After a fire burns his family farm and orchard—their livelihood—Oscar and his siblings must find work
“Come on!” Oscar yelled to his younger brother, Finn. Finn ran to catch up. “Of all the fires in the world, why did one have to come here?” Oscar complained.
“I don’t know,” replied Finn, skipping along.
Finn was seven and did not like to work hard. He preferred fishing with Oscar in the river nearby.
Oscar sighed and looked around. His family’s farm and apple orchard had been burned by a forest fire. Luckily, the rain came before the barn, animals, and house had been lost. About ninety percent of the food they needed to survive the winter had been destroyed, and all of their apples were gone. They had none left to sell. A lot of the trees on the Ozark Mountains near their farm had also burned.
It was a beautiful day outside, but nobody was in any mood to enjoy it. Today was the first day Oscar had gone outside to explore since the fire. Everybody in the family was trying to figure out ways to earn money. His sister, Ava, was going to sell lace. Ava was bossy, two years older than Oscar, and liked to help her mom take care of the house. His mom was going to make candles using beeswax from the nearby hives, and his father was already gone looking for a job, having heard there were jobs near the railroad. Oscar wondered if anybody needed help caring for their crops or animals.
Walking down to the town, the boys talked about how much the fire had damaged the forest.
“Why did the fire burn the good stuff and not the outhouse?” joked Finn.
Their outhouse was a piece of junk on the edge of their property. The roof was caving in, the door would not close, and it smelled really, really bad. Everybody was afraid to go in there because it might cave in and they would fall into who knows what.
Oscar was silent.
After the long walk to town, Oscar really hoped they could find somebody who needed help. All day long they went around asking, but nobody had any jobs for two small boys. They asked the rancher, the minister, and even Mr. Johnson, who was smoking a pipe on his porch. They could not find any way to make money. When they returned home, they found that mother had made seven candles and Ava had sewed quite a lot of lace. Finn went fishing, and Oscar shuffled into the barn to visit his best friend, Rose.
Oscar walked immediately to Rose, his foal, and hugged her tightly. He told her what was happening. Rose seemed to understand, and she gave a sad whine. Rose was his favorite animal on the planet. Oscar had helped his father deliver her, which had been so exciting. He had taken care of Rose ever since.
Whenever something was worrying him, he confided in her. It made him feel better to have someone understand his pain. After Oscar talked to Rose, he usually felt better, but today he was still sad. He fed the other horses, the milk cow, and their five chickens. He collected the eggs for his brother because he knew Finn would not be home to do it. Oscar returned to Rose and nuzzled her some more as he wondered how he could help his family. When he noticed that it was getting dark, he said goodbye to Rose and walked slowly to the house with a grim expression on his face.
Oscar slumped into the house and took his favorite seat near the toasty fireplace. Oscar’s father had built the fireplace out of fieldstones taken from the farm, and sitting there made Oscar think of his father.
His mother came over to him, and he told her that he had not found a job. He felt useless and sad. His mother comforted him by rubbing his back and saying everything would work out. He was not sure if everything would, but it was nice to hear.
His mother comforted him by rubbing his back and saying everything would work out. He was not sure if everything would, but it was nice to hear.
He walked across the creaky floorboards to his bed. The bed creaked and groaned under his weight. When Finn got in later, the mattress sagged even further. Oscar lay in bed thinking even after he could hear Finn snoring.
Oscar woke to the chirping of the birds. He did his chores, ate a piece of bread with a glass of milk, and headed back to town to try again. He was still hungry, and he heard his belly rumble. Again he went through the same routine of offering his help and getting rejected. Oscar sat down on a bench. Two men nearby were talking about horses, and Oscar leaned in to listen more closely. Mr. Johnson needed a new horse because his old one had passed away. He wanted a gentle horse for his carriage. Mr. Murphy mentioned he would let him know if he heard of any horses for sale.
Oscar thought about this, and he got an idea. Oscar’s family had two more horses, Blazer and Bessie. Blazer was gentle and graceful while Bessie was prone to kicking. He walked back home pondering the man’s request deeply. Oscar believed that if they could sell Blazer, everything would be just right. By the time Oscar got home, he could already taste the delicious food his family would be eating this winter.
Oscar sprinted into the kitchen and breathlessly announced his genius plan to his mom. Sadly, his sister heard it too, and she yelled, “You can’t do that—he is the family horse. You can’t sell Blazer!”
Oscar looked at his mom and she sighed. “Oh, honey. Blazer is needed to pull the carriage and work in the fields.”
“Rose can take his place. Rose would do well in the fields,” Oscar argued.
“Rose would take too long to train, and Blazer is the only one Bessie does not kick,” Mom replied, showing Oscar a recent hoof mark on her leg.
“Told you so.” Ava laughed.
Oscar stomped out the door without closing it while his mom scolded Ava for interrupting her conversation with Oscar.
Oscar was so upset he ran right into the barn to tell Rose. His feelings rushed out like a cheetah chasing its prey. He confided everything, like how Mom would not let him sell Blazer and how they would not have enough money or food for the winter.
Oscar saddled Rose for a walk to calm himself. Rose walked slowly to make the ride comfortable for Oscar. As they moved across the property, Oscar was reminded of the damage the fire had done.
Rose led the way. Oscar barely felt a bump at all!
Later, when he unsaddled Rose, he realized Rose had been trying to tell him something all along. She was trying to tell him that she was gentle.
Oscar put that idea out of his mind immediately because he adored Rose. He could never imagine selling her. He could never imagine not seeing her beautiful face every day or telling her his deepest secrets. He trudged up the hill to the house, full of gloom.
Oscar felt depleted when he awoke the next morning. There was barely food for breakfast. Even though he forbade himself from thinking about selling Rose, he thought about it anyway. He thought about what his life would be like without the beautiful face of Rose looking at him every day. He would feel terrible and miss her greatly.
Dinner was a piece of stale bread with a few carrots and potatoes. They also had a few small fish Finn had caught. It did not feel like it was enough.
Oscar slept in the barn because he could not fall asleep with Finn snoring so loudly. When Oscar woke up, Rose was cuddling right beside him, deep in sleep. As he pet Rose, she nuzzled him and licked his face. Oscar knew that Rose trusted him to do the right thing.
All of a sudden, he knew what he was going to do. He was going to sell Rose. He slowly walked to the house to tell his mom.
Oscar burst into the door looking for his mother. “I’m going to sell Rose,” he announced.
Mom whispered, “Are you sure you want to do that, honey? You love her. You don’t have to sell her. We would never make you sell your horse. You know we will find some way to get the farm back and running.”
“Mom I have to. It will help the family, and Rose trusts me to do the right thing.”
Mom sighed. “Honey, I can make more candles. Dad will come back with money. Ava will . . .”
“I want to, Mom,” Oscar insisted. “My mind is made up.”
Mom hugged him and brushed hair away from his eyes. “You know what is best.” She smiled and kissed him on the cheek. She watched Oscar walk out the door while trying to hide her tears.
* * *
Oscar rode Rose to town with mixed feelings about his decision. He was crying and beginning to regret his choice. He tried to talk to Rose and tell her that everything was going to be okay and that Mr. Johnson was a very nice man. Rose walked as slow as a snail, and yet they still arrived sooner than expected. He sat on the bench with Rose next to him and thought about all of the adventures they’d had and all of the times he had confided his deepest secrets to her. But he knew that if he did not sell Rose, his family and the animals might starve. They would have trouble starting their farm up again. At least Rose would be taken care of.
Oscar and Rose walked along the dusty dirt road to Mr. Johnson’s home. When he arrived, Oscar waited outside and told himself that everything was going to be alright. Before Oscar had a chance to knock, the door opened and Mrs. Johnson stood in the doorway.
Oscar asked to see Mr. Johnson, and Mrs. Johnson said that he was out back.
“Thank you,” replied Oscar.
As he walked behind the house, Oscar found Mr. Johnson smoking his pipe on a blue rocking chair. Oscar approached Mr. Johnson with Rose by his side.
“Hello, Mr. Johnson.” Oscar smiled.
“Hello, Oscar,” replied Mr. Johnson. “What can I do for you?”
“I have come to offer this beautiful, gentle, one-of-a-kind horse,” Oscar proudly stated.
“Yes!” Mr. Johnson exclaimed. “Finally, somebody is offering me a horse!”
He was so happy he did not notice the sullen expressions on their faces. Out of the blue, Oscar started crying.
“What’s wrong, Oscar?” asked Mr. Johnson gently.
With tears streaming down his cheeks, Oscar told Mr. Johnson how much he loved Rose and how much they had been through together.
“Then why do you want to sell your horse?” Mr. Johnson asked.
Oscar told him about the fire, how they had lost all of their apple trees and crops, and how they needed to get money. When he finished, he hugged Rose tightly.
Mr. Johnson saw the connection between the two, and he thought for a while. “This horse is pretty young,” he said. “I don’t know if I could train Rose to pull my carriage. It would be very hard for a man my age to go through that.”
Oscar’s hopes were crushed.
“I would need someone to help me take care of Rose,” he continued.
Oscar’s face lit up the sky. “I could do that!” he exclaimed. “Every day I could come to your place and work with Rose. I could feed her, clean out her stall, and brush her. I would love to do that!”
“I could only pay you 50 cents a week,” replied Mr. Johnson. “And I would need to have you work with Rose every day.”
Oscar was so happy he hugged the surprised Mr. Johnson. “I’ll take it!”
They worked out the details, and then Oscar led Rose to the stable. He prepared her bed and let her know he would be back the next day and every day after that to see her.
Then he hugged her, a warm, fuzzy kind of hug. The kind of hug that said, “See you tomorrow” instead of “Goodbye.”