Some evenings, after supper, all of the family-Papa, Mama, Uncle Owen, Margaret, and Colin-sit on the porch and listen to the tree frogs trilling into the soft spring air and breathe in the smell of apple blossoms that have justcome into bloom. Margaret leans against Uncle Owen and watches for the first star to wink outof the twilight. Then she squeezes her eyes shutand makes three wishes: one, for a sister; two, for a dog; and three, that Mama will change hermind about Margaret studying medicine. The thirdwish is the hardest. Margaret's never known Mama to change her mind about anything. "She's as stubborn as the day is long," Papa says fondly, but then he says the same thing about Margaret.
Sometimes, on those soft spring evenings, if Papa isn't too tired from his doctoring rounds, he'll take Mama's hand and they'll dance under the trees, and Papa sings softly, "I'll Be with you in Apple Blossom Time." On nights like this, it seems to Margaret that there is nothing in the whole wide world that can touch them.
But then, she is young and does not yet know about the war that is fixing to change their lives forever.
Before he left for the war in France, Uncle Owen planted an apple tree for Mama.
"I'm trusting you to take care of this tree," he said to Margaret. "Water it every week, and someday, when I get back, we'll pick apples together."
"Will you be gone a long time?" Margaret asked him.
"I might be," Uncle Owen said slowly.
He walked Margaret through the orchard, telling her the names of the apples: Duchess, Astrachan, Bethel, Tetofsky, and Pound Sweet. He'd told them to her lots of times before, and she knew them all by heart, but she didn't mind hearing them again. Margaret knew it was going to be a while before she got to walk with Uncle Owen again, or hear his voice. She would miss Uncle Owen something awful. He seemed more like a brother to her than an uncle. He always listened to her, and he knew her three wishes.
As far back as she could remember, Margaret had wanted to be a doctor, just like Papa.
"Doctoring's no kind of life for a woman," Mama said. "It's too hard and dangerous."
Papa was the only doctor in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. He worked long hours and got called out in all kinds of weather. Being a doctor was a hard life, especially in the Kingdom, where roads were poor, people lived miles from one another, and winter lasted seven months a year. Sometimes, in blizzards, Papa snowshoed to patients, and once, in spring floods, he'd built a raft to get to people who needed him. But Margaret was sure it was just the life she wanted.
"She'll change her mind as she gets older," Mama said to Papa.
Margaret read her papa's medical books, even the parts she didn't understand. She begged and begged to ride with Papa on his house calls, but Mama wouldn't let her go.
"Margaret will make a good doctor," Uncle Owen had said.
"You shouldn't encourage her," Mama had scolded him. "It would be too hard a life for a woman. Maybe she could marry a doctor, like I did."
"No, Mama, I want to be a doctor myself," Margaret had said. Sometimes Mama was so old-fashioned, but Margaret was proud of her mama, too. Mama and Uncle Owen's ma and pa had gotten killed in a train wreck when Mama was only twelve. Mama had raised Uncle Owen and provided for them both. Margaret wondered how Mama had done it. She was almost twelve, too, and couldn't imagine losing Papa and Mama and having to raise up Colin all by herself
Papa said he'd drive Uncle Owen to the train station. But Uncle Owen said, "Thank ye kindly, Reece, but Id as lief walk." He waved good-bye, and Mama cried into her apron.