By R L Saunders
She supposed there was no use fretting herself about it. Times were difficult and Papa had more than enough to worry about since Mama died. She only hoped Effie and Helen could take care of little Ryan when she moved to the Langdon’s. She would certainly have her hands full with the Langdon children and wouldn’t be able to do much for Ryan, though she would write to him when she had the time.
She looked around her bedroom, trying to decide what she could take with her and what she would leave. The dresses and the work bonnet would have to go with her, but Effie could have her Sunday bonnet. She would miss it – it was the only really nice thing she owned. Mama had promised to make her a pretty dress to go with it and they had even picked out the pattern and material. Then Mama got sicker and sicker, and Liza had her hands full trying to keep the household together. When Mama finally died that winter, there was only time for a brief pause in everyone’s life.
She would leave the Reader and ask Helen to read to Ryan every night, since he loved the stories, or perhaps just the attention. Mama’s death had been hardest on him, she thought. He was so young it was hard not to think of him as a baby, despite his independent streak. Sometimes he would be retelling some past adventure and reach the point where Mama figured in. His voice would trail off awkwardly, leaving an uncomfortable silence. None of them had really come to terms with Mama’s death, but Liza felt a particular pang at Ryan’s little-boy-lost look.
Well, there was no help for it. He’d just have to get by the best he could, like all of them. She would take one book of poems to read to the Langdon children. They might enjoy it, and she liked reading it. It called up memories of Mama reading to them in the evenings, gathered around her in the parlor. Mama always made the poems come alive so, as though she found them an escape from the drudgery of work and illness. By the time she was six, Liza had committed dozens of poems to memory and could still hold Ryan spellbound with them.
She let her eyes roam over the room – the double bed she shared with Effie, the little wardrobe that held all her clothes, the basin and pitcher for washing, the chamberpot for nights when it was too cold to run outside. How nice it would be, she thought, to have lots of dresses, to go to parties, to have one of those new-fangled gadgets to wring the water out of the wash, to have a pump inside the house. Why not wish for someone to help with the housework too, she asked herself, as long as you’re wishing.
Well, wishes wouldn’t get the baking done and the dough should have risen by now. She wanted to get the week’s baking done early so she could make a pie to go with supper. Papa always loved pie and had given her a dozen Roman Beauty apples with the terse suggestion that the children might like a pie. It was so typical of him to claim everything he did was for the children’s sake. It was always “The children might enjoy a picnic down by the river,” whenever he wanted to go fishing. Or “Your mother wants to visit with the ladies,” whenever he wanted to swap Civil War stories with Henry McCardle and Ezra Hanks over big, black cigars. Tonight she would cut him the biggest piece of pie and set it in front of him and say, “The children couldn’t eat it all.” He would get her meaning and appreciate it, though he would never let on.
She wished they still had a dairy cow so she could have made ice cream to go with the pie. Perhaps if Papa got work on the bridge they were building up near Columbus, he would buy a cow again, though he’d have to teach one of the others to milk it.
Enough daydreaming, she told herself. It was time to get back to work, and work enough to be done. She had to finish planting the garden before next Sunday, since she was going to Langdon’s on Monday. She realized with mild surprise it would be her birthday. She would be thirteen, almost a woman.