My publisher, Next Chapter, has temporarily discounted the ebook price of Evelyn Evolving: A Story of Real Life to only .99 in all online retail marketplaces. This special is good through 10-25-22, so if you haven’t read this story of my mothers life yet, this is a perfect time to grab a copy for less than the cost of a cuppa. If only we could get a good cup coffee for a buck. 🙂
BOOK BLURB: At just 4 years old, Evelyn Gundrum’s happy world is turned upside down. Abandoned by her mother, she is shipped to an orphanage run by the terrifying Sister Honora.
Evelyn grows up amidst hardship and heartbreak, plagued by unresolved emotions that follow her into adulthood as she seeks answers in a sea of questions.
Will her uncertain path to self-discovery lead to happiness?
Praise: Evelyn Evolving is a heartfelt story of one woman’s journey through some of life’s most difficult trials, a coming-of-age that readers won’t soon forget. Maryann Miller captures the spirit of a woman who refuses to be defeated with great tenderness and, what’s more, enduring hope. — Kristy Woodson Harvey, bestselling author of Slightly South of Simple
EXCERPT: The following is from a few chapters into the story. Evelyn and her sister have been living in an orphanage for a little over six years when this scene occurs. If you’d like to read a sample from the beginning of the story you can do that at the NextChapter Website. There are also some excerpts on this blog that you can find with a quick search for the title.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this read.
Evelyn pulled her sweater tighter against the frigid air in the long hallway. The brown sweater that had come in a donation bag to the orphanage just a week ago was little protection against the cold that chilled her to the bone and turned her fingers blue. This winter was harder than last year, and even the year before that. Sister Honora said it wasn’t any colder outside. It was just that there wasn’t enough coal to heat the whole building. The sleeping ward was so frigid all the children huddled under thick quilts, wearing their clothes.
The only warm spot in the entire building was the dining room and that’s where Evelyn was headed now. Viola should already be there. Viola had been chosen to clean the altar in the chapel, a privilege granted to only a few of the brightest and best.
Evelyn was still scrubbing floors.
All this week, Viola had finished her morning chores early and was first in line for lunch. Viola was still allowed to attend classes in the afternoons, too. Evelyn was not. Two years ago the good sisters had decided that there was something wrong with her brain. She was slow. She was stupid. She was never going to be able to learn, so she might as well continue with the cleaning chores.
Evelyn tried to pretend she didn’t care that Viola had the lighter load, but sometimes resentment reared its ugly head. Evelyn was sure that she could be as smart and as good as Viola if the sisters would just give her a chance. They were always impatient with her. Wanting her to give the answer right now. Right this very second. Not letting her take the time she needed to come up with the correct answer to a problem in arithmetic. And she read too slowly. At least that is what the teacher, Sister Marie, said.
Of course Evelyn read slowly and stumbled over the words when told to read aloud. Everyone in the class stared at her, including Sister Marie, impatience furrowing the brow under the white wimple. Having all the eyes in the room focused on her made Evelyn want to run away and hide. She was sure that everyone was poised to laugh the minute she made her first mistake in pronunciation. And, of course, the nervousness made the mistake come quickly, and the laughter followed.
Stepping into the relative warmth of the large dining hall, Evelyn saw several kids in line to pick up a tray and be served by Sister Magdalene, who stood behind the large metal pans ready to dole out portions of food. Evelyn had to walk the entire length of the line, passing by Viola, who was first, to get to the end and wait.
Every day, and at every meal, the children had to stand in line until everyone was present. Then Sister Honora would walk to the front of the room and lead the prayer before serving could begin.
Lately, Evelyn had noticed that the food portions were dwindling along with the coal supply. Porridge used to be just for breakfast, but sometimes now they had it for lunch or for dinner. Sister Magdalene, who was in charge of the kitchen, said that come spring and summer when they could plant a garden the offering in the food line would improve. It’s just that there wasn’t enough money right now to buy all that the orphanage needed.
Viola had taken to eating with some of the other older girls, so Evelyn sat at a table with other eleven-year-olds and ate her bowl of porridge slowly. She wanted to linger in the dining hall as long as she dared; just to be warm for a few more minutes. She had to scrub the floor in the sleeping area this afternoon, and it would be colder there than anywhere in the building. But she couldn’t put it off forever. She scraped the bowl for the last bit of food, then carried the empty bowl to the cart where they put the dirty dishes.
After the eating was over, some lucky girl would get to wash those in the relative warmth of the kitchen.
After depositing the bowl, Evelyn went to the room off the kitchen where cleaning things were kept and got a bucket and mop.
Once in the sleeping area for the girls, she first went to her cot and pulled out a cigar box from underneath. The box held a couple of pencils, some paper, a pretty rock she’d found outside by the creek that ran behind the orphanage one pretty day last summer, and the spoon she’d brought from Miz Beatrice’s. Her one connection to a happier time.
Running a finger along the hollow of the spoon, Evelyn wondered what had ever happened to Miz Beatrice. Had The Cancer taken her?
“What are you doing?”
Startled, Evelyn looked up and saw Sister Honora. “Nothing, Sister. Just—”
“You weren’t sent here to do nothing.”
“No, Sister. I will get to work right now.” Evelyn dropped the spoon back into the box and slid it back under the cot.
Evelyn sensed that Sister Honora was watching, and little prickles of alarm erupted on her back. Sister wasn’t going to let this transgression go unpunished. There wasn’t always consistency in her reactions, so Evelyn never knew what to expect, but it didn’t bode well when Sister stood like a statue, her eyes boring into Evelyn. “As your punishment for shirking your duties, you will not have any dinner today.”
Anger reared its ugly head, and Evelyn fought to control it. This was so wrong. She was not shirking. She worked hard, but she knew better than to voice any of her thoughts. Nothing had changed in the years Evelyn had been here, and Sister Honora continued to operate without any sense of right or fair.
“You will also mop the boys’ ward.”
“Don’t just stand there.” Sister pounded her walking stick on the floor to punctuate her words. “Get busy.”
Evelyn dodged around Sister and grabbed the mop. By the time she finished the floor in the girls’ ward, the water was freezing and her hands were red and stiff from wringing out the mop. The dinner bell had rung a few minutes ago, so this would not be a good time to go to the kitchen for warm water. Not only did she not want to see the other children eating, she didn’t want to be under the scrutiny of Sister Honora, so Evelyn would finish with cold water. Pushing with the handle of the mop, she rolled the bucket along the uneven wooden planking of the floor into the boy’s sleeping area, which was considerably larger than that for the girls.
The first time Evelyn had seen where the boys sleep, she’d wondered why so many more boys than girls were not wanted by their mothers. She didn’t know how many children lived at St. Aemilian’s. She’d never stopped to count, but there were at least two boys to every girl. She’d asked Viola if she knew why, and her sister told her that not all the children had been brought here by their mothers. Some of them had no mother at all. Evelyn didn’t understand. How could you be born without a mother? From the catechism classes and learning about Jesus, she knew that it was possible to be born without a father, but a mother was essential to the process.
That’s when Viola explained that some mothers and fathers died and the children had no place to go. So they came here to St. Aemilian’s. Evelyn wondered if knowing that your parents had no choice in leaving you made it easier to be here.
When Evelyn had gotten old enough to understand that her mother chose to leave her, that realization had cut a deep fissure of pain that still hurt. Those first few years of ignorance had been better. She preferred not knowing what abandonment felt like.