The ground was still frozen when the war started. Though our men were almost all farmers, our village wasn’t spared the conscription. The army took any man with a strong back or strong arms and any man that they thought that they could make strong with training. Boys who hadn’t seen a fourteenth winter were wrested from the arms of weeping mothers, whisked into a wagon or marched off between soldiers. The army conscripted the strongest animals too, oxen to pull carts and wagons and heavy canons, horses for the officers and those who would be cavalry. They took chickens and hogs and some of what was left of the winter’s wheat.
They left the women. They left behind girls and young boys and gray haired men older than fifty.
They left us behind like chicken bones at the end of a meal.
But chicken bones make broth. We could give up or get working, so when the ground began to thaw, we picked ourselves up and got to the farming, same as every year, except now we had fewer hands to labor, it meant longer hours for us all, and we had to do some of what we hadn’t before.
We grew callused as the ground softened. Hands more used to sewing and mending hardened against ash handles of carts and plows, hoes and spades.
As we trundled water from the stream, we tried not to imagine how distant soil, thawing now like ours and ripe for the sowing, was being watered by blood—an enemy’s, a stranger’s, maybe blood from one of our own. What crop would that nurture?
At night we did by firelight the work that might have been done in daylight when the men were here and our hands were not needed sunup to sundown in the fields. Around the hearths we quietly added patches to knees worn thin from kneeling in on the ground and darned socks that had been worn to holes by long hours behind the plow or walking lines to scare off crows and rats. With no time to tailor new clothes no one minded except Rose that we could all see half her calves below the skirt’s hem.
We fought our own quiet war against our fear and the coming winter and change.
We fought to keep our gardens ripe and our babies plump.
We fought with hoe and plow and spade and dogged determination.
We spilled sweat and only a little blood.
They say war changes a man.
I hoped our men would recognize their women when they returned to us.
I hoped that they’d respect the war we’d been through while they were away, the wounds and scars and pride that we’d won.
The line this week is mine.