I’m posting, in two parts, a short story written as a classroom assignment. This is based on true events that occurred in the ancestral line of my paternal grandmother, my great-great grandparents, John and Eliza Yoakam, who settled in Coos Bay, Oregon in the mid 1850s.
Echoes, Part One
“Turn left here,” Jack yelled.
“No, the map says to turn right,” Holly retorted as she grasped the dead man’s knob on the wheel and turned the large, black Dodge truck with a 5thwheel in tow onto Cape Arago Highway.
“Maybe you’d rather drive,” Holly teased, smiling at her tow-headed husband.
Holly guided the rig toward the RV park near the beach in silence. She thought of the purpose of the trip and hoped she would find answers to nagging questions. Her great-great-grandmother, Eliza Davis Yoakam, and her husband, John, had an experienced a tragedy March 27, 1855, near Coos Bay, Oregon.
The Yoakams had followed the Oregon Trail from Ohio and chose to settle in Empire City in 1852. Eliza, one of the first white female settlers to come to Coos Bay, crossed the nation while pregnant with their eighth child. The Trail had claimed the life of the oldest boy. She gave birth to a girl three days after arriving. Holly tried to imagine how difficult that must have been for her–– alone without her mother’s support. What amazed Holly more was how Eliza had managed to carry on after that fateful night in March, three years later. How does one go on after that?That dogged pioneerdetermination.
Eliza and John lost all five of their daughters during the night, one a babe in her arms. A freak windstorm gusted a large tree upon their makeshift cabin; a branch hit Eliza and the girl she held. Two toddler boys, George and Jasper, survived because they had been tucked in a trundle bed–– and had slept through the ordeal. George was Holly’s great-grandfather.
She noticed Jack’s fingers tapping near the passenger window. She thought about how much coaxing it had taken for Jack to agree to the trip. He failed to understand her need to see ancestral grounds and thought it morbid to explore the site of tragedy. She bribed him with dinner at the “best Italian restaurant in two states.” Holly couldn’t remember the name, and Jack had teased her how great could the food be if she couldn’t recall its name. She reminded him of the power of Google and said not to worry.
That evening they dined on their traditional beach fare of salami, Swiss cheese, sourdough bread and red wine resting on Holly’s handmade quiltlaid upon the brown-gray sands of Arago Beach, sitting cross-legged and facing each other, against the backdrop of an August sapphire sunset. Milky swirls, aquamarine clouds on hovered close to the setting sun on the Pacific horizon. The sun morphed to a reddish golden globe, a utopian aura casting an array of colors, like rainbow Sherbet, into the clouds as it began its final descent into the ocean waves.
Jack prepared a pit in the sand, piling wood, kindling, wads of paper, and lit the heap with a cigarette lighter. As flares of red flames leapt high, he relaxed and reached for the boxed wine.
“May I?” he asked as he offered to fill Holly’s ‘wine glass,’ their beach term for a red SoHo plastic cup, “You look ravaging in the fire light.”
Holly teased that it was the wine talking, secretly pleased at his compliment, and set out their camp chairs.
“Good idea, Holly, my bones were starting to ache,” he said as he plopped into it.
They discussed the following day’s itinerary and decided to visit all the places on Holly’s list and the next day check off Jack’s list. The special dinner would take place on the eve of the trip home.
They smiled at the antics of the young children and their parents who had walked onto the beach, making S’mores over their small fire. Moments later, a large group of young men, drunken and loutish, caused the family to pack and leave. Holly and Jack looked at each other and without speaking, gathered up their belongings, doused the fire with sand and trudged under the blue-tinged, muted yellow glow of the half-moon to their sanctuary on wheels.