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Milton

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Milton


I jumped the freight train just the day before, eager for a new life in the west. Back in South Dakota I was hired up as part of a thrashing crew, we shucked up grain into bundles an’ brought ‘em to the machine. 50 cents a day for a thirteen year old, I thought was pretty good but it got ol’ after a while like all things do. I grew up hard, born in ‘24, I worked in the family farm at the age of six, an’ have been a farm hand since then. Bill, my best friend, was a year or so older than I. Bill heard there was work out in Washington so he said “Hell, let’s go there”. One day after school Bill an’ I got some overalls with the money we saved, we headed to a field to wait for the next train to come by. I was cold, huddled with the newspaper an’ worn denim overalls as my only protection from the blistering elements as the “Olympic Fly” moved on its way back to Washington. A fella lay limp in the corner, exhausted an’ famished. That was the coldest I have ever been, snot was freezing, gripping to my upper lip, so Bill an’ I would fight each other, just box an’ wrestle to stay warm. We got so cold that we stopped in Vermillion to go to the jail, an’ asked the sheriff if we could sleep there for a while. The sheriff said “Ok” an’ allowed Bill an’ I to sleep in the center of the room, with the cells around us. The smell of trouble was in the air, a thick stench of terrible people. Early in the mornin’ a man was killed with a gallon pail, the edge slid across the man’s neck. I sullenly imagined the blood rolling down the arms an’ body of the man, splattering onto the floor as the drops rolled off the man’s fingers. Later in the mornin’, Bill an’ I were back on the freight, death was not scary for us. We had seen death on the farms, the ol’ cows, big soft eyes motionless as they lay in the ditch ready to be trucked off. This was different, a human. Death had hardened me, this broke the ice barrier. I was very confused why the man was killed, but I did not have the time to dwell on it. We had to keep going. I was scared, but we had to go. As Bill an’ I moved on to Washington, we picked up a well paying job considering the times, worked a bit in the apple orchard earning 30 cents for a crate. After work some days we’d a go out an’ shoot rabbits, sold ‘em for 75 cents apiece to the skinner. We always ate; despise only being a few days older than fifteen. At times Bill an’ I went out with the other fellas to the bar. I was big for my age, sturdy built, an’ muscular with long brown hair. The barmaid came to me an’ asked “How old are you?” sensing that she was onto something I replied “Old ‘nough”. The next morning, Bill an’ I were back on the freight, no more money after the bar, an’ were so hungry that we got on the first train going by; we didn’t care if it was going back to South Dakota or not. On the way back home to South Dakota, Bill an’ I stayed in another jail for the night, warmest place in town. There was a man with long, grey, uncombed hair, missing teeth, all from the stress of trying to keep his family. The man told Bill an’ I that he shot a lawyer an’ another man that were trying to repossess his house. The convicted killer would yell “Two Years!” we’d tell him to shut up an’ his cell mate would kick his ass, soon after “Two Years!” would sound again. People were desperate; times were starting to get tougher up in the north, less work, less food, slowly wasting away. Bill and I still had each other; we kept ourselves going to Washington to get work and settle down.





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