Bitter Success

It was about 5:00 in the evening when mother announced that she had to run into town, which was about four miles away. She would barely have time to purchase a few necessities before the store closed at 5:30. Since mother did not drive, my older brother was summoned from the field to chauffeur her.

“Running into town” was always a treat if one lived on a farm, so my brother just younger (almost 11) and I (about 13) coaxed to go. Mother consented, with the stipulation that I get the cows in the corral for the evening milking without making her wait.

As we tore out into the yard, my brother and I decided how we could manage it, and we agreed that if he did the running, with luck we could finish in the six or seven minutes that it would take for Mother to get her things on.

He yelled for me to open all the gates and to clear everything out of the way as he scurried over the canal to head the cows down the lane. If they were headed in the right direction, they would not escape, for Father’s fences were notoriously strong and always in good repair.

Through the thick cloud of dust I could see the cows running full speed with their tails flying high in the wind and my brother close behind, grinning broadly, for he could see that the car was still in the yard and success was near. He ran around the haystack into the corral to close the middle gate while I fastened the one by the stack and then made a dash for the car.

Mother was in her place in the front seat, and my older brother had started the car and was circling the yard when I came in sight, so they slowed down, and I jumped into the back seat, breathless but triumphant! Eagerly I leaned out the right window of the car to watch for my younger brother who only had to fasten the middle gate and then cut kitty-corner across the corral to the main road to meet us.

My elation over seeming success was short, for my brother was having difficulty with the gate. It was made of poles strung between barbed wires, and they were tangled! I had seen this happen often when someone flung the gate wide instead of laying it down carefully. In my hurry I had thrown the gate down, and the possibility of it becoming tangled had not even crossed my mind! Frantically he worked at the wires, but hurrying only made things worse. Now he needed me, and where was I?

Sitting in the car and feeling sick! I pleaded with Mother to wait another minute, but after quickly surveying the situation, she said, “If we wait, it will be too late to shop at all, for the store will be closed. Drive on!”

As my older brother revved up the noisy motor, so my aching heart beat faster, and I was in agony. I now realized that in making the run for me, my little brother had not only done my work, but had done it at the sacrifice of the trip.

“Let me out!” I cried. But stopping again would only use up more of the precious time, so I curled up in my miseries and hated myself.

I knew then that I would not get out of the car when we arrived in town. But more than that, I would never be able to forget the helpless look of desperation on my brother’s face, and all because he wanted to help me. It was at that moment I learned that unshared success is no victory.

[illustration] Illustrated by Jerry Harston