Meredith entered the farmhouse after her mother and knew she was about to be even more disappointed. She had directed her to start water boiling and peel the potatoes while she was at her quilting bee. In caring for the children, it had completely slipped Meredith’s mind. Now dinner was going to be delayed. Meredith wished she could figure out how to not mess up.
As they sat down to a late supper of griddlecakes (the potatoes had been abandoned in favor of a quick meal), Ma cleared her throat but didn’t look at any of them in the eye as she made an announcement. “I’ve received a letter from my cousin Lucy in St. Louis.” Ma fidgeted with her napkin and then finally set it determinedly in her lap. “She has written to let me know that she’s willing to take on a few of you children.” Meredith’s mouth dropped open. “She and her husband are good people. But they were never able to have children of their own.” Ma glanced at Meredith’s face and said defensively, “We grew up together. It’s been years since we’ve seen each other, but I trust her to do a good job of raising you younguns.”
Meredith couldn’t believe her ears. She knew this is what happened sometimes when a parent died, but her mother had been working so hard to provide for them and to keep them together. Meredith stood up abruptly, scraping the bench she shared with Henry and Fanny along the floor. “You just can’t decide to send some of us off like we were the hired help. How do you choose who goes? Which ones of us are you farming out forever?” Meredith had forced her voice to be calm at the beginning of her speech, but by the time she got to the end, she was yelling at her mother. Father never would have allowed her to speak to Ma this way. Of course he never would have allowed the family to be split up either.
“It’s not forever Meredith,” Ma replied icily, shutting down any hint of backtalk from Meredith. She knew well enough to let her mother be once she had used this tone of voice.
“Who’s going, Ma?”
“I thought Fanny and maybe one of the twins.”
Meredith’s heart tore along the seams she thought she had stitched back together when her father died. Fanny was only six, but she was a friend as well as her sister. And you couldn’t break up the twins. It would be like Solomon promising to cut that baby in half. A mother wouldn’t do that to the boys. Why, they were so young, they would either forget each other or have a permanent ache where they had been detached from each other’s lives. Meredith understood that the two boys together were more than just one plus one. It was like trouble multiplied when they were in full force.
“Ma, don’t do this. I promise I’ll be more help. Please don’t do this.”
Fanny was crying and Henry sat stone-faced. The twins were starting to throw bits of their griddlecakes at each other.
Ma stood up. “You don’t think this is difficult for me? I’ve tried everything I can to provide for us, but I just can’t. It kills me to do this. But, I would do anything for my children and this is the best choice. Do you think I like that the best choice is to send my children to someone else? Do you think, Meredith, that you are the only one with a heart around here?”
Ma began crying and then left the table, stumbling over the chair she overturned in her rush to be alone.
Meredith looked around at the shambles of the family around her. Henry and Fanny looked to her like she knew how to fix things. There had to be something she could do. She loved this family. It was her father’s final words. Love had to be enough.