The Wool Basket
“Jakob, take that harness and throw it on the second wagon,” Minna said. The oldest child in a family of six boys and three girls, Minna was the unquestioned favorite of her father, Hendrik. Since early childhood, everyone knew she was the strong one. The oldest son, Jakob, born two years after Minna, seemed an aimless child.
“Hendrik, you’re not going to leave your estate to him, are you?” Uncle Eduard had said to the patriarchal father as he sized up little Jakob in a homemade cradle. The little child had a bland expression. His eyes did not focus on any adults looking at him. He just lay there, not showing energy or character.
“Mind your own business,” Hendrik said in his usual rough manner, when he spoke at all. Eduard was not his favorite brother. Hendrik had no favorite brothers, or sisters. Even his wife, Elga, was just another woman, a necessity in life, the mother of his children. Granted, Elga was of a finer sort. As a matter of fact, she had just inherited a large estate, much larger than the one Hendrik had inherited and on the basis of which he had married. A man had to have a place to raise the family, after all.
Hendrik was not impressed with the new property. He wasn’t impressed with anything, only Minna could get through to him. He had long ago set his face and character into a steely, rigid stance. Laborers in the fields feared him, though he never spoke to them. The entire household felt a cold chill because of Hendrik’s presence. The new property was about twenty kilometers from their present home and many family members as well as household staff and workers feared they would be left behind. Hendrik was known to make decisions, arbitrary ones, and no one questioned them.
“Elga is having her child,” said a maid, running to Minna as she gave orders to men loading the long line of horse drawn wagons prepared for the move. Minna, much like Hendrik in character and behavior, was none too happy about this news.
“Mother has always had bad timing,” she said. The maid looked down, wiping her hands in an old linen apron.
“Oh, stop acting like an idiot,” Minna said to the maid. “Go heat some water and bring two or three large white sheets from the summer wing. The summer wing was the southern arm of the main house. Its massive black oak furniture was covered with white sheets most of the year. The linens and blankets of the estate were kept in cavernous, mouse-ridden closets in the summer wing.
“We’re not changing our plans,” Hendrik announced when told his tenth child was about to be born. “Where’s Minna?” he said. Presidents and lords bowed to Hendrik, but Minna was the one he respected and asked for advice.
“We’ll send the first seven wagons to Stonebridge tonight,” Minna said as she and Hendrik sat on a huge wrap around verandah, covered with lilac blooms. “Tomorrow morning the food and dishes will go in two wagons. The last to leave, in the afternoon, will be the family and the cats and dogs. The other animals will be herded by the men.”
Hendrik listened with a stony face, looking straight ahead, as Minna fired off the plans for the move. He nodded approvingly. Minna did not expect any reply. Nobody ever questioned her. She would not allow it. After a long silence, Hendrik spoke.
“How is my new son?” he asked in a cool tone.
Minna’s expression, usually stern, softened a little.
“Father, I think we finally have a boy worth his salt.” Minna seldom used colorful expressions like this one. She was definitely not her usual self.
“Stop talking like a commoner,” the father admonished. But a slight twitch of the muscle on the left side of his cheek assured Minna that her comment had hit its mark. Under the harsh exterior of this patriarch, there was a tremor, a hint of something. Was it hope?
“Am I seeing things?” a journeyman said to his companion as they walked along a dirt path next to the woods. A convoy of horse drawn wagons crawled along slowly. There were yells to prod the horses, and cracks of whips as they trod along.
Behind the wagon train were four men, carrying a heavy cotton hammock on their shoulders. Each man wore a white shirt, the kind only worn on Sunday. This was Thursday. In the middle of this hammock was a large pile of lambs’ wool gently lining a basket of reeds.
“Is that a baby in there?” the other journeyman said.
“Sure is,” the other man said. “Some lucky kid, eh?”