This is my entry for Bluebell Book’s Short Story Slam #8. The picture prompt stirred a bit of patriotism in me. I feel fortunate to have been born and raised in this country, and I wonder these days what the future might hold. I pray this for our country:
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea
She recalled the day the picture was taken. It was late August of nineteen-fifty-nine; she was thirteen, and experiencing the transition from childhood into the rest of her life. The vast fields of grain were a part of her then, and she remembered standing there as Papa took the photo. He had just said something funny to make her smile, when a gust of wind blew a strand of her long hair across her face. Then she heard it; not for the first time.
She heard the grain tops whisper her name, “Liiizzy,” and she turned to watch the amber waves of grain bow and wave to the wind as it passed and then stand proud again. She heard Papa laugh then say, “Let’s try anudder one, sveetheart.”
But as she gazed toward the purple mountains so far in the distance they could barely be seen, the thought occurred to her that this was the perfect picture of this time in her life; an exciting time as she moved into the frightening, yet promising years that lay before her; a photo of her looking off toward the faraway majestic mountains; a young woman listening to the amber waves of grain whisper her name as they bowed toward the future; a little girl, trembling with expectations and the frightening unknowns the journey ahead would hold.
Lizzy sat at the kitchen table now, fifty-one years later. She could almost hear his voice as her father told her—on his knees, his eyes dancing with the same feelings she’d felt that long ago day when she was thirteen–they were moving to America. She recalled the way he’d whispered the word as if it were sacred, and she remembered the way his eyes had shown with excitement, fear, and hope; and how she’d looked at him and said, “Vaht is Amerdica, Papa?” It was a big word for a child of four years; one who had been taught a strange way of speaking, while also learning her native tongue. She could still remember how Papa’s tears had begun to stream down his face when she’d asked him the question.
“You cry, Papa?” she had said, reaching a tiny hand out to catch a tear as it dropped from his cheek.
“Only for happiness,” he’d said. “You vill know vye your papa cry. You vill see one day, Lizzy. You vill unnerstan. Amerdica is beautiful!”
And she had seen; she had understood. Her father had worked for other farmers for a few years then bought the farm where she’d grown up. She’d watched him work dawn to dusk in the fields, then sit well into the night at the kitchen table, head down, doing the books. She could still hear Mama calling softly to him, “Come to bed now, Papa. You cannot work all night and day, too.”
His answer was always the same, “I come soon, Mama. I am happy to work.”
Every August, Papa had taken her picture in the middle of the wheat field. The photos had hung in a row along one wall of her parent’s bedroom; all of them the same—beautiful spacious sky above, amber waves of grain below, the majestic purple mountains in the hazy distance, and Lizzy—taller each year—in the middle of it all. After that summer, there would be four more pictures then she would go off to college and the tradition would stop.
Lizzy sighed then put the photograph on the table with the others. She was sixty-four now, and those days seemed surreal as she thought back to how wonderful things had been. The smell of acrid smoke burned her eyes, jarring her from her memories and back into the horror of the present.
Rising, she moved slowly to the window and a choked sob escaped her as she looked out upon the devastation. She thanked God Mama and Papa weren’t here to see this.
The wheat fields were long gone; plowed under several years ago to make way for houses; houses now nothing but smoldering ruins—except for this old one her parents had refused to allow the developers to tear down, and a few others that had escaped the rioters’ torches.
Tears streamed down her face, and great sobs wracked her as she wondered aloud… “What has happened to America, Papa?”