The Wade family saga continues in this work of historical fiction set in post-Civil War Missouri. Love reigns in the home of Leann and Ralph Wade, although tested many times during the course of their marriage. Sonny Wade, Ralph’s brother, harbors a secret passion for Leann, and Joan Smith, a family friend, desires Ralph. Leann and Ralph struggle to overcome the storms of life through faith, courage, and commitment to each other.
THROUGH THE STORM
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
September 18, 1880
Rays from the rising sun crept through the leaves of the large red oak, through the slightly opened window and onto Leann’s eyelids. Her eyes burst open. How could she have slept so late? She felt the emptiness on her husband’s side of the bed, but he always rose before dawn to milk the cow, bring in firewood, and get a nice fire going in the fireplace. She usually got up with him to make coffee and cook breakfast. He must have slipped quietly from the bed so as not to waken her.
Leann turned on the pillow and remembered the date. Moisture stung her eyes. Today, she would not celebrate but commiserate her twenty-ninth birthday. Another barren year gone, her prayers unanswered. The days of her youth had sped by so quickly, just thinking about them made her head swim.
The aroma of freshly brewing coffee wafted on the air, filling her nostrils and making a desire for a cup of the strong brew outweigh a desire to remain in bed with the quilt pulled over her head. The realization of her husband’s thoughtfulness on her birthday washed away the dread of facing another year. How nice of Ralph to make coffee and let her sleep in this morning. She slipped from the bed, donned slippers and robe, ran a brush through her long hair, and tied the tresses from her face with a blue grosgrain ribbon. She would wait to warm water on the stove before completing her morning ablutions.
Leann made her way to the kitchen of the small house. She gasped with surprise at the sight of her three children sitting around the table with a stack of pancakes on a platter and a brightly burning candle in the center of the top one. Four gifts wrapped in brown paper tied with twine lay in a neat circle around the platter of pancakes. Ralph stood beside the stove and turned as she entered the kitchen.
He began singing. The children chimed in. “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Mama, happy birthday to you.”
A lump rose in Leann’s throat. Her sweet, thoughtful husband not only remembered her birthday, but planned a surprise celebration. Katy, her ten-year-old foster daughter, ran to encircling Leann’s waist with youthful arms. Jim and then Jesse, her sons, rose from the table to follow their sister. All three tried to hug her at once. Ralph watched from his place beside the stove and then moved in her direction with a big smile. He leaned over the heads of the children to give her a sweet kiss. His deep brown eyes glowed with warm love when they captured hers.
“Happy birthday, sweetheart,” he spoke quietly.
“Thank you so much.” She patted the heads of her excited children and returned her husband’s smile.
Ralph stood back. “Okay children, let your mama sit down and blow out her birthday candle.”
The children moved to one side, but held onto Leann’s robe, leading her to the table. She took a chair in front of the pile of pancakes that held the brightly burning candle.
“Papa said we’d better use only one candle. The pancakes wouldn’t hold the number we’d need for your birthday,” Jim said.
“You didn’t need to tell her that, Jim.” Ralph laughed, getting two mugs from a shelf and filling them with coffee. He handed Leann one and then sat down at his usual place at the head of the table.
The two boys sat in their places across the table from each other. Ralph said they got into too much trouble when they sat together.
“Blow out your candle and make a wish, Mama,” Katy said, taking her seat beside Jim.
Leann looked around at the bright eager faces of her family. She took a deep breath then blew really hard, extinguishing the candle’s flame instantly.
“Did you make a wish?” Jesse asked.
“You’re not suppose to tell your wish, Jesse,” Jim said in a disgruntled voice.
“I don’t mind telling my wish.” Leann caught her husband’s eye. “I wished for health and happiness for my family. Just like I do every year.”
Katy jumped up and ran to hug her mother. “We wish health and happiness to you, Mama.”
Leann patted the girl’s arm around her neck and looked at Ralph. He smiled, then a line formed between his brows. She suspected he knew the real wish of her heart. Health and happiness for her family were certainly at the top of her list, but another matter competed for first place.
“Katy, why don’t you serve the pancakes before they get cold, then Mama can open her gifts.” Ralph rose from the table and took plates from the shelf. “Jesse, get the forks and knives. Jim, you can get the cups for you kids then pour the milk.”
Leann started to rise and help her little family. The joy she felt at having such a thoughtful husband and children filled her heart full to brimming over.
“Stay put, Leann. This is your birthday and we’re gonna wait on you.” Ralph sat a plate in front of her.
Jesse brought her flatware, placed the fork on one side of the plate, then went around her and placed the knife on the other side. She smiled at the six-year-old. He was the light of her life, her only natural child, but should the Lord favor her, maybe another would be born this time next year. She had been praying so awfully hard for another baby.
Jim poured the milk for himself and his siblings. Nine years ago he came to them as a baby. She and Ralph legally adopted him. Her heart filled to brimming over with love for her caring, happy children.
Ralph and the boys took their seats at the table once more. Katy served Leann two large pancakes then went to Ralph and gave him four. He smiled at the big helping. “Katy must think I’m hungry. Pass Mama the butter and syrup, Jim, then send them on back to me. My mouth’s watering for these pancakes.”
Leann buttered her pancakes then passed the butter to Jim to send to Ralph. She did the same with the jar of maple syrup. The syrup had been made from the sap of their sugar maples last February. One more full can remained in the basement.
Katy finished serving the pancakes to her brothers and then sat down to take some on her plate. Before picking up the forks to eat, Ralph reached for the Bible, read a verse of scripture, then bowed his head. The family followed.
Ralph prayed, “Lord, thank You for this family and the food. Thank You especially for Leann who has shared these past eleven years with me. Please grant her wish and give her the desire of her heart. Use this food to nourish our bodies. Amen.”
She looked up to her husband’s bright eyes and wide smile then said, “Thank you for the prayer.”
“Hope your wish comes true. I’ll be doing my part to make sure it does.” He grinned.
He knew the secret desire of her heart. With a face flushed from heat, she ducked her head and began cutting the pancakes. “Who cooked the pancakes?” She thought to ask.
“I did,” Ralph said. “Do you like them?”
“They’re delicious. Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome. I’ll let you tell me how much later on. We can get started on that wish of yours.” He forked a large piece of syrup-soaked pancake into his mouth and raised an eyebrow.
She gave him a wide-eyed stare then looked from one child to the other trying to discern if they knew the meaning of his statement. The children busily ate their breakfast without comment.
“When do I open my gifts?” Leann asked after the last bite of pancake. The children and Ralph had finished and waited patiently for her.
“Now, Mama,” Jim said. He stood, took a gift from the center of the table, and handed it to her with a smile stretching from ear to ear.
Leann quickly removed the twine and pulled back the brown paper. She put her hand to her mouth. “Oh, my.”
The package held a small handmade, punched tin picture frame without glass and a photo of Jim inside. Tabs cut from the center and folded back on three sides secured the picture in place. The frame sat on a larger tab at the bottom. Across the bottom of the frame the name, JAMES, was punched in tiny holes. The image of her son wearing his Sunday shirt and hair slicked down with oil beamed back at her. She smiled at the shinning face.
“Here, Mama. Open mine,” Jesse said dancing from one foot to the other before handing her another brown paper wrapped gift.
She quickly opened the gift which held a similar frame, except with the name, JESSE, punched at the bottom, and the smiling face of her small son, so dear to her heart, looking back at her.
“These are just beautiful,” she said over a large lump in her throat.
She opened Katy’s gift. Her daughter’s bright face and sweet smile shone brightly from the tin frame with, KATY, punched in the bottom. Flowers graced the corners, an ivy vine stretched across the top. The punch work emanated patience and skill.
“Thank you, Katy. This picture of you is very pretty.” She drew the girl close. “You are growing into a beautiful young girl. I’m very proud of you.”
Katy gave Leann’s cheek a small kiss. “Thank you, Mama. I’m glad you like the picture.”
“The frames are so lovely too. When did you learn to punch tin?” She picked up each frame from her lap and examined it.
“Papa showed us how,” Jesse spoke up with a broad smile crossing his face.
“Here, Leann. This is the last one.” Ralph stood beside her and handed her the last present. It was larger than the others.
She quickly opened the gift. It held a polished wooden frame with the photograph she and Ralph had made at the hotel when the traveling photographer came to town.
“When did this come in? I didn’t know we received it.” She studied the photograph carefully.
Her husband looked so very handsome in his black wool Sunday suit, and hair combed with oil. His eyes caught the burst of the flash. Bright shards of light glinted in the dark irises. She was dressed in a new dress with a ruffle around the collar, and her hair had been combed into a French twist in the back with tendrils of curls along her face and neck. The photograph held a good likeness of both.
“You look so pretty, Mama,” Jesse commented, looking over her shoulder.
Jim and Katy crowded in to see. “Papa sure is handsome in that picture,” Katy said.
Leann ran a hand over the shining wooden frame. She looked up at her husband.
The same smile on his lips shone in his eyes. “It sure is a pretty picture of you, Leann.”
“And a very handsome one of you. Thank you so much for the pretty frame. When did the children have their pictures made?”
“I took the kids into town that day you went to Sue’s to quilt. I had ours put in the frame when I picked the pictures up at the hotel last week. The kids and I have been working on their frames off and on for awhile.”
“All of you are mighty good at keeping secrets.” Leann hugged her children. “I didn’t suspect a thing”
“Papa said he would get us if we told,” Jim offered grinning up at his father.
She looked up at her husband’s glowing face. “Thank you. I love these pretty pictures and frames. They will be my special treasures.”
Leann rose to place each one on the mantle with the photograph of Ralph and her in the middle and the others grouped around it. She backed away to admire the arrangement. Ralph wrapped an arm around her, pulling her close. She melted into his warmth. The children gathered around their parents. Leann stood beside her thoughtful husband and her children feeling the love and warmth of a devoted family.
“Okay, kids. Time for you to get ready for school,” Ralph said removing his arm from her waist. “Horses need to be saddled, Katy and Jim. I’ll be in the barn when you get dressed.”
Leann stood for one last look at the photographs gracing the mantle. Her gaze lingered on the one in the middle, with those of the two boys on one side and Katy’s on the other. Hopefully, someday soon, they could add another daughter to even the arrangement.