21 May 2015

Excerpt Thursday: UP THE HILL TO HOME by Jennifer Bort Yacovissi

This week, we're pleased to welcome author JENNIFER BORT YACOVISSI with her latest release, UP THE HILL TO HOME. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of Up The Hill To Home. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

History conspires to make us who we are.

Every town, every city, is built by everyday people, and Washington, D.C. is no exception. Anonymous, hard-working women and men form the backbone of the place their families call home: strong women like Mary Miller, who held her family together during the Civil War; Emma Beck, an inventor, career woman, and devoted mother; and Lillie Voith, whose dream of a large family was fulfilled by a tribe of nine children. They are matched by equally strong men, like Charley Beck, whose humor and wisdom served equally as glue and lubricant.

These are my ancestors, and Up the Hill to Home tells their story over most of a century, as their faith and love, home and family, and strength of character contributed to building the nation’s capital, their hometown.

Praise for Up The Hill To Home

"The author creates believable characters . . . yet history itself is the novel's best feature. The author has done her homework, infusing her work with convincing details of 19th- and early-20th-century city life . . . a good book." --Kirkus Reviews

"Beautifully and lovingly written, this sweet story is well researched . . . a Perfect 10” --Romance Reviews Today

"Yacovissi has planned her book carefully, and the result is nothing short of remarkable." --Curled up with a Good Book

" . . . a strong, serene, uplifting debut novel . . . satisfies the heart but also pleases the mind." -- Bryan Crockett, Ph.D., author of Love's Alchemy: A John Donne Mystery

" . . . quietly compelling . . . This is the book you will carry around with you . . . " -- Rafael Alvarez, author of Tales from the Holy Land

**An Excerpt from Up The Hill To Home**

Lillie stands at the top of the cellar stairs feeling for the light switch, which is just out of convenient arm’s reach. When Charley Beck makes the conversion from gaslight to electric—what, almost ten years ago now?—the work crew includes one tall gangly fellow who installs the box in a spot that’s just right for him and his rangy relatives. In this more compactly built household, folks have stumbled on the steps more than once trying to find that switch.
Lillie remembers herself as a little girl being wary of the cellar. Dank, with low ceilings, it holds more dark corners than she can keep an eye on during errands to bring up canned peaches or green beans. She can clearly picture herself creeping down the steps, scanning for signs of movement, even then knowing that whatever is down there will hold still, until she is fully in the trap, before springing it closed. Pausing near the bottom step, she would take a deep breath, and then dash for the shelves, grabbing what she’d been sent for and scrambling back up the steps, propelling herself with a little shriek into the kitchen, triumphant once again in her escape. Charley would look from behind his paper and say, “Back again so soon?” and Emma, accepting the jar of peaches, would tell her, “Darling, you shouldn’t scare yourself like that. It’s just the cellar,” and then Charley again, “Yep, we haven’t lost a child down there in years,” and Mary or Emma or both would scold him for teasing her. Maybe, Lillie thinks now, her young self enjoyed manufacturing that fleeting sense of danger, knowing that the rest of her world was so dependably safe.
This morning she is thinking of her childhood, of all of their collective childhoods and lifetimes, arranged and safeguarded in the trunk that again sits open next to the parlor secretary. She’s taking advantage of the empty house and the few moments to herself, over hot tea and soda crackers, to dip in among the letters and photographs, diaries, and other treasures. Any keepsake she retrieves, words or image, she already knows by heart, and part of the sweetness is enjoying the layers of memories each item has itself accreted over the years.
There are only a few minutes to sit, though, and when the tea is drained, it’s time to start the day in earnest. Her nausea is keeping her home while the rest of the family attends Mass; she’s had to clench her teeth and breathe hard as she marshals the children into readiness. But the housework never gets done just by wishing, so she takes the teacup and crackers into the kitchen and then steps out onto the spring porch for the washing machine.
In its off hours, the Easy Wash stays out of the way tucked into its own designated corner of the porch, near the big canning stove. When it’s laundry time, though, the washer needs to be wrangled from the porch into the kitchen, a tricky maneuver that requires both muscle and coordination. The spring porch is an addition onto the back of the house, and it encloses the original concrete steps that lead from the back door. There never was a railing, but there’s a gentle slope meant to shed rainwater. With just enough space between the back of the house and the top of the steps to roll the washing machine, it’s crucial not to miss that corner with the outside wheel, or the Easy Wash takes a header down the steps and just as likely takes the hapless pilot with it. Lillie gets enough momentum up to carry the washer across the threshold into the kitchen. She rolls it into place next to the sink and is just about to connect the hose to the faucet when she thinks to double check the water temperature. She opens the hot side and waits a moment, then another. Cold. A disappointed groan deflates her shoulders; in the rush to get everyone off to church, no one got the task to run down and turn on the water heater. Her hopes of getting at least one load of laundry done before breakfast evaporate. Now she rolls the Easy Wash back out to its corner of the porch, this time needing to check it from picking up too much speed on the downslope. There’s nothing for it but to fit in an extra load or two between breakfast and dinner. In a household of thirteen, staying ahead of the laundry pile—washing, wringing, hauling, hanging, plucking, ironing, folding, putting away—is a nearly continuous activity.
Which is why Lillie is looking for the light switch, so she can make the trip into the cellar and belatedly turn on the water heater in time to have post-breakfast hot water. But her mind, wayward this morning, marches past laundry and breakfast and right back to the trunk in the parlor.
Over the course of nine pregnancies, Lillie develops her own little rituals in preparing for a new baby’s arrival into the family. One of the first things she does is to have Ferd go up into the attic and bring down her memory box. In fact, she sometimes breaks the happy news to him by smiling and simply saying, “It’s time to get the box again.” For his part, Ferd responds with some combination of a smile or laugh, a kiss, and a sweeping, feet-off-the-floor embrace before he heads to the attic. How funny to think that little more than a month ago she catches her reflection in the parlor mirror and stops for a moment, Tommy heavy on her hip, Bernie and Dorothy combatively playing keep-away on either side of her. As she fingers a streak of gray in her hair, she says to no one in particular, “Look at how old I’m getting! It’s sad to think that soon I won’t be able to have any more babies.” And here she is, already starting through the box once again.

About the Author

Learn more about Jennifer Bort Yacovissi

Twitter: @jbyacovissi