The woman sat at her kitchen table, her head in her hands. The candle had burned down to almost nothing. Weighed down with exhaustion, Esther was too tired to sleep. She’d dragged herself out of bed at four in the morning to feed the scrawny chickens and cook up a pot of oatmeal for the kids. Almost out of oats again. She found herself worrying about where the money would come from to buy more.
She knew she was lucky to have a job, any job, these days. But trying to feed five kids on what she made at the diner was impossible. Thank goodness Hazel let her take the scraps home to the kids. They might go to bed hungry some nights, but at least they wouldn’t starve. She felt so ashamed that she couldn’t provide better for her children, but when Joe died, she lost everything. The house with their big garden, the car (old and battered as it was, it still got them around town…now they had to walk everywhere), the livestock, everything. And now she had to do whatever it took to raise these kids. And if that meant swallowing her pride, well then, that’s what she’d do.
Goodness knows, she’d experienced hunger and poverty when she was a kid. She just never thought her kids would have to experience it too. She and Joe had worked hard, scrimped and saved their money, and bought that piece of property out west of town. They built it up, adding a cow or a couple of pigs one year, working on the house the next. They were happy out there. And Joe, he sure did love his kids. She’d never seen a man behave the way her Joe did with their babies, patient and tender, always willing to show them how to do things, yet stern when he needed to be.
The day little Joey came running up to the house from the field he and his daddy were working in, to tell her that the tractor rolled over on Daddy…oh my…there’s just no way to talk about how awful that day was. And when they buried Joe, well, had it not been for those five babies of his, Esther would have just crawled right in that grave with him. But she couldn’t do it, couldn’t give up. She knew Joe was counting on her to raise their brood. But she didn’t think he had any idea how hard it would be for a woman with no schoolin’ to be able to come up with the money to pay the taxes on the land. Letting that place go was just one more slap in the face for Esther, one more way she had failed Joe and their kids.