Samuel lay stretched out asleep on the blanket in front of me, missing every bit of the fireworks he’d gotten us all here to see.
“Shouldn’t we wake him, Mommy?” six-year-old Sarah begged. “He’s missing the show.”
“I don’t know, honey. Seems like if he can sleep through all this, maybe he needs to.”
We were surrounded by all of the Hammond children, and the littlest ones had been anything but quiet. Not to mention the noise of Oliver Porter’s firecrackers, bought by that one well-to-do family in the hopes of lifting the spirits of a depressed community.
Kirk Hammond shook his head at Sarah. “Pa says never to wake a grown man when he’s sleepin’. Unless his house is afire.”
“There are other times,” his sixteen-year-old sister Lizbeth maintained. “Like, say, if his pigs are out.” She kept on rocking gently back and forth, soothing her baby sister to sleep.
It seemed like far longer than seven months since these kids had lost their mother, and nearly their father too. George Hammond wasn’t with us today. He’d offered to stay home and see to the milking, theirs and ours, in exchange for us getting his entire brood into town to witness an extravagance that was rare for Dearing, even before Depression days. Real fireworks. And earlier that day, a tractor demonstration and cattle show. And an automobile race right through the middle of town. The big boys, including our eleven-year-old Robert, had urged Samuel to enter the race, hoping for the three-dollar prize. But Samuel wouldn’t enter, because the truck we were using was borrowed.
“They had bigger shows in Pennsylvania,” Robert remarked, slapping away at a mosquito.
“I’m sure there are bigger ones in some parts of Illinois,” I told him. “But this is a little town, and it’s nice for them to do something like this at all.”
I looked around us at the square where most of the activities had been held. Glowing lanterns sat at the four corners and at other important spots like the lemonade stand. Some people had brought their own lanterns, so there were shining spots of light among the crowd. It made for a pretty scene, and I smiled.
But Willy Hammond frowned. “It weren’t so nice, Beula Pratt and Gussy Welty singin’ at the top of their lungs. I coulda done without that.” Willy was the same age as our Robert, and they’d both been rather pessimistic lately.
“I liked their singin’,” Sarah told him. “‘The Star Spangled Banner’ is my most favoritest song. An’ the rest was good too.”
“They were patriotic,” Lizbeth agreed. “We’re supposed to be patriotic today.”
Thirteen-year-old Kirk shook his head. “Well, I didn’t unnerstand Mr. Porter’s recitation, ’least not all of it. It was too blame long.”
“The whole Declaration of Independence,” nine-year-old Franky said proudly. “The most important words in our whole country.”
“What do you know?” Willy asked. “You’re the dumbest kid in the whole county.”
Franky didn’t reply. He almost never did to such words, which he heard far too often.
“He’s not dumb, and you know it,” Lizbeth said, defending their brother. “He does fine. You don’t have to read to unnerstand stuff, and he unnerstands a lot more than you do. So shut up.”
I kept quiet because Lizbeth had spoken out. But usually I defended Franky, though he’d told me more than once I didn’t have to bother. I knew he was special, despite his struggle to learn letters. Lizbeth was right about him. He understood most everything he heard and remembered it too. There were times when he didn’t seem nine at all, though he was scarcely bigger than Sarah.
Berty Hammond, the four-year-old, on the other hand, was growing by leaps and bounds but tried to act like a baby as often as not, just to get my attention. He scooted his way into my lap and laid his little head on my shoulder, sucking away at his thumb.
“Getting tired, Berty?”
He shook his head, but I knew he was. They all were. It was past dark, and we had quite a ways to go to get home.
The oldest boy, Sam, must have been thinking that too. “We’ll have to go purty quick. An’ maybe I oughta drive, Mrs. Wortham. Mr. Wortham’s dog tired.”
“Maybe you should,” I told him, knowing he’d welcome the chance. At seventeen, Sam was pretty responsible.
“Can we stay at your house?” Rorey asked, hugging at the doll I’d made for her.
“Not all of you. Your father said that was too much.”
“We’ll see.” Berty squeezed my neck, and I heard myself sigh. George should have told them who could and who couldn’t this time, instead of leaving it for us to decide. It would have been so much easier. George did a lot, but he still left a lot on us and his older children. Especially Lizbeth.
There was a flurry of crackles from the bandstand, where most of the fireworks were being lit. Then one last long burst of light and sound. I put my hand on Samuel’s shoulder, knowing the show was almost over. Time to be picking up blankets and getting all these kids home to bed.
He rolled over and stared at me in the darkness. For a moment I thought I saw that look in his eye that he used to have so long ago, when we first got married and he was still having bad dreams. He’d never talk about them then, and he didn’t say a word now. He just sat up, and then he stood, ready to get back to the business of life.
Oliver Porter bid everybody a good night in his great booming voice, and all the kids started rising to their feet. Five-year-old Harry tried sneaking away, toward the Humkeys, who had given him a lollipop earlier, but Joey grabbed him by the collar and kept him with us.
Samuel picked up our blanket and folded it neatly. Franky lifted theirs from the ground and wadded it under his arm. Berty didn’t want to let go of me, so I held him, thinking maybe he’d go to sleep that much faster.
“I need to stay with Robert,” Willy told us. “So we can get an early start fishin’ tomorrow.”
“Fine,” I agreed. “But remember your father said you could only fish till noon. Then you’ve got to work field.”
“Fishin’ is work too,” Willy protested. “We might bring home dinner.”
“That would be wonderful. I hope you do. But you can’t fish all day, no matter how good they’re biting. You’re going to obey your father.”
Samuel stood looking out over the park in Dearing’s town square, at the stir of the crowd and the swaying cottonwood trees beyond them. I wished I knew what he was thinking. We had so little time to talk anymore. Just managing to get through our days was taking about all the energy we had—working the farm Emma had so lovingly given us, trying to put food on the table and make a decent life for all these kids. It seemed like we were parents to all of them now, not just our own two. And George Hammond let it be that way. He was a decent father. He was trying. But he never seemed to be able to manage without us, even for a couple of days.
“I wish I had some firecrackers,” Harry said, trying to squirm away from Joe.
“Thank heaven you don’t,” I told him. “Hard to say what would happen if something like that were in your hands.” More than the other children, Harry was a trial to look after. He’d try anything. Several times. He was absolutely fearless, more than a little reckless, and ornery as the dickens.
“I’d only just blast ’em,” he told me. “I’d make a lot of noise and see if I could make your doggy bark.”
Whiskers, our dog, barked plenty, at groundhogs and coons. But not at people he knew, especially kids, though Harry tried to get him to.
“You better leave that dog alone,” Robert warned him. “One of these days he’ll get real sick a’ you and haul off and bite.”
“Not Whiskers,” Sarah said. “Whiskers is a sweetie.”
“Come on,” Samuel said suddenly. “Let’s head for the truck.” He took Berty from my arms, swooped him onto his shoulders, and led the way across the square to where he’d parked Barrett Post’s truck amidst the other vehicles, most of them years old and held together by a combination of baling wire and ingenuity.
With Sarah holding one of my hands and Rorey the other, I followed him, suddenly feeling bone weary and ready for a bed myself.
As we walked to the truck, young Thelma Pratt made her way through the crowd just to say hello to Sam Hammond and ask him if she’d see him at church on Sunday.
“Uh, yeah. Far as I know,” he said, embarrassed by her attention.
I couldn’t help but smile. “Have a good night, Thelma,” I told her. “Say hello to your mother and tell your sister she did a fine job with her singing.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Wortham, I will.” She glanced at young Sam one more time and disappeared in the direction of the bandstand.
Kirk jabbed at Sam with his elbow, but the skinny teen shoved his brother away and went walking ahead of us. He’d told me about two weeks ago that he liked the Pratt girl, but he wasn’t especially thrilled to have everybody else knowing it.
Close to the stand where they’d been passing out lemonade, I saw Ben Porter and took the time to tell him to thank his aunt and uncle for sponsoring the festivities. Lizbeth thanked him special for not charging us a dime for the popcorn and the ice-cold lemonade. We’d have gone without otherwise.
“I wanna do this kinda thing when I get older,” Franky remarked as we went walking on. “I wanna have plenty a’ money so I can put it to use every whipstitch doin’ stuff for people. It’d be fun, seein’ ’em enjoy themselves ’stead a’ sittin’ and frettin’ over tomorrow.”
I wasn’t surprised, hearing something like this from him, but Willy and Kirk were shaking their heads.
“You ain’t gonna have no money,” Willy said. “Nobody’s gonna pay you for nothin’.”
“Willy, that’s enough,” I warned.
“Well, it’s true! Pa says for most any job you at least gotta sign your name!”
“I can sign,” Franky said bravely.
“Yeah,” Willy said with a laugh. “With half the letters missin’, and the other half backwards.”
“Do you want me to tell your father how you’ve been acting?” I asked him.
“I don’t care,” Willy said boldly. “He won’t do nothin’. He thinks the same as me.”
Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure that wasn’t true. But Samuel turned around and faced us, with Berty still bouncing on his shoulders. “I have no doubts about Franky,” he said. “He can work with me anytime. And there’ll be a lot more people feeling the same way when they see how he works wood. It’s not everybody that’s got a gift that can be seen so young.”
Franky smiled and Willy sulked. And I might have said more, but right that minute, as we were rounding one side of a giant oak, I very nearly ran smack into Hazel Sharpe coming from the opposite direction. Her lantern clattered against my leg, and we both reached out our hands to steady it.
She was looking smaller than ever, her ancient shoulders stooping more all the time. Her nephew Herman was right behind her, carrying one of her chairs over his head. Hazel must have come out to watch the show. I was surprised that she would.
“Miss Hazel! Excuse us. I didn’t see you coming.”
“I can b’lieve that, Julia Wortham!” She raised her lantern to look us over. “You always got your mind goin’ on somethin’ besides business. An’ here you are out with these Hammonds again! An’ them lookin’ like a bunch a’ ragamuffins! Don’t that George have the least bit a’ self-respect? Where is he, anyway?”
“Home doing the milking and such,” I answered quickly. “Working hard.” Why did she have to cut so with her words, and right in front of the children? None of them looked that bad, just a little dirty and tired, like anyone would after a day like this. And it was dark too, so why would it make any difference? Why did she have to act as though it were her job in life to make people uncomfortable?
“Good evening,” Sarah whispered to her; she was echoed immediately by Rorey. But Miss Hazel didn’t answer them or even look their way.
“C’mon, Herman,” she sniffed. “Sure is late. Didn’t know Porter was gonna keep us up half the night.”
“Nice show, wasn’t it?” I asked.
She ignored me and went walking right on with her usual quick steps.
“Good night, Miss Hazel,” I called after her. “Good night, Herman.”
“Good night to you,” Herman acknowledged with a nod as he hurried along with that chair.
I wondered what it must be like to be Hazel Sharpe’s nephew. She had three of them, I’d heard. All with families of their own. But Herman was the only one who came around, every time she called on him, to help her with this or that. It was hard to picture her thanking him, but I hoped she had courtesy enough. I figured he must be a patient sort, anyway. He sure was quiet most of the time, at least around her.
“I don’t know why you bother,” fourteen-year-old Joe told me when Hazel and Herman were out of earshot. “She ain’t lookin’ for no conversation from us.”
“I’ll give it to her anyway,” I said. “I’m going to speak to her every time I see her and be just as pleasant as can be. One of these days, she’ll crack.”
“She prob’ly only done that once in her life,” he argued. “When Emma died. Only time I ever seen her soft. She don’t like a one of us, an’ I doubt sittin’ with her at church or throwin’ words her way is gonna change anything.”
I was surprised at the sharpness of his tone. Joe was usually so quiet and reserved. But maybe he was tired of being put down. “Those Hammonds” Hazel always called them, in her snippety, belittling kind of way. I’d never seen her speak a word to any of them directly. But she’d done plenty of talking about them.
“Maybe it won’t change her,” I said. “But Emma loved her. And for her sake, I will too. Just because it’s right.”
Joe shook his head. “She jus’ goes ’round spittin’ vinegar all the time. Makes me wonder what the good Lord’ll say ’bout it, her supposin’ to be one a’ the church elders.”
“That’s none of our business,” Lizbeth told him. “Except to pray for her.”
Holding Harry’s hand, Joe moved ahead of us without acknowledging her words. And I understood how he must be feeling. Since Wilametta’s death, many people had come to respect Samuel and me for helping the Hammonds, but the kids and their father were pitied as often as not for needing that help. And Hazel, more than any other, had a way of making every word jab like a knife.
We came to the old truck, and Samuel lifted Berty down from his shoulders into the back end. Robert and Willy crowded into the seat, leaving barely enough room for a driver, and Samuel turned to help Lizbeth and the baby as the rest of us drew near.
“You want I drive?” young Sam asked him. “You were looking mighty sleepy.”
“I was asleep,” Samuel acknowledged. “And you might as well drive. If you’re not too tired.”
“Oh no. Not a bit.”
Samuel knew as well as I did that young Sam loved every chance he got to drive a motor car or truck. Sam could never understand why his father claimed he wouldn’t buy one even if he had the money. George preferred his team of horses, and some of the other boys were the same way, especially Kirk.
I helped Sarah and Rorey into the truck, but Harry scampered up on his own and jumped into the bed with a whoop and a thunk.
“Be quiet!” Lizbeth admonished him. “You’re gonna wake the baby.”
It was quite a squeeze, getting nine of the children plus Samuel and myself in the back of that truck. Lizbeth was holding Emma Grace, Berty climbed up on Samuel, and the two little girls snuggled as close to me as they could get. As young Sam started the motor, Joe was trying to get Harry to sit down, Kirk was scooting over by our picnic basket, trying to get off to himself, and Franky was sitting staring out over the town like the rest of us weren’t even there.
Samuel reached over and took the folded blanket from my arms, at the same time touching my hand warmly. “Nice stars,” he said, his dark eyes twinkling in the moonlight.
“Nice day. Thank you for it.” I leaned over and kissed him, just a peck really, but Sarah giggled and Harry stomped his feet.
“Quit,” Lizbeth warned him again. “You gotta be quiet and sit still.”
Going down Harper Street past the boarded-up grocery store made me think of all the other businesses that had closed. The year 1932 was not a good one for Dearing, that was for sure. Even the Farmer’s State Bank had locked its doors. I’d heard some people say that Oliver Porter and his family should have been passing out food baskets instead of planning festivities; it would have been more practical. The whole countryside just didn’t have enough of anything. Except children.
I fretted a bit because, like many others, we had no money left. We’d spent the last bit a couple of weeks ago for things like cornmeal and flour, and we already needed so many other things, or would soon. I knew George Hammond was in the very same shape, because we were sharing things back and forth just to get by. What would we do for shoes for all these children, before the school year returned? Every last one of them had outgrown what they’d been wearing. And most of their shoes were in awfully bad shape to be passing down.
Looking around at the children’s sleepy heads, I was especially glad for the Porters’ generosity, because the whole day had cost us nothing but the work Samuel did for Barrett Post in exchange for the use of his truck. Only once did Sarah ask us to buy her something at one of the sidewalk stands, and she wasn’t too disappointed when we told her no.
I could remember a long-ago Fourth of July when my own daddy took me to a celebration and bought so much from the street vendors that we could hardly carry it all home. I must have been only six or seven, but I could remember clearly my Grandma Pearl’s reaction. “Stuff is nice,” she’d said. “But too much will make you weak. What’re you gonna do when a trial comes?”
When Daddy’s trial came, he didn’t face it very well. He’d liked being able to travel with his sales job and then come back and lavish money on me. But when he lost the job, he didn’t come and talk it over with Grandma Pearl like he should have. He didn’t come back at all, and we spent three months wondering, till we found out he’d been killed in a train accident clear up in Maine. I never did know what he’d been thinking to go there.
I looked over at Samuel in the dim light. He had his head leaned back against the truck’s wooden side rail and his eyes closed again. No wonder he was tired. When Samuel lost his job early in 1930, instead of running the way my father had done, he had come out here to Illinois with us and had been working ever since to do all that needed doing—and now for the neighbors too. Emma would have been proud to see him helping George as if they were brothers. Sometimes it seemed like she’d left us the Hammonds as much as she’d left us her house, clearly intending us to treat them like family.
I wanted to snuggle in Samuel’s arms the way Sarah was snuggling up in mine. We’d never asked to have so many kids in our charge. But he never complained about it, not ever. I felt like giving him another kiss and telling him how much I appreciated his kindness. But not now with all the children looking on.
“Mr. Wortham?” Franky was suddenly asking in his faraway voice. “Why did God make so many people?”
“What?” Samuel asked, stirred from near sleep as the truck jostled us around a corner and out into the countryside.
“Why did God make so many people? Seems like just a few woulda been enough.” Franky had turned around, and I could see the earnestness of his face in the moonlight. “Like maybe he coulda made jus’ one town or somethin’,” he continued, “instead a’ hundreds an’ hundreds a’ towns. Plus there’s years an’ years afore we were ever born. That’s lots more people.”
“What do you know ’bout stuff like that?” Kirk scoffed.
“Nothin’ much. That’s why I’m askin’.”
“I don’t know much about it, either,” Samuel told them both. “But I suppose God’s got a purpose for everybody, hard as it may be to see.”
“Even folks that don’t follow him?”
“Even them.” Samuel sighed. “But he’s got good desires for everyone. It’s just that they won’t all listen, which is not his fault.”
“But there’s so many,” Franky said again. “I don’t unnerstand it. An’ it’s pretty brave, lettin’ ’em have their own way, don’t you think? You never know what could happen, right?”
“Franky . . .” Kirk shook his head impatiently. “Why don’t you shut up—you’re prob’ly keepin’ people awake.”
“He’s not botherin’ me,” Lizbeth said quietly. “Nor Emmie Grace.”
“He’s just doing a lot of thinking tonight, Kirk,” Samuel said. “No harm in that.”
“He’s bein’ odd. I guess he likes to be odd.”
“He can’t help it,” Joe added. “That’s what the schoolteacher said.”
“Better to be odd than lazy or disrespectful,” Samuel told them. “I’ve been accused of being odd a time or two myself.”
“Really?” Franky asked. “When?”
“Yeah, when?” Rorey echoed from beside me. Harry stood up again, and Joey pulled him down.
“Not so long ago. When we first came here. But even before that, when I was a boy.”
I leaned forward. It was so very seldom when Samuel said anything at all about his childhood. But he stopped before he got the story told. “None of that matters. The point is, people have opinions, and they express them often enough, but it doesn’t have to have any bearing on what you make of yourself.”
“Like Miss Hazel,” Joe pointed out. “I guess she figures we’re all a bunch a’ losers.”
“But we know better. And it doesn’t have to bother us.”
We turned at Hunter’s Corner, and I reached across Sarah’s back to find Samuel’s hand.
“Bessie had fun today,” Sarah said about her doll.
“Lacey too,” Rorey added, jumping her little doll up to whisper something to Sarah’s Bessie-doll.
“We should take ’em swimmin’ tomorrow,” Rorey said. “Is that all right, Mrs. Wortham?”
“Goodness, not in the pond, Rorey, if that’s what you’re meaning. You’d scare all the fish the boys are trying to catch. And besides, they’d get filthy.”
“Well, how ’bout in the washtub, then?”
I could picture that easily enough, having done it once myself as a girl. But oh, what a mess I’d made of my doll! Her yarn hair coming loose and her pretty dress all a shambles. Grandma Pearl had to fix her nice again for me. “Rorey, honey,” I told her with a shake of my head, “it’s not good for cloth dolls to be played with in water. You want to keep her looking nice.”
“We’ll just pretend they’re swimming,” Sarah decided. “That’s better than real anyhow, ’cause you can imagine the whole ocean and ride on whales and stuff.”
They whispered back and forth across my lap as Harry started fidgeting again. “We’re goin’ near thirty miles an hour,” Lizbeth told him with alarm. “You can’t be standing up in the back of a truck.”
Harry sat down and folded his arms in disgust. Sitting still was never easy for him. But Franky was staring out over the closest field again, quiet as the sky above us. What a difference between these brothers.
I looked at Samuel, wondering if he thought as much as I did about tomorrow. He used to be the one so troubled by our lack, but now I probably fretted more than he did. I knew I shouldn’t. God had been so good to lead us here, to give us a home and a dear friend in Emma Graham. And I’d been strong to believe that God would always provide. But last winter struck me down, shook me terribly, as it did all of us. Losing Emma and Wilametta Hammond at the same time was the worst thing I could ever have imagined. Except losing Samuel. And ever since then, trusting was a little harder.
What would we do from here on out with no money at all? Even with Emma’s beautiful farm, how could we manage? George was worried about the crops, we knew that, but there was nothing we could do about it. Our garden was bearing, but not like I’d hoped. There were no jobs for miles, if anywhere, in times like these. Seemed like everybody was looking. Samuel tried so hard to find anything at all. Barrett Post had worked him for a while, but not even the Posts were hiring help anymore. And we had so many mouths to feed. For months now, George and Samuel had been working together, sharing everything alike, from both farms. But it wasn’t enough. With winter coming up, what would we have? It didn’t look like there’d be enough of anything to store away for the cold weather that was sure to come.
I thought of Emma singing hymns on the way home from church so many times, whether she felt well or not. Whether she had a dime in her pocket or not. She was always being blessed by the littlest things.
I tried to be like her. I tried to be the saint people needed to have around in her stead. But I fell short. I knew I did. In so many ways.
“God will provide.” She’d told me that so many times. I used to say it myself, back when we’d had nothing to eat but what I could pick growing in the timber somewhere. What had happened to me? At least we had a roof over our heads. And more family than Samuel and I put together had ever had before—with the Hammonds, the Posts, and all the church folks. But still, the weight of uncertainty was heavy tonight. At least for me. I knew everything would be all right, and yet I didn’t know, all at the same time.
“I don’t guess the Lord wants us to have all the answers yet,” Franky said suddenly, and I jumped. It was like God speaking directly to me, though I knew the child was probably just talking about what he’d been asking before.
“If we knew ever’thin’ already, maybe we wouldn’t have nothin’ to talk to him about, nor look forward to,” he said.
And I marveled. At God and at Franky.
“As high as the heavens are above the earth,” Samuel quoted. “So are his thoughts above our thoughts and his ways above our ways.”
“Ain’t that somethin’?” Franky added. “I guess that means there’s a lot we can’t figger out.”
Why didn’t Franky’s teacher or his father or his brothers see what a marvel he was? All they seemed to notice was that the poor kid couldn’t read and kept to himself a lot. We knew his eyes were fine, so they took him for an oddity, or worse, an idiot.
“What’s that mean, ’bout his thoughts above our thoughts?” Rorey suddenly asked, lifting her head. She and Sarah were alike in that. They always heard, even if it didn’t look like they were listening.
“It means God knows better than we do,” Samuel explained.
“Oh.” Rorey turned her attention back to Sarah and the dolls. “I knew that already.”
The rest of us grew quiet, and my eyes rested on Franky. He liked to sit and think more than anybody I knew, adult or child. He was obviously bright, able to quote the preacher’s sermons or most anything else he heard. Young as he was, he’d loved it when I read Pilgrim’s Progress to him over the winter, and I knew he understood it better than many grown-ups because of the things he had to say. How could anyone consider him slow, though he still struggled and continued to fail at trying to decipher even the simplest written word?
“He doesn’t seem to be learning anything,” the schoolteacher had complained to me once. “Doesn’t even know an A from one day to the next. I just don’t know that there’s much hope for him.”
We’d tried him out at threading needles and sighting birds in the trees. He could see just fine. But he still couldn’t read his own name.
So maybe there was no hope for him in that one-room schoolhouse with kids of every grade level right there to watch and laugh as he tried so hard but continued to fail. Lizbeth and I were already planning to keep him at home when the next school term started and do the best we could with him ourselves. It had been the teacher’s suggestion. And Lizbeth, who wanted to be a teacher herself, was looking forward to it, though I wasn’t sure how she could concentrate on that and keep up with her own studies.
“Mommy, Bessie wants a lullaby.” Sarah looked hopefully at me in the moonlight, calling my thoughts back to the bumpy truck ride. “Please, please, Mommy, sing her the sleepy song.”
I squeezed Samuel’s hand. The sleepy song. I’d made it up a few months back when trying to soothe baby Emma Grace through a bad cold; I hadn’t wanted to leave it all on Lizbeth when she was studying for a recitation. George and Samuel had been planting then, putting in long hours, and I’d had most of the children, particularly the younger ones, with me almost every evening.
I took a deep breath, and Sarah brought her dolly closer to me. Sarah was the sleepy one, I knew that. Bessie only needed a lullaby when Sarah was feeling tired but too big to admit it. I patted my little girl’s hair. My little angel. She never seemed to mind how much attention I gave to the Hammond children. She’d understood it all along.
“Sing, Mommy,” she whispered.
I touched her hair again, and she and her dolly settled across my lap.
Sleep, baby, sleep, baby, close your little eyes.
Sleep, baby, sleep, baby, quiet those cries . . .
I sang the whole song, marveling at how it stuck in my memory and in Sarah’s fancy. It was nothing special, though Emmie Grace had liked it too.
Rorey snuggled closer against my leg. Both girls were very still. We turned the corner past the Muellers’, and I hoped the little ones would drift off to sleep in the short time we had before getting home. Berty and the baby were so quiet that I figured they were probably asleep already, and even Harry had finally leaned his head back against Joe’s chest. The older boys wouldn’t sleep. I knew that. But just to have some of the kids down already would make it easier when we got home. I still didn’t know how many we’d have over with us and how many would be going on home to George. But that really didn’t matter. Once they were all asleep, Samuel and I would be alone in the quiet.
Lord, here we are at the end of another day. Guide us, provide for us, tomorrow and all the days to come . . .
I leaned back against the bumpy truck rail until we were on the lane leading up to Emma’s old house. I always thought of Emma when we came home from anywhere. She used to say that just getting home was one of the finest blessings this world had to offer. And she was right. In so many ways, we were blessed.
I took a deep breath and thanked the Lord for a house to come home to. I was looking forward to a splash of cool water on my face, a breeze blowing through our window, and Samuel lying beside me.
Whiskers was barking as we came upon the house, and a car, small and dark, was parked to one side of the driveway, almost surely on Emma’s coneflowers. Somebody was there on our steps, sitting in the moonlight as still as a statue. I could feel myself tense up. Somebody was waiting for us, at so late an hour. Something was wrong.