Part 21 Someone’s Got to do It

Nadine happened to be looking out her kitchen window as Bill stepped from the barn.  She didn’t know that he had come home and her heart swelled at the sight of him.  However, his deep scowl immediately warned her he was displeased with something and fear chased away her moment of joy.  She pondered, Oh my, what have we done wrong now?

Bill looked from side to side, seeing nothing.  The rage boiled within him as he mentally calculated how much money Lou had stolen from him.  Surely it was theft.  He left a sound and growing herd of hogs and came home to a depleted herd.  For the briefest moment his mind reasoned perhaps some disease had stricken them, killing off the missing animals.  Bill immediately dismissed that thought.  He was sure Lou had stolen from him and he would immediately confront him.  He would not have a thief under his roof.

Bill looked across the field and watched as Lou and Harry diligently worked the single horse up and down the field, rich black soil turning up behind the plow.  He decided to let them finish the day’s plowing – might as well get the day’s work out of Lou before he set him on the road.  Bill turned toward the house hoping Nadine would have the coffeepot hot and waiting for him.

He took his seat at the head of the table and that is where Lou and Harry found him when hunger and thirst finally drove them from their plowing. 

Lou was teaching Harry as they walked through the open doorway.  “The horse needs to rest even more than we do.  Remember, she’s pulling that plow through unbroken sod.  So even if you feel like you could work a little longer, you have to take care of your stock.”

Nadine took the moment to make a spiritual application.  All winter she’d jumped at every opportunity to speak the name of Jesus in her home and to her children.  “That’s good teaching Lou.  It’s biblical you know, Proverbs tells us that a righteous man cares for his animals.”

As Lou respectfully listened to his mother, he realized Bill was at the table.  Despite his esteem for his mother, he couldn’t bite back the snide comment as he looked directly at his father, “Does it say the same about people?”

Nadine dropped her head momentarily, realizing she had opened the door for her son’s bitterness to spill out. 

Bill ignored Lou’s comment, he had his own agenda.  “Did you’ns finish plowin’ that field?”

Harry answered, eager to share the lesson Lou had just been teaching him.  “No Sir, Jewel was a’needin’ a rest.  See, she’s been pullin’ that heavy plow.  And the good book tells us to take care of our animals.”

Again, Bill ignored his younger son.  “Lou I seen the hogs, counted ‘em you know.  I know you’ve been sellin’ ‘em off through the winter.  I’ll expect you to be handin’ that profit over to me now.”

Lou’s eyes popped open wide, “Profit?  Don’t you guess we ate that profit?”  He fairly spit the word ‘profit’ every time he spoke it.

Bill responded with a mouthful of curses, causing Nadine to bury her head in her hands. 

Lou glanced at his mother, at once heartbroken to see her crying and infuriated at the man who would cause it without flinching.  He lit into his father as none of his brothers had ever dared before.  “I guess somebody’s got to keep this family from plumb starving to death.  Don’t you realize that Jimmy’s been doin’ just that for years?  He tramped through the woods trying to kill whatever game he could find.  And do you suppose that every chicken he found caught in the fence got there on its own?  No, he knew we had nothing to eat and he brought something home.  Even with everything he could do, we’ve had little enough.  Barefoot in the dead of winter, Mother washin’ every night ‘cause we had but one pair of overalls.  And you dare speak of profit?  I just wish you could tell me why it is that you can walk away from your family for months at a time and leave them with no money and no means of feeding and clothing themselves?  How can you do that to Mother?”

Lou took a deep breath, realizing he’d barely breathed during the whole tirade. 

Bill waited out his sons fit of words, nearly enjoying the spunk this one showed.  He had always been disappointed with his boys, do-less bunch that they were.  Never had the gumption to say ‘boo’ to a goose.  And the lot of them living under his roof and letting him take care of them until they were way past grown.  Why, Bill left home when he was barely fourteen years old and Jimmy hadn’t bothered to go until he was past twenty.  Now this one had found some nerve.  Maybe he would leave home on his own, for Bill was certainly planning to put him out for the crime of stealing his hogs.

He could see that Lou’s fountain of wrath had run dry and he ceased the moment, “If you are quite finished… I don’t see how the four of you could have eaten four hogs.  There is money here and I mean to find it.”

As Bill stood as though he would search the house, Lou moved toe-to-toe with his father.  Bill Lewis stood only five foot six, but his girth tended to make one think he was bigger.  And the bully and bluster personality kept most men from troubling him.  Today Lou was undeterred. 

He did not yell as his father was inclined to do.  He spoke in such a low, controlled voice that he fairly mesmerized every ear in the room.  “There is but little money in this house and yes, whatever is here came from the sale of those hogs.  But you will not touch it.  Mother has a bit of coffee and a few pounds of flour and meal, some sugar and salt.  That’s what’s left of your profit.  There’s a side of meat left that will put meat on the table for two or three meals.  After that, your children will either do without meat or I’ll find something in the woods to kill.  Even if you were sharing the table with us, I have rarely known you to hunt for the food you would eat.  But you won’t be sharing that table.  We don’t need you and we do not want you here.”

Nadine gasped.  She had said nothing, in fact she had not moved since the exchange began.  Now, she must step in, must find a way to smooth this over.  She could not have Lou speaking so disrespectfully to his father.  Oh Lord, if I’ve failed to teach him the ten commandments, how can he ever learn the bigger, deeper lessons you have for him?

Bill had been a gambler for years now.  And, he’d taken many a hefty pot from men both weak and strong.  If he’d learned anything he’d learned when to walk away and right now he judged he must walk away from Lou. 

Without another word, he picked up the hat and duster he’d thrown over a chair.  Placing the hat on his head he looked for a moment at his wife and then stepped out the open doorway into the noonday sun.  The family stood motionless; in a moment, Bill’s tuneless whistle could be heard slowly fading away.

Part 20 Lou Speaks Out

If you're new to the site or haven't visited in a while, I've been posting a serial-story for the past 20 weeks.  You can go to the beginning by clicking here.

 

It was a hard winter.  Everyone agreed; everyone talked about it.  It snowed and snowed and snowed and when it wasn’t snowing, the temperatures refused to warm many degrees above freezing.  By January, everyone on the mountain longed for springtime. 

As Nadine wrapped a woolen scarf around her shoulders, she wondered if the house really was colder without as many bodies living in it, or was that just her imagination. 

The log kitchen had long since given up much if its chinking and despite the children’s constant efforts to stuff newspaper or rags into the cracks, the wind found a way to blow in and wage war with the big iron stove.  Mostly the stove was winning – at least no one was showing signs of frostbite.  Nadine smiled at the extreme thought.  This wasn’t the worst house the family had ever wintered in and they’d always survived.

Nadine was increasingly convinced that survival was by God’s grace alone.  She looked at little Mary patiently sitting as close to the stove as she dared and holding the baby.  Nadine remembered winters with her other babies, lying on a pallet by the stove.  But she was sure the constant draft would be the death of baby Eddie and she didn’t want to chance it.  She was determined this child would grow up in the center of God’s word and will.  She had great plans for him and wouldn’t let him freeze before she had the chance to see those plans fulfilled.

Lord, that’s wrong too.  Please forgive me.  He is yours and I know that it’s your plan that matters in his life.  But I commit to you that I will do my part to have him in church and to protect him from the life that has filled his brothers with hate.

Church - the very thought brought a thin smile.  She hadn’t been able to make the trip to Campground in over a month and she doubted anyone else had either.  Everyone seemed thankful to make it to the barn to milk and care for their stock.

She patted the letter from Winnie that she still carried in the deep pocket of her apron.  It reassured her that Roberta truly was working for a good family that cared for her and that Winnie had safely made the trip to Jamestown and settled into a shared room above the store where she worked.  It was good there were other girls staying there, Naomi was really too young to be completely on her own.   As she did every time anything reminded her of the girls, Nadine said a quick prayer for God to lead them to godly husbands. 

Bill scoffed at her mourning the girls’ departure.  He’d said, “You act like they’ve gone to meet their maker.  They ain’t, they’ve only gone to Jamestown. And by-Jingo, they’ve left us with all the work to do.  Should be here clearin’ the fields and I’ve a half a mind to go get them soon’s the weather’s good ‘nough to be in the fields.”

Nadine ignored his threats.  He didn’t even seem to know where they’d gone.  After all, only Winnie was in Jamestown; Roberta was in Grimsley.  There was no need arguing with him though, and Nadine did try to avoid arguing with her husband.

While Bill seemed not to miss his children, he leaned ever harder on those who remained under his roof.  Lou in particular was suffering as his father demanded more and more from him and instead of treating the sixteen year old like a man, he persisted in demeaning Lou every chance he had. 

Although he’d never say it directly to her, Nadine knew of Lou’s growing unrest.  She heard the bits of talk between Lou and Harry; and Mary occasionally shared more than her brother meant for her to.  He knew if he left home now he would have to go work with his brothers or hire on at someone’s farm.  Neither of those options was particularly appealing to him.  And he also felt responsible for the care of his mother, as well as young Harry for he knew if he left all of his father’s abuse would fall on the younger son.  Just the thought of it caused Nadine to unconsciously begin wringing her hands. 

When Christmas Day arrived, it was beautiful as the mountain was blanketed with fresh white snow and the wind calmed for the day.  Jerry came home for the delicious meal Nadine and Mary prepared.  Winnie had written that she would be spending the day with Roberta.  Even as Nadine asked the family to bow their heads to pray, she saw Bill eyeing the snow-covered road as though he were calculating how treacherous it would be to make one of his trips.  There was no use in asking him to pray for his family for his heart wasn’t even with them. 

She looked to Jerry, thankful to have him home if only for a day.  However, something in his red-rimmed eyes and sallow complexion told her he was not fit to bring the family before the Lord.  In the end, she led the prayer herself and silently added a plea that her sons would come to walk closely to God.

By New Year’s Bill had left with some excuse no one could even remember.  He didn’t return at dark and only Nadine paced with worry.  After two day’s absence, Lou came looking for Nadine after breakfast. 

“There’s no reason to keep watching that road.  You know it may be months before we see him again.”

She smiled at him.  He had grown up so much over the last two years and now he would serve as her head of household until Bill returned.  “I know, but it scares me just a little when your father is traveling in the winter.”

Ignoring any concern for his father, Lou wanted to explain that he’d been thinking how the family might survive the remaining winter months.  “We still have a good herd of hogs.  He only sold the fattest ones, no doubt thinking to hold some for the late winter months when folks will pay more for fresh meat.  But we can be selling those right away.  That would provide some cash money.  And Mary and Harry will help me butcher one for the family to eat.”

“Oh Lou, I don’t know that your father would want you to…”

She had no chance to finish her thought, no chance to urge him to respect his father.  Lou practically spit the words out, “As he would say, ‘by-Jingo’ I’ll not have fat hogs in the barn and a hollow belly.  We’ll eat before we line his pockets.”

Nadine winced at the slamming door.  She knew he meant her no disrespect; Lou was always respectful of his mother. 

Lou cared well for his family, ensuring there was food on their table and managing to have a little cash money for those things they simply had to buy.  He even got shoes for Mary and Harry, saying that they wouldn’t be able to help with the work if they were laid up with frostbite. 

At the first hint of spring, Lou had little Harry in front of the team while he wrestled the plow along furrows too long left fallow.  In fact, that’s how Bill found them when he ambled across the field as though he’d spoken with them just this morning. 

“Harry if you can’t lead that nag in a straight line just turn her lose.  A wild horse would plow a straighter row than you two.” 

Harry looked back at his brother; the criticism from his father stung the little boy but his greater concern was the crimson color creeping up Lou’s neck.  Harry looked back to his father expecting him to direct them how to better turn the ground into a managed cropland. 

Bill took the last steps through the rough weeds.  He’d been faced with a choice of walking through freshly plowed ground or unplowed, weedy turf.  Neither choice presented an easy walk.  Now, he was slightly out of breath despite the slow pace he set.  He turned his questions to Lou.  “What made you think it was time to plow?  Signs ain’t right and I don’t guess we’ll raise a thing here.  You ought to be splitting fence rails instead of wasting your time out here.”

Lou was gripping the plow handle so tightly that his knuckles were turning white.  “Well Sir, I had to hitch the horse to plow the garden anyway.”

“Garden!  If you let that woman – or any woman – plan your days, you’ll never profit.”

Lou tried to take a deep breath and swallow his words but they threatened to gag him.  He opened his mouth and years of pent-up emotion fairly gushed out.  He began with a stream of foul language that made Harry look quickly around lest Mother should hear.  “You know what?  You make me sick always blathering about profit.  Sure you turn a profit, then you let your family fairly starve to death.  You leave in the dead of winter and never wonder whether we’ve survived or not.  Mother wants the garden plowed so she can maybe raise enough food to feed her kids.”

Lou only paused to take a breath but Bill took the opportunity to respond.  “You look fit enough after the winter.”

Lou’s eyes widened and seemed to bulge from his face, “No thanks to you.  Mother and Mary sat beside the stove the livelong winter for fear of laying the baby down in a house that's got more drafts than a big fireplace.  I don’t know where you’ve been but you might as well have stayed there.  We were doing just fine in Cliff Springs without you.  Now we’ve made it through the winter without you and me and Harry will get a crop in and get this family through the summer without you.”

Bill spit his chew of tobacco on the ground and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand he slowly turned toward the barn.  “Gonna’ take a look at my hogs.  Bet you’ve let them fall off considerable in the cold weather.”

Part 19 Nadine’s Reflections

Nadine looked around her table with a pang of sadness.  Despite the cooing baby in Mary’s arms, her family was shrinking.  The wind whistled through the un-insulated floor constantly reminding her of the freezing temperatures both Jimmy and Jerry faced as they worked in the logging woods.  She smiled knowing that Naomi would be warm and would have food to eat this winter, even if she was worn to a frazzle with three babies under four years old.  Nadine offered a quick prayer of thanks for the Tylors who she knew would take care of both their son and daughter-in-law.  The same prayer begged care for Roberta whose letters sounded like she was living in the lap of luxury but Nadine feared her job could not be so grand. 

Nadine knew that Jimmy and Jerry left home with nothing but bitter feelings toward their father and now she heard grumbling from Lou and Harry.  They didn’t dare speak directly to Bill, but neither held any respect for his decisions and they followed his orders only out of fear of the man and respect for their mother.  Again her conscience sent a stabbing pain through her heart; surely as their mother she should have been able to make them love their father.  Surely she had failed this family in some way. 

Quietly, Nadine stepped away from the table and the buzzing of six voices.  Solemnly looking out the tiny kitchen window, she tried to pour her heart out to God.  But the words would not come. 

Maybe that’s been the problem all along, Lord.  I keep trying to talk to you but I can never seem to get it out – no, I realize that you know my heart.  Thank you for that promise Lord.  Ah, I guess the difference is that I’ve not kept myself in Your Word and walking closely enough with you that I can know your heart and your will.  Please forgive me for that.  Do I still have any chance to change these older children?  Surely there is hope for baby Eddie – he’s so innocent and pure.  I promise you Lord that I will teach him your word from this very day.  Before he can even understand what I’m saying I will be speaking the gospel to him.  If I have any power over this family at all, I will not allow this one to come up bitter and disgruntled. 

But I can’t just give up on Lou, Winnie, Mary or Harry.  Give me wisdom to know how to guide them.

“Mother, why didn’t you tell us it was snowing?”  Mary ‘s excited words interrupted her sweet  contemplation. 

“Oh, it is snowing.  My but it’s early for a snow, don’t you think so Bill?”

Bill Lewis scowled at the window and Nadine regretted bringing it to his attention.  He had seemed somehow a little more satisfied here on the farm and she was dearly hoping he would stay home through the winter months.  It was a comfort knowing he was here when she labored to deliver Eddie – although he offered no help, even sending Lou to bring the community midwife. 

Nadine knew from many winters’ experience that the falling snow made her husband feel trapped.  She had spent countless nights walking the floor of whatever rented home they happened to be living in, wondering if he was safe in freezing temperatures – wondering if she’d ever see him again. 

She had never shared these fears with her children.  In fact, she had always put on an utterly positive face for them, assuring them that their father would be home in no time at all.  And surely when he came home, he’d bring food and shoes and coats.  The children never bothered to ask her why these promised provisions never arrived and she was thankful for she might have been tempted to lie to them in order to save-face for their father. 

Bill called an end to breakfast by ushering the children out into the swirling snow to complete their chores. 

Thank you Lord that Jerry got a good, tight barn built before he left us.  Now the children will at least have that shelter for most of their work.  

Bill was pulling on his long duster as he said, “Coffee seemed a little weak this morning.  Are we running low?  I’ll go down to Clarkrange and get a pound just in case this snow sticks.”

Nadine smiled at him.  “Surely it won’t amount to much, after all it’s still November.”

Bill only grunted as he pulled his wide-brimmed hat down low on his forehead. 

As the door slammed, Nadine tried to comfort herself that he was only going to Clarkrange.  It was scarcely three miles so surely he’d be home for supper.  She took the baby from Mary and shrugged away her fears.  “Can you see after these dishes, Mary?  I’ll go feed little Eddie before he makes too big of a fuss.”

Nadine had supper on the table and the children assembled before anyone noticed Bill had returned.  He walked into the house, dropping a large cotton bag on Nadine’s work table.  It was far too big to contain only coffee and she looked into Bill’s eyes seeking an explanation.  Bill simply turned to take his place at the table. 

Reaching into his shirt pocket, he handed a letter to Winnie.  “Looks like it’s from Roberta.”

Winnie squealed an immediately tore into the envelope.  The whole family was eager to hear from their sister and they insisted Winnie read the letter aloud.

Roberta still wrote as though her work and her new life were wonderful.  And now she had found work for Winnie.  She had befriended a young lady who worked in a store in Jamestown and there was work there for Winnie.  Winnie could stay with Roberta overnight then go on to Jamestown the next day.  There were a couple of rooms above the store and Winnie could rent one of them. 

Winnie’s eyes sought out her mother, fear etched deeply in them.  “Well that doesn’t sound like going to stay with a family, does it?  What do you think Mother?”

Nadine thought a great deal, but she carefully measured her words.   Somehow she knew this would be a great opportunity for her daughter.  Yet, Winnie was not as ambitious as Ruth and might struggle being completely out on her own.  “Dear I think it will be good work for you.”

Winnie clamped her teeth tightly on her lower lip and walked silently from the room with Roberta’s letter still in her hand.

As she cleared the table and made the kitchen ready to serve its double duty as the girls’ bedroom, Nadine again turned her mind to talking with the Lord.  Lord, it seems like my table is emptying quickly.  I know that Winnie will go to work in this store – the girls aren’t quite so hard-hearted toward Bill as their brothers are, but they naturally long to have pretty things.  At least this winter there will be food, or so it seems.  Surely he won’t go off on any trips when it’s already gotten cold and snowy.  But if she were working, I’m sure Winnie would have food and shelter.  This might even be a chance for her to meet a nice young man.

Thinking of husbands for her daughters turned her thoughts back to her sons.  Lord, I have heard that the Austin family is a rough lot.  And Jimmy’s married one daughter and Jerry seems bent on marrying their Vera – I wish I could feel as good about that family as I do about the Tylor family that Naomi married into.

At some point in the cleaning process, Winnie had made her way back into the kitchen and settled on the bed in the corner.  She was still so deeply in thought that Nadine didn’t even ask for her help with the dishes.  Mary still held Eddie near the cook-stove.  It was the only source of heat in the house and usually kept a comfortable temperature in the kitchen.  However, as the wind kicked up, the draft in the house allowed a chill to settle over the house.  Eddie was never far from the stove.

Nadine turned to the doorway into the front room which doubled as parlor and the boys’ bedroom. “Lou, Harry, will one of you please dump the water for me?”  Stepping within arm’s reach of her youngest son, Nadine took him from Mary, “Mary if you will dry the dishes for me, I’ll take care of Eddie’s diaper and feed him.”

As usual, quiet and obedient Mary did as she was asked and brought a genuine smile to her mother’s face.  Thank you Lord for this little helper I have in Mary.  Thank you for each of my children, Naomi and Jimmy included.  Please heal the wounds in this family.  And I promise you, so long as you give me breath in my body, I will speak more directly to them, I will speak more directly to them about you.  I will do anything you lead me to do to see my children saved.

 

Click here to go to Part 20

Part 18: The Boys Get to Work

 

 

“I don’t know when’s the best time to move to a new farm, but I’m pretty sure June ain’t it.”  Jerry’s complaints were offered to anyone within earshot as he fought back thick weeds.  Fences in sad disrepair had allowed neighborhood livestock to roam the fields but without a plow or sickle, the weeds threatened to take back the cleared farmland.

 

“Ain’t no use fussin’ ‘bout it.  Father does what he wants whenever the notion strikes.  Don’t matter whether it’s the right time or not.  I’m just glad we didn’t have to move into the drafty house in the middle of winter.”  Roberta didn’t have to look up as she swung the long scythe from right to left trying desperately to avoid her boots.

 

Jerry couldn’t agree more with the bright spot his sister had found in the whole situation.  “Yeah, this winter especially.  With Mother having a baby and she’s not had one for nine years now she may be sickly, huh?”

 

Roberta smiled as him.  “Now what do you think you know ‘bout having babies?”

 

“Well, I know that we lost that old mare when she couldn’t have a baby.  And after all, Jimmy and Naomi’s mother died after having Jimmy.”  The very thought of losing their beloved mother brought Jerry to an abrupt halt. 

 

“Now Jerry, don’t you go borrowin’ trouble.  She brung every one of us into the world without a hitch.  Why wouldn’t you think she could do it again?”

 

“Well, she was a lot younger then.”

 

The rhythm of Roberta’s tool never slowed and now her head shook in time with it.  “She’s not even forty, you know.”

 

Jerry looked across the field and saw Lou and their father in the distance.  “Well, the old man is back and it looks like they are driving some kind of animals.  Wonder what he’s bought?”

 

Roberta took the opportunity to straighten her back while her eyes sought the horizon for her brother and father.  “I’m sure it’s pigs.  That’s all he’s been able to talk about, how wonderful it was when he ran the hog farms in Overton County.  Can’t see how it could be so great since they just stink and waller and make a mess.”

 

Jerry couldn’t help but smile – girls!  “Well you don’t think about that when you’re eatin’ bacon.  Anyway, we were makin’ good money on the hogs in Cliff Springs.”

 

“And I’m sure he’ll make money on these.  That man seems to be able to turn a penny into a dollar anytime he wants to.  It’s just a shame he never even gives pennies to his family.”

 

Lou was within hollering distance in a matter of minutes.  Slightly out of breath, he had directions for Jerry.  “We need to get the team.  Father has traded for a plow and we gotta’ go get it.  He wants us plowing tomorrow.”

 

“Plowing?”  Jerry fairly spit the word out.  “What’s he want to plow?”

 

Lou had expected the questions, “Says we got to plant corn to feed these hogs this winter.”

 

“Corn won’t never make this time of year.  It’s too late.”

 

Lou only shrugged and hurried on to the makeshift corral they had built to hold the horses until the barn was raised.  He knew that Jerry was following him because he heard his brother’s complaints with every step.


When the pair finally reached the corral and began hitching the horses, Jerry shared his thoughts.  “I am pretty sick of that old man tugging us first one direction and then the other.  I’ll not be doing his bidding till I’m twenty like Jimmy did.  We’re close enough now that I can court Pansy’s sister, Vera.  And I’m going to get out of here and start my own life.”

 

Lou only nodded.  He knew that he would have little chance of getting out of the house for several more years and while he certainly wouldn’t ask Jerry to remain on his account, he knew that losing Jerry so quickly after Jimmy leaving home would only make things more difficult for Harry and himself.  Lou simply shrugged off the unknown future and turned to the work at hand.

                                                          

They were just hooking up the freshly harnessed horses to the wagon when Roberta breathlessly flew past them.  “Don’t leave without me,” she called in passing.  It took her only moments to return in a clean dress and tying her best straw hat on her head. 

 

“Which way are you going?”  The question seemed to be an after-thought.  She had assumed they would be going toward Clarkrange.  “I want to go to Peters’ store.”

 

Lou nodded as he climbed onto the wooden seat, “We’re going that direction.”

 

Jerry watched as Roberta scrubbed at the grass stains on her hands with a wet rag she’d brought along.  “Why are you working so hard on your hands?”

 

“I’m going to find work that ain’t in them fields or barns.  They won’t want me workin’ in their fine homes if I’ve got nasty hands, now will they?”

 

Lou and Jerry shared a questioning look, “Just what fine homes are you talkin’ about?”


“Well, anybody that can afford to pay help.”

 

Lou shrugged; Jerry nodded.  No more questions were necessary. 


Roberta hopped from the back of the wagon as Jerry made the turn onto the Stock Road.  In two long leaps she was on the wooden porch.  A quick glance through the tall windows revealed a young woman behind the counter.  Taking a deep breath, Roberta walked through the open doors wearing a bright smile.

 

Jerry and Lou found Roberta halfway back home, her step seemingly lit with fire. 

 

Jerry called down to her from his seat on the wagon, “The way you’re walkin’ you can probably beat us home, but we’ll give you a ride if you want one.”

 

“Well I’m not going to walk when I can ride.  Anyway, I can hardly wait to tell you what I’ve learned.  The girl keeping the store today was Sarah Peters.  And she knew of a family nearly in Grimsley that needs some help.  She had their address and I’ve already posted a letter to them.”

 

Both boys had heard Roberta’s plans to find work away from home.  Still, they were shocked that she had actually gone through with it. 

 

The letter was answered before the week ended and the following week, Roberta was ready to leave her family and move to the Bledsoe’s.  She hinted to her father for a ride to their house but he flatly refused and forbid her brothers to use his team to take her. 

 

She packed everything she owned, or at least everything that was worth carrying, into a small canvas bag which Nadine stitched just for this purpose.  Hugging her mother and each of her siblings, Roberta set out to walk the ten miles to Grimsley.   Her final words were to Winnie, “I’ll find something for you as soon as I can.”

 

Nadine waved to her oldest daughter holding back the sobs that threatened to steal her breath.  It hadn’t been this hard to say good-bye to either Naomi or Jimmy and now she wondered if she really did feel differently about her stepchildren.  No, she reasoned, they left for homes of their own.  This is hard because Roberta is going out to work for strangers.

 

Turning away from the window, she saw the rest of her family and knew she had to be strong and care for them.  Lord, I give Roberta into Your care.

 

Bill had no time to bid his daughter farewell.  He had chores to assign to Jerry and Lou.  And Jerry was argumentative about them. 

 

“Don’t you think I need to be working on making that house livable?  I know it’s the middle of summer but if we don’t get it sealed up ‘fore winter then we’ll all freeze.  And there’ll be a new baby in there this winter, you want him to freeze to death before he even starts to live?”

 

Bill answered simply, “There’s no profit in working on that house.”

 

“Profit?”  Jerry was practically shouting now and he lowered his voice only to save the grief he knew Nadine would feel if she heard them.  “I want you to just tell me why you are always so all fired worried about turning a profit.  We were making a good profit in that store and you up and sold it for heaven only know what reasons.  And what did it even matter that there was money to be made?  You weren’t spending one dime on your family.  Why, we only have clothes on our backs right now ‘cause Roberta just went and took what we needed.”

 

Bill turned red at the revelation that he’d lost merchandise to Roberta.  “What?  She stole from me?   By-Jingo, I’ll catch her and tan her like she’s never known.”

 

Jerry was immediately sorry that he’d let that slip and he desperately wanted to turn the topic back to Bill.  “Forget about Roberta.  It’s you we’re talking about.  Go on and tell me what is profit really for?”

 

Bill just squinted at him as though he were trying to see through the boy.  “Seems like wealth would bring joy, don’t it?”

 

Again Jerry’s voice rose, “Joy?  You wouldn’t know joy if it bit you on the nose.”

 

After a moment’s pause, Jerry looked at his father again and seemed to see him in a new light.  “What profit is there if your whole family is lost?”

 

Jerry could no longer stand to look at his father and he stomped off to do the chores he’d been given before he loosed the tirade.  He thought he’d feel better after getting it off his chest but it was not better; he still felt angry and bitter and some other feeling that he couldn’t quite identify. 

 

As he walked away he told himself, Roberta had the right idea.  I’ve just got’ta get out of here as quick as I can.

 

Click here to go to part  19