Dee was headed home from another day at school. She hated the sixth grade.
The kids teased her about her clothes and how she smelled bad.
She knew she smelled bad. Her thoughts drifted off with the snow.
Her legs burned from the cold, her feet felt as heavy as her heart.
She kicked the snow off of her old shoes, slipping and falling on the cracked linoleum floor.
The little dark house was frigid. The sound of her mother’s labored breathing was
all that could be heard. Tiptoeing around the corner and into the back room always
brought more dread. She could see Lydia’s breath in the cold air.
“Mom..did the doctor come by today?” No response…just raspy, gutteral sounds.
Dee put another heavy old quilt over her mom and trudged outside to look for
something to burn in the stove. She had already torn one side of the outhouse down.
“Deeeee Deeeee!” She turned to see her sister and brother stomping up the path
toward her. She always felt better when they made it home. Patty’s tiny hands were crimson from the cold, her lips quivered while her teeth rattled against one another. Glen, a rowdy kid with a grin as large as his face, was following close behind. “Get in the house…stay with mom. I’ll bring some wood in”. Patty and Glen hurried into the grey, unpainted house.
It took another 15 minutes to get a fire going in the old stove. It was all the heat they
had that winter. Lydia’s husband had left her, so she came with the kids to
North Dakota. It was a little closer to family. She was a proud, hard-working
woman. Born in Romania, her parents came to the states when she was very young.
The chest cold hit her a few weeks back…couldn’t work anymore. Glen said “mommy has numponia”.
Dee told the kids to put their little bodies next to the stove. She gave them long
socks to cover their hands and feet…and a blanket to share. They were hungry.
Opening the creaking cupboard doors, hoping that a miracle had happened, she
saw only five large potatoes. That was what was left from the garden harvest last fall.
She grabbed the lard can and plopped a cast iron skillet on the top of the old stove…in what was the living room. She had tried to convince her mom to sleep out here, where it was warmer, but Lydia wouldn’t have it. She didn’t want them to see her sick every minute they were home. Later, after a dinner of fried potatoes, Dee would wash clothes in the makeshift "bathtub"…then string em up in the livingroom. Patty and Glen would hold onto one end, then Dee would twist until the water stopped dripping off the clothes. They never really got clean and they took days to dry.
Little DeLores cared for her mom and siblings that winter. It would take her years to learn to care for herself, and she knew that depending on a man for sustenance was a useless endeavor.