Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Outstanding (04/21/11)
TITLE: Unpaid Debts
By Emily Gibson
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The nearest doctor was over 30 miles away in the next valley, and that was only if there was a wagon heading that way. Everyone in our part of the mountains relied on Mama when it came to midwifing, or preparing the dead for burial. Since Daddy took off a few years ago, Mama pretty much made sure we had what we needed because her doctoring brought it in as a barter. Fresh eggs in exchange for a headache remedy, a chicken for a sewed up cut, a ham for a splinted broken wrist. There were always people who had less than us, so nothing much they could give at the time, so Mama just told them that they could give when they had more than they needed for themselves.
That worked out okay until it was Mama’s turn to get sick. She started feeling poorly one spring day, staying in bed when her routine was to be up before the sun. I poked my head inside her bedroom door and all I could see was a lump under the covers.
“Mama, you okay?”
“I don’t think so.”
That made me worry. By noontime, she still wasn’t up so I fetched Ruby, our neighbor from a couple miles away. Ruby came running when she heard Mama was still in bed.
When Ruby went into Mama’s bedroom and shut the door, we kids all clustered outside listening with our ears plastered against the wood. We could hear Mama crying inside while Ruby talked to her real low and slow. About an hour later Ruby came out and shut the door.
“We need to get your Mama down to the doctor. I’ll go fetch a wagon.”
Ruby rode with Mama down the valley and sent word back that Mama was staying at the doctor’s for a few days. We kids did our best on our own with hot dishes from the church ladies.
When Mama came back home a week later, she was pretty weak and tired for awhile. We were running low on everything because she hadn’t been able to doctor any folks. Ruby put the word out: anyone with an outstanding debt to Mama needed to come through now.
Within a day, our root cellar was full of preserves, we had fresh meat and plenty of eggs, and a loan of a cow that had just calved. Mama cried when she looked at it all.
Ruby smiled and nodded. She always knew who was outstanding.
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