June 1948 – The Letter
Ten-year-old Bonnie Jean Jacobs’ words poured from her mouth like Texas oil, warm, slow, and thick. “I hope we get a letter from Daddy today.” Bonnie hopped from one bare foot to the other on the blistering asphalt of Texas County Road 13.
“Life would be perfect if Daddy hadn’t moved so far away. Wish he hadn’t moved to Chicago. I like living with Grandma and Grandpa but I’d rather live with just Momma, Daddy and you, J.J.”
“Da-deee?” repeated J.J. He pushed a rusty toy truck through the dirt at the base of the mailbox. Since his second birthday in May, he used more and more words. Sometimes Bonnie wondered if he’d ever stop talking.
“You don’t remember Daddy do you?” Bonnie knelt, slicked back his blond hair, licked her thumb and wiped away dirty streaks from his forehead. He closed his brown eyes. Part of her summer responsibilities included playing with J.J. Bonnie loved J.J. more than anything or anyone else, even Momma and Daddy.
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She stared down the rural road. A mirage glistened across the pavement but no cars appeared. Bonnie pulled J.J. to his feet and brushed sand from his chubby knees. She searched the road again. Finally, a dusty, blue car peeked through the rising waves of heat. A sign on the dashboard read “US Mail.”
Bonnie grabbed J.J. and balanced him on her hip. At first, he squirmed but finally clasped his arms around her neck. He wrapped his chubby legs partway around her small waist. Dirt smeared her flower printed sundress.
“Mailman, mailman,” hollered J.J. He waved a hand.
The mailman pulled his car alongside them. “Hi there, John Junior. My, you’re gittin’ to be a big boy.” J.J. hid his face in Bonnie’s neck. Then he peeked sideways. The mailman sat in the middle of the front seat. He reached through the open window and handed Bonnie a stack of letters. “What y’all doing in this here heat, Bonnie? Waitin’ for this letter with your name?”
“It’s from Daddy. Maybe he’s fixin’ to come home.” Bonnie’s hands trembled. She stood J.J. at her feet, ripped open the envelope and unfolded the letter.
The mailman peered over the edge of the car’s open window. “You dropped somethin’.”
J.J. picked up the rectangular cardboard with his plump little fingers and handed it to Bonnie.
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She turned it over and brushed away J.J.’s fingerprints. “It’s a ticket. Wow! An airplane ticket… to Chicago!”
Bonnie wrapped her arm around J.J.’s waist and swooped him up like a sack of flour. His arms dangled in front of her and his legs behind her. She turned on her toes and picked her way over the sharp, burning gravel of Grandpa’s long driveway. “Thanks,” she yelled over her shoulder.
The hot summer wind parted her bangs and billowed her wavy auburn hair. Her printed flour-sack sundress hugged her slim body. The skirt flapped against her long, skinny, tanned legs. J.J. bounced on her hip like a rag doll.
She ran toward Grandpa’s stone house. “A letter at last,” said Bonnie. She dumped J.J. at the foot of the old tree stump in the front yard beside Dry Creek and sat down. Out of breath, she bent double, gulped for air and whispered the first words. Then, still puffing, she read aloud to J.J.
May 31, 1948
I’ve missed you so very much since your momma and I got divorced. It’s hard living in Chicago without you. So, I’m sending you a ticket to come here. You can stay as long as you want, but I hope it will be forever.
Uncle Dan and Uncle Joe helped me get a good-paying job in the mechanic’s shop where they work. We repaired fancy cars. I’m opening my own shop. I have lots of customers.
Now I can give you much more than you’ll ever have in Texas living with your mother. A nicer house, prettier clothes, and plenty of friends, aunts, uncles and cousins around.
A lot has happened since I left Texas. Everyone is anxious to see you. Especially me.
Bonnie read the letter again. “If I go to Chicago,” she told J.J. “maybe I’ll convince Daddy to come back to Texas. Come on, help me pack before Momma gets home. That way, she’ll know how much I want to go.”
J.J. stood up. Bonnie sat a bit longer on the stump. She ran her fingers through J.J.’s soft hair. She stared at Dry Creek beside Grandpa’s house. Seldom did it hold any water. Maybe after a few heavy spring rains. But its water quickly evaporated in the hot Texas summers. She saw the cornfield on the other side of the house. She thought, I’ll be back before Grandpa needs me to help hoe the weeds around the corn stalks.
Bonnie jumped from the stump, grabbed J.J.’s hand and led him to the bedroom she shared with Momma and J.J. She plopped him in the middle of the bed.
Standing on a chair, Bonnie pulled a battered suitcase from the shelf in the small closet and laid it on the bed with her only store-bought outfit. The Easter suit came from Belle’s Dress Shop. Momma didn’t buy herself a new dress.
J.J. watched. “Tister, go bye-bye?” His bottom lip pouted and his small fists rubbed watery eyes.
“You better watch out,” warned Bonnie. She tapped his lip with a finger. “Or, like Daddy always says, a rooster will jump up on your lip and crow. Cock-a-doodle-do.”
Bonnie heard a car rumble like distant thunder across Dry Creek’s old wooden bridge. She looked out the window and saw Momma pull their rusty, blue Studebaker onto the driveway. The car’s engine rattled to a stop and Momma shoved on the door with her shoulder several times. Finally, the door popped open.
“I hope I can talk Momma into lettin’ me go.” Her stomach fluttered. Her hands shook as she continued to fold and pack.
Slowly, Momma shuffled into the bedroom and slumped onto the bed. She combed her fingers through her dark, limp hair. She began to unbutton her rumpled grey uniform.
“Hand me a pair of shorts, Bonnie. And that pink blouse. I’m too tired to get up.” She stared at the suitcase then looked at Bonnie. “Where do you think you’re goin’?”
Linda L. Osmundson is a teacher, art docent, speaker, award winning author and former dementia caregiver. Hundreds of her articles have appeared in magazines, anthologies such as Chicken Soup for the Soul, blogs and newspapers. Osmundson has three sons and seven grandchildren. She lives in Fort Collins.