The next part of my story is actually based on an event that actually happend in the community where my mother grew up. I used her account of this event, as told to me several times growing up, and I expanded it to fit my story. Even so, just imagining what it would be like to experience such a thing, breaks my heart. So here is the beginning of Chapter 7, and the introduction of the Bell family into my story...
The next day Frederich returned with the precious treadle sewing machine, as promised. He had just carried it into the house and was returning to the barn to do the evening chores, when Emilie saw a team of horses pulling a large sleigh full of people, enter Karl’s snow-filled yard. The horse and sleigh stopped beside the barn where Fredrick stood waiting then the driver jumped down from the sleigh box and approached Frederich. The other occupants of the sleigh remained seated where they were and although Emilie could not tell how many, she could see that they were small, perhaps young children.
She watched as the two men conversed for a few minutes and then Frederich walked over to the sleigh and started lifting the people from the sleigh. They were children - four of them, and from a distance they all looked very young. The two men conversed briefly again, and then proceeded slowly to the house with the children walking tiredly at their side. The closer the group got to the house, the faster Emilie’s heart beat. Something was very wrong. The group from the sleigh walked slowly, almost as if to do so was a great chore. Frederich, who just a short time ago had been full of smiles, seemed subdued.
Emilie had the door flung open before they could knock and the minute she saw the expressions on their faces, she knew that her intuition had been right. The children’s faces were blackened with soot and wet with tears. One child sobbed uncontrollably while the others tried valiantly to submerge their emotions. The man who had been conversing with Frederich was covered in black soot as well but his face held no evidence of tears, instead he regarded Emilie with eyes that were devoid of any expression at all.
Emilie’s frantic gaze swept Frederich’s.
“Emilie, these folks are our neighbors from four miles north of here,” Frederich began in a somber tone. “This is Charles Bell,” he introduced Emilie to the adult in the group, “and these are some of his children. Charles has just lost his home and one member of his family to a chimney fire, and he was wondering if you could help him out by taking in a couple of his children.”
Emilie stepped back from the door and wordlessly beckoned the group into Karl’s home. Words failed her as she witnessed the devastated faces of the man and his small children; she dropped to her knees and scooped the child who was sobbing uncontrollably into her arms.
“Shhhh, dear one,” she crooned around the lump that had formed in her own throat, “Shhh, Lieber, Shhh . . .” She stood with the child still in her arms. “You are all welcome to stay for however long you need,” she said, without stopping to consider that she was offering Karl’s home to complete strangers.
“Charles has just come from our place where he left his other three children. Charles’ wife… she didn’t make it, Emilie,” Frederich’s voice softened as he imparted this last piece of news.
Emilie touched the man’s sleeve while still rocking the young child in her arms. “I am so sorry Charles. Please take your things off and come in, and I’ll make some dinner and we can get the children settled in for the night.”
Charles nodded his head in agreement, but his vacant look told Emilie that it would be mostly her efforts that would see to the needs of his family.
She lowered the child to the floor, and then beckoned the children one by one to come to her, so she could help them out of their winter things. The boy she had held just moments ago was Warren, he was only four years old. Behind him stood another boy, Richard, who was five years old - the same age as Raymond. Another boy, Joseph, was seven, and then a pretty little girl, ten years of age, whose name was Sue.
All the children had the identical stricken looks on their faces and none of them responded to Emilie’s attention with any real favor. Slowly she assisted each child out of their smoky clothing and ushered them over to the washbasin in the sink. One by one she helped them wipe the soot and dirt off of their faces and hands, all the while wishing that she could as easily wipe the horrible images that they must be remembering, from their minds.
Raymond and Anne-Marie, who had been standing quietly off to the side for the entire time since the family’s arrival, now came forward to greet the other children. Raymond knew the names of the children, so obviously they had been in contact with one another before, but Anne-Marie wanted only to stay close to Emilie. As much as it hurt her to turn away from the young child, Emilie did just that, knowing that this devastated family needed her much more at this moment than did Karl’s children.
As if he knew that Emilie needed his full co-operation, Raymond took his sister’s hand and led her to the kitchen; he struggled to lift Anne-Marie up into her high chair so that she was out of the way and then proceeded to set the large kitchen table with enough dishes and utensils to feed the whole family.
“Danke, Raymond,” Emilie acknowledged his actions with a smile and a loving pat on the head. “You are such a help to me,” she praised him lovingly.
She threw together a meal in such a short time, that she surprised even herself. When she called everyone to the table it was to a meal of fried pork, potatoes, heated canned vegetables homemade bread and butter, with cake and raspberry preserves for dessert. She had no trouble filling each child’s tall glass with fresh whole milk and she encouraged the family to eat up quickly and heartily.
The silent family ate hungrily and as they finished off their supper, Emilie went to the bedroom upstairs to prepare beds for the children. She would put one of the smaller children in Karl’s bed with Raymond and Anne-Marie, the two older children could sleep in Raymond and Anne-Marie’s beds upstairs; the father and the other child could use her bed upstairs. There would just be enough room for everyone, at least until Karl returned. What they would do when Karl returned was anyone’s guess, but right now that was not a concern of Emilie’s. She just wanted to fill their bellies with food, their hearts with love and get them settled comfortably for the night. Hopefully the rest would take care of itself with time.
When she had fixed all the beds with fresh linens and piled them high with quilts and blankets she set to the task of finding clean clothing for the four children and their father. For Charles, she rummaged through Karl’s dresser drawers and found a set of underwear, a checkered flannel shirt and a pair of trousers. Karl’s clothing would be too large for Charles, but they would have to do until Charles could get some new clothes of his own. She did not feel guilty for invading Karl’s private belongings; she merely did what she had to do in order to help the poor unfortunate family who had landed on her doorstep this night.
Richard and Warren would be able to wear some of Raymond’s clothes, and for the seven-year-old Joseph and ten year old Sue, she borrowed two of Karl’s cotton t-shirts that could be worn as nightshirts, until their own clothes could be laundered.