Publication Year: 2007
Lexi, a young Mennonite woman from Saskatchewan, comes to work as housekeeper and nanny for a doctor’s family in Waterloo, Ontario, during the Depression. Dr. Gerald Oliver is a handsome philanderer who lives with his neurotic and alcoholic wife, Cammy, and their two children. Lexi soon adapts to modern conveniences, happily wears Cammy’s expensive cast off clothes, and is transformed from an innocent into a chic urban beauty. When Lexi is called home to Saskatchewan to care for her dying mother, she returns a changed person.
At home, Lexi finds a journal written by her older brother during the family’s journey from Russia to Canada. In it she reads of a tragedy kept secret for years, one hat reconciles her early tmemories of her mother as joyful and loving with the burdened woman she became in Canada. Lexi returns to Waterloo, where a crisis of her own, coupled with the knowledge of this secret, serves as the catalyst for her realization that, unlike her mother, she must create her own destiny.
Watermelon Syrup is a classic bildungsroman: the tale of a naive young woman at the crossroads of a traditional, restrictive world and a modern one with its freedom, risks, and responsibilities.
Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Series: Life Writing
Title Page, Copyright
Watermelon Syrup is a fictionalized account of Annie Jacobsen’s family story.When Annie’s mother, Katherine Becker (née Goerz), was dying of cancer and Annie herself was fighting the same disease, she began writing vignettes to entertain her mother....
Aleksandra pulls out the last of the old yellow notebooks as she waits for the nurse to call her in this kingdom of softly whirring machines. It had seemed a good idea to bring the notebook to pass the time, but now she’s not so sure. She glances, pen poised, at the pink waiting room wall. It’s the same colour as the watermelons she remembers from her...
Waterloo, Ontario. 1933. She was only a girl. A seventeen-year-old girl on a hot, still day, standing at the threshold. The sweat trickled down her back. A thin woman wearing an orange shirt and white pants stood staring at them, holding open her front door and flicking her limp brown hair away from her face. She didn’t look like...
Lexi lay in bed listening to the sounds of the house on Saturday morning. Her sixth day there, and it was still strange to hear the gurgling of water running in pipes through the walls. Someone’s feet padded along the carpet in the hallway below. She heard the soft click of the bathroom door handle and then the toilet...
Monday morning Lexi ploughed the deep fur of the living room rug with the Hoover, thinking that it was so much easier than trying to sweep up dust with a broom. She loved that the dust just...
Lexi was in the middle of brushing the braids out of her hair before going to bed when there was a knock at her door. She jumped up, her heart pounding, holding the brush in front of her.A memory of Russia flashed through her mind. Dark men on...
After the seventh driving lesson, Dr. Oliver went to the police station with her to get her beginner’s permit. She was now to do all the family shopping. She’d come to like the driving lessons and was sorry that they’d be over now.From the second lesson on she’d made quick progress.The surge of power as she shifted the gears from first to...
The Olivers’ party was only two weeks away, the day before Halloween. Cammy had invited her sister, Louise, and her brother-in-law, David, as well as the actors she’d met at a party in London a few weeks earlier. The actors were in the middle of rehearsals for a play, called The Greener Pastures, at the Grand Theatre, which was...
The Friday evening before the party was balmy.A sudden warm spell, unusual for this late in October, had come.A good omen for tomorrow night’s party. Six of the actors, including Mr.Harrison, had accepted invitations and, after hours of heated discussion with her...
The guests began arriving for the party just as Georgie finished tying the bow of Lexi’s starched gingham apron. Both were wearing black waitress dresses with scalloped white collars. They’d spent the last hour primping, now that everything was baked and cooked, or ready to be cooked. They tied Georgie’s curls into a becoming...
Lexi slid into the booth at the Cat’s Eye Café and waited, her head pounding. She’d phoned Tante Gertie to tell her that she was sick and couldn’t come to church. Which was more or less true. When Georgie emerged from the kitchen, carrying a pot of coffee, Lexi tried to smile and curled her fingers into a small...
“Thank you for letting me talk about Daisy,” Georgie said. They were down in the fruit cellar, clearing out old jars. “She will be almost two by now. Can’t you just imagine her toddling around on pudgy little legs?” Lexi nodded and tried to close her ears to Georgie’s words. She didn’t want to be talking about this. She’d been trying...
A few days after Christmas, Lexi sat braiding Sally’s hair in the kitchen when Dr. Oliver strode in. His eyes were narrow and his mouth was grim. Her first thought was that something had happened to Cammy. She finished tying the ribbons around Sally’s braids and told her to go and find Simon. Sally ran at her father’s legs. He patted her hair.“Good morning,...
For most of the trip she sat huddled in the corner of her seat, shivering and then suddenly feeling hot as she remembered Dr. Oliver’s goodbye. But when she closed her eyes to try to remember his kiss, she saw the grim looks of her parents instead. During the last five months in Waterloo, she’d managed to push their faces further and further into the background. Now they were like huge...
“Lexi! Come!” Mama’s voice, weak though it was, had an angry edge to it. Lexi scraped the dough off her fingers, squished it into the ball she was kneading, then gave the loaf another small punch before she wiped her hands on her apron. She ran into her mother’s bedroom, her heart pounding. Papa, Renate and Maria had gone...
Papa sat in his chair beside the stove the next day and, instead of reading as he usually did, he sawed up a small round birch stick with a handsaw. Hildy hovered excitedly beside him. A can of black paint sat on the kitchen table on top of an old newspaper. All three girls wanted to paint the checkers and, since there were going to be twelve black ones, Lexi said that they could...
The next morning Lexi stood at the stove, stirring the oatmeal for breakfast. She’d gotten up at five-thirty, having tossed and turned for the rest of the night, dreaming of being back on the train, of soldiers running towards their house. She always awoke...
The girls finished sanding the checkers and painted them. Papa had brought home the side of an old cardboard box from school. Maria measured and drew the straight lines and Renate and Hildy carefully coloured them in. The girls then took the checkerboard into Mama’s room to show her, and Mama watched while Hildy and Renate played a game on her blankets. Mama smiled and winked...
“Lexi, will you help me finish my dolly’s skirt?” “What?” Hildy held out the skirt with its half-finished hem. “I’m stuck. My thread’s all used up.” Hildy had stitched to the very end of her thread so that the eye of the needle was only half an inch from the hem. Silly girl. When would she ever...
The real world disappeared in the depths of February. Outside, the snow was like the sea, white foam crashing endlessly off their cabin, keeping Lexi off balance and disoriented for days at a time. The temperature was dropping daily. Her boots on the snow were...
She sat on the chair with no back that served as a catch-all in the girls’ bedroom and stared out of their one small window. Snowbanks shimmered in the moonlight.Willy’s letter lay in her lap.The milky-musty smells and quiet breathing of her sleeping sisters enveloped her as she huddled in the knitted wool blanket she’d draped around her shoulders. She imagined Willy sleeping somewhere...
“Me too! Me too!” squealed Hildy, hopping up and down in the kitchen as Willy swung Renate, his hands under her shoulders. Renate closed her eyes as her brother whirled her around and around. Her feet were almost hitting the table. Hildy hopped another little hop and grinned at Lexi who stood by the sink, washing dishes. Lexi smiled at her little sister...
By the middle of June Lexi and her sisters had soft brown tanned faces and their hair had begun to turn white-blonde, as it did every summer. Sometimes the four girls walked across the field to the cemetery where their Mama was buried and gazed at the slightly raised mound of earth now sprouting tender green shoots of grass. There was no stone. Papa would have one made when he could afford...
For two days after the picnic Lexi and Maria circled each other like wary animals, each unsure of what the other was going to do next.The evening after the picnic, Papa too had been particularly pensive, sitting at the table staring into space. She wanted to say something to him, to register her protest that it wasn’t fair, but nothing had come. No one said anything at all about the twenty-five...
For several days after the visit to the bank, the twenty-four dollars and ninety-eight cents burned in her head like a brush fire. Perhaps enough money to cover the train ticket to Waterloo. She watched Maria feeding the chickens, doing the dishes, helping to make the bread, then scribbling in the notebook that...
Dr. Oliver was standing on the platform, with Lexi’s telegram sticking out of his shirt pocket.A flower unfolded in her chest, a brilliant thin-skinned poppy like the ones in the Olivers’ back garden. It had been the right thing to do, to leave her family and come back here where she was wanted, where she...
Lexi had just finished making the coffee.Dr. Oliver hadn’t come down yet and the children would sleep for another hour. “I can’t believe you’re back, Lex.” Georgie bounced through the back door, smiling.Her hair had grown longer and was now an unruly bush that she’d tied up into a messy ponytail with a scarf. She wore a short skirt, a wrinkled blouse and block-heeled...
She heard their voices arguing in their bedroom as she was falling asleep.Dr.Oliver’s was like a growl, rising and falling. Cammy whined and then laughed her crazy laugh. Then silence. She heard the thump of a chair, the door being opened and then firmly closed as someone slip-slopped to the bathroom and back. She thought she heard someone turn over in bed but that was...
In the first light of the next morning she could barely open her eyes. Her whole body ached and her bed was drenched with sweat. In the few hours in which sleep had come she had terrible dreams, dreams of dead bodies floating down rivers, hurtling through torrents of water, dreams of blood pouring into the water. In one dream...
Three days later she walked into the garage to take the car out for the first time since she’d returned to Waterloo. She went straight to the car door, unable to look at the corner in the garage where Dr. Oliver had once kissed her. Her hands shook as she inserted the key into the ignition. She took a mighty breath. Her chest was caving...
Standing by the kitchen sink, Lexi took another sip of her coffee. She’d made bacon and eggs for Dr. Oliver and he was wolfing them down. Cammy and the children were sitting at the table as if waiting for a ceremony to begin. Cammy was smoking furiously, stopping every now and then to cough. She glared at Dr. Oliver. “So, I guess that’s it,” Cammy said in a flat...
“We can take you now,Mrs. Bauer.” Aleksandra unlaces her sore fingers and puts the notebook back in her purse. She rises wearily, and tries to match the nurse’s quick stride. At seventy-eight she prides herself on the fact that she hasn’t let herself go like so many other widows she knows. She’s kept her figure. But her underarm on her right side is aching terribly. Lying on the table, as still as she can...