By Ragna Anderson
From The Lightkeeper's Legacy: A Chloe Ellefson Mystery
By Kathleen Ernst
I didn't expect to become one of the best net makers on Rock Island. To my surprise, I did. Everyone says so. I need only three days to make a gillnet, five feet by one hundred twenty. I charge a dollar each and no one complains.
"A thing of beauty," Anders declares each time I hand him a new net, whole and perfect. I learned how to pack a net too, floats on one side and weights on the other so they flow smoothly from the wooden boxes when he set them. The nets come back torn and fouled with lake weeds, algae, bark from the lumber drives, clinkers tossed from passing steamships. I find blood spots on the mesh as well---perhaps from struggling whitefish, perhaps from Anders' wet and cold-cracked hands.
Back in Denmark, Anders grew wheat and potatoes, and I excelled at hedebosøm---needle lace. When Anders took cartloads of produce to sell in the busy market near Copenhagen's harbor, I took table linens and handkerchiefs, folded into muslin to keep clean. My lace sometimes graced wedding dresses and baptismal gowns. My handiwork made people happy.
Anders didn't expect to be happy in our new home, but to his surprise, he is. He takes joy from being on the water and satisfaction from each lift. I take pleasure in knowing that we survived the journey and settled here in Wisconsin. We will work hard here, put down new roots. Our children will never go hungry or whimper from want of a warm blanket. Usually such thoughts are enough.
Sometimes, though, as twine unspools from my netting needle and my fingers dance among the mesh, all I can see is inevitable death.
A note from Chloe: Ragna Anderson once lived in a fishing village on Rock Island, Wisconsin. I've been hired to write a furnishings plan for Rock Island's Pottawatomie Lighthouse, but the stories of women like Ragna are just as important as the lightkeepers' stories. I haven't learned much about Ragna yet, but something is making me uneasy...
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Kathleen Ernst is the author of thirty-six books, including the Chloe Ellefson Mysteries, mysteries for young readers, historical fiction, and two nonfiction books. Before becoming a full time writer she worked as a curator at Old World Wisconsin.
To learn more about the award-winning Chloe Ellefson series---including the latest, Mining For Justice, see Kathleen's website.
Kathleen is celebrating the series with an eight-month-long retrospective, and it's The Lightkeeper's Legacy month! Stop by her blog to learn more about the book, and watch her Facebook Author Page for a Giveaway.