The house was silent. Mother had finally talked herself out and lay napping on her bed. I’d often thought that the running of her tongue made up for the inability of her legs to run. Soon Father would be in and the silence would grow stronger.
I dropped the last potato into the soup just as Father entered. His gaze lingered on the few unwashed dishes in the sink and on the unset table. I could almost feel disapproval oozing from his every pore.
He washed and then set the table while I cut the bread. I did not look at him, ashamed that he had to do my job. We finished and he disappeared into the bedroom to carry Mother to the table. The sound of her chatter preceded them down the hall with barely a pause for his one word answers.
A sudden deluge of rain on the roof paused the meal. I shifted. “At school they were saying that the rivers are near flooding. If it keeps up like this, then the town will flood.”
Father looked up. “Our farm will be safe here on the hill.”
“Yes, sir.” I worried for my friends in town.
The rain continued throughout the next day and evening. My fears mounted with the creek at the bottom of our lane. I lay in bed and listened, until I could bear it no longer. Rising, I pulled on an old pair of overalls and headed for the front room. For a time I paced, debating. What could one girl do to help?
Steps behind me made me jump. It was Father. I lowered my head and waited for him to send me back to bed.
“Get on your boots and slicker. I could use your help with the boat.” He stepped out the door. “Bring some extra blankets.”
It took a minute for the thought to sink in, of my father rushing to the aid of the town in the middle of the night. And to let me come along. To need my help!
The slickers did little good, and by the time we had slipped and slid to the bottom of the hill, we were soaked. We pulled the motorboat out of its shelter and clambered in. A puddle immediately formed in the bottom. I worried that it would sink before the end of the night.
Father did not offer his plan, and I did not ask. The sound of the rain, the motor, and the full creek sent up such a roar that we could not have heard each other talk, even if we had spoken.
It was disturbing to leave the creek’s course and sail over the neighbor’s oat field. The Wilson’s farm was chaos. Mr. Wilson was in the front yard, water up to his waist, struggling with a frantic horse. Father pulled right up to the open front door and motioned for me to take the wheel.
Inside the house, children were wailing and clinging to furniture, attempting to keep out of the rising water. Father plunged down and sloshed in to the nearest child, depositing her next to me.
“You’re safe now.” I smiled at her and wrapped her in a blanket.
Father was shaking with the cold by the time all five Wilson’s were safely in the boat, and the horse tied on the end. It was a bit tricky to get the youngest children and the horse onto the base of the slippery hill leading up to our farm.
“Go on into the house and find some warm milk for the children,” Father directed. “We’ve got more to attend to.”
Mr. Wilson stayed with us, and all through the night we floated from one farm to another. Soon other boats joined us. Lives were lost that night. But more were saved.
The horizon was just beginning to glimmer when Father docked the boat for the last time. The rain drizzled, as though even it was beginning to loose strength. I found it difficult to make my muscles work as I climbed over the boat rim.
“Go on in.” Father nodded toward the inviting smoke that rose from our chimney. “I’ll take care of the boat.”
I was headed up the hill when Father said my name. I turned to find him watching me.
“You did well.”
Three words. One look of pride and love. The years of silence were forgotten.
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