Earlier that spring—before the exciting trip to Indianapolis for the band competition—the weather suddenly turned hot. It was the morning of the 11th of April—Palm Sunday—and Ida had an idea! Why not take advantage of the warm weather and invite Don and Mary to have a wiener roast in the yard? Don and Mary were Joe and Ida’s close friends. Don and his father had been members of the same threshing ring that included Joe and his grandfather, and Mary Ann and Ida never lacked for conversation.
As Joe and Ida had no telephone, Joe drove to Don and Mary’s house to ask them to come over in the afternoon. They readily consented. It would be three more years before a phone would appear in the Rhode home. Both Ida and Joe considered phones to be expensive nuisances. Whenever they needed to receive a call, they asked (with Beulah’s permission, of course) that it be placed to the phone of Beulah Jones across the street, and Beulah dutifully walked across the highway to deliver a message that she had taken on her phone. Whenever Joe and Ida had to place a call, they asked Beulah if they could borrow her phone. The rest of the time, Robert’s parents got along just fine without a telephone.
In those days, almost every town with a population of a few thousand had everything a person could want; for example, Attica, a town of 4,300 people, boasted several blocks of thriving businesses and professional offices both upstairs and down. There was no need to phone ahead to see if a store carried a certain product. If such a product could not be found in Attica, nobody needed it. Even the smaller villages had plenty of business activity from hardware stores, through blacksmith shops, through lumber yards, through elevators, through feed stores, through electrical supply shops, through grocery stores, to clothing stores.
Before Don and Mary arrived with their family, Robert and Charles picked up limbs and piled them in the ash-covered, brick-lined area of the yard that was dedicated to roasting hot dogs. Soon, the boys had a tall pile of sticks.
“That’s plenty!” Ida said, wiping her hands on her apron as she came through the screen door. “We wouldn’t be able to get near the fire if you would pile another twig on it.”
Don and Mary’s car pulled into the half circle drive by the front gate. With her big smile, Mary flung open the passenger door, jumped out, and turned to reach a casserole dish in the middle of the seat. By the time she stood with the dish in her hands, Joe and Ida had come down the sidewalk to open the gate. Mary arched her left eyebrow and said to Ida, “You’ve been helping Joe in the fields, haven’t you? I can tell by your healthy tan.”
“I could say the same about you,” Ida retorted.
Mary looked shocked. “I haven’t been helping Joe!” she remonstrated.
“I meant Don,” Ida said, laughing.
“I know,” Mary reassured her. “I was just kidding, but I can tell you who’s going to be married this summer. Wayne Whitlow, and, no, I’m not kidding! He’s marrying Peggy Thomas.”
From somewhere in the shadow cast by the brim of his cap, Don winked at Joe. “I believe they’ve already started gossiping, Joe. We may be in for a long evening.”
Meanwhile, Don and Mary’s boys, Matt and Lon, had joined Charles and Robert for a game they had invented that might be described as “hide-and-seek meets Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.” Matt and Lon brought their own cap guns, and Robert and Charles had toy guns resembling a pair of pearl-handled pistols. Wearing cowboy hats, the boys formed two teams that hid far apart among the farm buildings and sought one another while hoping to be the first to fire. Anyone fired at was “dead,” fair and square. About ready to enter the eighth grade, Charles was becoming too old for the game, but he played along just to be neighborly.
The temperature had soared into the eighties. By late afternoon, dark clouds were rolling overhead.
“I think it’s going to rain,” Ida said, after she had stepped into the yard to get a feel for the weather.
Mary said, “We probably should cook the wieners on the stove.”
Joe said, “We could get the fire going in a hurry. It doesn’t take long to cook a hot dog over a fire.”
Ida looked concerned. “We don’t want a wind to come up and blow the embers around. What would you do, Don?”
“I think you should cook the wieners on the stove.” He glanced at Joe. “That was the right answer, wasn’t it?”
“Joe, call the boys,” Ida said.
Joe strode through the gate into the chicken yard and found Robert and Lon hiding near the east chicken house. “We’re ready to eat, so come in and wash your hands,” Joe said. The smiling heads of the second team popped out from concealment behind the twin oak trees.
“Were you there all along?” Robert asked, with every tone of disappointment.
“I knew they were hiding there,” Lon said in a stage whisper. “I was just getting ready to tell you.”
“Sure you were!” Matt said.
The boys filed to the bathroom sink to slip the heavy bar of lye soap over their hands.
While everyone was eating, Ida said, “As bad as it looks outside, I think I ought to turn on the television to see if anybody is saying anything about the weather.”
Ida excused herself from the kitchen table and walked over to the Zenith, which stood high on a green “crushed ice” Formica table with metal legs. She switched on the set just in time for everyone to hear a tornado forecast that had interrupted the regularly scheduled program. The announcer reading the bulletin said there were many reports of tornadoes in northern Indiana.
Mary’s face wore a look of concentration. Then her brows arched up, she sighed, and she said, “Well, maybe we should go home—after dessert, that is.”
Everyone laughed. Joe made the “black cows” with generous scoops of vanilla ice cream covered in Coke, which foamed up and dripped temptingly down the sides of the thumbprint pattern jelly jar tumblers.
The evening ended too early, but, sometimes, the most memories are made when the fun is interrupted at its peak.
Unfortunately, the memories of that evening included the news that came in sad doses the following day. In one of the worst outbreaks of the kind, forty-seven tornadoes had touched down in Indiana and nearby states. Hundreds of people had lost their lives. The closest destruction was around the town of Mulberry. The skies above Pine Village had looked threatening, but no funnels had formed there.
Later, Mary said to Ida, “I feel bad that we were having such a good time.”
Ida said, “News like that makes you want to put your arms around your family—”
“—and hold them tight,” Mary completed Ida’s thought.