Six-year-old Catherine sang as she followed Joseph and his plow down the long brown furrows, dropping yellow kernels of corn into the newly turned soil:
One for the cutworm,
One for the crow,
One to rot, and
One to grow.
Joseph called over his shoulder, “If Alvin doesn’t get back with some money, all that corn will go to the land agents. And from what I hear, they’re not about to share it with a cutworm or a crow or anything else.”
Catherine had heard her father talk about land agents, but she wasn’t sure just what they were. “What are land agents, Joseph?” she asked.
Her brother pulled the ox to a halt and explained, “They’re men who sell property. If there is a drought or your crops don’t sell and you can’t pay the mortgage money, they come and take the farm back.” Then he paused for a moment, remembering his father’s dawn-to-dark labor when they’d first cleared the land of trees to plant crops.
The whole family had helped tap the thousand sugar maple trees in the spring. Joseph also remembered the split-wood chairs and baskets and the straw brooms his father had made to sell to help pay for the farm. His father had even hired out as a hand for other farmers to bring in precious money. But still there wasn’t enough.
Catherine brought her brother back from his recollecting. “Are they going to take our farm, Joseph?”
“It looks like it, unless we can raise some more money. Alvin is still out on his job as a carpenter’s helper with a crew that’s building log houses, and Mother has been selling a lot of her painted oilcloth covers.”
“I’ve helped Mother sell cakes and gingerbread and root beer on public days,” Catherine said, beaming.
“Well, we’ve all helped. But it hasn’t been enough.” Joseph sighed as he slapped the reins against the rump of the ox. “I wish I could do something more.”
“You’ve been helping to clear trees and plowing and planting the corn and pumpkins. That’s a big help.”
“Sure. But we need money. And we need it right away.”
Catherine let out a deep breath and sat down on the broken black earth. “Will we have to let the land agents take our farm?” she asked.
“If we can’t pay all the mortgage money, we will. And the law backs them up. But it just doesn’t seem right after we’ve spent two years clearing trees from sixty acres of land and planting crops and building a four-room log house besides. They’d only turn around and sell it again for a heap of money, and we wouldn’t get a penny for all the improvements we’ve made.”
Catherine understood now why some folks said the land agents were really land robbers. The thought was still in her mind when a large black crow flew down and began to scratch for the newly planted corn. Her frustration erupted. Skirts flying, she chased after the bird, shaking her fist.
“Get out of here you old domineker!” she yelled as the bird flapped off in panic. “I won’t let you take our corn!”
Young Joseph had to laugh at the sight of her, and his laughter skipped across the clearing into the open window of the house. His mother was just lifting the lid on the cooking pot in the fireplace when she heard it. She smiled and felt a sudden sense of relief. How she wished she could stir some of it into the venison stew. They needed all the laughter they could get these days.
She left the stew sputtering against the pot lid as she called to her family. “Supper’s on!”
Later after supper, Joseph’s father, as always, felt for his spectacles. When his hand found the lower right-hand pocket of his vest, that was the signal for a reading from the Bible and for family prayer.
That night the family had an extra long prayer. Father Smith thanked Heavenly Father for His “mercy which endureth forever.” Then he pleaded for help in somehow obtaining the money that was needed. When all members of the family had added their amen, they sang the usual hymn:
Another day has passed and gone,
We lay our garments by—
The song was interrupted by a loud knock. Mr. Smith opened the door and invited a neighbor from down the road to come in.
“Much obliged, Joe. I came to ask if you’d let me hire one of your boys for a few days. I need to dig a well.”
Alvin was away working and young Joseph knew his father needed Hyrum to help cut trees. “I could do it, sir,” he said eagerly.
His father smiled. “Joseph’s able. He’ll give you a good day’s work for a day’s pay.”
“I know your boys are good workers. They’ve worked alongside their pa until they’re better than most men. That’s why I’m here. Young Joseph will be fine.”
Joseph was so happy that he had to take a big breath to keep from shouting out loud: The Lord is surely opening up the way. Things are going to work out. I’m sure of it. He was so sure that he wasn’t a bit surprised when Alvin arrived home a few days later with the money he had earned. Just the same, it was a tense moment when the whole family gathered to count their savings. Is it enough? they wondered.
Joseph held his breath as the cash was totaled. It was enough; they’d made it. Tears and laughter mingled as they realized that Alvin’s earnings added to what Joseph and the others had been able to raise would save their farm!
(To be continued.)