This Is the Life

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
May/June 2002

Rebekah Carbajal, Illustrated by Joe Lobosco

“Brandon! Brandon, can you weed the flower bed in the front yard?” Mom called from the kitchen.

I let out a groan. “Aw, Mom, please don’t make me! I had to go with Dad to the store in that stupid backfiring car. Can’t I rest a little?”

“But it looks sloppy, and Mrs. Kelly is coming over for coffee and a chat this evening,” my mom pleaded.

“Can’t Chris?” I asked in my most faked tired voice. “Brandon Newton, you are the most self-centered boy in the world! You know just as much as I do that your older brother is doing college homework. Now you get out there, and do what I tell you!”

“All right!” I cried out angrily, bouncing out of the soft leather couch. In a fuming rage, I slammed doors and yelled at my sister. To make matters worse, when I grabbed the hoe I scraped the side of the car. This only added to my anger because I knew my dad was not going to let me off easy. My anger began to lose its steam as I pulled weeds and stacked them into piles.

After a few minutes, I felt better. I surveyed my work with pride. Since I had learned to walk, there had always been something inviting about warm, soft earth. Even though I was nearly thirteen, I dropped the hoe and sprawled myself onto the ground being careful not to damage my mom’s tulips. I let out a sigh and closed my eyes. Gosh, I thought. Wish I’d lived in the old days; then I wouldn’t have to wash cars or weed gardens. Well, at least not wash cars or have to ride in ones that backfire. I grinned sleepily. That ride was such a joke! I started to laugh.

This Is the Life boy attending the lawn

Since I had learned to walk, there had always been something inviting about warm, soft earth

“Hey! What are you laughing at? Get up. Mother wants us to weed the potato patch with Sarah.”

“Eh . . . what?” I mumbled in disbelief, staggering to my feet. Potato patch? Where in the name of sense did a potato patch spring up in the middle of town? Then I looked around in bewilderment. Where was I? What had happened? Everything seemed vaguely familiar, only where were the cars, sidewalks, and manicured lawns? Instead, there was a large farmhouse and a barn with two draft horses tied out in front. My older brother Chris stood in front of me.

“Come on. Mother wants us to weed the potato patch.”

“All right, Chris,” I mumbled, picking up what I supposed to be my baseball cap. Instead, I stared in disbelief at a floppy felt hat like the type you would see in an old Hollywood western.

“Come on. Quit gawking and get to work!” Chris growled, pulling me around the barn and shoving me in the direction of a field. “Here, take this and start weeding,” he ordered, handing me a hoe. In a daze, I began to work the hoe and dig weeds out of the moist earth.

“Let’s see who can weed the most,” my little sister Sarah suggested.

In disbelief I stared at her. Her sturdy little legs stuck out of a faded blue dress, and a white sunbonnet dangled from her neck. It was then that I noticed Chris wore boots that went up to his knees, brown pants, and a coarse cotton shirt. I, also, was dressed like him, only I wore a faded red shirt and suspenders. What’s happened? What’s wrong? I cried to myself. Everything is so different!

For the next two hours, I worked my way down the rows of the patch. Soon my hands blistered, and my back ached from bending over. The hot sun beat down, making me think I was the most ill-treated boy in the universe. My hands smarted. I was never so glad to hear the dinner bell in my life. We all trooped into the house.

I was startled. The house was changed like everything else. There was no dishwasher or freezer but nothing seemed unusual to the rest of my family. I began to get scared. Was the life with cars, freezers, and dishwashers all a dream? Was this a dream? Would I ever wake up? Would I have to do work like this all my life?

My dad’s voice interrupted me. “After dinner, Chris, you and Sarah go and keep weeding the patch. Brandon, you can clean the wagon because tomorrow I’ll be heading into town, and it squeaks something fierce.”

For a split second my heart leaped when I heard I wouldn’t have to weed potatoes. It fell, though, when I heard I would have to clean the wagon. I had never done it, but something inside told me it was no easy job.

“OK, Father,” I answered. Then I wondered why I had called him Father. I glanced at him, but nothing seemed amiss. Strange, I thought. I had called him Dad forever, and now something possessed me to call him Father. He didn’t even bat an eyelid.

After dinner, I set to work cleaning and oiling the wagon. The axle grease smelled awful, but I smeared it on without trying to look disgusted. I cleaned the rust off the springs of the seat and wondered why Dad just didn’t go and buy a car. It would be a lot easier to wash, I thought, forgetting I had once thought it would be fun to live in the old days when there would be no cars to wash. When I finished, I looked with pride at the wagon.

“Not bad, son,” Dad remarked, coming up behind me. “Ride over to the Gilberts on Bess and get that new saw blade he promised me.”

“Yes, sir,” I answered.

As I saddled Bess, I wondered that I knew how to saddle a horse since the only ones I had ever ridden were at the county fair. In my mind, I tried to place where the Gilberts lived. Finally, I remembered they lived a few miles down the road near the park. Park? Where in the world would you find a park around here? Never mind. I’d just have to go where my instinct told me.

Mounting Bess, I trotted out of the yard. This is going to be great, I thought (that is, if I find the Gilberts’ house). Just ride Bess down to the Gilberts and pick up a saw blade. No work to it. Happily, I bounced down the road, but soon my lovely vision of riding down a pleasant country lane shattered with every jolt. Gee willakins! I thought. I would take a backfiring car any day instead of this jolty joyride! Relieved, I saw a farmhouse. I trotted in and prepared to casually swing out of the saddle. I succeeded in the swinging part, but as soon as I hit the ground I collapsed with a thud. A girl on the porch burst into a fit of giggles.

“Gosh, Brad. Don’t you have legs?” she giggled.

“Well, if you hadn’t ridden for a long time, you would fall too, Katie,” I retorted angrily. Katie Gilberts, I remembered, always stuck her tongue out at me. Usually, it was colored from candy. Right now, she did just that. I was about to make a face back when Mr. Gilberts walked around the barn.

“Lost your legs, sonny?” laughed Mr. Gilberts, picking me up onto my feet again.

“Father told me to ride Bess down and get the saw blade,” I answered, changing the embarrassing subject.

“OK. I’ll go get it. It’ll be a few minutes.”

“Fine,” I answered.

As soon as he left, Katie giggled and asked, “Lost your legs, sonny?”

I glared at her. Suddenly, she quit her teasing because Mrs. Gilberts stepped out on the porch.

“Well, well, isn’t this just the work of Providence. Brandon, would you be so kind as to help Tom plow the back field? The poor boy twisted his ankle this morning. He is working hard, but I’m afraid it’s too much for him.”

Something inside me cried out NO! But I swallowed hard and answered, “I would be glad to help, ma’am.”

Tom Gilberts was a freckled, towheaded boy of some fourteen years. He handed the plow to me as soon as I walked up.

“I’ve been working ever so long,” he said casually. “I’ll just rest a bit while you do a little. Won’t bother you none.”

This Is the Life boy plowing the field

Would I ever cross the gulf of time and once again be in the world of modern luxury?

As I chirruped to the horses, I wondered if I would ever stop working. Work, work, work. It seemed the only time I ever stopped working was to eat. Soon it registered in my brain what an old fool I was to think I worked like a slave back home. Home? Would I ever get home? Would I ever cross the gulf of time and once again be in the world of modern luxury? My heart pounded in my chest when I thought perhaps this was where I always lived, and I had only dreamed of modern luxury.

A snort from the large horse brought my attention back to reality. We were at the end of the row. Turning the horse, I started on another. Like a machine, I thought. You just work like a machine. The hot sun scorched down on me. Sweat soaked my cotton shirt. I felt miserable.

By the time Mr. Gilberts came back with the saw blade, I had plowed a good third of the field. With the saw blade held tightly in my hand, I mounted Bess.

Katie stood on the porch and grinned. “Well, I reckon you could mount better then you can dismount.”

I ignored her and tipped my hat politely to Mrs. Gilberts before leaving the farmyard. As I trotted down the road, I wished something would break the silence. Perhaps an airplane would fly over. Then I laughed outright. Fool! There are no airplanes these days! Gosh, I thought, I could beat the Wright brothers in making aircraft and rewrite the history books. As I rode into our farmyard with this cheerful thought in my head, I noticed a patch of freshly turned earth. I walked Bess over and fell off the saddle right onto it. I fell into an exhausted sleep.

I awoke, rubbed my eyes, and stared around me. What was different? There was Dad’s old car that always backfired, the sidewalks, and the manicured lawns. Of course, nothing was different. This was where I lived—or was it? I stood up and stared around. I was home! Yet, was this really home? Like a dazed kid, I stumbled into the kitchen. There stood the microwaves, freezers and dishwashers—everything that I was used to, everything that made life so easy. Life so easy. I burst out laughing. What an old fool I was!

“Brandon, is that you?” asked my mom, entering the kitchen.

“Yes,” I answered.

“You looked so tired when you were sleeping by the flower bed that I hadn’t the heart to wake you.”

“Oh, thanks. Uh, I was asleep?”

“Yes, for nearly an hour.”

“Oh, gosh . . . um . . . I mean . . . I heard Dad say he wanted the car washed. Want me to do it?”

“Why, yes. If you want to,” she said, staring at me in amazement.

I dashed out the door. Pausing a second, I watched the cars drive by. Kids rode down the street on their bicycles and roller blades. The neighbor next door mowed his lawn. Gosh, I thought, this is the life!

This Is the Life Rebekah Carbajal

Rebekah Carbajal, 12
Mission Viejo, California

This Is the Life Joe Lobosco

Joe Lobosco, 13
Kinnelon, New Jersey

Related Posts

Why were they leaving her? Where were they going? Illustrator Angelica Devers, 12, for Face Your...

A note from William Rubel Submissions! Wow! Many of you were certainly busy over the holidays. We...

She noticed my tears and said softly, “Look at the sky” Illustrator Hoang-Mai Davis,12, for The...

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: