Ah, our neglected blog . . .
Cavan took a class earlier this Fall learning about settlers and particularly their presence here in central Illinois. For a final project, he and I were asked to write a brief fictional story dealing with some of the things we learned in the class. Here's my contribution, with Cavan's to follow:
Jacob could see his breath in front of
It wasn't uncommon in the midst of this
harsh winter, but, as he sat shivering under a threadbare quilt in
front of the dying embers of the hearth-fire, the feeling in the pit
of his stomach wasn't just hunger: it was the prospect of complete
Jacob glanced to his left, hoping that
the empty woodpile would have replenished itself in the last minute
since he had previously looked. Only a few splinters remained; one
could hardly call the remnants “kindling.”
His mother moaned softly. Jacob jumped
up and walked over to the palette on which she lay. He placed his
cold hand upon her forehead. The warmth of her feverish skin was a
relief to his numb fingers, but his worry took any pleasurable
sensation away. The fever had not improved, but had grown worse in
the past few hours.
He marveled at the fact that one could
sustain such a high temperature in the midst of a freezing cabin, but
such was the nature of the sickness. She was curled up on the floor,
her body trembling with the cold and groaning from the pain of
Jacob prayed over her again, seeking
divine help that his mother may gain some relief. The fever had
persisted for days, and his father, braving the treacherous weather
to seek medical help, had yet to return after 2 days. Jacob had been
given instructions to care for his mother, feeding her from their
nearly-bare food supply, and giving her the occasional ice-chip,
taken from the icicles hanging from their roof, to keep her hydrated.
But Jacob was not sure how he was to
sustain the fire at this point; the temperature had dropped even
further since his father left, and the woodpile, stacked five-feet
high only days ago, was no more. The family was spending their year
as homesteaders in Illinois, and found themselves unprepared for the
ferocity of this particular mid-western winter. The wood was gone,
food was low . . . all hope of survival seemed nearly lost.
Jacob tried not to fall into despair.
He looked around the cabin, trying to find the next item that could
be tossed into the fire. Anything to keep it going.
The room was dark, but his eyes settled
on his most prized possession: his toy train, a gift from his parents
before they made their trek from Georgia to Illinois. It had occupied
him many days during the trip, and was always a pleasant diversion in
the evenings after a hard day's work with his father. It was his only
Jacob glanced around, hoping something
else would find his attention . . . but nothing did. Many other
wooden items had already met their demise in the hearth. The train
was all that was expendable.
He walked over to it, picking it up and
examining the intricate details that he had never noticed before.
Though the train had clearly been assembled from “spare” pieces
of wood and each side was not perfectly symmetrical, nevertheless,
the maker had spent a good amount of time carefully planing the wood,
sturdily assembling the train, and artfully painting a window here,
some wheel spokes here. Jacob had always enjoyed the fact that it
was durable, sustaining many crashes and falls, but now he admired
the superb craftmanship, the time and love spent making this
hodge-podge of wood into a little boy's constant companion.
Jacob ran the train along the ground
one last time, ignoring the numbness in his fingers. One trip around
the imaginary track was enough; Jacob lifted the engine, the three
cars, the caboose, and quickly tossed them into the fire. At first,
the embers seemed to be unaware of the train's presence, having
already resigned itself to its fate. But after a few seconds, the
wheel of the caboose ignited and soon the entire train was engulfed
The fire burned bright, and filled half
of the cabin with newfound warmth. Jacob stared into the hearth, but
only for a minute. He grabbed his quilt and laid next to his mother,
her body heat warming him, and her presence comforting him. Jacob
fell asleep, the occasional tear streaming down his cheek. Perhaps
aided by angels, the train burned throughout the night.
Two months later, Jacob, his mother and
father were all waiting at the Champaign depot for the next train to
roll in. They were expecting Jacob's uncle Adam to arrive at any
Jacob and his mother had slept safely
through that night. His father had arrived the next morning, greeted
by melting snow and the warmth of the sun. He had brought food, which
was much needed, and medicine, which was not, as the mother's
temperature had broken that night. Mother was up and about, eager to
greet her husband and hold her son.
It was now April, and Jacob was without
even a coat in the spring weather. Far off in the distance, he heard
the shrill sound of a train whistle, and soon saw the locomotive
itself pulling into the station. A throng of people exited the
train, many greeted by loved ones. Adam descended onto the platform
and caught the leaping Jacob, who had broke into a dead run when he
saw his beloved uncle.
After a warm greeting from Jacob's
parents, Adam asked, “Jacob, would you mind carrying my bag,
please?” Jacob gladly agreed. He threw the bag over his shoulder,
and began to walk towards their buggy. Jacob tossed the bag in, but
was met with his Adam's gentle rebuke. “Gently, my boy! I have
something special in there. Please take it out and show your
Jacob breathlessly reached into the bag
. . . and pulled out a beautiful, hand-made train, superior even to
the one that had been consumed in the fire.