I went to a Baptist Church about six blocks from the shelter. The church had an auditorium bigger than a movie theater. Everyone was dressed in fancy clothes. No one came up to me to say that I was welcome. In small churches out in the country or in a small town, folks would let you know how happy they were to have you with them.
On the way back to the shelter I felt disappointed about the church service. I miss so many people, I miss my Grandad, my Daddy, and my Mom. Now I miss my church. God is still with me. That was shown to me several times recently. The most recent time was when those young men chased us, and God made them run into the door.
At the school Sister Carmela met me with Mrs. Cartright.
“Dana, do you know this lady?”
“Yes, Sister, Mrs. Cartright took my Grandad in the plane with her so that he could get to a hospital.”
Mrs. Cartright spoke.
“Dana, I am sorry to have to tell you this but your Grandad died on Thursday night at Arkansas Heart Hospital. They did everything they could do, but his heart had suffered too much damage. He had two heart attacks before he arrived at the hospital.
“I found your father. He is working with the National Guard in Blytheville looking for survivors that might be trapped. His job will be complete on Wednesday evening and he will be coming back to Little Rock on Thursday morning. We will have your Grandad’s funeral at 4PM on Thursday. I am trying to locate your mother. I will try to have information about her when I see you on Thursday.”
I hugged her. “Thank you, Mrs. Cartright for all you have done for us.”
I sat down and cried for a while. Then I laughed.
“Grandad always said, ‘Crying don’t fix the bucket.’”
On Monday after lunch, the parish priest called Sister Carmela, Rosalita, and me into his office.
“I have just received a call from the police station. Evidently, you three were involved in an altercation on Saturday evening on the sidewalk in front of the school. I want to make it clear to you that I do not want you to press charges against these boys. Sister Carmela, I have been informed that if you press charges, the boy’s parents will press counter-charges of assault against you.”
“Respectfully, Monseignor, you are not the one who was attacked.”
“Sister, if those boys’ parents withhold their contributions to the church, I most certainly will be attacked.”
A police car took us to the arraignment hearing. The judge asked me to tell what had happened. Sister Carmela and Rosalita were taken into another room so that they couldn’t hear my testimony.
“We had been to the mall to see a movie and we had hamburgers and milkshakes afterward. We took the bus back to the school. We got off at the bus stop, crossed the street and were walking to the school. Three boys jumped out from behind the trees, went ahead of us and blocked our way. One of the boys called Sister Carmela “Chicquita” and some other words. He grabbed her hair at the back of her head and pulled her into his body. He put his mouth on hers and tried to kiss her. She yelled, ‘Run girls into the school. Lock the door; I have a key.’
“We ran and the other two boys chased us. One of them grabbed my arm and held onto me, he ripped my blouse, but I got away. Rosalita got to the door and ran inside. The boy chasing her ran into the door and was knocked out. As I ran into the door and reached to pull it shut, the boy chasing me ran into the door and was knocked out.
“Meanwhile, Sister Carmela had overcome her attacker. She knows some Karate. She called the police. The police took our statements. They took photographs of my ripped blouse and the marks on my arms.”
“How old are you, Dana?”
“How old are the three boys, Officer?”
“Two are nineteen, the other one is eighteen.”
“Did the officers who responded take photographs such as she has described?”
“Yes, Your honor, but they could not be found this morning when we were getting ready for court.”
“Dana, are you and Rosalita the two girls who were on television news leading a lot of little children in games and singing in a hangar in the earthquake area?”
“You can sit down. Bring Rosalita into the courtroom.”
Rosalita was timid and nervous. The details of what she said were the same as what I had said.
Finally, Sister Carmela was brought into the courtroom. The judge said to her,
“Ordinarily I would be asking you if you want to press charges. You are the only one who could press charges since Dana and Rosalita are minors. This is so outrageous that I am not going to take a chance that you won’t press charges. I am going to turn the testimony of these girls over to the District Attorney myself and the police had better have those photos and the report of the responding policemen on my desk by the end of the day. I see a reporter from the Democrat-Gazette. I am sure he will be calling my office this evening to see if I received those photos and the policeman’s report. Just to think that two twelve year old girls who have just gone through the horrors of an earthquake and seeing loved ones taken from them come to this quiet suburb and are attacked by young male adults.”
The next day there were protesters marching out on the sidewalk. Even worse, on Tuesday at noon Sister Carmela was called into the office of the parish priest.
“Sister Carmela, the Bishop has transferred you to the St. Labre Indian School in Montana. Pack your clothing. A car from the Bishop’s office will pick you up at 4PM this evening with a travel itinerary and tickets.”
There was no one to take Sister Carmela’s place. Rosalita and I could entertain the children. Who would help the mothers with paperwork and bureaucracy that they didn’t understand? Who would order food for the meals? That day a woman came from the Red Cross to give out “comfort packs”. I tried to explain the problem to her.
Wednesday, a representative from Department of Human Services came. Usually Sister Carmela would bring the mothers to the representative and then would interpret for the two. When none of the mothers came up to the representative, I explained that Sister Carmela had been transferred to Montana. I told her that Sister Carmela did more than interpret. She had managed the shelter – bought food, took the sick to doctors. Now there was no one.
The representative went to see the parish priest. Her remonstration gave him the excuse that he had been looking for. The shelter would be closed. All the women and children in the shelter would be transferred to other shelters.
Thursday my thoughts were filled with the funeral, with seeing my father, Mrs. Cartright’s promise she hoped to have news about my mother. In all the confusion of that day I managed to tell Mrs.Cartright and my father that we were all going to be moved to another shelter on Monday. She gave me a card with her phone number and address. She said for me to tell her where my new shelter was located and my father could call her and find out.
The funeral was sad and not the kind of funeral Grandad would have wanted. He liked country churches too. The happy part of that day was to find out that my mother is alive. She is in a hospital in Louisiana and part of her leg had to be cut off. Both of those are hard to digest. She will probably have to stay in Louisiana for a good while. Will I get to see her anytime soon? Even then it will probably be for just an hour or so. .
All too soon the car pulled up in front of the shelter. The picket line was still there. I had to say goodbye to my father. He said that he would see me again soon and I saw him write down my address. Well, I need to get back into the shelter. The children and mothers and Rosalita will be needing my help.
On Sunday I went to the Baptist church again.. When I came back, my father was waiting for me. He told Rosalita that he was taking me to someplace where we could have a meal and talk. We rode the bus until we began to see restaurants. Then we got off the bus and walked to a restaurant. After we were seated at a table, he said,
“Dana, tomorrow I am going to Monroe, Louisiana to see your mother. I can’t take you with me this time, but I will take you the next time that I go. I called Mrs. Cartright and asked if you could call her if you need help or if you are in trouble. She said that you can. Here is her phone number. Carry it with you wherever you go.”
I asked him what work he had been doing in Blytheville. He didn’t want to talk about it.
“Just operating a bulldozer and keeping all the diesel engines growling like they are supposed to do.
“How are things at the shelter?”
“Up to now it has been all right. Rosalita’s mother has allowed me to stay in her family unit. Now that the shelter is going to be closed, we don’t know what to expect. I was told when I came here that legally I should be turned over to Child Protective Services because I didn’t have a parent in the shelter. I am afraid.”
“I know you are, Dana Honey. I am going to do the best that I can to get a job and then a place to live so I can take you out of the shelter.”
The next day, we were told to pack up whatever belonged to us, go outside and get on the bus.
The bus took us to Ferndale, west of Little Rock, where a Baptist church had built its own camp and conference center. It looked run down. For a church camp to be unused in the summer months – there must be a story in that,
The camp was already occupied by survivors of the earthquake. We had to be squeezed in wherever there was space. Rosalita and I were put into a large cabin of teenage girls. It had bunk beds made of timber so rough that it had splinters. The mattresses smelled of sweat and mildew.
The girls already there were from Blytheville, Osceola, or Gosnell. They were town girls and snickering they called us “Hick” and “Jalapeno”. At lunch we were shoved aside by the people already there. Rosalita and I tried to help the mothers who had come with us get food for the little ones. We were ordered to go to the tables assigned to our cabins. The girls at our tables were flirting with the teenage boys at some other tables.
Apparently we were not allowed to go back into our cabins until after supper. There was a place where it was supposed to be safe to go swimming. Some of the teens headed there. There was rope which divided where the boys could swim and where the girls could swim. It soon became obvious that both girls and boys were swimming under the rope to get to where a particular girl or a certain boy were swimming.
Rosalita and I found some swings and were swinging until some older girls came over and told us to get off, that those were their swings. In the end, we just passed the time walking and talking.
At supper the girls sitting at our table would distract us and would take food off our trays or mess up the food on our trays whenever we weren’t looking. After supper we went back to our cabins. I looked under my bunk and the black garbage bag with all of my clothes, my other pair of shoes, my teddy bear, and my Mamaw’s Bible was gone.
“Where is my bag of clothes”
A chorus of snickers and guffaws was the answer. Then some began mimicking me. I went outside to find one of the adults in charge. There was a woman standing outside.
“Get back inside the cabin, little lady.”
“All of my clothes were taken. They were in a black plastic garbage bag.”
“Maybe someone threw them in the garbage then.”
“That is what they gave us to put our belongings in.”
“There is nothing I can do about it. You just lost your clothes. Too bad.”
I was glad that I had some money my father gave me and Mrs. Cartright’s phone numbers safely tucked into my jeans’ pocket. Back in the cabin, my teddy bear and Mamaw’s Bible were on my pillow. The bag hadn’t been thrown in the garbage. Someone had stolen my clothes. When I was in bed, I asked teddy bear, “What am I going to do?”
“Wait until tomorrow after lunch, start off walking and just keep walking. I’ll tell you which way to go.”
The next day after lunch I started walking into the woods. Teddy bear appeared as soon as I was in the woods and he guided me to a road. Walking along the road, I came to a store with a phone booth outside. I went into the phone booth and called Mrs. Cartright. She asked where I was. I looked up and on the wall of the booth was a card with the location and how to get there. When I walked out of the booth, it disappeared. A half hour later Mrs, Cartright’s car drove up.