Nebraska Center for Writers

by LaRayne M Topp

MY LIFE WAS SIMPLE WHEN I WAS NINE. I played marbles on the wooden, front stoop that led into our Nebraska farm house. I cut clothes for my paper doll family from the Montgomery Ward catalogue, sitting on the parcel of powdery dry buffalo grass that used to be our front lawn. I watched my mother patch the patches on the overalls my father wore in the hay fields. I listened for the sizzle every time she wet her fingers and touched the sad irons on our cookstove, testing them for just the right amount of heat to iron the pile of sprinkled clothes in her laundry basket.
I helped my father pick wild chokecherries when we could find them, those hidden from hungry gulls in their search for supper, and laughed at the puckery faces my father made as he sampled the tongue-drying fruit.
When the red clay from Oklahoma eclipsed the sun, and we led a fitful night’s sleep, punctuated by the sound of heat-parched hens dropping off of their roosts, I never realized how deprived we were. My mother made our poverty seem normal. But even her faith was dazzled when the hen began to lay the golden eggs.
It was in late summer the day my dad loaded up the plow onto our old pickup truck — the plow he’d financed before half the banks went out of business and the income of our farm dropped in half. He seemed puzzled later in the day when he stopped at the kitchen door to show my mother the machinery still on his truck. He repeated to her the implement dealer’s words, "Take it back home. Maybe you’ll be able to pay me for it someday, when you can. What good will it do for us to take your plow? I can’t feature there’s anybody around here can buy it anyway."
Through the dry and difficult days my mother sang. "Heaven help us all," she said, and sighed when she heard of the neighbor’s penny auction farm sale. She hummed "Brother Can You Spare a Dime" while peeling a small pile of shriveled potatoes for supper. Happy songs when the sun wasn’t cooking the crops, and "Amazing Grace" when the mercury boiled to the top of the thermometer. When the sun never relented in its efforts to fry the few parched stalks that remained in the corn fields she’d pick up her guitar and strum the Dust Bowl ballad, "So Long."

Reprinted with permission
from Stories for a Woman's Heart,
The Second Collection
compiled by Alice Gray with Judy Gordon
and Nancy Jo Sullivan
Copyright © 2001
by LaRayne M Topp
Multnomah Publishers

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The Rock

Nebraska Center for Writers