Morning Chores

Editor's Note: This is an ongoing series which runs each Thursday morning titled the Richland Chronicles, by author Paul Lintern. It is set in the 1800s and tells the story of Richland County through the eyes of young people. The books are available from Lintern for $25 a set, tax and shipping included. Each book is about 120 pages written for intermediate readers (4th grade) with local illustrations. Volume I is Amelia Changes Her Tune. Volume II is Isaac and Wolf Paw Find Their Home. Volume III is Autumn Keeps Her Secret. Volume IV is Mr. Gamble Starts a School. Volume V is Jacob Blows his Horn. Volume VI is Cassie Fights the WarVolume VII is Emilene Adopts Her Family. Volume VIII is David Dances the Bases.

Sunshine!

Natalie loved the first moments of the day, when her eyes popped open and she realized she could see without a candle. It meant there was something to discover.

She loved this time of year because every day the sun came a little bit earlier, and rose a little bit farther north of the farm.

She loved May because things were growing with great abandon, the trees smelled flowery and fresh, the water was abundant and the earth seemed soft.

She hopped out of bed, threw on her clothes, clothes for a country girl, clothes little different that what her grandmother wore when she grew up on this farm. A simple shriff from shoulder to toe, pantaloons to cover each leg, a muslin underdress to give body to the outer dress, which had a fullness of skirt, hardy long sleeves, a frilly collar and a bow tied in back around her waist.

A bonnet holding in her long blonde hair completed the ensemble.

Around the farm, it didn’t need to be a dress, and Cassie shook her head whenever she saw Nat running to the barn like she was going to a dance. It was everything Grandma Autumn could do to get daughter Cassie to wear a dress at that age (and, truth be told, Autumn did not try very hard because she had been the same way, especially here at the Oakland Inn).

Nat spend a lot of time alone, and she loved it. Of course, she would say she is never alone, what with Emilene’s Winnie the goat, and the triplet kids that already were at the farm, and their goat mother, and Rhoda the cow, and their four horses, including her Halflinger, Chestnut.

They all resided in the barn and made loud, cheerful bleats and neighs and moo’s when she ran in, mostly because she was their tender — feeding up, brushing down, cleaning out, filling in.

The other side of the barn also held 30 sheep, but Natalie did not tend to them so much; that was father’s side business, and he felt it was more than a 10-year-old daughter should be required to do.

“When you are eleven, however…” he smiled at her recently.

John Martin Burns, Natalie’s Father, had grown up in Hanoverton, Ohio, half a day’s train ride east. He and Cassie met when their families were traveling east, Cassie and her mother to Boston, Massachusetts, and “Marty” by himself to visit his grandfather in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. They each were only 12.

Nat’s family calls it fate that they met again; it was not planned, however the Battle of Gettysburg intersected their journeys, and they became penpals, then friends, then good friends, then very good friends. Six years after they met, they became husband and wife.

And while Nat’s father is now a lawyer, working in town almost every day, he keeps the sheep to keep the farm a farm.

“Good morning Winnie, you ninny,” Natalie sing-sang, imitating her Aunt Emilene, who had had this goat since she was eight, almost two decades. She liked the old goat, and the young ones, and would rather Father had all goats and no sheep, but he liked to say, “A goat coat is nohow as cuddly as a sheep fleece.”

She did her chores in good order, trying not to rush, because her mother could always tell, and besides, Father was on the other side with the sheep, and he would notice, too, if she left too soon. There would be no running around on her own until Father had ridden off, and he would not ride off until breakfast was eaten, and it would not be eaten until chores are done.

“C’nihelp?”

The little voice chirped from behind her, but she didn’t have to look. It was little Johnny, the three-year-old who wanted to be 10 like his sister.

Natalie loved her little brother, but not as a playmate, more like a plaything. He was entertainment for her when she wanted to watch him learn to do things. But as an assistant stall cleaner, he dramatically slowed down the process.

Still, she knew that it was helpful for Mother that he be in the barn while she is tending the cooking fire and preparing breakfast, so Natalie would add one more “kid” to the barn menagerie.

“Sure, little brother, come throw some straw in Chestnut’s bed. I’m almost done with the others.”

“Nat good horse girl,” Johnny said. “Make am’nals happy.”

Nat smiled.

“How can you tell they are happy?” she asked Johnny.

“They talk and tell you,” he said, then he proceeded to neigh, bleat and moo, which brought more sounds from the animals.

The two finished her chores and started back to the house, just as father was letting the sheep out into the pasture, one of the first days to be able to do that, with grass growing so rapidly.

They waited for Father to come around the barn to them, and Johnny reached up for a ride on his shoulders, even though the trip was not very long. Nat smiled as she reached up, pretending to want a ride, too.

“Johnny’s ride,” her brother said.

“I’m afraid your riding days are mostly over,” Father smiled.

Already? Guess there are some drawbacks to growing up.

Mother had biscuits with honey, eggs and a slice of cheese on the plates as they arrived. A little milk from the pail in the ice room completed the simple feast.

The four sat around a table that had belonged to Marty’s grandfather, John, in Pennsylvania. Nat liked the sturdiness of the table and the fact it could be enlarged to include one, two or three “leaves,” wooden sections that each allowed two more people to sit there.

Usually the table was at its smallest, to seat the four of them, which Natalie liked, but it could be stretched to fit as many as 12.

Natalie liked those meals, too, when the table had to be expanded. That allowed the table to hold much more food.

And many more family and friends.

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