Winter passed slowly for Margie. She found that she could manage more of the farm work, and Eva was teaching her how to keep the farmhouse clean and do all the things that were needed on a farm.
Margie grew to love the farm even more. She went out to help Avery every evening with barn chores. He showed her how to milk the cow, Lovely. She remembered Lee introducing her to the farm animals.
“You named a cow Lovely?”
“Yes, I did.”
“I don’t know, I really have no idea. It is a crazy name, I know.”
But after Margie started milking Lovely, she almost understood why Lee named her Lovely. She was a very small cow, nearly a “midget” in the other farmers’ estimations. She was tawny brown and plump, not gaunt and bony like most cows. Lovely always moved slowly, and it seemed, almost gracefully. Margie laughed when she thought of a cow moving gracefully, but it was the best description for Lovely.
Spring came early that year, Margie was relieved.
“Thank goodness the snow is melting,” Eva said one day. “It was beginning to drive me insane. I am used to arctic weather here, but for some reason I just don’t have patience for it this year.”
Margie felt the same way. She was glad when she could walk to the barn without bundling up in many woolen layers. The animals were happy for the fresh spring grass and the pastures to romp in.
“Are you going to keep up the garden this year?” Eva asked.
Margie hadn’t thought about it. Last year, by the time she came out, Lee had it started already, and she just followed his directions in maintaining it.
“Well…I suppose, I should…I mean, Lee would want me to. But I don’t know how…”
“Oh, that’s fine. We’ll do it together,” Eva said happily.
It occurred to Margie that perhaps Eva was glad to have another woman around, like a daughter she never had.
By summer Margie was happy and adjusted to life on the farm without Lee. At night she would still cry for him. But she was kept so busy working there wasn’t time to miss him. For the first time she could see what kept the women from leaving this place. It was beautiful land, hilly enough to be interesting, flat enough for farming. The fields rippled to the horizon, and the expanse was calming.
It is summer now, and the garden is growing very fine. We shall do a lot of canning this fall. All the plants are doing so well (except for the green beans, which are being eating by some sort of bug—but I don’t mind that much because I never liked green beans), and your mother has been so helpful in telling me how to do the garden.
Lovely’s milk is very creamy and delicious, she’s eating all the good grass out in the field. She’s becoming even lovelier with the fresh meals.
I’ve been out picking strawberries—your mother showed me some of the best patches. I make biscuits to go with them, and give it to Avery for his breakfast, he likes that.
There is so much to discover on our farm, I enjoy it all, and I just wish you could be here with me, it would make me so happy.
Please come back soon, I love you Lee.
Margaret sadly watched the fields lay fallow, weeds grew up tall and strong, but no crops. She longed to keep it up, just for Nikki—when he returned, but she couldn’t do it on her own. At least she managed their large garden, as she always had, and it made her happy to think of Nikki coming home to find the garden growing lush and green with enough food to keep them through the winter. She didn’t realize he wouldn’t be home before winter.
One day she decided to venture into the village for one of her rare visits. There were a few things she wanted to buy, and hoped the store might have them. Within the last few years she had odd feelings about being around other people. Things weren’t the same, there was something dangerous in the atmosphere, the glances people gave, the tight and nervous words. It was just better not to risk it too much, so she stayed to herself mostly. Besides buying things like cloth or tea, she avoided going into the town. But this late summer day she was restless and wanted something to do.
The village was like a ghost-town, hardly anyone out on the streets. It gave her a queer feeling, and she shivered, even under the hot summer sun. The shelves of the store were bare, nothing on them—not a thing. She finally found the store keeper, sweeping back behind the building.
“Karl, what happened?”
The aged man turned to her, startled at the sound of another voice.
“Oh, Margaret, it is you.”
“Yes, me—what has happened here?” “What…what do you mean?” He returned, trying to act ignorant of what she meant.
“The town, what happened to Elsteraue? And your store? I came for sugar and tea, but there is nothing on the shelves.”
He leaned nervously on his broom.
“You don’t know what is going on?”
“No, tell me, Karl, tell me,” she implored.
“The shelves are bare because I cannot get any more supplies. You know there is a war?”
“Of course, that’s where my husband is.”
“Well, that means that things are in short supply. We’re trying to support the troops and keep them fed, and so we have to give up on some of our luxuries.”
“Yes, but what about the people? Where is everyone?”
“Most of them are gone.”
He shrugged nervously, as if afraid someone was listening.
“I was told they were traitors. Not true Germans. They needed to be taken away.”
She was silent, shocked at his words.
“Sophie was the first,” he continued. “You remember her?”
“She was here one day, gone the next. She came into my store one day, and the next day no one could find her anywhere. Her husband, poor man, could hardly take it. He knew where she was, but he was afraid to speak. But he wouldn’t let anyone take their children, although he was in no condition to take care of them. Then a few weeks later, soldiers came. They burned Sophie’s house. I’ve heard they took her husband away. And the children were left inside. There’s nothing left now, just rubble. You can go see it for yourself.”
Karl went on, like a deluge of horror that could not be stopped.
“The night they burned Sophie’s house, they took others away also. Only a few are left now, after the soldiers…”
“No, no,” Margaret cried, hiding her face with her hands, “don’t say anymore, I can’t listen.”
He stood there, silent and grim. He was once one of the most kind people in Elsteraue, always there with a smile. But Margaret’s cries did not move him now.
Margaret turned away from him, ran down the deserted street and away from the village. She stumbled and scraped her hand. It began bleeding, but she didn’t stop. She ran until she reached her home, she rushed inside, shut the door behind her and collapsed in front of it, tears mingling with the blood from her hand.
I hope I will be coming home soon, it can’t be long now. This war has lasted so long—it has been nearly a year since I left you. But at least I am doing the right thing. There are so many times I’ve wondered what I am doing over here. There’s the blood, the pain, the death, the mud, the hunger, the exhaustion—for what? For our country, for America, and so the world will become a better place.
I am glad that you are growing to love our farm, I only wish I could be there with you. When I am lonely, I think of you sitting on our old stool milking Lovely. I can almost smell the barn scents, the sunlight gleaming in through the knotholes of the walls, making streams of light in the dust. It won’t be much longer, the war will end, we will be victorious over evil, I will return, and we will live together on our farm again. I love you Margie, don’t forget that.
Margaret shivered in the deep winter cold. It seemed colder than any winter she could remember—or was that just because she was alone and afraid?
She had tried to store firewood all summer, but her supply seemed pitiful now. The house echoed around her, bringing vivid memories to light, and casting strange thoughts on her troubled mind.
Now there was no one, the village was gone, her husband was gone, she didn’t know where to turn. She wanted Nikki back, to turn this horrible nightmare into just that—a nightmare that never really existed. She dreamed of waking up and finding Nikki beside her, and a child cooing happily in a cradle by her bed.
And then one night she had a different dream. She dreamt that Nikki was returning from the war, it was dark and snowy outside. He was walking past the house, but he couldn’t see it. He called out to her, but she did not hear. He walked farther and farther away, and she didn’t know it. He wandered about the countryside, trying to find Margaret, but the snow was too much for him, and he froze to death out there—alone and lost.
When Margaret awake from that dream, she ran outside screaming for Nikki, thinking he was lying in the snow somewhere. She walked through the snow until her feet were numb, and finally returned to the weak warmth of her house.
And so, after that night she left a light burning in the window every evening, in case Nikki came back, he would be able to find his way.
It was a very quiet Christmas for Margie. She had even less of a holiday spirit than the year before. All year she thought that Lee must return by Christmas—this year he would be there.
But he wasn’t.
Eva too felt the disappointment, and they didn’t even force themselves to be merry—it was too hard.
So Margie went to Eva’s home again for Christmas, but they had only a simple meal, and a sparse Christmas tree.
“We put the tree up only because Avery wanted it,” Eva explained. “I didn’t want to bother with it. And the rationing is getting so bad, there wasn’t much that I could make for the holiday.”
But Margie knew Eva would not have made the traditional Christmas food, even if she had the ingredients. They just wanted Lee to come home.
Lee was feeling more hopeful this Christmas than before. They heard rumors that Germany was weakening, and the Allies were planning an attack that would end the war at last.
This Christmas the men were laughing and counting down the days until the supposed end of the war, and then they would all go home.
The rumors proved to be right. By the end of January the Allies had destroyed a pocket of resistance, and the final sweep was about to begin.
And Lee was in the middle of it.
“We’re going for it!” Ralph exclaimed. “We’re gonna march across Germany and get this all over with. We’ll stamp down everything and everyone in our way, and make America proud of us.”
Lee smiled to think of finally going home, and going after such a glorious victory would be even better.
By mid-February Lee was marching across Germany.