Because I was a middle child, with sister Lucy too big and sister Flossy too little to play with me. Pa let me work with him so he wouldn't be lonely. It never mattered what time of the day it was or what season of the year, Pa always had a game or chore for me to do.
"We need a little helper," Pa would say. "Sissy, I'll bet you can set the table for Mama better than any little five-year-old girl in this house. I'll be the timekeeper and Mama can be the judge."
Then I'd hustle to see if the centerpieces needed attention. I'd remove the linen napkin which lay over them between meals. I'd put more spoons in the spoon-holder and refill the cracker jar. I'd get a clean plate for Mama's freshly churned butter pat and take the creamer and sugar bowl to the kitchen for Lucy to fill. Then I'd turn the plates right side up, which Lucy had turned upside down after breakfast dishes were done.
Just as I was through Pa would yell, "Time's up!" I always got through just in time, and Mama would come busily from the kitchen with the food dishes, hot and steaming.She'd smile hurriedly but not say a word. Pa would wink at me and tell me in a whisper that Mama liked my work just fine; her smile said so. Mama never talked much, and when she did, she wasn't as smooth as Pa.
"Mama's work is never done," Pa'd explain. "She doesn't have much time to laugh." Then I'd remember that Mama had to cook and sew and bake and iron and make garden and churn and feed the baby and wash clothes on a brass rub-board and clean the house and carry in water and carry out the slop pail and ashes.
In wintertime Pa would let me win at pick-up-the-scraps after Mama was through sewing carpet rags for the evening. I'd save the basting threads around an empty spool, and put the biggest scraps in Mama's quiltblock box and the little pieces in the coal hod. Pa knew I was the best little five-year-old girl in our house.