Chapter 6 continues

The story so far: Katka and Lily feed the boarders.


After breakfast, they went upstairs, passing Lily and Anton’s bedroom, and the two bedrooms that housed the boarders. There were four beds in each boarding room, double bunked. All were made up, sloppily. Down the hallway, they pulled a rope, which opened the attic door. “You first,” Lily said. “I’m not as quick as I once was. This belly makes me all catawampus. Feel like a drunk circus performer, swinging on this rope ladder.”

Once inside, Lily glanced at the keys of the typewriter. The Slovenian alphabet had no Q, no W, X, or Y. “Oh, Katka,” she said. “I’m pleased as a pup with two tails. We can’t work here, though. It’s too blasted hot.”

“I’ll carry it,” Katka said. She followed Lily back down, to the pantry on the first floor, where Lily kept a few sacks of dried peas and carrots, and her canned goods. Dried onions and garlic hanging from a rope on the ceiling left a pleasantly pungent odor. Lily gingerly rolled a rug to one side. A large, square space had been cut out of the wood under it — the opening to a hidden cellar. On her knees, Lily felt around for the indentation that opened the trap door. She found it and opened it. A sturdy oak ladder rested on some hooks and Lily secured it. “Don’t breathe a word about this place,” she said, crawling down. “It’s where we store the liquor.”

Katka followed, carrying the typewriter under one arm. In the cellar, Lily lit a lantern and pulled a cord, attached to the rug above. If anyone entered the hallway overhead, they would see only the rug.

The cellar was much larger than Katka had imagined. In fact, it was almost as big as the kitchen. On one side, Anton had stacked bottles of whiskey for the bar. Another side was covered with shelves that stored more provisions and some unmarked crates. The third wall also contained shelves, but these shelves were filled with books. About a dozen Winchester rifles leaned against the bookshelves. “A lot many of guns,” Katka said, in English.

“Anton and I collect them.” Lily smiled.

A small writing table with three chairs sat in the middle of the cellar. A large lamp, ink, quills, paper and matches were neatly arranged at the edge of the table. A tin miner’s cup was there too. A Slovenian dictionary served as a paperweight for some letters that had recently been written. Lily lit the lamp. “Place the typewriter there,” she said, pointing to the table. The lantern’s light gave everything in the cellar a slight red glow.

“You will teach me to type before the week is done. I have been working on a project for quite some time, but I have been doing it all in longhand. Your typewriter will be a godsend.”

“What kind of project?”

Lily sat at the table and gestured for Katka to sit as well. “A women’s paper,” she said, confidentially. “It will be the first here on the Iron Range. And it will change everything! You have no idea! You can help me write it. Surely you will! You can write the Slovenian version and I’ll write the English one.

“I barely recognize my own skin, Teta Lily. Everything is … I don’t think …”

“You will make a positively grand reporter. I just know it. So? You are a new American. You will learn. And,” Lily began, clapping her hands together, as if trying to contain her excitement, “I already found someone who has agreed to print it and distribute it without saying a word about my identity.”

Katka raised her eyebrows. Why the need for secrecy? America was a free country. “What do you plan to write about?”

“Recipes. Fashion. But mostly gossip.”

“Sounds … dangerous?”

“Go ahead and laugh,” Lily said. “But who will tell me secrets if they know I might print what they’ve said? Would you? You would not. We are positively desperate for this journal. Women hunger for distractions.”

“Are you certain, Teta,” Katka said, “you are not planning to write about something more?” There was a look in Lily’s eyes. A look that said there was more.

“I knew you were smart. I am too. I finished the eighth grade, first in my class.” Lily paused. Then she grabbed the water pitcher, poured a small amount into the miner’s cup and took a swig. “Life is so hard here, for us. You have no idea. Outnumbered by men almost ten to one. And the work. You will see about the work.

“ ‘Women hold up three corners of the house.’ That’s what my mother used to say.”

“You should talk to Milo. The skinny miner? Who looks stupid? He’s not. He is a musician and the son of a great poet. He likes proverbs too. Every day, some crazy saying from the old country. At least I know that one. Even my mother used to say that and she didn’t do a lick of work her whole life, unless you consider giving instructions to the maids work. It is true everywhere, though, to some extent. But some places are worse than others. I’d like to write about the women’s struggles here. Let them know they are not alone. In time, I’ll have a bigger readership than the Company Chronicle, I guarantee it.”

“What is the Company Chronicle?”

“A newspaper. Owned by the Oliver.” The mining company owned nearly every mine, big and small, within seventy-five miles of Biwabik. After purchasing the land, and the houses in the town, the Oliver bought the newspapers.

“Try as they might,” Lily continued, “there are some papers the Oliver can’t touch. The Finnish Papers. A few South Slav rags. And, of course, the Industrial Workers of the World and socialist papers get smuggled in. But none of the papers are for women.”


Tomorrow: Chapter 6 continues.