The sound of thunder awake me, and when I got up, my feet sank into muddy water up to my ankles. Mother took Buster and Helen to high ground to pray, but I stayed behind with Apache and Lupe. We barricaded the door with the rug and started bailing water out the window. Mother came back and begged us to go pray with her on the hilltop. “To heck with praying!” I shouted. “Bail, dammit, bail!”Mom look mortified. I could tell she thought I’d probably doomed us all with my blasphemy, and I was a little shocked at it myself, but with the water rising so fast, the situation was dire. We had lit the kerosene lamp, and we could see the walls of the dugout were beginning to sag inward. If Mom had pitched in and helped, there was a chance we might have been able to save the dugout – not a good chance, but a fighting chance. Apache and Lupe and I couldn’t do it on our own, though, and when the ceiling started to cave, we grabbed Mom’s walnut headboard and pulled it through the door just as the dugout collapsed in on itself, burying everything.Afterward, I was pretty aggravated with Mom. She kept saying that the flood was God’s will and we had to submit to it. But I didn’t see things that way. Submitting seemed to me a lot like giving up. If God gave us the strength to bail – the gumption to try to save ourselves – isn’t that what he wanted us to do?
Dad was on the porch, pacing back and forth in that uneven stride he had on account of having a gimp leg. When he saw, he let out a yelp of delight and started hobbling down the steps towards us. Mom came running out of the house. She sank down on her knees, clasped her hands in front of her, and started praying up to the heavens, thanking the Lord for delivering her children from the flood.It was she who had saved us, she declared, by staying up all night praying. "You get down on your knees and thank your guardian angel," she said. "And thank me, too."Helen and Buster got down and started praying with Mom, but I just stood there looking at them. The way I saw it. I was the one who'd saved us all, not Mom and not some guardian angel. No one was up in that cottonwood tree except the three of us. Dad came alongside me and put his arms around my shoulders."There weren't no guardian angel, Dad," I said. I started explaining how I'd gotten us to the cottonwood tree in time, figuring out how to switch places when our arms got tired and keeping Buster and Helen awake through the long night by quizzing them.Dad squeezed my shoulder. "Well, darling," he said, "maybe the angel was you.