My Dearest Kathryn,
I know that it would be pointless to ask you not to worry, and so I won't bother. Just know that I love you and that I will be thinking of you every moment we are apart.
Everyone here is confident that it won't be long before we are able to beat the Germans for good. And when we do, I will be able to hold you in my arms once again. I know you understand that I can't tell you any specifics, but I can tell you that Thomas and I will be joining Samuel when we ship out. I hope that is some comfort to you.
Give the children my love. I'm sorry that this letter has to be so short, but they have us going non-stop on drills and training, and my time for writing is nearly up. I promise to write as often as I can, but I fear that it won't be as often as I would like. However, we've survived on letters once before, and it seems that we must to do it again.
All my love,
Andrew's letter arrived a week after we were settled at Julia's. I read it over and over, until I had it memorized. And then I read it over and over, just to see Andrew's handwriting and to hold something that he held in his hands not too long ago.
He was right, it was impossible not to worry, but I was glad that, at least, my boys were together. They would be able to look out for one another, and wouldn't have to be alone so far from home.
I had hoped that with his promise to write often, would come frequent letters. I didn't think looking for one a week was too greedy, but apparently it was unrealistic. It had been over two weeks since that first letter arrived, and I was still waiting for a second.
I was relieved to have gotten one letter each from Samuel and Thomas, but I needed to hear from Andrew again.
I had to keep telling myself that he was busy, and most likely didn't have a say in how often mail went out. And of course, he was in Europe, so I shouldn't worry that it was taking so long. Samuel's letters always took several weeks.
That had to be it. I wouldn't allow myself to think about any other reason.
While I waited, I occupied myself with cleaning every inch of the house and playing peacemaker between Victoria and Ruby.
Poor Victoria was having such a hard time adjusting. She'd always been the baby of the family by four years, and the only girl. She rarely had to share anything, and when she did, James was good about it. Along with his brothers, he had always treated her like a princess, more or less. So she never truly had a taste of sibling rivalry before now.
Ruby, however, supplied plenty of rivalry. Watching them made me think of my own childhood with Jenny.
I wasn't so blinded by my love for Victoria to think that she was perfect, but she wasn't a trouble maker. More often than not, she was only defending herself.
Still, the constant fighting was enough to drive me mad, and I could have kicked myself for wishing for this before.
I tried to have patience with Ruby. After all, it wasn't her fault that she was spoiled. But sometimes I truly worried I might smack her for her impertinence. I'd never felt that way about a child before, and the urge surprised me. When my children were very young, they'd all gotten their share of spankings, but it had been a long while since anything like that was necessary.
Samuel was the one to require the majority of the discipline in our family. James and Victoria had gotten punished plenty of times too, but they were always so sensitive that a stern look would do the trick most of the time.
Needless to say, I was out of practice when it came to that. And Ruby definitely needed more than a stern look. But I still didn't feel as if it was my place to take her in hand that way. Andrew was right, she was John's daughter, not mine.
However, I could send her to her room and take away various privileges. She could only get out of a punishment by running to John if he was there, and most of the time he wasn't around. He spent almost all day, every day, working on the ranch, and would only come over for dinner.
I had to admit, it was fairly amusing watching Ruby still trying to figure out a way to manipulate the situation once John did arrive. She was smart enough to know that her best shot in getting her way, was to be Daddy's sweet little angel. But I could tell how much harder it was for her to hold onto that sugar-coated smile when I would announce that there was no dessert on a particular night, after having used that as her punishment during the day.
I knew she wouldn't give up either. No doubt about it, she had inherited every ounce of Jenny's stubbornness and then some. But I grew up with Jenny and could be just as stubborn if I wanted to be.
At least Julia was getting some much-needed help. With only a week of not having to battle Ruby's will alone, she started to look younger and not so tired all the time. After our first few days, I started shooing her away when something came up, insisting that she relax for a change.
I was happy that she was finally able to have a life outside of filling in as a mother for the second time around, and I know she was too. She loved the children, of course, and didn't truly mind, but she'd raised a family already and wasn't dying to do it again. She also had a husband who didn't get nearly as much attention as either of them would have liked, and friends that she barely saw. And even though she wasn't really old, she wasn't twenty anymore. She simply didn't have the energy.
Now she was starting to resemble the mother I'd known, growing up. The one so full of life and happiness, and part of every sewing circle and ladies group available.
Obviously it was more stressful for me, but at least I was occupied and unable to dwell on the world war while I mediated the girl's private ones. It also helped that the children were in school. So I had some time to renew my energy during the day.
I was so proud of James and Victoria. They'd adjusted to their new school without a problem. I knew it wasn't easy for them. They had so many changes to deal with already, and it was the first time either of them had ever been to a new school.
James was naturally outgoing, but usually struggled with his grades - mainly, I think, because he didn't like having to be inside and sitting when he could be doing something else. Victoria was exactly the opposite. She always got perfect grades - something she inherited from Andrew, no doubt - but was an introvert. Unfortunately, she got that from me. So she had a harder time making friends.
But when I ran into their teacher over the weekend, she told me how well they were both doing academically and socially.
It was nice that just one thing was going well.
"Mama!" Victoria gasped, rushing into the kitchen.
I was finishing up the few lunch dishes, and had my back to her, so I took a second to prepare for what undoubtedly was going to be another unpleasant situation involving Ruby. Sadly, I'd gotten used to the frantic note in my daughter's voice.
I took a deep breath, wiped my hands on my apron, and turned around. But when I saw Victoria, I realized that she didn't have that traumatized expression that signified a problem with her cousin. Her eyes were wide with excitement, and she was smiling and out of breath.
A second later I noticed that she held a letter in her hand.
I had been so wrapped up in my thoughts that I forgot the time, and that the children would be dismissed from school for the day.
When Victoria realized that the post office was on her way home, she volunteered to check every day after school for letters. We made special trips on Saturdays.
I matched her wide smile and anxiously walked the few steps to take the letter from her hand.
"It's from Daddy!" She said excitedly.
I looked at the front and confirmed that, indeed, it was from Andrew, before I ripped open the seal.
I quickly pulled out the letter and scanned the paper, so grateful to finally be able to see something new from him.
However, I didn't intend to read it at the moment. Not in front of Victoria or anyone else. I didn't mind crying with an audience. I'd certainly done that enough lately. But I did mind falling apart in front of my children.
I tucked my letter back in the envelope and pulled out the two other papers that I'd known would be included. One bore Victoria's name, and the other, James'.
If Andrew hadn't been so rushed with his first letter, I was positive that he would have included individual letters for the children as well. I know they were disappointed that he hadn't.
I handed Victoria her letter, and if possible, her eyes lit up even more as she eagerly took the paper.
"Where's James?" I asked as Victoria took her treasure to the table. They usually got home at the same time, since they walked together.
"He's coming." She glanced up, a slight blush coloring her cheeks. "With Peter. I ran all the way home when I got the letter."
She put her head back down, no doubt anxious to read what Andrew wrote to her, and I couldn't help noticing that her face was still a little pink.
I watched her critically for a second. Victoria was a little shy, but she didn't blush often. Never when it was just the two of us in the room.
Maybe she was just warm after running. I shook my head and decided to forget it. I had other things to think about at the moment. Like wondering what was taking James so long. I wanted to give him his letter so I'd be free to hide away in my room and read mine.
I fidgeted impatiently with the papers in my hands until James made his way into the kitchen, followed by his friend.
James looked cautious and hopeful, before he glanced over and saw his sister furiously reading. He smiled and looked back at me expectant.
I handed him his letter and he went to join Victoria at the table.
"Ma, this is Peter," he said distractedly, just barely remembering his manners in his excitement.
I bit back a smile. So it was 'Ma' now, and not 'Mama', as it had been this morning? Apparently James' friend was making him want to act older.
"Nice to meet you Peter." I turned to the blond boy, still standing in the doorway. "Come on in. You'll have to forgive James. He's been waiting to hear from his father for a while now."
At my bidding, Peter came further into the kitchen.
"That's alright," he shrugged. "My dad's away in the war too."
"Oh, I'm sorry." I wondered how many children understood that kind of pain. Sometimes it was hard to remember that we weren't the only ones missing family, right now.
Peter just shrugged again, stuffed his hands in his pockets, and looked away awkwardly. Clearly this wasn't something that he wanted to talk about.
"I just made some cookies," I changed the subject. "They're really for after dinner, but I didn't count on guests this afternoon." I picked up the tray of cooling chocolate chip cookies and held it out to him. "How about a few while you wait?"
Peter smiled and took one. "Thanks."
I ushered him over to the table, and handed out glasses of milk and a cookie each for James and Victoria as they read their letters. Doing my best to conceal my impatience to get away and read my own letter, I asked Peter about himself, while James was occupied.
I learned that I knew his parents. I'd been in school with them, but I kept the fact that we hadn't gotten along very well, to myself.
As I kept him talking, Victoria stowed her letter in her pocket and began paying close attention to everything Peter was saying.
After a minute, the blush earlier made complete sense. If I wasn't mistaken, Victoria liked this boy. From the adoring look in her eyes, she liked him alot.
I was torn between thinking it was cute, and being sad that my little girl was growing up. Although, I suppose, I was younger than she was when I first liked a boy.
"I want a cookie!" Peter's story, about how his dog got the name Tornado, was interrupted by Ruby's demand as she came into the kitchen to discover our little party.
Ruby tried to snatch a cookie and I slapped her hand away.
She looked outraged before she crossed her arms and scowled. "They all have one," she complained.
I gave her a stern look. "First of all, there will be no demands or grabbing, from you, young lady. Second, you apologize for your rude interruption, and think about rephrasing that request much more respectfully."
I noticed Peter smirk, but I stayed focused on Ruby. Part of me felt bad for reprimanding her in front of him, but I figured she earned it by acting the way she had.
Ruby caught Peter's smirk, as well, and raised her chin. Clearly, she didn't care for my suggestions.
"Alright then." I placed the tray of cookies out of her reach. "No cookies for you."
She shrugged, trying to appear as if she didn't care and leaned against the wall. Stubborn little thing.
Having finished both his letter and his snack, James stood up, looking uncomfortable.
"Ma, is it alright if I go out with Peter?" He stuffed his letter in his pocket. "I'll be back before dark."
I looked at him and nodded. "Have fun."
He gave me a smile before he said "come on" to Peter.
After shoving the last bit of his third cookie into his mouth, Peter followed James to the back door.
"Can I come too?" Victoria stood and blushed again, stopping the boys before they could get outside.
"Sure," James said at the same time Peter said "no".
They looked at each other and Victoria watched them seeming confused and hurt.
I had to bite my tongue so I wouldn't tell James he had to take his sister. Forcing them wouldn't help, and they had to learn how to work things out for themselves.
"She's a girl," Peter said, as if that fact hadn't occurred to James before but should explain his objection.
James shrugged. "So?"
Peter looked disgruntled. "So she's-"
"Victoria's alright," James said. "And she can probably out-run any boy."
Victoria, who just a second ago seemed fairly crushed by Peter's objections, now had a challenging gleam in her eye. That was my girl. She may not have taken after me in the area of being a tom-boy, but she sure had my competitive streak. And James was right. She was fast.
Peter looked at Victoria dismissively. "Yeah sure."
"I could beat you." She raised her chin in a rare display of defiance.
"I doubt it." Peter looked haughty.
She crossed her arms. "You afraid to lose to a girl?"
He assessed her for a second, undoubtedly noting how small she was and not seeming worried. "Alright, we'll race."
"Good." She matched his smirk.
I wanted to laugh at the shocked look on James' face, seeing his sister's sudden burst of confidence. I wasn't really surprised that he defended her just now. I wondered how much he would in front of Peter, but he'd always protected her. Apparently, he was ready to keep it up, but maybe she wouldn't always need him to.
I suppose all the fighting between Victoria and Ruby was a good thing, in a way. She was learning to hold her own and stick up for herself.
Of course, being challenged by the boy she liked, was probably contributing to her odd behavior.
"Fine," Peter said. "Loser goes home." It was clear that he thought this was an easy way to get rid of Victoria.
"Fine." She held her challenging demeanor until the boys left the kitchen. Once they were outside, she shot me a happy grin before following them.
A few seconds later, Ruby ran after them.
"I'm coming too!" She yelled and slammed the door behind her.
I cringed from the noise and wondered how welcome her presence would be to their group. James tolerated his cousin better than Victoria did, but he also didn't share a room with her. In fact, he generally spent very little time with her. And I didn't think Peter would be any more open to her intrusion than he was of Victoria.
I felt a little guilty that I was glad Ruby tagged along. With all of the children gone, I wouldn't have to find a way to occupy any of them while I hid myself away to read Andrew's letter.
Taking advantage of the rare blessing, I hurried off to my room.
My Dearest Kathryn,