A Place of Our Own

By Joy N. Hulme

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    It’s awful to be the first one to know good news and not be able to tell it.

    When I heard Papa telling Mama that we were going to move to New Mexico, I was so excited I wanted to talk to Caroline and Ed and everyone else about it. But talking was something I couldn’t do. No matter how hard I tried to make the words come out, my tongue did not work right and the sounds were garbled and mushy, not sharp and clear the way I was thinking them. Only my brother Ed could tell what I meant most of the time.

    Because I couldn’t talk, I wasn’t allowed to go to school. Caroline was in the third grade already and Ed in first. I had a hard time filling in the long hours until they came home. One day when I was playing behind the sofa, dressing and undressing my doll, I overheard Papa and Mama talking. I really paid close attention when I heard Papa tell Mama that their prayers to have a place of their own had finally been answered. “Just think, hon,” Papa was saying, “160 acres of our own to raise anything we want. We’ll grow corn, cantaloupe, potatoes, beans, tomatoes, and even some watermelons for dear Dora. She loves them so. We’ll have cows for milk and pigs for pork, chickens—”

    “Is there a school?” Mama asked anxiously. “I want the children to go to school.”

    “Just down the road a ways—close enough to walk to, I’m sure.”

    “What about church?”

    “Don’t worry about church,” Papa laughed. “It was some LDS folk down there that wrote to President Smith and told him about the available land. There’s already a meetinghouse in Harmony, and even if there wasn’t, there’s enough people going from here to start a ward—over eighty.”

    “That many?”

    “Figure it out. Twelve families, each with at least five children. That’s the requirement. I guess they figure anyone with that many children won’t pick up and leave.”

    “Is anyone we know going?”

    “The Coldwells and the Lenstroms.”

    “No better folks than that anywhere. It sure would be nice to have room for the little ones to run. Is there a house?”

    “Has to be. Someone has been living there. I imagine it will need some fixing up if they lost it by default.”

    “Could that happen to us?”

    “Of course not. That only happens if you’re shiftless and lazy. All we have to do is make the land productive and live there. After seven years it’s ours, free and clear. Oh, it’ll take lots of work, but we’re young and strong. We’ve got the boys to help me, and you and the girls can have a garden and bottle food for the winter. I tell you, hon, it’s the chance of a lifetime.”

    “It’ll be nearly a year before we can bring in a crop,” Mama reminded him. “How can we manage until then?”

    “We’ll have some money from selling our things, and I can get some bricklaying jobs. Even homesteaders need chimneys and fireplaces.”

    “The winter’s ahead and we can’t take much with us,” Mama warned.

    “Yes, but that far south is bound to be warm even in the winter. It’ll be good not to be shoveling snow.”

    No snow! I thought. I’ll miss lying down in it and leaving a snow angel shape by brushing my arms and legs up and down to make the wings. And I’ll miss the noisy chase of fox and geese games and the sleigh rides with bells jangling on the horses’ harnesses.

    Still and all, to take the whole family and move to a different state where there would be room to grow watermelons seemed like such an exciting thing to do that I almost couldn’t breathe thinking about it. I couldn’t wait till Ed came home. What I couldn’t get him to understand, he’d find out from Mama and Papa, and I knew he’d take me with him to tell all our friends.

    At church on Sunday everyone was talking about the call to go to New Mexico. Brother Golden took me on his lap as usual, and while I brushed and braided his long red beard, he talked to Mama and Papa about the best place to buy a good cover for the wagon. I remembered the first time that he’d picked me up several years before, and I’d reached up to feel his stiff, prickly beard.

    “Do you like it?” he asked.

    “Can’t you get rid of it?” I tried to say. He must have thought my mumble meant yes because he just laughed, patted my head, and said, “You’re an angel.”

    I wasn’t much of an angel, but maybe I looked a little like one because I had a headful of yellow curls, blue eyes, and a smile that made a dimple hole in my cheek.

    When I went to Sunday School class that day my teacher was giving out red leather Bibles to some of the children who had 100 percent attendance for a year. I wanted one of those Bibles so bad I could hardly stand it, but there was no way I could get one now. I’d be gone in less than a month.

    After class I went up to the front of the room just to look at the one beautiful book that was left. As I reached up to touch it, the teacher turned around from cleaning the blackboard and looked at me.

    “You’re moving away, aren’t you, Dora?” she said.

    I nodded my head.

    “I’ll miss you in my class. I can tell when I see you listening that you are very close to our Heavenly Father.”

    I nodded. She was right. I was close to Him. I knew He understood me even when no one else did.

    “Would you like to have that Bible to take with you?” she asked kindly.

    I bobbed my head up and down so fast I could feel my curls bouncing. She handed me the book, and I hugged it to me.

    I reached up and kissed her cheek and skipped from the room, so happy I wanted to sing.

    “Thank You, oh, thank You,” I murmured, glancing heavenward.

    Papa made me a little wooden box with a hinged lid for my birthday that October when I was seven. It was to hold my precious things to take with me, he said. I packed it and repacked it many times, trying to find the best way to get the most in; but I never could get it to hold everything I wanted to take.

    Papa and Mama were busy getting the wagon ready to go, and my friend Eileen was watching me pack the box for the last time.

    “Where do you think the best place is for the chickens?” Mama asked.

    “Chickens?” Papa said. “We’re not taking any chickens.”

    “Of course we are. Three or four of the best layers and Caroline’s rooster, so we can raise some chicks in the spring and maybe a couple of hens to eat along the way.”

    Papa sighed. When Mama had that sound in her voice, he knew it was no use to argue.

    “I guess we can put them in a crate and tie it to the side behind the washtubs. You’d better put chicken feed on your list.”

    “I already did.”

    “I think I’ve figured out how to load the stove so we can cook on it while we’re traveling,” Papa told her.

    “That’ll come in handy. Will we have plenty of water?”

    “Four barrels: two in front and two behind. That should be enough to get us through the driest places.”

    I carefully placed the soft leather Bible in one end of my box. Pressed between its pages were beautiful red leaves I had gathered from the autumn trees. I’d tied a string round and round both ways so they wouldn’t fall out. I dropped the seeds in next, in the little crack that was left behind the book: two red beans and four watermelon seeds and then the long strand of tiny glass beads I had strung myself. Sister Johnson had given them to me in a slim bottle with a cork one day when Mama was visiting her. While they talked, I had picked up the beads one at a time with the thin needle and slipped them along the thread, choosing the colors to suit me as I went.

    I tried to fold the doll quilt small enough to fit into the box, but it was no use. I handed it to Eileen instead and indicated it was to be hers.

    “For keeps?” she asked, and I nodded my head.

    She rubbed it against her cheek. I’d made it by sewing together scraps from the new baby clothes, and I knew I could stitch another after we’d moved.

    “Will the doll fit?” she wanted to know, and I answered by placing Henrietta on the soft bed I’d made with her folded flannel nightie. Henrietta was a beautiful painted-eye doll with china head, hands, and feet, and a stuffed cloth body. Some girls had shut-eye dolls, but I wouldn’t have traded because I loved Henrietta.

    “What about those?” Eileen asked, pointing to the rest of my treasures beside her on the step.

    I shook my head and handed them to her one by one—an old hat and pair of shoes I used to play dress-up, some more doll clothes, a worn-out Mother Goose book. When I came to the bag of marbles, I dumped them out, selected five or six of my favorites, and pushed them into the folds of the doll dresses in the box. The rest I returned to the bag and gave to Eileen.

    After she ran off home with her hands full, I noticed again the pain in my head. It had started two or three days before as a tender spot behind my right ear and now was a sore and throbbing lump. I went inside to talk to Heavenly Father and ask Him to make it better.

    By morning I was burning up with fever and crying with pain. Mama took one look at the spot I pointed to and said, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner? We’ll have to get you to a doctor fast!”

    The doctor decided just as quickly that he should lance the boil, and before long he had drained it.

    “There, doesn’t that feel better?” the doctor asked.

    I tried to say it sure did, but he couldn’t understand my mumble.

    “Can’t this child talk?” he asked Mama.

    “Not too good,” she said.

    He took a look in my mouth and said, “Why, she’s tongue-tied! This should have been taken care of a long time ago. It’s a very simple procedure.”

    He explained to me that my tongue was fastened down on the bottom where it should not be. All he had to do was cut it loose a little, and then I’d be able to talk like everyone else. I couldn’t believe it.

    For a few minutes life was wonderful. The pain was gone in my head and the doctor could help me talk. When we get to our home in New Mexico, I’ll be talking like everyone else, I dreamed. I can go to school with Ed and, best of all, no one will tease me.

    I did not know yet that it would take lots of pain and effort before I could talk and years of hard work before we had a place of our own.

    The doctor asked Mama when would be a good time for the operation, and she said, “You’d better do it now; we’re leaving tomorrow.”

    (To be continued.)

    Illustrated by Paul Mann