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Downstream


Mon, Jun 5th, 2000
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Contest Runner-upBy Lori Campbell

Monday, June 5, 2000

This story was chosen as a runner-up by the judges for the way it held their attention as well as for its well chosen words and its interesting story development. Lori Campbell lives in Spring Valley with her husband Scott, and two sons, Lawson and Alex.

Egan turned sixteen the summer the rains came and the river crept out of its banks, flooding the lush vegetation that lined its meandering pathway and seeping through the very core of our home.

We baled water for days, it seemed, with bowls and buckets, and even our cat, Puds, tattered and cracked food dish. But still the water raged on. Finally, after two weeks of torrential Oklahoma rain, and on my sisters birthday, Pud, himself, hid in the attic and refused to budge and the rush of realization could be held back no longer.

Pears were gonna have to get what we can and get out, my dad said, letting his eyes wander over our waterlogged belongings. I couldnt help but admire my dad. There he stood amidst the turmoil, the legs of his overalls rolled past his knees and his boots lost in the quagmire that used to be our living room, but his patient demeanor quieted our troubled hands. Suddenly, we dropped our baling utensils in unison and watched them fill and sink under the murky river water that had invaded our home.

Dad, where are we gonna go? I asked plaintively, looking him straight in the eyes while clutching my hands behind my back.

Dad looked at Mom first and I could see the almost helpless look cross her face before she turned and waded for the kitchen to salvage Grandmas rolling pin and her set of Blue Willow china.

The sigh escaped Dads mouth before he knew it. Dont know, darlin Anne, but the boats tied up to the porch rail out back. Dad hooked one hand in his pocket and lightly squeezed my shoulder with the other before he turned for the stairs and stumbled on the first step, all the while clearing the catch in his throat. Well load it up and see if we cant find some higher ground. We may have to go clear to Cedar Point. Theres a shelter up there we can stay at until this rain blows over.

I knew Dad wasnt about to let the rain defeat him. Great-Granddaddy Shackleford had built this house back in the land run, had settled our farm, and raised twelve children, including Ory, my grandpa, but not Aunt Grace, who died of polio when she was only thirteen, and Uncle Cecil who passed on at age two from scarlet fever. Daddy had been born upstairs, in what was now my bedroom, and Grandma said he was so big he got stuck in the birth canal and almost died before grandpa reminded her she had the constitution of Moses. She pushed Dad out lickety split after that and he was the healthiest of their eight kids.

Yes, the rains had come before in one shape or another, but the land remained in our family through the watery trials.

My sister Egan, however, was defeated and disappointed that there had been no celebration of her milestone birthday. She swiped at the tears that welled in her hazel eyes and ran haphazard down her cheeks. Seconds ticked into minutes and we could hear Dad in the attic, the sound of cardboard boxes tossed against one another, and Dads gentle voice coaxing Pud from hiding.

Right then and there, I felt a calm assurance that the tide would soon turn in our favor and a smile lit my face from one side to the other.

What have you got to be so happy about, Egan muttered through tears.

I couldnt explain it, least of all to Egan, who felt as though we had left her standing at the threshold of womanhood, but barring her entrance with some invisible wall of misunderstanding.

Momma clattered dishes into a box in the kitchen and I turned and lifted the family Bible from atop the piano, swollen from the river water.

Remember that song Grandma Shackleford used to sing to us when Daddy and Momma were out in the fields? I asked quietly as I stared at the piano keys. She would stay all day until we fell asleep in the porch swing, our hair plastered to our heads from the heat.

Egan stood transfixed in the living room doorway.

You remember, I said, hugging the Bible next to my fourteen-year-old chest. That wedding song was about perfect love and granting joy from earthly strife. I used to think Grandma was trying to get us to go to church, but I always hear the last lines of the song before I drifted off to sleep, And to lifes day the glorious unknown morrow that dawns upon eternal love and life.

You know what I think Gran was trying to do?, I turned and faced Egan, her tears now falling as fast as the rain outside the living room windows. She knew one day we would grow up and she might not be there and she was trying to give us a gift. A gift of knowing that no matter what happens, we will always have our love for each other that will bind us together as a family through anything. Dont you think thats what Gran was doing?

A thud sounded over our heads and we smiled in unison as Pud came bounding down the stairs and stopped just short of colliding with the rising water, his back arched and hair on end, before pouncing back up the stairs in search of a new hiding place. As I sloshed my way across the room, I knew this day wasnt the celebration Egan had hoped for but, years later, long after the waters had receded and she had moved into the homestead with her own family, Egan told me I had reminded her that growing up was more about who helped you through it when that happened.

Lets go help Dad, I said and grabbed Egans hand. Before he forgets Pud is one of the family.

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