Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: FRESH START (01/05/17)
- TITLE: And Shaking the Dust From Our Boots
By Ann Grover
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Even John has become a hazy memory. I’ve not heard from him since he left to find work in the city, when the crops dried up, after grasshoppers descended like an Egyptian plague, devouring everything the sun had not scorched.
I try to manage the farm while he was away. The thin cow. The pitiful garden. The scrawny chickens. Crops that will not, cannot, grow.
Leland charges in, leaving the door gaping.
“Leland, how many times ...?”
“Mom, you gotta come!”
Wearily, I follow, hoping the baby doesn’t waken.
“Look!” he points triumphantly.
A black cloud is rolling towards us. Rain! My heart lifts.
But something is not right about the billowing mass.
“Leland! Go to the root cellar. Now!”
I see his scowl as he reluctantly obeys, deprived of a chance to frolic in the storm, and I leap up the steps. I snatch the baby from her crib, along with a sheet, and head into the melee. The malevolent cloud is almost upon us, a wall of wrath. Leland huddles in the root cellar, beside a barrel holding nothing but a handful of withered potatoes.
“It’s not rain,” I say, clutching both children to me as the first surge of wind pummels the door. The baby shrieks, and Leland shudders against my arm.
It is the end.
When the roaring wanes, we shove the door open, pushing away soil that’s heaped against the rough planks. The cow stands forlornly on the lee side of the barn. The chickens are gone. Buried or plucked away by the wind, I didn’t know. Dust lingers in the air, and I wrap the sheet over the children’s faces as we step carefully through the talc-like silt to the house.
I strain the milk and heat it, stir in oatmeal. Leland’s eyes are hollows in his grimy face as he silently spoons up the thin porridge.
I’m so tired. I want to let the dust engulf me while the wind sighs a final prayer. But the children ... I must keep on, for them, for John.
And then John is there, a few days later, like a mirage rising from the earth. I cry for joy. The children cry, too, as John gathers us to him. I smell the dust of the road on him, the soil of a hundred farms, the clay from which he is made.
He has gifts, food sent from Back East. Dried cod. Carrots. Apples. We eat, rejoicing, touching, laughing. Then he unfolds a newspaper advertisement, worn soft, creases frayed. Peace River, it says. A New Horizon. Forests. Farming. Fishing. “We can go north and start over, on a new place.”
“But ...” I look at our wide-eyed, wan children.
“There’s nothing in the city, Mae. I tried. Lord, how I tried. Lineups for soup kitchens wrapped around the block. Someone always shoving ahead of you, willing to push a broom for pennies.” His voice is a tattered rag.
John pulls away and reaches into his pocket. He has a grubby envelope, filled with a thin sheaf of banknotes. “From Ottawa. It’s enough for the train. Listen, they grow the finest wheat in the world up north. Marquis, they call it. They don’t have drought. They don’t have ...” He extends his arm to indicate the dingy curtains. The empty water pail. The scorched fields beyond the dirty windows.
“We can do this. We have nothing to lose. Mae?”
Later that month, we trek north by train, through miles of timber and ever-greener fields. We raise the population of Hythe, Alberta, to 317 people. A year later, we add a new baby, Ralphie, to the hamlet and our family.
Sometimes, it sorrows me that we abandoned our dry and depleted farm, but our new homestead thrives and prospers. We flourish, too, growing strong alongside our golden wheat.
I wring out diapers and hang them on the clothesline. Dazzling bright banners against the wide blue sky. Leland runs up to me.
“Mom, you gotta come!”
He’s found a frog. We marvel over its delicate skin, its damp home on the creek bank.
It is the beginning.
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