So now here we are, back where we started, but it’s not a happy landing. I watch Blum out in the garden turning over the soil with a garden fork, and I’m still pissed as hell. All this time, he could drive, find his way to Pittsburgh, go to a hospital, and pick up a report, while I have been taking care of him as if he were a prince! What a fool I’ve been! And how did I not realize that the man was so functional? It can only be that I was still treating him like an invalid while clearly he was recovering.
And another thing: how did he know where to go? Patience didn’t seem as surprised as I was. She knew he’d been driving the tractor and even the Model T when he went out on calls with Daniel, but neither of us can remember talking about which hospital or which radiologist was causing me grief. For the first time, it occurs to me, with a turn of the stomach, that he has been reading my journal.
The son of a bitch!
April 3, 1935
Becky is on to me. She’s moved her journal and she’s acting strange, so she must have realized I’ve been reading it. The problem is, reading her thoughts has become a compulsion, and even though I know I should stop, I find myself drawn to her room, like an opium addict to laudanum.
I peek under the mattress and find the journal gone. I search her drawers and the top of her closet. I can’t stop. There are footsteps on the back porch and quickly I dart across the hall to my own room and lie down on the bed. If she peeks in, will she think I’m sleep? Will she see my heart pounding?
“Hip, hip, hooray!” we all cry. Today Mrs. Maddock walked!
Mr. Maddock, who was once an engineer, invited us all over, even Dr. Blum, whom he apparently no longer fears, to witness the demonstration of a pair of leg braces, much like President Roosevelt’s, that he’s made for Sarah. She was able, using the wheelchair for support, to walk down the garden path to the driveway and back again. Maddock hovered behind her in case she fell.
“I have been practicing standing for weeks,” she tells us, straightening the collar on her pretty flowered dress. “Holding myself up with the help of the braces, on the backs of chairs and the back of the sofa. I figure if FDR can do it, so can I, but I still get very tired. I don’t know how the president does it!”
“He has a handsome young man who pretends to be his body guard stand next to him to give him support,” Daniel explains. “Look at the photos of him in the newspapers giving a speech or waving to the crowd, there’s always someone at his side.”
“Well, I have my guardian angel, Milton.” She plunks back down in her wheelchair and Mr. Maddock pushes the conveyance up the side ramp to the porch, where we find celebration refreshments on a white wicker table—lemonade and sugar cookies that Mrs. Maddock has made herself.
Whenever I have been in Sarah Maddock’s home, I’ve appreciated all the adaptations Mr. Maddock has made to accommodate his wheelchair-bound wife and wonder if he will have to remake all the shelves and cupboards now that she can walk. In the kitchen, pantry, and water closet everything has been built low, so that Sarah can reach from her wheelchair. It’s amazing what disabled people can do if given the appropriate tools.
“Saw fire warning signs on Salt Lick today as I came into Liberty,” Daniel mentions, munching a cookie. “I guess the CCC boys put them up. Surprised we haven’t had more trouble with the corpsmen. In some towns they raise holy hell.”
“Couple of boys got drunk at the bar a few nights ago,” I add, “and Sheriff Hardman put them in the drunk tank overnight, but that’s the only trouble I’ve heard of. Captain Wolfe and the superintendent run a tight ship.”
“That’s good,” Daniel agrees. “Got to make those boys tow the line.” Here he looks at Blum as if this were an inside joke and I swear Blum actually smiles, the bastard!
April 14, 1935
For months we’ve been listening, as Daniel reads aloud from the Torrington Times, about the conditions in the Great Plains, how it’s estimated that 100 million acres of farmland has been lost to the winds, and I’ll admit I thought it an exaggeration, but there’s something to be said for hearing about it firsthand.
Mrs. Rumer, who went out by train to Arkansas for her older brother’s funeral, told Daniel what she’d seen, as we sat drinking lemonade on her porch after testing her cattle for TB.
“When the dust cloud came over the horizon, it felt like a shovelful of sand was flung in my face,” she began. “We were out in the yard and could hardly make it back to the house. Cars along the road came to a standstill. I saw it with my own eyes. . . . My sister-in-law and the children live with the red dust, day in and day out.
“They can’t escape it, and my brother George had to live with it too, until it killed him. ‘Dust pneumonia’ the doctors call it. The red grit gets deep in the lungs and then you fever and die, especially old people and children.
“They eat dust, sleep with dust. Watch dust strip their hope away.”
And then yesterday there was no doubting the stories. Hester and I were working out in his garden (we’ve been trading days back and forth from my garden to his) when a wind came up and strange orange clouds began to boil over the mountains.
We’d heard on the radio out of Wheeling that it was storming in Ohio, so we weren’t surprised about the clouds, but the color, that was another thing! On our way across the barnyard, heading for the house, the sand hit us full force.
Next thing, lightning, and then the sky turned copper red. The air became heavy with grit. I couldn’t believe it. We were getting some of Mrs. Rumer’s dead brother’s farm.
Then on the news today everyone’s talking about the “Dust Bowl” and “Black Sunday,” the biggest dust storm yet and the only one that made it all the way to the East Coast.
Apparently, an Associated Press newsman and his photographer were caught just north of Boise City and got pictures of the black clouds as they blotted out the sun and rolled across the prairie. The reporter’s the one who coined the name “Black Sunday,” dirt in the air so thick, you couldn’t see through it, and some of it made it all the way to our mountains! Damnedest thing.
A few years ago, I’d have been glad not to hear doors banging, children crying, voices in another room, but now that we’ve returned to the house with the blue door it’s the silence that gets me. With only the doctor for company, it’s quiet as a mausoleum. Even our three-legged dog doesn’t bark unless a deer walks right past him.
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