Winter ain’t good for nothing but weeding out the sick and the poor. That’s what Daddy always said.
Little Mo came down with the scarlet fever that winter and the weeding became personal. His little face was sometimes pale and sometimes he had the rosiest cheeks you ever saw. If it weren’t for the awful hotness of him, you’d think he was fine. It started out with just the littlest cold, but then it got worse.
Momma rocked him, sitting by the coal fire with her eyes all hollow looking. Daddy watched, looking angry. I don’t know who he was angry with, unless it was God. Wasn’t anyone’s fault Little Mo was sick, but it being the will of God didn’t sit right with anyone.
I whittled a monkey from a peach pit to pass the time. There wasn’t much to do but sit in the corner after breaking ice in the troughs and forking hay to the stock. We brought all the cows in the barn that winter, it being cold enough to freeze the ground solid.
Momma got the idea we needed to get a picture made of Little Mo. Said we needed it in case he died. We couldn’t take him out in the cold, Daddy said. The trip would kill him for sure. Momma just sat there rocking him and wouldn’t see any sense. She said all we had to do was get him to Crutchfield’s Grocery. Mr. Crutchfield had a camera.
Daddy ended up leaving the house. He was gone for a while and Momma sent me out to find him. He was in the barn just standing there staring at the shovel where it hung, waiting for spring.
“Daddy, come on back in the house. It’s cold.”
“The ground’s too hard to dig, Creed.”
“We don’t need to dig nothing,” I said, rubbing my hand on his back.
His eyes turned down at the corners and creased out onto the bones of his cheeks. It was the first time I saw wetness in the corners of Daddy’s eyes. I didn’t know what to do—what to say. I just stood shoulder to shoulder looking at the shovel with him. We looked at that shovel for a long time.
Little Mo died in the night and Momma screamed, “See! See! All we had to do was take him to Mr. Crutchfields”.
Daddy and me went out to the barn the next morning, our boots crunching through ice crust, dirtying the soft white underneath. We built a box for Little Mo out of some red oak we cut last spring, taking turns pulling our gloves off to seat the pegs and pound the edges together. It was a right nice box when we were done. We didn’t speak the whole time we built it.
“Well. That’s that,” Daddy said.
It took us a week to get Momma to let us put Little Mo in the box. The plan was to put him in the barn until the ground thawed enough to bury him proper. Momma left him laid out in his crib, looking like he was sleeping but he started to smell and she finally let us put him there.
After we got him in there, Momma arranged his christening dress around him. She put a stuffed sock toy in with him and a little cow I carved for him not long after he was born. It took about two days for him to freeze solid out there in the barn and stop stinking so bad.
Momma would sneak out of the house, go out to the barn and lift the lid. I’d go out and she’d be singing to Little Mo.
“I never got his picture,” she’d say.
Daddy just sat next to the fire looking angry. When we went to the barn to fork the hay and break the ice, he wouldn’t look to where Little Mo lay.
When it thawed, the preacher came so we could bury him proper. Mr. Crutchfield brought his camera and took the picture.
Every time I look at it, that photo, I remember my breath fogging and Little Mo, frozen solid over in the corner.