How often have we taken an action knowing at the time that our lives will never be the same? Nevertheless, we step into the future, out of bravery, adventure, necessity, sacrifice, love–or a combination of these motives. Hal Prange’s account of his parents’ decision to leave their Arkansas roots to follow their kids to California captures the heart-wrenching drama of that moment, one they knew at the time would change their lives forever. You can learn so much about a family through a single story told with sensitivity and attention to detail. Read on to see why Hal’s story was a favorite in class last week…
by Hal Prange
Dad didn’t want to leave. He didn’t want to at all. He didn’t want to say goodbye to Prange Hill. Prange Hill had been his “Garden of Eden” for fifty-two years. Dad’s father, my grandfather, had built our two-story home on the highest bluff in Crocketts Bluff, Arkansas, on the White River. Two of Dad’s older brothers and an infant sister were buried in the front yard of the home site. The quarter-section was occupied by the house, the Prange Store, the German Lutheran Church, and a large barn.
As much as Mom loved her life there, she was anxious to relocate to Southern California. The seven oldest of my eight siblings, upon graduating from high school, had moved to Los Angeles to find better opportunities for employment than Depression-era Arkansas had to offer. Mom had high hopes that her children’s chances of living a more prosperous life than realized by her and Dad would be greater in L.A. In 1944, only four people remained at home—Mom, Dad, my fourteen-year-old sister, Betty, and me, ten years of age.
Dad loved his family. He knew that with seven of the family living in California, his life in Arkansas would soon end. He knew he would be pressured by Mom into following the trail that had been blazed by the kids. In his heart, he didn’t wish to go, but he was not vocal in expressing opposition to the idea of going. Mom and Dad dedicated three frenetic months preparing to leave on their life’s greatest adventure. The mighty heart of Prange Hill was soon to be quieted.
On March 3rd, just as the sun was introducing itself over the scenic “Hole-in-the-Wall,” a local landmark created by centuries of water erosion, the four of us piled into Dad’s white Ford V-8 business coupe. Dad steered through the narrow front gate alongside the Prange Mercantile Store, turning west onto Hill Road, heading into a wholly new life. After driving only a minute, Mom, sitting in the passenger seat, screamed, “Dad, pull over to the side of the road.”
Dad had no idea what prompted the earsplitting command.“What’s the trouble, Edna? Did we forget something?”
When she didn’t answer, Dad turned the car to the side of the gravel road and slowed to a stop. At that spot on the road, by turning our heads to the right and looking to the north, an opening in the woods provided a view of Prange Hill. There was the family house, Dad’s store, our church and the barn. The entire panoply of family history was vivid in the new morning sun.
Mom explained, “Pete, I think we should all take one last look. I know that God wants us to follow the kids, but He may also choose not to allow us to see the place again.”
Can anyone imagine the thoughts residing in the deepest recesses of my mother’s bosom as she surveyed her former home? I think she was remembering giving birth to nine babies in the downstairs bedroom of the old house. She may have resurrected memories of many crises that had taken place there, but I trust that she also was recalling many pleasurable events.
No doubt, Mom struggled with the forces of “go” and the forces of “stay.” I’m convinced that her prayers at that moment, as she was swimming in a river of memories, were that she and Dad were doing the right thing for their children.
Sitting on the jump seats of the Ford V-8, my sister and I saw tears welling up in our mom’s eyes. I suspect Dad was cognizant of Mom’s tears, but he didn’t want her to know that he knew. As Mom gave the old place a visual scrutiny, she likely noted an eerie change on Prange Hill. No children were at play. Mutt, our family dog, was not chasing our laying hens. The silence was deafening.
Dad did not turn to look at what had been his. He gripped the steering wheel with a callous-forming firmness. His left hand was at ten o’clock on the steering wheel, and his right hand was at two o’clock. The veins on the back of his neck protruded, and his eyes were fixed straight ahead.
Dad was on the cusp of a new chapter of life, which was to be a chapter of doubt, uncertainty, and fear. He probably didn’t look at the old home place as we were stopped on the Hill Road, because he doubted if he could focus on the past and also accept the future.
After two or three minutes had elapsed, Mom said quietly, “Pete, I’m ready to go.”
Dad responded, “Yeah, we gotta high-tail it. We’ve got 2000 hard miles to put behind us.”
He put the vehicle in gear, raced the engine, popped the clutch, and threw loose gravel several feet, as the two synthetic rubber tires fought for traction.
Mom and Dad lived in L.A. until their deaths. Mom made many trips back to Crocketts Bluff. Dad, on the other hand, lived in California for seventeen years and chose to never go home. Dad knew that if he went back, even once, he would stay, or live here in misery.