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I was farmed out a dollar a day to the Hueys, not for room and board, those were different. My older sister at my age boarded with a town family three miles away so she could graduate high school—mud roads hobbled horses and hung-up wagons.


The Hueys rustled in a two-bedroom slanted farmhouse, one end tottered towards the afternoon sun, across the dirt road from Grandma and Grandpa and their feather bed in the upstairs bedroom that swaddled anyone who slept there; the other as the crow flies towards Botna—a blink with a pickle barrel, cigars and holy rollers.


One bedroom crunched off the kitchen nestled by the pantry with its five-gallon bucket of lard, canned beef and beans, a ball of onions hanging from the ceiling, the green of one rotting trailed down a center like a cat’s tail—I was never allowed inside, probably where they did the dirty.


In the other room, the floor slanted like a trough, two sets of bunk beds for six boys and the girl, Rosemary.

In the heat of the afternoon I scrubbed mud off linoleum in that bedroom and the kitchen, tracked by the farmer husband, the first ever to kiss me on my sixteenth, and the kids who screamed through the house in chase or swirled to escape the sting of a belt or the swipe of a hand.


I kneaded dough and rolled lumps into loaves, greased pans, buttered crusts as they hissed from the oven, stinking from bubbling and burnt sugared apples, covered the loaves with a wet dishtowel to keep crusts from shattering when cut with a knife;


peeled potatoes, washed and hung jeans and t-shirts by the dozens, thin threads of towels, gray undies and faded print housedresses on the line north of the house.


That kitchen with an immense trestle table, the length north to south, kids scooted in according to rank and need, cupboards gleaned from other people’s junkyards tucked into the corners, a cast iron cook stove plopped dead in the center, the stovepipe blazing like a welder’s furnace.


I lasted a couple of weeks until they couldn’t pay me no more—ain’t working there for free, my dad said, for they were as poor as the church mice they became—the misses’ leg shot off by a son wielding a shotgun no one thought had shells.


Š 2014 by Karen Foster



Farmed Out