Mary Ann smoothed the pink dotted swiss fabric. “Just think, now that I’m almost twelve, I’ll have my first all-new dress for Easter!”
Mama smiled as she drew the black drip pan from the oven of the coal stove and tipped four steaming loaves of bread onto the table.
“It will be the prettiest dress I’ve ever made, Mary Ann. You’ve been so patient, never complaining,” Mama said.
Mama wrapped the hot loaves in a big white dish towel. “Do you think you can take these over to the Fitches without mashing them, dear?”
“I feel sort of funny taking things to Martha’s house. I don’t know how to talk to her.”
Mama sighed. “Martha needs a friend. I’ve noticed that none of the girls associate with her.”
“Do I have to take the whole batch? Don’t we even get to keep one loaf of hot bread for supper?”
“Now, honey, Sister Fitch is very sick. And Martha hasn’t learned how to make bread yet. I must have her over soon to teach her,” Mother continued half to herself. “She’ll have to feed that family. …”
“You mean her mother won’t ever get well?” Mary Ann cut in.
“I’m afraid not, and I’m sure Martha realizes this. That’s probably why it’s hard for her to talk. Now hurry with the bread so you’ll be back before dark.”
Mary Ann kicked pebbles all the way down the lane. The warmth of the bread felt good and its aroma made her hungry. This is all I do, she thought, carry good things from our kitchen to somebody else’s and then we have to skimp. I don’t think Mama could do her Relief Society president’s job without our help, she consoled herself.
The trill of a meadowlark perched on a fence post interrupted Mary Ann’s thoughts. And the trees along the ditch bank were breaking into a fresh spring green. They reminded her that Easter was next Sunday and that she would be wearing something new to church. Then she thought of Martha and an unhappy feeling crept over her.
As Martha opened the door, Mary Ann could tell that she had been crying.
“Mama thought you’d like a batch of fresh bread,” Mary Ann said, setting the bread on the kitchen table.
Martha leaned over and sniffed to get the full aroma. “Your mother always knows when we need something,” she said gratefully.
“Mama says you must come over and let her teach you how to make bread,” Mary Ann said brightly, trying to be friendly. Then another thought struck her, as she added, “You do have something else to eat, don’t you?”
“Oh yes, Mama told me how to make soup out of potatoes and onions from our pit.” She rubbed her hands nervously down the front of her dress. “I can’t cook very well, but I’m learning.”
A sound came from the bedroom and Martha turned to go. “Mama’s calling. Tell your mother thanks for the bread.”
Mary Ann slipped out of the door and hurried home.
Next day Mama cut out the pink Easter dress, and Mary Ann could hardly contain her excitement.
After supper when her sisters were all around the big kitchen table doing their homework in the warmth of the stove, Mary Ann watched her mother fit the last pieces of her dress together. “Now,” she said, “let’s go try it on.”
Mary Ann put down her book and slipped into the bedroom where she wiggled into a cloud of pink and white softness.
Just then, there was a knock at the kitchen door. “Mama!” her sister Liza called, “It’s Brother Fitch. He wants to see you.”
Mama hurried away while Mary Ann peered into the dresser mirror. She draped the fragile white lace around the high neck and drew the pink satin ribbon around her waist. The dress was beautiful!
When Mama returned, she was untying her apron with one hand and smoothing her hair with the other. “Take the dress off, honey. Sister Fitch has taken a turn for the worse. I’ll go with Brother Fitch and I may not be back tonight.” Mama put on her warm shawl and was gone.
Next morning Liza got breakfast ready, and Papa came in from his chores to help get the girls off to school. Mama had been up all night with Sister Fitch, and when Martha wasn’t at school, Mary Ann was really worried.
After school the five girls burst into the kitchen to find Mama treadling away on the sewing machine, the pink dress nearly completed. The aroma of chickens stewing filled the room. “Ummm!” they chorused. “Chicken and noodles for dinner.”
“Try on your dress, Mary Ann, and let’s see if it fits,” Mama said. “I’m anxious to finish it.” Then she paused and said more quietly, “Sister Fitch died early this morning, and I must make a white burial dress for her.”
“Oh, no!” Mary Ann cried. “That’s why Martha wasn’t at school today.”
“We’ll all have to pitch in and help now,” Mama said. “Liza, would you please stir up some noodles and roll them out for the stewed chicken and Mary Ann can take a pot of soup over to the Fitches for their supper. Tonight, Mary Ann, you can sew the lace on your dress while I cut out a dress for Sister Fitch. Her funeral will be Friday.” The girls could tell by looking at Mama’s eyes that she had already done her weeping alone.
That evening Mary Ann stitched the lace carefully around the high neck and the long full sleeves of her Easter dress. The white fabric was laid out on the big table. Only the click of scissors broke the stillness. Everyone was in bed except Mary Ann and Mother.
“The funeral is the day after tomorrow, Mary Ann, and I’m sure that gray dress is the best one Martha has. I wish I had material and time to make her a new one.”
Mary Ann hugged her new dress to her cheek a moment. She had been thinking of Martha even before Mama mentioned her. Finally she spoke. “Mama, I’d like to do something special for Martha. Would it be all right if I gave her my new pink dress? We could add some lace to my white one and it would be really pretty.”
Love shone in Mama’s eyes as she replied, “That would be very nice, dear, and I’m proud that you suggested it.”
In spite of her decision, Mary Ann swallowed a lump in her throat as she silently finished sewing the lace on the pink Easter dress.
On Friday when Martha followed the coffin into the small church with her father and brothers, Mary Ann caught her breath. “Isn’t she beautiful, Mama?” she whispered.
The delicate pink seemed to bring color to Martha’s pale face in spite of her sadness, and her dark hair fell in soft curls on her neck. Martha saw Mary Ann’s look of admiration and a shy half-smile lighted her sad face. Mary Ann nodded, then turned to her mother and whispered, “I hope she never knows who the dress was made for, and I won’t mind not having a new dress—I think I’ve found a new friend.”