ETWG First Chapter Book Awards: Lillie: A Motherless Child by Lynn Hobbs
July 24, 2016
Lillie: A Motherless Child by Lynn Hobbs is a Finalist in the Nonfiction/Memoir Category of Published Books for the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.
The true life story of Lillie Fritsche. One of sixteen siblings, born in the depression era.
Lillie’s mother passed away when she was seven years old.
Follow her journey from a motherless child to an inspiring woman of faith.
Award-Winning First Chapter
“Mama, Mama,” I screamed a projected level only a seven year old can master. Overcome by fright, my voice suddenly broke. I jumped up and down in agony. A shrill, high –pitched yell finally sailed out, “Raymond fell in the pond. He’s drowning.”
“Well, reach in there and pull him out.” She called frantically from somewhere inside the house. The windows were wide open. Curtains billowed about in the afternoon breeze.
My four year old sister, Bernice, glanced toward me and emitted a low, mournful wail that escalated to ear-piercing cries. My heart raced. Leaning forward, I could barely see the mass of curls on top of Raymond’s head. At two years old, the murky water was sucking him under.
Snatching his hair, I yanked the tiny body from the pond, and shoved him onto the grass. He coughed and sputtered.
“Tee, what you make me done?” His anger spat at me.
“See, you got too close. Get back now. Come on.” He struggled while trying to raise himself from the grass. I helped him up as Bernice approached.
“Bubba,” she said half aloud, her chin trembling.
“Is Raymond alright?” Mama hollered.
I turned and caught a quick glimpse of him. He was sopping wet and silent. He didn’t look hurt. “I got him out, he’s okay.”
“Bring him and Bernice with you and stay on the porch.” Her voice drifted to the back of the house.
Reaching for a hand from each of them, I took my little brother and sister with me. The pond was about twenty-five feet away from the left side of our home.
We walked to the front lawn, past the water well with a hand pump, and slowly made our way to the porch. The wooden house was large and painted white, and Mama had a kitchen garden behind it. We climbed the steps to the front porch and sank into the empty rocking chairs where our parents sat in the evening.
No one came to check on us. I knew Mama was cooking or cleaning.
My name is Lillie, but Daddy calls me Lilla-Mae.
Raymond, Bernice, and I were the youngest of sixteen siblings. Our German family struggled as did countless others during the Great Depression years. First born was Matilda (Tilda), then Edwin (Ed), Olga, Otto, Ernst, Hattie (Jane), Amanda (May), Marie, Elsie, Rudolph (Bill), Rubin, Lorraine, Lillie, Fredrick (Freddie, died of phenomena at two months old), Bernice, and Raymond. Born in 1928, I was the oldest of the last three siblings and watched after the other two. Our older brothers and sisters were either in school, helping Daddy in the field, doing daily household chores with Mama, or married and had moved away. Unknown to us children, the depression was in progress. This was our way of life, we were a happy family, and we were loved. If Mama had to stop and run after so many children all day, she would never get anything done. It was natural for us to look after each other.
“Let’s play nails.” Bernice pleaded after we rocked and sang and finally became bored.
“I guess so. We can stay by the porch.” I focused on Raymond and raised my voice. “You stay away from the pond.” I scolded. His little face turned slowly toward the ground, and his eyes were almost closed. I watched as the small shoulders on his thin frame shook up and down. He whimpered under his breath, and I realized I had been too hard on him. I knew why he loved the pond. Mama had all of us children stand in line each afternoon, passing a bucket of water from the pond to her kitchen garden. She would stand in front watering the vegetables. Raymond thought watering was fun. That was why he wanted to go near the pond. He wanted all of us to get in a line and pass the sloshing bucket across the lawn to each other. Someone always spilled water on his bare feet, and he’d laugh with excitement. I stopped and hugged him.
“I’m sorry I yelled.” I stammered. Water was still dripping down his face. I shoved wet hair back from his forehead.
“Okay, sister.” He patted my arm, his feelings had improved, and I was grateful.
“Raymond, wait here while we get the nails.” He flashed a wide lopsided smile, and we were
once again buddies.
Retrieving the nails was not an easy task. Crawling under the porch, Bernice and I wiggled across the dirt. A strong, musty smell of damp earth hung in the air and assaulted our nostrils.
Totally drenched, Raymond squatted in the sunshine, and extended one open hand under the house. He sifted dirt through his fingers and waited for us to transfer the ‘toys’ to him. Most of the nails were rusty, all were different lengths. These were our ‘people’. Retrieving them from the front of a brick, we scooted back to Raymond, and placed them in his little hand. He deposited them on the ground, and returned his out-stretched arm toward us again.
“More, bring some more.”
“Here are the rooms. Be careful with the glass.” I called out to him, and maneuvered back to the brick. Various shapes of an assortment of colored glass lay in a pile. Lifting them cautiously, I dumped all of the pieces into Raymond’s hand. Bernice scrambled out from under the house, and I bumped the top of my head as I exited.
Our older sister, Marie, had taught us how to play nails. We would draw a house in the dirt with a stick. A piece of colored glass was placed inside each drawn square to make a ‘room’. The nails were the family for our houses. Long nails were the parents, smaller nails were the children.
We would name them, and walk our people to each other’s houses and talk for them as they would visit each other. We’d play for hours. Our imaginations were based on observing our own families routines, and the conversations we copied were overheard from them. We couldn’t afford real toys, and enjoyed pretending.
Bernice and I sprawled on the ground and drew our houses in the dirt. We set up our play area, while Raymond ran to our two older brothers ‘cars’ . They were Rubin and Rudolph’s make believe cars. The two older brothers were in school that day. Raymond eased into the deep, oblong hole each brother had dug in the ground, and sat down, placing his legs inside, also. An old piece of board was always kept inside each car. Our little brother held the car’s board up with both hands. This was the ‘steering wheel’, and he took turns ‘driving’ each car for the remainder of the afternoon, while Bernice and I played nails. The drowning episode was quickly forgotten as our laughter filled the air.
Later that evening, Mama called us in to eat dinner.
Robert and Martha Fritsche were our parents. Daddy always said the blessing before we ate. I can remember the long, multi-planked table where we all gathered to eat. Mama and Daddy sat at each end and long benches held a mixture of my brothers and sisters on either side. Rubin was 10 years old and Rudolph was 12. They would slide huge bowls of food down the length of the table to reach other family members. Everyone talked at the same time, and it was always cheerful.
Dinner went by fast.
This particular evening, Daddy had picked a watermelon from the garden for our enjoyment after dinner. Busy cutting it open, he laughed. “Hard to believe nothing has ever slid off this table and made a mess on the floor.”
Rudolph stood and reached for a slice. “That’s because we practice so much.”
Everyone was ready with outstretched hands as Rubin and Rudolph slid one slice after another down the long table.
I ate a few bites and accidentally swallowed a watermelon seed. I gulped, and Rudolph noticed.
“Oh, your belly is going to get as big as Mama’s.” He announced.
I knew Mama was big and pregnant nearly every year and Rudolph’s warning shocked me. I looked at him wide-eyed and fear engulfed me. I burst out crying. My parents and siblings spoke in unison claiming that wouldn’t really happen. I trusted them, and finished my slice of watermelon.
After eating, our older brothers and sisters cleared the table and washed the dishes. Bernice and I would run out to the porch and try to beat each other to the laps of our parents as they rocked in their rocking chairs. Bernice always crawled into Daddy’s lap, and I scrambled to Mama. They held us each evening, and it was such a comfortable time.
When Mama tucked me into bed that night, she noticed my dirty feet.
“Lillie, go clean your feet. You can’t sleep in bed like that; you’ll get those sheets dirty.”
“Mama, I’m tired. I promise I’ll hang my feet out.”
She laughed. “Okay, then, but you better hang them off the bed all night.”
“I will.” I solemnly told her, and I did.
I had no way of knowing then how much I’d treasure our time together. My mother would pass away within forty-eight hours.