For those of you who are reading Winter Wheat I am going to start posting Chapter 2. I tend to write long chapters so I am trying to break them up into readable blog entries. Hope I'm getting it right without sacrificing too much of the flow of the story.
Emilie has lost her brother, has become displaced and homeless, and now needs to decide if she wishes to travel to rural Manitoba to be housekeeper and caregiver to a widower and his two small children. Remember this is 1929 - rural Manitoba then was pretty rugged still... no running water, no electricity, no phone - not life as we know it at all. Her decision is....
read on -
Winter Wheat Chapter 2
Emilie accepted Martha Brown’s generous offer of room and board in exchange for a temporary position as housekeeper and child care helper because she had no other choice, but nothing could have prepared her for the love and support she received from Martha and her family from the moment she was welcomed into their home.
There were six Brown children in all. Walter and Micky whom she had first seen peering around the doorway, were four and five years old. The other four children; Susan, Brenda, Paul and Gabe ranged in ages from seven to fifteen. All were delightful children and as the days went by Emilie grew as close to Martha’s brood as she once had been to her own siblings.
Martha’s husband Pete seemed to take the appearance of a young German woman living in his home as if it were an everyday occurrence. His instant acceptance of her into his home was a great relief to Emily and she tried to show her appreciation for their generosity by helping Martha as much as was possible. In reality she merely shadowed Martha’s every move while trying to make up her mind about the more permanent position with Martha’s brother.
Her days spent with the Brown family were some of the happiest she had experienced since coming to Canada many months before, and under Martha’s watchful eyes Emilie once again became the happy woman she had been before tragedy had struck its ugly blow.
She spent hours playing with the youngest children and listening with avid interest to the ideas, hopes and dreams of the older children. They all loved her soft kind voice and she in turn loved their almost immediate acceptance of her ignorance in all ways Canadian. She learned games that the children in her new homeland played; games like baseball, football, and a strange game called hopscotch. In turn she told them of far away places like Germany and Austria. The children taught her nursery- rhymes and songs that they loved; she taught them to sing NowThank We All Our God, in German. Best of all they taught her that she could love others as if they were her own family; that love felt the same no matter who it was directed to, or why it was given; and to receive love was the best gift that life could give.
As she worked at Martha’s side she learned about the man she would be living with if she accepted the position that had been offered her. She learned that Martha’s brother Karl had not had a happy marriage. According to Martha, her brother’s wife had been a shrew of a woman seldom happy with her husband, her home, or her children. Their marriage had been troubled long before the death of his wife and Karl, bitter from his wife’s desertion, had imparted on more than one occasion to his sister that though he might need a woman’s help to raise his young children, never ever again would he be foolish enough to entertain the idea of marrying one.
Emilie’s tender heart wept for the two small motherless children even if she did not yet know them. It appalled her to think that their father would let his personal feelings toward women ruin any opportunity the children might ever have to know a mother’s love again; but she also felt sorry for the lonely man that Karl Wright most certainly had become.
Martha insisted that Emilie learn everything she would need to know to survive on an isolated prairie farm and so side by side they worked in Martha’s tiny kitchen, preserving the last of Martha’s garden harvest of fruits and vegetables into quart sealers and jars.
“Next summer and fall you will be busy making your own preserves from your own garden,” Martha promised cheerfully while Emilie struggled to remember all the steps involved to complete the process. She doubted she would be anywhere near as successful as Martha in these endeavors, but at least she now had the general idea how canning was done.
Their conversations centered on children, family and the growing certainty that the economy was declining at a rapid rate.
“These are hard times, Emilie. Men are out of work, families are hungry. You will be luckier than most because you will be living on a farm where you can grow your own food. You will have no trouble feeding Karl’s family, of that I’m certain!”
Emilie was nowhere near as certain as her friend, but she kept her convictions to herself.
Martha explained that Karl would be butchering his own beef and quite possibly a pig as well. Emilie would be expected to tend to the meat so it would last the winter.
“There is very little wasted from an animal once it is butchered, Emilie. You must render the fat off the meat and turn it into lard for cooking and baking, and any left over can be made into bar soap for washing dishes and laundry.”
Emilie had no idea how she would remember all that Martha taught, but she vowed to do so. Each evening before retiring to bed, she faithfully jotted down everything she had learned that day and then carefully tucked her notes safely in her Mother’s family bible, where she knew they would always be close at hand.
As the days wore on Emilie became more and more aware of the truth in Martha’s declaration of a failed economy. She did not have to look far to see families struggling for survival. Nowhere were hard times more obvious than right in Martha’s own home. The Brown children had clothing that was impeccably clean but almost every outfit was threadbare or covered with patches and mends. Their shoes were worn and faded. The very youngest child’s shoes had thin strips of rubber carefully nailed to the soles of his footwear to further extend the shoes’ usefulness way beyond what the manufacturer had intended. Emilie knew without asking that the same garments and shoes being worn by the littlest Brown had once been new to the oldest child.
On her daily walks through the neighboring communities, Emilie witnessed first hand the hopeless despair in some of the poorer areas of the city. She saw long line-ups of men of all descriptions at a place called the Wood Yard in the downtown area of the city. Everyday on her walk to the park with Martha’s youngest children she witnessed line after line of men, waiting to be seen by relief officers. They waited either to sign up for social relief because they had no work, or to collect food vouchers and monthly allowances on which to live. The lines grew daily and it was rumored that the economic conditions would get much worse before they got any better. Emilie did not need to be able to read the local newspapers to know that for many people, tragedy lingered just around the next corner.
Less than two weeks after Emilie moved into the Brown home, the NewYork stock exchange crashed on a day that would forevermore be remembered as Black Thursday. By the closing of the business day on October, 24, 1929, the New York Stock Exchange had lost four billion dollars; financially ruining millions of people and dragging the world into the largest depression in years.
Emilie suspected that her sojourn with the Brown’s was placing an additional strain on the family’s meager budget even though Martha tried to alleviate Emilie’s suspicions to the contrary time and time again. Pete was able to keep his job as a lineman on the railway, but it was not known for how much longer that would be the case. Unemployment was on the rise, and hard working men desiring only to make enough money to keep their families housed and fed despaired at each lost opportunity for employment.