Back then the road they lived on was a dirt road and they lived at the end of it, about a mile from Route 4. This was in the north in potato country, and back when the Appleby children were small the winters were icy and snow filled and there were months when the road seemed impassably narrow. Weather was different then, like a family member you couldn’t avoid. You took it without thinking much. Clayton Appleby attached a sturdy snowplow to his sturdiest tractor, and he was usually able to clear the way enough to get the kids to school. Clayton had grown up in farm country and he knew about weather and he knew about potatoes and he knew who in the county sold their bags with hidden rocks for weight. He was a closed book of a man, he inhabited himself with economy, but his family understood he loathed dishonesty in any form. He did have surprising and sudden moments of liveliness. For example he could imitate perfectly old Miss Lurvy who ran the Historical Society’s tiny museum – “The first flush toilet in Aroostook County,” he would say, heaving back his narrow shoulders as though he had a large bosom, “belonged to a judge who was known to beat his wife quite regularly.” Or he might pretend to be a tramp looking for food, holding out his hand, his blue eyes beseeching, and his children would laugh themselves sick, until his wife Sylvia got them calmed down. On winter mornings he let the car warm up in the driveway, scraping the ice from its windows, exhaust billowing about him until the kids tumbled down the salt dappled snow of the steps. There were three other kids on the road, two boys in the Daigle family, and their sister Charlene who was close to the age of the youngest Appleby child, a strange little girl named Annie.
Annie was skinny and lively and so prone to talkativeness that her mother was not altogether sorry when she spent hours by herself in the woods playing with sticks or making angels in the snow. She was the only Appleby child to inherit the Acadian olive skin tone and dark hair from her mother and grandmother, and the sight of her red hat and dark head coming across the snow fields was as common as seeing a nuthatch at the birdfeeder. One morning when Annie was five and going to kindergarten she told the car full of children – her brother and sister and the Daigle boys and Charlene – that God spoke to her when she was outside in the woods. Her sister said, “You’re so stupid, why don’t you shut up.” Annie bounced on the seat beside her father and she said, “He does though! God talks to me.” Her sister asked how did he do that, and Annie answered, “He puts thoughts in my head.”