I am very proud of my heritage. My family, especially the women, have always done what was needed to survive. Without my brave descendants, we would still be in England ruled by a family monarchy. We have escaped imprisonment, famine, traveled oceans and land to find a place to belong and live our lives free and happy. My family has benefited from their strife. We have a successful farm that we own and quite a large and happy family. As the oldest child in a large family, I help my parents as much as I can.
We see our neighbors quite often around the fence line, mending a post or searching for a runaway animal. We barter with each other to provide the other what they are missing. It is a beneficial system for us both. They have a smaller family with one son and a baby daughter. Their ancestors were some of the first groups to migrate to America during the colonial times, so they have been here a lot longer than we have. Their son, Robert, is about the same age as me. We have grown up together and know each other well. We are to be married, and our parents will be giving us small portions of their lands to start our own farm and family. Things were going pretty well.
Then in 1930, our luck began to change. The stock market crash didn’t affect us much out here in the West, but then the drought started. With the passing year, the drought affected our crops and created a storm that devastated most of what remained. Robert and our fathers decided to travel from Kansas to the big city to see what factory work they could get, while we stay behind and tried to get our farms running again. We hoped that some of us would have enough luck to find a way to survive through the next winter.
In September, four months after the men had left, we lost our last cow. With our last hope for meat for the winter, those of us still behind had a family meeting. Mary, Robert’s mother, and my mother Catherine decided it was best to pack what we needed and take our last four horses to move to Chicago where the men had gone. The last we heard from them, they were still trying to get jobs, but all hope for our farms is lost. There was no longer a reason to stay. With Mary’s little girl Hazel so small, we needed to find shelter before winter fell. So, in many ways, we once again lived up to our family name and did whatever it took to survive.
Our trip started out quite well considering there were six of us. You might even say it was boring. We avoided most of the towns choosing to sleep under the stars. None of us were a stranger to the wide-open night and knew well how to take care of ourselves. Simply put, we followed in the footsteps of our ancestors.
One week after we started our journey, my sister Grace and I had just put the fire out and tucked in for the night when I heard a small noise. Now granted in the open like this, people often hear scary noises for any number of real or imagined reasons, but I was an expert at animals and could tell it was nothing like that.
Grace turned to me and said in a whisper, “What was that?”
Putting my finger to my mouth to quiet her, we quietly rose and peeked out of our wagon. We were just in time to see two men whisking away our horses.
“Hey!” I screamed running after them. I wasn’t far behind them, and it seems that my presence had thrown them off. One of the men turned to look at me causing the horse that was latched to him to break free. Grabbing hold of the horse, I swung my shoeless foot over his bare back, and we chased after them. I followed them into the next town, but I quickly lost them without a better lay of the land. I rode through the town, but at this time of the night it was mostly quiet so I decided to head back.
When I got back to camp, everyone was up waiting on my return. I had never seen so many sullen faces, but it was this moment that I faced three at the same time.
“What are we going to do now?” my mother asked me.
“It will be okay, Catherine. We will figure something out,” Mary, my mother-in-law said. “It may take a little longer now than we expected.” And we all look down at little baby Hazel as she coos.
“No!” I say, “I followed them into the nearest town. I know they are there, but I lost them in the dark. Tomorrow we will go into the town, and we will find them, get the horses back, and get back on track to be in Chicago before it turns cold for all of our sakes.”
To be continued...
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