“Is that them Brice?”
“I think so Scotty looks like Pa with the Henry rifle on his shoulder and Ma in the middle tween Pa and Donnie.” The two boys shaded their eyes as three tiny specks appeared on the horizon. Distance and heat waves made it Impossible to tell exactly what they were seeing. The two boys starred into the shimmering expanse waiting, watching with anticipation because they had news. Scotty the youngest of three boys wore a pair of pants with holes in both knees. In his hands he held a BB-gun. Brice the oldest wore an orange wind breaker over an old t-shirt advertising green tractors. Brice stood with an arm draped over Scotty’s shoulder. The wind ruffled their hair, and moved on to kick up a tiny dust devil. Scotty rubbed at a speck in his eye, and pulled the old cowboy hat down around his ears to keep the northern breeze from knocking it off his head and rolling it down the dirt path again.
Scotty cocked the BB-gun and aimed at a twig in the road, “What do you think they will say when they get here?” Brice looked at his bare feet and said. “I speck they’ll want to know what happened, and where the rest of the people are.” The three forms began to take on human like shapes that wavered under the hot summer sun. Not thin, but not fat, sometimes crooked sometimes strait. Brice elected to stay home and watch Scotty, who was getting over a bad cold. He would have rather gone with Pa hunting and fishing, but knew that his Ma could use a break. His ma loved to go whenever she could, which had not been very often lately because of all that had to be done to raise three boys and support a husband.
Behind the boys, in the shade of an old live oak, was the home that gave shelter to a settler’s family. Made from rough sawn timber hauled in from the distant mountains, it was the center of life for this family in the sparsely settled valley. Bare earth surrounded the modest dwelling. Corrals and a lean-to shed could be seen behind the house. In front of the house and beside the family garden was a row of tables. Actually it was four saw horses with planks laid across them, and covered with hand sewn table cloths. On the make shift tables were mason jars. Some of the jars were filled with jam, and some filled with local honey. Fresh cut flowers were set in copper pots in the center of each table.
The three individuals were now within shouting distance, and it was very clear who they were. The head of the family walked with a slow ground eating stride and carried a rifle slung over one shoulder and a stringer of fish over the other. Next to him tugging at his overalls was a child carrying a big old Tom Turkey that had been shot behind the ear. Besides the boy was the mother. She pulled a small cart that was filled with wild vegetables and two more turkeys each also shot in the head. They were within one hundred yards of their homestead when the mother spoke up breaking the silence that had fallen between them under the strain of their individual loads.
“Virgil, Scotty and Brice are at the edge of the road up yonder. Do you see them?” “Yes, they have been standing there ever since the place came into view.” The middle son Donnie yelled out, “Hey, what are you two doing? Get back to work.” “Donald, quit your yellin.” The Mother scolded. “Virgil, I don’t see no trucks in the yard. They was supposed to be here by now. It must be past noon.” Tugging at a gold pocket watch Virgil snapped open the engraved lid. “Yes, it is about 12:45, plenty of time for them to be here. That may be why the youngins are waiting for us. They must have news.”
The small boy standing near the homestead dropped his gun and began to trot down the road, after hearing the unintelligible shout from his older brother Donnie who was with his parents. Brice the bent over and picked up the BB-gun and turned back towards the farmhouse. He knew there would be questions so he pulled up a bench by one of the tables and waited. The shade was nice after standing in the sun for well over an hour. He walked to the pump and shot a squeaky blast of water into the tin cup that hung on the handle. The water was sweet and cold, not too many things ever tasted so good. The only thing that came close was one of the ice cold sodas at the Bernard Corners Market. Since that was a luxury, it happened very few times, but the wait was always worth it.
He looked up as his mother and father stepped into the driveway and walked towards him. Scotty bounced around in front of his parents chattering about all that happened since the parents had left some hours ago. Reaching the shade Virgil sat his rifle against the live oak and walked to the pump. He filled the tin cup with water and handed it to his wife as she drew near. “Here you go sweetie, you earned it.” Grateful she took a long drink and then handed it back. Donald came forward for his drink and then Virgil refilled the cup and took a long refreshing swig of the cool water.
As the big man turned away from the pump he reached out and caught Scotty as he leaped in the air. Spinning around the two laughed. Donald and Brice watched and waited. As Virgil bent over to set Scotty down they darted forward and tackled their father. With a tangle of arms and legs they fell to the ground laughing. After a few minutes of wrestling Virgil regained his feet. These boys were growing fast. He felt the power and the weight of them when they knocked him to the ground. This made him smile. He walked over to where one of the benches had been pulled out and sat down. “Ok you’ all come over and lets here what happened. Little Scotty has been trying to tell us something about the sheriff and ambulances and what not. Brice, please tell us what happened.”
“Okay Daddy, Well Mr. Douglas was down to the market when Mr. Montgomery from the bank came over to him and told him that there was a message for you. Mr. Montgomery knows that Mr. Douglas lives just down the road from us.” Brice held and envelope in his hands and handed it to his father. Virgil began to open the envelope as Brice continued. “Mr. Douglas said he did not read the message but had heard from someone who saw it that Uncle Doyle and Aunt Heidi had been in a wreck out on the interstate.” Brice chocked back the emotion that tried to surface through his voice.
Brice saw the worry unfold on his daddy’s face as his father read the short memo. When Virgil finished the brief note, he bowed his head slightly, then stood with resolve and said. “Come on ya’ll pile in the truck lets go find out what’s happened.” Brice looked up and met his father’s eyes. Those steel gray eyes firm but fair had always been a comfort to Brice. , Even when they stared at him with judgment because of some wrong decision the young boy had made, he knew his father loved him and those eyes always represented strength and stability. Today they relayed concern and a need to trust. Brice knew what his father wanted, but wanted to hear him say it. Virgil turned to his wife. “Patricia, I am going to have Brice stay here in case some of the other kin show up and want to know what has happened.” He turned again and looked at Virgil, he handed the note back to him. “Here son, read this and if anyone comes by and wants to know what has happened, you tell em.”
Brice watched as his mother and father loaded the family into the old pick-up. He could see the concerned look on his mothers face as his father passed on the information in the note. When they turned onto the dirt road that led to town, his mother looked back and waved. She had pressed a handkerchief to her face to hide the tears. Brice turned back towards the house a knot had formed in his stomach. He walked by the old hound snoozing next to oak tree. For a minute Brice thought how great it would be to be a hound dog with nothing to do but lie around, eat, sleep, and once in a while chase a coon through the woods. What a life.
Plopping down next to the big brown dog, Brice laid his head on the dogs’ haunches and pulled the note from his pocket.
To: Virgil Dunigan
Re: notify next of kin
This is to inform you that on August 22 1964 at about 0700 your brother and sister-in-law were involved in an accident on interstate 41 two miles south of
. They have been rushed to the county hospital in Greenville. Their condition was listed as serious prior to admittance. Their current condition is unknown. The phone number for Greenville is unknown. Please contact your local police department for more information. County Hospital
Responding Officer: Ben Hutchins
Brice laid the note on the ground and stared up through the branches of the large tree. Brice dozed a little and daydreamed little. He knew where the county hospital was. They went last year to see Donald. He had fallen out of this very same oak tree pretending he was superman. He broke his arm in two places. He was nearly hung too, because his cape wrapped around a branch as he fell. The doctor said it was good he used clothes pins to hold his cape on. If he would have tied it in a knot Donald would have not been so lucky. Brice could still see the piece of cloth hanging way up in the branches. Time passed quickly. As he lie in the shade thinking about the county hospital he heard the whining sound of a truck being shifted into low gears to slow down. He grabbed the note and stood up, looking to see who was near.
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