Frank Larue was weary from the ten hour drive back to his hometown of Tekamah, Nebraska north of Omaha. He swore he would never return. Too many bad memories. There were good times too, he had to admit.
Before checking into the hotel, he decided to drive out to the old homestead. Tomorrow was Saturday. The weekend would give him plenty of time to look around, visit some landmarks, and see if anyone remembered his siblings or knew of their whereabouts.
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 had become a small clinic.
From town, he headed west along Old Tree Lane where tall cottonwoods guarded either side of the road. Past Mill Pond, the stately Johnson homestead still guarded its place on the corner. Frank felt the hard pit beginning to form in his stomach. He turned the car north and passed the Wheeler farm where he had grown up. Mac, although old enough to be his grandfather, was like a father to him. He learned a lot from the old man and many more painful lessons from his missus. Wondered if he or his missus were still alive. The old farmstead looked vacant. He decided to ask in town.
Almost at the old homestead, he slowed with the thought of turning around. Why did I come back? He gritted his teeth and drove the car up the old dirt road toward the shack they used to call home. He parked the car and scanned the area. Memories flooded back from his childhood.
The barn didn’t look much better than the shack. Faded and broken siding hung lopsided in places, allowing sun, rain, and critters to enter. Weeds and grass had grown up around the edges adding to the abandoned look of the old place.
Frank paused inside the barn door. Old moldy bales made the air stale; hay lay strewn about the floor. He recalled the icy cold October night when he and his siblings decided to sleep in the barn to escape the sleet. How tired, cold, and achy they all were and needed warmth and sleep. They all wondered where their Pa had disappeared to. It was a mystery.
“Why is he taking so long? Did something happen to him? Why did he leave us? What will we do if Pa doesn’t come back?” were questions they all wanted answered.
His brothers and sisters stuck together. Little Gracie cuddled close against her older sister, Dolly. Josie was snug and secure under Dolly’s other arm. Dolly was so much like Mama. Dolly loved and cared for us all, especially her little sisters. He recalled her salty tears which rolled down her freckled cheeks. Wonder where his sisters wound up? The preacher will know. I must find my sisters and brother again.
Waves of guilt, pain, and sorrow swept over Frank. Little brother Jesse, only six years old, died not long after we left this dirty place. Jesse coughed on and off all night. The dust in the hay or air may be what made him so sick.
He looked up toward the big window in the haymow. Big brother Guy searched the road for hours seeking for some sign of Pa’s return. Guy knew he was in charge whether he liked it or not, even though he was just fourteen. He knew he had to find a way out for all of us. We knew he had the final say and that was okay. Guy was a good brother. Bulky muscles made him strong from work in the field, and he was smart; he knew we would be safe and warm in the barn.
Wonder where he went? Did he ever find Pa? He promised he’d bring us all back together if he did. Maybe he found something he didn’t want us to know.
Frank turned to leave the barn with a heavy heart. One more place to check before he left the homestead – not that he wanted to – he had to: the gravesite behind the barn.
He stood by the door and looked across the barren field beyond. Waves of emotion and sorrow washed over him. Strange, Pa never told us what happened to Mama and the baby. Guess we just figured it out. I’m glad she was taken from this miserable life. She didn’t deserve the life she had.
Behind the barn Pa built two crudely made crosses with sticks bound with baling twine. They were stuck crookedly in the mounds of dirt. The huge mounds he remembered at age ten had been worn away by the elements. As Frank got closer, he stopped short.
Three crosses? Why are there three crosses?
Troubled, he went to examine the third cross. A small folded wad of paper was nailed to it. He carefully pried it off. Faded, the almost illegible words read, “LeRoy Larue.”
With shaky hands he opened it, and a shiver went up his spine.
“FOUND HIM. BURIED HIM. SMW”