By Karen Brode
It was almost 11pm and Winnie was still up. She never had any trouble going to sleep because, even at 13 years old, her daily work schedule was so exhausting. If she could just get another pone of cornbread made, she would be able to lie down, and she knew she would go to sleep immediately.
She had fried two chickens and put some roasted corn on the cob into a dishcloth and wrapped them tightly. Her mother had asked her to make lemonade, which was Winnie’s specialty. She glanced at the clock and decided it might be better to make it before going to bed rather than counting on having time to do anything in the morning.
She thought over her list yet to do. She would have to get baby Travis ready in the morning, but that wasn’t really work. She took great pride in taking care of her baby brother. He was almost two. Sometimes, he looked at her with such love in his eyes. She loved her him so much. She loved Albert, too, but he was so different from her and this sweet baby. She had known from the beginning that little Travis would have a very special place in her heart.
Her father, John Hawk, would be up before dawn packing provisions in the covered wagon which would take them to West Texas where so many of their relatives lived. That was a long way from Ambrose, but they could make it in three or four days. She tried not to get too excited about seeing all the relatives until the time was closer.
Once they were there, they slept on their quilts in the yard or on the porch of the house where her relatives lived. If it rained, there was always the covered wagon.
She thought about the pilgrimage they made the year before. A downpour seemed to follow them the entire trip. She and Albert were inside the wagon while their mother held an umbrella above herself and Travis on the bench next to Daddy. Winnie cautioned Albert not to touch the inside of the cloth that covered the wagon. Rain would drip into the wagon wherever he touched it. She should have never told him this. She should have left well enough alone. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him reach up and poke at the cloth with his index finger. Sure enough, in came a steady drip. She looked for a bucket of some kind to catch the drops. It was no use being mad at Albert. He was like a force of nature.
One of her favorite parts of making the trip to West Texas was getting to see her favorite cousin and best friend, Christine Wells. Winnie was six months older than Christine, and they had written to each other since they could write.
Winnie put the fried chicken in the icebox and blew out the lantern. In the stillness of the house, she heard Albert snoring softly in the back bedroom. His sleep sounds were nothing compared to their father’s. He drowned out everything else with his snoring. Sometimes, he stopped snoring abruptly and she would sigh with relief, but then he snorted and snored with more gusto.
Sometimes, if he was very very tired, he yelled out his horses’s names in his sleep, “Gee haw, Kit and Rhody!”
He always seemed fine in the mornings, so she never mentioned his nocturnal noises.
Travis still slept in bed with their parents. Winnie suspected that her mother could not feel that he was safe sleeping anywhere else.
Winnie got the quilts down from the closet and went to bed.
There was a faint pink streak on the eastern horizon when Winnie woke up. She was very sleepy and she could not afford that. There was work to be done. Her mother was already inside the wagon holding Travis in her lap. Daddy and Albert sat on the bench seat to drive the horses. Winnie sat in the wagon with her mother and and the baby. Before long, the soft swaying of the wagon lured Winnie fast asleep.
She woke when the wagon stopped. It was time for their nooning. She spread a tablecloth on the ground and put out the chicken, cornbread, and corn on the cob. Then she remembered the lemonade. It was in a well bucket, and there was only one dipper, but they all drank the lemonade. Even Albert commented on how good it was.
In no time, they were back on the road. She had brought a book to read to pass her time on the trip. Sometimes she got sick if she tried to read while the wagon was moving, but on this day she read through several chapters of a book she had borrowed from the school library. The book, Freckles, was about a boy close to her age. As she progressed through it, she began to feel as if she knew the boy and was living his life for awhile, instead of her own.
The wagon stopped. Daddy jumped down from the bench seat and leaned backward with his hands akimbo trying to pop his back.
“Where are we?” Mother asked from inside the wagon.
“I think Gainesville is right over that next ridge,” he said.
Winnie got the quilts out to spread on the ground where they would sleep. Mother and Travis would stay in the wagon, but Winnie thought there was something magical about watching the stars light up the dark sky overhead.
It was almost dusk. Daddy ate a banana while everyone else had an apple. Winnie was surprised that her father did not ask for the peanut butter. She had packed it especially for him.
He turned around to look at the road behind them, and said, “Just look how far we’ve come in one day!”
Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972. She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years. She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon. Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.