Last home Conrad lived in with his parents.
Dad was not much of a hand to write but we got short letters every week or so. He had found a job at the DuBois sawmill on the waterfront in Vancouver where he had worked ten years before. George DuBois had remembered him and what a good worker he was before. In due time Dad saved enough money to rent a house and get the basic furniture so the problem became how for him to get my mother and us four kids to Vancouver.
It may have taken weeks for Dad to save the money for train tickets, but fortunately, there was a friend, a Mr. Ganaway, living near Arcola who decided that he wanted to see the Pacific Northwest. He had a pickup truck on which he had built a homemade canopy. A deal was made that Dad would pay for the gas and, after an auction sale at our little farm, they would load in our possessions. Mother and baby Sandra would ride in the cab with Ganaway and us boys would ride on top of the things in back.
Even though it was my ambition to leave the hills and, initially, I had been elated at the prospect, in September when departure was a matter of a month away I began to have some second thoughts. The school year was well under way and I did not like the idea of interrupting my final year there to start in the middle of the term at a new and much larger school. I had been told that Vancouver High School where we would go had around three hundred students in each class.
As the month wore on, I became ever more reluctant. I was still competing with Mary Neil for valedictorian of graduating tenth grade. I was also aware that I was getting an exceptionally fine education from J. B. Mitchell. More and more I was torn between my original sesire to get out of the Ozark hills and wanting to finish the school year at Bona.
One day when we were to spend our last night in that little grey farmhouse, I was a long time getting home from school. I remained after the others had gone, cleaning erasers and taking a long look around that familiar room where I had spent so many hours. I wanted very much to finish the year.
|Grandma and Grandpa Stanley's house 1936, Bona|
As I finally walked slowly homeward, I paused in Bona. I looked for a long time at my grandparents’ house and store, at Tom Humbert’s store across the road, the road down the hill west past the frog pond, and I gazed across the rolling hills and woodlands to the east from the porch of Grandpa’s store. All this was home and down inside I did not want to leave. I was torn, too, between a dread of the strange new world out there and eager anticipation of a better life to come.
I stared again at Grandpa’s house then trudged on up the road toward home, an idea forming. I nearly chewed the inside of my lower lip raw thinking about it. I am sure Mother made note of the fact that I was unusually silent and thoughtful during supper. I was ordinarily the ebullient one and should have been dancing with glee.
After supper, while Richard was drying the dishes I had washed, I took a look around the familiar kitchen in the soft yellow light of the kerosene lamp (no more of those, I thought silently—we will have electricity in Vancouver), then I went quietly through the living room and out onto the small front porch. I sat on the step in the darkness. There was a moon overhead and the pale white moonlight dappled the grass in the yard where it came through the red leaves of the maple trees. There was no breeze but there was a hint of fall frosts in the air.
I sat there for a long time thinking. Finally the screened door behind me opened and closed and my mother sat down beside me, draping a sweater around my shoulders.
“You’ll catch your death—it is getting chilly out. What are you doing out here by yourself?”
“Oh—I was just thinkin’.”
“Think-ing,” she said automatically. “What were you thinking about?”
I shook my head and looked down at my bare feet in the moonlight, “Nuthin’ much.”
She was very perceptive. She put her arm around my shoulders and said softly, “You don’t really want to go, do you?”
For all of my fourteen years, I suddenly felt very young. I felt tears sting my eyes as I let the things I had been thinking come tumbling out.
It’s not that I don’t want to go, Mama! I do want to go—and in the worst way. But not just now. If I don’t finish the school year here, old Mary Neil will be valedictorian for sure. I can do it if I could stay! No old girl can do better than me!”
I turned to her pleadingly. “How would it be if I stayed here for the rest of the year with Grandpa and Grandma? I could help them some and they have that little room on the back of the house that no one is using. I could sleep there. Then, after we graduate, I could come on to Vancouver on the train—I’ll save up all I can toward the ticket!”
There was a secretive smile on my mother’s young face in the moonlight. “I guessed that was what was bothering you several days ago. You just have not been yourself. As a matter of fact, I have already talked it over with your grandparents. They are willing for you to stay if you want to do that.”
My spirits soared to the stars as she went on, “It would be the worst for you to change schools just now. Richard is hardly settle in at Dadeville High and Rex is young enough that it won’t matter all that much. They will just miss a week or two of school.
“I know how bad you want to be valedictorian and Mr. Mitchell thinks you can do it, too. Yes, I have already talked to him. He has faith in you, Conrad, just as your father and I do. You will have to be very good for your grandparents and not give them any trouble. You must help them and work hard at school.”
I promised and, after she went back into the house, went capering around the yard in the moonlight in a wild sort of dance, swinging from tree limbs and hanging by my knees. The old irrepressible Conrad was back—I did not have to leave the Ozark hills just yet and I would be living full time with Grandpa and Grandma!