The barely-pink of a new day began to light the sky through the curtain-less window at the end of the bed. Her old bones creaked louder than the bed as she slowly rolled out onto her knees.
“Please, God, bless them,” was all she said out loud though her thoughts swirled around each face that now lay sleeping on the other sides of the walls. Stiffly, she dressed as her muscles remembered movementsfrom a few short hours ago. Her cotton dress and apron where very thin between the patches and she could feel the floor through her shoes. She had just swooped the last flying hair into her bun before she heard the first bare footstepshurrying down the hall to the bathroom.
‘Must be Eric, bladder the size of a flea,’ she thought with a smile as she creaked open the door and stepped out into the hall. A glance to her left affirmed her suspicion and she closed the bathroom door on her way by. Little boys had no time for closing doors.
“Mornin‘ Sam,” she greeted the wispy boy already sitting at the long table in the kitchen. “What’s two and two?”
Bright eyes beamed as he puffed out his chest and answered, “Four, Ma’am!”
She chuckled as she ruffled his hair. “Good. Please go and get that many loaves of bread out of the pantry.” Sam jumped off the bench and ducked into the pantry, narrowly missing a collision with a troupe of 3 girls coming around the corner. “Good morning, Ma’am!” they chorused with a triple curtsy.
“Good morning, Lizzie, Alma and Beth. Please go out and gather the eggs.” They gave each other theirbest ‘that’s what I hoped she’d say’ winks and skipped synchronously out the kitchen door. She turned and nearly trod on Sam who was already carefully lining up crisp brown bread loaves onto the cutting board. She folded her arms across her ample frame and fixed him sternly in her sights.
“Count the loaves, Samuel.”
“One – two – three – four … and a half!” he grinned with three teeth missing, pointing at the fifth loaf. “We always just want a little bit more,” he said, trying to melt her will with his wide, pleading eyes.
“I know, I know,” she said softly as she removed the fifth loaf and placed it back into the pantry.
“Mine!” “Nuh-uh, ‘s mine!” “I ain’t givin‘ it back!” Two quarreling voices stopped short at the look on her face. Hands on hips, she did not release their gaze until Tilly said, “Sorry, Ma’am” and Thomas echoed reluctantly. She held out her hand and a chipped marble was placed there solemnly.
“I’ll keep this safe until we can remember how to share, shall I?” Two downturned heads nodded and sluffed their way to the table.
By now, the fire in the stove had been resurrected and a tall, stringyhaired girl named Marie was stirring the eggs into a frothy, steamy mound. Her twin sister, Anne was carefully slicing the bread into thin, but not too thin, slices. The giggling egg-gathering trio were dancing around the table placing plates, forks and cups right next to each other all around the long dining table.
A matched set of four tow-headed boys then tramped in from outside and lined up to use the wash basin. The tallest finishedhis face and as he passed on the towel, he said, “Goats mucked and fed.” The next tallest repeated the routine saying, “Chickens fed and watered.” Next in line said, “Garden watered.” And the last shiny face said, “Porch swept.”
“Thank’ee, boys,” she said with a grin as she ruffled the hair of William, Seth, Billy and Willy. As more sleepy heads joined the crew and they all squeezed in around the table, they clasped their hands for prayer. She thought to herself, as she did every morning, “The littlest things really are the big things in the end.”
As they bowed their heads, a young woman stood on the front porch under the hand painted sign that read ‘Orphanage’ with a wriggling bundle in her arms. The children all looked up in surprise when they heard the bell ring. But not Sadie Eloise Wickersham. She just smiled. For she had so many children, she knew exactly what to do.