Roses for Mama

By: Janette Oke

Chapter One


Angela Peterson wiped her hands on her dark blue apron, then reached up and tucked a wisp of blond hair into a side comb. It was a warm day, and the tub of hot water over which she had been leaning did not make it any cooler. She stretched to take some of the kink from her back and lifted her eyes to the back field where Thomas’s breaking plow stitched a furrowed pattern. He would soon be in for his dinner.

Angela bent over the tub again and scrubbed the soiled socks with renewed vigor. She wanted to finish before stopping to put dinner on the table, and this was her last load.

“I hate washing socks,” she fretted, then quickly bit her tongue as she recalled a soft voice: “Remember, never despise a task—any task. In doing any job, you are either creating something or bettering something.”

Mama had always said things like that. Usually Angela grasped the truth of her words quickly, but sometimes her statements made Angela stiffen with a bit of rebellion. After giving the words some thought, though, she always came to understand their plain, common sense. As each year slipped by, Angela went back to the words of her mother more and more. Mama had not just spoken her thoughts to her children; she had lived the lessons before them. And Mama had been a living example of all the things that make a lady.

As usual, thoughts of Mama were followed quickly by thoughts of Papa, and Angela felt her eyes lifting up and up, as though Papa were suddenly standing before her. He was of Scandinavian stock. He was so tall—her papa. So tall and strong, with broad shoulders, sturdy forearms, and a straight, almost stiff back. His eyes were blue, like deep, icy water. “Like the fjords,” Mama would say, then smile softly, and her children knew she considered the fjords something very special even though she had never seen them herself.

Angela smiled at the thought, then turned her attention back to the dirty sock on the washboard. The wind had strengthened and she had to stop again and brush silky strands of hair from her face. From across the valley came the sound of a ringing bell. The school children were being called in to resume their morning classes. And Angela resumed her scrubbing on the sock before her, wrung it out, and tossed it in the rinse tub. She swished a slender hand through the soapy water to locate the next one and sighed with relief when her hand came up empty.

Her back ached as she straightened, but she had no time to dwell on the discomfort. Another task called for her attention. Thomas would have heard the ringing school bell too—his signal to come in for dinner.

Hurriedly, Angela rinsed the footwear and pegged it to the line.

I’ll leave the emptying until after we eat, she told herself as she hastened to the kitchen.

The house the Peterson family inhabited was not large, but neither was it crowded, even though five people lived there. On a bluff overlooking the valley, it was protected on three sides by poplar trees. From the front, the wide veranda looked out over open countryside way over to the slim spire of the town church, the only thing belonging to the town that they could see from their yard. Angela pictured the rest. The wide main street with narrower streets leading off to this side and that; the board sidewalks; the hardware store filled with hammers, shovels, and yard goods; the drugstore with its window display of hard candies; the grocery with barrels and bins of kitchen stock; the meat market with its sawdust-covered floor. Angela had never liked trips to the meat market. She didn’t like the smell of meat until it was simmering in the big frying pan or sizzling in the roaster in the oven.

Angela had just enough time to put the left-over stew on to heat and set the table before she heard steps across the side porch. She turned to the loaf of bread she had placed on the cutting board and placed thick slices on a plate. Thomas was washing up at the blue basin and wiping dry on the wash-worn towel suspended from the roller.

Angela put the bread on the table and hurried back to the stove. The coffee still hadn’t boiled and the stew was not yet bubbling.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured softly over her shoulder, “I’m a bit slow. The washing seemed to take me longer today.”

“I saw,” Thomas responded. “The line’s full. You need more clothesline?”

Angela shook her head and looked at Thomas, who had taken his place at the table. His face was shining with a just-washed look, but his hair was still tousled from the morning breezes.

“I don’t think so—it just seemed that most everything was dirty this week. Don’t know when Louise had so many dresses in the wash, and Derek had extra overalls, what with his mishap with the puddle and all. Then there was extra bedding with Sara having Bertha sleep over—and, well, it all just added up I guess.”

Thomas nodded and leaned a muscled arm on the table.

Angela stirred the stew again and looked at Thomas. “You want it now—or hot.”

“Hot,” he answered without hesitation. “The horses need time to feed anyway. And I don’t mind sitting a spell myself.”

Angela left her spot by the stove and went to take the chair opposite Thomas.

“How’s it going?” she asked simply.

“Looks good. Lots of spring moisture. Low places a bit wet yet.”

“You going to try some of your new seed?”

Angela had never understood Thomas’s love for experimenting with the crops, but she allowed him his pleasure. And she was interested in anything he was doing. Thomas was a very special person in her life—though she had never thought to tell him so.

Thomas nodded, a new sparkle coming to his eyes. “I don’t have much, but I plan to plant a bit right out there beside the garden plot.”

“Is it warm enough to plant the garden yet?” asked Angela.

“I’ll get it ready for you—but I’d give it a few more days. I don’t like the feel of the wind today. It could blow in another storm.”

Angela could smell the stew and quickly rose to check. A look into the pot showed her that it was bubbling. She stirred it again on the way to the serving bowl she had placed on the table. She could hear the coffee boiling, too, but it was Thomas who moved to lift the pot from the hot stove. Without comment he filled their cups and returned the pot to the back of the stove.

“Mrs. Owens was planting her garden yesterday when I went in to town,” Angela commented as she placed the empty stew pot on the cupboard and took her chair at the table.

“Mrs. Owens plants a couple times each spring,” replied Thomas, lowering himself to his chair. “She always gets caught by frost. ‘No patience,’ Papa used to say.”

Angela smiled. It was true.

Thomas led them in the table grace.

“I’ll be patient,” Angela said as she lifted her head.

Thomas passed her the stew and waited while she spooned some onto her plate. Angela knew that Thomas was ravenous after a morning in the field, but he would not serve himself before she was served any more than Papa would have cared for himself before looking after Mama.

“When Derek gets home from school have him check that south fence,” Thomas said. “I don’t want to take any chances on the cows visiting the neighbors. Grass is still in pretty short supply and grazing might look better to them on the other side of the wire.”

Angela nodded.

They talked of common things. Farm life. Neighbors. Needs. They sipped their second cup of coffee, enjoying the flavor and the chance for a rest. Then Thomas lifted his eyes to the wall clock and hoisted himself from his chair.

Angela knew he had given the horses their allotted time to feed and rest and he was ready to resume plowing. She stirred in her chair. She had dishes to do, the wash water to empty, and clothes to iron as soon as the spring breeze had dried the garments hanging on the line. Before she knew it another day would be gone and it would be time for the children to come home from school. They would arrive in a flurry of excitement over the day’s events and be looking for a glass of cold milk and a cookie or two and a listening ear as they recounted the day’s events.

She watched Thomas lift his cap from the corner peg and leave the kitchen with long strides. “Don’t forget about the fence,” he called back over his shoulder.

Angela cleared the table and stacked the dishes in the dishpan. She would take care of the wash water first. But when she went out into the yard she found that Thomas had already emptied the tubs. They were hanging in their proper places on the side of the back porch and the washstand was folded and put against the house. He is very thoughtful, Angela mused as she turned back toward the kitchen. The tubs were heavy, especially when they were full, and she was thankful the job had already been done.

As she walked toward the kitchen she felt the clothes on the line and removed a few pieces dry enough for ironing. She would get started on that task after doing the dishes.

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