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The Dream Quest One Writing Contest First Prize Winner


Summer 2013





of Carlotta, California - USA







Kate Howard


It was a weepy, whiny, windy winter day, weather well suited to the events that happened more than seventy years ago when our father stopped the world and we got off. That was the day when the bank repossessed the house, the store repossessed the furniture, her parents repossessed our mother — joke, laugh here (lest we weep) and the stranger who was our father drove the soon-to-be-repossessed car off into the sunset with the remnants of his family weeping in the seat beside him.

This remnant consisted of my four-year-old self, six-year-old Phil and almost three, Patrick. Mama had left us; she was an indifferent parent, but she was our entire known world. Our father was gone much of the time, for days and even weeks away, working long hours in those deep depression days. We often heard of him, as in “Wait until your father gets home...” but we seldom saw him. Now, our own personal Boogie Man was taking us away form everything we had ever known. We wept.

Mama was gone when we got up that morning. Father was sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands. Crumpled on the table was a letter from Mama. She told him that, instead of making the house and car payment for the past three months, she had spent the money for clothes and a bus ticket; that she was going home to her parents. Enclosed with the letter was the eviction notice, which said we had until noon of that day to get out of the house.

Upon seeing the three of us standing in the doorway, our father flew into action. To us, it seemed he went crazy. He ran through the house, stuffing things into pillowcases and cramming household items into the backseat of the car. He lashed a mattress and springs onto the roof of the car





along with his tools and one small dresser. All the food in the house went into a box on the floor on the passenger side of the car. It looked like a bad case of Tobacco Road en route to nowhere. We drove off just as the sheriff arrived to nail the house shut.

Our father parked for a long time on a back road with his head on the steering wheel. We thought he was sleeping or maybe dead; we were very quiet so as not to wake the giant. Actually (he said later), he was trying to think of what to do. Finally, he drove into town where he made several stops. The first was to sell some items, the second to buy a tent and last was to buy milk and cookies for his babies.

We slept in the car that night and all four of us cried ourselves to sleep. I went to sleep quickly, hoping to wake up and find out that it was only a dream. It wasn’t.

We drove around the next day until our father found just the right spot to set up the tent. It was in an abandoned orchard, close by a ditch of running water, secluded from the world, about five miles from town. Once again it seemed he went crazy as he pitched the tent and emptied the car, concentrating on the job at hand, paying no attention to us.

At last, he looked at his children, huddled together in a small, teary, thumb-sucking group. Then (and we saw it, the exact moment when our father turned into our daddy) he smiled a brilliant smile and glowed golden in the setting sun. With a flourish, he gestured toward the tent.

“There,” he said grandly. “Just like camping out.”

We had never been camping, but it did have a nice ring to it. We brightened.

He made up the bed with all the blankets (some still damp where some of us had been sitting), sheets and quilts, talking to us in a pleasant voice. The four of us snuggled into the bed, ate cookies and milk, said our prayers and kissed each other goodnight. I went to sleep quickly, hoping to wake up and find out that it wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t.

The next morning, Daddy drove off in the car, leaving us tucked in bed. Several hours later, he returned on foot with three cans of nearly empty paint buckets along with some more cookies and milk. With a large brush, he painted a huge rainbow on the inside of the tent.

“This,” he told us, “is a sign that daddies love their children.”

With the rest of the paint, he painted red numbers on the wall (zero to

nine) and then the alphabet in yellow (vowels were blue).

We were enchanted.

Suddenly I was struck with an idea. “What does that mean?” I asked, pointing to the letters on the wall.


“It’s the alphabet,” Daddy answered.

I stood up on the bed. “It’s a sign,” I said dramatically, “that children love their daddies.”

I could tell by the look on his face that this was the right thing to say.

Phil, not to be outdone, leaped up and pointed to the numbers. “And what is THAT?” he cried.

“WHAT?” we cried.

“It’s a sign that we ALL love each other!” he crowed and whomped me with a pillow.

That started a roughhouse in which Daddy joined and it ended with the three of us pinning him to the mat. It was bonding at its finest hour. From that moment on, we were buddies.

We spent winters in the big bed; snuggled together, listening to Daddy tell wonderful stories. Warmer weather found the bed dragged outside to study the stars before dropping off to sleep. Hot weather forced us into the irrigation ditch that ran beside our tent, sometimes spending nights as well as days in the water. Here, again, we looked upwards to the stars and always, always, always we would beg for more stories.

A master storyteller, he painted pictures with words as colorful as the rainbow on the wall. King Arthur, Jesus, Buddha, Joan of Arc, David and Jonathon, Moses and Hiawatha were just a few of the epic characters that flowed through our rainbow tent. It was a dream world of the good and the glorious. They were our heroes. We yearned to be good and brave and faithful.

Our daddy gave us his full attention, which captivated us completely. He had, of necessity, been a workaholic. Now that he didn’t have a job, he threw all that energy into his children.

“I love you,” he would say, “and I want you to have the best of everything that I can give you.”

And he gave us his best. He gave us all that he had to give---attention, love, empowerment and self-confidence. He listened to us and discussed ideas with us as if our opinion was of value. That was a rare gift in our sight. We had no shoes and our clothes were rags (which was not too different from the rest of the country in those days) but we had a distinct advantage. Our daddy had stopped the world. He had no other goal in life, but to give us grace. He painted our lives with rainbows and we flourished.

There is a frame around my memories of those years, like a window in time. All that I am now, I owe to the time we hit rock bottom. . . and Daddy painted rainbows.

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By Kate Howard

I am a retired teacher living in the hills of Northern California with dogs, cats and goats. Still living the dream, I have stopped the world and gotten off. I have a large garden of organic vegetables and hope to support myself from the land (and retirement income).