Dolores Ryan caught her breath in between stitches as she hemmed the little dress in her lap. Pain forced tears to her eyes. Her cramps were becoming more consistent, and it worried her. It was too early.
She pinned the needle to the dress and set it in the basket. Dol leaned back in her sewing rocker for a much-needed breather. Dol rubbed her swollen belly which seemed to get larger by the day. She enjoyed her afternoon quiet time while the girls slept. It gave her time to mend, and time to think and reflect. She checked the clock and looked out the front window. Benny would be home from work soon.
Dear, sweet Benny. How she loved her man. He was her rock. He took good care of her and allowed her to work her business out of their home. She was grateful for her husband, and she loved the beautiful country home he provided for her and her family. Settled off the roads and nestled in the trees, it gave a sense of seclusion and security although they were only a few miles from town.
Another cramp caught her off guard, making her dizzy and lightheaded. Her thoughts went to her own mother who met an early death with her eighth child.
Mama worked so hard and did so much for us. I did as much as I could to help with the little ones. But I couldn’t be there when she really needed me. Dol put her head in her hands and let the tears flow. Don’t know why I’m so emotional these days.
Four-year-old Lizzie cupped her chubby hands under her mother’s chin and lifted it toward hers. “What’s the matter, Mama? Why are you crying?”
Dol wiped her face with her apron and smiled at her daughter. “Oh, it’s nothing, Lizzie. Mama’s just thinking about some things. What are you doing out of bed already?”
Lizzie put her hands on her hips and pursed her lips. “Well, I’m hungry,” she stated as a matter of fact. “Besides, baby Molly is fussin’. She woke me up.”
“Well, it’s time to get up anyway. I suppose the baby is hungry too.”
Dol struggled to rise from her rocker, holding her back as she got up. This one is sure sitting differently. She rubbed at the bulge of her belly as she picked up her sewing basket.
Your Papa will be home soon, Missy. I better get supper ready.”
“Can I help?”
“Of course you can.” Dol smiled at the youngster. “Go fetch me four potatoes from the bin.”
“Okay, Mama,” Lizzie grinned and ran off toward the root cellar.
Baby Molly squealed with delight as she saw her mother enter the room. She clapped her little hands and held them up, searching her mother’s eyes with her own.
“Aren’t you the happy one?” Dol picked her up and gave her a squeeze. “And I’m sure you’ll be even happier when I change you.”
Dol changed the baby’s diaper and then lifted the child from the crib. She felt a sharp twinge in her lower abdomen, forcing her to stop short. It’s nothing, she told herself. She carried Molly to the kitchen and set her in her highchair and then began to prepare supper.
“Here you go, Mama.” Lizzie dropped the potatoes from her dress held to make a basket. “What next?”
Dol laughed. “So eager to please, you are, my little Miss. Go grab some carrots.”
So much energy. She rubbed her belly as the baby gave another hard kick. And I am so blessed. Another child, another life given from above. Make this one healthy, Lord.
This pregnancy was harder. The first trimester was filled with constant nausea and not just morning sickness. She always felt queasy. The first two pregnancies had gone smoothly, but this child was different. Maybe he was the boy her husband wanted the first two times. He said they would keep trying until he got one. It made Dol smile.
Ma bore seven babies…and died with the eighth. I wonder if she had problems with her babies? Never said anything, but I guess that isn’t something a mother would tell a twelve-year-old. Gracie, the baby of our family, would be a teenager by now. Wonder if she and Josie are still together? Would I even recognize them? Dol shook her head. Her mind trailed to the past once more.
She thought of that freezing night ten years before when she and her siblings sat on the crooked, wooden fence waiting for their Pa to come home. It had been a cold, miserable night with rain, wind, and then sleet.
Dolores Louise Larue was second born in the Larue family of seven, named after her great-grandmother. She had a mother’s heart for her younger siblings – Frankie, Mikie, the twins: Josie and Jesse, and Gracie – all one to two years apart in age. Her mother depended on her to help with the children, especially after the twins were born, although she was only eight years old at the time.
She thought of poor Gracie, so tiny and frail at four years of age, being hung by her coat to the post because she couldn’t balance enough to sit on top. Dolly finally had to make the choice to rescue her little sister and defy Pa’s orders to stay on the fence, but she didn’t care. Gracie’s cries in the cold icy rain had become too much to bear. Dolly had to do something and was willing to bear the consequences. Gracie may have frozen some fingers or worse had Dolly not helped her down and warmed her up. She was glad big brother Guy made the hard decision to escape to the barn for the night. It was a good thing they did. Their father never did come back that night, and they were left to figure out what to do.
Ma taught her how to cook and help the children learn to read and write. After Ma died, the whole weight of cooking, cleaning, and caring for the children fell on her shoulders.
I tried hard too, Dol mused as she peeled potatoes. Pa made it really hard to feed a big family when he drank all the grocery money away. Dol felt the blood rise in her face as the scene made her angry all over again. He was always drinking the money away and then beating on Mama or Guy. I’m almost glad Mama died, she confessed to herself and then was shocked at her awful thought. At least she got away.
Dol dug a pot out of the cupboard and filled it with water for the potatoes. Molly banged the highchair tray with her hands and squealed.
“Yes, little one. You are next. I won’t forget to feed you.” Dol dropped a few crackers on the tray to keep the child satisfied for a few minutes while she prepared the baby’s food.
“Here’s the carrots. What else can I do Mama?”
“You’re a love, Lizzie. You’ve helped Mama a lot, and I love you so much.” She kissed Lizzie’s forehead. “Now go greet your Papa. I hear him coming up the drive.” She is the same age as Gracie when we all parted ways.
Dol’s heart had been broken the morning they separated, but she drove away the tears; she couldn’t let her baby sisters see her crying. No. She had to be strong for them.
The older boys would be okay. They could take care of themselves. Frankie was told to go to Farmer Wheeler’s to see if he could pawn his muscles for some room and board. Guy planned to take the two younger boys to the Johnsons. He hoped they would find a place in their family for Mikie and Jesse. She trusted it all worked out… but guessed she would never know.
Guy told Dolly to take the girls to the preacher’s and tell him their story. She was to ask if he would help them find a place to live. Dol had hoped it would be easy. She wanted to find the girls a wonderful family to live with.
She wanted the same for her brothers. She had lost touch with every one of them, and the sadness overwhelmed her.