Centipede Wash

By Lynnette Adams Beatty

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A true storyPrayers of the faithful shall be heard (2 Ne. 26:15).

It was the summer of my sixth year. I loved to sleep in but was awakened early that Saturday morning by my mother. She reminded my sisters, brother, and me that we were going to drive out to the Barkley Ranch so that my older sister could play with her friend.

We quickly dressed while Mother filled a gallon jug with water to take with us on the trip. Mother and we four children climbed into our little gold car.

I can remember the excitement as we headed out toward the desert. None of us had ever been to the Barkley Ranch. Although I wasn’t the lucky one who would get to stay and play, at least I got to go for a ride.

Mother drove while trying to follow a few directions she had been given. It seemed forever before she finally turned off the main highway. I was sure we were almost there. We had traveled down a dirt road for several miles, when we came to and crossed a wash (the dry bed of a stream). As we continued on, the road became more treacherous. Finally, Mother decided that she had taken the wrong road. She turned the car around, and we headed back to the highway.

We soon came to the wash again and attempted to cross it. This time, the wheels of our little gold car sank deep into the sand. When the wheels just spun and spun in the sand, Mother told us that our car was stuck. I thought she was teasing us. We couldn’t get stuck out in the middle of the desert—it just wasn’t possible!

She tried again and again, but the tires just made bigger ruts in the sand. Finally she told my eight-year-old brother to steer while she got out of the car, walked around to the rear, and tried with all her might to push the car out. The car did not move.

The smell of the burning rubber made my empty stomach ache as I came to the sickening reality that we truly were stuck in the middle of the desert.

We all got out of the car and took refuge under the scanty shade of a paloverde tree. Mother took the little collapsible shovel out of the trunk and tried to dig the mounds of sand out of the way so that the wheel could roll forward.

I felt bad for her as we sat in the shade, watching her work in the heat of the morning sun. Her face was bright red, and the sweat poured off her brow as she dug and dug and dug.

We were all hopeful as she started the car, but instead of moving forward, the car’s wheels dug deeper into the sand.

Mother came over to us and told us that we needed to pray for help. We all knelt while she asked Heavenly Father to help us get our car out of the wash.

Then she sat down, and we each took a swallow of water from the gallon jug. My two-year-old sister spilled some water on her clothes. She was so thirsty, that she chewed a hole in them, trying to suck all the water out.

The sun’s scorching rays came relentlessly down on us. There was no breeze to bring relief to our sweaty faces.

Mother did not give up. She took a quilt out of the back of the car and laid it in front of the rear tires, trying to tuck the edge of it under the wheels as best she could. She was hoping the quilt would provide enough traction for the wheels to drive out of the ruts.

She again turned on the engine and pressed the gas pedal. The quilt was ripped to shreds by the spinning of the tires. It would take something much more substantial than a quilt to unwedge the wheels.

I was scared. No one knew where we were, not even our father. He had gone to the university for the summer to work on his master’s degree. I was sure that we were going to die.

Mother took the hatchet out of the car and began to chop a huge limb off a nearby mesquite tree. It was her intention to use the limb as a wedge to free the wheels. For hours, she and my big brother took turns chopping at that tree. It was hard work, and their progress was slow.

With one final chop of the hatchet, the limb fell to the ground. The limb was so big and so heavy, that they couldn’t move it. All their hard work had been in vain.

My brother was angry. He said, “Heavenly Father can’t hear us! He’s not going to answer our prayer.”

But Mother kept her faith. Again we knelt in prayer, this time much more humbly than before. Mother was exhausted and couldn’t think of any other way to get our car out. She said we had to leave it up to Heavenly Father to save us.

I watched as a centipede crawled down the bank of the wash, leaving lines in the sand behind him. I wondered why anyone or anything would choose to live in the desert with the cactus and lizards. I knew that I did not want to stay here forever. This was not a good place to die.

Our ration of water was getting low. We always had only clear water in the container for windshield wiper fluid—instead of the bought stuff, which is poisonous—so Mother poured it out of the container and into our water jug.

We were all very hungry as well as thirsty, for by then it was late afternoon. My little sister kept begging, “Baby cereal. Baby cereal.”

Suddenly Mother stood up and announced that we were going to start walking. She lifted the baby up onto her shoulders and, with our precious water in hand, headed out. The road seemed to be endless, and my legs soon felt wobbly. We took a rest alongside the road. We each drank a swallow, then got up and continued on our way.

I wondered how many miles it was to the main highway. Was it five? Was it ten? I didn’t know if I could walk that far—I didn’t know if I would make it. I tried to think of happy thoughts to take my mind off my misery, but they just wouldn’t come.

Then, far in the distance, we saw something: a truck coming down the road! I felt my heart pounding as we waved our arms in the air trying to attract the driver’s attention.

It seemed to take a lifetime for the truck to finally reach us. It belonged to a cattle rancher and was filled with his ranch hands. The rancher told us he thought at first we were cattle. Since he knew there should not be cattle where we were, he had driven down the road to investigate.

We all climbed into his truck, and they gave us cold water from their water cooler. I can still remember how good it tasted! Then he drove us back to the wash, a place where I was hoping to never go again. He had his men hook a tow chain to the front of our car and then push from the back. As the rancher drove his truck forward, our car, almost effortlessly, followed behind.

With smiles of relief, we thanked the men and headed for home. We had spent ten long hours out in the desert sun. We were weak from exhaustion.

When home at last, I guzzled glass after glass of delicious, wonderful water. I drank until I felt I was going to float away on a sea of happiness.

After we had rested and regained our strength, my mother asked us if we thought Heavenly Father had answered our prayers. Yes, I knew He had. I would never doubt Him again.

Illustrated by Mike Eagle