I sat up in bed. My little cousin was sound asleep next to me. Listening to Mr. Faye and my grandmother, I understood why, in the night, I’d dreamed of being on a pirate ship swinging back and forth atop the waves. The bed was on casters. It had been rolling! This was all really too exciting — and scary. Two of the people I loved most in the world were somewhere in Yellowstone Park, maybe dead in the earthquake. I’d had a crush on my Uncle Hank as long as I could remember (not long as I was only seven) and my Aunt Martha was my best friend. What if they were dead? What would happen then? I didn’t go back to sleep, but I didn’t get up, either. I didn’t know what to do. I liked being up in the early morning with my grandmother, but somehow I didn’t think she’d appreciate my company just then.
She sent my brother back to bed and sat down at the kitchen table in the dark. I heard her fingers tapping on the table; I heard “On a hill faraway, stood an Old Rugged Cross…”
Light began to to show through the north window of the kitchen behind the African violets. The phone rang.
“Thank the Lord.” I knew it was my Aunt Jo. “I’ll believe that when I see you, Jo. Hank’s all right? Martha? The boys are all right? You’re in Livingston? Cooke City? I wish you wouldn’t come that way, that road. Uh-huh, no no, don’t waste your money. Just come home.” She hung up.
“They’ll be wanting coffee,” said my Grandma to herself, to the kitchen walls, the wild assortment of kitchen chairs all painted white, to the cupboards, to the little girl who was not asleep. I heard her puttering around.
It wasn’t long before the phone rang again. “Hello? Good, good, now just come home. I’ll have breakfast for you.” Grandma came in our room. “Girls, wake up. I’m cooking breakfast. Jo and them are in Red Lodge. They’re coming back from the Park. We had an earthquake in the night, did you feel it?”
“I did,” I said. “Lee slept through it.”
“You didn’t feel anything, Lee?”
“No.” Younger, even than my brother, what would she have felt?
“Poor Kirk. I’d better go wake him. I thought he was kicking me all night. You two get dressed. Lee can you get dressed by yourself? My Lord, the bed is on the wrong side of the room.”
“I’ll help her, Grandma.”
“I can do it!” said Lee, defiant, independent, four years old.
Grandma came back with my little brother.
“Why’d you keep hitting me, Grandma?”
“I thought you were kicking me. C’mon you kids now get your breakfast before Jo and them get here.”
We sat down with our Trix and milk and Grandma cooked bacon for my aunts and uncle and cousins. We heard their car drive up — two cars. A 1957 Chevy, gray and pink, and my Aunt Martha’s green Oldsmobile.
“Thank the Lord,” said my Grandma, lifting her apron to wipe her eyes.
They came in, clearly very tired. They’d all been up all night.
“Oh Jo, Martha, boys,” my little grandmother held out her arms to all of them. If she could touch them, she’d know for sure they were in her kitchen. “Breakfast is about ready.”
“Morning, Mrs. Beall,” said my Uncle Hank, tipping his hat. My uncle was soft-spoken, extremely courteous; to him she was always Mrs. Beall though he lived next door to her, married her daughter and took care of her house.
They all sat around the table. We “little ‘uns” were against the wall. Lee was in the high chair for no reason other than there was no where else for her to sit.
“Jo thought it was a bear,” said my Uncle Hank. “She sent me out of the tent with a couple of pans to scare it away.”
“Imagine that,” laughed my grandmother. “You had Hank scaring away an earthquake with pans!”
“I didn’t know, Mom.”
“They said on the radio that many people have died, over in West Yellowstone area. We were lucky, so lucky,” said my Aunt Martha.
Grandma put a plate of bacon on the table, and eggs fried as only she could fry them — in an iron skillet, in bacon grease, so they had warm soft yolks and crinkly edges and plenty of pepper. They all helped themselves, dipping toast into the yolks.
“Sit down, Mrs. Beall,” said my Uncle Hank.
“Mother, please. Sit down. You’ve had a long night,” said my Aunt Martha.
“I must call Mr. Faye and tell him you’re fine.”
“He can see our cars, Mom. Sit down.”
Grandma wiped her hands on her apron and sat down next to me. Under the table, she grabbed my hand and held it very tightly. She’d been scared, too. Many families were not as lucky as ours, but for now, we were all safe and sound. The sun shone brightly, as it should in August, and we would pick plums later.