by Jessica Boersema
“Wake up, wake up!” Violet Lauren Allen was startled awakened by the worried voice of her mother. It was late evening, ten or eleven o’clock she guessed. She rubbed her eyes and sat up. “The barn is on fire!” her mother exclaimed. She rushed out of the room and ran downstairs to get some water. The barn is on fire, Violet thought. THE BARN IS ON FIRE! She jumped out of bed and pulled on her robe. She ran downstairs taking them two at a time. She came to a halt as she reached the front door. The barn was indeed on fire. The orange and red flames enveloped the whole structure. Violet covered her mouth with her hand to stifle her gasp of surprise. There were people everywhere. Some were just arriving. Rushing from their wagons and hurrying to help in any way that they could. Some looked like they had been there for hours. Their faces were smeared in ashes, making them hardly recognizable. Their lips were cracked, and their fingers blistered. It was a bustle of activity. So many friends and family were trying to put out the fire. Violet turned to go back inside when she heard her mother calling her.
“Violet, come and help me, will you?” Violet rushed to help her mother who was struggling to carry a large bucket filled with water. “Pass it to Martha.” Violet did as she was told. The night continued as a haze. Violet repeatedly fill buckets of water and pass them on to people so they could put out the fire.
By the time the fire was out Violet’s arms were so sore. She was so tired that she could hardly move. The men came inside for an early breakfast. She could tell they were exhausted. Their lips were cracked, their hands were blistered, and their faces were covered in ashes making them hardly recognizable. She tried helped her mother as much as possible. She peeled potatoes until her fingers were sore. Then she washed dishes until her hands were so wrinkly that they looked like they belonged to an old woman.
In the early hours of the morning people finally started to leave. Every man patted her father on the back as they left.
“We’ll be back later on in the day to help you rebuild,” Uncle Jack reassured her father. Her father nodded and smiled gratefully.
“I really appreciate all the work you have done already. Get a good rest and don’t feel like you need to be here. We have lots of other volunteers.” Uncle Jack smiled. He made his way to his buggy, climbed in, and rode away. She knew full well that Uncle Jack would be there to help rebuild even if he didn’t sleep well or felt up to it. With everyone gone the house felt strangely empty to Violet.
“You must be exhausted Vi, go get some rest.” Violet’s mother placed a hand on her shoulder. Violet wanted to protest. She wanted to tell her that she was the one that needed the rest, but she didn’t have the energy. Instead she nodded and made her way upstairs. She didn’t even bother taking her robe off or covering herself with her blankets. She flopped into her bed and instantly fell asleep.
Violet was awakened by the sound of wagons coming up the road. She sat up and looked outside. From the position of the sun she guessed that it was midafternoon. She stretched and let out a huge yawn. She stood up. She pulled on her stockings and pulled on her favorite light blue dress. She stood in front of the mirror and pulled her long black hair into a half up half down. She washed her face, wincing at how cold the water was. After she was finished, she made her way downstairs. Her father and Uncle Jack were already eating a late lunch. They looked up as she came down the stairs.
“Good morning… I mean good afternoon.” Uncle Jack and her father chuckled. She rubbed her eyes and went to help her mother dish out dinner. After they set the food in the center of the table, they took their seats. Lunch was big but no one ate much. Instead they pushed the food around their plates and made small talk. Violet was exploding with questions, but she bit down hard on her tongue trying not to interrupt her parents’ conversation.
“We were very fortunate. We didn’t lose any of the animals and thankfully the corn and wheat seeds were behind the house…” her father was saying. How did the fire start? Did someone leave the lamp in the barn? Violet wondered.
“Did you hear me Violet? I’m talking to you!” Uncle Jack startled Violet. She jumped.
“What were you saying? Sorry, I wasn’t listening.”
“I was saying, you helped your mother a lot last night… You know, mother always told us that family was everything.” Uncle Jack smacked Violet’s father on the back. “I guess she was right.”
“Family and community,” Violet’s mother chimed in. “Without the community we would never be able to rebuild or barn before the planting needs to start.” Just then Violet could hear the faint sound of a wagon coming up the road.
“Oh, they must be arriving.” Violet’s father stood, pushing his chair back. He slicked his hair back and pulled his hat on. Uncle Jack followed his lead. They made their way to the door. Violet’s father kissed her mother goodbye and they left. They sat there for a few moments not doing anything.
“Well, we might as well start cooking. Then men will be very hungry when they come in,” Violet said standing. Her mother also stood up and started to clear the table. They spent the next hour churning butter, kneading dough, and peeling vegetables.
It was just after one when the neighboring women started to arrive. When each one walked in, they placed a wooden basket overflowing with food on the kitchen table.
“Wow, you have accomplished much already!” Mrs. Aiken said when she walked into the kitchen. Violet’s mother smiled and went to give her a hug. Mrs. Aiken was a kind woman. She had shoulder-length dirty blond hair, she was average height, and had the sweetest smile. “I baked five meat pies and some pastries.” She placed a basket on the table. One by one the women came with more, and more food. By noon the Allen’s kitchen table was overflowing with all sorts of food. Pies, sandwiches, pastries, stews, loafs of bread, and so much more. Violet rubbed her stomach and licked her lips.
“Would you go and gather the men, Vi? Make sure they stay outside. I have to go get the camera.” Violet nodded and did as she was told. She went outside and made her way to where the new barn was being constructed. The men have made a great amount of progress. The frame was completed. WOW! They made so much progress they’ll probably have it done by late tomorrow or the next day, she thought, amazed at what they could accomplish in such a small time. She found her father and walked up to him. She pulled him aside.
“Supper is ready, but Mama said that she wants you guys to wait outside. She’s getting her camera,” she whispered in his ear. He nodded and started to round up the men. They waited a few minutes until Violet’s mother appeared in the doorway of the house. She was out of breath by the time she reached them.
“Okay, all we have to do now is wait for the other ladies.” Violet’s father raised an eyebrow. “Don’t worry Dave, I know what I’m doing,” Violet’s mother reassured him. The ladies filed out one by one. They fixed their hair, tucking loose hairs behind their ears. They brushed off their skirts and straightened their aprons. “Okay, huddle all together now. Women in the front and maybe some of the men can climb up on the structure… If it’s stable enough.”
“It should be stable enough.” Uncle Jack said. He turned around. “You heard her, get to it!” The young men rushed to do as they were told. A smile played on Violet’s lips. She had no clue why so many of the men found Uncle Jack intimidating. In her eyes he was the type of man who would feel bad about killing a fly.
“Okay, everyone ready?” Violet’s mom positioned the camera. “Say cheese.” She instructed.
“CHEESE!” Everyone said in unison. I guess grandma was right. Family and community is everything, Violet thought, beaming at the camera.