Chapter 4 – New Baby

Whether it was waiting for a calf to be born, watching pigs, or waiting on a new baby, we played our fence games until Pa came to tell us it was time to come in. We tried to see who could stay on the fence the longest, who could sit the straightest, who could balance with one leg and arm out straight, or lean back the farthest. Jesse, the youngest boy, was the first to fall off, but would never admit he was the weakest. He bragged he could stay on the longest, then blame his fall on his leg going to sleep or some other cockamamie excuse. Truth was, he had no balance. The same was true that awful night, the night we lost Mama.


That night we waited on the fence for Pa too. He’d gone to town to look for someone to help Mama deliver the new baby, the eighth child, but the midwife could not be found. He returned empty-handed and looked mighty worried. He slammed on the brakes and jumped out of the car, then gave an anxious look toward us kids on the fence. He lifted Gracie off the fence and was about to put her down when we heard Mama scream in pain like a wounded wolf. Pa ran into the shack with three-year-old Gracie running after him crying.

“Get back out there Gracie,” he yelled. “Dolly, come take care of your sista’. Ya’ll don’t belong in here now.”

Dolly ran into the house to snatch Gracie and carried her back out by the rest of us.

“Hush now, little one. Pa said we need to wait until Mama has the baby. Then we can go in.” She cuddled the toddler and smoothed her hair until Gracie stopped crying.

“Mama’s in trouble,” Dolly whispered to Guy and me out of earshot of the rest. “I saw her, Guy. The bed was all bloody. Looks like she’s dying. Pa’s face was all white. He looks scared. He didn’t find anyone to help. He doesn’t know anything about babies.”

“He will tell us when it’s all right to come in; he always does,” said Guy.

Our attention was drawn to Jesse’s cries. He’d fallen off the fence again, for the third time. We laughed at him for making a huge scene, acting like he was hurt.“I broke it! I know I broke it!” he cried. He did all he could to get a laugh. We knew that fake cry. He used it too many times already. Still he tried to convince us he had broken his leg. Then we saw Pa at the door, still as a statue, with a blank look in his eyes. His shirt was covered in blood.

Josie jumped off the fence and ran towards Pa. “Brother or a sister?” she blurted out.

He pushed her aside, as if he hadn’t seen nor heard her. Pa’s face was ashen, rolled into a scowl. His eyes were red and puffy. I sensed something was very wrong.

“Pa?” Josie looked up at him with sad eyes of a kicked puppy. “What’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong, Pa?” Dolly asked. “Is Mama okay? What about the baby?”

Pa wouldn’t – couldn’t – speak. Just motioned woodenly toward the shack and stared past us; then he turned around and went back inside. We knew now wasn’t the time for questions, and headed for our bunks. No arguments. We were cold and glad for a warm bed. Plus, we were afraid to ask.

Funny, I thought. Can’t hear a baby crying. Probably asleep already. I’ll find out if I have a brother or sister in the morning. I drifted off to sleep.

Next morning I rushed to Mama’s bed to see the new baby, but all I found were blood-soaked sheets. Couldn’t remember hearing a baby cry during the night either, come to think of it. The house had been way too quiet. Now, we couldn’t find Mama anywhere and the baby’s crib was empty.

I caught sight of Pa through the window. He still wore the bloody shirt and he had not combed his hair. His overalls were dirt-crusted and mud covered his hands. He had the saddest look I’d ever seen. He was heading back from behind the barn with a shovel in hand.

The awful realization hit me hard when I looked from where he’d come. There were two small crosses pushed into mounds of freshly-shoveled dirt. I knew then why we couldn’t find Mama – and why I never heard a baby crying. They were both gone. Forever.

 Go to Chapter 5


Chapter 3 -Best Buds

pigTelling stories was a good pastime as we sat waiting. Helped the time go faster, it seemed. Reminded me of other times we perched on an old fence.

“Hey Mikey!” I yelled his way. “Remember those pigs we used to watch roll in the mud? They were so funny!”

“Yeah, Frankie,” he laughed. “We even named ‘em. Ol’ Joe was the meanest, I think.”

“Remember that day we rode Ol’ Joe?”

“Whew!” Mikey let out a whistle, “still got a scar on my left leg ‘cuz of Ol’ Joe!”

Pa could never quite decide what to do for a living. First it was chickens, then cows. The summer before, Pa figured he would breed pigs. The wooden fence behind the shack was already there to house the pigs. It got pretty muddy in that pen, but the pigs loved it. The pig idea did better for Pa than the cows. He tried to raise cows during the summer of the big drought – the big Dust Bowl, some called it. Our family was too large and too poor to afford feed. When the watering holes dried up and no grass was left in the fields, the cows died of starvation. The pig-raising idea didn’t last long either, but we enjoyed them while they were there.

I chuckled again remembering the day Mikey and I sat on the fence and watched Ol’ Joe, the fat pig, and Gus, the spotted pig, run around and around the pen. I shook my head as I remembered the crazy antics of that day. We were lucky to be alive.

“Mikey! ‘Member how I said, ‘Jump off the fence and see if you can catch Ol’ Joe?”

“See if you can jump on Ol’ Joe!” Mikey corrected. “And I waited and waited until Ol’ Joe was closest to the fence and then I took a dive right onto that mean old pig! It squealed like I’d poked him with a stick! I about lost my balance when he jerked sideways and took off running around the pen,” Mikey laughed.

“Ol’ Joe didn’t like his rider too well, huh, Mikey? He kept bumping the fence trying to knock you off. It wasn’t long before you were in the mud.”

“Yeah, but I got back on. I wasn’t afraid like you!” Mikey teased.

“I wasn’t afraid! It just took me a while to get on,” I defended.

I had waited for Ol’ Joe to come back around, but the hog eyed me with suspicion. I threw down a corn cob to bait the spotted pig we called Gus. He was almost as big as Ol’ Joe, only a little slower. Gus saw the cob and started towards it.

“We both rode, remember? I jumped on Gus and grabbed his ears and you got back on Ol’ Joe. We raced round and round the pen! Those pigs tried their best to bump us against the fence to knock us off. Never heard such squealing and oinking going on in my life!”

We laughed as we thought about fun times. I shifted my weight to the other leg so it wouldn’t go to sleep and scooted up a little more.

“I thought you were a goner that day, Mikey.”

“Yeah, me too. Our fun ride became scary in a hurry when angry Ol’ Joe smashed my leg against the fence. It scraped up my leg pretty good, and knocked me right into the mud hole.”

“I saw right away that your jeans were bloody and I knew that pig had hurt you bad. Ol’ Joe saw the blood too. The mean stare in his eye looked like he was headed for the kill. He was one mean old pig. It was lucky you fell into that mud hole. The mud stopped the bleeding a little, but not enough; the other pigs already had scent of the blood. They all ran straight towards you!” I shook my head at the gruesome memory.

“I’m glad you were there for me Frankie. You are always there for me! ‘Member how fast you hopped off Gus and ran over to me?” Mikey hopped off his fence post to demonstrate, ran over by me, then picked up some mud as he spoke and threw it over the fence. “I was still in the mud hole; couldn’t move my leg. You picked up handfuls of mud and slung it at the other pigs trying to surround me. ‘Let’s get you outta here Mikey,’ you told me, ‘cuz those pigs will bite you good!’”

“Yeah, I wasn’t sure that was true, but that’s what Pa told us. Didn’t he say they would eat us? I watched the pigs get madder by the minute. I’ll admit it. I was scared. I pulled you up by the sleeve and told you to move fast!

Mikey chuckled again and hopped on the fence rail beside me. “I screamed pretty loud ‘cuz my leg hurt mighty bad, and you just kept pulling me, dragging me to the fence.”

“I had to get you out of the way before Ol’ Joe took a chomp out of your foot. If only Mama hadn’t seen us.”

“Something made her glance out the back window. She saw us hurrying to get out of the pigpen and onto the fence.”

“She met us at the door and she didn’t smile at all, did she?” I chuckled.

“’Boys, ya’ll go out back and pick yoreselves a good slender twig from the willer tree.’ That’s what she said. She didn’t look mad or nothing, but she sure didn’t smile either.”

“Yep. Little did we know what we were in for, huh, Mikey?”

“Yeah, you got that right. Our bottoms weren’t ready to ride those pigs again for a real long time after our meeting with the willow sticks!”

“Yeah. After the time I stuck the pie tin in my backside and Mama hurt her hand, she found the willow sticks made a bigger sting on our legs.”

We fell quiet again, thinking about past events. I patted my brother on the back. Just two years apart in age, Mikey was my best bud. I was thankful for my brother. Mikey was also the accident-prone kid in the family. If there was an accident going to happen, it would probably happen to him. If he didn’t bump his head on the cupboard occasionally, he fell down or got a stick poked in his eye. He smashed his finger in the door once and almost took it off. Still has a strange-looking mashed-up finger to this day.

2014-01-20 14.40.49Mikey and I did everything together. There were woods out back to hunt and a little pond down the road for some great bullhead fishing. The hill on the back dirt road was great to slide down in the winter. We even dug a fort in the woods for our hideout when we played cowboys and Indians.

The fort, our hole in the ground covered with brush, was the result of digging for treasure. We overheard Pa telling a story about a bum burying something in the woods, and we just knew it had to be hidden treasure. Mikey and I found a spot we thought would be the perfect hiding place for a treasure and dug down so deep we could almost stand up in the hole. That’s when we struck something hard. We were so excited! We thought we struck a treasure chest full of gold.

“We found it, Frankie!” Mikey shrieked. “It’s gotta be the treasure chest!”

We dug some more and kept hitting the hard object. We brushed away the dirt as fast as our hands would allow, and attempted to unearth the solid object beneath our shovels. It was flat and hard, a kind of dark grey color. The more dirt that was brushed away, we realized our treasure wasn’t a gold-filled chest; it was just a plain old flat rock.

I looked at Mikey with an “I-told-you-so” look as our enthusiasm faded.

“Oh well,” mused my always-objective brother, “at least we can really hide in our new fort now.”

“Leave it to you, Mikey. Who cares if we didn’t find the treasure? You are right. We have a special place all to ourselves. Bet we can even bring some blankets out here. We have a solid rock floor now. It will make a good, cool hideout. This will be our secret place.”

“Yeah,” Mikey agreed. “Good idea, Frankie! Let’s get some pine branches and cover it up, so no one sees it.”

Mikey loved secrets. In the next few weeks, we gathered loose boards to put on top of our hideout, and then covered it with the pine branches. The best part was that no one knew about it except for Mikey and me. We stored flashlights and some jerky, apples, and crackers for snacks. Logs became stools. It was a great get-away, nice and cool on those hot summer days. We loved to camp out.

There were so many adventures to find in the woods. It was our second home in the summer. We often spent all day with our BB guns hunting birds, squirrels, or chipmunks, and no one thought to look for us. Mama knew we were safe, and besides she had her chores and too many other kids to care for. She never worried. She knew we’d come home if we got hungry enough. Pa figured we were too young to do the hard chores, and he had Guy to help him, so he didn’t care where we were either, as long as we kept out of his hair.

It was a game, you know, sitting on the fence. We made it be. Our fence-sitting stories just helped pass the time. Pa would be back soon. He promised, and most of the time, he kept his promises. So we played our games and told our stories while we waited and wondered where he was.

Read Chapter 4

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