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Having never been to Iowa, the song made me think of the prairies – rolling low hills and vast expanses of emptiness, and farms, of course, because isolated homesteads are the kind with candles flickering in the window, a light you can see for miles.
She looked in at the flickering candle-light with a kind of longing.
Daddy figured she was probably attracted by the food-smells. He took to carrying the old shotgun when he went out to the barn in the early morning hours.
Momma stood vigil at the kitchen window, watching her through the chintz curtains. She had this look in her eye, predatory and ferocious. Daddy treated Momma like she had to be protected, but I knew better. Grizzly bears don’t need protecting.
She never came past the fence-line, like she knew she wasn’t welcome. To me, she seemed worn down by the weight of the world, weary and too-thin. In a distant way, I knew that a drought-filled dust-bowl summer and an early, bitterly cold winter were to blame. With her sad golden eyes tugging on my heart-strings, I tied it all back to the things Momma and Daddy talked about late at night, whispered conversations about money, bad crops and our best milker running dry. Me and Momma had done the canning in half the time this fall – and that wasn’t a good thing. Times were hard, for us and for her.
An old stew-bone here, a carefully hoarded egg there, I did what I could. She didn’t exactly fill out, but I could see a new spark in her eye.
Will to live, Daddy called it.
Orneriness, Momma said. I didn’t tell her that that’s exactly what Daddy said Momma had sometimes.
I just smiled and made sure she got that last biscuit, and a bit of cold stew. Something to keep the spark alive.
Desperate and starving, men came from the woods when Daddy was two days gone on a trip to town. We didn’t have much, but it was more than they had.
Momma’s eyes glinted grizzly-bear fierce as she loaded the shotgun, smooth and confident as Anny Oakley. I hid in the cupboard. You didn’t back-talk Momma when she had that look in her eye.
She said desperation makes a devil of a foolish man, but her Daddy taught her to shoot. Men never expect women to put up a fight, and that’s their mistake.
I guess they didn’t expect the wolf, neither. Between the crack of buckshot and the hair-raising growls and evilly glowing eyes in the darkness, we ran them off.
Daddy came home, wagon rattling with the few things he’d been able to barter for, hopefully enough to get us through the winter. He was pretty rattled to hear about the incident, snarling about yellow bellied curs, eyes glinting with rage.
I made a nest of blankets for her on the deck, but she wouldn’t stray close.
Daddy said she was a wild animal, and while she liked us, she liked her freedom more.
It was a hungry winter, but she never lost that spark, we made sure of it. She left with the spring, off over the low hills.
Momma just rolled her eyes when she saw that she took a chicken.