Day One Hundred
Then I remembered. Until I could get them to Oklahoma City, these were my children and I was responsible for them.
So I got up and made an atole for them. Big mistake. Apparently they had never had such a thing before. They turned their noses up at it and said they wanted eggs or pancakes.
“We don’t have any eggs. And I don’t have time to make a second breakfast for you, anyway. There’s nothing wrong with the atole. You’ll like it if you try it.”
They refused to touch it, so I gave them some dried fruit, instead.
Their next objection was to the way I loaded the wagon. I didn’t do it the way “Mommy” did it.
Then I wanted David to drive the mule, with Jeremy and Jessica in back. But Jeremy thought he should ride on the wagon seat, and Jessica sniffled and whined that “Mommy always lets me ride up front.”
“Well, there’s not enough room for all three of you,” I said. “Jeremy and Jessica, you’ll either take turns, or you'll both stay in the back.”
“I don’t want Jeremy up here, anyway,” David said.
“Shut up! I hate you!”
“You shut up! At least I didn’t kill Mom!”
Jeremy slumped to the ground and started to cry, so I spent the next twenty minutes bandaging up hurt feelings and making compromises.
That crisis averted, their next objection was to leaving the area. “I thought we were going to leave notes for Mom on the bridge,” Jeremy said.
I looked at the sky. It was already mid-morning, and it was a long bridge. But I had promised, and by now I was hoping Catherine had somehow survived, no matter how unlikely it might be. So we went back to the bridge and tied notes about our plans to some of the struts.
With that done, I looked at each of the children in turn. “Now, no more of this. We need to go. Don’t you want to see your grandma?”
The two younger children looked away, and David shrugged. “I guess. But we’ve never met her. We know as much about you as we do about her.”
“Don’t get no ideas.”
We started heading east.
I tried to keep the children to a schedule to keep them from getting too depressed, or taking out their feelings by picking fights with each other. David was pretty good at handling the mule, and every few miles, I had him stop and Jeremy or Jessica would take their turn on the seat beside him.
Since we had gotten such a late start, I felt no particular need to stop at noon, and it was early afternoon when I began scouting for a good place for a picnic. There was so much mud from the recent rains that it was hard to make a decision where to stop. I was pondering the matter, wondering if the children could hold out until suppertime, when the wagon gave a sudden lurch to the right. I thought at first that David had driven over a pothole, but when the wagon didn’t right itself, I saw that we had a bigger problem.
“Pull up,” I called to David. He reined in, and together we inspected the flat tire.
“I know how to use the patch kit,” he said.
I got onto my knees to look a little closer. Then I sat back on my heels, my worst fears realized. “It’s beyond that,” I said. “Take a look.”
David got onto all fours and peered at the inside wall of the tire. It was in shadow, and a little hard to see, so he ran his fingers along it. Then he turned to me, his eyes wide with amazement. “It’s huge. It’s like someone cut it with a knife.”
“It’s all those cracks,” I told him. “A few of them finally gave way.”
I got to my feet and looked around, half-hoping for a sign as to how to proceed. But of course there was none. God gives signs to white-bearded men on mountains, not to a nineteen year old girl stranded on a country road with three orphans.
“So what are we going to do?” David asked.
By now all three children were staring at me, waiting for me to offer words of adult wisdom. I felt like saying, “How the hell should I know?” But instead I pretended a confidence I by no means felt and said for David to lead the mule into the grass at the side of the road. “We’ll see if the next people who happen by have a spare tire.”
Of course they didn’t. And neither did the ones after them. It’s hard enough to afford the exact number of tires one needs. Who has enough money for a spare?
Finally I looked at the lengthening shadows and decided we could wait no longer. I took out my hunting knife and began cutting the destroyed tire. “We’ll just have to take off all the tires,” I told the children. “We’ll drive on the rims until we can get another one.”
It took awhile to remove the three good tires, but finally it was done, and we cleared a space for them in the back of the wagon. By now it was growing dark. We would have to take the first shelter we came to.
The wagon made quite a racket, clattering on its rims over the pitted asphalt road, and it bounced so horribly that I took Jessica in my arms and let her ride in front of me on the saddle.
Finally I found us a cute abandoned cottage with a shed attached to one side.
We unhitched the wagon, cleared a space in the shed for the animals, and made pallets on the floor inside the house with our tarps and blankets. Only after we were settled in, did the children look at me with big eyes and ask if we were going to eat.
Food? I searched my mind, trying to remember when was the last time I fed them. It couldn’t have been breakfast, could it? I quickly prepared a meal of thinly sliced potatoes, boiled with beef jerky into a kind of soup. This time the children were too hungry to make any comment about my cooking, and ate without complaint.
After I cleaned up, I put the children to bed and told them stories until they appeared to fall asleep. But as soon as I had settled in by the fire with my book and my diary, Jeremy got up and came to sit beside me.
“You think she found our notes?”
“Now, Jeremy, we’ve talked about this. Your mother is probably with the angels.”
“But if she’s not—“
“Then I’m sure she saw the notes.”
“So she’ll come find us, right?”
I had poured myself a measure of whiskey, but now I handed it to him. “Drink this medicine, and then I’ll tell you another story—a special one just for you.”
He’s sleeping now, thank goodness. I’m trying to think how long it will take us to get to Oklahoma City with no tires. Maybe we can get there tomorrow, if we meet with no further disasters. It will be good to hand off these kids to their family. So far, I’ve failed as a parent in just about every possible way.
I’m clearly not cut out for this.
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