An excerpt from my new book: The Endless highway
The Endless highway-Route 66
This is the first chapter of a book I am creating. I am open to critiquing if you would like. It would help me make it marketable. Thanks, betty Overstreet
The sun was just rising above the hills over on the far side of the corn field when Rebecca raised up, stretched her upper back and swung around to ease the muscles in her upper arms. So much strain bending over the wash tub all day, washing the sheets again was about the last straw.
“That girl just has to stop wet’n the bed every night, or I’m gon’a just let her ly in it all day till she plumb can’t stand it no more. Four years old and still can’t get up to use the chamber pot in the middle to the night. It’s killing me to wash these bedclothes day after day. Don’t help none that my stomach is sticking out a mile!” she mumbled to herself.
A tear slid down her cheek as she thought, “How am I gona handle one more baby? There is so much work and never enough food to go around, much less money to buy clothes for another child. And now with the war causing this food rationing, I will probably have trouble getting baby food. Of course, with money the way it always is, I will be making my own baby food anyway!”
Rebecca was tired and the day was just beginning as she carried the basket of wet laundry out to hang on the line. This was one job she enjoyed; raising up the wet clothes, pinning them to the clothes line with the wooden clothes pin, feeling the bright sunshine bathing her face with soft warmth. For a few minutes she could forget the work waiting for her in the house as she pinned up one piece of laundry after another to dry in the gentle breeze.
She dreams about someday as she stands next to the clothesline….someday we will have a house with a real bathroom instead of that outhouse out back, and maybe even a washing machine with one of those wringer things on top so I won’t have to wear my hands raw trying to squeeze the water out before hanging them on the line. Someday…
As she turned away from the clothes lines, heading back into the house, she stopped to gaze at the hills across the fields, all turning bright green with the new spring leaves sprouting out on the trees.
Lowering her head, Rebecca began to thank God for the blessing of being in the Oklahoma hills instead of the hot arid plains of Texas—always bone-dry from the lack of rain.
“Lord, thank you for this new home and please forgive me for always complaining about my life. I know there are many who have far less than I. Please teach me to be a good mother and wife and I pray we will get to stay here a long time. Amen.”
”Child I am always with you”
They had moved to Texas when a friend suggested there was a good job waiting for Sam. When they arrived, his friend had already moved on to another town. Rebecca was happy to be living back here in Oklahoma again, just a few miles from her parents who lived in Broken Bow.
As she walked back into the house she called out to her oldest daughter, “Joan Ellen, are you watching your little sisters and keep’n them out of trouble?”
“Yes Mama, I ain’t never gona let them girls get in no mischief when you ain’t in here.”
“Joan Ellen, what have I told you bout use’n that word? There’s no such word in the dictionary and if folks hear you talkin’ like that they’ll think you don’t know how to speak proper English.”
“I’m sorry Mama. It’s just so hard to remember cause all my friends say ain’t and I just forget.”
“If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you follow them?” Rebecca responded.
“Now, ya’ll just get on outside and play. I’ve got to get some dinner ready before your papa gets in here to eat.”
Joan Ellen gathered up Bobbie Sue and Becky Lynn and they ran outside, headed for the swing, hangin’ from the big old tree. They were sure excited bout the swing Sonny and Butch rigged up for them with that old worn out tire. The boys found it down by the creek and daddy said it was too worn out to patch. It was pretty hard to find a tire to use since that old war started up and there was some kind of rule about bein’ able to buy extra tires for cars now-a-days. Somethin’ about rationin’ anything made out of rubber. Joan Ellen just shrugged her shoulders, wonderin’ what in the world that was all about, as she led the way out to the big old tree.
As Rebecca started clearing off the table preparing for dinner, she found an envelope in the stack of mail Sam brought up from the mailbox earlier. Strange, Sam didn’t mention it after he opened it. Looks like the postmark is from way out in California! And it had been forwarded from down in Texas. The return address said it was from Rebecca’s brother-in-law, Sam’s older brother Jim.
Rebecca pulled the letter out of the envelope and the first words brought tears to her eyes.
“Sam, ya’ll gota get on out here to California. I’m workin’ at this farm and they pay really good and furnish a place for us to live, too. There’s a pay phone down the road a piece and if you want to come work with me, call me on a Friday night at about 7:00pm and I’ll be standin’ there waitin’ to hear when ya’ll will be here. Just ask the operator for Redmond 5423 in Lamont, Ca. That’s the number of that phone.”
Rebecca kept crying while she read the words from Jim, then she got real angry. Sam promised they would stay here in Oklahoma where her mama and papa live and no more movin’ every time someone wrote a letter sayin’, “Come on out here, the pay is better”.
As she was slipping the letter back into the envelope, Sam walked in through the back door. He stood there, so tall and handsome with those blue eyes twinkling from excitement, his hands on his hips, a grin on his face and said, “I see you just read the letter from Jim. How soon can we be packed up and ready to head out of here? Jim says the pay is good and they even have houses for their workers. We won’t have to search for a place to live like we did here.”
Rebecca had fire in her brown eyes and stomped her foot on the linoleum covered floor. She was so angry she just wanted to pick up a 2x4 and hit him in the head to knock some sense into him.
“Sam Smith, you promised me this was the last time we would be movin’ for a new job. You have a job, the children are settled in school and I finally got this pigsty of a house clean enough for us to live in without getting some terrible disease! We are not moving to California, now or ever!”
“Aw, honey, now just calm down and let me tell you a little more,” he said, as he reached out and smoothed a curly tendril of hair off of her cheek. “You know I just love your purty red hair and when you get a little excited those brown eyes just make me shake all over want’n to just wrap you up in my arms.”
“Don’t you try use’n that sweet talk’n on me, Sam. You think you can just change my mind with a few sugar words but it’s not going to work. I am not packin’ up our family again.”
As the sunrise began to light up the eastern sky with all Gods glorious colors, the crowing of the rooster signaled more than just a new day. This was the day the Smith family would start a journey that would take them to a whole new way of life, in a place where they heard that ‘money grew on trees’.
Heading down the road
The red Chevy
Sam hooked up the trailer to the red 1939 Chevrolet, his pride and joy, as Rebecca finished up the last of the packing. What little they could fit into the trailer wasn’t near enough to get started out west, but they would just have to manage to get along somehow. One thing she had learned since marrying Sam was to make things work out, with little more than her common sense and a prayer to carry her through.
The most important things were ready to load in the trailer: quilts, pots and pans, all the food that was available (which wasn’t a lot) and Rebecca’s trunk that held all the personal things that were important to her. Grandmother’s crystal pitcher, mama’s cake plate, the box of family photos and the family Bible could not be left behind. Some feather beds, and of course, Sam’s tools of his trade were already loaded. While he could manage to work at most any job, his main skill was in his hands. He was a mechanic, skilled at working on equipment like trucks, tractors and such. What he didn’t know, he could learn quickly.
As the sun continued to rise, Sam drove the car away from the little house that Rebecca had thought would be their home, north toward Highway 66, and then---heading out west. A tear fell on her cheek as she saw her parents home come into view, knowing this goodbye would probably be the last time she would see them for a very long time. California seemed like another country or world, so far away from everything she was familiar with.
Sam hurried the family out of the car and into his in-laws house so they could let them know they were moving away. After a few hugs and kisses and promises to write as soon as they were settled, he rushed them back out into the car. He hated that the kids and Rebecca were going to miss the grandparents so much, but he just told himself they would be fine when they saw how good life would be out west.
One more stop before leaving town would take care of being able to buy food when they needed to. They had to go to the school house to get a War Ration Book to have the necessary stamps for buying the foods that were rationed. No stamps, no food, simple as that. This was a new regulation that just began the first of May and they had been neglecting to get right down to the school to get theirs. This new way of life was going to be difficult to learn and put into practice.
Arriving at the school house it was decided Sam would go into register their family for the book, as only one person from the family was to go into the office. He just had to give them all the information of family members which of course, Miss Ruby knew all their names since they were all students here at the one room school! She cried when she heard they were leaving, but quickly dried her tears and finished the papers so they could get on their way.
Arriving back at the car, Sam was grinning at the kids. “You kids must be pretty good students. Your teacher, Miss Ruby, was so sad you were leaving she just started to blubber all over the desk. The makes me feel real good about you.”
“Well, Papa, you know mama always makes sure we study our primers and do our homework, offered Joan Ellen. Of course, my grades are better than Bobbie Sue, but she does good, too!”
“That ain’t the truth Joan Ellen, You know I get better grades than you in readin’ and Beckie Lynn ain’t even in school yet but when she is I bet she will do real good, too! shouted Bobbie Sue, over the loud music on the radio.”
Mama had the radio turned up loud so she could hear Earnest Tubb sangin’ his new song, ‘I’m walkin’ the floor over you’. She loved to sing along with all the songs but she especially enjoyed that Earnest Tubb guy who was so popular.
As Sam slid into the front seat, Rebecca leaned back, closed her eyes and thought back to a day many years ago.
She was with her friends at a country fair, gazing down into a well that was in the middle of the Fairway. As she stood there looking down she seemed to see a road, not a country road but more like a highway that just went on and on, never ending.
Suddenly, Rebecca raised up from her resting and realized—this was what she had seen that day in the well. A highway, endless, taking her into the future. An unknown future that would open to many experiences for her and her off spring-- Somewhere down the road.
The road seemed to go on forever. One Burma shave sign after another was passed by, the whole family reading as they passed each sign that made up the advertisement:
“She kissed her hairbrush by mistake
She thought it was her husband Jake”
“Yuk, a husband that hairy doesn’t deserve to be kissed, Mama” said Joan Ellen.
“That’s for sure. Your papa better buy some of that Burma Shave if he wants kisses from us”
A few miles farther down the road, somewhere in New Mexico, they began to see what looked like Indian TeePees like they had seen in a movie. “The sign says Real Indian souvenirs Mama. Can we stop and see what it is? asked Bobbie Sue.”
Papa quickly responded, “No we can’t stop. We have to get on down the road.”
And the journey continued, on and on, down the long highway.
Suddenly, the car began to bump, bump, bump down the road. “Oh no, not car trouble way out here in the middle of the desert,” wailed Rebecca, as Sam carefully steered the car to the side of the road.
“Don’t worry honey, I will take care of it. I am a mechanic, remember? Whatever it is it will be alright. God will see to it we get back on the road quickly. I just know He wants us to get to California.”
Walking around the car Sam quickly saw the problem. A flat tire, and in this new age of everything being rationed, he had no spare tire in the trunk of the car. Someone would have to hitch-hike into the next town. Praying quietly for intervention, Sam told the two boys to get ready to roll this tire into town to be repaired.
Grumbling under their breath, both Butch and Sonny climbed out of the car, grabbed their hats and began removing the tire from the car. About ten minutes later, they were ready to roll, Butch taking the first turn, Sonny running along beside.
A mile or so down the road, an old chevy pulled up beside them and a man yelled out the window, “Hey kids, you want a lift into town? It’s about ten miles so I don’t believe you want to walk all that way.”
As he climbed out to open the trunk of his car, the boys ran over to toss the tire in, so happy to be saved that long walk in the hot desert.
As the old chevy pulled back onto the highway an hour later, the boys were amazed that Mr. Olsen had offered to give them a ride back out to where the family waited. Sam could not thank him enough for helping out and Mr. Olsen just said, “I’m sure you would have done the same for me if I were in need. In fact, when you get to California if you find there really are lots of jobs, let me know. I could sure use a better paying one than I have here in New Mexico.”
“Sure nuff, we will keep your address and let you know!”
And the highway kept stretching out ahead of them, one mile at a time.
One more Burma shave sign at a time:
“Drove too long driver snoozing
What happened next is not amusing”