A Place of Our Own

By Joy N. Hulme

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    It was hot—too hot to do anything but think about how to get cool. The grass-hoppers were popping from spot to spot like sprinkles on a hot griddle, and the grass along the roadside was singed brittle and brown.

    Papa liked the hot weather. He said it was good for the crops.

    “I think I’ll just walk down to the field and listen to the corn grow,” he announced after breakfast. “Anyone want to come along?”

    “Not me,” I said. “It’s too hot.”

    “Me neither,” Ed agreed.

    “What are you going to do, hon?” he asked Mama.

    “As long as it’s miserable anyway, I figure I might as well do a hot job and get it over with,” she said. “I’m going to make apple butter from the windfalls the kids picked up last night. I’ll save my resting time for a day when I can enjoy it.”

    “Do you ever have any resting time?” Papa wanted to know.

    “Not much,” she answered. “‘A man works from sun to sun, but women’s work is never done.’”

    Then turning to me, she said, “Dora, if you’ll just wash the bottles for me, you can go play when you’re through.”

    Washing the bottles was a nice sloshy job in the sudsy water and usually good to cool me off, but today the effort left me sticky and uncomfortable. I sat down under a tree and leaned against the rough bark. How I longed for a nice drink of cool water. The drinking water in the barrel got warm so fast in hot weather that it was no use to try to keep it cool. I looked up idly at our water tank. The water was always cool after the windmill pumped it from deep in the ground. If I climb up the ladder with a cup, I mused, I could have my drink. But I didn’t want to move. I just wanted to lie in the shade of the tank with a little trickle of cool water running into my mouth. If I had a long, thin tube, I thought, I could siphon it out and do just that. I could even let it drip over me and cool me off. But I’ve never seen a small one like I need. What can I makeone with? Straw? Not big enough, probably, and not long enough, either, unless I slide one length inside the other.

    “I know,” I almost shouted. “Onion stems!” There were long, hollow ones in the garden holding up the fat white blooms, tapered just enough that the top of one would slide into the bottom of the next one. It would take a lot of stems to reach all the way to the top of the tank, but we had a big onion patch.

    I forgot how hot I was and ran to make my long green pipe. Then I climbed with it to the top of the tank. I had separated it a few links short of the top and sucked up enough water to start the siphon action when I accidentally let the long piece fall to the ground. That meant another trip down the ladder to get it and one up to connect it again. By the time my refreshing onion-flavored drink was flowing, I was nearly melted with the heat. I lay under the tank and let the water drip over me and into my mouth. What luxury! A little breeze danced by and already I felt cooler. I didn’t want to move—ever—just lie there and guide the end of the hose around to cool me off.

    I drizzled water over me until my hair had shrunk into corkscrew curls and my clothes were damp. I was cool as a cucumber. I guess I smelled a little like a pickle too. Whenever I’d had enough water for a while, I’d shut it off by tying a knot in the end of the onion stem. Soon this one section was wearing out and I needed to replace it.

    “Dora … Dora!” Ed was calling me in his coaxing voice. That usually meant he wanted me to do something for him. I dropped my spigot and walked over to where he was.

    “We’re going to go swimming. Do you want to go with us?”

    “Nah, I don’t want to.” I started to walk away.

    “How come you never want to swim?” he asked.

    “I don’t like drowning. That’s why.”

    “You’ve never drowned yet,” he reminded me.

    “I don’t intend to either,” I told him. “Even if I did go swimming, it wouldn’t be a hundred miles up in the air where you can’t climb out on the ground.”

    “Ah, come on, Dora,” he coaxed. “We need you for a lookout so we don’t get caught.”

    “What’ll you give me?”

    “A pretty bottle. I found one where Papa was digging. Been buried a long time, and it’s purple.”

    “I don’t believe it.”

    “Will you come?”

    Why not? I thought. “If it’s as pretty as you say,” I finally agreed.

    He pulled a piece of lavender colored glass from his pocket.

    “It’s broken,” I said.

    “Didn’t say it wasn’t,” he replied. “But just look at the color when the light shines through it.”

    He was right. It was beautiful.

    It was a long walk to the swimming spot we had found on the other edge of town. I guess it was worth it to the boys, who liked to be sweating hot when they climbed up the side and dropped into the cool water of the tank that stood by the tracks to fill the tenders of the train locomotives when they came by.

    All my coolness had evaporated in the heat, and I stood waiting for the boys in the shade below the tank. I was grateful for any breeze that stirred the air to cool me off, and I kicked back the hot sand with my bare feet to see if there were a cooler spot underneath.

    “When are you coming down?” I shouted up. I was answered only by loud splashes and playful laughing. They didn’t hear me. They didn’t even hear the mournful wail of the faraway train whistle or my shouts of “Train’s coming!”

    They did hear the wild shriek of the brakes, though, as the engine shuddered to a stop. The sudden suspension of splashing in the tank told me that. I knew it was too late for them to climb out now without being caught, so I hid down in the shadows and tried to look invisible.

    The engineer jumped out and turned on the spigot to fill the water tender on his train. If he noticed me, he ignored me. Soon he closed the valve, climbed back in the engine, and with a double toot of the whistle was on his way again.

    After the train sounds died away, Ed shouted down, “Turn some more water into the tank.”

    “What for? Aren’t you wet enough already?” I teased.

    “So we can get out. That train drank half the water, and we can’t reach the top.”

    “Can’t reach the bottom either,” Frank added.

    “Where’s the tap?” I asked, looking around for it. I could only see the one the engineer used to drain the tank.

    “I don’t know,” Ed shouted impatiently, “but find it!”

    Finally I found another valve. But the tap had been shut off by stronger hands than mine. “I’m not strong enough,” I cried.

    “Oh, come on,” Ed encouraged. “Try harder.”

    “Why don’t you stand on each other’s shoulders?” I suggested.

    “We tried that, and it doesn’t work. We still can’t reach.”

    “Climb up the sides then.”

    “It’s too slippery,” Ed called.

    “Go get Papa,” Frank insisted.

    “He’ll be mad,” I reminded him.

    “He sure will,” Ed said, reconsidering.

    Finally, however, there seemed to be no other solution, so I started off on a run to find Papa.

    I was stumbling from fatigue and panting for breath when Mr. Leslie, one of our neighbors, came along on his horse.

    “Why, what’s the matter, Dora?” he asked.

    “My brothers will drown in the water tank. They can’t get out.”

    “The train tank? They shouldn’t be in there.”

    “I know they shouldn’t, but they are. They were swimming and the train came along and took most of the water. Now they can’t reach the top to get out and I can’t turn on the tap and they’ll drown.”

    “There, there, now calm down. We’ll get them out,” Mr. Leslie said soothingly. “I have my rope right here.” He reached down and pulled me up behind him on the horse, and we loped all the way back to the tank.

    “Ed?” I called to the silence that had settled down as we rode up. “Mr. Leslie’s going to turn on the water.”

    When the water started running into the tank in a slow trickle, Mr. Leslie climbed up and pulled the boys out one at a time with the rope. When they were all out and scrambling into their clothes, Ed asked Mr. Leslie, “You aren’t going to tell Papa about this, are you?”

    “Can’t think of any reason why not,” Mr. Leslie replied.

    “ ’Cause he’ll whip us good,” Frank said.

    “A little whippin’ never hurt any boy that I know of,” Mr. Leslie teased.

    “He’ll never let us go swimming again,” Frank pleaded.

    “It’ll save us a lot of trouble if you could just forget this happened,” Ed suggested. “We’re willing to pay by working for you. We’ll both pull weeds for you for half a day.”

    “I’ll help too,” I offered.

    The next morning when we got up Papa was waiting with a little green willow.

    “Somebody needs a whipping,” he said. I couldn’t figure out how he’d heard about swimming in the train tank so soon.

    “Come over here,” he directed, and he led us out by our water tank. “Look at that mess.” He pointed to a mire where the cows had sloshed up and down all night in the mud made by my siphon. He picked up the onion hose that had been pulled from the tank.

    “Who,” he thundered, “thought of this?”

    “I didn’t do it,” Ed said.

    “Me neither,” Frank insisted.

    “Well, I’m sure it wasn’t Georgie,” Papa said. “Dora, was it you?”

    I turned my face down so I wouldn’t have to look at his blazing eyes, and he could tell I was guilty.

    “Run along, boys,” he said. “I have some private business with Dora.”

    He had to switch me a little so I’d learn my lesson. Then when he was through he said, “That was really a smart way to get a cold drink, but it sure made a mess, didn’t it? Next time remember to turn it off.”

    (To be continued.)

    Illustrated by Paul Mann