Summer of 1954
The hot afternoon sun beat down on the backyard where I sat on the ground near the house. It was a lazy summer afternoon, but this ten-year-old had no time for napping. I was entertaining myself while Mom and Bronco took their naps. Building a mound of dirt, I scooped out the top, leaving a cavity. I poured water into the hole and watched as the parched soil soaked up the liquid. Very gently, I removed the remaining earth surrounding the wet dirt, and there was my creation of pottery. Tenderly lifting the mud bowl, I set it with the others. They would dry in the sun and in a few days they would begin to crumble and the hot dry wind would blow them back to the earth from where they had come.
The backyard was still brown and barren, except for one tree. Spring and summer had emerged upon us, but the grass was still unsown. The ranch in
Magdalena came to mind, and I wondered if we would be here long enough to plant grass. We had looked at the ’s place, and Dad and Mom were making plans to buy it. Wilson
The ranch was on the outskirts of
Magdalena and from the encircling porch, the small town could be seen in the distance. I had accepted the idea of living there. One special glimmer of interest contributed to my approval; Dad said I would have my own horse. I could envision myself in hat and saddle, a regular “ Magdalena cowgirl.”
In the fall I would be entering the fifth grade, but I didn’t know if the beginning of the year would be in Albuquerque or Magdalena.
Lifting my head, I listened. I thought I heard the doorbell...
Oh well, it probably wasn’t. I scooped the top out of another mound of dirt.
There it was again. I stood and brushed soil from my hands and legs and entered the back door. The coolness of the house was refreshing compared to the hot back yard. The rooms were quiet and serene as I walked to the front door and opened it. Three people stood on the front step: two men in suits and our neighbor lady.
“Hello,” one of the men said, as I opened the screen door, “Is your mother at home?”
“I’m sorry, but she’s taking a nap,” I said as I focused my attention on the neighbor’s face. Her countenance was strained and her complexion was white, as if all her coloring had faded away. I remembered Dad’s words, “mind your manners” and forced my focus back on the man who had spoke.
“Could you come back later?” I asked.
“No, I’m sorry,” the spokesman replied firmly, “This is very important. Please wake your mother.”
“Okay, just a minute,” I said and closed the screen door.
As I turned to walk away, I heard the door open. I glanced back and saw the three of them standing in the threshold. I felt irritation at their discourtesy. Dad wouldn’t like them entering without being invited.
Mom wouldn’t like being woke up either, I thought as I opened the bedroom door and peaked in at her sleeping form. Her back was towards me as I moved to the side of the bed. Pin curls covered her head. It was her custom to roll her hair every afternoon so it would look nice when Dad got home. Her eyelids fluttered as I gently shook her arm.
“Mom, there are some people here to see you.”
“What?” Mom asked sleepily opening her eyes.
“They want to talk to you. They say it is very important. They are already in the living room!” I said emphasizing their rudeness.
Our strange visitors were waiting for us as we entered the living room. The same man spoke again, “Mrs. Williams, we have some bad news to tell you. You may want your daughter to leave the room, and it would be best if you set down.”
There was tension building in the air, like thunderclouds before a storm. Mom was visibly shaken. She looked at me and I retreated from the room. I stood in the doorway where I could see and hear everything.
Mom sat on the edge of the gold chair. Fear was written across her face and her voice quivered, “What is it?” she asked.
“Mrs. Williams,” the spokesman verbalized with obvious regret, “I regret to tell you this, but your husband Marion M. Williams was accidentally electrocuted this afternoon while working on a power line.”
My heart gripped, as in a vise, and my breathing slowed until it was almost still. The scene before my eyes was unreal, as if actions were deliberately in slow motion. In this one circle of time, all of life came to a shocking halt.
Mom stared at the spokesman and said with hopeful unbelief,
“No! You have the wrong man! You’ve made a mistake!”
I’m sorry Mrs. Williams; I wish it was a mistake.”
“No! No! It has to be a mistake!” Mom’s voice tore from her very soul.
The neighbor lady walked over and put her arm around Mom’s shaking body. “I’m so sorry Wanda,” she said softly.
I stood frozen in the doorway. I’m not sure how long I stood there. I can’t remember ever moving, but I must have because soon the house was filled with relatives and neighbors.
Grandma Underwood came, and I stayed close to her. When she sat on the couch, I leaned against her. I felt secure with her arm around me. When she got up from the couch and left me sitting there, I felt empty and lonely.
Aunt Ruby arrived and there was another arm around me. When she took it away, I wanted to say “Please put it back,” but I didn’t. If someone had offered me a lap to curl up in I might have taken it; but I was ten years old and not a baby any more.
Mom stayed in her bedroom most of the time. I stood outside the door. I could here her crying and moaning, “Slim, oh Slim.”
I went to Grandma.
“She’s alright Gloria,” Grandma comforted, as she saw my concern, “She needs time by herself, and she needs to cry.”
Why didn’t I cry? Didn’t I care? Everyone else cried, but I just stayed dry eyed with a pain in my heart. I followed Grandma into the kitchen. I didn’t want to be alone. I felt confused, without any bearings. Our world had crashed in one day, and I was scared!
When Mom came out of the bedroom, she left for the funeral home. I sat on the couch, in the living room, and watched people come and go.
Dishes of food covered the oblong oak table in the kitchen, but no one ate. Time passed; darkness settled in; lights were turned on in the house; and the door kept opening and closing with neighbors, relatives and friends. A deep sadness prevailed over all.
Mom returned. She was tired and appeared haggard. After talking a few minutes with friends, she entered the bedroom and shut the door.
An arm wrapped around my shoulder and I gazed up into Grandma Underwood’s face.
“Come on honey, let’s get you to bed. Bronco’s been asleep for hours and you need some sleep too.”
She helped me get ready for bed, tucked in the covers and kissed my forehead.
“You rest, everything will be better in the morning,” Grandma said as she left the room.
I lay in my bed and watched the images of relatives talking and comforting each other in the well-lit living room.
The bedroom was dark, and I was alone.
The bedroom was dark, and I was alone.