Hold Fast To Your Dreams – Episode 12

The main characters from the story Illustration: Sailesh Thakrar

“You’re here at last! I was beginning to worry –”

But Emily was cut off as young Becky, a keen worker in the San Francisco sewing centre, stormed in, her eyes dark with fury.

“If they think I’m going to move Grandma to that horrible Ingleside Race Track, they can think again.

“Can you believe it, people there are actually living in horseboxes. How could anyone even suggest Grandma should be there instead of with me?”

Her voice broke. Emily put down the pile of torn clothing she’d been sorting.

She led Becky into the morning sun that was beginning to break through the San Francisco mist.

“The authorities can’t make your grandmother move anywhere, Becky. We’ll find a way for you to stay together.”

“How?” Becky wiped her eyes. “The tent camps are closing, and soon ours will, too. Gran and I have no chance of an earthquake cottage, you know that.

“Where can we go? The relief administrator told me I might be able to find a room somewhere, and that Gran could live at Ingleside. How dare he?”

Emily bit her lip, knowing Becky was right. Excitement had rippled through the camp about the compounds of tiny cottages that were being built, lined up side by side like hundreds of matchboxes.

With walls made of redwood, a proper floor and leak-proof cedar roof they would feel palatial compared to the tents, but it seemed there was a hierarchy about who was eligible for one.

Cold and hard judgements were made by the relief administrators as to who demonstrated the potential to be self-sufficient, and who didn’t.

“It’s not fair,” Becky blurted out in a fresh wave of indignation. “I can earn two dollars a month for the rent somehow. I think Grandma and I deserve a cottage as much as a husband and wife do.”

Emily squeezed Becky’s hand.

Of course the cottages should go first to families, and to widows with children. But would men always be thought a better bet in terms of earning wages and being dependable?

Single women were regarded as second-class citizens, it seemed. Yet they were somehow meant to fend for themselves.

And the elderly and other people who were on their own were left with places like Ingleside, with its cell-like quarters, hard rules and regulations.

“Do you know when our camp is being closed, Emily? Where are you going to live?”

“I don’t know,” Emily said, not meeting Becky’s eyes.

She knew there were options open to her when the camp closed. She felt guilty, and hadn’t wanted to talk about it – certainly not to Becky.

Emily felt so sad for the girl. Like herself and Jenny, Becky had grown up without a mother.

Now she was fatherless, as he had died in the earthquake. The brave girl had pulled her grandmother to safety and, together, they had made their way to the tent camp.

“If Daddy were alive, I’ll bet we’d be eligible for a cottage,” Becky said softly.

“Becky, I’m so sorry. You’re very brave, and your father must have been so proud of you.”

A deep ache of homesickness lay heavily in Emily’s heart. If only her stepmother Sarah were here. She would have been wonderful for Becky.

Emily would have poured out her own dilemma to her, knowing that, although Sarah might not have all the answers, she would give her full attention and honest, sensible reactions.

“Will you help me, Emily? I’ve no-one else!”

“I’ll do everything I can. Try to concentrate on your sewing. We’ll talk about it again soon.”

Hope and relief washed over Becky’s face, and Emily felt a lurch of panic, wondering what to do next.

Of course, there was one person on this side of the Atlantic to whom she could talk. But was it fair to expect that now?

She heard women’s voices from inside the tent.

“Enjoying the sun, are you, madam? All right for some.”

“Well, she’s used to garden parties with the King of England. Aren’t you, princess?”

There was a cackle of laughter and Emily turned to see the mocking faces of Nancy and Jean, two workers who had proved a thorn in her side.

“So that’s why she’s been put in charge of all of us.”

“She’s in charge because she’s the best seamstress of us all, and you know it.”

The quiet, firm voice of Miriam was like a balm to Emily’s bruised heart, and she smiled a thank you to the mother of three who was such a gentle and diligent member of the motley group.

Emily went back to her table, avoiding the disdainful eyes of the two women who particularly resented her.

What would become of them all when the camp closed, and their work together came to an end?

It was impossible to know, but even through her worry, Emily felt it might be just the beginning.

If only she could summon the strength and resolve to follow her dream . . .

To be continued…

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