VOA Special English program -- AMERICAN STORIES.
Our story is called Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson. It received the Newbery Award for the best book written for young people in the United States. The story takes place on Rass Island in the Chesapeake Bay along the eastern coast of the United States, near Maryland and Virginia. The story is told by Sara Louise Bradshaw, a 13-year-old girl who lives with her parents and her twin sister Caroline. Here is Gwen Outen with the story.
Rass Island lies as low as the back of a turtle on the dark green water of the Chesapeake Bay. We Bradshaws have lived here for more than two hundred years. I love Rass Island although for much of my life I did not think I did.
During the summer of nineteen forty-one, every morning McCall Purnell and I would get my small boat and go out to catch shellfish called crabs. Watermen on our island sell crabs and eat crabs. Call and I were right smart crabbers and we could always come home with a little money as well as crabs for dinner. My mother was pleased with the money I made.
"My!" she said, "That was a good morning. By the time you wash, we'll be ready to eat!" I like the way she did that. She never said I was dirty or that I smelled bad. Just by the time you wash up.
She was a real lady my mother, she had come to teach in the island school and fell in love with my father. What my father needed more than a wife was sons. What my mother gave him was girls. Twin girls! I was older than my sister by a few minutes. I always treasure the thought of those minutes. They were the only time in my life when I was the center of everyone's attention. From the moment Caroline was born, she took all the attention for herself. When my mother and grandmother told the story of our births, it was mostly of how Caroline had refused to breathe.
"But where was I?" I asked my mother.
"In the basket," she said, "Grandma dressed you and put you in the basket."
Caroline's true gift was her voice. Our teacher, Mr. Rice, said she should have singing lessons. I was proud of my sister, but something began to hurt me under the pride.
One day, Mama and Caroline came back to the island on a boat after Caroline's singing lesson. There was an old man on the boat whom I'd never seen before. Our island held few secrets or surprises beyond the weather. But all the old people agreed that he was Hiram Wallace. My friend Call and I started visiting Hiram Wallace. We decided simply to call him the Captain.
The Captain stayed at our house when the big storm hit in nineteen forty-two. Afterward, we took my little boat heading straight for the Captain's house. But nothing was left at the spot where the Captain's house had stood the night before. Even with his white beard the Captain looked like a little boy trying not to cry.
Not long after that, the Captain married Trudy Braxton who lived on the island. She was not well and did not live long. Soon the Captain came up the path to our house, his face red with excitement. He told my mother and me that Trudy left a little money. "There is enough for Caroline to go to boarding school in Baltimore, Maryland and continue her music." said the Captain.
I sat there as surprised as if he had thrown a rock in my face!
"Caroline!" My grandmother came up close behind me. I stiffened at the sound of her hoarse whisper. "Romans 9-13," she said. She repeated the saying from the Christian Bible about the competition between two brothers for their father's love. "Jacob Have I Loved, but Esau have I hated".
I had always believed the Captain was different. But he, like everyone else, had chosen Caroline over me.
In the autumn I left school, I spent the winter catching oysters, another kind of shellfish, with my father. That strange winter with my father on his boat was the happiest of my life. I was, for the first time, deeply satisfied with what life was giving me. Part of it was the things I discovered. Who would have believed that my father sang while catching oysters! My quiet father whose voice could hardly be heard in church sang to the oysters! It was a wonderful sound!
I did not want to go back to school, so my mother taught me at home. I passed the test for graduation with the highest grades recorded from Rass Island.
The war in Europe ended in 1945. At the end of crab season Call came home from the war. The body of a large man in uniform was filling the door.
"Call," I cried, "O my blessed Call, you have grown up!" "That's what the navy promised," he said.
Call told the Captain he had stopped to see Caroline. His face burned with happiness when he told the Captain "She said YES to me!" He said softly, "I guess it is hard for you to think someone like Caroline might like me."
I went back to the crab house. Soon after Call and Caroline were married, the Captain said to me, "This is hard for you, isn't it? What is it you really want to do?"
I was totally empty. What was it I really wanted to do?
"Your sister knew what she wanted," said the Captain. "So when the chance came she could take it. Do not tell me no one ever gave you a chance, Sara Louise. You can make your own chances. But first you have to know what you are after, my dear."
"I would like to see the mountains," I said, and then my dream began to form along with the sentence, "I might, I want to be a doctor."
"So what is stopping you?" the Captain asked.
I realized that under all my dreams of leaving home, I was afraid to go. My mother had told me that she had chosen to leave her people and build the life for herself somewhere else. "I certainly would not stop you from making the same choice," my mother said to me now, "but all we will miss you, your father and I."
I wanted so to believe her, "As much as you miss Caroline?"
"More," she said.
I was so grateful for that one word. It allowed me to leave the island and build myself separate from the long-long shadow of my twin.
I started out that spring, shiny as a new crab pot all set to capture the world. I became a nurse-midwife, the person who helps deliver babies. Small towns in the Appalachian Mountains needed nurse-midwives and I went to a town called Truitt, my father's first name. People there are usually slow to accept outsiders, but they needed my skills for all their medical problems.
A farmer named Joseph Wojtkiewicz asked me to treat his son for a high fever. Joseph had three children. Their mother had been dead for several years.
He asked me where I came from. No one had ever invited me to talk about home before, and the longer I talked the more I wanted to talk. At last I stopped, I even apologized.
"No, no," Joseph said, "I asked because I wanted to know. I've kept wondering ever since you came. Why would a woman like you who could have anything she wanted come to a place like this? Now I understand. God in Heaven has been raising you for this place from the day you were born. " And then he smiled. I guess from that moment I knew I was going to marry Joseph Wojtkiewicz. For when he smiled he looked like the kind of man he would sing to the oysters.
My work didn't end with my marriage to Joseph or even with the birth of our son Chuit.
One night, I was helping with the birth and I suspected twins. The first baby -- a boy came easily. But the second baby -- a girl came head first and blue as death. The kitchen was slightly warmer than the bedroom, so I laid the second baby on some cloth on the door of the oven.
Then I suddenly asked, "Where is the other twin?" In my concern for his sister, I had completely forgotten him.
"He's sleeping in the basket," said the grandmother.
"You should hold him," I said, "and let his mother nurse him."
Hours later I walked home in the snow. I bent my head backward to drink in the stars, and clearly I heard a song so sweet and pure I had to hold myself to keep from breaking.
You have just heard the American story "Jacob Have I Loved". Your storyteller was Gwen Outen. The producer was Lawan Davis. The story was adapted for Special English by Karen Leggett from the book written and copyrighted by Katherine Paterson. The book was published by Harper Collins in nineteen-eighty. All rights reserved. Listen again next week for another American story in VOA Special English. This is Steve Ember.
Reading Guide for Jacob Have I Loved
Jacob Have I Loved is a story about jealousy. The title comes from the Bible story of Jacob and Esau, Isaac's twin sons. Although Esau was the older son, Jacob was favored by his mother and when Isaac was dying, Jacob disguised himself as his brother and received the blessing meant for the eldest son. Both in the Old Testament story in the Book of Genesis and in the New Testament allusion to that story in Romans, the suggestion is that God, too, favored Jacob and ignored or even hated Esau.
Louise Bradshaw grew up on a small island in the Chesapeake Bay where the Protestant church was very important, as it is on Smith Island today. She knew this story and she could connect it to her own situation as the ordinary, ignored older twin. As a reader, you should keep the story in mind and look for ways that Katherine Paterson has woven it into the book.
In this chapter the adult Louise thinks back to the island where she spends her childhood and imagines returning there. As you read, try to visualize this island. What are the specific details she uses to create a sense of this place in the reader's mind?
This chapter introduces 3 main characters: Louise, her twin sister Caroline, and McCall Purnell.
What are three or four important traits you discover about each of these characters?
Louise introduces her parents and tells the story of her birth. Who was ignored? Who got all the attention? How did that continue through the Bradshaw twins' childhood? How is that like the story of Jacob and Esau? (You may want to find that Bible story and find more details.)
World War II begins for the U.S. with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. How does Louise feel about that? Does anyone care how she feels? How does Louise think her parents feel about her? How does she want them to show their love?
Louise and Grandma are alone until her mother and Caroline return on the ferry from the mainland where Caroline has been to the doctor. Notice who else gets off the ferry. He will be important. Louise's consuming jealousy is obvious in this chapter. Find a memory and an event which feed that jealousy.
Jacob - 2
Hiram Wallace's story is told, and Auntie Braxton is introduced. What is her distinguishing characteristic? What is his? Call and Louise think he is a German spy. Do you? Does this story seem like one that will be a spy story? Why or why not?
Louise dreams that her sister is dead and makes plans to make money. Why?
Louise and Call visit the Captain, and Call volunteers to make that regular. What is Louise jealous about in this chapter?
Lyrics Unlimited turns out to be a scam. How does Louise figure that out? Auntie Braxton has collapsed and when Hiram Wallace sends Louise to get help he calls her by her full name. Why was that important to her? (She asks this question in the book. What do you think?)
They try to get rid of Auntie Braxton's cats. How does Caroline score again? At the end of the chapter Louise is reminded of the story of her birth again. Why?
Hurricane. Who is brave and who is not?
Louise pushes the Captain to go see what effect the storm had on his house. What did they find? Why do you think she responded so strongly to the hug in the boat?
Louise cannot seem to control own imagination and her Grandmother makes her feel worse. The Captain finds another place to live. Why did Louise get so upset when her sister used her hand lotion? What did it stand for in her mind?
The Captain solves his housing problem by marrying Trudy Braxton. Louise decides she's crazy and thinks this has advantages; what are they?
Trudy Braxton dies. Grandma accuses the Captain of poisoning her and Louise of helping. Why do you think she says this kind of thing? Call goes to work for Louise's father and the Captain offers money for Caroline to go to boarding school in Baltimore. Where does this leave Louise? What does her Grandmother say that makes Louise feel even worse?
Call goes into the Navy and Louise quits school to work on her father's boat. Why does she decide that God hates her? Do you think this is reasonable or crazy? Notice what Louise says happens to "ordinary, ungifted" female crabs. What is she saying about her own life? Why, then, do you think she is so happy, suddenly.
The war is over. Call comes home but he is going to marry Caroline. How does Louise feel about this? Louise's grandmother is worse than ever. What is she accusing her mother of?
Louise is left alone with her grandmother again while her parents go to Caroline's wedding. What does she discover that makes her pity her grandmother? When Hiram Wallace comes for Christmas dinner he asks Louise what she really wants to do. Why do you think she hasn't figured this out before?
Louise's parents return. She has a long conversation with her mother about what brought her mother to Rass Island and why she is comfortable there. Her mother, too, tries to convince her to leave. What has kept her there?
Louise goes to the University of Maryland. This is the late l940s and a time when there aren't many places in medical schools for women so she transfers to a nurse-midwife school. When she graduates she goes to a mountain village. Why does she pick Truitt and why does it remind her of the island?
Louise is married. Her first son arrives just after her father dies; she doesn't go home for the funeral. At the end of the chapter (and of the book) she delivers another pair of twins. How does this delivery differ from her own birth story? What does she do for the weaker twin? How does this show she has changed?
Many readers have been caught off-guard by the ending of this book. Prepare for your discussion of the book by thinking about why you think this is, or isn't an appropriate ending. If you like it be prepared to defend it. If you don't, how would you have ended Louise's story?