Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Carriage Maker's Daughter

Greeting from hot and sticky New York! Today I'm excited to bring you some middle grade, a rarity on the blog. It's also a historical middle grade, about a girl named Emily, who could be right out of an American Girl book from the early 20th century.

The author, Darlene Beck-Jacobson, is a teacher and speech therapist, whose short stories have appeared in magazines such as CRICKET, CICADA, ST. ANTHONY MESSENGER, and HAPPY. You can read more from Darlene, as well as find recipes, crafts and kid-friendly activities on her website:

The Carriage Maker's Daughter
By Darlene Beck-Jacobson

Henry’s hammer hits iron – ping, pa-ping. Its music fits snugly against my chest, like a warm sweater. A blacksmith is a magician. To bend iron like clay, and make it hard again is my favorite trick.

“Who is this carriage for?” I ask Henry, the blacksmith.

“John Phillip Sousa,” Henry says.”

“Is that the man who writes those peppy marching tunes?”

“One and the same,” Henry says.

“Mr. Sousa must want the best carriage he can find,” I say.

Henry chuckles. “He’s going to get that for sure, Miss Emily.”

Papa makes the fanciest, most expensive carriages in Washington, DC. He says he can’t even afford to buy one.

I watch out for Papa, who would send me home. “The barn is no place for a young lady,” he would say. I slide across the sawdust covered floor past Sam. His saw hums like a busy beehive, slicing planks of wood. I toss up handfuls of the slivers that stick to my dress like snowflakes. Mama would frown at my soot and sawdust gown. I duck behind a post, breathing in wood, iron and varnish smells. They satisfy my nose better than spicy apple pie.

I dance back to the forge. I lean on a carriage wheel propped up next to Henry’s work area. I feel the wall of heat that makes it summer here year round. I inhale the smoky, charcoal smell from the fire that burns twenty four hours a day to keep the forge at the right temperature for the iron. The rhythmic tapping of Henry’s hammer is the best kind of symphony. Every time Henry makes something, it’s as if he’s composing a new song with no two exactly alike. I don’t know how Henry can keep so many songs in his head. If I had but one wish here it is – to be a blacksmith.

“Careful, Miss Emily.” Henry wipes sooty sweat off his brow with a stained neckerchief. “You lean on that wheel and it slips, you could get hurt.”

“May I work the bellows a bit, Henry?”

Henry puts his hammer down and sips coffee from a tin cup. “You know your daddy don’t want you here. Not safe for a young lady.”

That’s my curse. Being born a girl. It doesn’t bother me that I’m a girl. But, it sure gets in the way of doing the things I want to do.

“Emily, this barn is no place for a young lady.” Papa rushes past, a walking scaffold of wood planks on one shoulder, paint cans hung elbow to wrist, like ornaments on a Christmas tree.

“Take these fabric scraps to your mama.” He sets the boards and paint cans on the floor, and points to a wooden box next to the barn door. He shakes his head. “She is not going to like what you’ve done to your dress.”

“Papa, can I stay and stir paint?”


“Sort nuts and bolts? Sweep sawdust?”

“Emily…” His mouth twitches in an almost smile as he nudges me toward the door. It’s a bit of a walk back home. The barn’s not located on our property. Papa rents the land but owns the building and everything inside. Except the forge tools and equipment. That belongs to Henry. He blacksmiths for lots of folks and doesn’t have a place of his own, so he keeps his things in Papa’s barn.

I sigh, wishing for the millionth time I were a boy. I take my time going home, feeling like I’ve just been sent to my room without supper. Empty.

“Here’s the fabric scraps.” I hand the box to Mama.

“Emily Soper, look at you,” she says, hands on hips.

The worst I’ll get is a bath and no supper. If she’s not too upset with me, I may get by with a scolding. I try to point her in that direction.

“I’m sorry I messed my dress, Mama. I’ll help you wash and press it, I promise.”

She shakes her head. “You are the most unlady-like young lady I’ve ever laid eyes on.” She brushes sawdust from my hair and shoulders. “Wash up and keep William busy while I finish supper.”

At the sound of his name, my four year old brother runs into the kitchen, fingers pointing like imaginary six shooters.

“Emmie, let’s be cowboys and Indians,” he says.

“Fine,” I say, “but this time I get to be the cowboy.”

At supper, I swirl a forkful of lumpy mashed potatoes around my tongue, letting the mud-colored gravy swish in my mouth.

“The potatoes are a bit lumpy, Ella.” Papa reaches for another slice of pot roast.

I like the lumps. They keep my mouth busy while I get all the flavor I can from the gravy before I swallow. I would eat gravy all by itself, but Mama says it isn’t proper.

I frown at William whose face is covered in a potato gravy mess. He licks gravy off his fingers with no scolding at all.

“When will the carriage be finished?” Mama asks.

“A week from Saturday,” Papa says, looking at me over the top of his glasses. “You going to be ready for a test ride?”


Mama shakes her head. “John, don’t you think Emily is getting too big for that?”

“No Mama!” I yell so loud and forcefully, gravy shoots from my mouth and lands on the table. Mama hands me a cloth to wipe the stain.

“You’re twelve years old,” she says. “Besides, there’s a pie baking contest for children at the church fair the same day. It’s about time you learned to bake a good pie. Can’t do that from the back of a carriage.” Mama wipes William’s face with a napkin.

“I’ll do the pie on Friday ,” I say. “Then I can still help Papa with the carriage on Saturday. Please Mama?” I look at Papa hoping he’ll help convince Mama. He’s as quiet as snow falling on a moonlit night.


“What time is the judging, Ella?”

“Two o’clock.”

“I can get her there by one.”

Mama sighs and shakes her head. “You have her there by noon.”

“Done,” Papa says, winking at me across the table. “Now, don’t you think your Mama’s pot roast is succulent?”

“What does succulent mean?” I ask. Papa plays this word game nearly every week. He says knowing lots of words is something that helps you in life.

“Succulent means tasty and mouth watering. Use it in a sentence, Emily.”

I think a minute. “Gravy is more succulent than pot roast,” I say.

Papa looks at Mama and smiles. “To each his own,” he says.


  1. Very cute! I love the descriptions, the smells, and Emily's personality. A great family scene.

  2. WOW, that is excellent! Such incredible description and intelligent writing. I really hope you get this published.

  3. Thanks Marilyn...I'm working on it!

  4. Hi Darlene, Great story. I really enjoyed it and agree with the previous comments. Good luck getting this published!