We are finally under way. It took some “doings” to get us off, but soon, Alabama will be behind us. Tomorrow, we will be camping in Florida, if all goes well. Everyone is talking about it. Florida!
At first light, Pap hitched up our new team of oxen. Their names are Jeb and January, and they are bigger than big. They wear a wooden yoke around their necks to keep them together as they pull the wagon. Pap says they’re gentle but as strong as ten giants. Now that we are loaded with supplies, I know that the weight would be too much for mules to pull. Pap is driving the wagon today. He wants to drive for a few days to make sure Jeb and January are settled in.
Since Pap is driving, he let Dylan ride “shotgun” in his new little seat. He loves it! And he’s safe because he can’t fall out. That left me and Mama free to set up our laundry. Before we left this morning, she helped me gather water from the spring in all six of our big buckets. That was a lot of hauling! She and I divided our dirty clothes into piles: dresses, underclothes, diapers, Pap’s shirts, and Pap’s overalls. We put the dirty clothes in the buckets and pushed them down under the water. Mama added soap shavings and hung each of the buckets from pegs on the outside of the wagon, three down one side, three down the other.
Then, she said, “Teddy, run back to the spring and gather an apron full of smooth rocks about the size of a hen’s egg.” When I came back she said, “Now, put five or six rocks in each bucket and all the rest in with your Pap’s overalls.”
I said, “What on earth for?” It seemed like so much craziness to me.
But Mama said, “See what happens when this wagon rocks back and forth and sloshes these buckets around all day. The sun will heat the water, the rocks will beat the clothes, and all we’ll have to do is rinse.”
Mama is a genius!
I read your second letter today. Yes, I would love for you to come visit me on our new land. Pap says he heard that the tracks will soon be finished for several trains to run down into Florida to some of the cities. We will be down below Lake Okeechobee, but maybe there will be a way to come fetch you.
We had school again today. Of course, all we could talk about was Florida. What kinds of animals will we see? Will the birds look different from birds in Mississippi and Alabama? Where is the ocean? How will we get fresh water? Do you think we might get eaten by alligators?
Miss Melman said, “The best way to get to know a new place is to study your surroundings and record your observations.” She brought out a parcel wrapped in brown paper and string. I had seen her carrying it in Dothan. “I have a gift for each of you.” Our eyes widened, and we looked at each other.
She untied the string and opened the wrapping. There was a stack of art sketchbooks and boxes of colored pencils. Great buckets of butterbeans! I’d heard about colored pencils, but I’d never seen any.
Miss Melman smiled. “Open your eyes. Look around you. Make discoveries. Study the sky and the trees. Scrutinize the land. Search out things that are new and intriguing. Record what you see, and the next time we meet, we’ll share your drawings and discuss them.”
We held our new sketchbooks. The covers are deep red, and Miss Melman has written our names in script. The paper is creamy white and much nicer than notebook paper. But the colored pencils are the best of all, the kind used by artists. Each box holds eight colors: red, yellow, blue, green, purple, orange, brown, and black. They are just too wonderful.
Miss Melman had a huge smile. “Welcome to Florida,” she said.
Wonder of wonders and Ethelbert Nevin!