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Waves in the River
I really hope that people will understand child struggles in the Great Depression
“Mother! No! I can’t leave! I can’t go all the way to New York!”
I shout at my mother, who had told me the most upsetting news ever since I turned 16.
“Edward, we are doing what is best for the family. Father and I decided it is the best for you and Margaret to go to New York.” my mother tried to get me to agree, but I can not leave my little Joseph behind.
“Margaret is only 13! She can’t travel alone!”
I try to counter back but it doesn’t work.
“That is why she is traveling with you. Go and start packing a bag. Help Margaret too.”
“Fine, Mother.” I go into my room that I share with my little brother, Joseph. He means the world to me. I might be 11 years older than him but that does not mean we can have an unbreakable bond.
“Edward! Come play with me! Please!” Joseph shouts from outside the tiny window in the room. “Let's play tag!”
I hesitated. I did not know whether to agree to play with Joseph because I had to do so much to get ready to be able to go to New York with Margaret.
“Ok, Joseph! I will be out very soon!” I shouted back to him. I could not just leave him alone knowing that I may never see him again.
I started to sneak outside because I knew Mother would not approve of my choice I had made.
“Edward James Jones! What are you doing! You know you should be packing, not sneaking outside to play with your brother.” Mother scolded me. I knew this would happen because Mother must have eyes on every part of her body.
“But Mother! I may never get to see Joseph again!” I plead with her.
At that sentence, my mother breaks into tears. I go over and squeeze her as hard as possible. I know what she is thinking. She could lose her baby boy.
“Edward … my baby … I … can’t … let you … go!” she says between tears. “You … will get … hurt out there!”
“Hush, Mother. It will be alright.” I try to stay calm about this even though I do not want to leave my family behind. “I will make you proud. I promise.”
“Edward, where are you going?’ Joseph inquires me, unaware about the life changing event that was happening today.
“I am going to go away for a little while Joseph. I will be back soon. I promise you. You keep running to practice our games of tag.” I have tears in my eyes but I brush them away quickly. I do not want my family to think they made the wrong choice. I grab Margaret by the hand and pull her on the bus that pulled up just seconds earlier. I give her a quick debrief of what I am expecting of her.
“Margaret, we are in this together. No one goes anywhere without the other. I am losing Joseph and I am not losing you too. Please do not talk to anyone unless I am there with you. I do not want to lose you like we are losing Mother, Father and Joseph. Now, lets wave goodbye.” I look out the window like a little kid and wave my hand vigorously to show that I will miss my family dearly. And with that, Margaret and I are on our way from our little town of Cincinnati, Ohio to the Big Apple of New York City.
“Everyone off! This is the last stop on this bus! Next bus to New York leaves in … 2 hours!” the bus driver calls from the front of the bus, waking everyone but my sister up.
“Margaret! Let’s go look at the rivers!” I shake her awake, “We have to get off the bus anyway, so why not go explore!”
“But Edward, I do not want to get hurt. I feel like it’s not a good idea,” she tries to persuade me that it is a bad idea but I do not like to be told what to do.
“We will be fine!” I assure her.
“I guess I have to follow what you say,” Margaret says under her breath.
We head off toward the three rivers that meet in Pittsburgh — the Ohio River, the Allegheny River and the Monongahela River. They were beautiful! The midday light hitting them ever so nicely! I went up a little closer, just to see how deep the Monongahela was. I had never seen such clear waters!
“Edward, I do not think you should be up that close. I do not want to have to rescue you from the rushing rivers,” Margaret cautions me but I do not listen. I should have listened. My fearlessness took over my whole body. And water took over my whole body.
I gasp for air and reach for Margaret’s hand that appeared in my line of sight. I struggle to grasp it, as my hands are slippery.
“Edward! Hold on! Please … not … leave…” I do not hear anymore. My world goes black right after Margaret grabs my wrist.
“I watched the whole thing. I told him not to go in the water. I told him it was too dangerous. He did not listen. I knew he would not listen. He is too independent.” I open my eyes to hear Margaret telling a woman those words.
“I let her down. I can not be a big brother anymore. We have to go home.”
Those words repeated through my head as I closed my eyes again.
“Margaret, we need to keep going for Mother and Father.” something that sounds kind of like my voice says. I have absolutely no clue where those words came from. But then everyone is looking at me!
“You can not keep going a couple more hours,” the woman says, “You have a concussion and some small but deep gashes on your knees.”
“I can handle a couple hours of waiting. I can not disappoint Mother and Father.” I state, very strongly.
“If you can wait, then I will buy tickets for the 5:00 pm bus to New York. We can go on that bus and be in New York by tomorrow morning.” Margaret heads off to the ticket stand a little bit away. I go back to sleep, eager to heal for my family.
“Margaret, can I have some more water please?” I ask my sister, who has remarkable patience with me.
“Yes. Here you go.” she hands me the cup of water we bought at the last stop. “Look! New York!”
Everyone on the bus looks out the window at the buildings coming into view as our bus creeps closer and closer. The sun rises in the distance against the buildings in the eastern sky. The whole sky turns pink and red and orange. Margaret leans against me, the water cup still in her hand.
I turn to her and whisper, “I am glad you came with me on this journey.”
She looks back, “I am glad I could come.”
The bus pulls into the station just as she finishes her sentence.
“Everyone off! This is New York City! The Big Apple of the country! Enjoy!” the bus driver calls, snapping us out of our trance.
We scurry off the bus and set out on our journey to find a home and a job.
After more than 2 hours of searching for a family that could take us in for a couple months, we found a couple, not more than 20 years old, that was willing to have us stay with them. Their names were Paul and Abigail and they were wanting children but did not have the money yet. Since we were going to get a job and support ourselves, they were willing to take us in. Also, it was not permanent which they liked too.
When Margaret and I walked into the house, we both sighed. It was a very large house, with a very large open entryway, which we both knew was very uncommon in New York. The room reeked of perfume and there were fresh flowers on every table the eye could see. The kitchen was also visible from the entryway, where we saw many men around a table, including Paul, smoking cigars.
“Does it meet your standards?” Abigail asked and put her arm around us.
“Well…” Margaret started.
“It is really very beautiful! Just like our house back in Ohio,” I cut Margaret off and nudged her with my elbow.
“We appreciate your approval. We hope you enjoy your time here. Your room will be,” she paused, “upstairs. First room on the right.”
“Thank you ma’am. We thank you in advance for your kindness.” I thank Abigail and push Margaret up the stairs.
“Did anything about Abigail seem odd to you?” I ask Margaret when we get safely in our room, with the door closed.
“No. She seemed very nice.” Margaret answers confidently. “I have always wanted a woman in my life that was not Mother.”
“You do not go telling her all of our deepest darkest secrets. I do not have a very good feeling about this place. Paul seems okay, I guess. I just do not really think this will last very long. Should we go out to look for work?” I tell Margaret my feelings.
“Yes. The sooner we get a job, the sooner we can go back to Mother, Father and Joseph.” Margaret has clearly kept my feelings inside her too.
Never in my life would I have thought that I would be a coal miner and Margaret would be a seamstress. Margaret is the worst sewer I have seen in a long time. A couple days ago, we both got jobs. Payday is tomorrow and I really hope that we have enough to go home. I really do not think that it will be enough but I always keep my hopes up.
The days in the coal mine are long and dangerous. The air is thick and you could get killed at any time of the day. Margaret also says that the textile factories are horrible too. They are very hard on her even though she is only 13 years old. They are very hard on me because you have to be under 13 to be treated like a child, and even that is not that much better than being an adult. The only reason we do our hard jobs is so we can get the money for Mother and Father.
“Edward! Maggie! Come down for supper!” Abigail calls every night.
Abigail came up with the “modern” name Maggie for Margaret because she said that Margaret was too lady - like for a 13 year old girl.
“Do you think that Abigail wants us to be the perfect children she always wanted?” I asked Margaret late that night. “She is changing your name and she is acting very strange around us.”
“I have felt the same way, Edward. I do not know whether to tell her that we feel uncomfortable.” she answered.
“I think we should but I am worried about the consequences. I have never talked back to any adult other than Mother or sometimes Father. And I think that they believe that it is normal.” I am worried about what could happen if we tell Paul and Abigail our feelings.
“I think it is better me than you because I believe that Abigail prefers me over you because I am a girl.” Margaret confesses.
“I think the same thing, Maggie.” I tease her.
We laughed ourselves to sleep that night of Thanksgiving.
That morning, Margaret woke up and shook me awake.
“Edward. I think there is something you need to see.” she whispered frantically in my ear.
“What is it? I’m sleeping!” I whisper-shout like a big brother would.
“Look at Abigail in the entryway.” she pointed down the stairs to…
“She is talking to the mayor! Why would she be doing that?” I half shout.
“I do not know but I have a feeling that it is not good.” Margaret whispers back.
We head down the stairs very silently and listen to Abigail’s conversation with the Mayor. I look closer and realize the police are there too! I have absolutely no clue what is going on but I have a feeling it has to do with us.
“Edward,” Margaret whispers.
“Shh,” I whisper back, “I’m listening.”
“Edward,” Margaret whispers again, “Do not look behind you.”
I take the chance and look behind me. All I see before I grab Margaret and run are 3 big men that do not look friendly.
“Margaret! Run!” I scream.
We run down the stairs, not even bothering to grab our bags that have all of our clothes and our paper and pens to write to Mother and Father. We run out the door, past Abigail, past the mayor, past the police and run to a dark alley.
“Who were those people?” Margaret asks me, gasping for air.
“Shh. Do not talk. It will take all of your breath away.” I calm her.
We sit in silence for a little while. Then we both realize that not everything in the world can be solved by sitting in an alley.
“We have to go to work.” I demand. “We need to be there for payday. I think we should have $20 combined. That should be enough to make Mother and Father proud if we leave today.”
“Edward. I can not go back to that filthy place!” Margaret yells at me.
“Go. Do it for Mother and Father and Joseph.” I demand again.
We both head our separate ways, agreeing to meet back in this alley after work.
“Margaret?” I yell into the vanishing sun. I told her to meet in the alley after work but she has not shown up even though she should have been here an hour ago. I got done only a half an hour ago so Margaret should have been looking for me, not the other way around.
I go to the factory, wondering if she was told to finish something before she was able to leave. I have never been inside because they only allow women inside. I think that I would be able to pass as her Father though.
“Name. Age. Person you are here to see.” the person at the door says before I am even able to walk in.
I hesitate for just a moment. “William,” I say, using my father’s name, “age 39. I am here for Margaret Jones.”
“You sure?” the man asks.
“Yes.” I answer confidently.
“Tell Margaret Jones to come down here.” he tells the lady just inside of the door.
I wait a couple minutes and then Margaret walks out the door.
“Margaret! Where have you been?” I half yell.
“Shhh. My head really hurts. They did not like my work today.” she whispered, “Let’s go home to Mother and Father and Joseph. I have money but not as much as promised.”
“Come on then.” I pull at her.
“Can I leave? My wife will be expecting us.” I say to the man.
“Yes. Go home.” he demands.
We walk away from the factory in silence. I look at Margaret a couple times and she looks very weak. She has to stop a couple times on the way back to the alley.
“Are you okay, Margaret?” I ask her every time she has to stop.
“Yes. I’m fine.” she says every time.
We get on a bus back to Ohio with Margaret breathing very hard and almost all of our money spent.
“Margaret. Are you sure that you are fine?” I ask her for the seventh time.
“No. I am not fine. I can hardly breathe and I am constantly tired and I am cold all the time and it hurts to talk so please leave me alone.”
Margaret wakes up after a couple hours of sleep gasping for air. I quickly open a window, thinking that fresh air might help. It only makes it worse. I give her water and that helps a little bit but not much.
“Edward! Help … ask … doctor! Diphtheria … I think.” she says when she has air.
“Stop the bus! We need some medical help! My sister can not breathe!” I scream, waking everyone up. I do not care. My sister is dying.
The driver stops the bus and a couple other people and I carry Margaret to the nearest person that we see.
Margaret is still having trouble breathing but the man we saw had some medical experience. That was a miracle. He gave her some treatments that he knew about and I know that we will make it home.
“I am sorry that I put you through such a scare, Edward.” Margaret confesses.
“I am sorry that I had to take you along and put you through such a scare.” I confess back.
Again, we look into the setting sun, lean against each other and say,
“I am glad that you are mine.”