Peanut Butter Kisses
by Laura Dabrowski of Tumwater, WA
Sarah turned the page. The heroine was heading up the attic stairs with a flashlight when warm whiskers tickled the back of her neck. It was the first Saturday of summer vacation, and she was sitting on the smooth boulder in the pasture that Dad called “Sarah’s throne.”
She looked up into Ike’s wide draft horse face. “Huh, huh, huh” he rumbled, breathing hot grass and peanut butter down on her.
Peanut butter breath?
She glanced at the flat rock where she’d left her sandwich and it was gone.
“You big lunk! Now I have to go all the way back to the house for lunch. Shoo!”
Sarah flapped her book at him. He strolled away, munching grass, as if to say, “What’s the big deal? The world is full of good things to eat.”
“Oh, what a beautiful morning,” Mom sings as she sets the table, and it is. Sunlight pours in through the kitchen windows, pooling on the wood floor and drenching the cedar-paneled room with light. Dad sighs contentedly behind his Sunday paper. The scent of scrambled eggs, sausage, and fresh strawberry muffins brings every two-legged and four-legged member of the house to the kitchen.
Nathan slides into his seat. “What’re we doing today?” His blue eyes are sleepy under his stubbly summer haircut.
Mom sits down after folding her floury apron through the handle of the oven door. “I thought we’d go on a picnic.”
“Yeah!” Nathan shouts.
“After the chores are done,” she continues, eyeing Oscar’s wagging tail. “And don’t feed the dog at the table.”
Oscar’s golden ears drop as she hustles him out the door. He peers in sadly through the window.
“Can we take Ike?” Sarah asks. “He’s getting good at pulling the wagon.”
Mom looks at Dad.
“Please?” Sarah and Nathan beg.
Dad nods without looking up from the sports section.
“Cool!” Nathan mumbles through a huge bite of muffin.
“But Sarah needs to pack a lunch while you help me harness Ike.”
“Why can’t he make the sandwiches?” Sarah asks. “I know more about harnessing. I was there when Ken showed you how.” Ken is their farrier. He put borium shoes on Ike so he can walk on the pavement without slipping. He also showed Mom how to harness and drive Ike.
Sarah’s mood is souring as she packs chicken salad sandwiches, apples, lemonade, and fresh peanut butter cookies. The hamper is so heavy she needs Mom’s help to lift it. After Mom settles herself on the seat of their antique John Deere farm wagon, Sarah, Nathan, and Oscar snuggled into old blankets in the pale green wagon bed. At the last minute, Dad tosses in his chain saw and a huge coil of rope, “Just in case I see some likely firewood.”
Sarah groans. Dad is obsessed with cutting firewood. She and Nathan have stacked enough wood around the house and barn to keep a regiment warm.
Mom looks at him. “Ike can’t haul us and a load of wood.”
“I know. I’ll just have to come back later with my truck.”
They set out into the glorious blue and gold morning. Driving with Ike is like being in a parade. His neck arches high and his chestnut coat glows under the shiny black harness. Drivers wave and honk, but Ike never misses a step.
Sarah’s spirits rise as she listens to the rhythmic clomp of Ike’s feet and the occasional spurt of gravel his hooves throw against the wheels. The little breeze stirred by his steady trot ruffles his cream mane. His big head nods to Mom’s soft commands. Dad sits next to her, his feet braced against the footboard, working the Sunday crossword puzzle.
Mom drives to their favorite picnic spot, a dense stretch of woods about five miles from home. Dad and Nathan lug the hamper up the steep slope to a fallen log in a little clearing where they usually eat. Mom ties Ike to a tree and Oscar lopes off to follow an interesting scent.
After they have stuffed themselves on sandwiches, Dad strolls around with his thumbs in his belt loops, examining trees. He strides down the hill to the wagon. “Back in a sec,” he calls. “That maple there’s gonna be a widder-maker next winter.”
Sarah follows the direction he points. An old maple with a heavy limb cracked through to the trunk leans into the trail leading down to the creek.
Dad returns with the chainsaw, Nathan at his heels. Nathan is a year younger than Sarah, but thinks he’s a big shot because he’s a boy. Dad eggs him on by telling him about the responsibilities he had when he was eleven. Dad grew up on a farm. His dad was sickly, so Dad had to do a lot. Nathan just likes to talk a lot.
Sarah sees Dad pointing and talking to Nathan from where she sits with Mom, packing up the food wrappers and empty cups. There is a cloud of blue smoke and a horrible racket as Dad started the chainsaw. Sarah hates wood cutting, especially when she has to work near Dad and his chainsaw. The noise makes her heart pound, and the smell of smoke and wood chips make her choke.
There is a sharp crack and Dad yells something. He takes a step backwards with the chainsaw pointing high in the air, then he just… disappears. The tree makes a whooshing sound as it sweeps through the air past the other trees. There’s a thud that shakes the ground, then silence.
“Dad!” Nathan screams, his voice cracking. “Mom! Dad’s hurt!”
Sarah and Mom drop the blanket they’ve been shaking free of leaves and race over to where Nathan stands. Far down the slope Dad lies on the ground with his feet pointed up the hill. A heavy tree limb is lying across his chest and another pins his thighs. Mom runs faster than Sarah can imagine, and she is right behind her.
“George! Are you okay?”
He moans. “I must’ve hit every nettle and devil’s club in the county on the way down, but I don’t think anything’s broken.
Sarah catches up to Mom, who is pulling at the huge branch that covers most of his body.
“Can you move everything?”
He wiggles his arm and legs.
“Don’t move!” Mom hollers. “Your back could be injured.”
“Make up your mind,” he grumbles, but he stays still.
They continue to push at the branch, but it won’t budge.
“We’re going to need some help here,” Mom says, wiping her hands on her jeans.
“I’ll go.” Nathan is off like a shot before Sarah can say anything. The nearest farmhouse is at least half a mile away.
Sarah examines the branch and thinks of the Simple Machines unit she had in science this Spring. She remembers that they used pulleys and levers to move weights around the classroom. “Maybe we could use a lever to lift the branch off, Dad.”
“Great idea,” Dad says weakly. Dad loves mechanical solutions.
Sarah finds a long stick that she and Mom can lift, and they tuck an end under the branch on Dad’s chest, laying the other end over a fallen log. They push, then sit on the end of the stick, but the tree doesn’t move.
“Forget it,” Dad sighs. He’s starting to look a little gray. “You’ll just wear yourselves out.”
Then Sarah remembers Ike. “If Ike can pull a wagon, can’t he pull a log?”
Mom smiles. “Draft horses were used for logging around here when your grandpa was a boy.”
They run to where Ike is tied, and Mom quickly unhitches him from the wagon.
He comes willingly, picking his way through the roots and fallen logs to the top of the slope where Dad is lying. Sarah takes the coil of rope and slip-slides back down to Dad.
“Bring the rope under the log here,” Dad says, pointing to the free end that dangles above his chest. Sarah slips the rope under the log and sees blood spreading like paint across the front of Dad’s blue shirt.
“Shhh. Don’t worry your Mom. It’s just a scratch.”
Sarah’s not convinced. She brings the ends of the rope through the loop she’s made around the log following Dad’s instructions. Pulling it tight, she races up the slope with the free rope ends, and a new sense of urgency.
Sarah and Mom tie the rope to the nearest tugs. Mom clucks to Ike and flaps the driving lines but Ike has found some succulent young ferns and refuses to budge.
She runs up and grabbed his bridle. “Come on!’
He rolls a brown eye and pulls back towards the ferns.
Sarah slaps the lead lines hard against his side, “Go, you big lunk!”
Mom is crying now. “Come on!” she keeps saying, pulling until she’s almost sitting on the ground. Sarah’s glad she hasn’t seen the blood. Sarah wants to cry, too, but Dad needs help fast. Then she remembers the peanut butter.
She sprints over to the half-packed picnic hamper and finds the bag of peanut butter cookies. Mom is still wrestling with Ike when she waves the bag in front of his nose. His nostrils quiver and his fuzzy ears swivel as he takes a big sniff, then nudges her so hard he nearly knocks the bag from her hands. She breaks off a little piece of cookie and gives it to him. He butts her, eager for more. She moves back slowly away from the slope and he starts to follow her, halting, then straining with the weight of the log.
Mom runs back down the hill to Dad, tripping and nearly falling several times. She helps guide the branch off Dad as Ike continues his pursuit of the peanut butter cookies.
Sarah is down to the last few crumbs when she hears Mom shout, “He’s free!”
Sarah ties Ike to a tree and runs back down. Mom is applying pressure to the wound on Dad’s shoulder. Sirens shriek in the distance as Nathan and Oscar gallop back into the clearing.
“Oh,” Nathan says, when he sees what they’ve done. “How come I always miss the good parts?”
Medics pour out of their shiny red truck and trot into the woods with a stretcher. Sarah’s knees feel weak, and she knows she’s going to cry. She doesn’t want Nathan to see, so she sits down on a log next to Ike. After a few minutes, she feels the tickly warmth of peanut butter kisses against her cheek.