The story of Maggie Blackford follows her from the age of four through young adulthood, when she marries a man she barely knows on the spur of the monent at the tender age of eighteen.
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At the turn of the nineteenth century a broad mix of nationalities had intermingled within the United States, creating a nation of cultures that were unique. Sometimes the mixtures created personalities that exhibited indifference, coupled with the hardness of granite. Due to the hardships encountered in an unforgiving environment, harshness of personality became common. Especially on farms where families were intentionally large in order to insure that there would be enough hands within the household to handle the work involved in tilling the soil and harvesting the crops the fields hopefully would yield.
In this environment, children were no more than a product and often treated no more humanely than the cattle. Many times as one group of children was raised and approached adulthood, when they often left the farm, more children were born to take their place. It wasn’t uncommon for a family to consist of nine to twelve children or more, whether by birth or by procurement through one sort or another.
This was the era of the Orphan Train. A time when children who were placed in state custody because their parents were unable to support them, were shipped to all parts of the country to be adopted or placed into servitude as foster children. Children were compelled to grow up fast as a result of the burden of work forced upon them at an early age. In many families the natural born were treated no better than those procured. That was the case for Maggie Blackford.
Later that morning while Maggie cleaned the manure-laden straw from the barn stalls, her mind was not on her task. Nor was it on the painful throbbing across the swollen bridge of her nose. The rake that was gripped in her hands was being methodically drawn through the dampened, trampled mat of straw almost of its own volition. Her mind was on her locket and Eileen, and her anger swelled at the injustice she felt was dealt. Eileen was plainly the villain and she was the victim, not once but twice that day, considering the events of the morning, first with the loss of her locket, and then with the walloping from Mama for making accusations against Eileen.
Maggie continued cleaning the stalls with her arms extending the rake in front of her and then drawing it back, as though Vikings stroking the oars. Her mind replayed the sly grin Eileen so artfully stifled as she watched her encountering Mama’s wrath. Pulling angrily at the rake, she was convinced Eileen enjoyed seeing Mama tanning her hide. She was certain her sister derived a morbid sense of pleasure through witnessing her humiliation and pain. While continuing the hostile rhythm of the rake, each pull of the implement became more forceful with her growing anger.
Although engrossed in her thoughts, Maggie suddenly became aware of something whizzing past her ear and brushing through her hair, before landing in a mass of cow droppings on the floor in front of her. In the dimness of the light cast by the lantern that was hanging from the beam near the stall, she recognized the golden glimmer winking back from the sticky mass of warm manure, as that of her missing locket. When she turned to see who had cast it from behind her, her eyes came to rest on Eileen, standing smugly in the doorway with her arms folded across her chest. The habitual, sly smile was plastered across her lips like the Mona Lisa.
Eileen slowly leaned her shoulder against the frame of the door while displaying the familiar aura of arrogance.
“Lost something, maggot?” she chided with glibness, superciliously raising one eyebrow with a wide grin transforming her face into the resemblance of a satisfied cat having swallowed its prey. Maggie hated when Eileen called her maggot. Especially when she said it with the infliction of haughty attitude, with her voice ringing as though flint on steel.
Restraining her tongue, Maggie glanced casually toward the locket embedded in the heap of manure.
“Oh, gee,” she said, forcing a glib lilt in mockery of Eileen’s arrogance. “Whatever could this be?” She bent slowly and scooped up the locket in one hand and a fistful of the bitter smelling, foul manure in the other. Holding the locket outstretched in her hand in front of her, she hid the fistful of manure in the other at her side as she turned.
“Well, fancy that,” Maggie mused in the same tone as she turned to face the glee in her sister’s rakish grin. “Could this be my locket?”
She dangled the locket in front of her. Feeling the still-warm manure sliding through her fingers, she flung it with impeccable aim toward Eileen’s sneering lips. The lips that were parted in the same familiar sly grin, showing off the pearly whiteness of her perfect teeth. When the bitter, warm mass of manure found its mark, Eileen’s sly smile froze in shocked dismay. For one brief instant she stood like a stiff, erect statue. The manure, glistening green and wet, slid at a snail's pace down her mouth and from her chin, while a slathering of the offensive ordure dripped from her hair and fell onto the bridge of her nose in seemingly slow motion.
Suddenly as though a horse spurred into action, Eileen bolted toward the barn door with a shriek, tripping over a hayfork lying on the floor in the process. In an effort to keep her balance, she danced in a circle like a marionette with tangled strings, her arms and legs flailing wildly. Wide eyed, when she regained her balance, she ran spitting and sputtering through the doorway of the barn. She gagged as she sprinted to the cistern pump to wash the repulsive substance from her face.
“Don’t you dare puck on my clean straw,” Maggie purposely mocked in a singsong voice, her head bobbing side to side. She sarcastically sounded vaguely like Mama when speaking in her syrupy tone to Eileen. Listening to the cistern gurgling and gushing to life as Eileen frantically pumped the handle, Maggie chuckled at the thought of how Mama’s phony, syrupy voice in addressing Eileen was the same tone she used when speaking to the women of the church. In contrast, the voice she used in addressing Maggie was so crisp and hard that you might expect for it to snap like a January icicle hanging from the barn eves. There were times when Mama was angry that Maggie imagined she could almost hear Papa’s buggy whip zinging in her words, even to the point of imagining its sting.
The look on Eileen’s face when the shock wore off, with the manure shining-wet and sliding from her chin, was well worth taking the chance of encountering Mama’s wrath. Maggie could barely contain a giggle while remembering Eileen’s dismay when she realized what had taken place. That moment was definitely worth the risk of Mama’s fury. Eileen certainly had earned her comeuppance. From that day forward Maggie giggled each time the image of Eileen’s expression flashed into her mind. Every time Eileen did one of her mean deeds thereafter, Maggie reran the image of her sister’s ordure-coated indignation in her mind, just for pleasure’s sake.