I was walking down the street, the ice-cold biting at my skin through my thin, ragged coat. As I walked, I noticed that Harper’s Grocery had closed; the sign had been taken down and the windows had been boarded up. I sighed as I remembered all the times my mother and I had gone in there.
Almost all the stores were closed, most of them looking like Harper’s Grocery and falling apart. It was obvious that the Great Depression was raging. Our small town of Winston was struggling greatly.
My teeth chattered as a strong wind blew through the rickety old town. I wrapped my coat around me tighter and turned into a neighborhood, my eyes stinging from the icy wind. I continued walking down the street, most of the houses vacant. With people losing their jobs, many families were forced to move away to find work elsewhere. Among those people were my two best friends and their families. Their departure had been hard, but Mother and I were beginning to get used to having only each other for company.
Father had thought that making us leave our beloved town would be too hard, and with all the changes, he wanted things to stay as normal as possible. So, with a tearful good-bye, Father left to find work away from home. At first, he wrote often, making sure to include many details about his travels in his letters. But time was wearing on, and with things becoming harder, Father was unable to keep in touch with us. It was hard, especially for Mother, not knowing exactly where he was, or what he was doing, but Mother kept her head up and always stayed strong. She knew worrying was unhealthy, and it would only make things worse.
I turned onto another side street that led away from Winston to our house beyond the trees. Not being able to afford our old house, we had moved into a tiny one-room house outside of town. It was hard, living in such a confined place, but living outside of town let us have a large garden and chickens. Mother was constantly working hard, trying to make money for her and me to survive. It kept her from worrying all the time, so she worked endlessly, selling vegetables from the garden and taking care of the chickens.
School had been cancelled in Winston, thanks to so many children moving away, so I spent the days selling eggs and helping Mother, though sometimes Mother would make me read and study at home. She wanted me to have a good education, and I never complained when I was sent to study; all I wanted was to make Mother happy in such a devastating time.
I walked for over an hour, the sun beginning to set. Darkness began to creep over the countryside, and I began to shiver, for the darkness brought even colder winds. Thunder suddenly rumbled. I could see dark, heavy clouds in the distance, and I knew we were in for a storm.
Before long, I reached my house. It wasn’t much of a house, but more of a shack. The house was built of wood, some of it rotting. There were only two small windows, and a rickety old door. There was a small roof coming out over the front of the house, and I stood under it, watching the storm-clouds move quickly towards Winston. I heard the chickens squawking, and I knew they too sensed the storm.
I turned towards the door, and as I opened it, the smell of soup reached my nostrils. The stew cooked over the fire in the corner of the room, the fire crackling loudly. It another corner sat a large basin of water next to a tall cupboard. We were unable to afford running water, but made do with what we had. Two beds lined the wall with a small table in between them. There was another table in the middle of the room surrounded by four chairs (not that we ever had company). I smiled, noticing a vase of freshly cut flowers on the table.
“Sarah, did you bring the bread?” Mother asked as I walked in. She looked frail and dirty with wrinkles streaked across her face, and her hair was tied back in an old rag. She was sweeping the dirt floor for no use at all, only to make the place feel like a home. I didn’t mention the fact that she was just stirring up the dirt; I knew how desperate she was for something to make her feel ordinary.
“Yes, ma’am,” I took a loaf of bread our of the inside of my coat and sat it down on the table next to a tray of butter and a pitcher of water. “Here’s the change,” I said as I reached down into my coat pocket and pulled out a nickel. I handed it to my mother.
Her face fell, “This is all there is?”
“The price went up ten cents,” I said, mumbling and looking down at my feet.
She closed her eyes, and I could see weariness mixed with fear in her face.
“Mother-” I started.
“It’s okay,” she replied, and I could sense nervousness in her tone.
“We’ll be fine,” she said firmly, turning so as not to let me see her face. “We’ll manage, I’m sure.”
I didn’t say anything, but took my coat off and hung it on the rack by the door and then walked to the fire to get warm. The soup was boiling in the pot, and I began to stir it, taking in the delicious smell. It was part vegetables and part water, but today it seemed much more watery than normal. I guessed Mother had had to sell more vegetables that day than she normally did. I let go of the spoon and bent down, rubbing my hands together. My numbed fingers began to regain feeling, and my shivering body became still. A crash of thunder sounded overhead, and a sudden downpour began.
“Oh, Sarah!” Mother cried.
I quickly got some pots out of the cupboard and sat them around the room to catch the water as it dripped in. A second later I had retaken my seat by the fire, the plank plunk of the water echoing through the room. The sound of the rain was loud on the roof, and I was afraid the roof would fall in, but I pushed the thought to the back of my head.
Mother took a seat beside me, and she wrapped her arms around my shoulders.
“I’m so sorry, Sarah,” she said.
“For what?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Your life shouldn’t be this hard,” she sighed. “I just wish- I wish your father and I could have given you something better.”
“Mother, this isn’t your fault,” I replied.
She didn’t say anything, but looked into the fire. I could see pain in her eyes, and I couldn’t stand seeing her like this.
“My life is amazing in its own special way,” I said. “Yeah, maybe it’s hard. But I haven’t lost everything. I still have you. And Father- he’s somewhere, working hard to care for us.” I paused for a moment before finishing, “I have everything I need.”
Mother looked at me and smiled. Her smile comforted me, but deep inside I felt a growing fear: How long could we go on like this?