The Radio Flyer
She went to the window for what seemed the hundredth time that day only to have her suspicions confirmed as many times. It was still raining.
The big picture window went from floor to ceiling, and except for a few inches at the bottom, it was nearly fogged over. She leaned forward and pressed her forehead against the cool of the window, then, remembering it was something she would get after the kids for if they did it, she pulled away and smiled at the impression left of her forehead and the snaky squiggles from her wavy hair. Suddenly, two rivulets of moisture ran through the middle of fog-face and raced to the bottom of the window sill to join the puddles already there. She used a washcloth from the laundry she was folding to wipe the fog and evidence of her crime off the window.
Hearing a door slam she looked up to see one of her neighbors dashing from her car to her house, arms full of packages. She looked down the road the other directions, and it seemed maybe the sky wasn't so grey and maybe there wasn't so much water running down the road.
It was a week before Christmas, and the weather was typical for the years Elizabeth had lived in the Dallas area. Rain at Christmas and ice for New Years followed by more rain. Plunk...Plunk...Plink...Water dripping off the roof caught her eye and she watched as it fell into the small lake forming in the Radio Flyer the girls had left on the porch. In warmer weather, the girls would be splashing their dolls around in the "private swimming pool" the rain and their imaginations had created.
She remembered now the girls hadn't played out side all week and she hadn't gone grocery shopping either because of the weather. The kids were fighting the sniffles and the wagon being the closest thing to transportation she had, they had stuck pretty close to home. But, now the cupboard was bare and she hated to ask for ride, it was embarrassing.
She kept watch until the rain slowed to a mist, then to nearly nothing. "Get your coats girls! We'll make a run for it!" Just grab a few things before I have to come back and get ready for work, she thought to her self as she dumped the water out of the wagon and brought it inside to dry it out. She spread a trash bag over the floor of the wagon and tucked two more in her coat pocket. Midst excited chatter and clapping of hands they were soon bundled up and ready to roll. With a look to the sky and a deep sigh, she carried the wagon down porch steps and the kids climbed in.
Cory, with her hopelessly un-tameable hair and deep brown eyes that gave away her secret she was always up to something, was the youngest at two years old. Today she managed to get to sit in front. Her sister Shannon was four. Blond hair and the bluest laughing eyes set her apart in appearance from her sister, but they played off each other like a comedy team. Letting them both ride, they could each hold a bag of groceries on the way home.
They headed down the street for two blocks then turned west for two more to cross the street at the light and into the grocery store parking lot. In the door and dry as a bone! Not a drop of rain! Bread, milk, eggs, cheese, tortilla flour, chicken and stars and alphabet soup, chicken legs, fish sticks and frozen corn. "I think we have enough for now, what do you say?"
"Can I get a Pixie Stix, Mommy?", Shannon asked.
"Me too!" Cory chimed in her head bobbing up and down.
"Sure, let's go." And that's when they heard the thunder roll and the rain beating on the roof of the store.
"Oh, Mommy, it's raining again!" cried Shannon.
"I know, sweetheart. We'll wait out front for it to slow down."
But even after waiting in the checkout line and standing on the porch for a bit, the rain hadn't slowed at all. A few minutes later, worried she would be late for work she called her sister.
"I can't get away right now. Sorry." She called her brother and got no answer. "I knew that", she said to her self.
She couldn't be late for work, still had to feed the girls, put away the groceries, get to the sitter....she made one more call to arrange for her taxi ride to work. "Some day, I will get a car and a phone." Suddenly the rain slowed up and they made a run for home.
Each of the girls was seated behind a paper bag of groceries and each held a trash bag over her head as an umbrella. It began to rain hard again as they reached the light and waited for the green. Shannon and Cory were having a big time laughing and giggling in the wagon. As the light changed, Elizabeth pulled up on the tongue of the wagon and eased it down off the curb and in to the run off in the gutter. The water nearly rose over the wheels and the kids howled at the thought of it splashing over them.
They were nearly to the other side when the light changed again. The car near the curb waited only until they had just cleared its bumper then it began to move. Elizabeth waded into the water and turned around to ease the wagon up on the sidewalk. Cars were splashing by at normal speed in spite of the water in the road, and she was irritated at their rudeness and lack of caution around the children. She lifted up on the wagon tongue and felt it start up the curb, then stumbled backward and sat down hard as the tongue came away from the axle and the wagon dropped into the rushing water. Cory squealed as it rushed over her in the wagon, soaking her and the groceries in her bag. Elizabeth threw the wagon handle on to the grass and dashed back into the water to grab first one child then the other, one under each arm and place them on the sidewalk. All the while cars were splashing by, sloshing water over them and never slowing down.
She set the girls on the sidewalk then turned back to the wagon and watched her loaf of bread floating away, then the fish sticks, headed for Main Street and the flood ditch. They would end up in Dallas somewhere, finally in the Trinity River. She glared at the passing cars, wondering if they would have slowed any if it had been the children floating away.
Stepping back into the water she pulled the wagon and what was left of her groceries on to the sidewalk. The girls were standing together quietly, wide-eyed, soaking wet. She knelt down and hugged them both at the same time. "You guys okay?"
"I'm cold Mommy," Shannon said through chattering teeth.
"Is it broken Mommy?" asked Cory
"Yeah, it's broken." Elizabeth was thinking she would have to get the kids home and leave the groceries when someone yelled.
"Hey, you need a hand?" She turned to see that a pickup had stopped in the street behind them and without waiting for an answer, the driver began to load wagon parts and soggy groceries into the back of his truck.
"Get in the front," He said, closing the camper door. "I saw what happened. Can't believe no one would stop to let you get out of the road. Where do you live?"
"Go that way," Shannon directed as they all piled in the cab. "Then go six houses on this side," she waggled her right hand. "That's where we live."
Elizabeth could see he was wearing a work I.D. badge from LTV Vought Coproration that said "FRED"
"Okay," Fred chuckled. "I just don't understand people these days. Is this your house? I'll help you carry this stuff in."
They all climbed out of the truck cab and into the rain again. Elizabeth took the kids to the door and they ran off leaving a trail of wet footprints in the carpet. She took the groceries from Fred at the door and carried them in while he went back for the broken wagon. She met him on the porch. "Thanks," she said. "Thanks for helping me. I didn't know how I was going to get all this and the kids home too. Thanks a lot!"
Fred put the wagon on the porch. "It looks like it's got a lot of miles on it, but you could probably get it fixed real easy."
"Yes, I will." She hadn't thought at this point what they were going to do without the wagon. The girls were peeking around her legs. They were wrapped in big towels, their hair tangled dripping messes.
"It was scary for a minute," said Shannon. "But it was fun getting wet!"
"Yeah, it was fun!" giggled Cory, still shivering.
"Thanks again." Elizabeth held out her hand.
Fred took her hand in both of his and gave it one gentle shake as he smiled. "Merry Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas!" Shannon and Cory sang together. They stood in big picture window and waved as they watched Fred drive away.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was the usual happy hour scramble when Elizabeth got to work that night. From four til seven the bar was full of the manager types from the local aircraft engineering plant. The Dirty Dozen she called them, although they did have one honorary female member that brought their number to thirteen. The good natured cajoling and kibitzing went on until the last one drifted out, turning the bar and the evening over to the cowboy crowd.
Week nights such as this were always short lived and by eleven o'clock the staff of seven was reduced to one bartender and two waitresses. Things were slowing down and she kept her self busy by cleaning tables and helping LaVern, the bartender. Sometimes she stopped to watch the band and the few dancers that were still hanging in. With two hours left in the night only about fifteen customers were seated, not counting what Vern had at the bar. The other girl had gone home early, even though it was Elizabeth's turn. She couldn't see paying a taxi when the bartender or one of the band would be going that way. Besides, it gave her a chance to make more tips.
She wrote an order on a ticket and placed it in the ticket rack, then began a preliminary count of the evenings profits. The wagon breaking came at a bad time. Too close to Christmas and always so many expenses with two little girls to raise on her own. But, a new wagon would make a good gift for the kids. She knew she needed the wagon, she couldn't afford a car yet. She would just have to find the money. Having a car was the real answer, but it just wasn't possible, not yet.
She wondered if she was doing enough for her daughters. She worked all the time, had no car, too many bills. The girls wore mostly hand made clothes and their cousin's hand me downs. The negative thoughts began to roll over her and she stopped them right away. There was always so much to be done, and it was her job to see to it. There was always a way to make things good, make things right. Things always worked out. Like having a Christmas tree. Last year, they had taped sheets of white typing paper on the wall, then drew a tree on it. Shannon and Cory had decorated it with ornaments cut from colored construction paper. It was hard to take it down after the holidays because it was so pretty.
Things were getting better all the time, they had even moved into a larger and nicer home. So, this year she determined there would be a real Christmas tree, with a new Radio Flyer underneath!
The wagon that now sat in parts on her porch, had been her Christmas gift to Shannon when she was still two years old, but it soon became an integral part of their lives, a trusted and reliable friend. The bright red wagon was a bed for dolls, stray puppies and kittens, pet Guinea pigs and often for Cory when the kids played house. Shannon had even been known to take her nap in the wagon with plenty of blankets over and under, her favorite stuffed animal at her head and her legs hanging over the end. It was a wheeled laundry basket, hauling hand washed clothes from the bathtub to the line out back. It was even a moving van when they came from the duplex four doors down the street. It was a go-cart and a grocery cart, making several trips each week. When there were too many groceries someone would have to walk, and that was usually Shannon. Cory was too little to walk far and she got to ride in the baby back pack most of the time anyway. If you had to walk, that meant you had to pull some, and to Shannon, there was as much honor in pulling as there was in riding, if not more.
Not having a car was a pain. But, Elizabeth made the best of it and tried to make it fun. She was paid each Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings were always full of excitement. They got up early, scrubbed and dressed, the girls in their bonnets. Cory was settled in to the baby back pack and Shannon rode in the wagon all by her self. Then, they would walk to town, making sure to start early enough to cross the tracks just a few minutes before the train, then stopping to watch it pass. The engineer and the caboose man would always wave and blow the whistle for the girls. They would laugh and squeal and clap, Cory jumping up and down in the back pack tooting like train. Elizabeth believed the kids made the railroad men's day as much as the railroad men made the kid's days. Then, it was on to the bank down town, such as it were, paying bills and running errands, taking their time making the circle to head back home. The walk home was the best, that was treat time.
Elizabeth never cashed in her change tips. They all went home and got chucked into an old Hershey's Cocoa tin. Mad money. It was for Happy Meals at MacDonald's or burger's and a soda at the Drug Store fountain. But, most often it was for the buffet at Pizza Hut where the kids got to eat for only twenty cents for every year they were old. She knew they ate much more than that in chocolate pudding and Cherry Jello, let alone the pizza they consumed, and had to laugh when she thought about how it probably was her kids who were the reason the children's price was raised from fifteen cents.
While they ate lunch the wagon waited patiently at the door, loaded with the day's bounty of pretty rocks from the fountains at the water company, white feathers from the park, the occasional friendly bug and other odds and ends, all treasures from the trip. Then, it would be on to the Five and Dime. The kids would sit contentedly in the wagon parked in front of the hamster cages and goldfish tanks while Elizabeth did her shopping. A trip down the candy and toy isle, then it was out the door to home. Empty out the wagon, then head the other way to the grocery. How many miles in two years?
She realized she had been daydreaming when LaVern reached over well with bar spoon and tapped her on the shoulder. "Last call Hun. I don't know about you, but I'm ready to go home!"
"You mean we're still here?" Elizabeth waved her hand in a circle over her head to signal the band to wind it up, and made her final rounds as they announced the end of the night from the band stand. In another thirty minutes they were all out the door.
It had turned cold after the rain stopped and she was glad LaVern had offered her a ride home. They sky was clear and full of stars, it would be a beautiful day tomorrow.
"Do you need to stop at the store?" Vern asked.
"No, thanks. We did that adventure this afternoon. Boy, did we get wet, too! The wagon broke on the way home. Hey, you work at LTV, don't you?" LaVern nodded in reply. "Well, this guy stopped to help us get our stuff out of the water when the wagon broke, and he gave us a ride to the house. His name tag said "Fred" but I couldn't read the last name because the print was smaller. It was real nice of him. No one else would even let us get out of the way. They just kept driving by, splashing water on us."
"If it's the same Fred that works in my crib, he and his wife are real nice people. What he did doesn't surprise me at all. You need to pick up the girls?"
"No, they are staying over at the sitter's because of their colds. I might even get to sleep in if she brings them home late." LaVern pulled up in front of the house and Elizabeth jumped out. "Thanks a lot for the ride Vern. I'll see you Friday night!" she called over her shoulder as she went up the sidewalk.
It was really cold now, she could see her breath as she stopped at the door to take a look at the winter sky. Her heart was a bit heavy as she turned to go in the door, and her breath hung in a mist about her head as she knelt on the living room floor to light the free-standing gas furnace.
The sitter would bring the girls home at nine in the morning. She lived behind and kitty-corner from Elizabeth, so she often just handed them over the fence, like this morning. That meant a whole six hours of sleep instead of the usual three or four when the girls would get up at the crack of dawn. She had still slept in the big chair in the living room though because she worried she wouldn't hear them knocking from the bedroom. And, it was closer to the heater.
The next morning Elizabeth could hear the girls giggling and chattering in their bedroom as she sipped her coffee and studied a new sewing project. Her sister was a terrific seamstress and made wonderful stuffed dolls and animals. She even did some piecework on custom curtains and bed covers, and Elizabeth wished she had that kind of patience her self. It might mean a few extra dollars here and there. That thought brought her back to the wagon. What would she do? She decided she was just not going to think about it right now. She had made up her mind last night. And, there was always plenty to do to take her mind off her troubles and she was going to get to it.
It was beautiful morning just like she thought it would be. She went out to the still soggy back yard to hang some laundry and noticed the girls at the back window making faces at her. She made a face back at them and turned to hang a shirt, but when she looked back at the window they were gone. Something made her start for the door. Cory met her at the back porch, bare feet dancing on the frozen concrete.
"Ooooohhh Mommy! Come see!" she wiggled and squirmed as Elizabeth scooped her up and hurried into the house.
"What's going on? Where is your sister?"
"He's here, Mommy! He's here!" Cory had her mother's face in both her little hands, nodding and emphasizing "HE".
"Him, him. Looook!" As Elizabeth came to the door, she saw Shannon standing on the porch with Fred. She was bouncing at the knees, both hands covering her mouth like she always did when she was excited. Fred looked up at Elizabeth and smiled as she stepped outside to see the cause of all the excitement.
A bright red Radio Flyer was on the walk. It had to be twice the size of the one that had broken, and it was shiny and new looking.
"Oh," Elizabeth said. She caught her breath and looked up at Fred. "You shouldn't...you didn't.."
"I told my wife what happened," Fred said. "We had this old wagon in the garage from when our boys used to have a paper route."
"But, it looks new!"
"Well, they didn't have the route long. You know how kids are sometimes, they lost interest. They were too old to play with the wagon, so it just sat gathering dust in the garage. When I told my wife about what happened yesterday, she said you should have the wagon."
"Oh, I.." She was watching the girls who were already in the wagon measuring it for size, fussing over who would get to pull first. "Thank you. I never expected this, never at all." She looked at Fred. "I was just so tickled you gave us a ride home."
Shannon and Cory got suddenly quiet, they were watching their Mom, eyes dancing. She hadn't exactly accepted the wagon yet, but Fred didn't give her a chance to turn it down.
"Well, there it is," he said to the girls and they bounced out of the wagon to hug his knees. "Merry Christmas, girls!" he laughed as he bent to pat them on their heads. He looked back at Elizabeth and saw tears in her eyes. "Merry Christmas to you, too!" he smiled at her then turned to get back in his truck.
She smiled through brimming eyes as they stood on the porch and watched him drive away.
The End, but not really.....
The Ruby Handled Knife
This knife was my grandfathers near
one hundred years ago,
He took it from a pirate whose sordid
life he did forego.
When he rescued a fair maiden from
the hold of that black ship,
with this singing blade he cut her bonds, and in the water they did slip.
When they washed ashore at Dunbeath
after three days in the sea,
He knelt right there and she answered
him "Of course I'll marry Thee!"
So, he brought her to America, a new
country rough and raw,
and she used this Ruby Handled Knife
to cut the cord on my dear Pa.
This Ruby Handled Knife is worth far
more than all its gems.
The treasure is its history, how
through our lives it wends.
Its jewel encrusted beauty will a
crying baby charm,
blade and point, hilt and shaft
keep us safe from harm
When Grandpa passed he gave this knife
to his first son, my Pa.
Now Pa is gone this knife is mine and
I often am in awe,
How this blade has played a stellar
role in daily mundane life,
lending magic and enchantment to a
lowly rancher's wife.
My Ruby Handled Knife marks the
first calf each spring gather
and it's the only knife to carve the
roast upon the Christmas Platter
My Ruby Handled Knife pares mid
-summers' premier peach
And, it's been used a time or two, to
extend a desperate reach
It's a comfort here, kept at my side,
when faced by bad outlaw,
Why, it saved me from a bloody end at the
panther's deadly paw.
It cut the throat of a favored mount
when no bullet could be spared,
and freed me from my stirrup when
I became ensnared.
This Ruby Handled Knife can shave a
callous or double as a spade
and its marked our name to each beam and
post throughout this home we made.
It counts the years since my husband died
at each April's bright full moon
and it's cut the cords on all my
babes... and my will grandchild's, soon
This Ruby Handled Knife will one day
pass from my hand to my son's
He, too, will keep it at his side until
his race is run.
You see, this Ruby Handled Knife steadfastly intertwines
our History with our future, ever on
through spans of time.
Nancy Elliott C 2010