My last post was an excerpt from BY GRACE and told of Grace Pelham’s Christmas Eve in 1898, spent at a lavish NYC ball. It is a year later and Grace is now known as Glenda Pearson, housekeeper for the unfriendly Reverend Stans and his wife in Virginia City, Montana. She is on the run for her life with her nemesis Jeremy in hot pursuit.
Christmas and New Year’s came and went quietly in the Stans’ household. The Reverend held two extra, well-attended services and the ladies of the church set pine boughs about the sanctuary. Half a dozen children performed the Christmas story and reminded Glenda of her time at Hull House. She was not asked to assist, even though her artistic talents were known from her sketching walks about town.
Church members provided for the holiday feast. Glenda ate alone in the warm kitchen while the Stans ate in their room. If they exchanged gifts, Glenda didn’t know of any, nor did she buy anything for them. Her first month would soon draw to a close and she debated about remaining with the Stans. She knew Virginia City had no other employment to offer and a move to the boarding house would eat into her cash reserves. She couldn’t face another stagecoach ride in the dead of winter. Her book-safe, Robinson Caruso, held her money but, given the uncertainty of her future, she was reluctant to spend it on room and board. She would wait to see what salary the Stans offered now that her fare was more than repaid.
The new century arrived without fanfare. Gunshots sounded at midnight as snow began to fall. The blizzard arrived before noon, putting a damper on the town’s spirits. Doors remained closed, drapes were drawn against the cold and scarcely a body, human or animal, moved through the streets. It was two days before the storm slowed and a weak sun filtered through the clouds. Slowly, the town came to life.
I will be back in January…after traveling in the Yucatan
EXCERPT FROM ROSE OF SHARON
At noon on an unusually balmy Thanksgiving Day, the ranch yard was jumping with activity. Guests were arriving, but not Miss Jacks. Blake had delayed so long in inviting the teacher, she had accepted another invitation by the time he got up his courage to ask. Rose had something to say on the matter when she approached him as people gathered.
“I surely do wish you’d invited Miss Jacks. I think she’s sweet on you, too.”
Blake blushed in shades of pink below his tan. “Why do you say that?”
“You mean about wishing she’d come or that she’s sweet on you?”
“I don’t know, both, I guess.” He didn’t look at her, struggling to find something to distract them both.
“She watches out the window when you come to school and she asks about you.” Rose answered with a big smile. “I just plain like her, and you do, too.”
“Better look to our guests,” he mumbled, even redder in the face.
The Tomlins, with their father and husband home from the sawmill up Carr Peak, accounted for six visitors and brought peach pies and “smashed” potatoes, as their three year old called them. The elderly Browns added home-canned green beans and cornbread to the table. Blake’s fresh caught wild turkey roasted in the yard pit with the children taking turns at rotating the bird on its spit. Venison steaks and ears of corn were added to the feast as they came off the grill.
“I think that turkey is about done, don’t you, Miz Brown?” Jim was quick to seek the experienced woman’s counsel.
She demurred, just briefly, and then spoke in a thick, lady-like southern accent. “I do believe you are right, my boy.” She prodded the leg of the bird and juices ran into a pan sitting in the fire for that purpose. “We will have us some fine gravy to go with the Tomlin’s taters. Please take that pan in the house and I’ll work it up.”
“Yes, Ma’am, I’ll do just that.” Jim grinned and caught up the pan with a coarse cloth serving to protect his hands.
“Come along, Rose,” said Mrs. Brown. “Y’all can be of help and learn at the same time.” She put her arm around the child’s shoulder and Rose snuggled into her embrace.
“My mama made good gravy.”
“I’m sure she did, child. Ours will be different from your mama’s, but I think we will do alright.” They busied themselves with the drippings, flour and milk, whipping it to a frothy blend in a separate pot. “Did your mama ever use our desert sage in her gravy?”
“I don’t think so, Ma’am. .” She watched Mrs. Brown open a tiny cheesecloth bag to reveal a dusty gray matter and stir a small quantity into the gravy. “Maybe my grandma back in Texas used it.” She couldn’t remember for sure.
“I suspect you are right, my dear.” She tapped Rose’s hand gently. Jacob, Rose of Sharon’s twin, ran in and grabbed the pan back from the pair, yelling as he went, “It’s done. We can eat.” Rose carried the thickened and flavorful gravy out to the table while Mrs. Brown brought out her beans and the potatoes. Others scurried about pouring milk and coffee, placing utensils around the table, heading back into the cabin for last minute needs.
“Mr. Brown, sir, would you do us the honor of carving the turkey?” Blake asked. He handed the tools over to the older gent.
“Don’t mind if’n I do.” Though from somewhere in the south, his speech wasn’t as genteel as his wife’s and that caused some folks to wonder how they’d come together. But, in the custom of the west, it wasn’t something polite folks would ask. As far as their neighbors knew, they’d been in the area for more than thirty years and had no children or other family. They’d put in orchards of apples and walnuts early on and prospered in feeding the workmen and families of the San Pedro River Valley and its mining communities.
When the group settled at the table, Blake asked if one of the twins would recite the old Bobbie Burns grace after explaining its family history to those gathered. Jacob and Rose, seated on opposite sides of the table, nodded and spoke the grace in chorus as they’d practiced for a week.
“Some hae meat, and canna eat,
And some hae none that want it.
But we hae meat and we kin eat,
So, let the Lord be thankit.”
“Why, thank you, children. That was very nice,” said Mrs. Tomlin. “I’d like to learn it for our family to say.”
“It’s in old Scottish, my mama said, but I bet you could learn it.” Rose was proud to pass on her mother’s custom to one and all. She stated it line by line, with first Mrs. Tomlin repeating and then others joining in. Jacob’s grin spread ear to ear as the old refrain was echoed about the long table.
“It’s surely fitting for us this Thanksgiving for ‘we hae meat and we kin eat,’ just as it says.” Mr. Brown leaned over and kissed his wife which got all the young ones giggling.
“Mr. Brown, you surely do taste sweet as ever,” she said. Giggles gave way to pure laughter.
With bowls and dishes flying up and down the table, the meal was the richest feast many had seen in months. For the Welty twins, it was a little reminder of meals taken at their grandmother’s table back in Texas. Those memories were growing faint, especially as their new life filled in voids and emptiness with laughter, good stories and new friends. Later, around a campfire, the grownups talked while the children ran about in a game of hide and seek. The talk was quietly shared over coffee and a bit of brandy in some cups. The Tomlins and Browns expressed regrets for not getting to know the Welty parents before the raiders came and killed the parents while the children watched from nearby.
“I surely wish those young’uns had known where to come to us for help. That walk across the desert had to have been awful,” said Mrs. Tomlin. She was gently bouncing her newest child in her arms.
Jim spoke up. “Yes, ma’am, it was hard on them, but I don’t know if we’d have caught up to the murderers without Blake here recognizing them from the twins’ description.”
“The marauders were blabbing about what they did at that place in Bisbee, so somebody would have gone to check, I’m sure,” Blake answered.
Mr. Tomlin added, “Maybe so, but by the time the sheriff could do that, they’d have been long gone.”
“You got that right,” said Jim.
“The important thing is for them to grow up believing the Good Lord will keep watch over them from now on.” Mrs. Brown said this with an emphasis in her voice.
“Yes’m,” said Blake. He silently renewed his vow to protect them with his life, if need be. “And they need a mother,” Mrs. Brown added
Blake squirmed in discomfort and thought of Elise Jacks for the umpteenth time that day.
A quietness settled on the adults as the sun moved to the west and the shadows of the Huachucas descended into the canyon. Birds were twittering the last songs of the day just as the children drifted closer to the fire. One by one they sought its warmth. Three year old Benjy Tomlin climbed into his father’s lap while his two older sisters found comfort nearer to their mother and Mrs. Brown. Rose and Jacob squatted on the ground between Blake and Jim with Rose resting her head against Blake. He settled his arm on her shoulder.
One of the ladies started to hum the old hymn “Now the Day is Over.” Soon, everyone joined in, singing the words.
I’ve only seen Midnight in Paris twice, so far. I’m not a fan of Woody Allen or of the theater where the film is showing. But, I broke my self-imposed boycotts
and went the first time, then had to go again. You surely know the plot, the romances, the historical characters, the incredible photography and costumes
and outstanding performances. No need to go into them here.
What I most loved was the message of time passing and our romantic view of what has come before us as we avoid, reject, or dangle in the present.
I had a birthday recently, always the start of my New Year. It would also have been our 46th anniversary if Jim had survived the last three years. My granddaughter started kindergarden. Such is the way I have of measuring the time that passes. Landmarks,. Days on the calendar. Periods of
playing hermit. Shuttering my mind. Avoiding events, the telephone, leaving the house. Or speed-dialing along on full steam, participating fully, actively and
enthusiastically in what life brings and what I seek out.
Have you visited elderly friends as their minds retreated into yesterdays and the future held little or no promise? One friend was so delighted with the teenagers we’d brought along that she went to the piano in the dayroom and put it to use. She pounded out segments of songs from the ‘30s and ‘40s while the staff and other residents looked on in amazement. She’d lived there quite a while and no one had ever heard her play. For Bessie, time was now and she made the most of it.
It is too soon for me to withdraw from all that I love: family, writing, traveling, being with friends. As I write, today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. A day of remembrance and judgment. And, I think, of hope. Time to take stock and look to the year ahead. What does it hold? What might I make of it?
I’ll start my new year with a road trip to Seattle for the Women Writing the West Conference. My traveling partner and writing friend, Anne, is coming along. We’re in the throes of planning the trip: what to see and do along the way, in Tacoma/Seattle and on to Victoria. There’s a stop in Battle Ground, Oregon for
tea with friends; the Richard Brautigan library in Vancouver, WA; the WA State Historical Museum in Tacoma; a great conference to attend; exploration of
Seattle’s underground and hills for nostalgia and research; and onto the ferry to Victoria in search of writer-artist Emily Carr, the totems and First
Emily Carr: Kwakiutl House
Do you smell the adventure in the redwood and red cedar countryside, the grey skies and our sunny expectations? Do you feel the inspiration and joy about to settle on us? The opportunities to see old friends, make new ones and spin our dreams? Without a doubt, it will be a time to store up remembrances, fill our senses with new energy.
I’ll journal and blog from the road.
How do you
celebrate your New Year?
What do you do
to mark your time and how it passes?