?”
A third CRACK had everyone’s attention. Theresa pulled the curtain back and watched the streets fill with a mob of angry men.
“Look over there!” Theresa said. Virginia peered into the night where the sky went from black to deep orange.
A group of men had marched to the front door, banging and hollering. The girls could hear Virginia’s father talking to them.
“They’re rioting at the camp!” her father shouted. He grabbed his coat and boots.
“Where you going?” Virginia’s mother demanded. Theresa pulled her knees to her chin and listened from the bed.
“I gotta go! Stay here and lock the door behind me.”
Theresa leaned over and pushed open the window, using a stick kept on the windowsill as a prop. Cold air filled the room carrying the sounds of sirens and screams, obscenities and threats against the “scabs” working the mill.
Suddenly, Albert’s absence made sense to Theresa. Albert’s best friend, Mark, worked for the logging company and had been on strike for months, barely able to put food on the table. He, along with the other employees, were fighting against the deplorable conditions they endured at the logging camps.
Virginia joined Theresa at the window just as her bedroom door opened. Her mother came in, about to say something but stopped short when she saw Theresa.
“She’s just here for the night,” Virginia said quickly. Her mother looked at Theresa and then to the opened window.
“It’s dangerous out there tonight,” she said.
“What’s going on?”Virginia asked.
“It’s that damned union. I knew the minute they got involved with the logging camp there’d be trouble.”. It didn’t answer the question for Virginia, but Theresa had a good idea what it was all about. She watched the chaos happening outside and thought of Albert. His best friend worked at the mill and shared one of the camps with twelve other men. They suffered through the cold.nights on beds not fit for a dog. When the mill workers went on strike, Al had promised to help keep the “scabs” from doing the work.
Suddenly a shot fired. Virginia’s mother gasped and clutched her throat.
“Someone’s been shot.”