Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: ENTERTAIN (04/27/17)
- TITLE: Refreshments
By Ann Grover
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Dad was near the ocean, working in a relief camp in British Columbia, cutting down trees to be made into lumber. In his letters, he said it rained all the time, and he said he wished he could send some to us with the few dollars he sent. He always wrote a note to me, too. I think he wrote in the rain, because the ink was often blurry, and I could barely make out the words.
â€œMarianne, bring in the wash, please!â€ Mom hollered from the back door. I crossed the yard, mindful of the thistles biting at my bare feet. Not one blade of grass grew.
Mom had hung out the wash an hour before, and already the tea towels, my dress, Williamâ€™s shirt was dry and stiff, baked in the hot breeze. The clothes smelled of dust.
â€œFetch in some water, Marianne.â€ Mom told me when I took in the dry clothes.
The water I drew from the well was murky. It smelled bad, too. Mom strained it through a rag and filled the kettle. â€œAnother couple of pails, please? Itâ€™s time we had a bath.â€
Bathing meant filling the tin tub and taking turns in the scummy water. I sat on the step afterwards, enjoying the feeling of the parched air as it lifted my damp hair from my neck. I was cool, if for a moment. Far away, on the wavering horizon, I saw something coming. I watched as the something became two men carrying valises. I sprung up.
â€œMom, someoneâ€™s coming. Men!â€ Mom gave up trying to plaster down Williamâ€™s cowlick, and we stood on the step, watching the men come through the gate.
â€œHowdy, maâ€™am.â€ They tipped their hats, which were covered with powdery dust, like fine snow. â€œEwan and George MacTavish. Weâ€™re walking to Westlock to catch the train and heading for Vancouver. For work. Might we beg a drink of water, please?â€â€
â€œAileen Campbell. Marianne and William.â€ We shook hands with the strangers. â€œWilliam, get the dipper. Marianne, the pail, please. My husbandâ€™s gone to the coast, too. Would you like to stay for supper?â€
I stared at Mom. We didnâ€™t have any food fit for company. Weâ€™d been eating boiled potatoes and sour cream for donkeyâ€™s years. It was all we had.
â€œAw, we wouldnâ€™t want to be a bother, maâ€™am.â€
â€œItâ€™s no bother to add more potatoes to the pot. I have to feed these two ruffians anyway. Youâ€™d be welcome, gentlemen.â€
â€œWeâ€™re grateful, but how about we do some chores for you? We noticed loose hinges on the gate. And missing barn boards. Maâ€™am?â€
Mom nodded. â€œThank you.â€
After drinking several dippersful of water, the men got to work, and William and I followed them around, gawking as they split firewood, mucked out the cow stall, replaced roof shingles.
Mom set out a basin of water and a towel on the porch so they could wash up. Then we took our places at the table, giving the Misters MacTavish the best chairs.
â€œDelicious. Thank you,â€ said Ewan. His face was scrubbed shiny. Luminous.
Mom made tea in Grandmotherâ€™s fine teapot, which had come from over the ocean on a boat. Mom always brought it out for special guests. â€œBest tea Iâ€™ve ever had,â€ said George, draining his cup. â€œâ€˜Course, that teapot is pretty grand for the likes of us.â€
Mom filled their cups again.
After supper, the men took a fiddle and a harmonica out of their valises. How they played, while Mom sang along, and William and I danced. â€œKatie Bairdie,â€ â€œGreen Grows the Laurel,â€ and â€œThou Art Gane Awaâ€™,â€ which made Mom cry. It must have made her think of Dad cutting down trees by the sea in the wonderful, pouring rain. We forgot all about the sparse food, the dirt-laden wind, and barren fields. In a cascade of crimson, the sun set to â€œAbide with Me,â€ a finale to our merry time.
â€œOff to bed, William and Marianne. Remember your prayers.â€
Ewan and George MacTavish slept in the barn, alongside the drying-up cow. They were gone in the morning, and we never saw or heard of them ever again.
When I drew from the well before breakfast, the water was crystal-clear and sweet.
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