After my first year of gymnastics, I eagerly signed up for a gymnastics camp—what a fun week I’d have! However, although I loved the activities, I soon felt forsaken: only my roommate talked to me. I came back home with a strange mix of feelings: elated by the wonderful week of activities, but brokenhearted by the loneliness I experienced. Because of this experience, I feel a strong kinship with Maggie Ledoux, who experienced not only loneliness but also scorn.
Calico Bush, by Rachel Field, tells the story of Marguerite “Maggie” Ledoux. When her uncle and grandmother die on the voyage from France to the Americas, Maggie is orphaned and becomes a “bound-out girl”—she must work for a family to earn her board and keep. Maggie faces all kinds of new dangers when the Sargents—her employers—move to a rural island off the coast of Maine. Even with four children to mind, food to keep track of, and “Injuns” to watch for, Maggie nevertheless learns to love the job that was forced upon her, and makes the best of an impossible situation.
Maggie is an interesting character to observe because she is always being scorned (due to her French heritage). One episode that particularly struck me was when Aunt Hepsa—an old, able woman—dances. She receives whoops and cheers at the end of her performance. Subsequently Maggie dances, but receives only rebukes and sniffs. Yet when Maggie finally gets the chance to leave the Sargents, she decides to stay because she feels she has finally found a home.
Calico Bush gave me powerful insights on pioneer life. Settlers are more frightened than I had ever imagined: “Injuns” are the monsters of the New World, it seems. Pioneers only talk about Native Americans in low voices. They are considerably superstitious as well; bad omens are seen everywhere, like when a child hurts himself and spills blood on the doorstep.
Calico Bush is a wonderful book. I learned many things by reading it—sheep laurel was sometimes called calico bush, maple syrup on snow is not just a Canadian treat, and the scarcity of gunpowder is not to be taken lightly in the winter—but most importantly, loneliness is a tribulation we can learn to live with.
You can buy this book here.