A creative writing piece exploring the shared stories of rural Montgomery County in Indiana.
The sun began to fade behind the haze as the school bus rolled its way to a stop. A young, curly-haired girl stepped off with her three male siblings to begin the trek down their mile-long driveway. It was September and the warmest days of all Indiana summers. The cows bawled from the nearby pasture, and the chickens grazed nearby the front yard of vintage perennials. As the siblings took their steps down the driveway, gnats gathered in front of their eyes making it almost impossible to see their elderly mother standing on the front porch. Finally, after a few minutes of walking and brother John picking on Janet, she stumbled upon the littlest pebbles at the edge of the front porch steps. Their mother, dressed in her calico house dress and her traditional hand-crafted apron, greeted them with strawberry rhubarb pie, which was Janet’s favorite. Youngest brother Steven waved to a distant figure out on the farm grounds. Their property, as large as it was, took their father an entire week to keep it to his perfection. Once the next week started, his work began all over again. Corn fields surrounded the front yard and the barn stood stately in the rear of the family farm. Near the barn was an outhouse, that each child dreaded using especially during the winter months. To Janet, her father and mother had provided more than enough for each child. Her father, always worked long hours and harvested the crops to make for a great bountiful season. Her mother, Mary, always slaved away over a hot stove and made her speciality of mashed potatoes and homemade noodles. After all, Mary always said that to live on a ranch you have to eat just as much.
Mary ushered the children inside as they threw their satchels in the doorway. Janet ran to the window, eager to hear the sweet sound of a John Deere puttering its way to the barn. There wasn’t a better sound. The purr of its engine and unique rumble of its power in road gear, raced down the gravel as it made its way near the white Lapland farm house. The children washed up in the kitchen sink, the same sink that Mary bathed them in when they were infants. Janet ran to the back door, as her father made his way up the pathway. Robert, or Bob as he was commonly known, was dressed in his usual weekday attire of Oshkosh bibs, a Chambray shirt and his weathered work boots. In his right pocket, a brown pipe rested, that was still warm from the previous smoke. Bob had his everyday pairs of bibs to where some were showing heavy signs of distress. Being a couple from the Depression, they were frugal in their lifestyle and throwing things away. Mary always described that time as a dismal period. She always spoke of nothing but rice in the kitchen and one pair of Sunday church clothes. Since then, the family was better off raising four of the most needy children, but they were content doing so. Janet greeted her father at the door, with a big hug, as she was a true daddy’s girl.
The family gathered around the table and gazed out the window when their dog, Frosty, an American Eskimo breed, made his way to the back door. Frosty was always a good livestock dog, but if a stranger came near he knew how to bite in the worst and agonizing places. Bob stomped his foot, the way to give every family member a stern upright position in their seats. He began saying a short and simple grace, where each kid then said, “Amen.” The family dove face first into their meals gobbling down the potatoes. If an outsider were to visit the family, they would think the family hadn’t eaten in days, but Mary’s meals were just that delicious. Janet knew they ate like kings during every meal. Even though the family didn’t have much and every sibling shared a room, their parents kept a tight budget. After all, they were raising four children and had them both working through to every weekend auction in the area, where Bob ran the entire tabacle, with Mary clerking alongside the auctioneer.
Janet looked over at the sugary rhubarb pie that she resisted eating until after her supper. “What are you looking at?” brother Steven asked as Janet appeared to be looking at him. “I’m not looking at you,” she sassed. Their father stomped his foot, stern, just enough to capture their attention. They immediately stopped their conversation as it was soon to turn into an argument of some sort. Bob wrestled his fork into his dessert when he looked at his wife almost begging for ice cream. "You know what would be perfect with this? Ice cream on the side." Mary quickly stood up from the table, headed toward the freezer to pull out the homemade cream she had made just last week. Quickly the children caught on and Larry opened his teen mouth, "Oh mother, maybe you should put that on all of our plates." Really, Mary never got to enjoy a meal as she was always answering someone's request for ice cream, more noodles, or some of her famous magic tea.
Janet stared out the window when she noticed the swift and dark cumulus clouds rolling in from the west. She excitedly watched and said, "Pop, it looks like it's going to storm this evening." Bob turned his head, looked out the window and quickly responded, "You know what that means. We'll have to watch it from the porch swing." Janet quickly finished her pie and urged her father to do the same as she quickly swiped up the plate from underneath his silverware to rush it over to the kitchen sink. The rest of her siblings and their mother continued to enjoy themselves as dinner was the true time the farmstead came to a halt.
Janet ran out the front door as Frosty came running up to the cracked and squeaky steps. Frosty jumped up towards Janet, licking her in the face when she nudged at him to back down. Frosty and Janet had been the best of friends ever since a thief tried breaking in the first time she was home alone almost three years ago. Janet looked at the white fluffball and paused. Frosty chased the foolish man down the mile-long driveway as he screamed in agony. Janet always talked about that memory, reminding her that he was the best guard dog. Finally Bob made his way to the swing when he sat down and put his hand on Frosty's head. "You know, when the sky is yellow or green, that is never a good sign." Janet always admired the way her father kept track of the weather. Every morning and night he would write the high and low temperature from that day on a calendar along with the type of weather, even news that he felt was important as well. She secretly admired it, but it was one of those things that she never felt was important to tell him. They both heard the crackle of sharp thunder in the distance and saw a quick peek of lightning that acted like it was a spastic child deciding what to open on Christmas morning.
Bob looked at Janet, awestruck that the wind was picking up and swirling the imperfect flowers around them. It had been so hot and humid, that the flowers were starting to wilt, not to mention the deer that came and munched them away to the ground almost every summer night. The rain began to fall as Janet extended her arm out from underneath the porch to fell a small drop. Frosty huddled closer to the door pawing to get inside. "Not a chance Frosty," Bob exclaimed. Frosty NEVER went inside. Mary would've croaked if she saw him step one paw onto the living room floor. Janet always imagined what it would be like. She imagined him sitting on the couch with her, watching tv with her, and even waiting for his turn underneath the kitchen table while he waited for the smallest crumb to fall. It never happened. He never went inside and a little storm wasn't going to stop that.
BOOM! The house shook as the storm was now closer than before. Maybe three miles away, Bob described according to his almanac rules. Janet continued to pester her father with preposterous questions, not ignoring her, he intently watched the sky to hopefully predict the storm. Suddenly, the thunder crackled closer and the wind howled violently down the driveway. "We better think about heading towards the cellar, daughter," Bob said to Janet. She looked worried in the face when there was a flash in front of her eyes. It was so bright, it looked as if the sun was rising and reflecting off ice in a glacier climate. Everything went white and now the dark, greenish clouds were well over the house. Mary screamed from inside, "Bob and Janet, get off the porch." Bob looked at his daughter and Frosty like he was questioning his next move. Then, hail let loose all over the ranch like candy falling out of a piñata at a young child's birthday. Janet's eyes grew wide as her pupils became large as it was now completely dark out. The only sign of light the family saw was the lightning running through the sky almost three seconds apart, according to Bob's predictions. Mary and her sons came running toward the front door and ordered for Janet and Bob to get inside one last time. Janet frantically grabbed Frosty by the collar, hoping Mary wouldn't notice his entry in the dark. "Leave him outside," she stated. "He can't come inside, he'll come with us to the cellar."
The family made their way through the unsteady and violently shaking house as Mary and Bob collected the small stitched picture albums that rested on the lobby bookshelf. Janet could hear the whimper of her guard friend while they made their way around the house to the back cellar. Bob raced quickly over to the last corner by the exit door and grabbed his dented and dirtied shotgun. Ready for the storm like soldiers on a warfront, which he had done before, he ordered the family to pull the cellar door. During his time in World War II, he had witnessed things given and taken from innocent families while their loved ones fought for their freedom. He reflected upon his war memories when the going got tough within the farm house, "I've had worse times," he always said. Those war memories and statements quickly silenced a room, as he intentionally made others contemplate their intangible troubled times.
As Mary opened the cellar, her apron flew off into the wind, the same apron that her mother hand-crafted for her when she first married Bob. Janet watched as tears swallowed her blue eyes, but Mary quickly reached her hand near her face acting as if dust had forced her eyes to water. Bob waited until the entire family was in the cellar, when Frosty came hurdling through the yard, he then lifted the white ball into the protection space. Now the clouds had dispersed into a giant Pangea-like figure. A supercontinent of dark clouds that rolled with the wind, while hail hammered straight into the cellar door right as Bob sealed it shut.
Mary grabbed a candle before they exited the house, the same time she grabbed the stitched albums from the bookshelf. Bob lit the candle from his still-warm pipe from his Oshkosh bib pocket. Still warm enough to light a flame, he blew into the candle as a spark ignited from the candle wick. Bob began a small prayer, where his teeth barely separated from his clenched smile. The family reacted, joined hands, and bowed their heads. Janet, standing next to her father, buried her head into his left arm. This was the same arm that he had around her on her first tractor ride. "Hold on Janet, I've got you," he said.
After the prayer, Larry reminisced of his time during his last date when he was at the Ben-Hur Drive-In. During this date, a storm, similar to the one they were experiencing enclosed Lapland in a pocket of bad weather. Larry and his date had stayed in a local restaurant, while Bob and Mary worried sick from the storm cellar. After the storm passed, Larry came in his old fashioned Chevy, tinkering its way down the driveway.
This storm differed. During this storm, Bob and Mary had all of their children together when the loud sound of a train started to roll toward, what seemed like, the beginning of the road. "Here it comes," Bob warned. Surely, they hoped what they were hearing, wasn't a tornado. It couldn't be, Janet thought to herself. It was a perfect day of school jokes, rhubarb pie, and dinnertime bonding. Rocks hit the cellar and the barn near the fields, as the family heard the sound of wood tumbling over the cellar. All six and Frosty, grasped each other while waiting for the noise to fade. Janet turned toward Bob in a hurry, when all of a sudden his shotgun barrel whacked her upon her right temple. She laid low, while this wasn't the time among all the testosterone crammed in the cellar, to bring attention to herself. She lowered herself to the ground and shut her eyes.
The sounds of the storm circled in her head, while she tried to concentrate on the previous prayer. The conductor and it's train ignited their engine, "All aboard!” while Janet prayed that her conductor would keep them safe during the long train ride. She hated train rides and was fascinated with them all at the same time, but more importantly loved the time her family took to get out of the farmstead. She watched as trees sped by, looking like ink blots of green and brown out of the clear window. Trying to interpret the nature around her, she drowned out the voices of her siblings. They constantly annoyed her, picked on her, as mother always encouraged her to "be brave". She felt the jolt of the train gears when the conductor accelerated the locomotive through the countryside. Janet gazed out the window admiring the busy fields of green beans and yellow corn that sparkled in the light. The train blew its whistle which made it impossible for riders to relax. Janet could never sleep on train rides, as she was too busy waiting for the nature to seize its movement, or she was hoping for the train to halt altogether.
She hummed to herself, rocking back and forth, seeing the blurred images of the sunset form a magnificent painting of her home. The train stopped. The gears twisted and smoke spouted out of the blower. The conductor aggressively triggered the whistle, giving it one last blow. They were home. The ride was over and it was quicker than what Janet anticipated. Finally Bob tapped her shoulder, "Daughter, let's go."
The family exited the doors and arrived at the wooden passenger steps. Janet gazed up and realized that the train had taken her away, somewhere different. "We aren't home," she stated. Bob opened up the white door as it squeaked like an old attic floor. Once the family entered the door they approached a wall that was nothing but framing. The wall was missing, empty, like the rest of the house. The house had been robbed, torn down, run over. Whatever house it was, Janet didn't like it.
She tried to keep quiet, "Be brave Janet," her mother's voice played in her head. She walked around the corner and saw a white piece of paper flapping among the wall. The paper appeared wet from a distance, but was still dry enough to move with the breeze. She walked closer, stepping on her tiptoes to reach it. Her hand grazed it, the bumps of stiff ink in the paper, making out ink blots of green and brown mixture, like those of the fields from the train. The artwork among the paper seemed mixed and confusing. She ripped it off of the wall and folded it over. "High of 80 degrees and low of 60 degrees." Above the prediction, a statement wrote "farm weather summer".
It was her father's calendar and before she could grasp her thoughts, a frail hand cupped her shoulder. The big ranch hand patted her head, kneeled, then kissed her, and the rest of the family gathered near the one-standing wall. They gazed through the window out to the mile-long driveway, the same driveway that the school bus stopped at the next day. The day after the farmstead family lost everything in the late-summer storm.