- Vol. 03
- Chapter 04
I was young and believed all the dreams young girls are told. My pictures books were filled with beautiful princesses rescued from lives of servitude by handsome princes. And, as children… well, as children we dream. We are taught to believe in Santa Claus, or if not Santa Claus then God, and Jesus, and the Disciples, and Moses, and burning bushes, tablets of commandments the defiance of which will leave us burning in the dark unknown.
My childhood was early mornings in the shed. Wrapped in my father’s overcoat, the scratch of wool against my neck, I blew smoke rings in the cold morning air. On the darkest mornings, I stumbled from the cot I shared with Celia, to the basin where I scooped just enough water to wash. Then out to the shed for milking. On the days when my fingers stopped working from the cold, I would press my palms against the animal’s side, my cheek against hers, and take her warmth. I was waiting for my prince.
It was I and Celia who ran the farm after Mama died; yes, Papa was in the field, buying cows, selling pigs, taking harvest to market, but it was us girls who made things go. We drove the wagon to town to get the provisions and animal feed, the flour, milk, sugar, medicine for papa’s cough. No longer going to school, our classroom was now the barn: our lessons those of survival. Miss Pratt had begged Papa to send us back, but “What good would school be?” he asked. “A waste of time for girls.”
Learning the work of a farm, women’s chores, that was the only education we needed.
But, Celia could not make it and one morning I woke alone in our cot, a piece of paper, torn from the back of the ledger book, fresh ink smeared on the pillow, and a simple “I’m sorry. C.” Celia had left in pursuit of her dream, I knew that, but if she found it I never learned, for I never saw or heard from her again. Anyway, Papa said she was dead to him and wouldn’t even allow her name to be mentioned. I kept the paper, the sad little note she’d written. It was all I had. Celia had taken the only photo we had of our mother -- the one of her standing with Papa. He’s holding the pitchfork and staring straight on at the camera, at the head of the photographer, I suppose. Mama is looking elsewhere and I always thought it was at me and Ceil. She was always hollering after us and we were always disappearing up the willow, where we pretended to be princesses locked in the tower, waiting for our princes to rescue us. I guess Ceil got tired of waiting and maybe Mama would be happy to know that her oldest went in search of what she herself was looking for that day by Papa’s side.