Children Crying on the Prairie

Late one evening I had a waking dream. I was walking along a dirt road through a tallgrass prairie in the middle of Kansas, with scrub oaks and wheat fields stretching out into the distance. Up ahead there was a town, with houses and low-lying buildings hung on the horizon. The sun was hot, mid-afternoon, and the dust of the road billowed up as I walked.

I came upon a young boy sitting by the side of the road, nestled between clumps of tall bronze-tipped Indiangrass. Towhead tucked between his knees, thin arms cradling his legs. The young boy was dressed in short, beige-colored knickers with bright red suspenders; a pressed white, short-sleeved shirt; pull-up khaki socks; and lace-up buster brown shoes. As I approached, he looked up at me. I had thought it was my dad. But no, it was his mother, Ruth, as a very young girl, crying and crying by the side of the dusty road. She had dark hair gathered up by jeweled clips into ringlets that framed her soft, round, tear-stained face; and she wore a pale lavender chiffon frock with a wide-lace ribbon tied in a bow around her small waist. Her tiny feet were clothed in neat, ribbed anklets and shiny-white patent leather shoes.

 As I came closer, I began to feel her cries, the heat of her tears, and, as she continued crying, I began crying too. We cried and cried together, my dad joining in. Standing in a circle. Shoulder to shoulder. Heads down, tears making salty plop sounds in the powdery dirt. Three small children crying in the middle of a dusty prairie road. Just crying and crying and crying.

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