Two Roads Part 10

The day after Christmas, Neeley miscarried and was shamed at her relief.  She already had five children and faced an uncertain future.  Mama Cassie came to help out for a few days bringing her youngest daughter, Cynthia.  At nine, Cynthia was about the age Neeley was when Ma died.  Seeing the child playing with her children was bittersweet, remembering Mama had long abandoned her by that point in her life.

Mama Cassie was a sharp-spoken, bitter woman, not given to tenderness.  In the way of many neglected children, Neeley basked in any affection her mother showed and would have never antagonized her.  Cassie must have sensed her questions, since she brought the subject up one morning over coffee.  “I always felt bad I left you.  I wanted you with me an’ felt real bad when I found out Ma died an’ you was with Jep.  I was a’living with my husband Jeb Cox then in Smackover, Arkansas.  He was a mean one. He drank an’ beat me till I lost a baby right about that time.  I knowed if I brung you there he’d a’done you wrong.  I felt just awful about losing that baby, but that wasn’t a fit home to bring another youngun into.  Soon as I was able, I left Willie and Albert with their Grandma Cox an’ slipped off from him.  I just had to live however I could till I married Joe Miller.  I just want you to know I would’a raised you iffen I could.” A tear slid down her cheek.

Neeley understood how hard it was trying to do right by children.  Her heart melted.  “I’m glad you told me, Ma.  You ain’t had no easy life neither.”  Any resentment she’d still held melted away in light of her mother’s contrition.

Eddie made arrangements to rent a farm about six miles down in the low country, eighty acres with a creek.  The only problem was, there wasn’t a good well.  They would have to haul water about three hundred yards till Eddie could get a well dug.  Willie, Albert and a couple of cousins would help.  By March, they’d moved onto the place.  Neeley was sorry to leave her brothers’ place, especially since Eddie told her the house wasn’t as tight and they’d be hauling water for a while, but at least it would be their own place and it was reasonably close to family.  The school was only two miles away, so the kids could get there in good weather.  She was a little down in the mouth when she saw the house.  She could see daylight through cracks in the walls, but she got to work tacking cardboard, newspapers, catalog pages and anything else she could get her hands on over the cracks. Every house she’d ever lived in had paper tacked over cracks, so that wasn’t a problem. There was a good iron cook stove in the kitchen and a wood heater in the front room. That made up for a lot. The first time it rained, they had to set pots around to catch the drips, but Eddie split shingles and fixed the roof right away. The chimney had pulled away from the house, but they tipped it back and braced it before mixing red clay mortar and hay to daub up the seams and cracks. By the time they were through, it was a decent place for the family. Eddie never let her run out of water, hauling in a barrel from the creek
images pulled from internet