A child's imagination in the worst of times.
|“Hey!” A big man in a brown Pinkerton suit shouted, “you kids stays on that side of the yellow line. You got it?”
“Yes sir.” Charlie saw Sarah staggering under her sign on the wrong side and herded her back into the circle of picketing workers. They were the only children among the ten haggard, drawn faces.
“Ch-Charlie?” Sarah stammered. “I’m hungry. I don’t wanna carry this sign anymore!” Her seven-year-old legs ached and all she wanted to do was sit and eat.
Charlie hugged her shoulder with one arm. “It’s all right, Sarah. We’re almost done. It’s must be close to 4:00, and my dad said we could go home then.” Two inches taller and two years older, Charlie felt very grownup.
“What do the signs mean?
“Dad says the factory won’t let them work anymore and should hire them back.”
“So, why don’t they?”
“I guess there’s no money. Something called a Depression. My ma knows someone at the plant, and they heard the boss say it."
The children walked on, her torn cotton dress with pink flowers hanging as limp as her blonde hair, his overalls almost worn through at the knees, a red plaid shirt sticking out at the arms. Both were shoeless. Pinkerton officials frowned at them as they passed by with thirty other former workers, their arms folded, but kids were off limits even if they did cross the line.
“Where’s your dad?” Sarah was curious. She remembered where hers was.
“He’s gone to apply for a job at the lumber company, but Ma says we’re going to have to move West.”
“It stinks here. Smells like the outhouse. Why does it stink so bad here?”
Charlie shrugged. “Dunno. Stuff in the river, I guess.”
Sarah’s sign barely rested on her shoulder, her arms too tired to hold it. “West? Where’s West?”
“I dunno. Oregon, maybe.”
“Yeh. Guess there’s jobs in lumber out there. Dad says they’re building stuff, and he knows how to do that. But, Ma doesn’t want to leave Aunt Betty and Grandma. She was pretty upset with Dad last night.”
Sarah took another step in the never-ending circle, studying the blackened concrete ahead. “My Dad’s gone to the dogs.”
Charlie glanced back at her and shifted his sign to the other shoulder, squinting at the afternoon sun as the weight dug into his shoulder. “Dogs?”
“Yeh,” Sarah shuffled forward. “It’s what my mom said this morning. Do you know where the dogs are?”
Charlie considered the question. “There’s the dog track where they race dogs.”
“No. She didn’t say anything about racing.”
“There’s the dog pound. I hear that’s where they put stray dogs and kill them.”
“No. Dad loves our dog. I don’t think he could do that.”
“Ya know, Sarah, they have dogs pulling sleds in Alaska. I saw a picture once!” Charlie paused and Sarah bumped into him.
“Yeh.” Charlie plugged forward again. Sarah followed. “I read about it. They have a big dogsled race up there somewhere.”
“They race dogs with sleds?” Sarah looked up at Charlie’s back.
“Sort of.” Charlie warmed to his subject. “Saw pictures. They tie the dogs in harnesses, like we do horses, then tie them to a sled. A man stands on the sled and they take off in the snow.” He turned to Sarah and paused in his stride. “I wonder if I can go with you! I would love to do that!”
Sarah smiled at him. “Alaska is cold, isn’t it?”
“You just dress warm, Sarah.” Charlie looked up and trudged on the sidewalk in a new direction, among some other laid off workers, Sarah on his heels.
“But I don’t have any warm clothes, Charlie. What would I do?”
Charlie stopped again and turned. “Sarah, you get your dad to kill one of those big bears, then you wear a bearskin!”
“Really?” Sarah liked the idea of a warm bearskin. Maybe they had bears in Detroit and her dad could kill one now for this winter. Someone behind nudged them forward.
“Uh-huh. And I bet you could live with Eskimos in an igloo.”
“Aren’t igloos made of ice?”
“Yeh, but I hear they are warm. Says so in that book. Ya know, Sarah, maybe you’re dad should talk to my dad.”
“Well, they did the same job at the plant and if your dad can race dogs, then maybe mine can too!”
“And, we could go together!” Sarah smiled. She pictured both families snuggled in their igloos, bundled in their bearskins.
“Let’s go home!” Charlie dropped his sign, followed by Sarah’s clattering down beside her. The two raced to Charlie’s house, the closest. Their dirty feet charged up the bowed wooden steps to the bungalow porch. Charlie whipped open the torn screen door and yelled “Ma!”
“What is it Charlie?” Elenor Collins came out of the kitchen wiping her hands on her apron. The smell of fresh baked gingerbread cookies followed behind her. “You OK? What’s Sarah doing here? I thought her mother would have come to get her by now.” She wrapped an arm around Sarah and looked at her son.
“Well,” Charlie announced, “we want to go with Sarah’s family to Alaska and play with dogs.”
His mother looked at him, cocked her head and held Sarah closer.
“Charlie, whatever do you mean?”
“Ma! Sarah’s mother said her dad was going to the dogs in Alaska!”
Sarah looked up. “Miz Collins, my mom said Dad was going to the dogs. She didn’t say where.”
Charlie watched his mother put her hand over her mouth and sit down hard at the kitchen table. “Ma, what’s wrong?”
Charlie came closer. Sarah felt it her position to clarify and turned to face Charlie’s mother. “You see, Miz Collins, if you and Charlie and Charlie’s dad were to come with us, we could all live together in an igloo.”
Elenor Collins drew a deep breath. “Sarah, honey, let me think a moment.”
“See, Sarah. I told you it was a good idea.” Charlie beamed.
“Sarah,” Gretchen held her arms out and Sarah entered them. “You probably should stay with us tonight.”
Sarah brightened at this prospect. Dinners at Charlie’s house were much better. “All right. But, I need to tell my mom.” She started to the door.
“No, Sarah.” Sarah stopped, her hand on the screen. “Come back here.”
“Sarah, your Daddy,” Elenor drew a breath, “he died today at the Backwash Bar. You’re mom is real upset.”
“What about the dogs, Miz Collins?”
“What dogs, Sarah?”
Were the dogs with him? The ones Mom said he was going to?”
Elenor leaned over and motioned to Sarah to come back to her, pulling both children into an embrace. “I’m sure they were, honey, I’m sure they were