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The morning dew still weighed heavy upon the grass. My bare feet skipped quickly across it, trying to avoid the cold that seeped up from the depths of the ground not yet warmed by the early morning sun. I did, just barely, see the sun peeking behind my farthest neighbor’s barn. It was still very low in the sky and cast a sort of grayish light on my world, now and again piercing through with a brilliant ray of sunshine.
“Lucy!” I turned my head at the sound of my name. My older sister, Annalee, was running up behind me from the house. She was two years older than I, sixteen almost exactly two weeks ago. We had had a grand party for her, Mama and Papa had even allowed us balloons and Mama had made her best Angel Food Cake with a thick homemade frosting. However, the fun and games were over and my sister and I were back to reality.
I paused and waited for Annalee to catch up. My sister had always amazed me. She was not particularly beautiful but she carried herself well. Her eyes were always bright and dancing, full of life. Annalee was also incredibly strong, but then again so was I, so were all of the Williams kids. We had all thrown enough hay- bales and lugged enough grain and water buckets.
However, it was none of these characteristics that caused Annalee to amaze me. It was how easily she could play two people. How easily she could be the strong, incredibly hard worker she was on the farm, play second mother to Daniel and me, the two youngest, and already know all there is to know about canning, pickling, and freezing. Annalee could then change out of her simply woven dress Mama had gotten at the thrift store, put on her school clothes and yet again be a completely different Annalee. In school, she was cute and befriended everyone she talked to.
I envied my sister this, her canny ability to fit in wherever she needed, whether it is in the barn with dad, in the kitchen with mama, or at school. I had never been so lucky.
“You’ll need to collect the eggs for Daniel this morning too.” Annalee had come to a standstill next to me and the sound of her voice forced me to come out of thought and back to the present.
“What? Why? He’s plenty capable…” My voice trailed off at the flash of my sisters eyes. You don’t question, you just do, this was the rule we lived by on the farm.
I noticed that Annalee had my muck boots tucked under one arm. She hates how I do everything, go anywhere with bare feet, hates how rough and calloused the bottoms of my feet are. Personally, I never saw anything wrong with bare feet, you get something on the bottoms you wash it off, you get a splinter you pull it out, problem solved. After a while, nothing is going to be able to break thorough that hard layer of dead skin that stands between your feet and the unknown outside.
Annalee saw me eyeing the boots and held them out to me. With an audible sigh to show her I was not impressed, I took the boots from my sister and pulled them on one by one. Annalee nodded and hurried away in the direction of the barn.
I changed course as well and made my way quickly to the chicken coop. The hens were loud and hollered at me for interrupting their eggs. I had to reach my hand under each hen and feel around for the eggs. Some hens jumped right up at the touch of my hand but most were lazy and only clucked furiously.
I didn’t have the egg basket with me because collecting eggs was not part of my normal routine of morning chores. Therefore, I had to bunch the apron of my dress up and place the warm, fresh eggs carefully against my stomach and inside my cloth apron.
By now I was behind with chores, so I ran quickly to the barn and dug around for a basket, instead of going all the way to the house to deposit the eggs. I finally found a little wire box and dumped the eggs inside. They didn’t quite all fit so I was forced to place the remaining three precariously on top.
Then, filling two water buckets I carried them, one in each hand, to the baby calves and filled their water troth. I also watered my father’s draft horses and the two saddle horses. Annalee had already given them grain and hay so I was not surprised when from the hay loft I heard my eighteen year old brother Rodger yell, “Coming down!” and a hay-bale fell through a hole in the ceiling into the main isle of the barn.
“Hurry,” I yelled up through the hole, “the bus should be here soon!”
Roger knelt down and stuck his head through the hole so he could see me. “Speak for yourself; I can’t go to school today.” Rodger threw a devilish grin on his face, as if he was a four year old getting away with two cookies.
“Why?” I asked confused.
“Papa and I are going to start breaking the thoroughbred colts.” Roger shrugged.
“But Roger,” I said incredulously, “if you miss anymore school you won’t be able to graduate.”
The smile vanished from his face and I immediately regretted saying anything. “It has to be done now sis, they grow older every day.”
“But you convinced Papa to let you stay in school when you were sixteen, remember, when he was going to make you drop out? Now you won’t even be graduating?” The floor swirled and I placed my hand on the cement wall to steady myself. I hated my Papa at that moment, he knew as well as everyone else how much my brother wanted to be a teacher. Now his dream could never be realized. Just as my father wished, and I think did everything in his power to accomplish, Roger would take over the family farm.
“That is quite enough Lucy.” I froze at the sound of Papa’s voice and slowly turned around. He was standing behind me and by the look on his face had heard the entire conversation.
I heard Roger jump through the hole from the hayloft and land in the cement aisle, behind me. However, I was unable to turn around, my father’s gaze held me frozen. “Papa, forgive her, she doesn’t understand, she…”
My father cut across Roger, “Finish the watering for your sister,” he said curtly, my brother didn’t move. I held my breath remembering the one rule you obeyed on the farm and the millions of time we had obeyed without question, Roger was breaking that rule. The tension between my father and brother was almost unbearable. My father stared Roger down but my brother didn’t flinch.
“Lucy,” Papa said finally, with his eyes still boring into Rogers, “If you miss the bus Roger won’t be the only one missing school.” With that I knew that I was dismissed, so I backed out of there quickly.
I knew that the storm was about to come, that my father was furious, and Roger, well Roger really didn’t care. Roger would never finish school and just then, that was all that mattered.
I walked through my school day in a sort of daze. Aware of people around me, talking, laughing, sneaking text messages through class, blasting iPods in the cafeteria. I had always been separated from all of this, my family had never had enough money for these sorts of electronics, and quite frankly even if we did I doubt I would be allowed such frivolous things.
Finally, the last bell rang to go home. I jumped up from my seat, grabbed my books, and ran to my locker. When I was seated comfortably in my school bus seat, I turned and looked out the window. One kid, a senior I was sure, threw a piece of paper at me and I heard my sister tell him to knock it off. I wish she wouldn’t, I could fight my own battles when I think it necessary but something so little I would just as soon let go. I was very much like my rough, tough feet, not much ever really got to me. The tough skin of mine had built up over time, as I had needed it more and more, it was my defense mechanism. Just as the dead skin on the bottoms of my feet are my feet’s defense mechanisms against the world.
Soon the bus pulled up to my drive way and Annalee, Daniel, and I stood up and walked off, kids yelling goodbye to my sister the entire way. I even heard some first graders yelling goodbye to Daniel.
My sister walked next to me up to the house talking and laughing about this person, and this couple that she didn’t think was going to make it until next Tuesday. How she just didn’t understand who this person thought they were to talk to her friend like that. I mostly just nodded my head, not really listening.
We reached the house, not soon enough for me, and way too soon for Annalee, who was telling me how she was going to need to finish what she was saying over milking later because she needed to get into exact dialogue. I was already dreading evening chores with Annalee, but what could I do she always had a he-said she-said story. However, my thoughts and Annalee’s voice were cut short at the scene though our front door.
My mother was on the couch with silent tear running smoothly down her face and my father was standing beside her with a hard, stone face. They were both staring at Roger who was sitting all at ease in the leather armchair by the window with two duffle bags stuffed to the breaking point at his feet. As we entered Roger stood up.
“I have been waiting for you three.” My brother said with a grimace before continuing, “I’m leaving; it’s time I made my own way in this world.”
It felt like an iron hand had my heart in an unbearable grip. My sister took a quick intake of breath and I think for the first time in her life she had nothing to say. I stared at my brother, my one companion on the farm who really understood me. I understood his need to get away, but that didn’t mean I liked it anymore than my mother, father, or sister.
“You can’t just leave!” Annalee cried out suddenly.
“And why ever not Annalee?” Roger asked in frustration.
“First of all you certainly do not have permission,” All eyes strayed to my father as Annalee continued her rebuttal, “and secondly, we can’t run the farm without you.”
Good old Annalee I thought, always putting work first, emotions second. I would simple miss my brother, deeply miss him, an emotion I wasn’t so sure Annalee understood. In that moment, that I watched my family, my mother sobbing, my father furious, Annalee annoyed, and little Daniel not comprehending a single thing that passed, something clicked into place for me.
I realized that Annalee was not doing herself any favors, playing so many different roles in her life. When was she supposed to just be herself, good old Annalee? When was she supposed to do something to make her happy? She was living her life for others and maybe that’s not always something you can do, maybe sometimes you have to live life for yourself or you could never be fully satisfied.
Therefore, taking a deep breath I put a genuine smile on my face and crossed the room to my brother, who was just trying to figure out how to live his life, and put my arms around his middle.
“I love you.” I breathed before stepping away from him and gesturing towards the door, “You can leave, as long as you promise to write and tell me everything you do on your journey from here on out.”
Roger smiled before whispering, “I promise Lucy.” and walking out of his comfort zone forever.