The fire crackles, pops, and spits as I add another piece of oak wood. My hair smells of the fire as I wrap my wool blanket around me just a little tighter. My soul grows comfortable, drinking my coffee and listening to everyone talk and laugh. My brother took a long stick and stuck a marshmallow on it, thrust it into the fire. It burst into a small ball of fire and everyone laughed at him trying to eat the hot sticky mess. My mother gave us one of our favorite Cherokee traditions: Storytelling.
Sometimes the stories are true, sometimes they teach us, sometimes they are just funny. Stories told around the fire are always remembered. This one is true.
Every time I twist my seat the rusty chain squeaks: that off-key sound that makes your teeth hurt squeak. Soft dust clouds rise and fall as I make little kicks in the dirt. My metal swing set is in the front yard of my house. I have only one complete seat, where the second seat should be there is a short rusty single chain that I hang on sometimes, but the metal slide is ok, no rust on it.
My mom doesn’t like the squeak, so I keep making it.
Swallowing hard, I won’t look up. I can feel her eyes on me. She’s watching me out the window.
“Jimmy always gets his way.” I say out loud to no one. I keep kicking dirt. My dried tears make the skin on my cheeks feel stiff.
Earlier, I was playing with my trucks, I had them all lined up just like I wanted, then Jimmy comes running in and he kicks my trucks over. Jimmy was laughing and kicking over every single truck. I got so mad. I pushed him down and called him a baby. Of course Jimmy had to start crying. I know I didn’t hurt him, I told him to stop crying, but he just got louder and then mom came in. Of course, she had to pick him up to stop him from crying. I had to sit in the corner for 15 minutes and Jimmy didn’t have to at all.
“Not fair!” I mumble. No one is there but I feel better just saying it.
I make my swing squeak again and kick little dirty pebbles. I don’t have a backyard to play in, just my front yard and it is pretty small. I get in trouble if I run out into the fields. All the field workers tell me to get back home or they’ll tell my dad. “Not fair!” I yell it into the wind.
I wish we had a shade tree in the front yard of the farm house so I could climb it, but I don’t. All of our trees are planted in a long tight row along the far side of the farm to block the afternoon dust and wind. I don’t like those trees because they’re all straight tall Eucalyptus and they’re not good for climbing. My dad is always telling me the same old story; he said that is what everyone does in the Salinas Valley to block the winds.
The wind is picking up. A shiver runs down my spine, and now I got little goose bumps on my arms. I wish I had my jacket, but I’m determined to not go back inside. It’s sunny but the wind never lets it get hot.
The breath of wind. The lettuce and celery fields smell so fresh, and the green onion fields smell strong and I’m so glad no one is fertilizing the strawberry fields, because it always stinks. I stop making the squeak and start to swing.
The afternoon Sun is so bright, my eyes hurt a little. I hear dull pounding sounds in the distance, strong, powerful.
“What is that?” I stop swinging to look around.
Squinting, I see all the normal stuff: no houses for miles, a big green John Deer tractor driving slowly through the iceberg lettuce field, and a larger closed cab tractor planting rig in the celery field, some workers out in one of the fields laying pipes. Weird, tractors don’t make pounding noises.
I stand up but I still don’t see anything that can make those sounds. More pounding, louder now. I jumped onto my swing and I’m standing in it, I turn around and I see a black tumultuous cloud of horses running straight at me. So many!
I feel instantly cold, and my feet became heavy stones. I get down from my swing, then I stand up on my seat, I get step down again, then I sit in my swing. Gripping onto my metal swing chain, and pull my feet in the swing with me. Hot tears stinging my eyes. “Mommy!”
“Son! Stay still and hang on!” My mom is shouting. I catch a glance of my mom as she becomes my wall of protection in front of me, house slippers on her planted feet, nothing but her kitchen apron and herself.
Waving her arms, she had her kitchen apron in her hand. I can hear her yelling and hollering to the horses. This Cherokee woman is trying to stop this panicked herd of horses running at full strength right at us.
I squeeze my eyes shut, put my head down, clinging with all my strength to the metal chains of my swing, trying to make myself as small as possible. My swing set bumped, jerked, and almost went over, I just kept clinging. Hot tears sting my eyes, mixing with the dust make it unbearable to see. The taste of dirt is suffocating. One horse pushes me into another one; I bounce between so fast I barely realize it is happening.
Then it’s over. I can’t stop shaking, I’m still gripping the chains and I see blood on my numb fingers.
As I open my eyes and she is standing there looking at me. A layer of dirt and dust covers my mom, her deep dark brown hair usually neatly combed back looks like a dirty nest, one of her bare feet is bloody, no house slippers at all. The pattern on my mom’s dress is hid under the dirt. Her hands are shaking.
“Are you alright son?” She asks as she is wiping her face with her apron so she can see. She reaches for me.
“Yea,” I whisper. My voice is barely audible as I try to stand up. My legs have turned to rubber.