'Oh, but he was funny looking!' Mama laughs, running her hand down the back of Papa's head, smoothing his hair. 'Those raggedy clothes and his hair sticking every which way! Looked more like a scarecrow than a man. And him telling Granpappy what a good worker he was!'
Mama don't spy it, but Papa looks up from his bowl to shake his head.
'Woman! I don't know what you see in this story. There ain't nothing to it. The trick to winning a woman's love,' he says, looking at Jeremiah, 'is to work for it.' And then he laughs and reaches his arm to hook round Mama's waist from where he sits next to her.
She swats at him but he don't care because she is smiling.
He puts his hands out and says, 'Girls, don't ever settle for a man who won't labor for love.'
'Betsy, you fetch the double wedding ring quilt.'
'But Mama!' Betsy whines, like she's been counting things as hers and thinking on what might be going in her own hope chest someday.
'You hush now. Soon as we got Rosetta's chest filled, we can start working on another quilt for yours. Lord knows there's scraps of fabric waiting, and now you can have some of Rosetta's wedding fabric pieced in.'
Betsy pouts, but she brings the quilt from our room and then sits herself down. I ain't had much use for Betsy since she started promenading with Carrie Jewett and all the other town girls. The giggling when Carrie told Betsy she'd better not let any more of me rub off on her was worse than anything Eli Snyder ever done. Betsy used to hold my hand walking to school, used to call me her best friend besides Tillie Nilsson. She ain't bad, my sister, she just aims to please folks in a way I've never seen the sense in doing.
I reach for a pillow slip, but Betsy gets it first.
'Rosetta ain't filling my hope chest,' she says, staring down at the hem, but Mama pretends she don't hear.
Mama has my wedding dress on her lap, hiding the new knot of thread in the lining, careful with even the smallest thing.
She says, 'This can be your something blue. And besides, you always look prettiest when you wear this shade,' and I almost jump at how warm her words are.
Papa shoulders his way through the door, his arms full of wood. After he builds up the fire, he sets the lantern on the table between his and Mama's chairs.
'And what shall I read tonight, my ladies?' Papa winks at Mama before taking the Bible from the mantel to read Scriptures for her like he always does.
Mama pauses and then says, 'The Book of Ruth, I think.'
'The Book of Ruth? You aiming to teach our girls about getting widowed?'
'Of course not!' Mama's sharp voice comes back, and then she looks at me and her face softens. 'But Ruth tells us how a marriage makes new bonds, don't you think?'
'Making new bonds doesn't mean you have to break the old ones,' Papa says, his eyes on me. He looks back at Mama. 'Seems if you're looking for marriage advice from the Lord, other books got more instruction than Ruth.'
'Just read Ruth,' Mama says, poking her needle into the fabric.
Papa sighs and thumbs to the right place. 'Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem went to sojourn in the country . . .'
Hearing Papa's molasses voice fill the room, I almost start missing home already, until Betsy reaches across me for more thread and ain't careful about her elbow in my side.
Excerpted from I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe Copyright © 2014. Excerpted by permission of Crown Trade, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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