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always come in early spring. They come without no
warnin' and if
you ain't ready for 'em, they can be the end of
This year the last day of the dry weather come on a
Sunday in March. Most of
the town went over to see openin' day baseball
between our town and
Fayetteville, and just before the end of the game a
heavy humidity come up from the
south. This usually don't happen 'til
summertime and when it does it always means
a thunderstorm is comin' to bring a little relief
from the heat. We should
have known better this time because it wasn't
summer yet and our winter was a
long cold one. There were still pockets of snow on
the north sides of the trees
and heaps of it along the road into town. But, like
children, we welcomed the
rain with no thought of the deep snow still layin'
in the upland hills.
The rain started nice and soft, puffin' up wisps
of dust in the dry road back
from Fayetteville. There was no lightnin' or
thunder which we always get
before a summer storm. Instead, the sky got lead
gray, dark and seamless, as
though the rain had come to stay awhile. The old
men in town wagged their heads as
if they knew. "It's the flood rain," they
said -- then they moved their
When we got home Pop and me got the live stock
inside the barn, the horses
whinnied like worried old women and the sheep
huddled close together. We had a
problem with the chickens; they panic quick and
don't trust nobody. It takes
all the patience a man has to get them to do what
he wants them to.
The darkness come early that day, and with it the
full downpourin' of the
rain and you couldn't hear nothin' but the roar
of it on the tin roof over the
porch. It was only by shoutin' that we were able
to hear each other. When I
looked outside it was like the earth had turned to
water and I realized this was
no everyday rain.
I lay in bed that night listenin' to the roar of
the rain on the roof until
Pop come in to get me. He was already wrapped up in
his oilskins. He handed me
my clothes and said we was to go and see to the
animals. I got up and dressed
and together we started for the barn in the
blindin' rain. The barn yard was
already ankle deep, and water was about to spill
over the threshold of the barn
door and flood the floor inside. We let ourselves
in by way of the small door
and were greeted by a chorus of frightened
whinnying and bleating -- the
animals could sense the peril of bein' alone in
the barn and there was nothin' we
could do to help them except to get them up to
higher ground. We had three
horses, a pair for the plow and one for the trap.
We managed to get them
outside, slapped each of them on the rump and told
them to git. They hurried off at a
fast trot, lookin' back and wonderin' why we didn't follow them. I remember
seein' the whites of their eyes as they turned
their heads to look at us. The
sheep didn't need encouragement; the leader took
off after the horses and the
rest of them followed.
Pop said not to bother with the chickens, "They
got no sense of self- preservation," he said.
make it or they'll drown, there's nothin'
we can do."
We waded our way back to the house and I could see
flashes of light in the
direction of Fayetteville -- there was no thunder.
Pop said it was probably the
electricity. The rain was shortin' out the
breakers at the power station. Even
in the best of times you couldn't depend on the
electric company in our town,
and lookin' at our house through the drivin'
rain, the only light I could
see was the kerosene lamp in the livin' room
There was no break of day the next mornin'. I
could barely see the barn and
the one lane road in to town was under water. It
looked as though we was
anchored in a slow movin' river, the surface of
which was bubblin' and boilin' from
the drivin' rain. Rain had seeped in through the
joints of the tin roof over
the porch and it sagged under the weight of the
water. Pop and me went out on
the porch and saw the water had already reached the
top step. "Another couple
inches, boy, we're gonna have'ta move
upstairs." He walked to the corner of
the porch and pointed to the old Dodge standin'
in the driveway. It was slued
around broadside with its engine pointed upstream.
Pop thought a while, then he made up his mind. "First
of all," he said, "I
want'cha to get a couple of gas cans from outta
the kitchen and bring 'em out
here, I'm gonna drain the tank of the Dodge and
put the gas in the tractor."
It took an hour or more with the rain pourin'
down the backs of our necks
trying to syphon the gas out with a rubber hose.
Then we went inside to find Mom;
she was in the kitchen tryin' to get the stove
"The wood's wet and the chimney won't draw. There's no way to cook any
more." She looked very scared. "We're gonna
die if we can't cook." Pop held her
for a minute to quiet her down some, then he told
her to get our valuables
together -- "Like all the things we need to prove
who we are and what we own ... then," he said, "We're gonna git ourselves on
that tractor and git up onto
By noon we was almost ready. In spite of the rain
still comin' down we spent
most of the mornin' tryin' to load our stuff on
the tractor. Mom wanted to
take our canary, but Pop said he wasn't runnin'
no Noah's Ark and to let the
thing fend for itself. In the back of our minds,
Mom and me still had a feelin'
we oughta wait it out; that the house would stand
the flood as it had everythin' else in the past twenty years. But our
minds was changed when the
Richardson house sailed past our front porch around
eleven in the mornin'. The
Richardson farm is a good two miles north of us and
Pop said it was a sign that things
would get worse down here pretty soon. There was no
sign of the Richardson's
-- just their house.
There ain't much room in the cab of a small Deere
tractor, but Mom and Pop
managed to squeeze in with me on Mom's lap and
all the food fit to travel was
stacked behind us on the floor. The Deere don't
have no windshield wipers like
the old Dodge so the seein' through the rain was
pretty bad. Pop had his head
out the window on the left and I had mine out to
the right. Mom just sat there
with her eyes shut mumblin' to God to save us
There are low foothills capped with pine woods half
a mile back of our house.
On the crest of the highest one there's an old
native stone building we used
to call the haunted house. It's been there since
the Revolution and the story
used to go around that Indians massacred a family
of pioneers up there. True
or not, the Historical Society put up a small
monument with a bronze plaque. My
friends and me used to play up there after school,
and each of us would swear
to the fact that if you stood perfectly still you
could hear the tortured
cries of the family and the wild yells of the
Pop took it slow. We couldn't see more than
twenty feet ahead of us and the
field behind our house was furrowed from last
fall's plowin'. He had to keep
in the ruts or risk losing control of the tractor.
I spotted the pine woods on
the right and I shouted to Pop. He did his best to
angle over there but the
going was really dangerous. Although we were out of
the flooded area now, the
ground was slick with mud. Even the big tractor
drive wheels would lose their
grip and we would slide back down.
It seemed to take forever, and maybe it did in a
way, but we finally come
into the pine woods at the top of the first rise.
The rain seemed to slack off a
little under the trees and even though it was dark
you could see better. We weren't more than twenty yards into the forest
when Pop spotted the old stone
house directly in front of us.
"This'll be it fer now," he shouted.
That's where we stayed the first night -- at the
site of the massacre. We
spread a tarpaulin from the top of the old stone
wall to the cab of the tractor
and Pop and me began to collect pine branches for a
fire. You can build a fire
with dead wet pine if you don't mind the smoke.
Mom put together some kind of
supper out of the canned goods we brought with us.
It got dark early that first spring night after the
flood, there was a chill
in the air now and a brisk wind picked up in the
west and you could see the
clouds movin' fast overhead. It was hard to
realize the rains had only started
twenty four hours ago, but in that short time, and
with the help from the
melting snow, it turned the whole countryside into
a runnin' river.
We spread our sleepin' bags on the damp ground
close to the fire and Pop said
he would stay awake most of the night to keep it
going; but mainly, I think,
he wanted to keep an eye on the weather.
About midnight I thought I heard voices ... voices
I couldn't recognize ...
strange sorrowful voices speakin' in a language I
didn't understand. I heard
footsteps too .. shufflin' footsteps just outside
the range of firelight. I
remembered the legend of the Indian massacre and in
my heart I knew I was listenin' to the long dead voices of the poor
Pioneer family who lost their lives in
the very same stone building we was sleepin' next
to. At times I could hear
many voices callin' out in low mournful tones,
then they would weaken, and one
voice, like a lost child would cry -- soft like.
Then suddenly I heard Pop's voice call out loud
and clear. "Look who's here!" he cried. I struggled out of my sleeping
bag and saw the horses had found us
-- the sheep too! Somehow they had got themselves
to the same high ground we
did. They were as glad to see us as we were to see
them. Pop threw our spare
blankets over the horses and built the fire up as
high as he could without
setting fire to the tarpaulin hanging over it. "A
good sign," Pop said. "Even if
we lose everything, we got the animals."
Well, we stayed there on the top of that hill for
two days -- Mom, Pop, the
animals and me. We heard nothin' more from the
Pioneer people while we was
there and when the time came to go back down I was
moved to thinkin' how simple
life was back before the storm. Pop said we would
probably have to rebuild the
barn and the front porch of the house, he was sure
the chicken coop and the
corn crib were gone too. "Even if we found the
old Dodge," he said, it would
cost a mint of money to get it in runnin' shape
again. Mom was sure every rug in
the house was ruined, along with the mattresses and
the wallpaper, and she was
sure we would need a new canary. But they both agreed that after a look-see
and a long sit down with the man from Prudential we
would probably be in good
enough shape that spring plantin' would only be a
The third day opened with a sliver of bright blue
sky in the East. It seemed
to us the rains was over and we got ourselves and
the animals together. We
gave our grateful thanks to the Pioneer people who
died on this hill so long ago,
and was clear to all of us that these people knew
more about the lay of the
land than we did. Then we hitched up the horses
behind the tractor and started
back down the hill to catch up on the life we left
Pop remembered an old song that seemed to fit -- we
sang it together, Mom,
Pop and me on the way back home ...
Seven cent cotton and forty cent meat,
how in the world can a poor man eat?
Flour up high, and cotton down low,
how the hell can we raise the dough?
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