You Get Used to It

Chap II, “Louisa’s Story”, by Al Murdach

 

 

 

                                                  You Get Used to It

                                                     by Al Murdach

 

 

 

     The huge buildings around theKansas Cityrailway station were brown and dirty looking.  They seemed to be full of people rushing everywhere, up and down stairs, through the crowded hallways, and along the platforms near the tracks.  But what really bothered Louisa was the noise.  People yelled and complained, trains blew their whistles and screeched their brakes, and delivery  drivers noisily loaded and unloaded piles of cargo from their wagons, while their horses waited sadly, blowing air from their nostril and stamping their hooves.   Louisa held her hands over her ears as she looked up to watch some sparrows circling gracefully over the roof of the station house.  She noticed that the sky was overcast and the air was colder: a sure sign that fall was coming.  Louisa stood close to Mother and Father on the station platform as Father got ready to board the train forCanada.  She gazed up at the huge black and grimy engine, which was puffing and steaming as the crew crawled over it while cleaning and oiling parts.  The giant machine seemed menacing and alive as it hissed and spat out bursts of steam. 

     Louisa drew closer to Mother and Father and gazed up at their faces.  She was surprised by how quiet and restrained they both seemed.  Her father stared silently at the people scurrying past on the platform.  Mother was casting worried glances at Baby John.  Even he was quieter than usual.  Mother had tucked him into his huge wicker pram and buried him in blankets to defend against the cold air.  All that could be seen of him as his nose and eyes, which peered out from underneath his bulky knitted cap.  Mother slowly rolled the pram back and forth as Father waited to board the train.

     Louisa saw the conductor lean out from the front car and shout “Allll aboooard!”  She crowded close to Father so she could hear when he turned to Mother to speak, but his voice was immediately drowned out by the clanging of the engine bells.  Father swooped down to pick up and hug Baby John and Louisa, John’s baby blankets and Louisa’s long dark hair flying wildly in the wind as he pressed them to his chest.  For an instant her face was smashed against father’s cheek and she could feel the stubble of his beard.  “Be good to your brother and help your mother,” he shouted into her ear.  He kissed them both, kissed Mother on the cheek, swung easily up onto the passenger car steps clutching his large suitcase and finally, with a wave of his hand, disappeared inside the car.  Louisa was amazed that her parents hadn’t hugged each other before Father got on the train.

     The train jerked ahead with a shrieking of metal and gears, heaving and puffing until it slowly gathered speed and disappeared past the edge of the vast switching yard, which was suddenly silent and empty.  The maze of tracks glistened like steel snakes coiling endlessly out to the horizon.  Mother stood unmoving, gazing out over the yard and ignoring Louisa’s tugging at her hand and John’s whimpering.  Louisa began to wonder why Mother wouldn’t move.  Was she sleeping, or planning to stay there until Father came back? 

     “Mommy,’ she finally said, “ let’s go.  I’m getting cold.”  Her mother squeezed Louisa’s hand and started to push John’s pram slowly toward the exit.  As they walked, Louisa realized that she wasn’t really cold after all, just very tired.  They had all gotten up at four a. m. to come to the station and it was now almostnoon.  She was also beginning feel very hungry.       

     After a hurried lunch at a small restaurant across the street from the station, they climbed back into the large family wagon, put the pram in the back, and began the long, slow ride home to Grandpa’s farm outsideKansas City.  Louisa rested against her mother’s arm and sometimes slept, sometimes idly watched the corn and wheat fields drift by and disappear.  James, the family wagon driver and farm hand, clicked his tongue and spoke softly to the two horses as they plodded along.  They passed the Hanson’s farm, the Dahlweig’s place, and finally turned into the bumpy road that marked the beginning of Grandpa’s property.  It was almost evening now and blackbirds and sparrows swooped across the pink-tinged sky searching for insects in the cool air.  Louisa had fallen asleep again and her mother gently shook her by the shoulder when the wagon came to a stop.

     “Time to wake up, Louisa,” she said.  “We’re home.”

     Louisa yawned and looked up to see Mother standing by the side of the wagon with Grandma Bodner close by her side.  While James watered and brushed the horses, Mother placed Baby John in his pram and pushed him slowly up the lane to the large farmhouse while Grandma walked along with her.  Louisa followed close behind.  Her mother was quiet at first but then spoke in a choked voice with Grandma.  It sounded to Louisa like her mother was almost ready to cry.

     “I shall miss him, Mother Bodner.  He is so far away now.”

     Grandma, as usual, seemed quite unemotional and business-like about all this.  She was a small, stocky woman, who always seemed to be plainly dressed in a dark skirt and light colored high-necked blouse.  Her replies to Mother were short and economical.

     “Well Luella,” she said, “men have to experiment.  George is no different.  He is young and must try his wings.  You must learn to get along without him for awhile, that’s all.”

     Her mother stopped walking and raised her head to face Grandma.  She reached out and clutched the older woman’s hand.

     “But Mother Bodner,” she choked, “he knows nothing aboutCanada.  This is an enthusiasm with him.  Moving away will mean leaving all our family and friends, all the things we’re used to, all we….”

     Grandma straightened her shoulders and pursed her lips.  “Luella Clara,” she said, distinctly pronouncing  her mother’s first and middle name, “you’ve got to stop thinking about such things.  Just put them out of your head.  George’s mind is made up and that’s that (Grandma emphasized the word “that” by striking her clenched fist into her outstretched hand).  He’s like his father.  There’s no turning him around once he’s set on something.”

     Her mother looked at the ground.  Louisa thought her mother always seemed somewhat scared of Grandma and usually tried to stay on what she called Grandma’s “good side”.  “I know  Mother Bodner,” her mother finally said.  “I’ll try.  I really will.  But sometimes I wonder if I will ever see George again.”

     Grandma reached out, grabbed   Mother’s shoulders, and looked at her steadily.  “You’ll see him again,” she said, “but you may not see him much.  In fact inCanadathere may be times when you will see him very seldom.  Farming in a harsh land can be difficult for families.  You’ve got to accept that.”

     Her mother’s dark eyes were staring imploringly at Grandma’s face and blinking back tears.   “But…how do you do that, Mother Bodner?’

     Grandma removed her hands from her mother’s shoulders and slowly dropped them to her side.  “You get used to it, that’s all,” she said emphatically, “you just get used to it”.

     Her mother cleared her throat.  “I expect I will, Mother Bodner.  I surely expect I will.”  She dropped her gaze and caught Louisa’s eyes.  Louisa could tell by the expression on her mother’s face that she didn’t really believe what she was saying. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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