When I returned to the table, my father was sitting down looking at the old picture of his family. It was faded, creased, and worn. A corner had been torn off. His hands were folded together in prayer, his lips moving but no sound came from them. When he was done, he crossed himself and saw me standing there.
"Em, come sit."
I rooted for a moment. Did I really dare dig into my father's worst memories? Still, I moved forward and set up the recorder and microphone. I inserted a blank cassette, closed it, and pressed the play and record buttons. The tape wheels began to turn. I consulted my list of questions and spoke into the microphone, "Interview 256. Date is June 4th, 2045."
My father cleared his throat and then began to speak. "My name is Theodore McBride. I was born on September 4th, 2002 in Branson, Missouri. I am 42 years old.
I have or had a father and mother, Lee and Dianne McBride, and three brothers and one sister. Linder, Ruth, Donald, and Joseph. Donald and Joseph were younger than me. I do not know if any of them are still alive today."
"That day, July 9th, 2020, I will never forget. My older brother Linder was visiting home with his wife Sara and their little baby boy. My sister Ruth was back home for the summer from college. She was studying music and drama. My two little brothers, Donnie and Joey were eating breakfast visiting with Linder and Sara. My mother had the baby with her in the kitchen, singing to him while she was working there."
"My father was packing the last few items into the van. We were planning to go up to a remote ranch in what was then New Mexico to stay with some friends of ours whom we had known for years. Then the ground started to shake. We had lived for a time in California and had been through minor quakes, but this one felt different. My father rushed to the computer and logged onto an internet site for earthquakes. He had only been on there for about half a minute when he yelled at the rest of us to get ready to leave, NOW. There had been an impact somewhere in Russia and the earthquake was because of it."
"You have to understand that my father had been in the military for a time. He did not try to be mean when he yelled, it just sounded that way. My brother Donnie was already on the couch curled up into a ball. He was what they used to call 'autistic'. The quake really freaked him out."
"My father raced out of the house and went to the neighbors to make sure that they were okay. In a couple of minutes he came back to make sure we were finishing the vehicles. He wanted us to try to get us to the ranch."
My father paused, took a drink of water, took a deep breath and looked out the window. "Dad was able to get two different sets of neighbors to come with us to the ranch. It took us about eight hours to get there. It was normally about a three hour drive. By all rights we should have never made it. He actually made me ride with Linder and his family to help provide security in his car."
"Dad was a gun enthusiast. We were planning to target shoot at the ranch anyway. I liked shooting enough, but at the time I was more into skateboarding and playing the drums. At the time, I thought he pushed me to the other car because he did not want me in the family's van. I realized much later he did it because he trusted me to help my brother and sister in law."
"People on the roads were panicking everywhere. We were fortunate enough to have already been ready to leave when we did. One more half hour and we probably would not have even made it out of the city we were in. Dad had little handheld radios for each of the vehicles in our caravan. He kept telling us what he was seeing ahead of us and kept encouraging us not to stop regardless of what we saw."
"The Freemantles were waiting for us when our caravan finally arrived. While the extra three people were not planned for, the Freemantles trusted my father's judgement on bringing them. Aaron Freemantle had been listening to the radio, television, and internet until one by one they had all gone silent. His wife Abby had fired up the ranch's shortwave and ham radios and was taking periodic notes. While we ate around the table, Abby told us that the cities were in complete chaos. The Freemantles were expecting two of their sons to join us there at the ranch. Their third son was overseas in the military. Their concern for safety and well being was very apparent on their faces."
"The next few weeks were quiet except for the working on the defensive preparations around the ranch. Someone had to be on guard at all times. Everyone walked around with at least a pistol on their belt. Only Donnie, Joe, and the baby did not carry a gun. Donnie and Joe kept saying they were big enough, but Dad would not budge. They hardened areas below the windows and made heavy duty shutters to over the windows. There were other neighbors in the area. Aaron and Dad would go talk with them about a mutual aid system to help with looters and marauders."
"By now the weather cycles were also thrown into chaos by the impact. Winds and fires kicked up a lot of dust and smoke into the atmosphere. We knew that growing gardens would be next to impossible outdoors and difficult at best in greenhouses."
I finally shook myself free in order to ask some questions. "So was food consumption a concern?"
My father replied, "Yes it was. Remember, we had extra people that came along at the last second. We began to strictly ration the food. This was not easy. We were doing a lot of physical labor which in turn increased appetites. Plus. close quarters for nearly 20 people added to the stress. The Freemantle boys that made it did not come alone."
"But even in the midst of all that turmoil and tragedy, there were still moments of awe and joy. My nephew, Linder's boy, learned to walk about a month after we arrived. He provided a bright spot in the day to day life at 'Fort Hope.' That is what were calling the ranch by then. 'Fort Hope.' Hope was all we had."
I was watching the tape recorder. My father looked at me and was about to say something again when I motioned for him to wait. I opened and flipped the tape and started it up again. I followed up by asking him, "What was a moment of awe?"
My father sat back a moment and crossed his arms. He got a far away look in his eyes, as if he was literally reliving the memory in his mind. He took a mouthful of water, swished it around, swallowed, and spoke, "It had to have been the middle of October that year. My parents had celebrated their wedding anniversary. A couple of days later my father had roving guard around the ranch that night. He wanted me to accompany him through part of his shift. He loaded up with what he called his 'heavy kit'. It was a .308 caliber battle rifle, a chest rig that held rifle magazines, and a belt that carried a few more magazines, a knife, and a first aid kit."
"We walked the perimeter of the ranch and there was about a five minute period of time that the dense clouds cleared and the whole sky was full of shining stars. The moon was not up yet, so the night was brilliant. My dad stopped and gaped up at the sky. Under his breath he muttered, 'My God - it's full of stars.' My dad was always quoting old books or movies. The two of us just stood there, gazing up into the heavens, marveling at the sight until the clouds closed back again. That is one of my favorite memories from that time."
My father grew silent. I stopped the tape. He looked up at me, eyes haggard and filling with tears. I reached across the table and grabbed his hand and held it. I felt my own eyes fill with tears.