When she neared the wagons, Ada Belle lifted her skirt with hands that drooped gracefully from the long sleeves that reached her wrists, and with a graceful flourish, she kept the hem from touching the bare red earth she crossed.
Lisbeth’s eyes dropped to her own cream-colored dress with the faded remains of printed pink flowers scattered across the fabric. A worn line above the hem attested to the latest lengthening of the skirt. The dress was ugly. Had always been ugly. Hadn’t been pretty even when Ada Belle had worn it. But now, after countless washings…well…
She raised her eyes and stared at her sister again. At seventeen, Ada Belle was tall and beautiful, with a grace uncommon in one so young.
Why couldn’t I have been the oldest? Why couldn’t I have been tall and pretty like her instead of being so short?
“Lisbeth! Janie! Go get your brothers, and you young’uns get in the wagon,” Ma called. “Time we was on our way home.”
All the members of the Collins family climbed onto the wagon unassisted. Except for three-year-old John. George swung him onto the back of the wagon and took a seat beside him. And Ada Belle accepted an offer of help from two young men who seemed anxious to lend a hand.
“She don’t need a new dress.” Ada Belle lifted a dripping plate from the dishpan and dipped it into the rinse water. “That one has lots of wear left in it.”
“Ada Belle’s right. You don’t need a new dress,” Ma said. “I’ll hear no more about it. Now eat, and let your vittles stop your mouth.”
Lisbeth said nothing more. She lowered her eyes to stare at her half-eaten supper of cornbread and warmed-over beans. She wasn’t hungry now, but she knew better than to leave uneaten food on her plate. She dutifully resumed eating, one bean at a time.