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The Golden Storm
Papa left today, August 5th 1849, he left for California. The Gold Rush, he says, is going to make us rich; Papa said we aren’t going to be poor no more. Papa says he’ll be back in two years with buckets full of gold. Mama begged him to go in the spring with the other men in town, but no, Papa’s been a stubborn old man all his life, and he wasn’t going to change now. He wanted to get to California by spring so he could fill his pockets with gold before the rush of miners got there. Yes, Papa’s got gold on his mind, he’s heard the stories of gold flowing from the ground like a river. So he’s gone and left, he says we’ll be fine without him for a couple of years. We got old Peter to be the man of the house, he’s all of 18 years, but strong, fit and quite capable of holding down our small farm in Virginia for a while.
So we waved a sad goodbye, as Father continued to promise riches. I know we all prayed for Papa’s safety that day, but I couldn’t help feel that this could be the last time I’d ever see his worn, loving face, but I quickly shook that thought off. Then as Papa was driving off he yelled,
“I will always be there for you, I’ll never leave your side!” It was the strangest thing I had ever heard him say, but then again, my Papa was the strangest man I’d ever met.
Well it’s September now and the harvesting on our farm has been put into full swing. Peter’s got John and Daniel working their tails off in the fields and he’s got me, Sarah, Mary, and even Anne working even harder in the kitchen, he keeps saying,
“Winters coming soon, we must be ready!”
So we worked and worked tirelessly throughout the weeks of September, dodging storms here and there, always being reminded by Peter that winters coming.
At last, the harvesting is almost over. We worked from dawn till dusk every day, and finally Peter is letting us slow down. We are even going to a party tonight in town, celebrating the towns 25th anniversary, Mama’s excited to go just so she can get out of the house. She misses Papa terribly, though she tries to hide it, we all know she’s sad. Just this morning she broke down in tears, saying
“I know he’s just doing what he thinks is best for us, but I’m afraid… I’m just afraid something’s going to happen to him in one of those darn mines. He’s old, he doesn’t want to admit it, but he is, he could get hurt, or killed, and then where would we’d be?”
I’d never seen Mama act so helpless before; I didn’t know what to do. Sarah quickly pulled her nose out of a book and sat down next to Mama at the table.
“Oh Mother, we know, we know how scared you are, but Papa’s a strong man. He’s not going to get hurt, come on now, you shouldn’t be worrying, Peter’s taking good care of us, and the Lord will take good care of Father.
Sarah was always so good at picking people up when they were down; she was the kind of person that you couldn’t resist smiling at when you talked to her. She was the kind of person that knew just what to say when times grew tough for others. I watched in amazement as she got Mother to gather herself and get ready for the party.
I stepped outside to call in the boys so they could wash up. Storm clouds were rolling in over the coast, but I didn’t think much of it, when you live on the coast every storm makes the sea roll and rage.
So we headed down town all looking are best. I heard music playing, I loved the music, and of course the dancing, the dancing had to my favorite. The parties in town are always a special event, and often drew people from all over to the town. When we arrived there was a tall, stern man looking for Mama.
“Have you seen Mrs. Williams?” he was asking people, “Excuse me I have a message for Mrs. Williams,” finally he got a hold of my Mama and pulled her aside.
“Mrs. Williams, hello, I am Andrew Smith, I believe I met your husband, Daniel Williams, on his way to,” he sighed, he was young but looked worn and tired, “on his way to the west.” Mama’s face lit up.
“Did he send word? A message? A note? How is he doing?” Mr. Smith looked down, shook his head, and sighed again,
“Mrs. Williams, I’m sorry but your husband, he died on the trail.” My heart stopped, the music around me seemed to fade, the chatter of the townspeople dimmed out, and all I could hear was those words ringing in my ears. Mama’s face began to become twisted and contorted; she swallowed hard and asked, in a small voice,
“Well, ma’am, two weeks into his trip, it seems he was attacked by wild beasts, being by himself and all, well…he was…he was like a cornered animal,” he was rushing now, I could tell he wanted nothing but to be out of this situation, he stopped looking at my mothers face, he concentrated on his feet, “and you see, by the time we found him, it…it was too late….” His voice faded out, then he said, “ I’m so sorry to be the one to tell you this ma’am, this must be so hard for you to hear.” He whispered goodbye, paused a moment, then walked off.
Mama slowly sank to the ground, she looked so broken and defeated. I heard a small sniffle behind me; I turned to see that Peter and Sarah had heard what Mr. Smith said about Papa. Sarah was doing all she could to hold in the tears, while Peter was slowly coming out of a shocked trance. He walked over to Mama, sat down and wrapped his arms around her, and held her there while tears poured down her face.
Then suddenly screaming broke the silence, the wind started to pick up, the storm clouds I had seen earlier where here. Rain screamed down, the wind began to toss things about, people ran around searching for missing children. I was terrified I couldn’t understand what was happening, then Peter ran to me and grabbed my shoulders, it took a moment to understand what he was saying.
“Gretta,” he yelled over the wind while pulling to the ground as a tree branch flew over our heads, “Gretta I need you to take mother home to the storm cellar. I’ve sent Sarah and the children there already, John and I will be there once we let out the animals.” I got up to leave but Peter pulled me back down again, “Be careful!” he said then kissed me on the head and ran off.
The storm was upon us as we landed in the cellar; Sarah and the children were there already. Mama pulled them all into an embrace then quickly passed out food and blankets as the wind whipped all around outside. And we waited for Peter and John.
Sometime later John dropped into the cellar, and Mama instantly jumped on him,
“Oh Johnny your safe, but where, where is Peter?” she asked.
“Peters coming Mother, he’s coming.” Was all he said and the cellar became quiet again.
I began to think of what Mr. Smith said,
“He died on the trail.” It just couldn’t be true, it couldn’t.
Hours later the storm seemed to settle, and Peter still wasn’t back. John opened the door and climbed out, he was gone briefly, when he came back he helped all out of the cellar so we could survey he damage ourselves. What I saw was horrible, the house and barn were blown to pieces, trees were on fire, cows lay dead in the fields, the horses were wandering around still in shock.
Mama began to cry again, tired, and scared. How much pain could she endure? Her husband was dead, her home destroyed and her eldest son lost in a storm, all in one night. Sarah went to her and held her just like Peter did before the storm.
Tears welled in my eyes, as John walked over to me,
“Gretta,” he whispered, “Gretta I’ve got to go look for Peter, I don’t know what happened I went to let out the sheep and I thought he already let out the cows and came back,” John looked away for a moment, “I know he’s probably already…I know it’s probably too late but I got to try for Mother, you know.” I nodded.
“But wait, John,” I said as he was walking off,” john lets go to the barn first,” john looked doubtful, “Johnny, just come, that was were… were he said he’d be.” John nodded in agreement and we walked together to the ruined barn.
John and I searched for hours, the pile was endless, but I wouldn’t stop, I couldn’t. Then it came to me that john didn’t know about Father yet, but I decided now wasn’t the time for that. Peter was our mission now.
The sun was setting now. John had stopped looking, he just sat on the ground a little ways away, he was crying, I know, but he wanted to be strong for me so he tried to hide it. Finally he said,
“Gretta, it’s too late, come on… lets go.” His voice was soft and soothing, just like Peters.
I knew he was right, it was time to go, but I just couldn’t yet. I was slowly backing away from the barn when something caught my eye, something in the back corner was moving. I froze.
“Gretta lets go.” John said again, a bit harsher this time, as he was walking away.
“Wait,” I said quietly, “wait John,” I ran to the spot where I saw something move. It was Peter, his arm was reaching out from the pile of rubble. I started to dig Peter out of the debris.
“John it’s Peter,” I screamed, “I’ve found him!”
John ran over and helped me uncover Peter, John lifted Peter’s head and Peter groaned. He was alive.
Papa said when he left us that he’d always be by our side, always protecting us and Mama believes that it was Papa that kept Peter alive long enough for us to find him. Some folks say that’s just how Mama copes with Papas death, but I believe it was Papa, who saved Peter, for even though Father may have been old and stubborn he was always true to his word,
“I will always be there for you, I’ll never leave your side.”