Love's abiding joy (Love Comes Softly #4)

By: Janette Oke

Chapter One



Family



"Good mornin'."

The words came softly to Marty; she opened her sleep- heavy eyes to identify the source. Clark was bending over her, smiling, she noticed. Clark did not normally awaken her before he left for the barn; and Marty stirred, fighting sleep in an effort to understand why he was doing so now.

"Happy birthday."

Oh, yes, today was her birthday, and Clark always wanted to be the first one to greet her on her special day. Marty pulled the covers back up to her chin, planning to close her eyes again, but she couldn't resist answering his smile.

"An' you woke me jest to remind me thet I'm another year older?"

"Now, what's being' wrong with gettin' older? Seems to me it's jest fine--considerin' the alternative," Clark teased.

Marty smiled again. She was fully awake now. No use trying to get back to sleep again.

"Fact is," she said, reaching up and running her hand


 



through Clark's graying hair, "I don't think thet I'm mindin' this birthday one little bit. I don't feel one speck more'n a day older than I did yesterday. A little short on sleep maybe," she added mischievously,"--but not so much older."

Clark laughed. "I've heard tell of people gettin' crotchety and fussy as they age . . ." He left the sentence hanging; then he leaned over and took any sting from the words with a kiss on Marty's nose. "Well, I'd best get me to the chorin'. Go ahead, catch yerself a little more shut-eye, iffen ya want to. I'll even git yer breakfast--jest this once."

"Not on yer life," interjected Marty hurriedly. "I'd hafta clean up yer mess in the kitchen."

Clark left, chuckling to himself, and Marty stretched to her full length beneath the warmth of her handmade quilt. She wouldn't hurry to get up, but Clark's breakfast would be waiting when he returned from the barn.



Today is my birthday, Marty's thoughts began. Though she wasn't feeling older, it seemed, suddenly, that there had been many birthdays. Forty-two, in fact. Forty-two. She repeated the number mentally in an attempt to get the feel of it. Funny, it really doesn't bother me a bit. No, there was nothing traumatic about this birthday--not like thirty had been, or forty. My, how she had hated turning forty! It seemed that a body must be near worn out by the time one reached forty. Yet here she was, forty-two, and in all honesty she felt no older than she did when she had reached those other two such monumental milestones.

Forty-two, she mused again but did not dwell on the number for long. Instead she thought ahead to the planned events of the day. Birthdays meant family. Oh, how she loved to have her family gathered about her! When the children had been little, she herself had been the "maker-of-birthdays." Now they were grown up and old enough that it was her turn to have a special day. Nandry had served the birthday dinner last year, Clae had reminded them. Marty couldn't really remember. The years had a tendency to blur in together, but, yes, she was sure that Clae was right.

Today being a Saturday, the dinner would be held at the


 



noon hour instead of in the evening. Marty liked it better that way. They had so much more time with one another instead of trying to crowd in the celebration between the return of the school children and the milking of the cows and other farm chores. Today they had the whole afternoon ahead of them for visiting and playing with the grandchildren.

Just thinking about the promises of the day filled Marty with excitement. Gone all thought of sleep, she threw back the covers, stretched on the edge of the bed, and moved to the window. She looked out upon a beautiful June morning. The world was clean and fresh from last night's rain shower. What a beautiful time of year! There was still that lingering feeling of spring in the air even though many plants had grown enough already to make one know that summer was really taking over. She loved June. Again she felt a thankfulness to her mother for having her in this delightful month.

Marty's thoughts returned to her own children. Nandry . . . Nandry and her little family. Nandry had four children now, and what a perfect young mother she made. Her Josh teased about their "baker's dozen," and Nandry did not even argue against his laughing remarks. Yes, Nandry, their adopted Nandry, would have made her natural mama proud. And then there was Nandry's sister Clae, their second adopted daughter--Clae and her parson husband Joe. Clae too loved children, but Marty felt--though Clae had not said so--that she secretly hoped the size of their family would not grow too quickly. Parson Joe still dreamed about and planned toward getting more seminary training. Marty and Clark added little amounts to the set-aside canning jar which was gradually accumulating funds to help pay for the much-wanted schooling. Marty hoped that they would soon be able to go. Joe and Clae had one little girl, Esther Sue.

Marty's smile left her face and her eyes misted as she thought of their next daughter, Missie. Oh, how she missed Missie! She had thought it was gradually supposed to get easier over the years of separation from loved ones, but it had not been so. With every part of her being Marty ached for Missie. If only. . . if only, she caught herself thinking again; if only I

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