Behold, it’s Friday!
Marty lay in bed remembering their supper the night before. She had carefully avoided any comment on the muddy chinking, but one small chunk in the corner had suddenly given way. It lost its footing between the logs, falling to the floor and leaving a bit of a smear on the way down. Clark had looked up in surprise but then had gone on eating.
These two don’t talk about a damn thing. Marty couldn’t say “I cleaned the walls, but now the chinking looks kinda funny”? Clark couldn’t say, “here’s the thing about the chinking, you actually have to clean it like [insert here], not with water, but don’t worry, we can fix it by doing [insert here]”? So instead, they both just ignore it?
I get that these are two strangers stuck together by circumstance, but when I’m stuck together with strangers by circumstance, I talk to them.
So of course, as she sits in bed, newly woken, she’s worried about what she’ll find when she goes to the kitchen. She’s also worried about something else.
The bread crock was empty, and she had no idea of how to go about restocking it. She supposed Clark knew how to bake bread, but she’d die before she’d ask him.
Real healthy attitude.
Is it realistic that she wouldn’t know how to bake bread? I know bread baking can be tricky. There’s good reason everyone leapt to buy store-bought bread when that became an option. If she grew up in a town, maybe her family would have bought bread?
Boy would it be nice to know where she grew up and in what circumstances. Instead, she and Clark seem to have just sort of sprouted. Clem and Ellen too.
Consider this: we never, ever hear that Missie has any relatives but Clark. No aunts or uncles, no grandparents or cousins. We never, ever hear about any relatives.
So, anyway, Marty gets up and goes to the kitchen.
The first things he noticed was the chinking. Here and there all around the walls, small pieces lay crumbled on the floor. Marty felt like crying, but little good that would do. She’d have to face Clark with it, confess what she had done, and accept her well-deserved rebuke for it.
This is not healthy. Yes, I’m sometimes nervous to tell my husband about something I’ve messed up, because it’s awkward and uncomfortable—but I’m never worried about a rebuke. Worst case, he’ll say “maybe next time, make sure to do X instead,” but usually he won’t say even that because he knows I’ll avoid doing whatever it was again. And vice versa! If you’re afraid to tell your spouse something you did because you’ll get a rebuke for it, something is not right.
Now yes, these two have just met each other. And yes, they live in a different time. (Even there, though, I can’t see Caroline Ingalls feeling this way.)
So Marty considers what to make. She thinks about fixing porridge (she found porridge makings when cleaning out the cupboards), so apparently she can make something other than pancakes. I think what Oke may have meant that she can’t bake anything but pancakes. (Not that pancakes are baked.) (And wait—then why didn’t she make stew for supper.) I think I need to stop trying to make sense of this. Marty decides not to make pancakes because she doesn’t have any biscuits, muffins, or bread to go with it.
I make “just porridge” all the time, though. Oatmeal, or cornmeal mush, or seven grain cereal. I’m confused by the idea that it has to go with muffins. Maybe that’s an olden days thing? You certainly needed more calories if you were out working in the fields.
Which Marty isn’t.
Anyway, Marty ultimately decides to just make pancakes. Again.
During his prayer after Bible reading, Clark says this:
“Father, be with the one who works os hard to be a proper mama for Missie an’ a proper keeper of the home.”
This part surprises Marty. She also completely misunderstands it. She constantly misinterprets everything Clark says or does.
Everything she had done thus far had been a failure. No wonder Clark felt it would take help from the Almighty himself to set things in order again.
During breakfast, Marty notices that when he speaks to Missie, Clark has been referring to Marty as “yer mama.” He’s been doing that constantly, she realizes.
She knew he was making a conscious effort at educating the little girl to regard her as mama. She supposed she’d have to get used to it. After all, that’s what she was here for—certainly not to amuse the serious-looking young man across the table from her.
When Clark first told Marty he’d “be obliged” if he’d let Missie call her mama, I interpreted that as a genuine request that Marty could have demurred to. Several readers pushed back on that in the comments section, and I may be coming to agree. Clark is dead set on Marty being Missie’s mama, and Marty’s … not.
Here’s a bit from before breakfast:
“Mornin’, Missie. Come to Mama,” she said, trying the words with effort to see how they’d sound. She didn’t really like them, she decided, and wished she hadn’t even used them.
It was completely normal for people to marry on the frontier for reasons other than love—especially people who already had children from a previous marriage to raise. But I suspect most people didn’t make such a huge deal out of kids calling their new parent “mama” or “pa” right away. The marriage wasn’t just to get those kids a parent, after all. Remarriage was necessary to make things work for everyone.
But then, Clark doesn’t actually need Marty. He did the entire harvest by himself. He tends the chickens and pigs and milk cows and cattle and horses by himself. The house wasn’t falling apart when Marty arrived—there was even bread in the larder. While she’s taken it upon herself to do some housecleaning, she’s doing that because she’s bored, not because things were a disaster. They weren’t. Clark doesn’t need Marty.
He only—only—married her so that Missie would have a mama. Not someone to watch her, mind you. He was schlepping Missie around with him just fine. He wanted a mama for her. And if you think about it, that’s a really weird request to make to a total stranger.
That’s why it’s so very important that she call this stranger who doesn’t know her and doesn’t really like her mama. Because that’s all Marty is here for.
This bargain was broken from the start. Clark didn’t say “I need a woman around the farm and you need some place to live.” He said: “I need someone to be mama to my Missie. You’re a female-person and could be a mama. If you decide you don’t want to stay with me, you have to take Missie with you and be her mama always.”And that’s weird.
Another piece of chinking clattered down, and Marty took a deep breath and burst forth with, “I’m afeared I made a dreadful mistake yesterday. I took to cleanin’ the kitchen—”
“I’d seen me it was all fresh and clean lookin’ an’ smellin’,” Clark said quickly.
Now, why’d he do that? she stormed inwardly.
This is not a healthy relationship.
She took another gulp of air and went on, “But I didn’t know what scrub water would be doin’ to the chinkin’. I mean, I didn’t know thet it would all soak up like an’ then not dry right agin.”
Clark said nothing.
She tried once more. “Well, it’s fallin’ apart like. I mean—well, look at it. It’s crumblin’ up an’ fallin’ out”
“Yeah,” said Clark with a short nod, not even lifting his eyes.
My god, Clark, how hard are you going to make this?? Can’t you see she’s trying? I can’t be the only one who wants to shake this man.
She was almost angry by now. His calmness unnerved her.
Girl, you should be angry! He’s being an ass!
He looked up then and answered slowly. “Well, when I go to town on Saturday, I’ll pick me up some more chinkin’. It’s a special kind like. Made to look whiter an’ cleaner, but no good at all for holdin’ out the weather—the outside chinkin’ has to do thet job. There still be time to redo it ‘fore winter sets in. Water don’t hurt the outer layer none, so it’s holdin’ firm like. Don’t ya worry yourself none ’bout it. I’m sure the bats won’t be a flyin’ through the cracks for I git to ’em.”
He almost smiled and she could have gleefully kicked him.
Okay, that last bit was unnecessary. But the rest was something he should have been upfront with and said the moment she started asking about it—if not earlier. Surely he knew, the day before, when a piece of chinking fell during supper, that she had to be distraught with worry over what she had done. He could have alleviated her fears then.
He chose not to.
“Iffen ya should decided to do more cleaning’, jest brush down the walls with a dry brush. All right?”
You know what? That’s what I would have assumed you should use to begin. Why was wash the walls with water the first thing that came to Marty’s mind when she looked at them? Is that what you do with the walls she’s used to or something?
After Clark leaves, Marty has to figure out, once again, something to do. She finds a soft brush and brushes down the sitting room walls (she’d only done the kitchen walls with water). She decides to wash the rag rugs on the floors, and the sitting room curtains.
The sitting room curtains were still fluttering in the fall breeze and the rugs drying in the sun when she heard the dog announce a team approaching.
It’s Ma Graham, come to the rescue!
The dog lay on one side of the path now, chewing on a small, bonelike object. Marty saw with dismay that it was one of her biscuits. The dad-blame dog had dug it up.
Dad-blame is the baddest swear word Marty knows. She uses it around Missie even though she knows she shouldn’t, and then Missie starts to use it and she’s mortified.
But. The biscuits! The revenge of the biscuits! Whoever said she should have at least fed them to the pigs was spot on. Burying them, my foot.
Marty noticed that Ma Graham kept her eyes discreetly away from the crumbled chinking and remarked instead about the well-scrubbed floor.
No one actually talks about anything in this book. Also, what kind of floor is it, exactly? I usually associate scrubbing with stone floors.
“I see ya been busy as a bee, fall cleanin’,” Ma observed.
“Yeah,” responded Marty.
You’d think there’d be a lot more to do on a farm in the fall than fall cleaning. I kind of wish Ma would ask about the cows and chickens, and then learn in shock that Clark has been keeping Marty cooped up in the house, and then wonder how the heck Clark can do everything himself, and then postulate that maybe he’s actually a zombie or a werewolf or something, and then wonder what actually happened to Ellen…
But no. That does not happen.
“How air things goin’, Marty?”
It wasn’t the words, it was the look that did it. The expression in Ma’s eyes said that she truly cared how things were going, and Marty’s firm resolve to hold up bravely went crumbling just like the chinking.
Marty cries, and she tells Ma everything. Ma listens, and then gets up and offers to teach her how to bake bread. So they spend the day in baking lessons. Ma also writes down “every recipe thet I can think of” for Marty. And … that’s it. Ma does say she should take it easy a bit and not be too hard on herself—especially as she guesses Marty is “in the family way”—but we don’t get to hear any of the heart to heart.
After a busy day, Ma departed. She left behind her a sheaf of recipes with full instructions, fresh-baked bread that filled the kitchen with its aroma, a basketful of her own goodies, and a much more confident Marty, with supper well in hand.
Ma Graham is like a good fairy, breezing through and leaving everything shiny and warm in her wake.
I just wish she’d gone to Clark and told him to stop being such a silent ass. Ma Graham seems like the kind of woman who is allowed to give a man like Clark a dressing down. Perhaps Marty could have told Ma the bargain she actually stuck with Clark—I don’t think Ma knows there’s any talk of Marty being able to head back east—and Ma could have reacted in horror. Or maybe she could have told Marty that it took her Ben’s kids years before they called her ma, and that Clark shouldn’t be pushing it, or something.
See, that’s the problem—Ma Graham is the bright good fairy who brings smiles and gumdrops, but I wanted her to be the dark avenging fairy who calls people on their nonsense and sets things right that way.
I have a Patreon! Please support my writing!