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I believe it's ready for a publisher, but wanted to list it here to see if I can get any last minute critique. All is welcome! The chapter is a bit long, so you can critique parts of it if you wish. Thanks!
Wednesday, April 8, 1942. 11:25 a.m.
Shoulder-length hair flowing with the Illinois wind, Laurie Adams stood on the bottom rail of the corral, watching her stepmother trot the Paint two year-old around the pen. The horse moved freely, more freely than what Laurie deemed necessary. She admired her stepmother for keeping calm control. The young colt threw his white head in defiance at Melody’s slow, even tugs on the rein. “He sure doesn’t like what you’re doing, Mama,” Laurie called out.
Melody Adams grinned, although retaining concentration on the movement of her mount. “That’s for certain, but he’s got to learn to give to the bit.” The horse jumped sideways and into the air as if to shy from the pulling on his mouth, and Melody gripped her knees against him to maintain balance. “We’ve been fighting this back and forth for nearly two weeks now, and I’m not seeing any signs of submission.” She pushed the colt forward with her seat and legs.
Silence settled in as both trainer and horse went round and round the corral. Laurie continued to stand audience. The late morning sun hovered over the corral, blasting its powerful rays down on her. She jerked the brim of her cowboy hat down over her eyes to escape the sun.
Laurie looked up. The colt had slowed his gait and was walking with his head semi-lowered, yet angrily chewing on the bit. She grinned. “He’s gettin’ the hang of it.”
Melody nodded. “Yep.” Her blonde hair wisped around her dark face. The deep purple sweater she wore brought out the lavender in her eyes.
The pair continued in the large circle at a trot, sometimes fast, sometimes relaxed. Thirty minutes later, Melody reined the colt in. “Well, I think that’s a profitable lesson right there, and we’d better stop on a good note. What do you say?”
Laurie grinned. “I’d like to ride him.”
Melody smiled at her daughter knowingly. “I’m sure you would, but you know I can’t let you,” she said in a regretful tone.
Laurie glanced down at the dirt, scuffing the toe of her boot on the edge of the bottom rail. “Well, at least it was a try.”
Melody relaxed her hold on the reins, focusing intently on her daughter. “You love this job, don’t you?”
Raising hopeful eyes toward her stepmother, Laurie nodded. “I want to train horses like you when I grow up.”
Melody smiled then appeared thoughtful for a moment. “Would you be interested in carrying on my training after I’m gone?” she asked.
Laurie turned white. “Mama, please don’t talk like that.”
Melody pushed her hat up. “Laurie, the Bible says we don’t know how many days we have on this earth. Proverbs 27:1 says, ‘Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.’ But don’t worry, I plan on living as long as God wants me to serve Him.” She replaced her hands on the reins. “So, Rie, what’s your answer?”
Laurie focused on her stepmother’s steadfast gaze, a grin slowing on her face. “I’d like nothing more.”
Melody raised one eyebrow. “Is that a promise then?” she asked with a teasing lilt in her voice.
Laurie smiled back, staring into her Mama’s lavender-blue eyes. “Yes, ma’am, and I’m not teasing.”
Patting Champ’s hot neck, Melody asked, “Are you getting hungry?”
“I’ve been hungry for the past half hour.”
Melody laughed. “Okay. Why don’t you go in the house and start fixing something for lunch, and I’ll be in as soon as I put Champ in his stall.”
“I’m already there.” Laurie jumped down from the rail and headed toward the white two-story house. As she reached the front door, she heard Champ let out a shrill whinny.
It didn’t sound like a normal, friendly-type of whinny.
Laurie spun around and stared in horror as the black and white colt reared up, pawing the air with his hooves, and let out another frightened whinny. “Mama!” she yelled, scurrying down the porch steps. She flung open the corral gate and rushed to where her stepmother lay crumpled on the ground. “Mama,” Laurie struggled out, “are you okay?”
Melody Adams strained for air. “Laurie,” she gasped breathlessly, “let Champ go, then get the doctor . . . and your father.”
Laurie blinked her eyes rapidly, the sight of her Mama’s ashen face and twisted neck sending chills down her spine and her stomach in knots. “Mama, I can’t leave—
“Go!” Melody whispered forcibly. “Hurry, Laurie!”
Laurie scrambled to her feet, the dust puffing in thick clouds. “Champ!” she called, a nervous lilt in her voice.
The colt trotted past her with his head held high, his eyes wild. He saw the open gate and lurched into a gallop.
“Go on,” Laurie urged, shooing the horse toward the gate.
Champ galloped out of the corral, and headed for the barn; his excited whinny sent chills down Laurie’s spine as she ran to the house. The kitchen door slammed behind her. Fear gripped her heart like branches tossing with the wind while she fumbled with the telephone, cranking the dial. “Miss Freda!” she choked out, her voice weak.
“Yes?” the operator’s calm voice returned.
“This is Laurie Adams. My mom’s been thrown off a horse. I need an ambulance.” Tears rushed to her eyes.
“Hold on. I’ll get a hold of the hospital and tell them to come right out.”
“I need my dad, too.” Laurie chewed on her bottom lip uncontrollably.
“Stay on the line and I’ll find him.”
Laurie waited for what seemed like hours for the operator to come back with a response. Oh, Lord, she prayed, please be with Mama. Don’t let her die. Please don’t let her die. Help Miss Freda get a hold of the hospital. Fast.
“Laurie, the ambulance is on its way out,” Miss Freda consoled. “Your father is on his way, too. It’s going to be okay, Laurie.”
“Thank you,” Laurie barely voiced, hanging the phone back on the holder.
Twenty minutes later the ambulance arrived with its sirens blaring. The paramedics stabilized Melody with body bracing. Laurie watched them, tears coursing down her cheeks. She kept glancing nervously down the driveway for her father’s Ford truck. Please hurry, Dad, she pleaded.
Jim Adams sped into the driveway several minutes later, lurching the automobile to a stop. Not even taking time to shut off the vehicle, he rushed up to the crew as they began loading his wife into the white ambulance. “Mel,” he cried, reaching for her hand.
“Are you Mr. Adams?” one of the men asked.
“Yes,” Jim replied, hugging his daughter.
“You’ll have to follow us in your vehicle.”
Tears blinded Laurie’s vision of the dusty road in front of them as her father trailed after the ambulance. All she could do was pray. She looked over at her dad, who clutched the steering wheel. His brown eyes fixed ahead, his eyebrows wrinkled as if he were in deep thought. His jaw appeared clenched and his lips moved in silence. “Dad?” Her voice was a whisper being choked off.
Jim glanced over at her. “Yes, Rie?”
“Mama’s gonna be okay, isn’t she? I mean. . .” Laurie held her breath for a second then released stored up air. “She isn’t gonna die, is she?”
The veins on Jim’s hands popped out as he gripped the steering wheel. “I-I don’t know, baby.” The tone in his voice shook.
Laurie could feel all the air in her lungs dissipate. Her stomach tied into knots. Her lips twitching attempt to speak, she stared at her father.
“Laurie, all we can do right now is pray,” Jim comforted. “God’s on the throne; it will be okay.”
When they arrived at the Deaconess hospital in Lincoln, Laurie could hardly find the strength to get out of the truck. Oh, Lord, please be with Mama. Don’t let her die. Please.
They made their way to the emergency room. Jim walked up to the desk. “Excuse me. They brought my wife in a few minutes ago on the ambulance—
The receptionist viewed her chart. “Melody Adams?”
Jim nodded. “Yes.”
“The doctor is attending to her right now. If you’ll have a seat over there, he will be with you in a moment,” the receptionist said, gesturing toward the row of chairs lined along the wall.
Laurie sat beside her father, the scene of the accident replaying in her mind over and over. She looked around at the flurry of activity with nervousness.
“Mr. Adams?” a man in white uniform asked, approaching Jim and Laurie.
Jim stood quickly. “Yes?”
“I’m Dr. Bailey. I’m sorry to inform you your wife did not make it.”
Icy fingers of fear gripped Laurie’s heart as torrents of tears cascaded down her cheeks. My Mama . . . dead? No, no, no, it can’t be! She flung her arms around her father and sobbed.
Monday, May 4, 1942. 12:01 a.m.
The echo of the horse’s whinny rang in her ears as she bolted upright in bed. Tears cascaded down her cheeks, fear and grief shaking her slim body. Laurie swallowed hard and lowered herself down. Lips trembling, she tried to abandon the memory of watching her mom being thrown from the horse.
“I wish it was only a dream,” Laurie muttered bitterly, trying to wipe away the tears with the palm of her hand. It did no good to sniff them back. The came, asked or unasked. “Mama, please come back,” she whispered. “We were talking just moments before. This can’t be real. You just can’t be dead! I miss you so much. . .” She wished she could have done something to prevent the accident from happening, but her father said her Mama’s death was not her fault. Melody had died from a broken neck. There was nothing she could have done. “God, why did You have to take her away? Why? It isn’t fair. I’ve never had a mother and then You give me one, and turn right around and take her away! Why?” Throwing herself over on her stomach and clenching the sheets in her fist, Laurie cried herself to sleep.
The sun glowed over the horizon later that morning. Throwing back her covers, Laurie set her feet on the cold floor. She glanced at the clock on her night stand. It was 5:25 a.m. Walking to the window seat, she opened the window. She breathed in the fresh, cool, Illinois morning air.
“It sure would be a great morning to ride before school,” she said to no one in particular. She sprinted the few feet to her dresser and dug out a pair of riding gauchos, socks, and a yellow shirt. After shedding her nightgown, she pulled on her clothes and her black lace-up riding boots.
Laurie reached for her hairbrush, and noticed her Bible lying on the night stand. She slowly picked it up, setting her brush on her bed. I know I’ve got to read it, she thought, but I sure don’t feel like it. Oh, well, better just read it. She turned the crinkly pages slowly until she came to the spot she had left off reading. Laurie swallowed, feeling guilty that she hadn’t read her Bible for several days. She glanced down at the page. The words leaped out at her.
‘But our God is in the heavens; he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.’ Psalm 115:3.
The words she had spoken last night came back to her. They had not been glorifying to her Savior. She closed her Bible and dropped to her knees.
“Lord,” she prayed, “I know what I said last night was not right. Please forgive me for saying that to You. Help me realize that Mama’s death was Your will. I don’t understand why she had to die. I miss her terribly. Lord, please help me to rely on You and to realize that You make no mistakes. Help me and Dad through this time. Give Dad strength as I know he’s really hurting. In You Name. Amen.”
Laurie grabbed her hairbrush and ran it through her blonde, slightly bobbed shoulder-length hair, wincing at the pull against tangled hairs. She tossed the brush on her bed and headed toward the door. Touching the door knob, she stopped, spinning around. Gotta make my bed, she reminded herself. She hastily threw her blanket over her bed, making sure the ends hung straight and it was wrinkle free. She stood back, surveying her work. Looks okay; a little lumpy, but who cares. She raced out of the room.
As Laurie reached the bottom of the stairs, she spotted her dark-haired father, owner of the General Store in Lincoln, sitting on the couch. She noticed he was leaning over in a reverent manner. Her heart swelled with pride as she glanced slowly over him. I have the best dad in the world.
When standing, Jim Adams was six foot. Though he had his head bowed, Laurie knew the brown and red checkered shirt he wore brought out his dark brown eyes. Analyzing the side of her father’s face, she observed his muscled jaw-line and moving lips. Laurie cleared her throat quietly. “Good morning, Dad.”
Jim straightened up from his bent-over position. His eyes looked red as if he hadn’t had a peaceful night’s rest. Laurie couldn’t tell if he’d been thinking or praying. “Morning, Rie. Did you sleep well?”
Uneasiness settled into her slender body. “No, sir.” Her lips trembled once more. Her teary eyes didn’t even dare to look into her father’s brown ones. “Dad, I miss Mama so much. Last night I had—the accident came to my mind again.” She tried to hold back her tears, but a few streamed down her cheeks.
Jim took his daughter in his strong arms. “I know, sweetheart. I miss her, too. But we’ll see her in Heaven someday,” he said, his tone a deep whisper. He hugged her then looked into her green eyes.
“But it seems like it will never happen.” Laurie pushed back a strand of blonde hair behind her ear.
“I know it does, Rie.” Jim was silent for a few seconds, his eyes studying his thirteen and a half year-old daughter. Slipping down to the couch, he held his arm out. “Rie, sit down. I want to talk about something.”
Laurie dropped down beside her father. “Yes, Dad?”
“Susan, the new housekeeper, is coming this afternoon and I want to make sure that you are comfortable around her.”
Laurie lowered her eyes and sniffed. “Yes and no.”
“What do you mean?” Jim asked softly.
She sighed. “Well, I’ve only met her once and I’m not ready for another change so soon. But I know you can’t leave me home alone, and I get bored at the store sometimes.” She looked at her father, searching his dark face expectantly.
Jim smiled as he suppressed a light laugh. “Yes, honey, you’re right. But hiring Susan is what I have to do right now. I think you’ll like her. It will be awkward at first getting used to a new person in the house, but I know you can do it. Remember when we were traveling and I was gone those long hours in the night working?” At her nod, he continued. “You gave up your dad for awhile so he could get done what he had to and you didn’t complain. I knew it was hard on you, but you stood strong. And that’s what I like about you. You are content in any situation you’re in, never showing rebellion when your plans or desires are changed—or when circumstances aren’t what you expected them to be.”
Laurie smiled, knowing she wasn’t content all the time.
“Having Susan in the house will be different, but it won’t be like it used to be. You’ll have someone to talk to and be here for you when I’m at work.” He ran his finger along Laurie’s chin. “We’ll just take it one day at a time. Now, what about the ‘yes’ part?”
“I like her and she seems to be an understanding person. Whatever you think is best, I’ll follow. I’m not going to argue. All my point of view is I’m not ready for a change so soon.”
“Neither am I, Laurie. It’ll just take one day a time to adjust. You do know what room she’ll be in, don’t you?”
She nodded. “The first guest room on the left side of the hall.”
“Right.” He cleared his throat. “I see you have your riding clothes on. Were you planning on riding Star for a little bit?”
“Yes, sir. I’d better go saddle her up before it gets too late.” She stood to leave.
“Oh, hey, Laurie.”
Jim rose to his feet. He lovingly wrapped his strong arms assuringly around his daughter. “Listen, whatever happens, God is in this family. He can help us through any difficulty,” he whispered gently in her ear.
Laurie hugged her dad tightly. “I know, Daddy. Thanks for the reminder.” She headed quickly through the kitchen and out the back door. Her father’s comforting words strengthened her broken emotions. Her heart swelled with the reminder that God had everything under control.
As Laurie made her way to the barn, she thought about when Susan Ferret, who lived on the outskirts of St. Louis, had replied to her father’s ad in the St. Louis Daily News. Susan had called, wondering about the job. Jim had set up an appointment a week ago to meet Susan and to talk over her qualifications. Another phone call later, the young lady was hired to be the Adams’ housekeeper.
Laurie led her Polish-Arabian mare out of the stall and to the hitching post outside the barn. Tying a quick-release knot, she retrieved her metal grooming bucket.
Star nickered when she saw Laurie coming from the barm. Laurie grinned at her horses’s excitement. “Yeah, girl, we’re goin’ for a ride.” She grabbed a hard-bristled dandy brush and ran it over the mare’s dappled gray body.
She dug through the grooming bucket and found the hoof pick. Sliding her left hand down Star’s leg, she lifted it and scraped out dirt. Checking the others, she discovered they were decent enough and didn’t need picked out. She placed the saddle pad above the mare’s withers. Picking up the saddle, she flipped the saddle’s right leg over the seat and hoisted the heavy piece of gear onto Star’s back and cinched the girths.
Star laid her ears back and stepped away at the pressure.
“Stand, Star,” Laurie said lovingly but firmly as she poked her thumb in the mare’s flank.
Her big, round eyes soft with apology, Star flicked her ears forward and nudged her owner.
“I forgive you, Star, my baby,” Laurie said as she scratched the horse’s cheek. She put the bit in Star’s mouth, pulled the headstall over her ears and buckled the throat latch. Grabbing the horn and reins, she pulled herself up and jammed her left foot in the stirrup. She swung her right leg over the mare’s hindquarters and found the other stirrup. Nudging the speckled-gray Arabian gently, she signaled the go forward cue with a kissing sound.
The mare trotted slowly down the gravel driveway and Laurie guided her to the left. Star bounced into an excited trot and Laurie had to slow her down. “Easy, girl. We can’t do this every time we get to this spot,” she rebuked gently, “but I’m sure you’ll do it every time we come here. You silly horse. You sure are set in your ways for only being ten years old.” The Arabian snorted, as if to give an answer. Laurie laughed.
They came upon an open grassy field. Laurie trotted her horse around in a large circle. Then she cut into a straight path, following the thick line of pine trees that paraded the east side of the field. Birds, all different shapes, colors, and sizes flittered around the tops of the trees, chirping hellos and greetings to their fellow neighbors.
The wind blew in Laurie’s face as she gripped the mare’s barrel, kissing long and slow. Star bounded into a smooth gallop. Laurie sat deep in the saddle and let herself sway with the back and forth motion of her horse. The feeling of muscled power between her knees made her heart surge with excitement and freedom. Laurie grinned while Star stretched her head out, the tips of her hooves playing peek-a-boo as the mare bounded forward with even stride. “Come on, girl, let’s go!” Laurie encouraged, bending hear the mare’s ear and grabbing a handful of mane to prepare for the next ounce of energy her horse was about to unleash.
Saturday, May 9, 1942
“Laurie, come down please!” Jim called from the bottom of the stairs.
“Coming, Dad!” Laurie set her pencil down and jumped up from her desk. She trotted down the hall, down the three steps to the landing, down ten more stairs, and tottered to a stop in front of her father. “Yes?”
“Susan’s here,” he reported with a smile on his brawny face.
“It’s that late already?” Laurie glanced at her watch, noting it was 4:30 p.m.
“Yes, Rie. What have you been doing—dreaming or something?” he teased.
“No, I’ve been doing homework.”
“Oh, I see. Come on.”
Laurie followed her father into the living room where a woman in her late twenties stood near the couch. Laurie studied her once again. Part of Susan’s short curly hair was pulled up by a bobby pin, probably the only one she owned, Laurie guessed, as wartime posters requested bobby pins, be given to the factories. The posters said they were one of the necessary items for making grenades. Susan wore an olive-colored suit jacket with an ankle-length skirt. A black wide brimmed hat perched on top of her head. One side of the brim was pinned up with a big, white bow. Her smooth face was slightly painted with makeup. Laurie sensed Susan was a hard worker.
Susan’s delicate lips creased into a warm smile. “Hello, Laurie.”
“Hi, Miss Susan.”
The phone rang in the office, making a shrill noise of two longs and one short.
“Just make yourself at home, Susan,” Jim invited. He turned to his daughter. “Laurie, you may show Susan her room if you’d like.” Looking at the new housekeeper, he said, “Excuse me. I’ll be with you shortly.”
“That’s fine, Mr. Adams.” Susan tugged off her gloves as Jim disappeared into his office.
“Would you like to see your room?” Laurie asked.
“Yes, if you don’t mind.”
“Come on.” Laurie grabbed one of the carpet bags beside the couch and led Susan up the stairs,. She opened the first door on the left.
Susan eyes the paintings around the room. “Laurie, the first time I saw those beautiful pieces of art . . . I still can’t believe your mother actually painted them. God gave her a wonderful talent.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Laurie agreed, staring at the life-like paintings. It hurt to look at them because they reminded her of her stepmother, but in a sense, it felt good, too. Watching horses—in any kind of action, still-life or natural—comforted her somehow. Maybe it was the gentle look of their soft eyes or the vast power of their big, strong bodies.
Laurie set the bag on the floor near the brown rocker with the small quilted throw blanket over it. She walked over to the dresser in the far left corner. “Did you ever see this?” she asked, picking up a picture of a palomino standing in the middle of a corral. “There are initial in the bottom right corner.”
Susan stood by Laurie. “It says ‘S.L.S.’ very interesting. Do you know what they are?”
“No ma’am. At one time I thought it was Mama’s initials, but then her initials didn’t match up with the initials on the painting.” Laurie smiled brightly. “I can show you around the house again, if you’d like.”
Susan laughed. “That would help. I usually have to be told where things are kept several times before I can get it right, especially in a new house.”
“Me, too, Miss—”
“Please call me Susan or Sue—whichever you prefer. It makes me feel old when you call me ‘Miss Susan.’”
“Okay . . . Susan.” Laurie led the way out of the room and into the hall. “The second door on this side of the hall is Dad’s bedroom. Come on into the bathroom and I’ll show you where things are kept,” she said, opening the bathroom door. “God was good to us when we bought this house. This is one of the few houses outside of Lincoln that have indoor plumbing. The people who had it before us were a wealthy couple, and they had the indoor plumbing installed.”
Susan smiled, her kind eyes tender.
Laurie indicated the left side of the room, next to the pedestal sink. “The cabinet above the sink is used for things like medicine, band aids—medical stuff. The small closet by the toilet is where the towels are kept.”
A big, white tub stood in the far corner opposite the scalloped-shaped sink. A tiny window allowed sunlight to come through printed curtains. Tiny flowered wallpaper covered the walls. A wide, round throw rug lay in the middle of the room.
They went back into the hall.
“What is in the room to the right of your room?” Susan asked curiously.
Laurie glanced at the carpet underneath her. “Uh. . .”
“I’m sorry. Would you rather not answer?” Susan asked, noticing the girl’s hesitation.
She nodded. “Yes, ma’am.” Laurie let out a sigh of relief that she didn’t have to explain the room next to hers had been her stepmother’s library and art room.
“Where are the sheets kept?” Susan wondered, looking around as if the sheets would appear out of nowhere.
“They’re at the end of the hall.” Laurie sighed, grateful Susan had changed the subject. I know I’ll have to show her sometime, Lord, but not just now. The memories hurt too much. Thank You for sending someone who is very observing. They walked to the tall, skinny door on the right. She opened the door. “Ta da!” she sang out.
“Okay. Is this room—” Susan pointed to the door next to Laurie’s “—a spare bedroom?”
“Yes, and the door across from the sheet closet is the attic. I’m not supposed to go up there, though, or else I’d show you.” Laurie’s mind went back to a few days after they had moved to their house. Her father had told her to never go into the attic for any reason. When she had asked why, he didn’t reply; and she didn’t bother to bring up the subject again.
Susan Ferret smoothed back her curls. “How about the kitchen?” she smiled.
“Oh, sure. Come on.” they ambled down the stairs, through the living room, and into the kitchen.
The kitchen was a fairly good size with a 1930's gas stove across from where they stood in the doorway, and the back door to the left of it. A large picture window above the sink, with its dark curtains hanging down, highlighted the view of the south side of the yard. The china cabinet stood in the corner next to the right side of the stove. To the right of the door entry the fridge and ice box took their post. A box telephone was nailed to the left of the entryway. A table, with a setting for four, sat in the middle of the room.
“Around the corner, Sue, is the pantry. The canned goods are there, and we keep pots and pans in the cabinets under the counter.”
“It sounds easy to memorize,” Susan said.
A door creaked open from inside the living room. “I think Dad’s done.” She peeked into the living room. ‘Yep, he is.”
“Laurie,” Jim said, sitting down at the couch near the fireplace, “why don’t you go upstairs and read or finish your homework, okay?”
“Sure, Dad.” She headed to the stairs.
Jim could see the disappointment on her face as she looked back at him. “I’ll tell you later, sweetie.” He waited until she had gone up the steps before turning to Susan. “Please sit down, Susan. First, I want to thank you for coming a few days earlier than you had planned.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I am still going to pay you the same amount we agreed to n your second visit—$20.00 a week. Do you have any questions?”
“Yes.” Susan ran her tongue over her lips thoughtfully. “The question I have for you probably won’t be easy to answer, but. . .”
“It’s okay. Go ahead,” Jim invited.
Susan drew in a breath. “I’ve noticed from my last visit Laurie seemed, well, not ready to accept me. I know she is still hurt over losing her mother, but how can I encourage her and let her know that I care about her?”
He shifted in his chair. “Uh, she’s really interested in horses—”
“—I can tell—”
“—and anything Western, so you could talk about horses . . . or what happened in school. You can pray for her.” The corners of his mouth curled up. “And I know you two will get along well because you both like horses.”
“Yes, I’m sure we will.” Susan smiled widely.
“I really appreciate you for asking. When you came on your first visit, I noticed you had a caring attitude. I appreciate that.”
“Thank you, Mr. Adams, but it’s all because of the Lord,” Susan smiled.
“Will your room be comfortable for you?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Good. Please let me know if you need anything.” He glanced at his watch.
“I have another question. Do you have a meal menu?”
Jim eased a slow smile. “No, I’m afraid not, Susan. I’m not that formal,” he chuckled. “Just fix whatever you find in the pantry, and you’ll receive the ration books for the items that are most precious right now. I’m not picky, so you don’t have to worry. Laurie will tell you what I prefer.”
A tiny dimple creased into her smile. “Thank you, Mr. Adams.”
Monday, May 11, 1942
“So, how do you like it out here in central Illinois?” Susan asked as she and Laurie cut up a heap of potatoes into small blocks.
Laurie thought for a moment as she chopped up an oval potato. “It’s much different than living out west, that’s for sure. Here everything seems to be crowded together more. I was born in Wyoming and lived there until I was about seven, and then Dad took a job in Oregon managing a lumberjack crew out there. We stayed there for a few months, and after the season was over, we moved to Ohio in 1938, where Dad started running a general store.”
Susan scraped her mound of spuds into the cast iron pot on the stove. “Well, your dad has taken up a variety of jobs.”
Laurie grinned, gently dropping the potatoes in with the rest of the soup stock. “Yeah, it’s been interesting moving all over the place, and getting used to different schools, churches, and just the townspeople. I never realized how different the states are from each other.”
“When did you move here?”
The question brought back memories of her Mama. Laurie struggled to keep back the tears. “Um, it was in October of last year. The store in Ohio went out of business, and Dad heard about a store in Lincoln, Illinois that needed a manger because the guy who was running the store went into the army. So it didn’t take long for Dad to get hired.”
“Have you lived anywhere else besides the places you mentioned?” Susan wondered, gently stirring the soup.
“No. Have you lived in St. Louis all your life?” Laurie craned her neck around in a wide circle to relieve the stiffness. My muscles ache for some strange reason.
“Yes. Same town, same house, same church.” Susan grinned playfully.
“Dad said something about you liking horses—”
“I’m just about as horse crazy as you are, Laurie,” Susan laughed. “When I was your age, my parents bought me a pony for Christmas. Her name was Cinnamon because she had a reddish mane. We had the time of our lives together, riding everywhere. Once, I even went into town, but Cinnamon got scared of all the noises I had to turn back.”
“Isn’t St. Louis big?”
“Yes, but we lived across the river, near Alton, Illinois. The church we went to was in St. Louis, but we actually did our shopping in Alton.”
“Well, I haven’t ridden Star into town yet. But Mama and I would go for rides. . .” Laurie’s voice choked up and she grabbed the last potato and began to peel it. After a few seconds, she looked over at the housekeeper and smiled weakly. “Yeah, we had a lot of good times together.”
“I’m sure you miss her very much.”
Laurie nodded. “Yeah.” She rubbed her fingers over her eyes, looking out the window.
“Have you ever been to a rodeo before?” Susan asked after some silence.
“Nope, but Dad wants to go to one someday.” She set her knife on the wooden cutting board and stared out the window. Three chickens strutted around the yard. Those chickens think they’re so smart. Just because they got out—again. Well, wait until I get through with fixing the coop; then they won’t get out. “I can just imagine what it would be like going to one. The bulls kicking up their legs, trying to get the cowboys off their back, and the rodeo clowns trying to stay out of the way.” She glanced at Susan, a friendly grin on her lips. “It’s all in my imagination. I get Western Horseman and reading it helps me visualize what a rodeo would be like.”
“I love that magazine, too. Hey, I was wondering, what foods does your dad like?” Susan asked. Slowly, she stirred the soup, mixing the rest of the potatoes, celery, and carrots together.
“Well, he likes the soup we’re making. He loves pancakes. Mama could make them exactly the way he likes them—”
“And how is that?”
Laurie breathed deeply. “We have the recipe. It’s above the counter where all the other recipes are. The ones with stars on them are the ones he especially likes.”
“Then it should be easy.”
The voice interrupted Laurie’s deep thoughts. “Yes?”
“There you are.” Susan walked up to the girl. “I was wondering, would you like to go shopping with me today?”
Laurie scratched Star’s forehead. “When are you leaving?”
“In an hour. Do you want to come?” she asked again.
“I don’t know. I usually try to get in a ride after school, if I don’t have any homework.”
“Well, that’s okay. When I was your age, that’s what I did after school,” Susan reminisced. She stuck her hand in her apron pocket. “How long have you had Star?”
“Not very long. Dad bought her a few months ago from a man and gave her to me. I think she’s a retired race horse.”
“Well, she’s very pretty. Where did you learn to ride?” Susan rested on the bale of straw in front of the stall.
“When Dad and I lived in Wyoming, we actually were on a ranch, so I grew up with horses.” Laurie rubbed her lower back, wincing at the small ache that had been bothering her for a few days.
“What’s the matter?”
“I don’t know. My muscles have been hurting for several days now, but I’m sure it’s probably a growing pain of some kind.”
Susan grinned knowingly. “That happens.” She fingered some hair behind her ear. “If you don’t mind my asking, um, what happened to your real mother?”
Laurie shrugged. “She died when I was born, but I don’t know why or what caused it. Dad doesn’t talk about her much, and it’s just been something I’ve never asked about. Dad seems to not want to talk about her. Sometimes I wish he would, though.” A smile slightly tugged at the corners of her mouth. “When Dad married my stepmother, I was really glad because she loved horses, and she taught me a few things about training, some tips I never knew before. I miss her so much.” Laurie rubbed her nose and sighed. If I stay home it’ll be another afternoon by myself, and I don’t want to be alone with the haunting memory of what happened to Mama. “I guess I’ll go to town with you. I really don’t want to stay home by myself, anyway.” She glanced at the housekeeper, plastering a fake smile, trying not to show her sorrow for her stepmother.
“Good. You’ll be company for me,” Susan smiled.
“You don’t like to go by yourself?” Laurie queried, wiping dirt out of the corner of her eye.
“Well, it’s easier to go somewhere when you have someone with you,” Susan explained. “It makes the trip more fun.”
“Hey, maybe when we get back, we can go riding,” Laurie suggested on sudden impulse. “We could double up on Star.”
“I’ll have to see. I haven’t ridden for at least four years. If I tried now, I’d probably flop around in the saddle for a little while,” Susan confessed.
“Oh, I don’t think you would. As the old saying goes, ‘Once you learn something you never forget it.’”
Friday, May 15, 1942. 4:30 p.m.
“Whoa, Star.” Laurie shifted her weight deep in the saddle and pulled back on the reins. The mare stopped. As she dismounted, she felt stiffness creeping up her back, neck, and legs. Her knees started to buckle. She gripped the leather in her hands and leaned against Star to regain her balance. She closed her eyes. Golly, I must really be growing! But I don’t remember growing ever being this painful!
She yanked at the girth strap and pulled it out of the metal D rings. Throwing the girths and saddle leg over the seat, Laurie pulled the saddle off the mare’s back. Pain seared down her back. The muscles at the base of her neck were tight. The saddle seemed to weigh heavier than it usually did. Oh, Lord, my arms are going to fall off, she groaned inside. She led the mare into her stall. Her fingers fumbled with the leather throat latch and she slipped the bridle off, bolting the stall door when she came out.
“I’m glad I didn’t gallop you too much because I don’t think I’d be able to cool you out if I did. Oh, Star, I ache so bad.” She dug the grain bucket into the grain bin, measured out half a cup, then dumped it in Star’s feed trough. The gray horse nickered. “See ya in the mornin’.” Laurie turned. Her knees wobbled as she stumbled into the late afternoon sunlight. What’s wrong with me? Maybe I need to sleep. Yeah, maybe it would help.
“Laurie, what’s wrong?” Susan asked as Laurie stumbled into the living room.
“I don’t know,” Laurie moaned. She rubbed her throbbing temples, trying to feel where the pain was coming from, but she couldn’t exactly locate it. “I hurt all over, Susan.”
“Why don’t you take a short nap,” the housekeeper suggested, setting a folded towel on the arm of the couch. “Maybe then you’ll feel better.”
Laurie nodded as she headed for the stairs. She lifted her right foot, but her boot seemed to have gotten pounds heavier. She curled her hands around the rail and lifted one foot up the stairs at a time. Slowly.
Jim looked up from reading the chart of inventory in his store. “Yes, Susan?”
“It’s Laurie. She has a high fever.” She nervously wrapped the corner of her apron around her hand. “She’s asking for you.”
Jim threw his papers on the maple desk and followed Susan upstairs. Sitting down on his daughter’s bed, he asked, “Rie, are you feeling all right?”
“Dad, it feels like someone is just pounding a rock all over my head and won’t stop,” Laurie sobbed. “Every joint and muscle in my body hurts.”
“Do you have a fever?” He pressed the palm of his hand against her forehead. It was hot against his hand. “Yes, you do,” he said in a low voice. “Susan, please get the thermometer.” He heard her walk out of the room.
“Daddy, it hurts so bad. Please make it go away.”
“It will be all right, sweetie,” Jim whispered, holding her hand.
Susan returned, handing Jim the glass thermometer.
“Thank you.” He unscrewed the case. “Laurie, this goes under your tongue.”
Laurie let her father put it in her mouth and she put her tongue down over the cold round instrument.
Minutes crept by. The tick of Laurie’s clock stepped in beat with Jim’s heart. “Okay, let’s see it.” He looked at the thermometer. 103 degrees! Oh, Lord. “Laurie, I’ll be right back.” Standing up, he motioned Susan outside the room.
“What is it?” she asked once there were in the hall.
“She has a 103 temp,” he reported. “When did you notice she had a fever?”
“About twenty minutes ago.”
Jim nodded. “I’m concerned by what she said about her muscles hurting every time she moves. If she is still complaining after awhile, I’ll call Dr. Caro.” Jim kept his voice low so Laurie wouldn’t hear. “When I sent you up to check on her, did she say she ached all over?”
“Yes, and she said it was hard to walk, that her knees felt like they were going to buckle.”
He ran his thumb and index finger around the corners of his mouth. “It just isn’t like Laurie to be sick that way. Maybe I should call Dr. Caro—”
“Dad!” Laurie cried weakly from the bedroom.
“Yes, Laurie?” He appeared at her side.
“I hurt really bad.” Laurie looked at her father, a pained expression on her face.
“Can you try to describe the pain? Is it sharp?”
“No, it’s just pain . . . all over. It won’t stop, even when I lay still it keeps coming.” She scrunched her eyes shut as the muscles in her legs tightened.
“Do you want something cold on your forehead? Would that help?”
“No, Susan already tried it and it didn’t work.” She grit her teeth as the muscles tightened more.
Jim glanced away from her chalky white face, then squeezed her hand. “I’ll be right back, Rie.”
David Caro, Lincoln’s physician, stood beside Laurie’s bed. “Can you raise your head for me, please?”
Laurie told her brain to raise her head, but couldn’t find the strength to lift her head. “I can’t!” Sweat beaded on her forehead. “I’m really trying, and I—” she fought to lift her head once more “—can’t do it.”
“Okay, that’s fine.” He checked the rate of her pulse. “Where do you hurt?”
“My whole body. It’s like my muscles get tight.”
“Where does it go? Does it stay in your legs?” he asked, his voice soft and understanding.
“No. It goes up my back and neck.”
“Thank you, Laurie.” Dr. Caro motioned Jim out of the room. His light green eyes searched the father’s face. “I will be plain with you. I’m not sure what’s wrong, but I think it might be polio.”
The color drained from Jim’s cheeks. “What? How?”
The tall, broad-shouldered doctor held up his hand. “Like I said, I’m not sure. I have a friend in Springfield who’s a doctor. He’s studied tremendously on the subject of polio; he’ll know what to do” His voice stayed positive. “The only hospital that takes polio cases is in Springfield. If I can use your phone, I’ll call Dr. Brooks and tell him we’re coming.”
“Sure, sure.” He passed his fingers across his face as the doctor clomped down the stairs. Dear God, please don’t let it be polio. Please! His shoulders sagged. Lord, how can I even look at her with the thought of her having polio?
Trust Me. I can work everything out for good if you just trust Me.
Yes, Lord, I trust You. Give me the strength to handle this, even if it isn’t polio.
Dr. Caro came back. “I also called an ambulance. They’ll be here shortly.”
Jim straightened his shoulders, nodding gravely.
It was Friday evening when the ambulance pulled up in front of the St. John’s Hospital in Springfield. Laurie was unloaded and wheeled on a bed to a side door.
Dr. Caro walked up to the nurse’s station. “Excuse me.”
A nurse with a tiny mole on her cheek looked up from the desk. “May I help you>” she asked, her voice tender.
“I’m Dr. David Caro and I called about two hours ago about bringing in a young girl to be examined for polio. Is Dr. Brooks available?”
The nurse stood up. “Let me go check.”
She was gone only a few minutes and returned with Dr. Brooks.
Dr. Robert Brooks looked at Dr. Caro. “Where is she?”
“In the waiting room with her father.”
The nurse and the doctor followed Dr. Caro into the waiting room. Sherry then walked alongside the bed as two paramedics wheeled it to an examination room.
“Jim, this is Dr. Brooks,” Dr. Caro introduced when Laurie was gone. “Dr. Brooks, Jim Adams.”
Both men shook hands. “Mr. Adams, I need you to sign here—” Dr. Brooks pointed to a blank line on the sheet of paper on his clipboard “—giving me permission to examine your daughter.” He handed a pen and the clipboard to Jim.
Jim scribbled his name and handed it back.
“Thank you. It will be about twenty minutes for the examination.”
Jim nodded mechanically and the doctors walked away. He sank down in the chair. Lord, give them the wisdom to know what to do. Be with Laurie, he prayed. His eyes drew to the round clock on the wall. The ticking of it droned inside his ears. He leaned his head against the back of his chair, blinking his tired eyes. He shifted his weight forward. His hands grew moist from gripping the arms of his chair. He settled back then sat forward, elbows on his knees, his folded hands to his lips. Lord, it seems like one thing after another is happening. I don’t understand it. First my wife, and now my daughter. What are You wanting me to learn this time?
Put Your whole trust in Me, and it will be all right, Jim.
Yes, Lord. Be with Laurie. Be with the doctors. His eyelids drooped. He forced them open. He ran his trembling fingers through his hair. He closed his eyes for a brief second . . .
He jerked awake. “Yes, Doctor?”
Dr. Brooks sat in the chair next to him. “I did a complete examination. I asked her to stand and walk. She could not. Dr. Caro and I discussed what we should do. We decided to have a spinal tap done.”
“What do you think is wrong with her?” Jim asked, his heart racing, his eyebrows drawn in.
The doctor looked at the father, his expression serious. “I cannot say. It’s too early to tell. I need your signature again to have a spinal tap done.”
Jim scrawled his name where an “x” was marked.
“Thank you.” Dr. Brooks disappeared. He walked down the corridor and turned to the second door on the left. He quietly told a nurse to prepare the tool needed for the procedure. “Laurie,” he said in a kind voice, “we are going to lay you on your side. The position we put you in is going to hurt, but I need you to be very still. Can you do that for me.” he smiled.
Laurie nodded. “Yes, sir?” She shivered through her thin gown.
“I need you to be very still,” the doctor said again. “Please don’t move. It is very important that you not move.” His voice was slow and steady. He took the needle from a tray. He stuck it into the curve of Laurie’s spine, drawing out fluid.
Laurie screamed, jerking her knees forward. Two nurses braced their hands against her knees, keeping them stable. “Hold on. It’s almost over,” one of them soothed in a Texan accent.
Dr. Brooks squirted the fluid into a glass container. He handed it to one of the nurses. He pulled off his latex gloves and assisted the Texan nurse as they moved Laurie to a semi-cushioned bed on wheels, and the nurse pushed it out of the room to the isolation ward. He filled out a form, handing it to her. “Mail this to the laboratory to be checked for infantile paralysis,” he instructed.
Saturday afternoon, one week and one day later, Jim glanced up as the doctor entered the conference room. His tight mouth twitched nervously and his eyelids looked swollen. “Well, Doctor?” He folded and unfolded his sweaty hands, blinking his eyelids nervously.
Dr. Brooks sat in the chair across from the scared father. He stared a the glare on the table before facing the father. “The spinal tap . . . confirmed . . . it was polio,” he said quietly.
Jim felt his pounding heart rip in two.
copyright 2005 Tisha Martin
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