Sunlight flickered over the hardwood floor in the living room, and bare feet dangled off couches, too short to reach the floor, even when we were nearly full grown. Mama’s hair was tied back loosely. Strands framed her face, and a cup of tea sat close at hand to sip between reading. Anne stretched. She seemed always in ballet mode, always stretching and lifting and pointing her toes. We hadn’t expected to squirm so much during devotion that morning, but two things took place which knocked us for a blow. One was, that after reading the Bible, we then read the daily entry from Colonel Bradford’s journals. The “Light and The Glory” was pulled out, and its soft covers, now peeling plastic from paper, was flipped through and read from by Mama, on the couch. It was an engaging book, but we girls were familiar with the reference to the deep mystery of the part Mama skipped in our presence. This morning, though, her musical voice lilted through the music of the sentences until her voice trailed off in an abrupt halt. Merry sat in Daddy’s chair, her large blue eyes looked past walls, absorbed and solemn, until this halt, when all our eyes darted to Mama, who was looking at Dawn. Dawn was playing on the floor. She could play with a plastic cow and horse as long as she was quiet. Now, we looked at Dawn too, then back at Mama in the silence, but she was looking at the book, lifting her chin and lowering her eyes to scan the page through her glasses. Narrowing my brows, I cast a glance at Anne, and we lifted our brows together. Merry and Melody were looking at us both, but we had no news to signal. Dawn was poking through some holes in her jeans when she said decidedly, “What? Why is everybody so quiet?” We stared at her. Only Mama had ceased, but it did feel deathly quiet. Finally, Mama sighed. The time had come. We were old enough. Clearing her throat, she said, “Moriah Dawn, you may go outside for a few minutes. I’ll call you when it’s time to come in.” With a whoop, she leapt and flew out the door, down the porch and hollered into the yard. Silence resumed and Mama looked at all of us.
“Now, I’m going to read you a part in this book. It’s very dark, and it’s very sad. But it really happened, and it’s part of the hardship the Pilgrims endured when they left their beautiful countries to come to ours, and settle it.
With that, she read us the passage of the winter of starvation. How there were so many people, so little food, and how numbers of Pilgrims died of hunger. There was a mother, who’s baby died, and the family ate it. Tears of horror ran down my face. Anne reached up, and we squeezed hands. She shuddered and her face was streaked too. Merry and Melody sidled closer, wide eyed and pitying. The awful scenes of starvation, grief and cannibalism were too awful to comprehend. It haunted us.
We were sober afterwards. “Mama, how could they DO that? Their own children…We wouldn’t ever do that, would we?” One of us wondered “I’m sure they never imagined that they would…I’d hope we’d never do that. We’d have to trust that God wouldn’t put us in that position, and if He did, that we’d have the grace to pass away peacefully or endure until better times.” Mama consoled, gently. “I know that’s hard to hear – it’s hard for me to read to you. But I think you are all old enough to know it now. It was a hard, hard beginning for the Pilgrims.”
“Now, on another matter,” Mama said brightly. Mama could switch from cheerful to sober and back again wondrously. “This is a matter I think needs addressing to you girls. The time is getting closer…” A web of glances tangled in the middle of the room. An air of change had suddenly been brushed across the room, like a knifeful of butter on a biscuit. “The time is getting closer,” she continued, that all of you girls either are, or will be, young ladies.” A silent groan wrung within me…a “Young Lady” slammed my brain like a sentence to prison…I saw freedom vanish…a light quenched. A Young Lady. It boded no good. “…And I’ve noticed,” Mama was saying, “That in the past several years, you girls have moved away from skirts and dresses. You used to love wearing them when you were younger. Now it seems like most of all you wear are jeans. Now, jeans are alright, but as an exercise in femininity, I’d like you girls to make a point to wear a skirt or dress, at least three times a week, not counting Sundies.” Again, eyes met, but now it was in panic…Surely there was a way out of this one? But Mama was resolute. We must learn to be ladies in our dress, at least. I could wear jeans when I ride horses, and change again when finished. That was the deal. We prayed, dismissed, and school for the day commenced.