City of Three Rivers is an historical novel that takes place in Dayton, Ohio from 1876 to 1924 and spans three generations. I have selected three different excerpts to give a flavor of each of the three different generations
From Chapter 1: 1877
Susan always had trouble sleeping when it was raining this hard. Even at ten years old she knew all the stories of Dayton’s floods: how in 1805 eight feet of filthy water had covered the city from the river to the foot of Fairground Hill, drowning horses and livestock, stranding people in their homes. How in 1814 a strong current, deep enough to swim a horse, had passed from the head of Jefferson Street to the east end of Market Street. Every year it was the same: the rivers filled the city, washing out bridges and damaging property. Year after year citizens of Dayton rebuilt their city and their levee, but the floods always came back.
Susan went down the hallway, barefoot, toward the light in the kitchen where Papa sat at the table with his goose quill, his special bottles of ink and a pile of papers. He smiled as she slid onto the bench, but didn’t look up.
It was comforting to watch as he dipped his pen into one of the bottles, and drew another line across the page. A map of Dayton was emerging; looking down at it gave her the sensation of flying over the city. He had painted the railroad lines red, the rivers and the canal blue and he had drawn the bridges and buildings. The map almost seemed to take on motion. From the east the Mad River poured in, while the Stillwater and the Miami rushed down from the north to the place where the three rivers merged and swept past the city.
Nine years later, from Chapter 6
Dayton is flooded and Susan rides through the water to rescue her father
She gets to his house and finds him unconscious at the bottom of the stairs.
Some mysterious strength filled her limbs and she dragged him up the stairs. Once in the bedroom, she felt as weak as a rag doll and didn’t even try to lift him onto the bed. She put him on the rug, stripped his wet clothes off, and wrapped him in all the blankets she could find. She was sobbing and begging him to wake up when he opened his eyes and said, “Susanna.” Then he smiled and closed his eyes again.
She stopped crying and stared at him. He always called her “Susan”—sometimes “Susi”—she had never heard the name Susanna before.
“Papa,” she said gently.
He opened his eyes again and said, “I’m sorry …..
“I regret so many things… the mistakes I made. The choices…”
She shivered. He seemed to be talking to her but his eyes were like empty tunnels, leading nowhere. Did he know where he was? Did he know to whom he was speaking? “Papa,” she said again, trying to call him back.
“Promise me…” One of his hands wandered in front of her face. She took it and held it fast.
“Promise me you won’t let me do it again. Not if I get another chance.”
She gazed at him, bewildered.
“Yes, yes, I promise,” she agreed.
Later in the same chapter:
Reaching into a pile of clothing, her hand bumped against something hard and heavy, and she pulled out a daguerreotype of a young woman. Her skin was radiant, her eyes full of intelligence, her hair lovely in curls all around her face. On the back of the photographic plate Susan read the words: “To my beloved Timothy. Always, Susanna.”
Where had this picture come from, Susan wondered. Who was this woman? An uneasy feeling crept into her bones. Papa had kept this picture hidden. Had he had a lover? How old was this daguerreotype? Was this beautiful woman still alive? She suddenly remembered something: her father had called her Susanna in his delirium.
And what had he said to her when she had revived him? “I regret so many things… the mistakes I made. The choices…”
Was this woman one of the mistakes he had made?
And then he had asked her for help. “Don’t let me do it again… if I ever get another chance.” His words seemed significant and yet she still didn’t know what he wanted her to do.
Chapter 18, 1906. twenty years later
Susan with her twin nephews, Samuel and Mathew who are 5 years old.
Mathew placed his drawing on her knee. She stared down at it, impressed at all the neat little boxes and lines.
“It’s the farm,” he said.
Suddenly she saw it: the house, the barn, the chicken coop and the driveway. It reminded her of something, but she couldn’t think what.
She stood up, helping both sleepy boys to her bed, then she lay down between them. Samuel lay on her right side, flat on his back; Mathew was on her left, curled towards her, his cheeks flushed with warmth, his blond hair falling into his face. She watched them sleeping for awhile, her heart so full that her eyes kept tearing over.
Mathew’s drawing appeared in her mind: the squares, the lines of the driveway and the road, the great stretches of brown field. Suddenly she sat up. She knew what his picture reminded her of.
Quietly, so as not to awaken them, she slid to the foot of the bed and climbed over the footboard. Then she knelt on the floor and reached under the bed for her trunk. It was heavy, filled to the brim with papers, as well as her winter clothing, but it slid over the rug as she tugged and she undid the latches, then lifted the lid, removing piles of clothing and setting them off to one side.
Finally she found what she was looking for: Papa’s maps—maps of New York City from fifty years ago, maps of Dayton with all the rivers and the canal, maps of the countryside. The paper had yellowed with age and was crumbling around the edges, but the drawings were meticulously detailed and beautiful. She admired them one by one as the boys slept.