The still quality of the air sent Naomi to the door of her sod house.  Outside she saw her little girls Sadie and Gertrude playing with their younger brother in the orange grass.  In the seven months she had spent on the prairie, Naomi could not remember a time when the wind was not blowing.  To the East, a gray cloud hung low on the horizon.  After a few moments, Naomi went back in to finish her ironing, hoping the cloud would mean rain that evening. 

 

This adventure of homesteading with six children was not Naomi’s idea of a wise move, but Herman had assured her that he could prove up on a homestead and they would be better off owning their own land instead of farming for someone else.

 

“Mama, mama,” the girls cried.  Naomi met them at the door.  They each clutched a scraggly bunch of the yellow sticky flowers that were so common in the late summer. 

 

“Thank you ladies, I will put these in a little water.”  Naomi dipped a mug in the dishwater and arranged the yellow flowers in the window.  “Your brothers should be home soon, so let’s get the table set.  I wish your father had not agreed to stay over at the Horn’s tonight.  Something about the weather is strange.”  Naomi moved to slice the bread while the girls dusted off the table and set it with seven plates.

 

Soon they could hear the sounds of the older brothers teasing each other while they put the horses up for the night.  “Mother,” Seymour, the eldest said as he stepped into the soddy, “I am not sure what is happening, but there is a gray cloud coming this way quickly.  We had better prepare for something…but I don’t know what.” 

 

“I noticed the cloud too.  Make sure the livestock are all put up, I am not sure what else we can do.”

 

As they sat down at the table, the family heard a throbbing, grinding noise.  As the noise grew louder the family was unable to wait to see what was happening, everyone crowded at the door and looked to the East.  Grasshoppers were falling from the sky; the cloud they had seen was comprised of grasshoppers. They landed on the garden and the haystacks.  Naomi ignored the fear in her stomach.  What horrible kind of place had grasshopper clouds? 

 

She and her children grabbed feed sacks and flew to protect the precious garden.  The grasshoppers settled on the ripe vegetables first and then ate the green plants while the family frantically beat at them with the sacks.  When the garden was bare, the grasshoppers turned and attacked the feed sacks.

 

“Mama! Help!” cried Gertrude frantically. The grasshoppers had attached themselves to her red hair and were chewing on it.  Naomi rushed over to beat them off of her daughter and told her to go back to the house.  She took a breath and looked around.  The ground was covered with grasshoppers; obviously, shredded feed sacks were not going to protect anything.   In despair, she told everyone to go back to the house. 

 

Inside the dark house, the children took turns picking grasshoppers out of each other’s clothes and hair.  The boys ground them into the dirt floor with their feet.  Naomi stood at the window and stared at the bleak sight outside.  After an hour or so, the grasshoppers moved on, and were gone almost as quickly as they had come.  Before dusk fell, Naomi sent the boys to look after the livestock.

 

While they were gone, Sadie and Gertrude stared anxiously out the window at the barren prairie.  Naomi quietly washed the dinner dishes and handed the girls a towel to dry with.

 

“It doesn’t look good Mother,” said Seymour stomping his feet as he returned to the soddy.  “The hay stacks are gone, and everything made out of wood has been chewed on.  We looked past the barn and the grasshoppers ate the corn field down to the ground.  I don’t know what the cattle are going to eat now, there is nothing left.”

 

“The chickens look like something has been chewing on their feathers!” said Freddy, the youngest brother.

 

Naomi was terrified but she took a deep breath and sat up straight in her chair.  “Bring me the Bible, George.”  She opened the Bible and read the chapter in Exodus about the plagues God had set upon the Egyptians. 

 

When she had finished four year old Freddy asked, “Are we in Egypt?” 

 

A tired smile crossed Naomi’s face, “No, honey we are in Kansas Territory.  I wanted to remind us we aren’t the first to go through something like this.”  Naomi’s throat tightened at the thought of what they would do now.  Their whole livelihood had been eaten and was hopping west.  Suddenly the wind picked up and soon it began to howl.

 

Hoping to comfort the children with routine, Naomi said, “Since your father is not here, Seymour would you like to tell us a story?”  Naomi picked up her mending and sat by the window to make use of the last light.

 

Seymour sat in his father’s chair with the younger children at his feet and asked them which of his father’s stories he should tell.  “You can choose first, Luke.”

 

“Tell about the Spaniards,” said Luke.  His favorite story was about the Spaniards who had traveled the prairie before it had been settled.  He liked to think of the adventures the men had meeting wild Indians and searching for the seven cities of gold in the same hills they lived in.  When the story ended everyone went to bed.  Naomi made up a large pallet on the floor for the older boys while the younger children shared a bed in the one room sod house. 

 

For the first time in her marriage, Naomi spent the night alone in her bed, but she didn’t sleep.  They had used all of their savings to build the soddy they lived in and were relying on the corn crop and garden to feed them through the winter.

 

Halfway through the next morning Father rode up on his saddle horse.   He dismounted with a strange smile on his face.  The children rushed to tell him what had happened the day before.  After Father listened to the stories he said much the same thing had happened at the neighbor’s place.  Naomi waded through the children and asked, “Oh Herman, what will we ever do?” 

 

“The good Lord will provide, Naomi, He always does,” replied Herman.

 

When the children settled down, Herman said he had a surprise for them.  The children responded with a chorus of, “What, what?” 

 

“I noticed something unusual on the ride this morning and I want to investigate it a little further,” Herman replied.  “Bring me the shovel, son,” he said to George.  Naomi and the children followed Herman as he walked back the way he had come, leading his horse.  The children peppered him with questions but he would not answer any of them except to say he had a surprise for them.  Half a mile from the house he led the horse into a blowout, where the recent wind had blown the sand from an area where the grass had been thin in the first place.  The blowout left a raw gash in the prairie.  “Look at this,” he said. 

 

The children looked.  The blowout was scattered with round discs.  The children scrambled to pick up the discs.  They appeared to be very old coins with foreign markings on them.  Herman took the shovel and dug into the thickest part of the discs.  Everyone stood dumbfounded looking at a pile of Spanish gold.  “The Spaniards must have buried this for some reason and were unable to come back for it.  I think this will help us recover from the grasshoppers,” said Herman with a big smile.

 

What do you think?  Mostly I was looking to write a complete story, with a plot and a surprising ending.  A past contest topic in the 24 hour contest was to write about a natural disaster.  The judges picked out the ones with unusual circumstances, like an avalanche rather than the typical hurricane, tornado, earthquake, blizzard stories.  I started this about noon and finished it…well too late.  I won’t be editing it or anything, but I want input if you have any.  I realize that I didn’t do any fact checking on the date of Kansas Territory and homesteading…

Advertisements