[Readings] | How I Ate My Mother, by Emily Anderson | Harper's Magazine

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How I Ate My Mother


By Emily Anderson, from “Three Little Novels,” published in Conjunctions: 63. Anderson erased portions of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books to “create an alternative series.” Anderson’s first book, Little: Novels, is forthcoming from BlazeVOX.


Almanzo was eating.

He shouted, “Giddap!” a carrot in his hand.

Father came to the barn door and said, “That’s enough, son.”

Almanzo went downstairs and took two more doughnuts from the doughnut jar while Father measured oats and peas into the feed boxes.

At last they went in to dinner. There on the table was Mother, cooked in brown gravy and crab-apple jelly.

“It takes a great deal to feed a growing boy,” Mother said. Almanzo took up his spoon and ate every bite.

Almanzo went into the kitchen for doughnuts. The place was full of their hot, brown smell. Mother, rolling, rolling into the big copper kettle, came popping up to float and slowly swell, her pale golden back going into the fat.

Mother said some women made a newfangled shape, round, with a hole in the middle, but Mother didn’t have time; Saturday was bath night.

The Comanches, pouring scrolls of molasses, flung rye flour and cornmeal and eggs and things; it was Saturday night.

Ten stacks of pancakes rose in towers. Butter and sugar melted together and soaked and dripped all down Mother. She could never make too many stacked pancakes. They all ate pile after pile.

On Sunday, Mother showed through the two pine trees she had cut in the dough. She had made her bonnet of brown velvet, with brown-velvet strings under her chin. Father’s spoon cut deep; he scooped out the fluffy yellow. He poured gravy, dark and white meat sliding from the bones. Silently Almanzo ate it all.

Almanzo licked his woolly mittens; Mother, ladled into six-quart milk pans, made all the sugar they could use.

When Alice came home from school she smelled Almanzo and said, “Oh, you’ve been eating! Boys have all the fun!”

On Saturdays, Alice ate so fast that she was turning back to the bin while her hoopskirts were still whirling the other way.


They carried crocks and jars and jugs of motherbutter to the Saint Lawrence River. Almanzo grew hungrier and hungrier. He was starving. Mother smiled. Just a minute; Mother is a root. Cut it up and plant it; it will always make more.

Alice said, I like to make butter.

Alice ran, full of eggs. Supper! The best time of all was supper. Mother made little plopping sounds under her spoon.

They were laughing when they heard the dinner horn. “The joke’s on you, John!” Father shouted. “Snap!” Mother was dripping into a cauldron. The cauldron boiled.

Independence Day was over. Indian soldiers, traders, and farmers wanted the land. That settled it.

Almanzo fed his pumpkin. He made a slit on the underside. The pumpkin drank milk. He fed her with a rag. Almanzo drank all the milk he could swallow. Mother was good.

Almanzo ate breakfast, then dug worms for bait. Out in the rain, the big milk pan was full of Mother, dipped in cornmeal and churning.

Then they drove far into the mountains near Lake Chateaugay. The woods were full of wagons come to feast. For days Mother made pudding. One evening, at supper, Father said, “It’s time Mother had a vacation.”

Mother was climbing into the big pail of yellow custard. They could eat all they wanted to; no one would stop them.

At noon, they had eaten the whole and Eliza Jane said it was time to get dinner. Almanzo said, “I want a watermelon.”

So Alice went into the biggest melon. Royal stuck the butcher knife into the dewy green rind and bit deep into the juicy cold.

Then Alice said she knew how to make candy. Alice boiled. They rolled up their sleeves and buttered their hands to pull her.

They made ice cream, and Alice said she knew how to make a cake. Alice could sit in the oven. Alice hitched up her hoops and sat. Alice was giggling but suddenly was gone. They all stopped eating. Eliza Jane said, “Mother is all gone.”

Nobody ate any more. They looked into the sugar barrel, and they could see only Alice. “We must hope for the best,” she said. “There’s some Mother. There’s some around the edges.”


Almanzo was starved. Mother untied her bonnet strings, brimming full of eggnog and freckled with spices.

Mother and the girls were pickles, soaking in a tub on the back porch. The motherbutter buyer went down cellar. Mother said proudly, “My butter speaks for itself!” From top to bottom Mother’s — butter — was — Mother! He paid her $250 to take to the bank. In a little while, Mother drove away. Almanzo was proud. His mother was probably the best butter in New York City.

Almanzo said to Father, “I guess it’s dinnertime.”

John laughed at him.

Almanzo waited.

He knew he should get back to work, but he stood in the pleasant heat. He felt bad because he was letting Alice work all alone, but he thought, “I’m busy roasting her.”

Florida was a forest of oranges and gingerbread, but Almanzo was hungry, so he went to dinner. The church kitchen was full of women and roasts of beef. Steam potatoes in clean skins broke when struck.

Almanzo was so hungry.

Almanzo ate and ate.

He ate and ate.

The Indian judge let Father gather beechnuts.

Almanzo could never eat enough, and Father was poor.

It was a wonderful day for eating. Five hogs were to be killed that day, and Mother. All afternoon the men were cutting up meat they slid into barrels of brown pork pickle. Pork pickle had a sting that felt like a sneeze, and when it was done Mother made head cheese. She boiled the six heads till the meat was like jelly, and she let Almanzo eat.


Mother, molded into little cakes, was worrying and scolding because no one ate much.

Mother wiped her eyes and shook her bulging skirts, making cobbler.

Almanzo could hardly wait. Maple cobbler.

Mother was cooking.

Skeleton apple trees rattled like bones . . . Christmas! The kitchen was full of: new bread, cakes, cookies, and pumpkin pies. Cranberries bubbled on the stove. Mother was the goose. Drumsticks up, dressing out, white breast bare, hoopskirts pulled and backed.

Almanzo shouted, “Giddap!” and Father wallowed on. They had skids; they stuck these under and raised the poles up. They pushed and pried and lifted and gasped. Giddap giddap giddap giddap!

“Next time, son, you’ll know better than to put on such a heavy load,” Father said. Mother thought perhaps he should stop, but Almanzo, he was busy eating.

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