Grandpa's Harmonica

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Chapter 19

When Jamie woke, blue-white light filled the cave. He shook Sam and Homer. “Hey, it’s morning and the storm’s over. Let’s get out and see where we are.”

Sam said, “Okay, let me go first and dig out the tunnel. Wait until I call you.” He grabbed a board, crawled through the tunnel and a few minutes later, he said, “Okay, hand the coats out to me. We can put them on out here where there’s more room.”

Homer and Jamie crawled out and looked around while they put their coats on. Homer pointed at the roofs of a house and barn. “Look yonder, that’s our farm. We ain’t more than a half-mile from home. Don’t that beat all? We musta been goin’ in circles.”

The boys laughed and socked each other on the arm. Jamie said, “Let’s get going, everyone’s probably out looking for us.”

Homer said, “Hold on. I gotta pee so bad, I bet I can write my whole name in the snow.”

Jamie thought that was a good idea, so he joined Homer and got half way through the ‘m’ in his first name. “Don’t you have to go, Sam?”

Sam grinned. “I did as soon as I crawled out. Anyway, I don’t have your artistic skills.”

They slogged through knee-deep snowdrifts to the road and then hiked to Homer’s farm. His mom saw them coming and ran out, screaming Homer’s name and practically carried him inside.

They took off their coats and boots in the kitchen while Homer’s mom went to the telephone and cranked out the six fast rings used to call everyone on the party line all at once. As people picked up, she told them the boys were home and safe. Then she rang the operator and asked her to pass the news to the other party lines and Mrs. Lily.

They ate big helpings of the breakfast Homer’s mom cooked for them while Sam explained how they had gotten lost and spent the night in a snow cave. Wilbur, Homer’s little brother, rested his chin on the table and stared at Sam with eyes that seemed to be as big as hardboiled eggs. He had a new hero right alongside of his big brother.

When Mr. Meiers and Jamie’s dad drove up in the horse-drawn bobsled, they had to tell the story again.

Jamie’s dad frowned. “Sam, I’m glad you knew how to make that snow cave, but don’t go thinking that the three of you are heroes. You did some very foolish things and could’ve died. Homer, Jamie, I’m extremely disappointed with you two. Sam doesn’t know what snowstorms are like here and I would’ve expected you’d take better care of your friends.”

Homer nodded and Jamie said, “Yes, sir. We’re sorry.”

“Sam, from what Jamie has told me, you are a very smart, clever boy, but you haven’t lived here long enough to know the dangers. No matter how upset you are, you have to think before you act. Do you understand?”

Looking down, Sam said, “Yes, sir. I’m sorry and I’ll tell Aunt Lily what happened.”

“That’s good. The state highway is open and I can take you there in the sled so someone can pick you up. Aaron, please call Mrs. Lily and tell her where we’ll meet.”

They pulled on their coats and hats and Jamie asked, “You mad at me, Dad?”

“No. Just relieved. Your Grandma and mom will take care of being mad. You gave them quite a scare.”

They said good-bye to Homer and his family and went outside. Sam and Jamie climbed into the bobsled and settled into the straw. Jamie’s dad threw the sled blanket over them then stood in front, picked up the reins, clicked to the team and they were off.

Sam stroked the hair on the blanket. “This is nice and warm. What’s it made of?”

“It’s the hide off one of our work horses that died a few years ago. We had it tanned and Mom sewed a wool blanket to the inside so we could use it on the bobsled.”

Sam smiled, pulled the blanket up to his chin and wriggled into a more comfortable position in the straw.

Jamie loved new snow. Everything was clean and white and he breathed in the brilliantly cold air through his nose in huge gulps. While he looked around, Sam took off a mitten, reached over and held Jamie’s hand. Jamie slid his hand away, pulled off his mitten then searched under the blanket until he found Sam’s hand.

They held hands all the way to the state highway where Mr. Jorgenson waited. When they stopped, Sam and Jamie pulled their mittens on and slid from under the blanket.

Mr. Jorgenson jumped out of the truck and hugged Sam. “We worry about you much. Your aunt is very upset. We go home right away.” He turned to Jamie’s dad and shook his hand. “Thank you for bringing Sam. We go.”

Jamie waved as they climbed into the truck and said, “We won’t have school for a couple of days so I’ll see you later.”

“Oh, right. I didn’t think of that. Call you tomorrow?”

“Yeah. I’d like that.”

Sam waved, got into the truck and rode away with Mr. Jorgenson. Jamie climbed back into the sled and crawled under the blanket.

His dad slapped the reins and turned the sled toward home. “You’d better practice your story. Mom and Grandma were sure you three had all froze to death.”

“I’m sorry, Dad. We had to save Sam. But he ended up saving us all.”

“I understand and I was worried too. Your grandpa wasn’t and kept saying you’d get along fine. I’m proud of the way you handled everything. It took a lot of courage to go after Sam when you knew how dangerous it was.”

Jamie didn’t know what to say. His dad had never said anything like that to him before and the day seemed to warm up by twenty degrees.

“Thanks, Dad.” Jamie wanted to say more, but couldn’t think of anything else so they drove home in silence.

At home, his mom and grandma had collected buckets-full of mad while they had been worrying about them. The instant he came through the kitchen door, they dumped it all over him. When he took his hat off, he clapped both hands over his ears so his grandma couldn’t grab one.

He had to sit at the table and tell them everything again and again. When he told them what Homer had said to Sam that started the whole thing, they blamed Homer for it and all the trouble Jamie had ever gotten into in his entire life. If Grandpa hadn’t been on his side, Jamie was sure his mom would’ve thought up punishments that would’ve lasted until spring.

Things calmed down and Jamie’s grandma baked a cake to celebrate him getting home safely. He spent the rest of the day shoveling snow and doing chores.

When Jamie was in bed that night, his grandpa came in and Jamie scooted over to give him room to sit down. “You all right there, boy?”

“Yes, sir, but I never want to do that again. Sam knows all kinds of things I don’t. I never would’ve thought of making a snow cave.”

“Me neither. I ain’t never heard of such a thing.”

“Dad said you weren’t worried. Why are Mom and Grandma so mad?”

Grandpa sighed. “Well, it’s the three of you gettin’ lost, of course, but there’s somethin’ else. I been puttin’ off tellin’ you and I need to do it now before you hear it from someone else.”

He looked so unhappy that Jamie felt cold fear fluttering in his stomach. “Tell me what?”

His grandpa smiled and then did something Jamie never could have imagined. Flipping off the tweed cap he usually wore in doors, he set it on Jamie’s head. Jamie’s mouth fell open in shock. In his entire life, he’d never seen his grandpa without a hat for more than a few seconds.

His thin white hair was combed straight back and without a hat, his ears seemed to stick out. Jamie reached up and touched the cap. If his grandpa was trying to make him feel better, it wasn’t working. Now he was terrified and felt supper rise in the back of his throat.

“Them tests I took at the hospital come back and it seems like I got me a case of lung cancer.”

“What’s that?”

“They tell me it’s somethin’ I mighta got from smokin’ cigarettes all them years. That’s why I been short of breath and tired so much. What I gotta tell you is there ain’t no cure.”

“No cure?” Jamie felt like a cow just kicked him in the stomach. “But… what…?”

“They say it’s way advanced and I ain’t got much time left.”

Not much time left? Grandpa was going to die? No! Jamie touched his grandpa’s cap, but he saw his hand trembling and he jerked it down to grab a fistful of quilt.

“I didn’t wanna be hurtful, but I couldn’t think of a way a tellin’ you otherwise. Everyone in the family knows and I asked them not to tell you ‘cause I wanted you to hear it from me.” Jamie opened his mouth to ask a question, but his grandpa held up a hand. “Don’t say nothin’ now. We’ll talk more about it tomorrow. You’d best get some sleep. There’s a whole pile more snow to shovel.”

When he got up and went out, closing the door, Jamie slid his bare feet and legs around under his quilt until they were in the warm spot where his grandpa had been sitting. Then he turned his face into his pillow and cried.

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