Copyright ©2015 by Scott E. Miller
Permission to reproduce text granted by Ladytech, Inc.
All Jake had to worry about on that unseasonably warm
January day was remembering his homework, meeting up with
friends and avoiding the school bully. Little did he know that
in just a few short hours, he’d be struggling to survive a
violent winter storm. Based on a true event, JOURNEY TO MORNING
by Nebraska native Scott E. Miller chronicles the life and death
challenges that Nebraska pioneers faced on that fateful day in
1888. (Young Adult historical fiction)
Wheaten, you get back here this instant!"
The use of my full
name brought me to an immediate stop. I'd almost made it out of the yard
before the raised voice interrupted my escape.
I knew what I'd be
facing before I even turned around and was already preparing my case for
one more plea, although in the back of my mind, I knew it wouldn't do
Reluctantly, I swung
back toward the direction of the voice and saw her standing in the
doorway, one hand on her hip, the other holding a blanket-lined denim
"But Mom--," I
started to say.
"Don't you 'but Mom'
me!” came the reply. "I told you to put on your jacket."
"But it's warm out,"
I protested. “I’ll burn up.”
"I don't care. It's
still January and you know as well as I do that it could get cold by the
time school's out. Now I'll have no more argument. Put it on."
Although it was a
gray, overcast day, it was unseasonably warm for this time of year, and
I had argued with Mom all through breakfast that my long-sleeve wool
shirt and overalls would be enough. I didn't need my jacket. I opened my
mouth to issue another protest, but she would have none of it.
"Jacob," she said,
cutting me off. "If you don't come and get this jacket right now, your
father will hear about it."
Now I knew that Dad
was out in the fields and I could easily be long gone by the time she
retrieved him. But I also knew that my victory over the coat would be
short-lived, as I would have to come home after school and deal with the
consequences of my disobedience.
Dad was a gentle
soul. He whistled when he worked, enjoyed telling jokes, and laughed
often, as evidenced by the lines around his twinkling gray eyes.
However, I also knew that he had little tolerance for disobedience, and
if I didn't do as Mom asked, he and I would end up having one of our
private little "conversations" out in the barn. That's what he called
them anyway. Although, truth be told, very little talking usually took
place. Well, at least on my part.
In all my twelve
years I only had a couple of those conversations, and I definitely knew
that I never wanted to have another. Resigned to my fate, I sullenly
inched toward Mom and the jacket that she held.
Her dark blue eyes
showed annoyance. Mom was a tall, thin woman. She wore her long blond
hair tied in a braid that ran down the center of her back. She rarely
raised her voice, and when she became angry, her tone generally lowered
as she gave me what I called her "Mom look.” A look that said a line had
been crossed and that any further misbehavior would not be tolerated.
What confused me now was that she wasn't wearing that Mom look. Her face
was unreadable, making it difficult to gauge just how much trouble I was
As I reluctantly took
the jacket from her, she crossed her arms and watched while I
half-heartedly slipped it on. In a little show of defiance, I left it
unbuttoned, and she seemed to accept this bit of unspoken compromise.
"Don't forget your
lunch and school books," she said, as she turned and entered the house.
I sighed. In my haste
to get away unseen, I had forgotten my school things. Following her back
inside, it dawned on me that if I had somehow managed to get away, and
made it all the way to school without being stopped, I would have had no
lunch. Plus, one of Mom's punishments for disobedience was to be sent to
bed without supper. Meaning I would go all day without eating.
Miss Sutter, our
teacher, normally a kind person, wouldn't have been very forgiving if
I'd showed up at school without my books. So, along with whatever
punishment I would have received from Dad for disobeying Mom, I would
have gotten extra work from Miss Sutter for not having my books.
Starving all day long
would have made it three consequences for the one act of trying to sneak
out of the house without my jacket. Maybe my little act of rebellion
wasn't worth the price?
I spied my lunch pail
and books sitting right where I had left them by my place at the table.
My little brother, Tommy, was still there eating his breakfast while Mom
cleared away the dishes. I couldn't help but smile as he turned and
grinned at me with a mouth full of biscuit.
But it was more than
the biscuit between his two missing front teeth that made me grin back.
He was sitting there wearing his own jacket, even though it was quite
warm in the house. And as much as I didn't want to wear mine, it was
hard to get him out of his. But then, my jacket hadn't been a Christmas
I remembered him
squealing with delight upon opening the package and discovering the wool
jacket, with its thick lining and bright shiny buttons. Forgetting all
other presents, he quickly scrambled into it and wore it the remainder
of the day, not even taking it off when it was time for bed.
After several days,
Mom finally succeeded in getting him to take it off when he went to
sleep, but he still wore it whenever he could. I didn't have the heart
to tell him that when spring came, Mom would wrap it in newspaper and
store it away in the cedar chest for the next year.
"Are you ready,
Buddy?" I asked, as I picked up my books and pail.
Nodding, he jumped
off the chair and grabbed his own lunch pail from Mom who was holding it
out for him. Being in first grade, he didn't have any books.
"You have a good day
at school," she said, brushing aside a lock of his straw-colored hair
and kissing him on the forehead.
Giggling, he raced
past me out the door.
"Jake, make sure you
watch out for him," she said, as she kissed me, too.
"Yes, Mom," I said, a
little exasperated. Every morning she told me the same thing, as if I
couldn’t remember what she had said from one day to the next. Besides,
the school wasn‘t that far away. Just what kind of trouble did she think
we could get into between here and there?
Walking outside, I
found Tommy playing with our dog Champ, a large, six-year-old German
shepherd. We'd gotten him as a puppy from a neighbor the same year Tommy
was born. Champ might have been the family dog, but he and Tommy had a
special bond, probably because they’d grown up together.
"Come on, big guy," I
said to Tommy.
"Bye, Momma," said
Tommy, waving at her.
"See you later," she
replied, waving back. After a quick glance up to the sky, she wrapped
her arms around herself and went back into the house.
The walk to school
wasn't long, only a mile down the road. We were lucky. A lot of the
other kids we went to school with lived much farther away. Freddy
Newsom, for example, lived eight miles away. However, he usually rode
his horse Daisy, which got him to school at about the same time we did.
It took about thirty
minutes for Tommy and me to walk to school, depending on how many times
we stopped along the way to throw rocks, or explore some interesting
insect, or some such thing. However, this being January, insects were
scarce, so we'd get to school with time to spare. I didn’t mind because
it gave me an opportunity to meet up with my friends before Miss Sutter
rang the bell.
The other advantage
of living close to school, and the one I liked the best, was that we
didn't have to get up quite as early as some of the other kids.
“Here, Champ!” I
heard Tommy call.
I smiled. He didn’t
really need to call the dog. Champ always stayed close and didn‘t get
too far out of our sight.
Since Tommy had
started school in the fall, Champ had walked with us. At first, I
thought it was just so he could spend more time with us, which I'm sure
was part of it. But recently, I'd begun to think that somewhere in the
back of his doggy mind, he felt it was his duty to see that we made it
to school safely. He was protecting us. From what though, I didn't know.
Perhaps a marauding rabbit or killer ground squirrel? But once we were
safely at school, and his job was complete, he would turn and trot back
What was even more
surprising however, was that Champ always seemed to somehow know when
school was out. We'd find him patiently waiting for us at the end of
each day. I don’t know how he knew that school was out, but he was
always there, waiting.
As we continued along
the dusty road toward school, Tommy and Champ played the "chase me"
game. Tommy would run ahead, while Champ chased him. Then Tommy would
turn around and chase Champ. It was a game they played almost every
morning, and they never seemed to tire of it. Sometimes, like today, I
would be pulled into the game as well.
“Come on, Jake!”
My little brother’s
infectious laughter was irresistible, and I decided to join them.
After a few minutes
of chasing and being chased, I was sweating. Trickles of perspiration
ran down my back, making my shirt stick to me. Tearing off my jacket, I
slung it over my shoulder.
As I watched Tommy
and Champ race each other back and forth along the road, I thought more
about Mom forcing me to wear my jacket. I mean, after all, I wasn’t a
baby. I could make decisions for myself.
Glancing toward the
sky, I noticed a soft glow as the morning sun tried to break through the
gray blanket of clouds. A cool breeze rattled the dried up stocks of
last year’s harvest. I just knew it was too warm for a jacket. Mom
didn’t need to treat me as if I was Tommy’s age.
I kicked a small rock
lying in the road to emphasize my mood, and watched as it sailed off and
disappeared into a patch of brown, scraggly prairie grass.
I was still sulking
when we followed a curve in the road and the school came into view. It
was a white, one-room building with two large windows on each side, a
double front door, and a single door in the back northwest corner.
Behind the building
were an outhouse and a small stable. Actually, the stable was really no
more than a large shed: two stalls on one side, pegs along the back wall
for tack, and two bays, one filled with hay, the other with wood for the
There were eighteen
students, grades one through eight. Miss Sutter had been our teacher
since I had started and I liked her. She was a good teacher--strict, but
fair. What I particularly liked about her was that she didn’t just teach
the basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic. She also taught science,
my favorite subject, as well as music, astronomy, and drama, which most
of us boys hated. But I liked how she challenged us to explore and
investigate, and to think more deeply about things.
I was a little
worried, however, because there was a rumor going around that she might
be getting married in the summer and would leave us next year.
It was no secret that
she was being courted by a young man from
Clearwater, a town about fifteen miles west in Antelope County. I hoped
it wasn't true. But if it was, maybe she'd wait another two years until
I graduated eighth grade?
Arriving at school, I
let those troublesome thoughts disappear. Getting closer, I could see
that a number of students had already arrived.
Some were playing a
game of tag. A few were taking turns on the tree swing. But most were
just standing around in small groups, talking.
Tommy ran on ahead,
with Champ close behind, and was already engaged in the game of tag by
the time I caught up to him. Standing by the back corner of the building
were three boys, and I immediately recognized one of them as Bobby
Thompson, my best friend.
Bobby and I had been
friends since he had moved into the area four years prior. His family
owned a farm by the
South Fork Elkhorn River, a few miles north. We’d spent many hours at
his place fishing, swimming, and looking for frogs and tadpoles. We’d
even built a fort in one of the old maple trees that grew along the
Sometimes I'd take
Tommy with me, and the three of us would spend hours out at the river's
edge, frequently coming home dirty, wet, and sunburned.
Bobby liked those
times when I brought Tommy. He was the only boy in his family. His older
sister, Becky, was in the eighth grade, and his younger sister, Lily,
was in fourth.
When they were
younger, his sisters would sometimes join us on our grand adventures,
coming home just as messy as we were. But as they’d gotten older,
particularly Becky, catching frogs and digging for worms held less
interest for them. Although once in a while Lily did still join us,
depending on the adventure that day.
Like me, Bobby also
enjoyed school. He liked literature and science, and was particularly
good at arithmetic. I frequently use his expertise to help me because it
is my worst subject.
Bobby once told me,
in secret, that he actually enjoyed some of the plays that Miss Sutter
presented in class. He didn’t want anyone else to know, however, because
he was afraid that the other students would tease him.
He found the idea of
pretending to be different person fascinating. And even though I thought
he was crazy about liking plays, I'd never told his secret.
He was standing with
two other boys from our grade. “My pa whittled it for me,” I heard him
say as I ran up to join them.
“Hey, Bob,” I said.
“Hey, Jake, look!” he
said, holding out the item that he'd been showing the others. “Look what
Pa made me.”
Taking it from him, I
saw that it was a slingshot so new that it still had the smell of the
pine wood it was made from. The handle wasn’t yet worn smooth and
dirtied by frequent use. I turned it over in my hand, studying it
“It's sure a beaut!”
I exclaimed, handing it back to Bobby.
birthdays were only a month apart, Bobby was about a foot taller than I
was, and he was dark haired and husky. He could have easily passed as
one of the older students.
“Can I try it?” asked
Bill Foster, a thin, redheaded boy whose face was loaded with freckles,
and whose eyes were enviously staring at the slingshot.
“Come on, let’s try
it before school starts,” said Steven Johnson, the other boy.
Bobby looked around.
“Let’s go over there.” He pointed to a small stand of pine trees on a
tiny rise behind the school. “No one’s over there. Pa told me that I had
to be careful to not shoot it where anyone might get hurt.”
Once the four of us
reached the hill, Bobby began to pick up pinecones off the ground.
"What are you doing?"
"You'll see," he
We watched as he
collected an armful of cones and then set them up on a fallen tree
several yards away.
“Those are the
targets,” he said, pointing to the pinecones as he walked back to us.
“Can I go first?”
“Sure,” said Bobby.
“Here. I collected these on the way to school this morning.”
I watched him pull a
handful of stones from his pocket. They were about the size of a robin’s
egg and almost perfectly round.
“It took some time to
find just the right size and shape,” he said, handing one of the stones
to Bill. “Now hold the Y part out straight with your left hand, and pull
the sling back with your right. Then aim toward the target.”
“I know what I’m
doing,” said Bill. “I’ve shot these before.”
Bobby glanced at me
and grinned. Bill was a good kid and a good friend, but no matter what
we were doing, he always said that he knew how to do it and that he'd
done it before. Of course, we knew that he sometimes made things up, but
we usually just played along.
I watched as Bill
held out the wood fork part of the sling, then slowly pulled the pouch
holding the stone back toward his face. Closing his left eye, he aimed
at a pinecone target, then released the pouch. We all followed the stone
as it soared through the air, sailed over the targets, and struck a tree
several feet beyond them, startling a bird that went screeching into the
“Nuts,” said Bill.
“That's not bad,”
said Bobby. “You got some good distance. Just need to work on control.”
Steve tried it next.
He knocked one of the pinecones off the log after the stone struck the
ground and bounced up to hit it.
It was my turn. Steve
handed me the slingshot and Bobby gave me a stone. Setting the stone in
the pouch I aimed the Y part of the shot on the middle target.
Holding the pouch
with my first two fingers and thumb, I slowly pulled it back. The
tension from the sling made my hand shake, and I struggled to control
the wavering. Finally, feeling that I was perfectly lined up with one of
the targets, I pulled the sling back just a bit farther and prepared to
release it, confident in my aim.
slingshot was wrenched from hand. I released the pouch and sent the
stone off at a crazy angle. It completely missed the targets and soared
past the trees.
“The babies have a
new toy,” came a voice dripping with sarcasm.
Question: What is the name of Jacob and Tommy’s dog?
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