“What special things, Kate?” Papa winked at Mama. “I thought I was to get flour and sugar and salt. Nothing special about that.”
“You know, Papa,” Molly burst out. “Get a bolt of the prettiest calico you can find! Mama’s going to make me a new dress, and shirts for John, and curtains for our new glass windows!” She stopped, and everyone was quiet as Papa gave thanks for the food.
“Papa,” John asked, taking a bite out of his corn bread, “do you remember the other two special things?”
“Let’s see,” Papa replied. “I’m to get some smooth boards to cover this dirt floor.” His eyes sparkled. “We’re going to be the first family out here to have a real wood floor!”
“And then, Frank, if there’s enough money left over, get that last special thing,” Mama said excitedly. “Bring home some oilcloth to cover the walls with and some pretty wallpaper to go over the oilcloth. Then we’ll have a real house, like the one we had back east.”
They all looked at the hardpacked dirt walls. Papa had tried to make them look nice by painting them with whitewash, but most of it had come off. “I think if we put oilcloth up first, the wallpaper will last longer,” said Mama.
The little sod house seemed even warmer as Papa laughed. “I’ll do the best shopping I can,” he promised, and his smile wrapped around Molly like a hug. “Now, Molly,” he said as they finished their squash and ham, “get out your favorite book. It’s your turn to read tonight.”
Early the next morning as the sky turned pink along the eastern edge of the prairie, Papa hitched the horses to the wagon. “I’ll be back in three days,” he called as he drove off.
Molly watched until Papa was out of sight and only the tall prairie grass waved back at her.
Molly and John carried water to the chickens. They collected buffalo chips to burn in the stove and helped Mama milk the cow. They gathered the eggs and shelled the corn. They studied their lessons—and they counted three days.
By dinnertime on the third day Papa wasn’t home. Molly squished her nose flat against the wavy glass window. “I still can’t see him, Mama,” she said.
“Don’t fret, Molly. Papa’s been to town many times since we’ve been here.” Mama’s voice was calm and quiet. “Don’t you remember he said it would take three full days? Now let’s put the lantern in the window so he can see the light shining out over the prairie.”
They had just finished their mush-and-milk supper when John shouted, “Listen! I hear the wagon!”
In a few minutes Papa was in the house. He gave Mama a big hug and picked up Molly and John. “Just wait until you see the special things I’ve brought!” he said, whirling them around the room.
Papa and Mama and Molly and John carried in the food supplies for winter. Then Papa brought in a big package. “Here’s your calico, Molly—the prettiest in the country, I’ll wager.” The calico was a soft blue, with little red and yellow designs scattered all over it.
“Oh, Papa,” Molly cried, “I’ve never seen such pretty calico!”
“Frank, it’s lovely,” said Mama. “Did it take you a long time to find it?”
“No,” said Papa, laughing. “I just matched Molly’s blue eyes.”
“And was there enough money to get the second special thing?” John asked.
“Wait and see,” said Papa. He came back with one wide, smooth board and laid it on the dirt floor. “There you are, Kate, the finest floor on the prairie!”
“But, Papa, that’s not big enough!” cried John.
Papa chuckled. “Don’t worry, John. The rest of the floor is in the wagon.”
“And the third special thing, Papa?” Molly jumped up and down on the board. “Did you get the oilcloth and the prettiest wallpaper in the country too?”
“I got the oilcloth and the best wallpaper you ever saw,” said Papa. He went to the wagon again and came back with two heavy brown packages.
Papa unwrapped a roll of oilcloth first. Then he opened a squarish package and held up a large dictionary. “Here’s the wallpaper. And it’s a brand-new 1870 edition, too,” he announced.
“Frank, I don’t understand. Where is the wallpaper?” Mama sounded puzzled.
“Just watch, Kate.” Papa’s eyes twinkled as he carefully fastened a piece of oilcloth over one of the hard-packed sod walls. Then he opened the dictionary and carefully cut out some of the pages with his knife. He took one of the pages and nailed it up, right through the oilcloth and into the sturdy wall behind it. He nailed up another, and another. Soon the wall was covered with pages. The white paper made the sod house look large and bright, and the words looked like tiny stripes across the wall.
“How beautiful!” cried Molly.
Mama looked at the wall without a word. Then she turned to Papa. “Frank, who else would ever have thought of papering the walls with a dictionary!” Mama’s eyes were bright as she hugged Papa. “You really did bring us something special!”
“And, Kate,” said Papa, “when we’ve learned all these words, we’ll just add more pages and keep on reading.”
Molly gave a happy sigh. “Papa,” she said, “now we have the prettiest calico, and the finest floor, and the smartest walls in the whole world!”