This chapter is called “Mysterious Absence.” Oke begins by telling us that November brought with it storms, but that Clark was constantly busy despite these, gathering logs from the “wooded backcountry” for fuel and spending time in the barn easing the animals “through the inclement weather with as little discomfort as possible.”
Marty’s own chore list is still somewhat limited:
Marty called her days caring for Missie, keeping up the house, baking bread, washing, mending, ironing—the list seemed endless to her, yet she was thankful to have each of the long days occupied, particularly ones that held her indoors.
I’m glad Oke remembered that these seemingly simple tasks do take time. I’m still curious, of course, whether Clark is doing the churning.
The point, though, is that time is passing. Marty spends her free time in the evenings sewing clothes for the baby, whom she sincerely hopes will be a boy (Why? Because she wants “a son for Clem,” of course). She has decided to name him Claridge Luke, the first being Clem’s last name and the second being her father’s name.
How proud her pa would be to know he had a grandson bearing his name.
Interesting. Marty has a father.
But that would have to wait for the first wagon train going east, when she’d pack up her son—maybe even Missie—and head back home.
Did they not have mail back then? Oh surely, I get that they wouldn’t have a mailbox at their house, but surely they could mail a letter from town? (You know, the town Marty has never been to despite Clark going every week.) I get that they didn’t have trains yet, but didn’t they have stagecoaches? Or telegrams? Or something?
The thought of taking Missie along with her was of more and more concern. What was best—both for the little girl and for Clark? She saw the great love Clark and for his daughter, and she wondered when the time came if he’d really be able to let her go. Or if he should.
My god, why did no one think of this earlier?!
Marty herself was getting awfully attached to the child. Saying ‘Mama’ came easy now to both of them. Indeed, sneaking up quite unawares was the feeling she was just that, Missie’s mama.
Maybe Marty should—gasp—talk to Clark about this. You know, communication. I hear it’s a thing some people do.
Anyway, this chapter is actually really hum drum and boring. The only thing we learn is that Clark has been going into town more often, and often returning with very few packages. In fact, sometimes he just rides a single horse into town, rather than taking the wagon. This is somewhat confusing to Marty. Even more confusing, though, is that one morning at breakfast he announces that he’s going to be gone for three or four days.
There appeared to be a break in the weather, he explained, so he had decided now was the time to make a trip to a town much larger than their small local one.
Oooo, I bet they have a post office! Too bad Clark didn’t tell Marty about this trip until literally the minute he was leaving.
Anyway, Clark tells Marty that he’s arranged for “young Tom Graham” to come and do the evening chores and stay over night, and do the morning chores. He’ll go back home to the Grahams’ place during the day.
Marty gets real curious about why Clark is going to this larger town, but she resists the urge to ask him.
He was probably looking for new machinery to till the land, or better seed… Anyway, it was his doings, so why should she worry about it?
Marty really doesn’t have any interest at all in learning how this farm is run. Is Oke aware that sometimes men died, and sometimes their wives took over their business and ran it themselves, at least until they could find some other solution? Seriously, asking Clark what he’s getting in the bigger town—does it not have a name?—would not be nosy.
As Clark leaves, Marty notices he’s taking some hogs with him. Since he’d told her once that if they needed more cash, they’d sell a hog, she’s suddenly worried that she’s cost Clark too much money. Girl. You were just wondering whether he was buying some new farm machinery, do you not know that new farm machinery costs money.
Seriously, Marty would save herself so much trouble if she would just communicate with Clark and actually take interest in things around the homestead.
“No use takin’ on so,” she murmured to herself. “Guess I’m jest a mite off my feed or somethin’ to be stewin’ ’bout it so. Wish I could have me a good visit with Ma. That’d set things right.”
Is she housebound? There are three horses. Clark took two. Surely she and Missie could ride the other one. If she’s not sure of the way, all she has to do is ride there with young Tom Graham the next day, after he finishes Clark’s choring.
The way Clark is always up and about while Marty is permanently stuck in the house is reminding me of the Filipina mail-order-bride that lived in my apartment complex as me some years back. Her husband was always going every which way while she was effectively housebound, unless he took her out somewhere. Also like Marty, she figured her husband’s business was his business, and not something she needed to know about.
I mean, seriously?
So the days go by and nothing really happens and young Tom Graham turns out to be quite good company and great with Missie. The big thing Oke wants you to learn here is that Marty realizes that she misses Clark and is looking forward to him returning, and thinks that’s kind of weird. She justifies it by telling herself that it must be because she said that last goodbye to Clem without knowing it was the last time she’d ever see him, and there’s a similar feel here.In a different book, young Tom Graham would be 19, the same age as Marty, and he and Marty would hit it off. Maybe Clark would come home and see them engaged in friendly conversation and get jealous, and suddenly realize that maybe he should actually, you know, start talking to Marty. But no, whether for good or ill, Clark has no competition.
(In case anyone is curious, I’m pretty sure we were told that Sally Anne and Laura were Ma Graham’s oldest children, at 17, so Tom can’t be more than 15 or 16.)
Clark returns with only a few small packages, and Marty thinks he looks a bit dejected. Marty is glad that Clark is back and that things can now get back to normal. Normal, she realizes. Not the life she had wanted, but a life that had at least become familiar, and “there was a certain amount of comfort in the familiar.”
Time hop! This chapter was short enough that I’m moving on to the next one, and it’s now two weeks before Christmas. Clark offers to keep Christmas super simple this year for Marty’s sake—which is odd, because this’ll be his first Christmas without Ellen, too—but she says that wouldn’t be fair to Missie, and besides, that “Christmas, seems to me, be a right good time to lay aside hurtin’ an’ look for somethin’ healin’.”
Clark is impressed and says he “never heard a better sermon from any visitin’ preacher than the one I jest heard.” Clark asks what she has in mind.
“Well…” Marty turned it over in her mind, trying to recall exactly what had happened at her home to prepare for Christmas. There hadn’t been the reading of the Scripture story, but they could add that easy enough. And there had been a good supply of corn liquor, which they could do without. Otherwise, there must be several things she could do the way her mother had. This would be her first Christmas away from home—the first Christmas for her to make for others, rather than have others make for her.
I guess we’ve learned one new thing about Marty’s family: they weren’t teetotalers.
Marty suggest Christmas baking and a tree. She says she’ll have to get recipes from Ma. (Yes, she calls her “Ma.” They all do.) And popcorn chains and colored paper chains and candles in the windows, and rooster for Christmas dinner, and she says she’ll make something for Missie as a present, and by now Marty seems more excited than she has in a long while.
Clark says there’s no need for roosters—he’ll buy a turkey from the Vickers! “Mrs. Vickers raises some first-rate ‘uns,” he explains. After that, he goes on:
“I’ll ride over to Ma’s today an’ git the recipes—or better still, it looks like a decent day. Ya be wantin’ me to hitch ole Dan an’ Charlie so ya can be goin’ yerself?”
“Oh, could I?” Marty’s tone held the plea in her heart. “I’d love to see Ma fer a chat—iffen yer sure it be all right.”
You see! You see what I mean! What is this, house arrest?
So it was decided that Marty would go to the Grahams’. But Clark added another dimension to the plan. If it was okay with her, he’d drive her to Ma’s, and then he and Missie would go on to the Vickers’s and get the turkey.
The day spent with Ma was a real treat. They pored over Ma’s recipes, Marty selecting so many that she’d never get them all baked. … She also wrote down careful instructions on how to stuff and roast the turkey, it being her first attempt at such an endeavor.
Marty gets a wild idea. As she and Clark and Missie ride back to their farm—the turkey gobbling in the back—she suggests that they have the Grahams come over for Christmas dinner. Now, I’ve been married for ten years, and I still haven’t had my family to my place for the holidays. Why would I do that? There’s so many of them, and so few of us. And my mom knows exactly how to cook the turkey, and there are lots more helping hands there.
It would make a whole lot more sense for Ma to invite Marty, Clark, and Missie over for Christmas dinner. But no. For some unfathomable reason, she wants to have all thirteen Grahams over for Christmas dinner, to the very small house she lives in with Clark and Missie. My house is bigger than theirs, by a lot, and it still feels stuffed when my whole family comes for a visit—an ordinary visit, not the holidays, with its fancy prep work.
This is a terrible idea.
“I know there be thirteen of ’em an’ three of us; thet makes sixteen. the kitchen table, stretched out like, will hold eight. Thet’s the four grown-ups an’ the four youngest of the Grahams. Missie’ll be in her chair. That leaves seven Graham young’uns. We’ll fix ’em a place in the sittin’ room an’ Laura an’ Sally Anne can look after ’em.
This is a terrible idea.
“Seems to me it be a pretty big order, gettin’ on a Christmas dinner fer sixteen, an’ servin’ it in our small quarters, an’ ya bein’ the way ya are an’ all.”
Marty knew she must fight for it if her idea was to be.
This is what Marty wants to fight for? This? Lord almighty!
Marty explains that she’ll have all the food prepped ahead of time, and that Ma and the girls will help her with the dishes and such. She pleads and wheedles and explains.
Finally, Marty tricks Clark into getting involved in the planning and then declares it settled before he even assented. It goes without saying that this is not good communication. In fact, Marty actually feels “a bit guilty” about the trick, but “not enough to be bothered by it.” And so it really is settled. They’re having the Grahams over for Christmas dinner.
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