Tuesday, June 16, 2015

EARTHQUAKE - Chapter 24

This is the last chapter of my novel EARTHQUAKE ON NEW MADRID FAULT.
I'd appreciate any comments or suggestions - mtnpride@gmail.com

Monday morning Karl and Clifford went to the shelter, picked up Jack Raymond, then went to the same Ford dealer where Karl leased the truck. He picked out a 2010 Explorer with four wheel drive. After the lease papers were signed, they went back to the shelter and picked up the rest of the men. When they arrived in Marked Tree, Karl rented four motel rooms for a month.

Karl already had a sleeping bag. He sent Clifford and the other men to a store that sells camping gear to get sleeping bags, and a camp stove. At the grocery store they would buy about thirty gallons of water, and groceries for four days. Karl went to a farm equipment dealer to lease a dump truck, a front end loader/backhoe, and a bulldozer. The bulldozer was on a flat bed trailer which would be pulled by the dump truck. He would have to come back another day to pick up the loader/backhoe. Karl wondered how he could manage that when he needed the bull dozer to pull the dump truck and empty trailer up and over the dune.

While they were in town they all rented post office boxes. Clifford needed an address for income tax and Social Security, and other state tax reports and also for their insurance. They couldn’t use the shelter for an address; they had all checked out of the shelter.

Karl sent Clifford and two of the men over the dune in the Explorer. He had the other men help him unload the dozer and then chain it to the dump truck. Then he sent all but Smitty over the dune in the pickup truck. He operated the dozer and Smitty steered the dump truck pulling the empty trailer. The dozer pulled the dump truck and trailer up and over the dune. Then he and Smitty had to unchain the dozer and load it back onto the trailer. The other two vehicles were waiting for them. Karl, driving the dump truck, took the lead since he knew the route.

He had intended for them to take over the office building to use for their quarters. However, when they walked into it, it stunk worse than any hog barn. There was litter strewn all over the floors – half eaten MREs, empty water bottles. Scattered everywhere were unused packages of MREs. Worse was that in the various rooms upstairs there was human excrement on the floor in every room. The rest rooms were a nightmare. The toilets wouldn’t flush after the quake but they were all filled with waste. He didn’t think any of the men would be willing to undertake cleaning it.

Karl remembered that Dana spoke of the Mexican women and children using the abandoned police/fire station across the road. He went over there. Opening the door he could not believe his eyes. The building was spotless. Stacked neatly in one corner were unused MREs and water bottles.

Clifford said to Karl, “Would you show me where I lived in Victoria?”

Karl drove him down to the rubble of a brick house nearest the equipment sheds. Clifford got out and tried to get into the wrecked house, but he could not.

“Melodie told me to look for our photo albums in the drawer of an end table in the living room.”

“When I have the dozer down here, maybe we can lift a wall, maybe not.”

It did not take them long to settle in to the police/fire station. Slim said he bet he was going to have an air mattress next week. They all went down to survey the damage. They decided to pull all the sheet metal sides of all the metal buildings and make a pile of them. The equipment was all ruined. They would haul it to another location away from the pile of sheet metal. The water tower looked like it had only minor damage. Maybe it could just be put upright. That wasn’t anything they could do, so they would leave it undisturbed. The tanks which contained fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, and butane had all burst open. Because there might be toxic residue, they decided to push and shove them in the opposite direction from where they would be working. When they had finished all that, they would be scraping the rubble into piles, loading it into the dump truck and dumping it onto a field.

Friday morning they looked at what they had accomplished so far.  They left the dump truck and trailer in Victoria and left for Little Rock about noon in the pickup truck and the Explorer.

Mr. Stauer had been working on the Mexicans’ problems all week. He located three men in a Tulsa, Oklahoma hospital. He rented a three bedroom apartment near the hospital for the wives and their children to live in until the men recovered. He called the Oklahoma Human Services and they promised to help the women. He said if they had any needs that wouldn’t be covered to call him.

He had the widows and their children moved to low rent apartments in a town in South Arkansas which has a large Hispanic population. The company’s lawyers were working out the immigration problems for each of the women.


Karl and the others of the Baker’s Koffee Klatch finished their work in Victoria in a little over three months. They were all eligible for unemployment until they could find another job.

Karl did not think he could afford an apartment like Clifford had leased in Chenault. He decided to look for work first. He found a job as a diesel mechanic at a large Ford dealership. The dealer was selling more and more diesel trucks. Also there were now a few diesel automobiles and he believed there would be many more. He was glad to hire a man with Karl’s rich experience because diesel mechanics were being offered high wages by the contractors who were rebuilding the highways ruined by the quake.

Karl found a nice three bedroom house in a lower middle class neighborhood. There were attractive loans for earthquake victims and he had saved quite a bit of money from the job he had just finished. His first task was to build a wheel chair ramp in the front and the back. The house was built on one floor so there were no steps inside. He bought a used van from the Ford dealer and installed a wheelchair carrier on the rear himself.

There wasn’t a whole lot of money left for furniture, dishes, pots, and pans so he bought as much as he could from second hand stores. Moving in here was going to be a big change for Dana. She had been with Melodie and the children all summer and had even started school in that exclusive community. He noticed that the first thing she moved into the new house was her stuffed animals.

When Mary came home, you would have thought that it was the Czar’s dacha. She was so happy and thrilled. Karl was glad that they bought a three bedroom house. Mary would need her own bedroom for quite some time. The doctor ordered a hospital bed, a wheelchair, and a number of other medical supplies. When the company delivered them they about filled up her room.

When Mary was finally in the house, Dana came to her with tears. 

“I don’t know what we are going to do. I still don’t know how to cook.”

“Well, just wheel me up near to the stove and I’ll tell you step by step what to do.”

Clifford, Melodie, and the children came over the first night after Mary came from the rehab center.

“We wanted to bring you a housewarming gift and tell you how happy we are that you are finally home.”

They brought a good set of cookware.

“Dana, we have two gifts for you. Since I never kept my promise to teach you to cook, here is a Betty Crocker Cookbook. The second gift came to my parents’ house addressed to you. They gave it to us to give to you.”

It was a letter from Rosalita”

“Dear Dana,

I am glad that you got away from that camp shelter. It was awful. No one there liked Mexicans.

Several months ago a chartered bus came for all the Mexicans. There was a really nice woman who spoke Spanish and explained everything. The wives and children of men who are missing were taken to a small town in Arkansas. They had a house for each family in a low rent housing project. That is where I am now. The bus was going on to Tulsa, Oklahoma where the husbands of three of the wives are in a hospital.

My Mom has a job in a restaurant here. The other women all have some kind of job. I like the school here. There are a lot of Mexican students and they work hard to get good grades.

         You are still my best friend. Please write me. Here is my address….”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

EARTHQUAKE - Chapter 23

Mary’s days at the rehab center were busier than she would have believed. There were group exercises, classes with required readings and quizzes, sessions with a counselor, physical therapy, weekly examination by a doctor, and sessions with a prosthetic technician.

Beginning next week, Mary would have to wear a leather sleeve on her stump. If there was no swelling, irritation, or skin breakdown, they would start adding weight to the sleeve until they had a rod that reached the ground. She was warned at least once a day that she should not put any body weight on her stump.

Mary worked hard and the people working with her gave her as much as she wanted and a little bit more. It was refreshing to work with a patient who had such grit and determination.

Mary had a hard time finding time to do so, but she sent emails to Shawnda and Shawanda and one of them sent her the email address for Helen Brumstel. Mary was determined to write a happy, chatty message to Helen at least once a week. She really missed the Kindle because she had to wait until a computer was free in the library. She decided to ask Karl to get her one.

It was really wonderful to see Karl and Dana again.

Karl told her that the original project to start up farming at Wesson Farm had been abandoned. He and the other men would concentrate on clearing the rubble and debris in Victoria so that at some time in the future it can be rebuilt. He doubted that the job would take more than three months.

“Good,” cried Mary. “We will both be finishing about the same time. We can start a new life together.”

 Some of the worry lines on Karl’s face faded and he smiled at Mary.

“You surely know how to encourage me and get me started down the track,” he said.

Dana noticed that her mother was wearing shorts and a blouse.

“You got some new clothes, Mommy.”

“Yes, when they brought me here I was in a hospital gown and nothing else. I couldn’t go to exercise classes or any place else dressed like that. One of the aides got a $200 money card for me from the Red Cross. She got my sizes and then went to Walmart and bought me some underwear, a pair of sneakers, socks, some sweatshirts, and shorts, and even a cotton nightgown. It makes me feel more like a woman to have some clothes to wear.”

Dana told her mother how nasty Mrs. Stauer was to her.

“Melodie said that we would be out of their house before next Friday. She and Clifford leased a three bedroom apartment. One of the bedrooms will be for me until you and Daddy have a place.”

That was bitter for Karl and Mary to hear.

Mary said to Karl, “If we can afford it, would you get a Kindle for me? I would also need a money card with about $100 on it so I can put some games, books, and music on it. I think you can get one for a little over $100. Wait until the next time you come. Leaving it at the reception desk might be a temptation to someone.”

As soon as Karl and Dana left, they went to Walmart to buy a Kindle for Mary. Karl talked to the sales associate and bought the model he suggested. He asked him to set it up for him. The associate showed him how to put a pass code on it, and how to put his credit card number on it so that Mary could buy apps, music, books, and games.

On Sunday after they went to church they would bring the Kindle to Mary during visiting hours.

Going back to the Stauers’ Dana said to her father,

“I have been feeling sad and guilty about something.”

“What is that, Dana?”

“I ran away from that shelter in Ferndale. The girls were mean and so were the counselors. It worked out all right for me, but I left my best friend Rosalita alone with those nasty girls. Then I get to thinking about her mother and the other Mexican women. There is no one there who understands their language except Rosalita.

“Those women have lots of problems. They have lost any papers they had to show that they have a right to be in this country. Several of them have husbands who were taken away from Victoria by rescue teams. They are probably in a hospital but their wives don’t know which ones. The ones whose husbands died, what will become of them and their children. What will become of Rosalita?

“Who will bury the men who died and where will they be buried. Grandad had a preacher preach over his coffin. Will they have a priest and will their family see them buried?”

“Young lady, you have raised some difficult questions. I promise you that I will pose them to Clifford.”

The next day they returned to the country church and ate at the crossroads diner.

When they went up to see Mary, she was delighted with the Kindle. Karl told her that, rather than buy a money card, he had put in his credit card number. Anytime she bought something at the Kindle store, she would have to type in her password. He whispered it in her ear and she blushed.

When he took Dana back to the Stauers’, Karl spoke to Clifford.

“Dana was talking to me about her friend Rosalita and how guilty she feels that Rosalita is still in that shelter that Dana ran away from. That got me to thinking. Shouldn’t Wesson Farm take some initiative in helping the widows and orphans of its former employees get settled someplace? They will need a Spanish speaking legal assistant to help them straighten out their status with the immigration authorities and getting assistance from Human Services.

“Several of those women saw their husbands lying injured on the ground. The rescue team took them off in a helicopter. They have no idea what hospital their husbands are in and no way to get there if they knew.

“I just think that in a tragedy like this that a company has some responsibility to help the survivors and their families.”

“I’ll talk to Mr. Stauer, Karl.”


Monday, June 1, 2015

EARTHQUAKE - Chapter 22

Tomorrow my mother is going to be moved from the hospital in Monroe, Louisiana to St. Vincent’s rehabilitation center in Little Rock. Today my daddy is going to pick me up to go to church. I’m watching the children so that Clifford and Melodie can have a weekend together.

“Jamie, Joy come on. Let’s get some breakfast and then we are going to church.”

Down at the breakfast table Jamie and Joy were talking excitedly about going to church. When we were all living in Victoria, Clifford, Melodie, and the children went to the same Baptist church that we attended in Lepanto. At the breakfast table they were singing the songs they learned in Sunday School. Mrs. Stauer came into the kitchen.

“Granmaw, we are going to church.”

“Why didn’t I hear anything about this? You may be helping with the children, but you are just a twelve year old child. You don’t make adult decisions. I don’t want them going to a strange church.”

“My father is going to pick me up to go to church. If I don’t take the children to church with us, then you will have to watch them until I get back.”

“I didn’t give you permission to go to church.”

“You don’t have to give me permission, my father is taking me.”

The children were crestfallen. I went upstairs to put on my pretty dress.

Daddy picked me up early.

“I thought if I drove out of town a little bit, we could find a church that wasn’t so big and high falooting.”

I giggled. We did find a country church. The people were real friendly. The pastor preached the way ordinary people talk, not a bunch of big words and biggety ways.

On the way home we stopped at a small diner and had fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, and rolls. Afterward, we had a slice of apple pie. Everything tasted so good. The woman who waited on us was also the cook. She said most of the food she uses is grown or raised by local farmers.

It was about 2pm when I returned to the Stauers’. Mrs. Stauer was having a tizzy fit. The children were both crying. Mr. Stauer was hiding someplace. As soon as I walked in the house, she said, “It’s about time.” Then she marched off, not to be seen until Clifford and Melodie returned late that evening.

Mrs. Stauer came into the parlor to meet them.

“Don’t you ever put me in that position again. I had to watch two little children and one obnoxious teenager for two long days. Now I need my nerve medicine so that I can get some rest at last.”

I was shaking all over and trying not to cry. I went to my room. After Melodie had the children put into bed, she came to my room.

“What happened Dana?”

“I watched the children all day Saturday. She stopped me from taking them out into the yard. Then I didn’t see her until supper time when she told  me that she and Mr. Stauer were going to a restaurant to get away from the noisy children. I don’t know how to cook anything. All I knew to do was give them cereal and milk. Today I was going to take the children to church with my father and me. She wouldn’t let me. When I returned both the children were crying and she was having a tizzy fit.

“I’m so sorry, Dana, but it was important for us to get away together.”

Monday, Daddy came by to take me to see Mom at St. Vincent’s. She said the ambulance ride was like lying in the bed of a truck which was going down a bumpy road. She looked pretty ragged. I guess that is why. We can’t see her again until Saturday. Daddy is going away tomorrow, so I probably won’t see him until Saturday.

Melodie saw a sign outside a church about a mile from her parents’ house. It was having Vacation Bible School for children preschool to fifth grade in the mornings and for youths sixth grade through high school in the afternoons. Melodie took the children just to get them out of the house. Clifford is busy figuring things on a scratch pad and on a computer. From time to time he confers with her father. That is how they stay away from Mrs. Stauer. Melodie and I are in her direct line of fire.

When the children go in for a nap, Melodie has been showing me how to crochet. I am working on a scarf now. I guess that is the easiest thing. Melodie has crocheted gloves for the children and hats also. I told her that I want to learn to cook. She said that when she has a home of her own, she will teach me, but in her mother’s home and kitchen, she wouldn’t dare.

Mr. Clifford’s condition makes things strange. He has forgotten things that the children remember that he did with them. Melodie told me that he can’t remember how they met or any of the things they did together. Although he says that he loves her, if she asks him, he doesn’t remember being in love with her or asking her to marry him. I’ve noticed how she flirts with him. She said to me once, “I’m having to redo our courtship.”

Little by little we have worked out a routine that allows us to stay out of the way of Mrs. Stauer and keep the children away from her. I went to the library to get some children’s book to read to Jamie and Joy. I also found some books for myself to read. While there I saw a notice about a Children’s Story Time. I wrote down the day and hour each week; we plan to take the children to that.

On Friday, Daddy and Clifford came home early. They had left Marked Tree as soon as they arose and packed their belongings. They went into the library with Clifford’s father.

Clifford led off the conversation,

“Father we need to abandon the project now before we spend any more money. Karl drove me around. Right now the only way to get to Victoria is to roar up a five foot dune of loose soil and hope that you get to the top without getting stuck. Once we reached Victoria, the sight is really grim. It will take a lot of work and a lot of money just to clean up all the debris. There doesn’t appear to be any farm equipment that escaped the fire and destruction.

“It isn’t possible to reach half the acreage until the roads are repaired. Even though there appear to be crops in most of the fields we could reach, it would be dangerous to cultivate, harvest, or plough in those fields as long as the earth is unstable. If the chasm along National Ditch #6 opens again, we would be cut off from nearly all of the fields. 

“Even if we could repair the roads enough to be useable by us and could get the Army to throw a bridge across where the bridge is out, it would not be a good idea to do so. If we repair a road, the public will begin to use it. The first person to have a wreck would be suing us. They would say that we didn’t repair it according to some specification or other that we didn’t know about. We will just have to wait for the State to repair those roads and it will not be soon. They will have a major task repairing the interstate highway that links Memphis to St. Louis. Then they will repair the U.S. highways. It will be a couple years before they repair those State highways. They won’t even start until they convince the Federal government to give them extra money for earthquake damage.”

Karl said, “I agree with Clifford one hundred percent. I feel bad that I promised the men a job and now there won’t be a job for them.”

Mr. Stauer spoke, “Maybe there is a job for them. We could clean up Victoria so that we will be ready to rebuild when the roads are opened.”

Clifford said, “How can we get equipment into Victoria before the roads are repaired?”

Karl said, “If we have a bulldozer, a front end loader/backhoe, and a dump truck, the dozer and the loader/backhoe will have tracks. They should go right up the dune. The dozer will have to tow the dump truck. We will have to have some sleeping arrangements for the men in Victoria and haul them out and back in on the weekends. Maybe we can take in a camp stove. We’ll have to carry in water and food each week. We will also have to lease a four wheel drive SUV to take the men back and forth to Little Rock on the weekends. I hope that it can make it over the dune.”

The men seemed to have reached an agreement on that.

When Clifford came out of the meeting, Melodie took him aside.

“Clifford before you go away again, you have to make some arrangements for your family. I need a car and I want us to rent a three bedroom apartment. That will allow a bedroom for Dana. Karl will have to get a motel room on the weekends. There is too much tension in the house caused by my mother. She doesn’t like the children, she doesn’t like Dana, and I fear she doesn’t even like me.”

“I’ve been so occupied with this project that your father assigned to me, that I have neglected your needs. I apologize. Give me an hour to get cleaned up and change my clothes. You will have to tell me what bank has our accounts. We’ll go there first, see what our situation is, and from there we will go look for a car. Tomorrow we will hunt for an apartment.

“I’m sorry. I’m having a hard time adjusting to having a family – a wife, children, and in-laws that I don’t remember. It isn’t that I don’t want you to be my wife, don’t think that for a moment. It is just that I don’t remember anything about us before the quake. In fact I don’t remember the quake. My memory starts in the hospital. The other day in the store I was flabbergasted when you were saying, “He likes this, he likes that.” when I didn’t know myself that I liked them.”

He leaned over and kissed her on the lips. She looked surprised, kissed him back and then cried.

Melodie asked me to watch the children until they got back. She said it might be after supper. She said that I was to give the children a small peanut butter and jelly sandwich and tell them that their mommy was going to bring them back a Happy Meal.

That evening Mrs. Stauer came into the kitchen before I had a chance to wipe off the kitchen table and wash the children’s faces. She made a scathing remark about Melodie leaving the children in the care of a dim-witted ragamuffin.

Clifford and Melodie came in then and Melodie said, “Jamie, Joy – I brought you each a Happy Meal.” The children squealed with delight and Mrs. Stauer muttered something about another mess for her to clean up. I was as happy as the kids because they brought me a Big Mac, fries, and a Coke.

Melodie asked me if there was any trouble while she was gone. I said No. She said,

“Clifford and I are leaving right after breakfast tomorrow to look for a three bedroom apartment. One of the bedrooms will be for you. Your father will only be back here on the weekends. He can stay in a motel. Can you watch the children again?”

“My father will pick me up a little after 1 p.m. to take me to visit with my mother.”

“Okay, I will try to come back by 1pm and pick them up. If I’m not here, just go on with your father and leave them for my mother to watch.”

The next day a little before 1 p.m., I changed into my pretty dress and came downstairs. The children were watching television. Mrs. Stauer came into the room and said,

“My, you are dressed up so pretty. Are you going somewhere?”

“My father will be here any minute to pick me up to go see my mother.”

“Wonder who will watch the children? I am going out now myself.”

My heart turned upside down. What can I do? I can’t go off and leave the children. I don’t want to miss a chance to see my mother. If I take them with us, I could sit down in the lobby with them until Daddy came down to watch them. That isn’t a very good arrangement. I hardly ever get to see my father or my mother. If the children are along with us, they require so much attention that my father and I won’t have any time together. I would have cried but Grandad always said, “Crying don’t fix the bucket.”

I heard tires on the gravel in front of the house. It is Daddy and I’ll have to tell him. But, it was Melodie and Clifford.

“We have found an apartment. We just leased it for six months. By the beginning of the year, the project should be completed and your mother and Karl will be ready for an apartment of their own. You will be living with them. We are going to rent furniture. We should be moved in – you, the children and I – before Clifford gets back from Marked Tree on Friday.”

Just then my father came and I ran out of the house to him. On the way to the rehab center I told him how disagreeable Mrs. Stauer is to me, especially when Melodie and Clifford are not there. I told him that Clifford and Melodie leased a three bedroom apartment and that one bedroom would be for me.

Mother looked much better than she did last Monday. I guess part of it is the exercises and therapy she is getting. Also, this time she had a comb, brush, and makeup.

Father told her that the project was probably only going to last until the end of the year. He was worried about a job after that.

“Karl, God has brought us through difficult times this last month. I believe that He already knows the next job you will have.”