On the last day of her old life, Ma sent nine-year-old Neeley to the store with some butter and eggs to trade for baking soda and needles. As she left the store with her penny candy and Ma’s things, she saw smoke hanging over the trees. To her horror, when she topped the ridge, flames were leaping in the field between their house and Uncle Jep’s. She fairly flew the last few hundred yards, calling for Ma at the top of her lungs. Tearing into the front room, she found Ma slumped in the rocker, her arm hanging limp at her side with spittle running out the corner of her mouth. She shook Ma, then pulled her arm with no response. Desperate to rouse Ma for escape, she dashed her with a dipper full of water. Ma didn’t wake up!
Threatened by the approaching fire, she realized she had to get Uncle Jep. Racing barefoot toward his house, she skirted the actively burning areas, arriving to find him and Aunt Lottie gone. Desperately, she headed toward the nearest neighbor’s place, only to meet neighbors rushing to help put out the fire. Crying, she told them of Ma’s troubles. Most went on to fight the fire, but Mr. Jones and Mr. Bilieu went to check on Ma. Mr. Bilieu took Neeley to his house for his wife to tend her burned feet. They got Dr Crisp out to see Ma. He came later to check on Neeley bringing sad news. Ma was dead.
Uncle Jep came for her. She had to deal with the agony of her burned feet along with the greater pain of losing Ma and her home. Uncle Jep loved and welcomed her, but Aunt Lottie had the burden of her care. The overworked mother of four was quick with the switch and criticism. It was not an easy transition for the grieving girl going from darling grandchild to “another mouth to feed.” The farm wife already had more work and worry than she could handle before Neeley was foisted on her. It was not a good situation for any of them.