The Sins of His Grandmother

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Chapter 40

About two years following Sondra’s last visit to her mother, Mr. Peck decided to relocate his family out of Yarmouth. With the war finished, money was no longer coming in the way that it used to be. Fearing the possibility that he could return to being piss-poor and unable to provide for his family - as it was in those trying, unforgettable days of the Great Depression - Mr. Peck made his exodus out of town before the little bit of savings that he had managed to accumulate over the years ended up completely withering away.

Sondra’s head was perched against the inside canopy of the Pecks’ prodigious custom-built family wagon as Mr. Peck eagerly prodded his horses to begin getting a move on. The only thought running through her mind at the moment was how perfect it would have been if her mother could have been a part of this migration out of the state of Massachusetts. Unfortunately, Mr. Peck’s decision to just up and leave town was a spontaneous one. He hadn’t told anybody in advance (not even his wife) that today would be their final day in Yarmouth. He had seemingly just awoken with thoughts of a better life in a new environment on his mind. As the family pulled all of their belongings - excluding articles that were much too hefty to carry behind them - out of their tiny dwelling and stuffed them into the back of the Brobdingnagian wagon, Sondra was tempted to ask to be excused so that she could navigate her way through the woods as quickly as she possibly could for one last time to try and convince her mother to do what she knew was right and muster up the guts to get out of her distressing situation. Sondra knew that she would have had a great deal of explaining to do if she was to return hand-in-hand with the strange elderly lady, but she was more than ready to lie her ass off so that her mother could experience life in a way that she never before had the opportunity to. But, of course, this was all just a fantasy floating around inside the head of the teenage idealist. She would have no such chance to go and collect her mother. Mr. Peck was pushing her too hard to get her belongings into the wagon as fast as she possibly could. It was impossible for her to stop and get a drink of water if she wanted to. Mr. Peck’s mind was set on getting out of Yarmouth pronto.

As Mr. Peck crossed state line after state line, Sondra’s fears pertaining to the future of her mother’s well-being intensified. Still a young child who had yet to experience a quarter of the adversities and misfortunes that life would eventually end up throwing her way, Sondra didn’t walk around with too many regrets. Without a doubt, however, her biggest regret to date was telling her mother that she had no desire whatsoever to ever see her again. Was she ever wrong. The further away that Mr. Peck moved the family away from Yarmouth over the following days and weeks, the more disdain Sondra felt for herself, and it showed. In fact, the effects of her newly-adopted sulkiness threatened to poison the attitudes of everyone around her. She wasn’t eating; she was missing out on copious hours of sleep; she wasn’t communicating with anyone in the family; her eyeballs were always alarmingly red and moist with tears; and she felt as though the only set of persons that she could depend on in the whole entire world were turning their backs on her. Her brattish antics had eventually struck a nerve with the entire family, and halfway into their migration, the Pecks eventually started coming down extremely hard on her. She was placing everyone on edge and at the same time self-nominating herself to be the black sheep of the bunch. In order to raise her spirits every now and again, she would create an image of the number to the cottage in her head and promise herself day in and day out to give her mother a call as soon as she came across a telephone.

She had chosen to camouflage herself deep in the back of the wagon amongst the family’s furnishings, articles of clothes, and other miscellaneous items, while the rest of the Peck children all crammed themselves together quite uncomfortably directly behind their parent’s wooden two-seater bench at the front of the wagon, which was the only area in the wagon from which a view of the outside world could be captured. Apart from sometimes stepping out of the wagon and getting a brief glimpse of her surroundings during the occasional rest stop Mr. Peck made every four hours, Sondra was so uninterested in the world around her that she didn’t have the good fortune of taking in the wondrous scenery of Pennsylvania’s rich green, lush foliage or its breathtaking waterfalls and gorges. The wagon went past a few of the majestic castles of Illinois without her having the slightest knowledge of it. And she didn’t bother taking but a quick glance at South Dakota’s awe-inspiring rolling prairies or its canyons that were so deep that their floors appeared to pervade into the depths of hell and mountains that were so high that their tips had to have presumably been stopped from reaching any higher due to their abutment with the floor of Heaven itself.

The family was heading in a westerly direction. As the downturn in farming in Yarmouth began to manifest itself, an indefinite number of the farmers there, many of whom in the past had grappled with extreme poverty, just like Mr. Peck, felt eerily compelled to immediately find an alternative source of income, be it in Massachusetts or out of the state. What Mr. Peck wanted was to find work in a field that would provide him with a stable, adequate income so that he would be able to provide for his family for years and years to come, especially since he and his wife were now expecting another child. That desire led him all the way across the northern U.S. to Idaho. Through the grapevines, he had heard that gold; precious and semi-precious stones; copper; garnets; tungsten; clay; silver, lead, and zinc deposits; and a slew of other important minerals resided beneath the soil of the “Gem State”. Mr. Peck felt within his heart that he was finally following a lead that would result in him striking it rich. The allure of such a wealth of natural resources all for the taking in one place sounded much too enticing for him to not make his way to the state.

Work, he found easily; and this time around, he was his own boss. Even though everything he had heard from his source wasn’t exactly the way that things were once he arrived in Idaho, Mr. Peck still held on to the hope that his “American Dream” would be realized. Hell, he had no choice. He had travelled too far to allow his mind to be taken over by doubts. But it was really a gold rush that had northern Idaho’s Silver Valley rife with activity at the time of Mr. Peck’s arrival. The gold rush had brought hopeful miners to the area in droves. Included in this immense number of fortune seekers were Mr. Peck and his seven employees. Yes, he even had his pregnant wife panning for gold along the mineral-rich rivers and streams in the region. Every day Mr. Peck would have her get up and get out, from the break of dawn until the sun’s setting, in search of ounces of gold. The competition for the highly sought-after material was too numerous to not have every member of the family be hands on in the search process. There was just too much at stake to lose if everyone didn’t pitch in. For one, Mr. Peck was hoping that the family would soon pool together enough gold so that they could afford to build a home and quit having to live out of their wagon. Additionally, with another baby on the way, he wanted to make life for that child much more comfortable than he had made life for his existing children. His attitude to obtain what he had set out to obtain was so intransigent that the only time that any member of his team was able to take a break was when they needed to relieve themselves. Mr. Peck would provide each of them with a canteen of water at the beginning of the day and would deliver a meal to them that they could eat with just one hand, so that they never stopped working, twice during the day (once at 9:00 a.m. and again at 12:00 p.m.) Once dark fell, the family would all convene together inside of the wagon for an unpalatable dinner that Mr. Peck had prepared for them. The dulcet atmosphere that used to be so tangible around the dinner table back in Yarmouth had been replaced with a repugnant ambience at dinnertime in Idaho. After a long, hard day’s work, everyone just wanted to fill their stomachs as quickly as they could and rest their weary bodies in preparation for the following day. There was no speaking to one another and everyone’s eyes remained fixed in their plates, and Mr. Peck knew that it was all because of him.

He was working his family too hard, as if they were farm animals or pieces of machinery. He had evolved into a completely different man in a matter of weeks. It was weird. It was an especially tough transition for Sondra to put up with. Out of everyone, she received the worst of his treatment. Her crooked leg bones were not fond of being in the incessant bent position that the job of gold panning required them to be in. That being the case, most of the time that Mr. Peck came around to see how many fragments of gold she had collected throughout the course of the day, she was either walking around in a small circle to get the kinks out of her wobbled joints or sitting with her feet submerged in the body of water that she was working from. The gentle flow of the stream of water soothingly passing over her legs was therapeutic to her pained limbs. The jar that she had been given to deposit her gold findings in was usually empty when Mr. Peck came around. Not a single ounce of gold inside of it. But Mr. Peck was not sympathetic to her physical constraints. Her lack of productivity resulted in him raising his voice at her and telling her some extremely harsh things on a countless number of occasions. He didn’t care that dozens of other persons were around. He needed Sondra to realize the magnitude of how important her daily task was to him. The way he saw it, if she wanted to remain affiliated with his family, she would have to earn that concession. Their inability to see eye-to-eye and Mr. Peck’s unceasing antagonizing eventually caused Sondra to purposefully refuse to search for any pieces of gold. In her mind, if he could carry on and treat her with such disrespect, it was only right that she gave him a dose of his own medicine. Poor little thing… she should have known better. The first time that she disrespected him would also turn out to be the last time. When Sondra back talked Mr. Peck in front of some of the other miners down at the riverside one day, he lost it. After knocking the potty-mouthed young girl half senseless with a plangent backhand slap, he grabbed her by the hair and dunked her head inside of the nearby water, pushing it down so far that her face met with the mucky river floor. He would have drowned her too had it not been for the gallant actions of several of the miners who were brave enough to beard the barbarous assailant.

Once Sondra had regained consciousness following the ordeal, the first person she saw after opening up her eyes was a fellow miner by the name of Jonathan Platt. Her head was resting in his lap as he applied some kind of ointment to her sore, reddened cheek. All of the other miners had already gotten back to their treasure hunt, as if the near murder of a disabled teenage girl was something that they saw take place every single day. Their main concern was their pockets; but Jonathan had a heart. The 21-year-old, who had made his way to Silver Valley from Louisiana in pursuit of nothing more than a thrill and a more than welcomed life-threatening adventure, had, however, happened to amass a substantial amount of earnings from his gold mining exploits. And what he was about to offer Sondra was far more enticing than a grubstake.

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