Love Comes Softly: Penniless and Roasting Nuts

Love Comes Softly: Penniless and Roasting Nuts May 10, 2019

Love Comes Softly, chapter 19

Here we are again!

First, several commenters made some excellent points last week. It is unlikely that Ma Graham would agree to bring her brood of 11 to Marty’s house for Christmas dinner, given both that Marty has a small house and is one person has just learned to cook, and that the Grahams probably already have family traditions.

It is much more likely than the Grahams would invite the Davises over for Christmas dinner—in fact, it’s somewhat odd that Ma Graham didn’t think of that when Marty came over for Christmas recipes. She could have said “I’ll give you recipes for some cookies and other baking, but how about you guys come to our place for Christmas dinner? You can get here early and help with the preparing, and I can show you the ropes.”

Oops, I mean she could have said “I be right tickled to give ya some recipes, Marty, but iffen ya want to come here fer Christmas, Sally Anne an’ Laura an’ I can put ya to work on the victuals, and show ya how it’s done. It be easier to learn thet way.”

Regardless! Marty has recipes! One tells us she “spent day after day turning out tempting goodies.” Marty’s a quick study when it comes to cooking! In fact, Marty bakes so many tempting victuals that she runs out of places to put them.

Also! Marty and Clark are now working on a project together! A dollhouse. And since this book is all about gender roles, Clark is building the structure and making wooden furniture while Marty is putting in the curtains, rugs, and blankets. And because this isn’t accidental—and isn’t something Oke wants you to miss—Oke adds this:

Marty’s part was to put in small curtains, rugs, and blankets. “Those things a woman usually be makin’,” Clark had said.

It’s possible that this was just Clark’s excuse to get Marty involved in an activity with him. In fact, in a better book, it would be. Clark would have returned from his trip to find young Tom Graham and Marty ensconced in a perfectly innocent tableau by the fireplace, whereupon he would have become suddenly jealous. He isn’t the sort to communicate directly, so he begins casting about for ways to get in close proximity with Marty, and comes up with this doll house project—the perfect way to have more interaction with her.

But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here.

Oke spends a lot of time describing the doll house furniture Clark is making, including things like a kitchen cupboard with doors that really opened, chairs, a table, a bench, a trunk with a lid that lifted, a bed, a cradle, extra chairs for the sitting room, and a footstool. Clark is a wizard with wood.

Clark is still making random and completely unexplained trips into town. We know that he’s going because this is part of his search for a doctor—exactly what he’s doing I’m not sure—but Marty is still trying to ignore her curiosity, because asking him what he’s doing would apparently be … what? Seriously, why doesn’t she just ask him?

Marty wonders whether Clark will expect a gift from her, but …

… but …

It would have been nice to have some little thing for him, but she had no money for a purchase and no way of getting someplace to buy it.

Lord ‘a’ mercy, does Oke honestly see nothing wrong with this? At the very least, Marty shouldn’t be housebound. But more than that, Clark really ought to give her a little bit of spending money, since he seems to have so much of it. Instead, he buys her everything she needs, himself, when he—and only he—goes to town. Even if Clark is intentionally keeping her penniless, she has to know that there are things she could sell.

This is absolutely ridiculous.

So, she decides to sew Clark something for Christmas, because hey, she has cloth, and a first-rate sewing machine. She decides to make him a scarf out of scrap.

Clark, meanwhile, spends his time cutting trees for firewood. I’m curious what all would need to be done on a farm like this, in the winter. Either way, Marty seems to have stopped worrying about whether Clark is underfoot or not. They’re becoming more comfortable.

Clark stopped by the Grahams on one of his trips to town, by the way, and asked them to come for Christmas. They presumably said yes, though we’re not given access to any discussion that may (or may not) have taken place. Instead, we just get a narrative of Marty’s activities: baking, wreath-making, sewing initials on the scarf for Clark.

They day before Christmas they plucked and cleaned the turkey, cut a tree, strung popcorn, and made paper chains.

Marty had made chains from bits of colored paper that she had carefully saved. She had even made some out of the born store wrap that had come from town.

Next Marty turns to peeling carrots, turnips, and potatoes, dicing cabbage and baking more bread. Soaking beans, pulling canned greens and pickles out of wherever they were presumably stored. Oh, and prepping wild nuts for roasting “over the open fire.”

But here’s the problem. Christmas day. She gets up ready to hurry through a list of things—cooking the turkey and the vegetables, bring in the baking from the shed, that kind of thing—only to realize that something is off. It’s so cold. She starts the fire in the stove, and the fire in the sitting room, and then she looks outside.

An angry wind swirled heavily falling snow, piling in drifts in seemingly mountainous proportions. She could not even see the well for the density of it.

Marty didn’t need to be told that she was witnessing a dreaded prairie blizzard.

She’s angry. Really angry. She wants to scream. There will be no guests for Christmas dinner. She collects herself and yells at the storm.

“Go ahead and howl. We have the turkey ready to go in the oven. We have lots of food. We have our tree. We have Missie. We’ll—we’ll jest still have Christmas!”

I hope the Grahams have a turkey and plenty of food too.

Marty thinks of this too.

“I do hope thet the Grahams haven’t been caught short-fixed fer Christmas. Us sittin’ here with jest us three an’ all this food, an’ them sittin’ there with so many …”

Clark isn’t worried.

“Ma’s too smart to be took off guard like. She knows this country’s mean streak. I don’t think they be a wantin’ at all.”

Ye gods, this chapter is boring. Is there a point to all of this? Clark insists on putting the turkey in the oven, saying it’s too heavy for Marty. Just how big is this bird? Oh, maybe this is the point—Clark is proud of how Marty is handling this disappointment, and he tells her so.

He reached out and touched her hand. When he spoke his voice was gentle. “I’m right proud of ya, Marty.”

He had never touched her before except helping her in and out of the wagon, and something about tit sent a warm feeling through her.

Okay, but what part of her?

Maybe it was knowing that he understood.

Sure, Marty. You tell yourself that.

She hoped he hadn’t noticed her response to his touch.

That must have been quite the response. 

I’m going to summarize a whole bunch of pages here. They have a lovely Christmas together. They marvel in Missie’s excitement; they laugh together; they roast nuts over the fire; they play a simple game with buttons; they eat a sumptuous meal. “Yer turnin’ out to be a right fine cook,” Clark easy.

Then Clark reads the Christmas story aloud to Missie.

He first read of the angel appearing to the young girl, Mary, telling her that she had been chosen as the mother of the Christ child. He went on to read of Joseph and Mary’s tip to Bethlehem, where no room was found in the inn, so that nigh the infant Jesus was born in a stable and laid in the cattle’s manger. The shepherds heard the good news from the angels and rushed to see the newborn king. Then the wise men came, following the star and bearing their gifts to the child, going home a different way for the protection of the baby.

Unless Clark was flipping back and forth between Luke and Matthew, this is not the story he read. This story, as told here, is not in the Bible. Instead, the Bible contains two completely different stories. Our nativity scenes mash the two together.

I remember when I first realized that the Christmas story as well tell it today is not told in any one place in the Bible. I was putting on a Christmas play. The children at my parent’s Bible study were the actors and crew. I was the director and narrator. I decided I would read straight from the Bible. This proved to be a problem. Finally, I put in sticky notes and marked things up and flipped back and forth between Matthew and Luke the whole play, which was damned confusing.

So, what Clark is doing? Flipping back and forth? I can tell you from experience that that the process of doing that is awkward and confusing!

Anyway! Marty is mesmerized!

Marty thought she had never heard anything so beautiful. She couldn’t remember ever knowing the complete story before as it was given in the Scriptures.

Maybe that’s because the complete story isn’t given in the Scriptures. 

So later, this happens:

Marty sat down and picked up the Bible. She wished she knew where to locate the Christmas story so she might read it again, but as she turned the pages she couldn’t find where Clark had read.

Ahahahaha maybe that’s because it’s not there. 

She did find Psalms, though, and read one after the other as she sat beside the warm fire. Somehow they were comforting, even when you didn’t understand all the phrases and ideas, she thought.

I find Marty’s arc, thus far, completely believable. She clearly grew up believing in God, seeing the Bible as a holy book, hearing pieces, at least, of the Christmas story. She grew up in a culture that was vaguely Christian, but (it appears) religion didn’t really mean anything in her home.

Marty isn’t coming to this as someone with doubts, or someone who is resistant to it. It was just never a huge part of her life. She’s being exposed to it because it’s a part of Clark’s life, and she finds it vaguely interesting. And—and this is fascinating—he’s not pushing it on her. Sure, he’s reading aloud when she is sitting at the breakfast table, but he was doing that before. He’s just living.

And he isn’t preaching at her. At all. Which is fascinating. In fact, he sometimes acts like he has things to learn from her—like when she said Christmas was a time to let go of their grief. He’s not treating her as someone who needs fixing. She’s just another human being.

After Missie goes to bed, Marty asks Clark to read the story again. Again—what story. Mathew, or Luke? Either way, he reads it the same way he did before, and she finds it beautiful.

Afterward, Clark brings out something he’s gotten for Marty. Because he has money, he bought her something. It’s a “dresser set”—an ivory comb, brush, and hand mirror, with “hand-painted flowers.” And on the handle are the initials M. L. C. D. Marty is bowled over by this, because that means he included Clem’s name rather than replacing it. Martha Lucinda Claridge Davis. She’s touched. She cries.

Marty almost goes to get the scarf she made Clark, but she can’t bring herself to give it to him, because it just isn’t good enough. So we’ve learned two things. First, Marty definitely has feelings for Clark. And second, Clark needs to give her some pocket money, or at least let her out of the house so that she can sell some of her sewing or other effects in town.

I was planning to do two chapters this week like I did last week, but it turns out this was a long chapter, and this post is long enough already.

So, what did we learn?

We learned that throwing herself into Christmas provided a good distraction for Marty. She thinks about Clem a few times in this chapter, but she’s so busy that those moments are scattered—and besides, she’s genuinely enjoying herself. She’s clearly starting to have actual feelings for Clark. And this whole religion thing is growing on her—she’s receptive and interested.

And still under house arrest. And penniless.

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