Lost and Found

Robert D. Lane 2000

Published in Platte Valley Review Spring 2000


“Where is she? Where is Beth? She’s gone. Oh, no, she is gone”

Beth was his little sister.  She had been tired out when they arrived at the motel in Derby in the dark, and had been sound asleep when they carried her into the small motel room and put her on the single bed.

 His mom’s screams had wakened Bobby and he looked around at the room with sleepy eyes. At first he could not tell where he was. He knew he was not in his own room in the little house in Denver. He saw the linoleum with its diamond shapes and his mom’s suitcase.  He was with his family on the way to the farm. He had a new stepfather and they were moving.

When they left Denver yesterday afternoon they were in the old Ford, and the trailer with all their belongings was hooked to the back of the car. He could see the beds in the motel room and his mom who was frantically looking all around for his little sister. He got out of bed and pulled on his pants and put on his socks and shoes. He saw his stepfather was already dressed.

“She must have sleep- walked,” said his mom. “She’s probably outside somewhere. Look in the car, will you, Ott? She must have gone back to the car.”

“She’s not in the car.”

“I’m going with you; let’s look around the motel yard. She can’t have gone far. You stay here, Bobby. Oh, God, save my girl.”

“What if she’s gone for ever,” he thought. “No more crying baby stuff.” He walked around the room. His sister always cried. She was good at getting whatever she wanted. He walked over to her bed and kicked at the blanket that was draped over the mattress and hanging down to the floor. His foot hit something. He pulled at the blanket. There she was. She had fallen out of bed and slid under the bed where the blanket was hiding her.

 “I won’t say anything,” he thought.

 

“Mom, Mom, here she is, she’s right here under her bed.”

His mom ran into the room, picked Beth up and held her tight. “Oh, baby, you gave me such a scare. Thanks, God, thanks.”

************************************************************************

 

Once before he had been wakened by his mom’s cries. Loud talking and angry words had pulled him from a deep sleep. He got out of his bed, rubbing his eyes, and walked toward the kitchen. Looking around the corner he saw his mom pull the pipe off the front of the combination stove. She swung it like a bat. Blood gathered at the spot on his dad’s head where the large rounded end of the pipe hit. His eyes were like saucers,  and then he turned and walked out the back door. Bobby wouldn’t see him again for twelve years.

“It’s all right; it’s all right.” She leaned the pipe against the stove and held him in her arms.

His mom and dad argued often. But just words. And then they would hug each other and kiss. But this time was different. The crunching sound was like the sound in a movie cartoon when a large rock would fall on the coyote’s head. His older brother had told him a story about his father:

 

It was right before the big war. In Denver. The old man was a kind of contractor. He worked for himself. Built a lot of outdoor fireplace-barbecue pits for people who owned their own homes. Built them out of brick. Good ones too. He’d kept going all summer just building fireplaces. One guy would tell his friend while showing off his fireplace at a Sunday barbecue, “Yeah, got a good deal on this. Built by a private contractor. A real magician with bricks. Just tell him what you want and he builds it. Got to keep him supplied with Coors, but by God he does a good job for a reasonable price.”  Kept the old man going all summer.

But the union didn’t like this scab activity. The old man had never bothered to join the union. In fact, he was damned well against the union. Didn’t like FDR either, for some reason. He was sure that Wilkie would beat him, but he was never in tune with times. He bought an Edsel in 1954  right before he shot himself.

Anyway, the union started bugging the old man. Asked him to join. Pointed out that he was ruining the American economy. Helping to destroy the carefully worked out balance between jobs and wages. Several times the business agent found the old man at work and decided he was going to get his initiation money and dues or put him out of action.

Bud was helping the old man on the two days that make up the story. They would leave early in the morning in the old Ford pickup piled high with used bricks, sacks of cement, sand, gravel, shovels, trowels, picks, levels, bologna sandwiches, and quart bottles of Coors. The old truck would jerk out of the yard after being frightened by the old man’s language into making at least one more foray out into the world of construction. They were building a fireplace in Englewood for some rich people who had a double garage and a patio. It was to be the old man’s biggest job. A main barbecue area, a warming oven, a place for small fires in case the kids wanted to roast some wieners and a tall chimney to keep the smoke out of the hose on windy Colorado days. It was about half finished when the business agent drove up.

“Did you ever pay your fees, Les?”

“No, not yet.”

“Well, we can’t have this goddamned scabbing going on anymore.”

“Just building a fireplace. Gotta eat.”

“You could eat better, damn it, if you’d pay your dues like the rest of the guys.”

“See a lot of them out of work. Don’t make much sense to pay dues and then not work.”

“It’s bastards like you that keep the rest of the men out of work.”

“Free country isn’t it?”

“Tell you what. I’m coming back tomorrow with a couple of friends. You better have the fifty bucks.”

“I’ll be here. Working on this job. Should finish tomorrow.

Bud and the old man cleaned up the bricks and sand. The owner wanted the place cleaned up every day so that it looked like no work was going on at all. Didn’t want his yard cluttered he had said when they started. While they cleaned up the old man usually drank a quart of Coors to wash down the dust of bricklaying. Bud did most of this work as the old man leaned on the running board watching him and drinking his beer.

“What’s the guy mean, dad, ‘he’ll be back tomorrow with a couple of friends’?”

“Just bullshitting. Trying to scare fifty out of us, I guess.”

“Us.” The word sounded good. Bud said it made him feel equal. And proud. And he raked down the area around the fireplace with new strength.

Sure enough. The business agent and a couple of friends were back the next day. And they meant business.

“Mornin’ - see you made it.”

“Les, the fifty? Do you have it?”

“Told you yesterday; don’t intend to pay it. Can’t see any reason.”

Let’s be reasonable. I’ve told you why; it’s in your own interest. Now if you are still determined to be a scab we’re here to talk some sense into your head. Just pay up and sign the forms and we’ll be on our way.”

The two discussion leaders moved from the side of the car toward the old man. The B.A. stood his ground by the side of his car holding the forms in his left hand. It was going to take some discussion to change the old man’s mind.

Suddenly one struck out with an overhand right. Les ducked the blow and caught the guy in the gut with a short hard right which doubled him over. Grabbing him with both hands behind the head he pulled him down hard into his knee.

Just as the first guy went down the second landed a hard jab on the old man’s nose. He went down. The B.A. dropped the forms which fluttered away in the Colorado breeze. He ran to join in. Bud had to do something. His dad was on the ground. He grabbed the B.A. around the neck from behind and pulled him down on top of him holding on with all his young strength.

“That’s my dad,” he shouted in the B.A.’s ear as he held him in a choke hold and felt the fury of anger mixed with fear.

No one in the neighborhood heard the sounds of the fight except two small boys who peeked out of the next door window with wide eyes as if they were watching a Saturday matinee fight between Gene Autrey and some outlaws.

Just as the old man finished off the second guy he saw the B.A. break free from Bud’s hold by hitting him in the stomach with his elbow.

He should not have done that.

Les was in a rage. He grabbed the B.A. and knocked him against the garage. Picked him up and knocked him against the garage again and again.

Finally, Bud stopped him. “Dad, it’s over. Dad, please, it’s over.”

“Yeah, I guess it is at that. Better finish the job.”

He took the three guys and put them in the fireplace. Then he put In the last row of bricks and with concrete placed the grill on top.

It was the old man’s biggest job.


Now he had a new dad and they were on the way to their new home. “I hope we have lots of animals on the farm,” he thought. “And a horse. I’ll be a cowboy. And I can have a gun and shoot wolves and coyotes. Where is my real dad?”

“We can’t take the dog with us,” Ott said. “I told you that.”

“What are we going to do with him?

“I should shoot the son of a bitch dog.”

“You can’t do that. Kayo followed us because he loves the boy. You can’t shoot him for loving someone.”

“Call Hank and have him come out here and pick the dog up and take him back to Denver. He can’t come to the farm.”

Kayo was a big German Shepherd. But they called him a police dog. Nothing was German anymore. Even the German measles were renamed. They were the Liberty measles. In New Mexico, an angry mob accused an immigrant miner of supporting Germany and forced him to kneel before them, kiss the flag, and shout "To hell with Hitler." In Illinois, a group of zealous patriots accused Robert Prager, a German coal miner, of hoarding explosives. Though Prager asserted his loyalty to the very end, he was lynched by the mob. Explosives were never found. 

 Bobby knew that Germans and Japs were evil. He didn’t know what they might look like.

*********************************************************************************

Bobby thought about his dad. He could still hear the sound of the pennies falling into his piggy bank that time when his dad had told him from the pickup in the morning to stack the bricks in the side yard. After supper his dad had put him on his lap and said, “Did you finish the stacking?”

“Yes.”

“Well, go get your bank.”

He did and the coins rattled into the bank.

But he hadn’t remembered to do the job because he had been playing all day in the vacant lot next door. He ran outside past the pickup and stacked bricks.

Kayo had followed them from Denver to Derby. How did he know where they were? Bobby had seen Kayo when they left the yard, but when he looked back he could see that his brother-in-law was holding the dog. Somehow Kayo had convinced them he was going to stay put and then when they were not looking he had run after the car. What a dog. Why couldn’t he come? I thought farms needed dogs. His new dad had said, “Kayo’s a city dog; he would be useless on the farm.” Maybe so, but he had followed them for thirty miles and found them at the motel.

Hank arrived, took Kayo roughly by the collar and stuck him in the back seat of his car for the return to Denver. “I’ll see to it that he doesn’t follow anymore.” The four of them climbed into the Ford and started again for the farm outside of Wray. Beth was sitting in front on Mom’s lap. They drove through Fort Morgan and Brush and headed on toward the Kansas border. The ground was still frozen in the March chill but the sun was shining and beginning to warm the earth as the dry land farmers waited to open their summer fallow and plant corn and milo. The winter wheat was green but dormant and soon would burst into a sun-inspired growth that would send it reaching toward that sun and ready to harvest in July. There was very little traffic, just the occasional farm family heading towards town to sell eggs and to buy supplies.

Bobby sat in the back seat and thought about his friends. He would miss them. Mom had said he would make new friends. But still, he had played with Joe and Lynn every day for quite awhile and would miss them. He had played soldier and doctor and Lynn had tried to pee just like the boys when they stood inside the new house that was being built on York Street. Joe and Bobby had competed to see who could spray the furthest and the longest. Joe wrote his name on the new wall one time and he could only finish the first three letters of his name. Lynn just made a puddle a little bit in front of her. Suddenly Beth started crying, “I have to wee-wee; I have to wee-wee.” There were no towns in sight so they pulled off the road and she squatted in the ditch on the side of the road while Mom stood guard over her. “I guess you can just pee anywhere out here in the country,” he thought.

They got back in the car and headed toward their new home. Bobby fell asleep in the back seat. He dreamed that he could fly. He flew over a field of the smallest, most delicate white flowers. Each flower had five white petals radiating out from a bright orange center. While looking closely at one of the flowers he noticed that its center started to move. It was not a flower at all, but a bright orange butterfly. Suddenly he saw Kayo running toward him, barking and excited. He flew down and landed by the dog. The dog ran up to him and with tail wagging exuberance tried to join with him. Then the two of them flew off toward some trees in the distance. They stayed close to the ground and flew slowly.

There were no flowers when he woke. All he could see were fields with brown straw standing straight up for miles and miles alternating with fields of low seemingly frozen grass. He would learn about the alternating fields soon - learn new words like “summer fallow,”  “winter wheat,” “rye,” “barley,” and learn the names of a dozen weeds that competed for the carefully preserved water in the soil. He knew he would not understand this new place until he learned the words. Once in awhile he could see buildings. There would be a house, a barn, a garage and some other rectangular wooden buildings. He saw cows standing around by the barns, and once he saw a horse. He didn’t see any people but he knew that they were there. The barbed wire fence stretched along the highway wherever they went. It had three wires hanging on wooden fence posts and followed the highway on both sides. Sometimes there would be tumbleweeds caught in the wires.

“I reckon we’ll be there soon,” said Ott.

“`Reckon,’” he thought, “that’s a word I only hear on the Saturday radio shows. What does it mean? `Guess,’ `judge,’ `figure’? Roy Rogers says it in the movies and so does Hopalong Cassidy. “I reckon you won’t be rustling any more cows,” or “I reckon you won’t be shooting with that hand anymore.”

“There.” “I wonder where `there’ is,” he thought. “Everything looks the same. How will we know when we are there?” he asked.

“Daddy will know; he knows this country because he was raised here,” said Mom from the front seat still holding Beth on her lap. “It’ll be nice to live in a big farm house and to have chickens; we will have chickens, won’t we, honey?”

“Oh, yes. What is today? March 3rd? We’ll have to get some chicks in town at the Farmers Union. They should be ready to go soon. We got a chicken house but I don’t think there is a brooder stove around the place. May have to get one, or else keep the chicks in the house,” he laughed.

“Chicken says “moo”” said Beth, listening to the conversation about chickens.

They all laughed.

“You don’t know anything,” he said.

“Now, Bobby, talk nice to your sister,” his mom said giving her a hug.

Suddenly they turned to the right off the highway and started down a gravel road. Two hundred yards further the car and trailer bounced across a wooden bridge that was just wide enough for one vehicle. Bobby saw a sign near the bridge.

“It’s the Republican River, Mom,” he said proud that he could read.

In the three miles to their new place they passed only one house. He could see it a mile away because of the trees. Every place had trees standing in rows on one side of the house and could be seen leafless from miles away. As you got closer the other buildings came into sight. As they passed the house he could see a man in the yard between the barn and the house. Ott honked the horn. The man waved at them and they all waved back. They climbed a small hill and as they crested it Ott said, “Look, there she is.”

Ahead of them on the right side of the gravel road was a group of trees. They were almost white in the March sun. He could make out the house, which sat back from the road. It looked pretty big. And he could see several other unpainted wooden buildings around the house. The car pulled into the dirt driveway and stopped. “Oh, honey, it’s beautiful,” said his mother in the front seat. She reached over and squeezed her new husband’s leg.

It was good to get out of the car. Bobby ran down toward the barn to see the horses. He couldn’t find them. He opened the barn door, which was hooked with a hook that dropped into a loop of metal fixed to the doorframe. He could smell manure and old straw, but he couldn’t see any animals. “Maybe they are outside running around,” he thought and came out the way he came in.

“Bobby, go back and hook that door,” his new stepfather yelled, “you might as well get used to closing the barn door right away.”

“But there’s nothing in there.”

“Of course not, we have to buy some cattle. No one has been living here for several months.”

“And a horse. Where’s the horse?”

“No horse either. Nothin’ here but us people.”

“What kind of farm is this? No animals . . .”

It’s a deserted farm; that’s what it is. But no longer. We’ll fix ‘er up. And get some animals. Don’t you worry.”

He ran back to close the barn door. As he reached up he noticed a bright orange butterfly on the door just barely quivering. It looked like the butterfly in his dream. “Does the butterfly remember that it was a caterpillar?” he wondered.

Standing in the yard between the house and the barn Bobby could see only two other farms. Off in the distance he saw one, marked by the bare trees, and just a ways away he saw a second. He looked at the road they had just come down but couldn’t see the farmhouse of the man who waved at them because of the hill that they had come down. Drifts of snow lay in the fields and the fields seemed to go on forever. There were three small buildings he could see and one really small one tucked in between the trees and one of the buildings with a fence around it. The small building looked like a play house. It had a shingled roof and a door with piece cut out near the top and no windows. It was only about six feet by four feet in diameter. “That could be a club house,” he thought, “but who will be club members; there is nobody around here.”

He ran back toward the house where his Mom was starting to unpack the trailer and bring its contents into the house. “Here, Bobby, help me carry this,” she said, and together they carried Beth’s high chair into the house. They climbed four wooden steps went in through the back porch and then into the kitchen. “Let’s put it here for now,” his mom said, and they put the chair down by the window in the kitchen. He walked into the living room where his new dad was lighting the oil stove. It was cold in Colorado in March and they would need some heat for some time yet.

“Where’s my room, daddy?”   What was he thinking! He wasn’t his daddy. He didn’t know what to call him, but he had thought he would never call him “daddy” and now he had.

“Well, there are two bedrooms. Your mom will decide which one is for you kids.”

“Oh, no, that means I have to be in the same room as my sister.”

“For the time being anyway.”

The house was warm by the time they finished unloading the trailer. His mom made some cocoa and the three of them sat down at the kitchen table with Beth in her high chair and drank the hot chocolate drink. “I don’t know what I’ll fix for supper,” said his mom. While they were finishing the cocoa a pickup pulled into the yard and a man and woman got out. “It’s my brother, Ferd,” said his new dad.

“Welcome to the farm,” said Ferd and Louise together. “It’s good to see you all! We brought some supplies for you.” And they had. They brought flour and shortening, milk, bread, sugar and canned goods, and some meat. “This should get you started.”

“Louise is not much taller than I am,” Bobby thought, as she shook his hand in greetings.

“Hello, big boy,” she said, “what’s your name?”

“Bob.”


After the welcoming party left it was time for supper. They had a favorite meal. Spagetti and cheese. Mom made it using lots of Velveeta and it was good cold or hot. For dessert they opened a can of peaches. Bobby never got enough of the peaches. His Mom always dished them out and they each got two halves. “When I grow up I am going to eat a whole can of them all by myself,” he promised. After supper they all cleaned up the kitchen and then in the last light of day they walked around the new farm and learned the names of the buildings.

“You kids have to get to bed now. Bobby, you have to go to school tomorrow.”

“School? Where is the school?”

“It’s a mile west and a mile south,” said Ott.

“How will I get there?”

“Walk?”

“That’s too far!”

“No, we have arranged for the teacher, who drives to school from her place, to pick you up at the corner.”

It had been a busy day and as he lay down in bed for this first night on the farm Bobby thought about the butterfly in his dream and the butterfly on the barn door. He had read in a National Geographic about the Monarch butterflies and how they fly hundreds of miles. Waves of color through the air. Silently, floatingly. The next thing he remembered was his Mom shaking him. “Time to get up.”

After breakfast they said goodbye to him and sent hiim off to school.

He walked out the back door, down the steps and into the early morning sunshine. A meadowlark was announcing morning. He could hear it but not see it. It was somewhere in the field of grass on one side of the house. His new dad had said, “Just walk north a few hundred yards to the corner and wait for Mrs. McFarlane. She’ll be driving a Chev. He stood looking around. “Which way is north? Everything looks the same. Where are the street signs?” He pushed on carrying his sack lunch. He walked to the gravel road and then had to decide which way to go. “Is north to the right or the left?” he wondered. He chose right.

A few minutes later he returned to the house and walked in. His Mom was cleaning up the dishes and daddy was smoking a cigarette at the kitchen table.

“What are you doing here?”

He started to cry. “I missed her; I missed my ride.”

“How could you miss her?  All the hell you had to do was walk north to the corner and wait. She went by a few minutes ago. I heard her stop. Thought she stopped for you.”

“I guess I went south.”

“Oh, for God’s sake. Well, come on, I’ll take you this time, but if this happens again, you’ll walk. Stop blubbering. Let’s go.”

Bob got in the car and was quiet. They backed up out of the long rutted drive close to the house and his stepfather turned the nose of the car toward the gravel road in front of the house. There was a barbed wire fence on the edge of the yard running around a six-acre patch of pasture. The whole country looked like that with grass and sagebrush before the homesteaders came to eastern Colorado. At the road they turned left or north, drove four hundred yards to the intersection and turned left again. Bob would remember how to get to the right corner. One mile later they turned to the left again and in a couple of minutes they were approaching the one room school house that sat on a corner of a section of land that had their new farm on the corner diagonally across from the school.

Three buildings made up the school. One, the school room itself, was about thirty feet square and would be Bob’s school for the next four years. There was also a small building with the crescent cut in the door. He recognized that now as the outhouse. He did not know yet why they had the toilets outdoors here on the farm. The third building was a barn for the horses that kids might ride to school. He wished he had a horse to ride to school. Then he would not have to walk around the perimeter of the land but could ride the diagonal straight to school. “I could ride my horse on the hypotenuse,” he said.

“What are you talking about?”

“Oh, nothing, I was thinking the road makes a square and if you cut the field in two you would have two right triangles.”

The teacher, Mrs. McFarlane, was building a fire in the pot-bellied stove when they walked in.

“Good morning, Mr. Foltmer. I waited for a couple of minutes at the corner but did not see the boy.”

“He got lost.”

“Well, he is here now. Good morning, uh, Bobby, is it?

“No, ma’am, it’s `Bob’,” he answered.

“Well, good morning, Bob, and how old are you?

“I just turned seven.”

“So, you were in the first grade in Denver?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“We don’t have any first graders here. Maybe you can work with Joan in the second grade reader. Can you read?”

“Oh, he can read. He is good at arithmetic too. And he was talking about a hypotenuse on the way here this morning.”

“That’s great, Bob. I am sure you will do fine.”

The other kids were arriving now. Virginia walked down the road from her farmhouse a quarter of a mile further south. Joan came from the farm they had passed when they turned left the second time. Four other kids arrived on bikes.

“Well, thanks for bringing my new student, Mr. Foltmer, and I will drop him off at the other end of the hypotenuse on my way home. I have to get started with lessons now. Goodbye.”

Bob was assigned a desk next to Joan near the back of the room. The bigger kids sat in front and the seven kids were in five different grades.

“Good morning, children.”

“Good morning, Mrs. McFarlane.”

“This is our new student. He has just moved here form Denver. His name is Bob Foltmer.”

“That’s not my name,” he started to blurt out, but held back.

“Good morning, Bob Foltmer,” they said in unison.

“Good morning,” said Bob Foltmer.


The desks were all in rows as straight as arrows. In fact everything was geometric. The school was a square building placed in the center of a several acre corner of a section of land bound by gravel roads on all four sides. The outhouse was square; the barn was square. Sections of land were six hundred and forty acres or one mile square. From Bob’s new house to the school was a diagonal line from one corner of the section to its opposite or two miles on the road as they had come today. You could almost see the mapmakers in the state offices leaning over their maps to draw the straight lines that made up Northeastern Colorado. You could stand in an intersection of gravel roads, face north and raise your arms so that your right arm would point to the east and your left to the west. The crops in the fields were planted in straight rows. The fences that kept the cattle in or out of those fields were straight. The trees that provided wind breaks for the houses were planted in rows, and the peas that would be planted in the vegetable garden by the house soon would be in straight rows.

While the older children were reciting their lessons the younger ones could either work quietly at their desks or listen to the material being recited, or, again quietly, they could investigate the resource books at the back of the room. These included a thick Webster’s dictionary, a set of Encyclopedia Britannica, large binders filled with maps of various continents, and a few readers filled with stories about wonderful people and places. Bob went to the back of the room and looked at the maps that were there. There was one of Yuma County and he could see how the townships were laid out and how the sections were numbered in sequence from two through thirty-six. The numbering started in the upper right hand corner of every square and went to the left in increments of two: 2, 4, 6, and then down to the next small square with the numbers 8, 10, 12 reading from left to right. Then 14, 16, 18 going right to left and so on until 36 ended the series in the lower right hand corner of the large square. He noticed that each small square or section was divided into fourths. Ferdinand had spoken of a quarter section of land by Vernon. The smallest square must be the quarter section. There was a crooked line running across the map from left to right. And another crooked line running from Wray down to the south like a snake. “Rivers don’t have to stay in the lines,” he thought. The first was a railroad track and the second was the Republican River that they had crossed that first day when they turned off the highway. On the right hand border of the map the large squares were not really square but were crunched in. He had heard his uncles talk about “short-quarters” and he could see on the map how the geometric shapes were smaller on the right hand side of the map. He could see the arrow pointing to the north and could almost figure out where the school was and where his new home was on the map. There were numbers and lines but no street names.

He had lived at 2419 South York Street in Denver, Colorado; he wondered where he lived now.

According to the map the closest town to them was Wray with a population of about two thousand. “The City of Wray,” it said, “was laid out in July, 1886 by William Campbell and Amos Steck, who were president and secretary of the C - C Land and Cattle Company. The town was incorporated in 1906 and named for John Wray, a cattle foreman for the Print-Olive spread, a ranch which operated on free range before the coming of the homesteaders. Wray is the county seat of Yuma County and is served by two U. S. Highways, 34 and 385. Some call it the `Oasis of Eastern Colorado’ because of its many trees and well kept lawns.”

“I don’t have an address, but I live near an Oasis,” he thought.

He put his finger on “Wray” and went three squares to the left, to the west, and then dropped down three squares to the south. That place where the solid thin lines met must be their house. And then if he cut across from corner to corner he would be at the schoolhouse. “But I’m at the school house already,” he grinned; “I mean my finger will be at the place on the map where the schoolhouse is.”

He no longer felt lost.