Today I am posting the second story in the Summer Stories collection. This next story takes place during the Great Depression. You will find yourself in a small Hooverville camp living in a cardboard box with a young girl named Penny.
I composed this story a few years ago for my middle school writing and literature class. I thought I would share it with you. Although I revised it slightly, the story is mostly in its original form.
The Next Train
I awoke to the sound of a train far off. As I lay on the cold ground I could feel the screeching wheels shaking the ground with a slight pulse. I pressed my ear to the ground, and could tell how far away the train was by the intenseness of the vibration. Perhaps my daddy would be on the train this time. Although I yearned for him to return, I knew that today was just like any other day. He had promised to return home as soon as he found a job. It had been six months now, and I had received no word from him. Sometimes I was able to imagine him here, home with me. I could just feel his strong arms around me and the warmth of his breath kissing my neck. I could hear his deep voice whispering softly in my ear. When daddy made a promise, he didn’t easily break it. Knowing this truth made hope linger in my heart a little longer.
A gust of wind snuck into my little “pretend house”; my living quarters made of cardboard. I shivered. The newspaper that served as my blanket was mucky. I could hear Mrs. Saunders, my temporary mamma, calling my name.
“Penny! It’s time to start fixin’ breakfast! I’ve got some leftover bacon from yesterday mornin’!” I arose, and crawled out of the cardboard box. Wrapping a thing coverlet tightly around my gangly body, I glanced around. Angry clouds floated through a gray sky above my head. The smell of smoke emerged from the piles of steaming sticks serving as our fire. Families gathered around the blazing pots to cook breakfast. By now the train was getting closer. I impatiently started hoping, no, knowing that my daddy had to be on that train! But still, deep inside, I accepted the sheer fact, that I couldn’t let myself become disappointed.
After breakfast I scrubbed the rusty saucers in a small creek. The flowing water greedily snatched up the bits of leftover food and carried them away down the long snake. Only moments after breakfast, some boys had gone off to see if there were any of our men on the train. I told myself not to worry even though by now all of the people in this Hooverville figured my daddy was dead. They hadn’t known that I had heard them whispering around the campfire every night.
“That man goes off and leaves his only child with no one to care for her. God forbid he must be dead by now; even if he isn’t I bet there is no hope for him returning home.”
Then another man would gripe, “That man always did get himself in trouble. He’s probably out there somewhere in the world, not even thinking about his homely daughter.” I always would sob after hearing this, although I would tell myself it wasn’t true. My daddy had gone lookin’ for a job, and it was best for both of us. At least that is what he had told me. Plus, if it hadn’t been for the whole depression situation, my daddy wouldn’t have lost his job, and we sure wouldn’t be living in this Shantytown right now! Just a few years past, I had been just like any other girl. I studied hard in school, had many friends, and lived in a grand house towered by a giant oak tree. Every afternoon, I would sit beneath its strong limbs, stretching out into the world. When my daddy lost his job, we did everything to earn money so we could keep the house. But it didn’t take long for the bank to push use out and leave us with nowhere to go. I then knew that we had lost everything; our home, our garden, our friends, our church, and even our dog. But in my saddest times, my daddy would lovingly remind me, that we hadn’t lost absolutely everything. After all we still had each other, and that was the most important thing we could hold. But now, as I sat by the rippling creek, I realized that I had lost even that most important thing in my life.
After stacking the dishes, I returned to the large camp that was crowded with little shacks made of cardboard and metal. Part of me didn’t even want to hear the news the boys had brought back from the station. Mrs. Saunders called me over to a small group of men. I reluctantly shuffled over to her with my shoulders drooping and my face to the ground. My worn boots kicked a pebble with every step. I approached the group with a sigh. Mrs. Saunders grabbed my arm forcefully.
“Well, if it isn’t your ole’ man after all!” she cried. I could hear my heart beating within me. Tears started to fill my eyes when I spotted my daddy in the crowd. His tattered clothes were torn and dirty. His face painted with sadness. When he saw me, he cried out for joy, and we both ran to each other.
“I’m so sorry I was gone for so long, I…I… didn’t exactly find a…” I didn’t let my daddy finish his words.
“It’s okay daddy. I am just so glad you’re home! I knew you would return, because you never break your promises!” After an hour or so, I led him over to our shack and told him to lie down and rest fo the afternoon. Skipping about, I finished my remaining chores. My daddy hadn’t found a job after all. We would be livin’ in this Shantytown for quite awhile now. I didn’t care though; I only hoped my daddy would never have to leave me for so long again.
That night after the typical meal of black beans and mushy stew, I lay beside my daddy. Through a small peephole in the roof of our “little house” I could see the stars, bright and beautiful. I was so happy at that moment that all of my troubles and fears seemed to disappear. My daddy was home to stay! Even though my life wasn’t perfect, I was so very glad to be alive!