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The winter of 1920 Belle Anne Lassiter resided in Ledford. The town in southern Illinois struggled through a cold snap; it was located several miles east of the Ohio River. Belle loved her home, but she had to work hard to obtain food and fuel; some days she failed. Fuel remained in short supply; though no one knew why. Firewater, however--liquor to everyone except the local Indians--remained plentiful thanks to the Ledford's gangsters. Belle didn't have time to think about the criminals' nefarious deeds; she busied herself by concentrating on day-to-day survival. She lived alone with her mother.
Sixty-year-old June Lassiter resembled Belle in many ways. Although, her mother's hair had whitened and thinned out; spider web veins marked her legs, throat and forehead. Belle's home stood one-story tall. A two-bedroom white structure; it featured a basement, sitting parlor, dining room and kitchen. Her father had bought it several months before he had disappeared. He had operated the town's bakery and rented the building from the local bank. John Lassiter had earned adequate wages to pay the mortgage and buy food and fuel.
Shaken by the understanding that she could not pay the mortgage Belle waited for the bank to carry out its threats. Proceedings to take the Lassiter property had commenced. Belle didn't know where her mother and she would find shelter. Would Belle find steady work? Her mother would most assuredly die if they had to spend one day outside in the cold air.
Belle had grown up on the property and knew every square inch of it. An outhouse and empty chicken coop lay 100 feet from the back porch. During the warm season grass wouldn't growin the yard for some reason. A functional coal furnace operated in the basement. A small wood burner heated the kitchen. She'd chop firewood in the woods, but the landowners didn't want the needy sawing down their trees. Quite honestly, Belle didn't blame them.
She stuffed her rebellious flaming red hair under the band of the sock hat, wishing she didn't have to find fuel and food that day. It was too cold to go out and brave the elements.
"I'm going to check the bin," Belle told her mom. "Maybe I overlooked a chunk or two." Belle Anne descended the stairs and cut through the dingy basement. Coal dust scented the air. "Ah-choo!" She sneezed again and again. "Ah-choo!"
Belle had brushed her hair back, braided it into a ponytail, and tied it with a blue ribbon. In that way she was able to keep it under the hat. She needed to keep her ears warm. A few strands worked loose. Freckles smattered her smooth-as-porcelain skin, cheeks, and finely-curved nose. Belle's height and weight were average; her legs were shapely. The corners of her full lips turned upward most of the time.
A bit of light filtered through the four short windows aiding her hunt. Nevertheless, she didn't see a toolbox that jutted in the aisle. Belle stumbled over it stubbing her toe. Pain shot through her foot.
"Ahh!" She fell onto the coal-dusted floor like a toddler tripping over untied shoestrings. "Ah-choo!"
Subsequently, Belle's toe throbbed and her skinned knee stung like fire. She stifled an outcry. Climbing to her feet she dusted her hands. As she suspected the inspection yielded no fuel. Her heart sank. What would she do? In the darkness she sat on the second step and wept into her dirty hands. All the while she hoped her mother couldn't hear.
Why had Belle's daddy deserted them? Didn't he realize they would get hungry and cold and there would be no money for them? Didn't he care that they'd have a difficult time trying to survive? She ascended the stairs.
Belle didn't want to resort to stealing. But if it meant keeping her mother alive and safe she'd have to steal food and fuel. Hopefully, it wouldn't come to that.
Puffs of white left her lips as she walked to the business district of Ledford. Along the way Belle borrowed a hammer from a carpenter who she was acquainted with. She nailed up 'job wanted' signs she'd made the previous night. When finished, she returned the tool, wishing the man a big thank you.
As she moved on down the street Belle peered over at the dark foreboding storefront that her daddy had run. The black windows appeared ominous in the morning sun. A white 'FOR LET' sign hung in the window. She needed to see her father and ask him why he had abandoned her mother and her. He'd seemed so…downhearted before he disappeared.
Belle stopped in front of the post office. Seeing the red brick building reminded her to check the mail. She hurried through the busy doorway. Peering through the cage window she smiled at the busy postmaster. The warmth felt good.
"You have a letter, young lady," he said, from behind the counter. He looked over his spectacles.
Her expression brightened. "For me?" Usually, he had mail for her mother. "A letter?"
"You're Belle Lassiter, aren't you?" The dark-haired heavy man smiled. "Then, it's yours."
He recognized her despite the boyish clothes she wore. The coat and serge pants had belonged to her daddy before he had abandoned them. Leastways, they kept her warm even on the coldest days.
"You've got something right here." The postmaster pointed to his nose.
Copyright © 2006 Karen L. Snyder