Josephine O'Grady

United States

If a particle of your observations tugs at you a certain way, don't forget to write it down.

Message from Writer

"It might be easier
To fail with land in sight
Than gain my blue peninsula
To perish of delight."
-Emily Dickinson

The Wagon

April 19, 2016

Each day seems to drip with anticipation; a kind of waiting so silent and empty, as if waiting to be all filled up. I observe always, whether washing the dishes or putting the children to bed, that every moment my family comes closer to my husband's proposal, which has become reality. He got it, I would suppose, eventually from all those headlines advertising for the long trip, which they say pay you back upon your arrival. My husband is not a man who believes everything he reads, but the Sunday newspaper grows more excited every week, as do the number of our neighbors packing and leaving.

The wagon now sits behind the house, waiting also for us to climb in, when the sound of the horses' clacking hooves will start as the wagon bumps behind in half-composed rhythm. I soon found myself concerned about how long the ride on the Oregon Trail would take. It was a few days after my husband told me he had his heart set on the fresh farmland of Oregon Country. I was still taking it in and calculating how much food I'd need to prepare.

"A six-month journey, my dear, four months if we're lucky," he said.

I was not satisfied, as this only opened up more tumbling questions, and so he gave me the details, of which there were plenty.

"We are leaving our Iowa farm come spring, to give us enough time to cross the Rocky Mountains before winter. The trail starts in Independence, Missouri, so we will travel south, taking various routes to get there. At this rate, we'll be in Oregon before the Christmas of 1845!"

The thought of crossing mountains on a 2,200 mile journey all in our faithful wagon was overwhelming.

"But food," I said nervously, wiping my sweaty hands on my apron. "Supplies. There's only so much that wagon can-"

"The horses are quite strong," my husband assured me. "We shall travel light. And you need not worry about intense preparation, because we can buy flour, bacon, water, coffee, and sugar once we have reached Missouri. We can also team up with other families taking the route, to be strong in numbers should there be an emergency. And," he added, "We will hire a guide."

"A guide?"

"A mountain man, who has much experience in the wilderness and the Oregon Trail," my husband explained.

I find myself today, repeating in my head around the clock how the events in our leaving will unfold. I am relieved that I have only my own concerns to calm, and not also those of my boys. I start on the laundry, to take my mind off thinking for a bit. Wringing my husband's trousers and hanging them to dry, it is good to know that at least something won't change. In the distance, I see the short figures of my two sons on the dirt road that bends and curves but finally finds its way to the farm. It's a nice walk if you take your time with it, but little boys, especially mine, couldn't do that if they tried. So it is not long before they are in front of me.

But wait a minute. Why do I see feathers on their heads and mud on their cheeks?

"You don't have to worry about the Indians now, Mother," my eldest tells me proudly. "With these disguises they will recognize us as one of their own!"

"Yet," I reply, rubbing the dirt on his nose, "My one worry is replaced with the worry that this mud will dry before you even consider washing it off!"

"It's war-paint, Mother," my youngest son, with a face of freckles, corrects me.

I kiss him on the forehead. "So it is." Then I kiss his brother and dismiss them to wash their faces.

When I am done, I start back to the house with the empty laundry basket.The clothes sway in the wind on the line, the hollow shirt sleeves waving goodbye.

I turn to see the wagon, a little way off from where I'm standing, and start walking towards it. It's as if Oregon Country herself has cornered me and insists on showing me how exactly I am getting to the other side of the continent, or the other side of the world, as far as I'm concerned.

It's not long before I'm in front of the wagon, as though confronting it. Demanding an answer, why we must build a "better life" in Oregon. What does Oregon have that we don't have here? In what way does it offer a better life? I have food, shelter, water, and a sustainable life.

Then I think of waiting, and waiting for the emptiness of waiting to be all filled up. If we don't go, will that emptiness always be there, of not knowing what's on the other side? I look back at the wagon. Suddenly climbing in, for the moment at least, is all I want to do. Placing my hands on one of its wooden sides, I swing one leg over and then the other. 

On the inside it's small, and I smile when I picture clutching my cramped frame while the wagon bumps along, answering the boys' excited questions. And what will it be like in the evenings, preparing supper outside under all that open space? I stroke the wagon's wheels, thin and smooth; so the horses can pull them easily, and think of spring. 

I step down from the wagon, and pick up the laundry basket. I'm not sure how much has been resolved inside me, but I am more content now.

The sunshine has faded from the day, and I will be making supper soon.



See History
  • April 19, 2016 - 4:04pm (Now Viewing)

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