Until the Robin Walks on Snow by Bernice L. Rocque is an historical novella, based upon an actual event in the family history of the author. This book is available on amazon for $11.04 (the price is current at the time of this review.)
This is the story of one immigrant family’s struggle, and of the sacrifices of another family when, in 1922, an extremely premature baby was born on a farm in a small New England town. Bernice L. Rocque has taken what information she was able to gather from family members, and has woven it together with historical research about the area, the way people lived, and what they had available to them, into a gripping story.
Marianna, the author’s grandmother, was the woman who gave birth to such a tiny baby, at a time when most babies born so early did not survive. The child weighed only a pound and a half, and had to be weighed on the butter scale. At the time this story takes place, when a baby was born so early, “…it was not uncommon for midwives and parents to conspire, put the weakling in a shoebox behind the stove and abandon it to the inevitable.” Marianna, her midwife Helena, and their two families, made tremendous sacrifices to try and save the baby, named Antoni. Marianna and her husband Andrazej had two living children before Antoni’s birth, Nellie and Michal, but during the first years of their marriage there had been two babies that did not survive their births.
The author has done a plethora of research into how wood and coal stoves of the time worked, as it was an important part of how Marianna, Helena and their families worked to keep baby Antoni alive. They also used a special tactic, with Marianna keeping the baby nestled constantly to her chest, skin to skin. For many months, Marianna could not perform her family duties, if she was to keep this baby from dying, and so Helena, her friend and midwife, came each day and did all that Marianna would normally do to keep her family going. Helena’s husband, Mike, also made sacrifices, in that his wife was not there to be with him, and keep up their home, during this time.
Baby Antoni was born in November, 1922, and while reading this wonderful novella, I spent many months in story time with these people from long ago, holding my breath with them, as they struggled so to save this precious little one, while continuing to try to live their lives at the same time.
I learned about some of their Lithuanian customs that they had continued in their new life here in America, and got a better picture of the attitudes people had then regarding things like money and debt, attitudes which are completely opposite to those held by most people in today’s world. I learned that even though it took a lot of hard work and sacrifice, even a baby as early, and as tiny as little Antoni, had a chance.
I found it very interesting that the author, who has been for years a family history researcher, upon hearing snippets of a story about this long ago birth, chose to write it as a fictional novella, realizing how difficult it would be to write a completely accurate non-fiction account, given that many of those involved are no longer here. I might have given up on the idea, if what I generally wrote was non-fiction, historical facts.
The author has included a chapter by chapter section of author’s notes, giving more details about the time, and the people in the story, along with a thorough list of the sources she consulted in her historical research.
I really enjoyed this story, and I think you will, as well. It caught my attention right away, and was hard to put down.