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Four Years at the Mount

Junior year

The Red Bandana

Lydia Olsen
Class of 2016

(5/2015) Once upon a time, a freckled girl sat up among the tree branches and looked out at her world. It seemed like the whole universe was laid out in front of her. The sun was at its highest point and everything was lit with its golden rays. The tin roofs from the neighboring houses acres away reflected the light in many directions. Over past the railroad tracks, the cows could be seen grazing in the fields near the horses. Down beneath the tree branches, the girl’s four younger siblings played in the shade. She was the eldest, followed by her three brothers, and the youngest was her baby sister. The boys sifted through the dirt and the mud looking for worms to go fishing with while her baby sister played with a hand-me-down doll. It was nearly noon and she anxiously multitasked between pretending to babysit and looking into the distance.

"Do you see it yet, Addie?" one of the girl’s younger brothers yelled up to her.

"No, nothing yet," Addie responded.

Last week her father had woken up before the sun rose. He rolled out of bed and got dressed before coming into the bedroom and kissing each of his children goodbye. He headed out to the railroad tracks to help manage the deliveries and tend to the train. It was his job and everyone was used to him being gone for a few days. Even though the family had gotten used to his absence, it never seemed to get any easier, which made the days that he was supposed to return home equivalent to holidays that everyone eagerly awaited. Today was one of those days.

"There!" Addie shouted. "I see it!"

A small puff of black smoke could be seen in the distance just above the treetops. Addie’s siblings all looked up excitedly and dropped what they were doing. Addie worked her way down the tree, doing her best not to scrape herself up too badly. Once on the grass, she turned toward the house and yelled to her mother.

"Mother! The train is almost here!"

The children’s mother ran out the door and met them under the tree. Addie picked up her baby sister and her mother grabbed the other children’s hands. Together, they walked toward the tracks that passed through the front of their land. Once there, they all speculated about what father could have brought them this time as their mother rolled her eyes. The train was getting closer and could be heard approaching quickly. Soon enough, the cars started to pass in front of them and the children did their best to count as many as they were able to, though after twenty, Addie was the only one who was able to keep counting. The cars continued to pass, going off far into the distance until the caboose was finally in sight. This is where father worked. Eagerly, the whole family cheered. Soon enough, the children’s father stuck his arm out the window and waved with excitement. The family all waved back.

Then his arm retreated back into the caboose and returned again holding the infamous red bandana. He tossed it into the front yard and it rolled down the small hill toward the family. The children all ran to get it as the train continued to drive off down the tracks. The children grabbed the red bandana and Addie quickly untied her father’s precise knots. They laid out the bandana on the grass and looked at the goodies. Inside were six pieces of hard candy and a bunch of coins along with a small note. The children’s mother eagerly picked up the note and read it with a smile.

"What’s it say? What’s it say?"

All of her children asked as they shoved candies into their mouths.

"It says to take you all out for ice cream and that your father will be home in time for dinner."

Their mother responded.

The thought of ice cream excited them all and they cheered eagerly again. After heading back inside the house, the family got ready to go downtown. In a single line, they all held hands as they walked through their tiny city and through the front door of the ice cream shop. Everyone picked out their favorite flavor and wasted no time beginning to lick the melting drops as they slid down their sugar cones. They walked home with bellies full of ice cream, and hearts full of excitement for the moment that their father would soon arrive.

I have had the honor of interacting with many amazing people in my life. A few years ago I began to form a friendship with an elderly woman who has been willing to share some of her life stories with me. I once asked her what her favorite memory from her childhood was. I remember her distinctively looking up at me from above her teacup and smiling as she said, "the red bandana." At the moment I was completely baffled and had no idea what she meant. After asking for an explanation she began to express the significance that this bandana had in her life. Not only was this red bandana that was thrown down the hill in her front yard nearly every other week a sight that always promised goodies like ice cream, it also always promised that her father would be arriving home, and this meant all the world to her. Being struck by the importance that this single item had symbolized, I asked her what had happened to the bandana, thinking that maybe she had kept it after nearly seventy years. She laughed as she replied, "That old thing? It must have gotten holes in it. I’m sure it became a rag. But once upon a time, it was so much more."

Read other articles by Lydia Olsen