My Antonia Book 1, Chapters 9 and 10
Winter has arrived to the prairie. Jim is now able to drive around the country by himself in a little sledge Otto Fuchs made for him. He takes Yulka and Antonia out for a ride one winter afternoon. Jim and Antonia remark how different familar landmarks look when covered with snow. The Shimerda girls beg Jim to take them as far as Peter and Pavel's home; they are glad to escape their little, ugly home and their mother's constant scolding.
Jim enjoys staying at home in the winter; he especially likes being in the kitchen. Jim remarks that his life now, "centered around warmth and food", and that "next to getting warm and keeping warm, dinner and supper were the most interesting things." Book 1, Chapter 9, pg. 44. Jim is fond of everyone in the Burden household. He learns that over the years, Otto Fuchs had been a cowboy, a stage-driver, a bartender, and a miner before settling as Mr. Burden's hired hand. Jake, whom Jim also admires, cannot read or write well and he has a violent temper, but has a huge heart. Jim admires both of them, despite their differences, for being able to work under such hard and arduous conditions.
It is painfully obvious to the Burden household that the Shimerdas are taking the winter very hard. The Burdens feel sorry for the Shimerdas, especially Antonia, whom they have come to regard highly. The Shimerdas have one coat to share among them. Jake recalls the previous day, when Ambrosch had showed him the prairie dogs he had shot and asked if they were good enough to eat. The family hopes that Krajiek will not go as far as to allow the Shimerdas to eat prairie dogs. Mrs. Burden makes up her mind to visit the Shimerdas the next day, to see how they are coping with the winter days.
Mrs. Shimerda immediately starts to cry when she sees them, gesturing about the poor condition of their home and pointing to their poor supply of food. Mrs. Burden brings them a basket of food and Antonia helps her unpack. Antonia begs them to excuse her mother, who is still crying. Mr. Shimerda then shows them a little hole in the back of the living area that is Antonia and Yulka's bed. Mrs. Burden is horrified by where the girls must sleep.
Mr. Shimerda talks to Mrs. Burden as Antonia translates. Mr. Shimerda wants the Burdens to know that back home in Bohemia, he and his family were highly respected. He made a good wage as a trader. When they left Bohemia, they had more than a thousand dollars, but the poor exchange rate in New York, and the cost of railroad transportation to Nebraska, added up to more than they had expected. By the time they had paid Krajiek for his farm, his machinery, and his animals, they had very little money left. Mr. Shimerda explains that once they get through winter, things should be fine. They will buy farm animals in the spring, and both Ambrosch and Antonia are willing to work in the fields.
Before the Burdens leave, Mrs. Shimerda gives them a package of little brown shavings that they cannot identify, but that the Shimerdas use daily in their cooking. Mrs. Burden refuses to eat them and throws them away. Jim manages to eat a tiny shaving. It would be years before Jim learns that the little brown shavings the Shimerdas "had brought so far and treasured so jealously" are dried mushrooms. Book 1, Chapter 10, pg. 52.