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Chapter 2: Scene 6: Remembering Dad


       I sink back on the couch and imagine a rabbit running, only it's a jackrabbit, running across the field behind our place. Not exactly ours. It belongs to Pete and Red now. Red says my great-grandfather built it, with boards he milled himself. It's an old house, white once, rained and snowed on enough years to make it gray.

       I remember the first time I ran away from the ranch . It was five years ago last summer, the day after I got a bike from my mom for my birthday. It was an old-fashioned bike, kind of banged up, but new to me. I had to pedal backwards to work the brakes and the only gear it had was pedal harder. I loved that bike. The only other thing I got was a card from Pete and Red, one with a big 10 on it. That was back in the days when we all talked decent to each other sometimes.

       Then, the morning after my birthday -- it was one of those great blue-sky days in July and the sun was already hot -- I walked down to the road to pick up the mail. I found a square yellow envelope with my name on it. No return address, but the postmark said Harlow Junction . That isn't really a town; it's a crossroads near the ranch where our county road meets the freeway and an on-ramp to a bridge over the Columbia River . The only people who live there run the truck stop and a grocery store with a little post office in the back.

       I stood at the mailbox, turning the yellow envelope over a couple of times before I opened it. On the front of the card was a kid on a trike. He had a ten-gallon hat on and he wore a toy gun in a holster. I saw it was from my dad. Right then I got mad, because my mom knew I was old enough to ride a two-wheeler and my dad still thought I was a little kid. He printed in it, like I couldn't read regular writing, "Happy Birthday, Cowboy. Love, your Dad, Johnny." Cowboy is what he used to call me when he still lived with us.

       A note and a twenty-dollar bill fell out, and I got real excited because I thought it was for my birthday until I read the note.


Dear Marilyn, Thursday is my last day on the job here.
I heard of a freeway job in Texas. I leave on Friday. Should last
six months or more. This twenty is all I can spare until I get a
paycheck down there.
Say Hi to the kids. Johnny.

ThinkLink: Have you ever had an unhappy birthday?

       Pete'd gone to town to pick up a part for the tractor and he drove up while I was blubbering because all I got from my dad was a little kid's card a day late. I dried my eyes off real quick, but he gave me a funny look, figuring something was up. He grabbed the mail from me through the pickup window.

       "Your old man take off again?" He never has had a good word for Johnny, but it makes me mad when he's right.

       "You can go to hell," I told him. I'd learned early to hand him right back what he dished out.

       "Feisty little brat, ain't you?" He reached his hand through the window and batted at my head. He missed, but he laughed, so I guessed he was in a pretty good mood because he was right about Johnny again.

ThinkLink: Did you ever feel like running away from home? Did you?

       The next morning I got a map out of the pocket in the door of the pickup . Red had showed me once where we are on the map and where the Columbia River is. I looked along the river until I found Harlow Junction . It was only a couple of inches away. Back in the house I told Mom I wanted to go exploring on my new bike over by Deadman's Creek , a mile or so down the road from our place. "Should be all right," she said. "The creek's dry now and you can't get lost if you keep to the road. Don't stay away long."

       I peddled right past Deadman's Creek . Red told me it was named that because some early settlers crossed the creek right there. They found a dead man face down in the water. No one knew who he was, so they just buried him there and named the creek after him. Deadman. Red knows all sorts of stories like that. Sometimes I think he makes them up, but later I'll hear them again from one of the men waiting around down at the hardware store in town.

       I rode and rode what seemed all day, but the sun was still hot and pretty high overhead. I pumped up one little hill and coasted down the other side and then up the next one, sure I'd gone most of the way. Finally, I saw a man standing along the side of the road next to his mailbox.

       "How far to Harlow Junction ?"

       "Oh, twelve, thirteen miles to the river, then another ten or so to the Junction. You're not planning on riding that thing all the way to the river, are you?"

ThinkLink: What is the furthest you have ever been from home on your own?

       I shook my head. My shirt and pants stuck to me. Sweat made tracks down the dust on my face and I couldn't pedal that bike one more turn. I felt like I'd never see my dad again if I didn't catch him before he left, but I knew I wasn't going to make it. I asked the man to call the ranch and see if someone would come and get me. Before too long, Red showed up with the pickup . I told him I was exploring, looking for signs of the early settlers and I went too far. He thought that was pretty funny. "Well, you missed eating," he said. "We waited for you, like one hog waits for another." He hoo-hawed out loud. He talks like that a lot, like Grandpa used to. I guess he thinks we still live in the Old West .

       Red hardly said a thing more about me being gone all day: I got bawled out good by Mom, though, who was scared when I didn't come home, and by Pete, who likes to tell people off whatever the reason. Nobody guessed I was running away or trying to find my dad. But I figured then that someday I would find him and I'd get him to come back home to us.

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