“Please, Mother, don’t leave!” Eyes brimming with tears, five-year-old Melba beseeched Mother, tugging at Mother’s hands, pulling them away from hatpin and boot buttons. “I’ll behave! The others won’t, but I will!”
“No, Melba, you children are so bad… I’m putting on my hat and boots and leaving!” With that, Mother yanked her hat down on her head, stuck in hatpin with great effect, and reached for doorknob.
“No! Please! Please, Mother, I’ll be good enough for all of us so you won’t have to leave!” Something about Melba’s sobbing pleas caused Mother to pause, take a long slow breath, turn, remove hatpin and hat and boots, roll up her sleeves and go to kitchen to don apron and begin the bustle of dinner preparations, as the baby slept in his daybed by the wood stove, and as the three older children shrieked in play upstairs.
Melba crumpled, crawled into a corner behind Father’s easy chair in the parlor, curled into a ball with Cat, and cried herself to sleep, sobs giving way to hiccoughs giving way to soft shallow breaths of a young child’s sleep.
Above stairs continued the giggling laughter of the three older children.
Mother, the Minister’s wife, was caring for the families of the church during the great flu epidemic of 1917. She was weakened by her sixth pregnancy and her dedication to family and church families, and she died in that flu epidemic.
No amount of pleading from Melba could keep Mother from going out the door that last time.
The next week after Mother’s death, each child was sent to live with a different relative’s family, spread across a thousand miles of Canadian towns and villages, where they would be raised with little sibling contact.
Family was always very important to Melba.