Grandpa's Harmonica

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Chapter 17

Snow started falling Thursday morning right after Jamie got to school. Sam stood at the window with a group of little kids all staring out at the thick blowing snow.

Homer asked, “Ain’t you ever seen snow before, Sam?”

“Not like this. In New York, the flakes don’t blow around so much. It’s beautiful.”

“Hah! Wait’ll you gotta shovel it. You ain’t gonna think it’s so all-fired beautiful then.”

At first recess, Miss Kuelmann sent everyone out to bring in more firewood and water. By noon, more than six inches had accumulated and it had begun to drift. At two o’clock, a car drove up and then there was a knock at the door.

Miss Kuelmann called, “Come in.”

The door opened and a man came in, letting in a blast of cold air. “Hello, Miss Kuelmann, I’m Richard Wyse from the school office in town. We got word that this is going to be a big storm. Probably get two feet or more with lots of wind. The superintendent wants you send the children home.”

Miss Kuelmann nodded and clapped her hands. “Attention everyone! We’re going follow our storm plan.”

Walking to her desk, she pulled out a sheet of paper and went over the list of nearby homes where each child was to go and stay until the storm blew over or their parents could pick them up. She finished and said, “Seventh grade, help the younger children get dressed for outside.”

When they were ready, she had each one repeat where they were going before she let them out the door. Finally, Sam, Homer, Miss Kuelmann and Jamie were the only ones left.

Sam said, “Miss Kuelmann, I won’t have a ride home because Mr. Jorgenson is running errands. What should I do?”

Miss Kuelmann said, “Why don’t you go with Homer. Jamie’s going there since it’s closer than his home. You can call your Aunt from there.” Then she walked to her desk, collecting papers and books.

Jamie said, “That’s a good idea. We’ll all go together.”

Homer frowned, not liking the idea of Sam coming home with him and Jamie.

Seeing his expression, Sam smiled. “Come on, Homer, it’s only for a few hours. We can take our books and do homework together. It’ll be fun.”

“If you think bein’ holed up with you in a snow storm and doin’ homework is gonna be fun, you belong in one of them places where they keep crazy people.”

Sam’s right fist snapped out, catching Homer on the side of his jaw. His eyes rolled up white and he spun to the floor. Sam grabbed his things from the coatroom and ran out the door.

Jamie helped Homer sit up while he rubbed his jaw. “He did it again, didn’t he?”

When Jamie nodded, Homer fished around inside his mouth with his tongue and spit a bloody tooth onto the palm of his hand. “Baby tooth. Oh, well. Mom’ll give me a nickel for it.”

Miss Kuelmann rushed over. “Jamie, Homer, what on earth is going on?”

Homer shrugged. “Dunno. I said somethin’ about Sam staying with me and he hauled off and slugged me. I didn’t do nothin’, I swear.”

“Of all times to have a fight. Where did he go?”

Jamie pointed at the door. “He grabbed his coat and stuff and took off running.”

“This could be serious.” Miss Kuelmann pulled on her coat. “You boys go to Homer’s. I’ll go across to George Peat’s farm and use their telephone to tell everyone to look for him. You boys stay on the road and go straight home. Understand?”

Jamie and Homer said together, “Yes’m.”

As they put on their coats, hats and boots, Jamie whispered so Miss Kuelmann couldn’t hear him, “Homer, we’ve got to go after Sam.”

“Why? He just lit into me again.”

“That doesn’t matter. He doesn’t know about whiteouts.”

If enough snow fell and the wind was right, visibility could be only one or two feet and it was easy to become disoriented. Farmers tied ropes between their buildings to follow so they could do chores safely. Almost every year, the newspaper had a story about someone dying after getting lost in a whiteout.

Homer scowled. “So what? Serve ’im right.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“Well, all right, I don’t. But Sam’s gonna have to quit hittin’ me.”

“Worry about that later. Come on, we have to find him before the storm gets too bad.”

Jamie pulled Homer’s arm and they went out the door. When Miss Kuelmann saw them start toward Homer’s farm, she went in the other direction to the Peat farm to use the telephone.

On the road, Sam’s tracks were easy to spot and judging by how close his footprints were, he was walking. The blowing snow was filling them in, but Jamie thought they’d be able to catch up to him if they ran. Jamie hoped Sam would stay on the road because they’d be able to follow that even in a whiteout.

Although Jamie watched the road as well as he could, the footprints vanished. He stopped and looked around. “Homer, I lost the trail.”

Homer walked back along the road staring at the snow. “Here they are. They veer off into this field. Now what? I ain’t keen on goin’ away from the road.”

Jamie walked back to Homer. “I’m not, either. Let’s yell. Maybe he can hear us.”

“The wind’s gonna make it hard for him to hear us, but let’s give it a try.”

Homer and Jamie yelled for Sam again and again, listening between yells. All they heard was the wind. Jamie said, “C’mon, let’s keep following his tracks.”

“All right, but we can get lost too, you know.”

“I know, but we still have to try.” They turned off the road and followed Sam’s tracks, which were fading under the blowing snow.

At the top of a hill, the tracks disappeared and they couldn’t find them again. Homer said, “Well, that’s that. There ain’t no more we can do. We gotta go back.”

“You’re right, but let’s yell one more time before we do.”

Homer and Jamie walked in a circle, yelling until they were hoarse, but didn’t hear anything but each other and the wind.

Discouraged, Jamie said, “Let’s get back to the road. I hope he’s okay.”

Homer nodded and searched one more time for Sam’s tracks. Abruptly, he stopped, yanked off his hat and pointed.

“Wait a minute! I heard somethin’. Over that way.”

They leaned into the wind and made their way along the crest of the hill, yelling. Homer held up his hand. “I hear ’im over there.” He pointed down the hill to the right.

Jamie pulled his hat up to uncover his ears. “You’re right. Let’s go.”

They tugged their hats back on and slid down, yelling as they went. At the bottom, they heard Sam’s voice and ran in that direction. They found him entangled in a roll of barbed wire. A fence had been pulled out and huge coils of old wire had been thrown into the bottom of a gully.

Jamie and Homer unsnagged Sam’s clothes from the wire, which wasn’t easy because he was tangled up tight. Over the wind, Jamie yelled, “Sam, what happened?”

“I was afraid I’d get lost if I went any farther, but when I turned back, I didn’t see the hill and I rolled down into this wire. Then I couldn’t get out.”

Homer said, “Let’s get goin’. It ain’t gonna be easy because we gotta get up this hill, find our tracks and follow ’em.”

“Jamie said, “Sam, you okay to walk?”

“Yes, let’s go.”

The hill was steep and slick so they climbed by pulling and pushing each other up. Any tracks they might have left had been blown away and they could only see about ten feet in any direction.

“Now what?” asked Homer.

Jamie pointed. “When we turned off the road, we were walking into the wind. If we walk with it at our backs, we should be able to find the road again.”

“That’s gonna be iffy ’cause the wind shifts around. There’s big drifts too.”

Sam said, “I don’t know if there’s anything else we can do.”

Jamie led, keeping the wind at his back and forcing his boots through snow that got steadily deeper. He stopped to catch his breath and said, “We’ve walked a lot farther than we did getting here. We missed the road.”

He felt panic creeping around in his stomach with its claws out and when he spoke, it climbed into his voice making it higher and louder. Jamie began to wonder if their parents would be reading about them in the newspaper.

Sam yelled, “Stay calm! Since we don’t know where we are, it doesn’t matter which way we go, so let’s make it as easy as possible. Keep the wind at our backs and go downhill when we can. As long as we keep walking, we’ll have a chance to find something.”

They walked single file, searching for anything that might guide them to safety, a road, a fence, a building, anything man-made. All they saw was blowing curtain of white snow against a grey background that turned darker as evening surrounded them.

They plodded on, putting one foot in front of the other. Their strength faded as the snow got deeper and they as they took more rest stops, each one got longer.

Sam was leading while Homer and Jamie followed when Sam yelled. They moved together and saw he had walked into part of an old wooden livestock windbreak. Most of it had fallen, but there were still a few boards standing.

“Maybe we can make a shelter with this.”

Homer pulled on a board, which broke apart in his hands. “Ain’t no good, it’s all rotten.”

“Maybe so, but we must be near a farm. Someone wouldn’t put a fence up in the middle of nowhere, would they?” When Homer and Jamie nodded, he pounded his mittened hands together. “Well, okay then, let’s keep going.”

Sam took a few steps and disappeared. Homer and Jamie crept ahead to see what had happened. He’d fallen into a steep ravine that had a huge snowdrift hanging over the top edge.

Jamie made a megaphone with his hands and yelled, “Sam! You all right?”

“Yes! This is perfect! Throw those boards down and then come and help.”

The boys had no idea what Sam was up to, but he sounded happy so they pulled the planks loose and tossed them over the edge. Then they jumped and slid down.

At the bottom, Homer got up and said, “What’re you doin’? We gotta keep goin’.”

Sam handed a board to each of them. “Not any more. Just do what I tell you.” He picked up a board and using it as a shovel, dug into the overhanging snow bank. “Move the snow away from the hole. C’mon, help.”

Sam dug furiously and while Homer and Jamie cleared the snow, Sam burrowed in and upward until all Jamie could see were Sam’s boots.

Then Jamie figured out what Sam was doing. He was making an igloo! If he made it big enough, they could all get inside. He didn’t see how they’d stay warm, but at least they’d be out of the wind.

A light appeared in the hole and when Jamie stuck his head in and looked up, all he could see were Sam’s legs. “Sam, where’s the light coming from?”

“Don’t ask questions. Dig!” He yelled.

Jamie and Homer pushed the snow into piles on either side of the hole until Sam yelled, “Give me all the boards, but nothing more than about two feet long. We’re almost done.”

Homer and Jamie gathered the boards, stomping on some to break them to the right length and handed them in to Sam.

“That’s it. Come on in.”

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