When Joseph saw his brother Hyrum walking toward him, he left the ax buried in the log he was cutting up for firewood. Hyrum was nearly six years older, and just about the best friend that nine-year-old Joseph had in the whole world. Hadn’t he sat with Joseph day and night, holding his leg to ease the pain when it was so sore and swollen! And no one was more fun to wrestle or run with than Hyrum. Joseph challenged Hyrum to a footrace every chance he got, though he still needed a crutch at times and walked with a limp.
“Hyrum, I’ll race you to the house for dinner.”
Hyrum grinned. “Then you’d better take a head start while you have the chance.”
Joseph took off like a duck after a June bug, under the apple tree then right through the corn patch. No use worrying about tromping through the corn, he reasoned. An early frost had already ruined it.
Joseph reached the house and raced right through the open door, shouting, “I beat you, Hyrum!” But he came to an abrupt standstill when he saw his father and mother in earnest conversation. His father looked at the boys for a full half minute before he spoke, as though he were still trying to make friends with an idea. “We’re thinking of moving to Palmyra. It’s a settlement in New York state.”
Hyrum was the first to find words. “It’s because of the drought and the frost killing our crops the past three years, isn’t it?”
“ ’Fraid so. We’ve done the best we could, and you’ve both worked like men to help. If we hadn’t been able to sell a little fruit from our trees, we’d have starved. Caleb Howard says folks are getting forty bushels of wheat to an acre in New York. He’s going to Palmyra right away … said we could go along with him. If I could only arrange our affairs in time …”
“Why don’t you go on ahead, Father? We can follow with Mother and help her,” Hyrum suggested.
Joseph chimed in, “We can help get things ready here.”
Lucy put her arms around her two sons. “With the help of the boys I’m sure I can manage. Sophronia is thirteen now and she can take over the little ones. You go on ahead and find a place for us to live.”
By the time the moon was new once more, Joseph’s father had sent for the family and Mr. Howard was back in Vermont to help them move.
Joseph helped his mother pack their homespun sheets and quilts. A huge hide-covered trunk, bound with metal bands, was filled with clothing. Joseph helped his brothers put this, along with their featherbeds, iron pots and pans, and furniture into the wagon.
“Let’s be off,” Mr. Howard called impatiently, as he climbed onto the wagon.
Lucy and her eight children gathered beside the wagon, for most of them would have to walk. Mr. Howard clucked to the team. Unwillingly, they hunched forward, taking up the slack in the halter. The loaded wagon creaked and groaned like a weary old woman leaving her bed of a morning.
As they moved away from the house, Joseph took a last look at the fruit trees, gnarled and near-barren from years of struggle. And the puny ears of corn left in the garden would have made him laugh if they had not made his mother weep.
Joseph looked at her and knew her thoughts were close on the trail of his own. Trouble had been crowding them for over four years, but now … now they could see nothing ahead but blessings.
As the family walked past the stone wall that marked the end of their property his mother shifted the baby in her arms and took Joseph’s hand. Her mouth eased its hard line into a gentle smile. In spite of his limp he seemed as spry as a cricket.
“We’ve had three years of crop failure and a year of sickness,” she said. “But the Lord has been with us. We need to thank Him for preserving our lives through such tremendous afflictions … more so than if we had seen nothing but health and prosperity.”
Joseph lifted his face and his smile caught the sunlight.
“It’s a new beginning, Mother.”
(To be continued.)