Fiction Historical Fiction Speculative

Sept, 1983

Mary Richardson stood at her kitchen window watching the evening sun play on the leaves of the grove of poplar that screened her house from the road. It was late September, the leaves were in their full autumn glory - for the first time in her life, she felt at peace. Slowly going over in her mind all the things that had led her to this place.

Raised on a farm just outside Val Marie, Saskatchewan, the only child of a family broken by years of drought. Pregnant at an early age, moving to Lethbridge Alberta in 1947 after losing the baby. (For years, she had nightmares about it.). She got a job at the only thing she knew how to do - scrubbing and cleaning. 

Eventually, she got a job as a waitress. Flirting with the men to get better tips and, if one of them wanted to pay her to warm his bed for a night, she would do that too. 

Doing whatever it took to survive in an era that wasn’t kind to a woman on her own.

Briefly married in 1955. He had wanted children. He left in 1957, they found out she could no longer have children. Another unwitting victim of Alberta's ‘Sexual Sterilization Act’.

[Part of Alberta's eugenics policy, the Act allowed for sterilization without consent for those "incapable of intelligent parenthood"]

Mary only returned home once, in 1958, to attend her mother’s funeral. Her father died four years later leaving her a bit of money from the sale of the farm. For the first time in her life she had a bank account, and didn’t have to live paycheck-to-paycheck.

In 1963 Mary left Lethbridge heading west, taking waitressing jobs in a number of small cities. None of them lasted long. She didn’t know what she was looking for - but she would know it when she found it.

On the first of April, 1965 she left her job at the York Hotel in Grand Forks, BC and headed for Osoyoos. After an hour’s driving she pulled over for coffee at Midway.

Midway, is a small hamlet tucked between highway 3 and the US border where the Kettle River turns south into the US. With the highway just north of the townsite, most people sped through without slowing down. It is the type of place where nearly everyone is from somewhere else; a place where no one asks about your past; a place where you could restart your life.

A “Waitress Wanted” sign was in the window.

She looked at it - shrugged. ‘Maybe for a few months’.

Renting a tar paper shack just east of town, working the morning shift, Mary settled into the job.

Mary liked the morning shift even though it meant getting up at 4:30am. She arrived at 5:30, made three pots of coffee on the Silex, filled extra filters with coffee so she could quickly replenish the pots. If the cook was late, which was more often than not, she would turn on the grill and make sure there were enough peeled potatoes for the early breakfast crowd. 

The truck loggers would start arriving as soon as they opened at 6:00. Some would have the breakfast special - two eggs over easy, three strips bacon, three sausages, hash browns and toast - everyone wanted coffee. By 7:00 they would be on the road.

With ample parking and no other places with parking until just outside Castlegar, the long haul truckers would start coming in around 9:00. Some would have a late breakfast, but most just wanted coffee and pie. The locals would drop in for coffee around 9:30.  

The lunch rush started around 11:00. Susan, the owner’s daughter, came in at 11:30 to help with lunch and start the afternoon shift. Some of the truck loggers would be in for lunch or to fill up their Thermos with coffee before starting their second run for the day. There were always ‘drop ins’ from the road, more in summer than winter.

It was like no other place she had worked before. It was the type of place that, if she was busy, someone would get up and fill everyone's coffee. She soon got to know the regulars and would have their drink ready before they even sat down. 

This was what she was looking for.

Things in the town weren’t easy at first. The women were suspicious of a single woman staying in their town. But, months turned into years and, over time, she made a few friends. Eventually, she bought two acres of land near the Kettle River. Using the money her father had left her, she built a two bedroom home. 

She had escaped her past; had her own home; a job she enjoyed; and friends she could confide in. 

It doesn’t get much better than this.'

The phone broke her reverie.

Probably a salesman. Ignore it - they will go away

It didn’t stop.

It will ring itself off the wall if I don’t answer it

“WHAT” - she barked.

“Is that Mary Richardson?” - the woman at the other end sounded vexed. It wasn’t any of her friends and certainly didn’t sound like a salesperson.

“Yes, who is this?”

“Are you from Val Marie, Saskatchewan?” Mary felt a pang of fear going through her. Only a few of her closest friends knew that. Who was this person? 

Hesitantly, she whispered “Yes”

“On Dec 20th, 1946” - Mary started trembling - “ in Medicine Hat Alberta, you had a baby girl” Mary slammed the receiver back on the hook, almost ripping the phone off the wall.

Screaming “HOW DID SHE KNOW THAT? . . . How did she know that? . . . Nobody knows that.” Mary collapsed onto a kitchen chair sobbing. 


It was her sixteenth birthday. Her father had wanted a boy, and treated her like one. By sixteen, she could do as much as any of the farm boys of her age. Her mother wanted to get her something special for her birthday, something ‘girlie’. She gave her her first ‘party dress’. The boy from the next farm gave her a baby.

At three months, her father found out she was pregnant. He beat her, called her a whore and sent her to live with his sister in Medicine Hat, Alberta.

Her aunt ran a boarding house on 8th Ave., just two blocks from the railway station. Mary could stay there, in exchange for cleaning the rooms. “You can stay until your baby is born.”

Originally designed as a root cellar, the windowless room was six by ten foot, a single light bulb with a pull chain switch hung from the ceiling. The room contained a single steel frame bed, a chair and a small square table. Her aunt rents it out to transients who couldn’t afford a regular room. It would be Mary’s home for the next six months.


Mary fixed herself a small dinner. Her mind was still on the phone call, no one outside her parents and the hospital nurses knew of the baby - they were all dead.

That night her nightmare returned.

She was back in the maternity room. She had just awakened from the ‘Twilight Sleep’.

[‘Twilight sleep’ - anesthetizing a woman at the start of labour. She would have no recollection of the procedure(s).]

“Can I see my baby?”

The nurse looked down, avoiding eye contact. “You had a baby girl. But, I am afraid she didn’t make it.”

“What do you mean?” She knew what the nurse meant - but wanted to hear it.

“Your baby was still born.” The nurse still wouldn’t look her in the face.

“I heard her cry.” Mary said in disbelief.

“That was another baby.” The nurse turned to leave the room, leaving Mary to grieve on her own.

Mary screamed “Violet - I want to call her Violet.” Sobbing “My mother’s name is Violet.”

Suddenly, her father was over her hospital bed screaming - “I never wanted a girl. You’re a whore. This is God’s punishment.”

Mary awoke screaming.

Getting dressed, she made herself a coffee. Sitting at her kitchen table, she went over yesterday’s phone call in her mind. It made no sense - unless . . .

She was startled from her thoughts when the phone rang again. She grabbed the receiver.


The voice on phone sounded angry:

“My name is Violet Richardson." using her maiden name. "I’m your daughter. I am coming out to see you. I will be there in an hour.” 

Falling to her knees, Mary dropped the handset.


Violet Richardson had been taken from Medicine Hat hospital to an orphanage in Lethbridge. Eventually, she was adopted by the Moffats. The Moffats were a loving family, raising Violet much the same as their other children. However, they kept reminding her that her mother had abandoned her and she should be grateful they had adopted her.

She did not feel grateful - she felt abandoned.

“Why should I be grateful for being abandoned”

She left ‘home’ when she was seventeen, staying at the Lethbridge YWCA. She was able to get a job as a secretary at the W.E. Huckvale Law Offices. After a few months she was able to move from the YMCA to an apartment in Galt Manor on 7th Street.

In 1964 she married George Elliot, a solicitor who had joined the law firm at about the same time as Violet. She was forced to leave the law firm when she became pregnant late in 1966. 

“George was furious that they fired me. He wanted to quit and start his own business. I told him to stay and get more experience before starting on his own”

In 1973, when her daughter started school, Violet went to work part time at the YWCA as a counselor. 

“It was there I first heard about the ‘Baby Scoop’, unwed mothers forced to sign documents giving up their babies for adoption. Was I one of those babies?”

She spent much of her time trying to reunite families. It was a nearly impossible task. All the records of the adoptions were sealed. For children born in government sponsored ‘homes for unwed mothers’, the only recourse was putting their name and birthday in the newspapers classified ads requesting information. For those, like Violet, born in a hospital, there might be information in the hospital records. George, who had his own practice by then, helped them access those records pro bono.

“I couldn’t have done it without George. . . . From the hospital records I was able to find out three things about my mother - her name, she had moved to Medicine Hat from Val Marie, and she had abandoned me when I was born. . . . There were no records that I had been given up for adoption. . . . I wanted, more than anything, to know why I was abandoned.”

With that scant information Violet started the long process of finding her mother.


Mary stood staring blankly out her kitchen window. Her daughter will be there soon. (She had no doubt it was her daughter.) Her coffee sat cold on the counter beside her. Her emotions were running the gamut from fear to guilt, from hope to dread - often all at the same time.

She watched as a dust covered Chevy Belair came up the driveway. A tall lanky woman stepped out of her car and strode towards the door. ‘She looks like her father’ Mary trembled as she moved towards the door. Opening the door she leaned against the door jamb for support.

Violet stopped two feet from Mary.

The facade Mary had built up over the years of a strong independent woman, the one she believed herself, fell away. She was a sixteen year old child again - scared and alone.

Sobbing Mary managed to blurt -

“I’m sorry. . . . I was only sixteen. . . . They told me you were dead.” Over and over again - “They told me you were dead”

Violet had played out this meeting in her head a thousand times in a thousand different ways - this wasn’t one of them. Everything she thought she knew was wrong. She thought about her own sixteen year old daughter. ‘My God! What had that poor woman been through?

Any anger she felt on being abandoned drained away.

The child became the parent. 

Gently she took her mother’s hand and led her back into the house.

“Don’t worry. . . . It is going to be OK. . . . Everything will be alright.” 

December 11, 2021 00:31

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Amanda Lieser
17:39 Jan 10, 2022

Good morning! Oh my goodness! This was a huge twist. I loved learning about the different laws surrounding this story. As a US citizen, I didn’t know about some of these regulations. I thought you did a great job of capturing the main character’s point of view. I also love how you did the reveal. Thank you so much for writing this piece. Please consider reading another one of mine, “The Sandman Ball,” and tossing a comment my way.


Michael Regan
20:44 Jan 11, 2022

Thank you for the feedback. Unfortunately, forced sterilization and removing babies from unwed mothers was practiced in both our countries.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Andrew Ball
19:13 Dec 23, 2021

Hi Michael, I am new to Reedsy (and to creative writing), but was assigned your story as part of the new ‘Critique Circle.’ In that context, let me give you my take on its strengths and weaknesses, in my very humble opinion. Strengths: • The emotional core of the story is gut-wrenching, and powerfully portrays the human suffering caused by governmental inhumanity. • I liked the subtlety of the ‘hide and seek’ metaphor: Mary hiding from her past and Violet seeking her out. • The resolution, when Violet discovers that she was not, after ...


Michael Regan
19:51 Dec 23, 2021

Thank you for the feedback. I appreciate the detailed analysis. Violets character was rushed. I had Mary's story rattling around in my head for a LONG time. As I got ready to submit the story I realized I really need to develop Violet's character. Unfortunately, it takes me a long time to 'flesh out' a character.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Kate Winchester
19:14 Dec 18, 2021

I like your take on the prompt, and that you took the metaphoric route. You took a tough topic and handled it well. I happy that the end gave us hope and I really loved the child taking care of the mother as that happens a lot. If I can give you a critique, your story was a bit information heavy. Is there a way you can show us without telling us? Maybe not all of the info is needed and we can be left to fill in the pieces? Also, you have some incomplete sentences, although I’m not sure where the writing community stands on that lol. I think ...


Michael Regan
01:16 Dec 19, 2021

Glad you liked the story, it was hard to write. Thank you for the feedback. I struggle with 'showing' instead of 'telling'. Hopefully, I will get better at it as I write more.


Kate Winchester
01:41 Dec 19, 2021

You’re welcome 😊. You definitely have the creativity. I’m sure you’ll get better.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Palak Shah
16:07 Dec 12, 2021

I love the story and the plotline is awesome. This was a great read. Well done. Could you please read my latest story if possible? :)) Thanks :))


Michael Regan
16:43 Dec 12, 2021

Thanks for the comment. I left a comment on your latest story


Palak Shah
16:58 Dec 12, 2021

Thank you for the amazing feedback :))


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.