It was just before Christmas and the tree was standing, decorated, looking like a perfect little tree. The presents were wrapped in their brightly colored Christmas wear. They were patiently waiting for Christmas morning.
Adam and I shared a bedroom with each other. Since I was older I got the top bed of the wooden framed bunk bed, Dad had built. On rainy days it doubled as a fort. And lately it always seemed to be raining.
Every morning I would get up and look out the window of our bedroom to see what the weather was like. I had to climb up on a stool and then on to the top of our dresser that I also shared with Adam.
I knew I was not supposed to do that, knowing Mom would get mad at me and that when Dad got home I would have to go out to the shed for a whipping.
But I did it anyway as I could not wait. I had to know if it was still raining or if I would get to go outside and play. I wanted to go outside very badly.
I moved the stool over to the dresser where I could climb up on it. I looked out. It was cloudy and still raining.
I had jus’ stood up on the top of the dresser when Mom walked into the bedroom. I was in big trouble.
“How many times have you been told not to climb on the furniture?” Mom asked.
Then she added without hesitation, “Get down now!”
She shook her head at me. I knew what that meant. Mom was going to tell Dad what I had done.
I also knew that it was not polite to argue back to Mom, so I jumped down from the dresser top and stood there with my hand behind my back and head down as if I were looking at the toes of my boot.
Sassing Mom would only make matters worse.
Adam did not pay any attention to what had happened. He was busy looking for his other boot that was lost somewhere underneath their bed.
Dad had always told me that I must behave and set a good example for Adam. I was not doing a very good job of that.
After breakfast we set about doing our chores. One chore was feeding King.
He was our big German shepherd dog. He liked to wag his tail and lick our faces.
King would also play fetch with anyone who picked up a stick and tossed it. But the best thing King did was protecting us from everything that came out of the forest at night.
With the sky still cloudy and rain still coming down, Adam and I started building a fort. We tucked in an old Army blanket Mom had given us and let it hang over the side of the bunk bed.
With one side protected by the bedroom wall, it was the perfect fort. The top bunk was the look out.
All day long Adam and I played in our fort. We fought off one Indian attack after another and caught bank robbers and rode our stick ponies around our room.
Our ponies were old mops with the handles partly sawed short. The string of the mop head made the pony’s mane and an old flour sack stuffed with chicken feathers made the head.
They were perfect ponies. Dad had added leather reins to the ponies by cutting an old belt in half and tacking it to the handle.
With all the fun we were having, we did not notice that King was barking wildly. He had been barking for quite sometime.
Suddenly Mom burst into our fort. She had her coat and rain hat on and she had our coats and hats with her.
She grabbed Adam by the hand and said, “Come on, we have to get out of the house. Let’s go!”
Once we were outside I was surprised to see the river’s water flowing right by the front porch. All of the rain had caused the river to over flow its banks and flow the township of Klamath.
The river was coming up fast and it was still raining. Mom reached down and unhooked King’s chain from the side of the house and took off at a full run for the backside of the home.
I was running as fast as I could, while Mom carried Adam in her arms. She followed King, who seemed to know exactly what to do. They were rushing towards Simpson’s Timber Mill, where Dad was working.
I stopped and turned around, jus’ yards from their house. I could see my bedroom window. I could also see that the river was quickly surrounding our house until the muddy, brown water was all around it.
Suddenly Mom called out, “Tommy! Come here!”
Her voice sounded strangely different. I had never heard her sound like that before and it scared me. So I turned and ran to where Mom was. She took me by the hand and started half-walking and half-running up the mud slick hillside.
Looking over my shoulder I was jus’ in time to see our home lift slightly, turn sideways and slip into the chocolate-colored water of the river. And as I blinked, the house was gone. Jus’ the top of it could be seen floating away through the water-swollen streets of the little town.
I was crying and scared. I wanted to stop and rest but Mom had me by the hand and she was still running up the hillside. When she finally stopped running, she turned to see what was happening.
All of Klamath was under water. Just the tops of chimneys could be seen marking the places where homes had once stood.
Everywhere there was debris floating rapidly towards Terwer. Only Vern’s Tackle Shop and Ramos Market was left standing as water flowed freely through its shattered storefront.
King could be heard barking in the distance. Mom turned back and started walking again towards him. King had saved us.
They were heading towards Simpson’s. But before they reached the lumberyard they would end up going past the Catholic Church.
Everything looked so different to me, even though I had been to the little church jus’ the Sunday before. Adam was crying and Mom was trying to comfort him with her soft singing, but he would have none of it.
I was quiet because I was nearly out of breath. I was running as fast as my little legs could carry me. I was trying to focus on Kings barking, in the distance.
His barking was growing closer and closer. They must be near him, but I didn’t care. I jus’ wanted to stop and sit down, to rest, but Mom would not let me.
And every time I looked back, the river seemed to have edged ever closer. It scared me.
When we finally reached the top of the hill, we were met by King. He was wet, muddy and shivering from the rain. Yet he was wagging his tail and he licked me in the face.
Mom put Adam down for the first time since we had to run away from our home. Mom held his hand as King licked him all over his face, too. Adam stopped crying.
It was about that time that I realized where I was. It was a great big place with a high steeple and a big bell.
There were lots of other people there too. They had all ran up the hillside to get away from the river as it rushed through Klamath.
There were people there that I did not know. Everyone looked confused and scared and some were crying.
The one person that I did recognize was Father Heinz. He was a very tall, skinny man. He wore a black suit with a large white-collar.
Mom said, “We’re flooded out, the house is gone.”
Father Heinz replied, “I know. It happened so quickly. I’ve called for help.”
Mom started to cry and Father Heinz put his long, lanky arm across her shoulders and walked her, Adam and I up to the large staircase of the church.
Father Heinz opened the church door and Adam and Iran inside and into the large room that echoed every time someone talked. We liked that and completely forgot our manners and about being soaking wet.
Mom appeared in the large echoing room and said, “Come on boys, let’s get dried off.”
Her voice echoed throughout the room. Adam raced off toward her but I waited a few seconds longer as I called out “who-who” like an owl.
Mom changed the tone of her voice and sounded more demanding, “Now, Tommy!”
This time I did not hesitate. I ran to Mom with delighted as I heard the echoing of my boots on the wooden floor.
After we were out of our wet clothing and dried off, Adam was laid down for a nap. I was too, but I did not want to sleep.
Instead, I lay there in the big wooden pew and listened to the rain as it fell. I thought about seeing our home wash away with the river and about how much fun it was to shout ”who-who” and have it echo all around the church room.
Next thing I knew Mom and Dad were getting him and Adam up.
Our clothes were dry and smelled clean. And the church smelled like bread baking.
“Tom, you’re welcome to stay here as long as you need to,” Father Heinz said.
“Thanks just the same, Father, but were heading over to Ma and Pa’s,” came Dad’s reply.
Dad carried Adam and I out to the old pickup truck they called ‘Buella.’ Buella was a green Studebaker with a rounded nose and roof. She made me think of a hippo when I looked at her.
Sometimes Dad would let me ride in the back of Buella. We would not go very far and I had to stay close to the cab, but it was still great fun.
The feeling of the wind rushing through my hair made me wonder if that was what a bird felt when it was flying. To ride in the back of Buella was exciting.
But no one would be riding in the back today, accept King.
The rain was still falling and it beat hard on the roof and it ricocheted off making a horrible racket. Mom climbed in on the passenger side.
Dad closed the door for her. He ordered King into the bed of the truck and chained him to the railing. Then he climbed into Buella.
A few miles north on Highway 101 was Sanders Court. That is where Ma and Pa Sanders lived.
They were from Oklahoma jus’ like Dad. We were going to stay with them.
Pa once said, “This is God’s country.”
And I felt lucky to be going to live where God lived too.
“One day,” I remember thinking, “I want to visit his ranch.”
Along the way I was surprised to see so many people camping out. There were tents everywhere.
I was excited at the sight of the tents and thought I might get to go camping as well. But Dad kept driving up the road.
It was dark by the time Dad pulled Buella into Ma and Pa’s long, muddy driveway. Adam was asleep and radio was on, but it was a lot of talking and no country western music came from it.
The sun finally poked its face through the clouds for the first time in weeks and smiled on everything. Things seemed perfect in the early morning with the sunshine starting to shine.
I could smell the bacon as it cooked and hear the voices of Mom and Ma in the kitchen. Adam was next to me and still sleeping, when I slipped out from under the patchwork quilt.
The hard wooden floor felt cold on my bare feet, but the air was warm. I looked for my socks and pulled them on. Then I grabbed my jeans, which lay across the foot of the big feather bed and yanked them over my legs.
The soft clatter of china met me as I opened the bedroom door. I was hungry and my stomach growled over and over.
I walked through the living room and into the kitchen where Mom and Ma were working.
Ma smiled at him and said, “Good morning’ sleepy-head.”
I blinked away a sleeper, “Good morning, Ma.”
Then I went over and got a hug from Mom. She kissed me on the forehead.
“Go get Adam up, please.” Mom requested.
I darted off and back around the corner and back into the darkness of the bedroom. Adam was already sitting up in bed, rubbing his eyes.
He smiled a sleepy smile at me as I said, “Get up and get dressed. It’s almost breakfast time.”
Adam scrambled out of the covers. He still had his socks on, so all he needed to do was pull on his jeans that also lay across the end of the bed.
Together we rushed out into the living room and then into the kitchen. Ma was just spooning-up some fried potatoes onto two small plates set-off on the counter of what was called the nook.
Mom picked Adam up and seated him on one of the big chairs as I climbed up into the one by its side. We were just finishing up our prayers when Ma stepped out the back door and started ringing the bell.
The bell wasn’t actually a bell. It was a metal triangle bar that hung on a chain.
Ma made it ring by hitting it with another metal bar. She could go fast and strike all three sides and make a sound that went ding-ding-ding over and over again.
Pa and Dad came in the back door, their boots making clump-clump-clump sounds as they stomped the porch trying to shake off the mud that clung to them. Then I heard the scratching noise of the boot brush as they ran their boots through it.
The boot brush was three coarse straw brushes, nailed to a wooden cradle. One brush was on the bottom with the brush side up.
The other two brushes were nailed into the side s of the cradle with the brush sides out. A person stood in front of it and dragged their boot through it one at a time.
“Take them off fellas!” Ma scolded. “You’re not tracking mud through my kitchen.”
Dad and Pa obeyed by sitting down in the front door and unlacing their boots.
Pa said, “Tom and me rode on over to the town site.” He paused to take another bite of scrambled egg. “Nearly everything is gone. Margie, it’s a good thing you grabbed them youngsters when you did.”
There was a long pause at the breakfast table. The thought of what could have happened did not need to be talked about.
“Too bad it’s so close to Christmas,” Ma said.
Then she stopped, but it was too late. I stopped eating as I had not thought about that.
I knew that it was naughty to speak at the breakfast table unless I was spoken to first, but he could not help myself, “How is Santa going to know where to find us, Mom?” I blurted out.
Pa answered him, “When I was a youngster, not much older than you, we moved all the time it seemed, but Santa always found me.”
He smiled at me. Pa must be right and I knew it, so I went back to eating my breakfast.
Besides Ma and Pa had a Christmas tree and wherever there was a Christmas tree, Santa Claus would have to visit there. So Adam and I did not have to worry, because Santa would find us.
For the next few days Pa and Dad were gone for long hours.
I enjoyed it when Dad came home. He always had stories to tell of what he had seen from the flood and what he had done that day. When Dad came home at night and after they had all sat down and ate supper, we would climb up on his knee and ask him to tell them a story.
Dad told about how our home had washed down the river and had gotten stuck under the Douglas Bridge. There were several other homes that were smashed up against the bridge as well.
Finally the bridge washed out. It cracked in several places, then it fell over. Everything that had piled up against it or had gotten stuck under the bridge had floated out to sea.
Then Dad went on to tell the boys about how some of the roofs of some of the houses were still floating around in the Pacific Ocean.
Adam interrupted, “Did you see our roof, Daddy?”
Dad shook his head and answered, “Nope, I sure didn’t.”
Dad continued with his stories. He told how some fishermen had managed to rescue a young bull that had become trapped on an old barn roof, floating in the middle of the ocean. The bulls name was Captain Courageous.
“Minutes after they pulled him from the roof, it sank outta sight,” Dad said as he finished his story.
We were absorbed in Dad’s tales. They enjoyed them so much that we were fussy when Mom said it was time for us to get ready for bed.
“There’ll be plenty of time for more stories later,” she said.
Christmas morning was on us before either of us knew it. Adam was still too young to understand what Christmas meant, but was jus’ old enough to know it was a day that we would get presents from Santa Claus.
I was very excited when he woke up. It was still dark outside so I stayed in bed listening to the noises that the cows were making outside.
Clank-clank-clank went the cows’ bell. She was leading the others to the barn for milking. Afterwards the morning was quiet except for an occasional “moo.”
Soon the screen door squeaked and then it banged shut. I could hear the heavy boots of Dad and Pa as they came in the house through the back door.
By then it was time to get up.
After quickly getting myself dressed, I quietly opened the door to the bedroom and peeked out into the living room, where the Christmas tree stood shining. Over the fireplace were two socks, bulging full of goodies and that made me even more excited.
Santa Claus had found us after all. Pa was right
Soon everyone was up, Mom and Ma and Adam too.
There was excitement everywhere. Under the tree Santa had left one great big present for Adam and me, plus a smaller one for each of us.
We ripped off the wrappings and pulled from each box a bow and arrow set. The bow was painted white with red, yellow and blue stripes at either end.
The arrows all had rubber tips. Also in the box was colorful headdress jus’ like the one in some of Pa’s picture books.
I put my headdress on and jumped up and gave out a loud “whoop.” I was going to go hunting just like the Indian boy named Little Two Feathers.
Dad had told Adam and I that story many times as they fell off to sleep.
Dad would start, “Little Two feathers lived deep in the forest. He lived with his family in a village near a lake. One day his father, who was a great chief, gave Little Two Feathers a bow and a quiver of arrows.
“Little Two Feathers learned to shoot his arrows straight. He was so good at shooting his arrows that he could hit what ever he was shooting at.
“One day Little Two Feathers saw a man like none other he had ever seen before. The man walked so loudly that he scared off the animals of the forest. Little Two Feathers told his father about the strange, noisy man.
His father told Little Two Feathers that the man he had seen was a white man. He told Little Two Feathers that he and many others like him were soon going to be everywhere.
“Little Two Feathers thought long and hard about what his father had said. It was then that Little Two Feathers decided that he must move far away so that he could always hunt and not have to worry about the white man scaring off all the animals of the forest.
“So Little Two Feathers walked and walked and walking so long into the night that he had to light a torch to find his way. Then he walked so far that he walked right up into the sky.
“And he can still be seen in the night-time sky. All one has to do is look for the brightest star in the sky there one can find Little Two Feathers.”
Adam put on his headdress and he stood up and he let out a “whoop” too. Then together we tore off the paper of the big box that had both of our names on it.
Inside the box was a bunch of sticks and a white piece of canvas with moons, stars and horses and birds on it. It was teepee.
Both of us were so excited that we had forgotten about the socks hanging along the mantle. We wanted to go outside on the front porch and set up the teepee and play.
Ma and Mom went to the kitchen and started making breakfast. Pa and Dad went outside with the teepee and started setting it up for us.
But before they could get it all set up it was time for breakfast.
It was very hard for me to eat slowly. I wanted to be bad and eat like King sometimes did, but I knew that was rude so I forced my self to go slowly.
And jus’ to make sure I had taken plenty of time, I even waited to ask to be excused. When I was, I ran outside onto the front porch and put my headdress on.
Soon Mom and Dad and Ma and Pa and Adam were out on the front porch. I climbed up on the railing, which I was pretending it was a cliff.
When I looked down I squealed with surprise. In the yard in front of the house were two sleigh marks and several hoof prints.
Santa Claus had been right outside our room, having landed in the yard instead of on the roof. I yelled with delight. Adam was excited too as he ran down the steps and around the side of the house to see if Santa Claus was still there.
It was just after dinner when Adam remembered the stockings. They were full of candy canes and hard candy. I licked at my candy cane slowly and until it was pointed. Adam bit into his with a loud crunch.
The day was one of the best I could ever remember. I had gotten a bow and arrow set and had seen Santa Clauses sleight marks.
It was then that I was going to be a great tracker. I had proved that by reading the reindeer hoof marks in the yard.