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Mudball Sam

"Pa wouldn't leave me, Ma, and Wanetta alone on this prairie, would he?"

With rain clouds approaching, Sam leads his mother and sister to a dugout in the creek bank Wolf howls chill their hearts during the stormy night. Soon Sam and his family move into a sod house. Sam digs in to help his family survive. A bully picks fights with him and calls him Mudball Sam. Inspired by his mother's Quaker faith, Sam learns to forgive and win friends. He struggles to live with hope as he contends with thievery, floods, and false charges brought against him at a threshing fire. With the help of his faithful mother and sister, Sam wades through near-overwhelming challenges toward a life of joy and fulfillment.



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Mudball Sam


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ONE

"Whoa," Pa hollered, jerking back on the reins. Old Bruce and Ginger stopped, rear ends frothing with salty sweat.

Sam couldn't believe it. Pa stopping here?

His sister, Wanetta, glanced across the wagon at him, eyes squinting, mouth open, cheeks stained with tears and dust.

Then Ma spoke up, the hot wind catching her words as they drifted back. "Why, no, Demas. There's nothing here but endless prairie. We surely have a ways to go, don't we?"

Pa shot a quick gaze back at him, and Sam saw that there was no reasoning with him at all right then. Pa meant what he said.

"Samuel," Pa said, his voice rasping like a string pulled through a tin can, "help your mother down from the wagon seat. Wanetta, take that sack you're sitting on and roll it off onto the grass."

Pa stood, his eyes glassy and wild, and crawled over our stacked belongings, hunched over Ma's round-top trunk, grabbed it by the leather handles at each end. He grunted as he lifted it and dropped it over the wagon side into a stand of bluestem.

Ma had her feet in the grass and was trying to help Wanetta down. Sam felt his heart pounding hard against his chest, and his ears roared like there was a flood of water somewhere. "Pa, something you want me to help with?" he asked.

"You get along, now, with Wanetta and your ma, Samuel. Here, catch the water jug." Pa pitched it to him and Sam was shaking so that he barely caught it. He glanced over at Wanetta's fear-filled eyes as she clutched at Ma's gingham skirt and started to cry.

Sam could see that Ma did her best to stay calm. "Demas, what do you want to do? Is there something you want us to do?" Her voice wobbled, and Sam had never seen her eyes pop out like they did and her neck strain like that. Her hand raked across her mouth.

All Pa did was to climb back onto the wagon seat. "Giddyup," he hollered and slapped the reins hard on Ginger's and Bruce's rumps. Sam smelled the sour sweat and recognized that some of it was his own. His knees trembled.

The horses lurched and the wagon rumbled, bouncing across the bending grass, heading westward. Pa's shoulders rocked back and forth.

***

Last they'd eaten, Leona remembered, was hours back, under a half-dead cottonwood by Blue Spring. She'd taken out what was left of the cornbread and cold sausage. Twelve-year-old Samuel had relished his last bite. Wanetta, turning ten, hardly swallowed a crumb, on account of her worry.

"Ma, why do we have to move again?" Her eyes cut up to her mother's face.

"Wanetta, you know Pa sold our farm. Said he's taking us to a new place in Oklahoma." But where? Where? He'd been so secret-like lately.

That old head wound from the Civil War bothering him again. The fierce headaches and how he would wander into the town of Eureka and wouldn't come back until dark. Dear God, what am I to do? Two young ones and the wagon disappearing over the rise.

Six years they'd lived there on their little Flint Hills Kansas farm. Good farm. The rolling, grassy hillls. And down in the valley behind their four-room house she'd finally managed to grow cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, and potatoes.

Samuel, getting such broad shoulders now, like his Uncle Ike back in Illinois, hollering, "Ma, I don't want to leave Rock Creek School and Charlie and Morris."

Well, it was more than hard. Leaving friends behind. Wanetta crying over having to say good-bye to Rebecca Mosely and her play house in a cluster of elderberry bushes, all outlined with poles.

She'd prayed, hadn't she? Being raised in the faith of the Quakers. 'course her husband, Demas Stiles, was a Methodist, and she knew there probably wouldn't be a Quaker settlement where they were going. Somewhere out in Oklahoma.

Demas was smart, too, Leona knew that. Instead of farming why hadn't he tried to get an accounting job? Work in a bank? He seemed to always know how to keep cash in his pockets.

It had all sounded so strange and lonely. Now this hot July wind from the southwest whipped at her poke bonnet. And those massive white clouds building up. The prairie grass rising up over Wanetta's head.

She looked down at her trunk, spicy smells rose up from the bruised grasses. The sun caught the brass plate on the top with her name: Leona Morgan.

Yes, it had been her hope chest before she married Demas. What hope was there now? God, give me strength. She turned, clasped Wanetta's hand, searching the faces of the two bewildered and frightened young ones.

***

Sam tried to think of the names of those Oklahoma towns his pa had mentioned. Medford, Wakita, Manchester? He had looked at a map before they'd started out, and saw they were heading for a part of Oklahoma called the Cherokee Strip, just below the Kansas border. Close enough that he might be able to get back to Eureka and see Morris and Charlie sometime. Why hadn't Pa told them more? Owed it to them, didn't he?

Maybe Pa thought of making another trip to load up Ma's cast-iron cook stove they had to leave behind. "Too heavy. Horses can't pull a wagon with that thing in it." Pa hadn't said anything about Ma getting another stove, once they settled on their new place.

Finally, Pa stopped so they could climb out to stretch their legs. Sam stepped away from the wagon until he hid himself in the tall bluestem so he could empty his bladder.


ISBN Number: 0-7414-2976-4 (softcover)

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