Early morning noises penetrated my sleepy head, along with the smell of meat frying. Grandma was up making breakfast. A rooster crowed outside the window. In the distance, a horse nickered and snorted. I rolled out of bed and got dressed. In the big, country kitchen, I splashed my face with water from a tin wash pan, then dried off with a thin cotton towel. No morning showers or baths at Grandma’s house. No indoor plumbing. A bath required hours of hard labor, hauling in water, heating some on the stove, filling a galvanized tub. It only happened once a week.
I set the table with Grandma’s mixed-matched dishes, then set out cups for five—Grandma, my step-grandfather, my two brothers, and me. I was too hungry to dread the day just yet. That would come as soon as the breakfast dishes were stacked in the wash pan.
Already, they were gathering in the yard. I could hear their voices. I peeked out the screen door to see several of the neighbors sitting on the back of the wagon, ready to go the cotton field. Ready to start the long day’s work.
I was not. I knew it would be hard work. By noon, I’d be hot and tired and hungry again. Picking cotton had to be the worst work ever. Especially for a nine-year-old. Playing hide-and-seek, kick-the-can, or just wandering and wading in the creek seemed way better. But cotton harvest meant all hands on deck (Daddy was a sailor, so I heard that a lot).
I envied little brother, because he did get to play. He played with sticks and rocks in the deep shade of the trees that lined the field. Sometimes, he even lay down in the dirt and slept. Oh, how I wanted to be able to do that, too.
These are the memories that wound their way out of my heart and mind and into the pages of Annabelle’s Ruth and its sequel, Sutter’s Landing. I’m delighted to share them. Those days were difficult, but what I remember most is the sunshine, laughter, the camaraderie of the field hands, and their beautiful voices raised in song as they worked.