How has your week gone so far?
I’m back with the next chapter of Leona.
If you didn’t catch last week’s post, you can find out what Leona is and read the first chapter here.
I hope you like it!
On December 13, I turned eleven. Rachel had been eleven since August. She came over and we had cookies. Over the cookies, we planned the next generation of names for the cattle. Milky, her daughters, and her daughter’s daughters were about to calve.
“What if it’s a boy?” Rachel asked me practically. “We should come up with a boy and girl name for each calf, that way, no matter what, we’ll have a name.” “Do they have to rhyme?” I asked anxiously. “‘Course not. That’s almost impossible,” Rachel said with a wave of her hand. I sighed in relief. I didn’t know eleven rhyming names. “Let’s see. So we’ll have to name one Cream. And one Sugar. That way they go together. If there’s twins we’ll name them that. Scruff’s a good boy name, so’s Dusty.” “How ‘bout Barbwire?” Rachel asked. I nodded. “That’s good,” I said.
“I like the name Daisy. And one could be Rose, after Mama,” I went on. “Maybe we shouldn’t come up with two names for each,” Rachel said. “That’s,” she paused, “Twenty-two names!” she exclaimed. My eyes got wide. “Maybe just one each,” I agreed.
Rachel bit into another cookie. “How ‘bout Cookie?” she asked suddenly. “‘Specially if one of ‘em has spots.” I chewed my lip as I scrawled the names on a piece of newspaper. “So we’ve got Cream an’ Sugar, Scruff, Dusty, an’ Barbwire. Then there’s Daisy, Rose, ’n’ Cookie,” I said, reading off the list. Rachel nodded her approval.
“How many more do we need?” she asked. I counted on my fingers. “We got eight. We need three more.” We thought hard. “What’s your middle name?” I asked. Rachel raised her eyebrow. “Margaret. What’s yours?” “Mine’s Myrtle,” I told her. “I see!” she exclaimed. “We’ll name two of them after our middle names!” I nodded and wrote them down. “I’ve always liked the name Butter for a cow,” I said. “That’s good,” Rachel agreed, munching another cookie. I wrote Butter down. “We’ve got all eleven,” I said happily. “That was quick,” Rachel commented. We grabbed another cookie and went out to play.
When the calves were born the next spring, there were four boys and seven girls. I consulted Rachel, and we gave up the name Cookie. “How about Muddy?” Rachel asked, looking at the dark brown little calf, standing wobbly legged by his mother. In a few months, Dad would castrate him. We winced to think about it. Then, of course, there was the branding. With a sizzling hot iron letter, Dad would brand all the calves when they were three months old.
That day always smelled like burning hides and sounded like it was the end of the world.
I shook my head to clear the thoughts away. Rachel was still watching me, waiting for an answer.
“That’s good,” I said. And that was that.
I went to school with Rachel. I knew all the kids at the little whitewashed school house. There was Will and Frank, two brothers who lived a ways away, Cathy, a six year old who lived down the road, her eight year old sister, Bea, and Russell, who was thirteen. Bud, me, and Rachel walked to school together. Rachel’s nine year old sister, Sarah, didn’t come to school – her legs were crippled from birth, and the walk was too far.
I wasn’t bad at math or spelling, but I wasn’t good at reading aloud. Rachel was, and she read dramatically. She was good at basically everything. The teacher, Miss Hadley, was nineteen. She was real nice. She called on me one day to do an arithmetic problem on the chalkboard. “Sis, please work out the problem eighty-five eight times.” I nodded. “Yes ma’am.” I walked over to the board.
“Five eight times is forty. Carry the four. Eight eight times is sixty-four. Sixty-four and four is sixty-eight. The answer is six-hundred and eighty.” Miss Hadley nodded. “Very good, Sis. You may sit down.” She called Rachel up to do a division problem. Rachel did it right. Catherine was called up to do sums. She got five plus eight wrong, and had to re-work it. She did the next sum correctly.
After that, it was time for dismissal. Everyone rushed to get books, jackets, and lunch bags. Bud started to head home. So did everyone else. I waited with Rachel ‘til Miss Hadley wasn’t busy. Miss Hadley raised her head. “Could I have some schoolwork to bring home for Sarah?” Rachel asked, stepping forward. Miss Hadley nodded. “Yes. Wait just a moment.” She rummaged around in her drawer and pulled out a piece of paper.
In her neat teacher handwriting she wrote out sums and word problems. “She uses your reader, doesn’t she?” Miss Hadley asked. “Yes ma’am,” Rachel said respectfully. Miss Hadley handed her the paper. “There you are.” Rachel thanked her and gathered her books.
We walked home together. “Sarah’s much better at reading than I am,” she confessed, “But I have to help her with arithmetic.” I grinned. Sometimes Rachel helped me, too. When my house was in view, we said goodbye. “Tell Sarah hello,” I said, going inside. “Sure thing,” Rachel called. I shut the door and dropped my books on the table. “I’m home!” I called. Bud came downstairs. “Hi,” he said.
“How come you got home so early?” I asked. “I didn’t,” he said, “You just got home late.” He grinned. Mama came in from the outhouse. “Hello, Sis. How was school?” “Good.” She bent to get a pot out of the cupboard. “You can play for a while before chores,” she said. We thanked her and scrambled outside.
Once outside, we jumped the barbed-wire fence, dodged the cattle, and headed for the creek. It was slightly shady there, because the few trees there were in Oklahoma had wisely chosen to sink their roots by the water.
I gathered large muddy rocks, and Bud did, too. We had been planning this for days. We were trying to build a dam. I stepped in the frigid water, holding up my skirt. It came over my ankles. “Maybe we should wait ‘til summer,” I said, teeth chattering. “Naw. April’s just as good,” Bud said firmly. Bud and I worked slowly, but surely. After stacking all the rocks up, and filling holes with twigs, we stood back to survey our work. It wasn’t as good as we had planned, but we hoped it would work. I wiped my calloused and muddy hands on my skirt. Bud wiped his on his sturdy overalls. I watched him enviously.
We trotted back home reluctantly. My job was to refill pitchers and empty the water from the basins. In the mornings, I fed the chickens and gathered their eggs. Bud had the more dirty job of cleaning out the coop. I was thankful he did that.
I brought the pitchers to the sink, and quickly filled them with the cold pump water. I threw the basin water on the remains of our garden. Then I went inside to help with supper.
After school the next day, Bud and I rushed home to change clothes. Rachel waited outside. “I have to get home soon,” she reminded us. “We wanna show you one thing,” we told her. We raced over to the creek, with Rachel following us. We were overjoyed at what we found. Where our sturdy dam had been erected, almost two feet of water had pooled up. In that area, the creek was about seven feet wide. Bud and I lost no time in rolling up pant legs and pulling up skirts. We splashed into the water. The water was still chilly, but we didn’t mind too much. We laughed and splashed each other. Rachel stood on the bank, school books in hand. She watched us wistfully. “I have to get home. This is great. Maybe I can come tomorrow,” she said regretfully. We said goodbye, disappointed, and watched her walk off alone. “Water’s too cold,” Bud said, getting out. “Yeah,” I agreed half-heartedly. We swished through the knee-deep water and clambered out. Without a word, we trudged home.
The next day after school, Rachel turned to me. “Can I come with you today?” she asked, “I have an old dress in my bag.” I nodded ecstatically. “‘Course,” I answered.
We got home and told Mama where we were going. “Don’t drown,” she warned. “We won’t,” I assured her. Rachel and I raced upstairs. I shut my door, and we pulled on our old dresses. “I hate wearing shoes to school,” Rachel complained.
We pulled off our stockings and shoes and rolled up our sleeves. The color of Rachel’s dress suited her, and as we walked across the field to the creek, her dark hair blowing, she looked like a beautiful wild girl, free and independent. The faded blue of her dress matched the sky. I had on an old blue dress, too, but never imagined that I looked pretty.
Bud was the first one in. “It got deeper!” He yelled. We splashed in after him. The water was cold and our skin tingled. After splashing around for ten minutes or so, we went back to the house, shivering. Rachel’s wet hair clung to her face in dark strands. “We’ve got more water than the creek does!” I giggled. Rachel laughed.
We came back out in dry clothes, wrung out our wet ones, and I hung mine on the line. Rachel carried hers. “I have to get home,” she said. “Okay. Bye. Thanks for swimming,” I said. Swim was too big a word for it. “Splashing,” I corrected myself. She smiled. “See you next Monday,” she said. “See ya,” I called. I went inside shivering but content, my hair still dripping.
What do you think?