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  • Mj Pettengill

May the Little Ones Be Mothered: A Thanksgiving Prayer

Updated: 7 days ago


Lewis Hine Photo: Baltimore

Once dressed and washed up, I made my way to the kitchen. Just like Mother, the Irish women took charge. Old Maggie stoked up the stove and pecked as expected. As crude as she tended to be, and after losin’ her only daughter to influenza, she was like a mother to us.

Enjoyin’ the quiet and the warmth of the kitchen, Mercy and I peeled carrots and sliced onions, which didn’t help my eyes after a lack of sleep.

I smiled at Mercy. Much to Rebecca’s dismay, she took to wearin’ my braid as if it were her own. The hair color was off, but she made it neat, and if you didn’t look too closely, you wouldn’t have known if it were her hair or not.

After our preparations, we returned to our room and got into our Sunday best. The mothers who stayed home with the babies and young children finished up in the kitchen. I tried to ignore thoughts of Mother bakin’ merries and roastin’ the finest turkey imaginable. She got special cranberries from Mr. Tibbets, who claimed to get them from his family’s bogs in Massachusetts.

All through the service, I wiggled in my seat. When it ended, I wasted no time leavin’, eager for our Thanksgivin’ feast. There, standin’ across the way, were August and Finn.

“Hello,” he said, wonderin’ if I’d come up with a reason to run.

“August, it’s nice to see you,” I said, wavin’ for Clara to go on ahead. I tried to speak to Finn, but he was engrossed in a coin that he held up close to his face.

“I haven’t seen you for some time,” he said. “How have you been?”

“Uh…” I looked up at the sight of real snowflakes, a refreshin’ change from the lint that swirled about recklessly and stuck to you. I was wordless—not good, not bad. What was good in my life was a secret, while millwork was hard and tirin’, not worth mentionin’. “I’m well.”

“You don’t sound so convincin’,” he said.

“It’s not that I’m unwell. There just isn’t anything new to say,” I said, instantly regrettin’ it when I saw his look of disappointment. “Well, I’m thinkin’ about bein’ a drawin’-in girl. That has crossed my mind. The pay is better, and it requires more skill.”

He looked as disinterested as one could possibly be. He placed his hand on Finn’s shoulder and started walkin’. “Can we walk you home?”

“Yes, of course,” I said. “Are you cookin’ a special dinner today?”

“We’re goin’ to visit my friend, Tiago. He’s a butcher. He invited us over.”

The wind picked up, and it started to snow harder. August grabbed my arm, and we hurried to the tenement. I liked his touch. It was such a simple thing, not like an embrace or a kiss, but it meant somethin’. I paused. Not too close, because he could never know about Jonas. I kept at a distance.

As I watched them walk away, I caught a whiff of cigar smoke.

“Ya keep lettin’ him go,” Mary said, “such a foolish girl.” The smoke curled around her face, and she looked as if she could laugh at any moment.

“What am I supposed to do?” I asked. “He can’t come in, and I have no desire to go crawlin’ into that shed where he lives.”

“I don’t know. But ya gotta’ do somethin’, before he finds another one,” she said.

“Come on, put out your smoke; let’s go in,” I said.

Surprisingly, she did. And, together we went into the kitchen, where all was abuzz, and everyone wanted to be in charge.

We sat at three separate tables, each providin’ more food than I had seen since my arrival.

As always, Mrs. O’Leary said the prayer.

“O Lord our God, thanks for providin’ meat and drink for the nourishment of our worn and tired bodies, made weak from our hard work. Give us Thy blessin’s so that we may be comforted and sustained. We give thanks that we don’t hunger and thirst for food and drink, and that it’s on our table today, and that we have our health, Amen.”

Suddenly Mary rose up, causin’ quite a clatter. “I got somethin’ to say.”

She cleared her throat. “God, Watch over the children of Ireland, scattered around the world. May the little ones be mothered, as they should be, and all of us raised up from the deeps, Amen.”

After a pause, and without unity, we managed to say, ‘amen.’ Mary plopped down into her chair, tucked her soiled linen into her collar, and dug into the food.

We enjoyed hunter’s pie, very much like the stew that Mother made when we were children, only the spices were more pungent. It consisted of the best end of a neck of mutton that was trimmed of any fat, smoked tongue, alternately layered with potatoes, onions, and mixed herbs, baked in an earthenware pie dish. The top layer of potatoes was neatly scalloped around the edges and carefully glazed with eggs. On each table was a pigeon pie that Mrs. O’Leary personally prepared, a half a loaf of soda bread, and steamed apple puddin’. ~Sarah Hodgdon - Fall River, Tenement - November 28, 1872 ~ EXCERPT: THE ANGELS' LAMENT Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series - Book Two

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