It was a dark and stormy night. No, really. It was.
Well . . . truth to tell, while it was stormy as all get-out, the sky wasn’t dark
even though it was really late, mainly because the lightning streaking it in sheets,
streaks, forks and stabs kept things pretty bright. I knew the electricity, which
had only come to town a couple of years earlier, had bitten the dust because I’d
had to read by the light of a kerosene lantern for an hour or more.
I tried not to let the booms of thunder affect me, although they shook the house,
and I could imagine canned goods falling from the shelves of my parents’ grocery
and dry-goods store situated in another building in front of our house. That, of
course, meant my obnoxious twelve-year-old brother Jack and I would have a lot of
cleaning up to do on the morrow.
I only hoped I wouldn’t have to row the whole family to the store from the house.
All the houses and businesses in Rosedale, New Mexico, had been built up from the
streets because, while we lived on a desert, every darned time we had a storm like
the one currently in process, the rivers flooded and all the streets turned into
raging waterways. We lived close to the Spring River, and I could envision water
bucketing over its banks and heading toward our house. Then there were the Hondo
and the Pecos rivers, both of which were probably overflowing even as I sat propped
up in my bed and wishing the thunder weren’t quite so loud.
That’s probably because I’d been reading a creepy magazine called Weird Tales I’d
checked out of the Carnegie Library earlier that very day. At least I wasn’t holed
up in the attic of a Gothic mansion when the torrential storm broke.
“Annabelle.” My mother’s voice preceded her knock by only a second. I know it was
stupid, but my heart gave a big lurch, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. Danged
magazine. I laid it aside.
“Are you awake?”
“Can’t sleep,” I said. “So I’ve been reading. Too much noise to sleep.”
Ma sighed. “Me too, although I haven’t been reading. I’m going to make a cup of cocoa
and have a piece of Miss Libby’s pound cake. Want to join me?”
Would I? “You bet. I’ll be right there.” I loved anything cooked by Libby Powell,
my aunt Minnie’s friend and companion, as long as I didn’t have to eat it in Libby’s
presence. Libby Powell was a frightful, beastly old woman. She complemented Aunt
Minnie, who was intense, plump, sweet, vague, liked to commune with the spirits via
séances, and looked kind of like an ambulatory barrel when in motion. Miss Libby
was just big. Big and mean as a rattlesnake. But boy, could she cook.
Slipping out of bed, I donned my robe and stuffed my feet into my slippers, first
checking for scorpions as usual even though it was November and technically past
true scorpion season. However, when it rained like this, even the insects of the
field wanted to get away from it and were likely to come indoors to do so. The southeastern
part of New Mexico, while confirmed in statehood more than a dozen years before,
was still a pretty rugged part of the world even in the enlightened date of 1923.
I joined Ma in the kitchen just as she was pouring steaming cocoa into two mugs.
Good. That meant Jack wasn’t awake—or, if he was, that he didn’t plan to join us.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt, which was difficult to do most of the time,
I presumed he’d turn human one of these days. At the moment, however, I’d just as
soon my parents rent him out to some lonely couple who’d always longed for children
and couldn’t have them. Jack would cure them of any lingering misery in that regard
in no time flat.
As for me, Annabelle Blue, I was nineteen years old and an adult by anyone’s reasoning.
Well, except Libby Powell’s, but as already mentioned, she was nasty and mean and
hated everyone except Aunt Minnie and a few other people her age. Anyhow, my birthday
was coming right up, and then I’d be twenty! My goodness, but that seemed old to
Ma sat heavily in one of the kitchen chairs and sighed. She’d already cut two pieces
of pound cake and laid them on a napkin next to yet another kerosene lantern. No
formality was expected at this time of night and in this weather. Kerosene lamps
were useful in cases like this, but I hated having to clean the blasted things after
they’d served their purpose.
“I suppose Second Street will be running like a river in the morning. I only hope
the water doesn’t slosh over the boardwalk. Your father and I don’t need to be mopping
up floodwaters from the front of the store.”
“I hope not,” I said. “Rotten floods. Are they ever going to build a dam or anything
to hold the water back when it rains like this?”
Ma shrugged. “I don’t know. You’d think they’d have done it by this time if they
were going to do it at all.”
“I don’t know, Ma. Rosedale, New Mexico, doesn’t seem awfully advanced in the engineering
department. Instead of building that grand courthouse with government money, maybe
the city fathers should have lobbied for a dam instead.”
Ma chuckled. “Maybe so.”
We had a great courthouse, with a dome and everything. It was built in 1911, right
before New Mexico gained statehood in 1912, and the people who’d planned and built
it spared no expense, primarily because they knew the federal government would pay
for it as soon as we were admitted to the Union. Smart thinking, I guess, although
I think a dam would have served the citizens of the town better than a fancy courthouse.
I had to admit, though, that the courthouse was useful. Lots of the old men in town
liked to walk to Fourth and Main, sit on benches placed here and there on what passed
for the courthouse lawn, and gab about the good old days, which didn’t sound all
that good to me, but who was I to quibble? Still and all, fighting Indians and cattle
rustlers, droughts, floods, and people like Billy the Kid, a miserable outlaw my
idiot brother idolized, didn’t appeal to me one little bit. In fact, I wished I could
visit a big city somewhere. Anywhere. Heck, I didn’t want to spend the rest of my
life in this tiny little hole of a town in the middle of nowhere.
“We don’t generally get thunderstorms like this in November,” Ma observed after she’d
taken a sip of cocoa.
This was true. Our “rainy” season, summer, was long gone. And summertime in Rosedale
wasn’t so rainy that the town turned green and pretty or anything like that. It mainly
just flooded more and left mud so slippery, you might as well have tried walking
on wet ice. Clay soil. Doesn’t absorb water, so it floods. And people slip and fall
and break bones.
In fact, although I wouldn’t say so to Ma, whose family was among the first to settle
in Rosedale, there wasn’t a whole lot to recommend our town. Basically, we were built
by and for cattlemen. We sat right smack in the middle of cattle country, and served
as a hub for ranchers within a two-hundred-mile radius in any direction you cared
to mention. That’s what we were in the good old days, and that’s what we remained.
During the spring and autumn cattle drives, cowboys from all over the place drove
their herds down Second Street to the railroad yard, and the rodeos that followed
were the highlight of the entire year. We watched the cattle drives, not to mention
the dust and mayhem caused thereby, through the front window of Blue’s Dry Goods
and Mercantile Emporium, which Grandpa Blue had established in 1892. Ma’s family
had ranched and farmed, but when she married Pa, she gave up the wide open spaces
to help him in the family store.
That was all right with me. Personally, I was happy to live in town, even such a
town as Rosedale, because ranches in these parts are even more in the middle of nowhere
than the town itself. I liked being able to chat with my friends and neighbors when
they came into the store, where I worked daily behind the counter. Jack was supposed
to work, too, but . . . oh, never mind. He did his chores when compelled to do them
by our father’s firm voice or, when that failed, by a hand strategically applied
to his hind end.
My older brother George was a great guy, but he no longer lived in Rosedale. Smart
fellow, George. He’d been an aeroplane pilot in the Great War, had recently left
the Army Air Corps and was now married and living in Alhambra, California, with his
wife and their baby son. I hoped to visit him there one day, even if only to play
nanny for a week or so. I read lots of magazine articles about California, and it
sounded like a great place. My two older sisters, Zilpha and Hannah, were married
and out of the house, too, although they remained in Rosedale.
Zilpha’s husband is named Mayberry Zink, and he’s a very nice fellow, although I
kind of wished he’d change his last name. Zilpha Zink? Personally, I’d rather die
an old maid than have a name like that, not that I’d ever tell Zilpha so. Anyhow,
he owns a feed and saddlery store in Rosedale, and can equip you for anything you
need in the way of horses or cows, fences or barns, sheep or pigs. There’s going
to be another little Zink coming along in about six months, and Zilpha and Ma are
terribly excited about it. Ma really wants to get her hands on a grandchild, and
George’s little boy is too far away.
Hannah is married as well, to a banker named Richard MacDougall. Richard is an okay
guy for a banker, but I prefer Mayberry, who isn’t so stuffy. Richard suits Hannah,
however. She’s more interested in material things than anyone else in the family.
As for my own personal love life . . . well, I didn’t have one. Mind you, I had a
gentleman friend, and it was assumed by one and all, including me, that Phil Gunderson
and I would marry one day. However, that wasn’t going to happen any time soon. Darned
if I’d get married at my tender age without having had an adventure or two first.
If Phil didn’t like that, too bad.
Not that I didn’t like and admire Phil, and I certainly didn’t want to lose him to
some other woman. Still . . . I couldn’t help but feel that there was more to life
than Rosedale, New Mexico, and I aimed to see at least a piece of it before I married
and faded into the woodwork. And if I could do so in the company of Allan Quatermain
or Rudolf Rassendyll, so much the better. If you know what I mean.
“Well, no matter what time of year it is, floods are always a pain in the neck,”
said I after swallowing a bite of pound cake and wishing Miss Libby could be as sweet
as her cooking.
Ma only sighed, and we both jumped in our chairs when a gigantic blast of thunder
shook the house and rattled the windows. “Good Lord,” muttered Ma, pressing a hand
to her heart. I couldn’t have said it any better.
I don’t know about Ma, but after we polished off the pound cake and cocoa and went
back to bed, I didn’t get much sleep, thanks to the constant booming and crashing
of the thunder. I swear it nearly knocked me out of bed a couple of times.
We were both right about the mess that met us the following morning. It was difficult
even getting from our house in back of the store to the store itself. School was
definitely closed for the day, even though no one had proclaimed an official holiday.
However, one had to use one’s common sense in situations like these, and it was clear
no kids would be able to get to school without swimming, which was flat ridiculous.
Pa grumbled the whole way from the house to the store, muttering to himself about
how he was going to build a consarned bridge so we wouldn’t have to wade through
miles of water and mud the next time it rained. He’d said as much before but, like
a dam for the rivers, a bridge from the house to the store remained a fond dream.
When I glanced around the store after removing my rubber boots and letting down my
skirt, which I’d kilted under my waistband so as not to get it muddy, I was more
relieved than not. The windows were a filthy mess, and a few tins of things had fallen
from shelves, but for the most part the store remained undamaged. No floodwaters
had encroached, at least.
“I’m going up to see if the roof blew away anywhere,” Pa said after he’d made sure
the inside of the place was secure and fetched a ladder.
This wasn’t as silly a comment as it might appear to those unfamiliar with Rosedale
weather. Along with the thunder, lightning and rain, the winds had howled like a
chorus of tormented souls during the storm. We got horrible winds in Rosedale, generally
in the springtime, although no season was immune, and they’d been known to rip roofs
off houses, flatten fences and topple windmills. They’d probably have flattened trees,
too, if we’d had any, but except for a few cottonwoods beside the Spring River and
a few other places, so far trees were a luxury and Rosedale didn’t have many of them.
“I’m going to see what it’s like outside,” said I, boldly opening the front door
and looking. Boy, what a jumble! At least water hadn’t reached as high as the boardwalk,
but Second Street might as well have been another major waterway. If anyone aimed
to go anywhere that day, they were going to have to do it via rowboat. “It’s going
to take at least a day, and possibly two, for the water to recede,” I announced to
all and sundry.
Jack had joined me on the boardwalk. “Keen!” said he. He would.
Pa climbed down the ladder from the roof to join us, looking unhappy. “Damned rain,”
he muttered. Pa wasn’t much of a one for swearing, so I knew the wind had done some
damage to the roof.
“What’s the matter, Pa?” I asked. Jack just stood there, frowning, as if he knew
he was going to be told to do something he didn’t want to do.
“Shingles are gone in several spots,” said Pa. “Annabelle, will you row to Gunderson’s
Hardware and fetch a bundle of shingles and some roofing nails? I should fix the
roof today in case we get another storm tonight.”
“Hey,” said Jack. “I want to row to the store!”
“You, young man, are going into the store and begin picking up canned goods. Then
you’re going to wash those windows. I can trust Annabelle to do what I ask and not
waste time. You’ve proven yourself to be untrustworthy too many times in the recent
“Aw, Pa,” grumbled Jack.
“That’s enough of that,” Pa growled back.
Jack had been in hot water for several months by that time because of his lousy attitude
and occasionally unruly behavior. You’d think he’d mend his ways, but he was a boy.
What more is there to say?
“Will do, Pa,” said I, obedient daughter that I was. Anyhow, even though floods annoyed
me, I enjoyed rowing the boat down Second Street. How many other towns in those progressive
days of the twentieth century could boast a roaring river as a main street, do you
suppose? Well, besides Venice, Italy, I reckon, but their primary mode of transport
is water all the time, so Venice doesn’t count.
“And get some tar, too. I’ll have to tar over a couple of spots.”
Jack whined and grumbled as he retreated from the front boardwalk to do his chores
while I went to the back room and fetched the rowboat and oars. “Do you want them
to put the stuff on your account?”
“No. Let me get some money.” Pa didn’t approve of credit, although he gave generous
credit to many of the ranchers in the area. As he’d said more than once, ranching
is a tough business, and he was always willing to give a good man a break when he
So he handed me some cash, I stuck it in my pocket, put on my sweater, and I set
out in the boat to row myself to Gunderson’s Hardware about a block east of Blue’s
on Second Street. I hoped Phil would be there.
He was, and it looked as if he and his brother Pete were being run ragged even before
I tied the boat to the horse rail and carefully maneuvered my way out of it, because
so many other boats had already been rowed to Gunderson’s and were similarly tied
to the railing. When I entered the store, I wasn’t surprised to see the place packed
with people, purchasing everything from shingles to chicken wire to lumber, rope,
window glass, tacks and nails.
“Blasted chicken coop blew apart,” snarled John O’Dell, who dealt in real estate
and was one of our wealthier citizens. “Got my chickens all over the whole damned
town.” He spied me and said, “Sorry, Miss Annabelle.”
I waved his apology away. “I’m sorry about the chicken coop, Mr. O’Dell. Hope you
can round up the flock.”
He shook his head. “Not a prayer of that, but Mrs. O’Dell is out in her rubber boots
trying to find as many of them as she can.”
I always treated Mr. O’Dell with special politeness, mainly because I’d suspected
him of murder not too long ago and was heartily ashamed of myself for it. Not that
he knew of my suspicions, but I have a tender conscience. Sometimes.
“I’ll take a shovel, Pete,” said Mr. Lovelady. “I only have the one, and there’s
nobody else I can borrow from since they’re all using theirs to shovel out their
sheds and barns. My kid’s home now working on the stable, and I aim to help as soon
as I row myself home. Dad-blasted storm.”
By the way, while Rosedale boasted a few automobiles, including our own Model T Ford,
lots of folks still got around via mule or horse and wagon. Those of us who owned
automobiles kept them in what used to be our stables.
I heard other folks call for nails, hammers, roofing shingles, window glass, paint,
plaster, handsaws, and all sorts of materials required to make repairs after last
night’s disastrous downpour. I waited patiently for my turn to come, listening to
all the comments. It seemed to me that we Blues didn’t suffer as much damage as a
lot of folks in town, and I decided I’d tell Pa so. Might make him feel a little
better about the roof.
“What can I help you with, Annabelle?” said Phil, smiling shyly at me. He was such
“I need a bundle of shingles, some roofing nails and some tar. Do you have tar?”
“For the roof? Storm blew it away, did it?”
“Parts of it.”
“Sure. I can sell you some tar. You’ll have to heat it up.”
“Damned flood,” muttered Mr. O’Dell as he stomped to the door with wood, wire and
nails for rebuilding his chicken coop.
“We do seem to have wicked weather in these parts sometimes,” I said to Phil.
“Yeah.” He sighed. “I tried calling the ranch to see how Ma and Pa made out, but
the phone lines are down.”
“So’s the electric,” I said. “Wonder when everything will be back up again.”
“Don’t have a clue. Probably not for a few hours for the telephone, at least. We’re
not exactly the center of the universe.”
“No. We sure aren’t. It’s funny in a way, though,” I said. “I mean, five years ago
we didn’t have electricity, and telephones were scarce as hens’ teeth. Now we can’t
live without them.”
“True. I guess they call that progress.”
Phil had been rummaging around behind the counter of his brother’s store. He plunked
a banded bundle of roofing shingles on the counter along with a box of nails. I peered
at them suspiciously. “Are you sure those are the right kind?”
With a sigh, Phil said, “Yes, Annabelle. Those are roofing nails. Jeez, don’t you
think I know what I’m doing in my own brother’s store? I’ve been working here for
years, you know.”
“Sorry, Phil. Of course you know what you’re doing. I was just asking, was all.”
“Huh.” He took off through a door behind the counter and came back a moment later
with a bucket of tar. “Want me to put this on your father’s account?”
“No, thanks. He gave me the money.”
Phil added everything up, gave me the total, and I handed over the loot. He was kind
enough to carry my purchases out to the boat for me. Well, I carried the nails. He
carried the heavy stuff.
“Thanks, Phil,” I said after he’d held the boat steady for me to climb back into.
“You’re welcome. Say, Annabelle, want to go to the pictures with me on Friday?” He
blushed a little, which I thought was sweet. Phil was a bashful fellow.
“Sure. If the waters have gone down by then.” This was Wednesday, and you never knew
about these things.
“Good. I’ll come by to get you at six. That all right? We can get some ice cream
afterwards at Pruitt’s.” Pruitt’s Drug Store sat right next door to Blue’s, and my
best friend Myrtle Howell worked there at the cosmetics counter. The soda fountain
remained open after six o’clock on Friday nights, unlike the rest of the store, because
going to a movie and having an ice-cream soda was about the only amusement available
to us young people.
“Sure. Do you know what’s playing?”
“I think there’s a Harold Lloyd picture there now.”
“Oh, yes. I read about it in the paper. I think it’s called Grandma’s Boy. Should
Phil had a satisfied smile on his face when he turned to go back into the store.
As for me, I smiled at his back and reached to untie the boat from its makeshift