Hotcakes and Sugar Syrup
Caroline blinked and rubbed her eyes. Wiggling her toes under the sheet, she stretched her arms above her he-ad as high as she could.
"Caroline!" Three-year-old Eliza tugged on Caroline's sleeve. Caroline put her finger to her lips. "Hush!" she whispered, as Eliza's bright eyes sparkled up at her. "You'll wake Martha!"
Martha, sound asleep on the other side of Eliza, had the linen sheet pulled right up to her chin. Martha was the oldest sister. She was eight years old, and she didn't like it when Caroline or Eliza woke her up.
Hazy shafts of light began spilling through the window as the rising sun awakened the dark, sleepy sky. Caroline sat up and wriggled her way to the foot of the bed. She peeked around the curtain that separated the two beds in the room. The sheet on the boys' bed still covered two big lumps. Her brothers, Joseph and Henry, were not yet awake.
But Mother was. Her brisk footsteps echoed back and forth over the wooden floor in the kitchen below. Caroline could hear fat pork sizzling in the frying pan, and she knew the sweet smell of hotcakes would soon fill the whole house.
Mother's footsteps were loud and firm as she climbed the stairs to the children's room. Her straight black hair was neatly pinned behind her head, and her green eyes already looked tired. "Good morning, Caroline and Eliza," Mother said as she peered through the stair railing.
Every morning, Mother looked at the girls' bed first, expecting to find Caroline awake and ready to help her start the day. Caroline loved helping Mother and making her smile. Especially now, when Mother didn't smile nearly as much as she used to.
"Good morning," Caroline replied softly.
"Time to wake Martha and the boys, Caroline. The sun's already rising, and the morning's wasting. Hurry, now." As quickly as she had appeared, Mother disappeared down the stairs.
Caroline reached over Eliza and gently shook Martha's arm. "Mother says to wake up, Martha."
Martha pulled the sheet over her head and grumbled, "Hush, Caroline. It's time to sleep."
"Up, Martha, up!" Eliza sang, bouncing up and down.
Caroline slid out of bed. A cool early-morning draft floated above the wooden boards, chilling her bare feet. Lifting the hem of her cotton nightgown off the floor, she pushed the curtain aside and tiptoed over to the boys' bed. Gently she shook Henry, who was still asleep.
Henry pushed the sandy curls away from his face and sat up, startled. "Morning already, little Brownbraid?" he asked. His blue eyes were still full of sleep.
Ever since she was three years old, Caroline had been called "little Brownbraid." One morning when they had still lived in a log cabin instead of their big frame house, Mother had twisted Caroline's thick, soft hair into a long brown braid. Father noticed it at breakfast and said, "How pretty you are, little Brownbraid!" and that became his special name for her. "How's my little Brownbraid?" he'd say, and tug lightly on the bottom of her braid.
Caroline missed Father. He had been gone for almost one whole year. Soon after all the leaves had fallen from the trees, he had sailed away on a big boat called a schooner, and he had never come back. Mother said Father was in heaven. Caroline missed him tugging on her braid. She wondered if his schooner was in heaven, too.
"Mother says it's time to get up," Caroline said importantly.
"Then it must be time to get up!"
Henry nudged Joseph as Caroline turned back to the girls' bed and pulled the curtain behind her. As she lifted Eliza from under the covers, Caroline heard her brothers jump out of their bed and pull their trousers and shirts on. The floorboards creaked and shook as they thundered barefoot down the stairs.
All of a sudden, the room began to smell like Mother's hotcakes, and Caroline was in a hurry. She shook Martha's arm once more. "Wake up!"
Martha threw the quilt back and leaned up on her elbows. "All right, all right," she yawned. "I'm awake."
Reaching into the middle drawer of the tall chest that stood at the foot of their bed, Caroline pulled out her everyday dress and white petticoat and set them neatly on the mattress. She opened the bottom drawer and took out Eliza's dress and petticoat. Eliza squirmed out of her nightgown, and Caroline whisked her into her clothes. After dressing herself, Caroline turned her back to Martha and waited impatiently as Martha sleepily fastened the long row of buttons on the back of her blue cotton dress.
"Hurry, Martha," Caroline urged.
"It's too early to hurry." Martha yawned as she finished buttoning Caroline's dress.
Caroline didn't think it was too early. She was too busy thinking about the hotcakes. Hotcakes were her very favorite. She loved to drop a pat of butter on the steaming cakes and watch it melt and slide from the top round cake right down to the bottom. Then she'd pour sugar syrup over the top of the stack and eat them before the syrup ever had a chance to drizzle off the hotcakes onto her plate. Her stomach rumbled just imagining it.
Caroline quickly pulled her apron over her head and turned to help Eliza while Martha dressed. As soon as Martha finished tying her apron strings, the three girls rushed down the stairs to the kitchen, Caroline leading the way.
The fire in the hearth hissed and popped, and the kitchen glowed as firelight mixed with the early-morning sunshine that now poured through the windowpanes. Grandma rocked slowly in front of the fire, singing softly to baby Thomas and bouncing him on her knees.
"Good morning, Grandma," Caroline and Martha sang out.