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My Life Before Me

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264 pages
Cady has always wanted to be a reporter, like her hero Nellie Bly, so after a fire burns down the orphanage she lives in, she’s ready to leave small-town Ontario and make her mark as a newspaperwoman. A crumbling newspaper clipping leads her to Orrenstown, Indiana, where her investigation into a long-ago murder earns her a hard lesson in race relations. Smart and determined, and more than a little headstrong, Cady pokes a stick into a wasp’s nest of lies, dirty politics, corrupt law enforcement and racial tension, and ends up fearing for her life as she closes in on something she’s never cared about before, the truth about her own origins.
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 Norah McClintock
MY LIFE BEFORE ME
In early June 1964, the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girls burns to the ground, and its vulnerable residents are thrust out into the world. The orphans, who know no other home, find their lives changed in an instant. Arrangements are made for the youngest residents, but the seven oldest girls are sent on their way with little more than a clue or two to their pasts and the hope of learning about the families they have never known.On their own for the first time in their lives, they are about to experience the world in ways they never imagined…
MY LIFE BEFORE ME
 Norah McClintock
Copyright ©2015Norah McClintock
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
McClintock, Norah, author My life before me / Norah McClintock.
Issued in print, electronic and audio disc formats. isbn 9781459806627(pbk.).—isbn 9781459806634(pdf ).— isbn 9781459806641(epub).—isbn 9781459810921(audio disc)
I. Title. II. Series: Secrets (Victoria, B.C.) ps8575.c62m85 2015jc813'.54 c20159017386 c20159017394 c20159017408
First published in the United States,2015 Library of Congress Control Number:2015935517
Summary: In thisyanovel, wouldbe reporter Cady investigates racism and family secrets in a small Indiana town.
Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.
Cover design by Teresa Bubela Cover images by Dreamstime.com and Shutterstock
orca book publishers www.orcabook.com
18 17 16 15432
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To Gerry, who doesn't mind the tears.
Note to Readers
This book, set in 1964, uses words that are no longer accepted. These words areNegro andcolored, the latter specifically as it relates to people of African origin. At the time in which this book is set, these words were widely used in society and in the media. Their use in this book is for historical accuracy only and in no way implies acceptance of them today.
Chapter One
My story begins
Two things you need to know about me: I always dreamed about being a newspaper reporter, and I’m an orphan. I was mostly raised in an orphanage, although I know from hearing one of the staff gossip about it that I had been adopted as a baby and then given up again when the child-less couple who had wanted me so badly discovered that they were about to have a child of their own. The person who said that, who shall remain nameless here, said she thought that had to be the very worst, to be unwanted twice over. The orphanage where I grew up was called the Benevolent Home for Necessitous Girls. I lived there until I couldn’t stand it anymore, which happened to coincide with the age at which most girls get itchy anyway, when they think they’re going to explode if they have to look at the same faces all day for another day and another day after that,
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when it seems as if nothing ever changes and nothing ever will, when every day is exactly the same as the one before. When you would (almost) literally give your right arm for something different to happen. There were days when I thought I would go crazy if I had to spend another sixty seconds surrounded by orphan girls and spinster women. I know, I know. I should have been grateful. I had a roof over my head. I was fed three meals a day. I was given an education. In fact, you might say, being at a girls’ orphanage doesn’t sound all that different from being at a boarding school or one of those fancy so-called finishing schools in Europe. But those schools are for girls who have families— well-to-do families—whereas necessitous girls have no families. Plus, they’re poor. Obviously and blindingly poor. So poor that the people of the good town where the Home was located—the town of Hope (I am not kidding)—looked on us with pity. And condescension. Along with self-righteousness and mistrust. Some of the women called us gypsies when we went into town, especially if one of the little ones acted up. When one of us (who should have known better) swiped some lipstick from the five-and-dime store, we all became little thieves. When one of us (who also should have known better) was caught smoking cigarettes with a local boy behind the old boathouse, we all became tramps. When one of us (expressing what a lot of us felt) refused to sing at the annual church women’s Christmas tea, where we were marched in to sing carols as a thank-you for the sturdy beige
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jumpers the women had sewed for us, every one of them cut from the same pattern, we all became ingrates. I don’t want to give the impression that the entire town of Hope looked down on us, even though it sometimes felt that way. There were decent people, like Mr. Travers, editor and publisher of Hope’s one and only newspaper, the Hope Weekly Crier.When I finally screwed up my courage just before my sixteenth birthday to apply for a part-time job—he had advertised for a “Goings On” columnist—he gave me a chance. He had me write up a sample column and edit a news story, and then, to my astonishment, he hired me. I felt as if I’d won the Irish Sweepstakes. I was on my way. I had taken the first step toward my dream. True, it wasn’t the most exciting job in journalism. My beat was wedding anniversaries, bridal and baby showers, graduation parties, garden parties, out-of-town visitors and any other social event that the host or hostess wanted everyone in town to know about. I gathered information by telephone, and I didn’t have to probe hard to get the facts I needed. All I had to do was talk to the host or, more often, hostess, who would eagerly tell me who had attended the event (we ran as many names as possible), what refreshments had been served, what entertainment had been offered and, in cases where it was deemed important, what the women had been wearing. I didn’t use my real name. Instead, at my request, the column ran with the byline Lizzie Cochran.In case you don’t know it, Elizabeth Cochrane is the real name of my all-time heroine and role model—Nellie Bly.
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(She dropped theefrom her surname because she thought it looked better that way.) I know it doesn’t sound glamorous. It wasn’t investiga-tive reporting, and the events I covered were certainly not earth-shattering. But in a small town like Hope and on a weekly paper like theCrier, it was important to cover local happenings. If people wanted to know what was going on in the world, they could get one of the Toronto dailies. But if they wanted to know what was going on down the street, theCrierwas the paper to reach for. About the same time I got the job at theCrier,I started dating Johnny Danforth. He was a senior at the local high school. He was dreamily handsome, ruggedly athletic and financially well-off. I met him when we literally ran into each other as I was going into the grocery store and he was coming out. It was like something out of one of those romance novels that so many girls bought off the rack by the drugstore checkout. Our eyes met and we knew we were made for each other. At least, that’s how I felt. It was also how Johnny said he felt. He didn’t seem to care at all when I told him where I lived. Suddenly I was happy. My life had gone from misery to perfection in the blink of an eye. It stayed that way for a couple of months—until one of Johnny’s neighbors saw us together and told Johnny’s mother. Mrs. Danforth grilled Johnny, and he, ever the dutiful son, told her everything he knew about me, including my job at theCrier. That incensed Mrs. Danforth almost as much as the fact that her son was seeing me, a girl
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