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Excerpt – Surviving the Sand
Dad’s eyes danced. His grin held happiness . . . hope. “We’re home!” he announced.
Mom stared out the pickup window. Silent. Lifeless.
Scattered tufts of skinny grass and small grayish-green bushes surrounded us. The land lay flat in every direction as far as I could see.
Sixteen-year-old Emma looked front and back. She gazed side to side. Brow furrows deepened. Finally, her dumbfounded question exploded the silence. “Where’s the house?”
“There!” thirteen-year-old Frank declared with pride and smug wisdom. He pointed to a shed.
I gawked. It wasn’t even big enough to hold our beds. This didn’t look like home to me!
The only home I’d known was a comfortable white house with red geraniums in window boxes. Home sat in the mountains of Oregon’s Coast Range. Home was surrounded by fragrant fir and pine forests full of colorful wildflowers. From our backyard we could see a waterfall cascade over a sheer cliff. Home was beautiful.
What was happening? How could Dad call this home?
It had been only a few weeks since Dad had disrupted the peace and beauty that had been our home in western Oregon for all of my seven years. That evening, supper had been a normal meal with family banter . . . until Dad dropped his bombshell. “I’ve got some news!” he proclaimed.
Frank quit teasing Emma. Her evil-eye glare at him melted. We all looked at Dad.
“We’re going to move,” he proclaimed. His voice had a lilt, like when he announced an upcoming family picnic or a trip over the mountains to the beach.
Move? I wondered. We were all moving—spooning soup to our mouths—until he stopped us.
“Yes!” Dad’s eyes sparkled. “You’ve heard me tell story after story about growing up on my grandpa and grandma’s farm in southern Idaho. I’ve wanted to farm ever since. Through the years we’ve made a living logging and running a sawmill. But, this close to the Oregon coast, we get a lot of rain! After I slog through the mud, my hip and back pain is getting unbearable.”
The only sounds were eight-month-old Hazel’s fingernails scraping on her highchair tray . . . and Dad’s excited voice.
“Finally, we have our chance to farm!”
Silence hung in the air for only a moment. “Where?” Frank asked. “When are we moving? What do . . .”
“Slow down,” Dad interrupted. “I can’t answer that fast.” He grinned. “We’re going to the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project . . .”
That meant nothing to me. By the blank looks on Frank’s and Emma’s faces, it probably didn’t mean much to them either. Mom’s face showed no expression. Her eyes looked darker than usual. I couldn’t begin to guess what she was thinking.
“. . . in southeastern Washington,” Dad continued. “About three hundred miles east and a little north of here. The place is pretty much a desert now, according to what I’ve read. But the government built Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River in northern Washington. Now they’ve dug canals so irrigation water can flow hundreds of miles to lots of farms. And they’re selling farms to veterans.”
“But you didn’t go to war, did you?” Frank asked.
“No, I didn’t. I helped the war effort by working with my folks on their farm.”
“So, how’s this affect us?” Frank persisted.
Dad held up his hands as if to slow the barrage. “Here’s how. Your Uncle Max was in the navy. When I read about the farms, I told him. He said, ‘I don’t want to farm.’ And I said, ‘That’s what I thought. But how about if you apply for a farm? If you get it, I’ll farm it.’
“So he applied for eighty acres. And he got it!” Dad’s eyes lit up even brighter. “So we’re moving out of the rain! We’re going to the sunshine!” He paused. “Remember the stories we’ve read about early pioneers?”
“Yeah,” Emma and Frank agreed.
“Well, this will be kind of like pioneering,” Dad said. He paused. His smile disappeared and his eyes narrowed. “Money will be tight at first,” he said, “but we’ll sell our place here.” He smiled again. “Then, this fall we’ll harvest our crops and have the farm income.” He chuckled. “Yep,” he assured us, “we’ll break sod and turn our little corner of the desert into a productive farm!”
Frank’s eyes sparkled like he was catching Dad’s enthusiasm. Emma looked bewildered. “So, when are we moving?”
“Right after Frank graduates from eighth grade.”
One of Emma’s eyebrows crooked up. “That’s only a couple weeks away.”
“Yep.” Dad grinned. “Got to get crops planted this spring so we can have a harvest this fall.” He paused, then went on. “So, you’re going to need to help Mom pack.”
The next morning Dad brought a pile of boxes into the kitchen. “What are all the boxes for?” I asked Mom.
“So we can take our things with us when we move.”
“But we don’t usually take this much stuff when we go for a trip.”
Mom sat down on a kitchen chair and motioned me close. “We’re not just going on a trip,” she said. “We’re going to go live in a different place.”
I looked around the kitchen. “We won’t come home?”
“No, we’ll live in a new place.”
“Will we take our house with us?”
“No.” She sighed. “I wish we could.”
The next couple weeks went by in a blur. Dad parked the big 1946 army-green Chevy truck next to the shop. Previously it had been used to haul logs or logging equipment. Dad and Frank built rails on the sides of the truck’s flat bed. Then they loaded it with tools and rough-sawed boards. In the house, we filled boxes with our belongings.
As the days passed, we visited friends and relatives spread around Gilbert Creek and Gopher Valley—there were more hugs than usual when we left each family. For some reason, Mom didn’t smile as much as usual.
Personally, I told my troubles to Smokey. The big, woolly dog’s eyes were clouded with years—years full of giving love to and being loved by every family member. Even though he was nearly deaf, telling him all about the upcoming move comforted me.
Frank graduated on a Tuesday evening. Early the next morning, Dad double-checked that the load on the truck was fastened down well. After breakfast, he and Frank crawled into the truck and drove off.
Mom and Emma kept packing boxes. A week after Dad and Frank left, they returned.
“Got the place ready for habitation,” Dad said.
“What’s it like?” Emma asked.
“Kinda flat and kinda dry,” Dad answered. “But we’ll make a farm out of it.”
“And we built a house!” Frank enthused. “And there’s pavement. We built the house on an old airstrip. I even found a bomb!”
Mom’s eyes popped wide open. “You found what?”
Frank’s eyes sparkled. “A bomb!”
“Don’t worry,” Dad said. “They aren’t live bombs. Just practice bombs filled with water to simulate the weight and fall of a real bomb. It was for training navy pilots during World War II. No planes landing there now and no bombs falling.”
Mom looked at Dad with a strange expression.