Going back to my home town of Tekamah, Nebraska filled me with trepidation. It had been almost twenty years since I last saw my brother and sisters, but it seemed like an eternity. Would I ever find them? Would anyone remember me, or them? Not sure why I let myself be talked into going back; it was a crazy, miserable, strange time of my life. Much I wanted to forget. But I had to go back one more time. Had to see if anyone knew anything about my family.
I drove through the town as slow as the limit allowed; maybe I would spot someone I knew. The old town hadn’t changed much. The one room schoolhouse which also served as a church was now a museum. The doc’s office became a small clinic. From town, I headed west along Old Tree Lane where tall cottonwoods guarded either side of the road. Brisk fall winds persuaded the trees to powder the ground with fluffy white puffs of cotton. Past Mill Pond, the stately Johnson homestead still guarded its place on the corner. I recalled with sadness the death of my two brothers while in the Johnsons’ care. Turning the car north, I passed the Wheeler farm where I grew from a boy to a man. It looked empty. Made me think with fondness of old Mac and wondered if he or his missus were still alive.
Almost at the old homestead, I slowed with the thought of turning around. Why did I come back? The memories were way too painful, but I had to know. I took a deep breath and drove up the road toward home. When I spotted the old rickety wooden fence surrounding the abandoned shack, the memories washed back with a flood of debris.
There we were – seven of us – perched atop that wooden splintery fence waiting for Pa to come back. Darkness started to settle in and with it a slight drizzle. The wind picked up steam, howling loudly as it screeched around the barn. I shivered and wrapped my arms inside my coat to keep warm. I looked down the row on my brothers and sisters; saw Gracie whimpering again. She looked so pitiful and scared. None of us dared move off the fence. Pa had said to sit here until he came back and he meant it. He was a mean man to deal with when he got drunk. I shivered again as I remembered him locking the shack, staggering towards the truck and driving away without a look back. We were all afraid of what Pa would do if he came back and caught us away from our fence post.
“Where is he?” whispered Mikey.
“Ah’s gittin’ cold,” sobbed Josie.
I was worried too. When Pa left, he was already half-drunk. Sadly, Pa loved his drink. He took to drinking more since Mama left. As long as I’d known, he was always a drinker. One time, he came home so drunk, he acted crazy and out of his mind like a wild man. He started to beat Mama. He slapped her face so hard, she stumbled and fell to the floor.
“Where’s my dinna’?” he hollered. The table was set; Mama made us all wait for him to come home, but he wasn’t satisfied. He grabbed the tablecloth and yanked the whole thing to the floor with one swoop, breaking every dish. Mama stood there wide-eyed and scared. Her body shook as she dodged another drunken swing from his hand. He staggered towards Dolly with a raised fist, and that was more than Mama could handle. I saw her eyes flare with anger. She grabbed the baby and put herself between Dolly and the madman she called her husband. “Get outside quick!” she ordered. She pushed us out the door, and slammed it behind her. All we could do is leave – fast. Mama and four children marched down the dark country road walking and waiting until Pa passed out on the bed in a drunken stupor. When we thought it was safe, we would tiptoe into the house.
On that freezing cold night so long ago, all he said was, “Git yore stuff on! Ah’m goin’ ta town. Ya’ll git on that fence and wait there ‘til I gits back; an’ don’ ya dare move an inch!”
His breath reeked of liquor. Gracie was too small to balance atop of the wooden fence post, so Pa just “hung” her there by her coat so she wouldn’t fall off. I wasn’t sure what to think or do. All I knew was that it was getting colder by the minute. So, we waited; thought he was probably in town drinking some more and would be even meaner when he came back. I shivered again when I remembered he locked the door. We couldn’t even get back in the shack. What was he thinking?