Rugged Is the Road to Rich Reward

by Lena Mae Hansen

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    A fictionalized account of a true incident

    The autumn wind whistled noisily as it whipped at the black mud clinging stubbornly to conceal the cracks between the spruce logs of the Jameston’s cabin.

    Persistently, as if in an effort to determine whose strength was greater, the breath of strong air picked up small rocks and huge thistles and hurled them powerfully against the pioneer structure that housed the family of 13.

    “Sounds like a real storm’s brewing,” papa said as he reached for a block of wood to replenish the dancing flame in the potbellied stove that stood in the corner.

    Emily looked at mama to see if she was going to verify what papa had said, but mama seemed deep in thought as her fingers expertly guided the heavy thread with her darning needle.

    Emily walked to the window and stood looking anxiously out. “I don’t think it’s going to be a bad storm,” she said, hoping someone would agree with her. “It’s much too early in the year.” She looked around. No one seemed to care that the wind was blowing and soon there would be snow. Much, much too soon winter would be upon them.

    She stood a moment longer at the window and then hurried to the bedroom and removed a small fruit jar from the third drawer of the dresser. She turned the wick up and lit the lamp that stood on the table by the bed. Carefully she emptied the contents of the jar and began to count the coins.

    “Five, 15, 25, 50 …”

    Lora opened the door and tiptoed in. She stood in silence as she watched her older sister pick up the money and drop it one coin at a time into the jar.

    “Four dollars and thirty cents, $4.4, $4.45.”

    When Emily finished, she put the lid back on the jar and gave a deep sigh. Lora sat down on the bed beside her.

    “Is there enough?” she asked hopefully.

    “Not yet,” Emily answered, “but soon there will be. Soon there will be,” she echoed.

    “Show me the picture of the coat again, Emily,” Lora said excitedly.” I could look at it forever.”

    Emily leaned over and pulled the catalog from underneath the bed. Without effort she opened the book to the turned-down page, its edge ragged from constant contact.

    “I think it is the most beautiful coat in the whole world,” Emily said breathlessly.

    “So do I,” Lora agreed. “Do you think I will ever have a new coat, Emily?”

    “If you want it strongly enough,” Emily nodded. “Mama says if you really want something and work hard enough for it, you’ll most likely get it.”

    “How long have you been saving for the coat?” Lora wanted to know.

    “About two years now,” Emily answered as she carefully placed the catalog back under the bed.

    “Seems like you’ve been saving forever.” Lora pulled the covers back and fluffed the feather pillows vigorously. “And you’ve counted the money a hundred times, maybe a thousand, and there still isn’t enough.”

    “I know,” Emily said, “but soon there will be, you’ll see.”

    The next day was cold, and the night’s wind had not subsided.

    “Are you sure you don’t want me to bring in Aunt Hattie’s used coat from the box in the granary and make it over for you?” Mama asked anxiously as she examined the worn wrap Emily was putting on.

    “No,” Emily stated firmly, “it would be a waste of time, mama. The sale catalog will be here soon, and I’m sure by then I’ll have enough money.”

    “Will they have your coat in the sale catalog?” Lora asked doubtfully.

    “Oh, I hope so,” Emily said as she took her younger sister Karen by the hand and started for school.

    “You can find Lora or David to go home with this afternoon if you want to,” Emily counseled as they walked along. “I’m going to stop by Mrs. Harwells’ after school to help her clean house.”

    “I know why,” Karen said importantly. “So you can buy an unused coat.”

    Emily smiled and gave her sister’s hand a tight squeeze.

    The afternoon sun had long departed from visibility as Emily hurried out the Harwell’s gate and down the road towards home. Her mind had no room to think about how tired she was, for thoughts of owning the coat crowded everything else out as it drew closer to becoming a reality.

    “Oh, I hope the sale catalog came in the mail today,” Emily thought and she started to run in her anticipation. But the catalog wasn’t there when she got home, and in the many days that followed while she waited for the book, she worked. When folks could afford to and whenever mama could spare her, she worked and saved and saved and worked for a nickel or a dime, and although money was getting more and more scarce, the coins in her jar continued to slowly to add up.

    On a particularly cold December day shortly before Christmas, the sale catalog came. Lora went to the Post Office, and if there was any other mail she failed to notice it in her excitement. With a squeal of delight she raced toward home, and as the cabin came into view, she began waving the book and shouting, “It’s here! It’s here!”

    Emily burst out of the door and met her at the gate. Karen was close behind, and it seemed the whole family came from every direction oblivious of the wet, cold snow.

    “Open it and tell me if the coat is there,” Emily said, not daring to look for herself.

    Lora held out the book and started to open it. Then she stopped. “Oh, it’s on the cover,” she said in a hushed tone. “Your beautiful blue coat is right here on the cover of the catalog.”

    Emily reached quickly for the book, looked at the price of the coat, and then without warning she burst into tears. No one knew what to do.

    “Don’t you have enough money to buy it?” Karen asked worriedly.

    Emily picked up her young sister. “Oh yes, Karen. I do! That’s why I’m crying, because I’m so happy.”

    “Girls are dumb.” Sam threw a snowball at Emily and everyone started laughing.

    The mood carried over into the evening, and all were having a good time. Emily, the center of attention, was at the table filling out the order blank when Chris Landin and his wife, Irene, came to the door. Papa hurried to open it.

    “Good evening, Brother Jameston.” Chris shook papa’s hand.

    “Come in, come in,” papa smiled.

    Brother and Sister Landin spoke to the children and then sat visiting with mama and papa.

    “We just came from the Andersons,” Chris said. “Joe’s health is getting worse, and it seems that if he is to get well, he must move to a lower climate soon.”

    “How ironic it is,” Irene shook her head sadly, “that since he has been too ill to work, his finances won’t permit him to do this.”

    “Do you suppose there is some way we neighbors could appropriate some money to help Joe?” Chris wondered.

    Papa’s eyes saddened. He remembered how Joe had stopped in the middle of his work and rushed Sam to the hospital 18 miles away when the accident with the runaway horses had crushed the little boy badly. The Jamestons had all known that Joe’s instant concern and his automobile were an important part of the team that had been needed to meet the emergency that day.

    “I have done a lot of custom work lately,” papa said finally, “but no one has been able to pay me for more than a month, and although we raised a big garden and have plenty to eat, I have no cash on hand at all.”

    “I know. That’s the way it is with most of us,” Chris agreed, “It has been especially hard for a lot of folks this year. All of us are feeling the pinch of the depression.”

    Emily sat listening. She liked the Andersons. Joe and his family weren’t members of the Church, but he was often doing something good for others. The kids in the neighborhood all liked him and called him Uncle Joe. He always had time to listen to troubles and never made light of an individual’s problem, no matter how small. In spite of how busy he was, Uncle Joe would often stop and play a game of softball if an extra player was needed, and Emily especially liked the way he could tell a story. His imaginative tales fascinated not only small children but teenagers as well. But one of the things that claimed priority in importance in Emily’s thoughts was how Uncle Joe had helped her and David and Lora make a tie rack for papa’s birthday after he had hired the three to pull weeds in his garden so they could purchase lumber for the gift.

    After the Landins left, Emily closed the catalog, mumbled something about deciding to wait for a day or two before ordering the coat, and then hurried to the bedroom before anyone could question her further.

    The next day Joe Anderson’s health was constantly on Emily’s mind. She caught snatches of conversation at school from his daughter who was two years younger than Emily. “People have been good. So many have given what they could, but there is not quite enough money. He is getting worse—his lungs …”

    Papa and the neighbors helped with the Andersons’ chores and offered words of cheer, but few could contribute financially.

    A few days later, when the Jamestons were gathered around the pump organ singing, Emily slipped unnoticed into the bedroom. For a long time she stood quietly thinking.

    “Yes,” she whispered to herself, “if my papa were ill, I would want everyone who could to help him get well.” Then she took the small jar of coins from the drawer of the dresser and joined her family in the front room.

    Going to mama and papa, Emily held out her hard-earned savings. “I’ve thought about it for a long time, and I’ve decided that I want you to give this money to the Andersons,” she said.

    Lora pressed her hand quickly over her mouth to smother the cry of disbelief that sprang to her lips. She looked around. Wasn’t anyone going to stop Emily from giving her money away? Mama was just sitting there, sitting there smiling, and papa, what was papa doing? Was something the matter with his eyes? Why was he brushing his hand across them so vigorously?

    Finally, Lora could stand the silence no longer. “Are you sure, Emily?” she burst out. “What about your coat? You’ve waited so long and worked so hard.”

    “I’m sure,” Emily said. “At least I’m sure that it isn’t as important for me to have a new coat as it is for Uncle Joe to get well.”

    Papa placed his hand on Emily’s shoulder. For a few seconds he was silent When he spoke, the tone of his voice was low and unnatural for he was touched by the courage his 14-year-old daughter had shown in deciding to part with her savings.

    “You are very unselfish, Emily, and you are filled with sweet compassion for others.” He stopped and swallowed hard before he went on. “And since you have given this considerable thought and this is what you want to do, then I think it would be nice if you gave the Andersons the money yourself.”

    The next morning mama brought in Aunt Hattie’s coat that she had been altering as a surprise and gave it to her daughter. Emily’s eyes portrayed a quick preview of a smile that was coming. If she couldn’t have a new coat, this was next best, and her happy expression mingled gratitude with admiration at mama’s insight.

    Emily wore the coat that night to a special school program. She arrived a little early, and the prelude music was being played softly when two classmates, Nadine and Lucille, neared the bench that she was sitting on. Emily heard their voices as they approached, but she wasn’t prepared for the shock she received when she looked up to speak to them, for Lucille had on a new wrap. Emily caught her breath sharply as she recognized it as being the beautiful blue coat from the sale catalog.

    The program became a blur as Emily kept looking at the coat she had wanted so much, and after the closing song, she slipped quickly out of the building and stood for a moment, her hand pressed tightly on the jar of coins concealed in her large patch pocket. As Nadine and Lucille came out they were laughing and whispering. They didn’t see Emily hidden by the shadows.

    “Did you see Emily’s made-over coat?” Lucille asked her cousin in a low tone.

    “Did I ever!” Nadine giggled. “I have never seen such an ugly mess in my entire life.”

    “Did you see how it bagged and how it sagged?” Lucille pulled at the hem of her coat in an exaggerated gesture to emphasize her meaning.

    The two girls burst out laughing as they walked away. Emily waited until they were out of sight; then she turned and ran toward home, her tears keeping fast tempo to her running steps. She kept her hand tightly gripped on the small jar in her pocket while the decision to give her money away stood on rocky ground.

    When she came to the Andersons’ residence, she stopped abruptly. Joe was propped in a chair in front of the window, and he looked pale, even at a distance. She saw him cough harshly, and his wife hurry to his side. Emily thought of Sam and how Uncle Joe had come immediately to the rescue when he had been needed. After the coughing subsided, Emily opened the gate and went up the walk to the door.

    As she left the Andersons’ home, the piercing stab of hurt that had come from Lucille and Nadine’s cruel words began to fade from her memory. Instead she recalled the mist that had come to Uncle Joe’s eyes when she had handed him the money and his raspy voice thanking her again and again.

    The crisp December air was near freezing, but Emily stopped for a moment in the darkness before she reached the cabin and looked at her secondhand wrap. Then a soft smile touched her lips, for in a sense, the coins were serving their purpose after all. True they hadn’t been used to purchase a new coat, yet because of the giving, Emily was aware that something new and beautiful was hers, and it was wrapping her in a feeling of warmth she had never experienced before.

    Her smile broadened, and she hugged her made-over coat closer around her as she hurried on.

    Photos by Gerald Bybee

    Calligraphy by Warren Luch