[In 1860, when Rhoda’s mother died, Rhoda and her parents were boarding with the Jacobs family.]
We don’t know if Elizabeth Jacobs required Rhoda to help with any chores around the house. But one thing is certain – even if she’d been asked, Rhoda was not capable of even the simplest household work. She didn’t have the patience to bend scrubbing over a washtub on laundry day. She didn’t have the patience to stand outside at the clothesline, snapping the dresses to get the wrinkles out, smoothing the pants, lining up the towels before pegging them to the line. She didn’t have the patience to stand at a kitchen table kneading bread until it was as smooth and plump as a baby’s bottom, then tuck it into a loaf pan ready for the oven.
Rhoda wasn’t capable of doing any of the boring, repetitive tasks that were required of a farm woman on the Illinois frontier. Eggs would go ungathered if left to Rhoda’s care, or get smashed against the henhouse wall if she succumbed to one of her fits of rage. A nervous cow wouldn’t stand still to be milked. And Rhoda certainly wasn’t up to the more perilous chores, like baking with a wood-fired stove, dipping candles into hot wax for hours at a time, or stirring a pot full of boiling lye to make soap.
We don’t know if Rhoda had the ability, or even the desire, to help in her own recovery. That first blow, losing Charles in such a dramatic way, plus being held in Jacksonville for two years, may have simply broken her spirit beyond all hope of repair.
Was Rhoda still mourning the loss of Charles after all that time? Or had her personality warped into something darker, more savage? Did the shock of that early loss shatter her psyche, letting other pathologies – paranoia, anxiety, violence – slither through the cracks?
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