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Miller and Daughters

by Brianne Sommerville

Cinnamon needed more heart worm medication, and she was due for her annual check-up. That’s what the young woman had said from Miller and Daughters Veterinary Clinic when she called earlier that week. So, Cinnamon and I sat in the clinic’s reception, her in a purple crate and me on an uncomfortable plastic chair, waiting for our turn to see Doctor Anne.

Cinnamon, a ten-year-old orange tabby cat, wanted to be carried around when in the crate, just like how my first-born Katie always needed to be rocked to sleep. If Cinnamon wasn’t moving, she would let out an otherworldly grown. So, I paced around the waiting room, stopping occasionally to admire the pet photos on the bulletin board.

Golden Retrievers in birthday hats, cockatoos on shoulders, hamsters, gerbils, or mice (I could never tell the difference between rodents) sitting atop their owners’ open palms, and one black and white photo that seemed out of place.

“Excuse me?” I asked Sarah at the front desk. “Who are these people in this photo? The black and white one?”

Wedged between a photo of a turtle and an adorable Beagle, was a late 19th century photograph of a woman petting a large dog, another woman hugging a horse, and a man sitting between them looking like he’d rather be anywhere else.

“Those are my relatives.” Sarah met me at the bulletin board and pointed to the lady petting the dog. “That’s my Great-Great-Grandma Cora. She’s why my mom—Doctor Anne wanted to become a vet. She’s why I want to become a vet too.”

“Who are the others?” I was so intrigued by this photo.

“Her brother and sister.” Then her eyes lit up. “Let me show you something.” She ran back to the desk and retrieved a book from the drawer. She motioned me over, like she was inviting me in on a family secret. “Great-Great-Grandma Cora kept a diary. It’s all in here. You can read some if you like? While you wait?”

And so, I did. And it was so much better than reading any of the magazines strewn across the coffee table.

June 14, 1899

Father’s ill again and this time it’s much worse than anything I’ve seen. If it were a fever, I could help him sweat it out. If it were a cough, I could give him some syrup with opium. But Father’s illness is worse than anything I’ve seen because it is of his mind.

Today, he almost didn’t recognize me when he came down for breakfast. He mixed me up with Pearl again. She was already outside getting the carriage ready for our appointment with Farmer Thomson – his poor horse has been having a terrible time with a cold. Thomson left him outside in the rainstorm last week and he can’t seem to shake it.

So, Father, Pearl, and I were all set to visit his farm this morning and to bring some blankets and bran mash, but there was no way I could let Father come. Not in the state he was in; it would only scare Mr. Thomson. If Father didn’t recognize me, surely, he’d forgotten everything he knows about tending to horses. And we wouldn’t want the town speaking of that. It would be bad for the practice.

I also knew Pearl and I couldn’t show up on our own. We needed our brother, Jim. Even though he has never shown interest in practicing veterinary medicine like Pearl and I, we’d need Jim because Mr. Thomson wouldn’t like two women fixing up his horse.

When we got to the farm, we pretended Jim was leading the treatments in Father’s absence, as he had been called to another farm across town. I did not take any pleasure in lying to Mr. Thomson, but it had to be done. Pearl and I told Jim everything he needed to do on the way there. I think Farmer Thomson’s horse will be just fine. If only I could say the same thing about Father.

June 21, 1899

I had the most wonderful night. I delivered a baby foal all by myself. I remembered everything Father taught me. Last week at Farmer Thomson’s I had checked on Diana (the mare) and knew it would be soon. Her udder was already filling with milk. I advised Mr. Thomson to clean out her stall and fill it with a bedding of wheat straw. I told him what to look out for and to send his farmhand over to our house at the first sign of foaling.

When we arrived – Pearl, Jim, and I – Diana was having contractions. I washed her udder and hindquarters and waited for the sac to break. Diana did a wonderful job! She delivered the foal – who Mr. Thomson’s daughter named Brook – in twenty minutes. We stayed until Diana delivered the afterbirth. We had Jim pretend to supervise the delivery, but Mr. Thomson pulled me aside afterward and thanked me personally. I don’t know if we can bring Jim along forever. He could never be happy in this business. He doesn’t love animals and he is terrible with horses. I think they can sense his fear. I am hopeful that with enough successful visits from Pearl and I, we can convince the town we are capable of taking over Father’s practice. One day, they might even let women go to veterinary school. Going to the Ontario Veterinary College would be my dream.

I know Father would have been proud to have watched me deliver Brook. I wish he could have seen it, but it wouldn’t have been wise to bring him in the state he was in. When I told him it was time – the foal was coming – he asked me what a foal was. He’s been mixing things up. Keeps asking where Mama is. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that she passed away five years ago. Instead, I said she was out at the market and would be back later. I told him to rest and sent him to bed with some milk and bread.

July 6th, 1899

I have a plan, and Pearl and Jim are in full support. I imagine Father would be too if his mind was healthy. We are going to be interviewed for the paper. I’ll admit, I am rather nervous but if we can get an article in the paper about Miller Veterinary, and how Jim, Pearl and I are going to be doing more of Father’s work, I think it will be received well. They might even take our photograph. If they do, I think we’ll have Charlie and one of our horses pose with us. Wouldn’t that be a nice touch?

I really don’t know how much time we have left with Father. He doesn’t come down from his bedroom as often to see us. I bring him most of his meals in bed. Yesterday, when I brought him his dinner, he told me he was ready to join Mama. There was a flicker in his eye that told me, he knew exactly what he was talking about. He knew she wasn’t at the market, that she was no longer with us. I gave him a kiss on his forehead and told him that if he wanted to join her, I would miss him very much, but I would understand if he had to go. Then I left the room and cried with Pearl outside on the veranda until the sun went down.

Doctor Anne stepped out of her office to greet us. “Cinnamon, how’s my favourite tabby?” I imagined Doctor Anne said this to all the other tabbies in her care, but I still appreciated the gesture. Cinnamon let out a groan; I had been standing still for too long, engrossed in Great-Great-Grandma Cora’s diary.

“Wait, I’m not finished reading,” I said as if I was in the middle of the climax of a John Grisham novel. What happened to Great-Great-Grandma Cora? Did she take over the practice? Did she get into the vet college?” I asked.

Dr. Anne told me that Cora never went to the Ontario Veterinary College – they didn’t allow women into the college until 1923, but she did take over Miller Veterinary with her sister Pearl. Cora had a daughter, Myrtle who did go to the college and graduated at the top of her class. Myrtle had a daughter, Shirley, Anne’s mother who (as you can probably guess) also went to the college, and also graduated top of her class. Doctor Anne followed in their footsteps (as indicated by her framed diploma in the reception). She was also responsible for changing the name of the clinic from Miller Veterinary Clinic to Miller and Daughters.