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- Story Listed as: True Life For Teens
- Theme: Stories about Friendship & Family
- Subject: Family
- Published: 10/01/2010
Papa's PassingBorn 1940, F, from McLean, TX, United States
In the winter of 1881, smoke curled from the chimney of a two room log cabin nestled deep in the woods of the Smokey Mountains. Inside a door opened that led to a tiny leanto style bedroom and Ma stepped through the door. The twelve children sitting around the room waited in fearful silence, they knew what was coming.
"Younguns' your Paw is gone." Maw stated in a flat emotionless voice.
Some of the smaller children started to cry softly, but the older ones knew Ma wouldn't tolerate a slobbering show of emotion. She always expected them to be strong.
"Zebulon, you need to saddle up the mule and go to town to get the preacher. We are God fearing Christians and the last thing we can give your Pa is Christian burial." Ma ordered. Sissy, get me a pan of water, some lye soap and a dry towel. Lila, put the iron on the stove, you need to press yer Paw's Sunday clothes. Ezra, get some of them planks we put in the barn for the new room. Get enough to build a coffin. Jeb, you is the best carpenter in the bunch it will be your job to build the coffin. Now get to the chores I assigned you. Sari and Leary, you start some supper. There is a ham in the winter box, fix that and some o' them fresh eggs Will brought in this morning. Zena you makes the best biscuits so you get to that. Mary Ruth go get the good sheet I been savin' out of the drawer and spread it on the table. Liza you is the best at sewin' you will do the stitchen on the sheet around your Pa. I'm gonna' go warsh yer Paw fer buryin' while you do them chores. Soon as I get the body ready you can all say your good byes." Maw turned back to the bedroom and disappeared behind the heavy log door.
Maw sat on the stool beside the bed and reached for Paw's withered arm. As she began to wash it, memories flooded back into her mind. Paw had been determined to break the wild stallion he caught in the hills. Said it would bring good money in town. He climbed on the huge beast's back and it began to buck sending Paw flying across the corral. "CRASH!" Paw landed on his arm on the split rail fence, unconscious. He came to quickly but there was no doctor to set his arm and it didn't heal right, had become useless and withered.
As Maw continued to wash the body each scar told a story. She came to the fiery red six inch scar across Paw's abdomen, another memory flooded into her mind. Sari wanted a pair of red patent leather shoes she saw in the store window. They cost seventy-five cents, nobody in the Gordon family had ever seen that much money at one time. Sari crawled up in Paw's lap, put her skinny little arms around his neck and whispered "Please Paw can I git them red shoes." Paw could never say no to any of his children, but he shore didn't know how he was gonna' manage this one. He pondered it for about a week, when he caught a good size hog in his trap. This was one way he provided food for his family, but this hog was not going to be a meal, he would become a red pair of shoes. Paw fed the hog huge scoops of corn two times a day and the hog grew rapidly. After a few months the hog weighed about six hundred pounds, it was time to take him to town and sell him. Paw hitched the mule to the cart and backed it up to the pig pen. He put a scoop of corn in the cart to lure the hog inside. The hog started into the cart, but stopped as soon as he could stretch and reach the corn. As the hog munched on the corn Paw began to push on his rump. The hog didn't move, Paw got angry and decided that some swift pain would move the hog. He picked up the pitch fork, drew it back and stabbed it into the hogs rear end. The first time the hog didn't even act as if he felt it, so Paw drew back and poked the hog as hard as he could. The hog took paw by surprise, whirling around to face Paw and charged. Saliva flying from its mouth and anger shooting from its big red eyes. Paw knew he was in trouble so he turned to run, but before he could move the hog caught him in the side with her huge tusk and ripped his abdomen from hip to hip. "We shore didn't think you would make it that time Paw." Maw spoke softly to the man she had been married too for over twenty years.
As she began to wash his hand she felt the wedding ring he had made of scraps of metal he had picked up when he visited the blacksmith shop in town. When he had enough scraps he had spent days heating, shaping, cooling and repeating the process until he had produced two metal wedding rings. He was so proud the day he put that ring on Maw's hand. She held up her work worn hand to look at her ring. She wouldn't trade it for a solid gold one, to her it was the most beautiful ring in the world. Slowly she removed the ring from Paw's finger, then she reached up and opened the clasp on the locket she never took off, the only gift Paw ever bought for her. She slipped Paw's ring onto the chain, Paw would always be close to her heart now.
Next Maw moved to Paw's legs. Across the thigh of his left leg ran a scar as red and angry as the one across his abdomen. "You old fool, you just had to ketch that old wild bull." He put a fence up in a dead end canyon down the creek, rigged it so when the bull went into it the gate would fall down into place and he would be trapped. Paw thought out every aspect of the trap, but he never even considered how he was going to get that crazy wild bull up to the corral with Bossy, the cow. He thought if he just put a rope around the bulls horns he could lead it to the corral. Unfortunately the bull had other ideas. He walked calmly through the gate and continued to follow Paw out of the canyon, then he charged, knocking the mule down and pinning Paw on his horn. Paw couldn't get loose and the bull was raging and bucking. Finally the bull ran up beside a big old tree and dragged paw along the trunk until the horn ripped free.
Paw lay there in his own blood wondering if he was going to die alone for six long hours. Finally Zebulon came looking for him just before dark. He threw Paw across his saddle and made for home at a breakneck pace. "Maw, Maw," he yelled as he approached the cabin. Maw could tell by the tone of his voice something was wrong. She rushed out the door just as the mule skidded to a stop. Maw saw the blood dripping down the mules side and fear gripped her heart. "Git him in the house." Maw ordered. "Put him on the bed." Maw came into the room with her sewing basket, taking her scissors she started to cut Paw's only decent pair of pants up the seam. Always thinking Maw figured she could repair them so he could still wear them if it was next to the seam. Her thoughts didn't deter her actions, as soon as the pants were cut away from the leg she could see the gash from hip to knee across his thigh. A major vein was cut. Maw deftly put a neat row of hem stitches across the vein closing it and stopping the bleeding. Then she started to sew the wound together. It was a long slow process that took almost an hour. Thank God Paw was unconscious the whole time. For three days they sat by his bedside wondering if he would live. On the fourth day Maw was awakened from her short nap of exhaustion by, "I'm hungry, is anybody awake around here?" Maw never heard a purtier sound than Paw bellowing out like that. He would live!
As Maw moved around to help her blood to start to recirculate again, she saw the silver handled mirror, brush and comb on the dresser. She was taken back to the time Paw had asked her Papa for her hand. She was just a lanky thirteen year old kid. She was in 'love', now she realized she had no idea what love was then. Her Papa had said yes and she had married the next day. her Ma had given her the only thing she had of value, the vanity set. The next morning she had sat by the pot bellied stove in the rocker crying. Last night had been horrible and she was sure that Paw would take her back to her Papa when he finished his days work. She hadn't known a thing about married love and she was sure he would not want her anymore, he would go find a real grown up woman. She was so surprised when Paw came in to eat and asked her what was for his noonday meal. She jumped out of the rocker and scurried around fixing his lunch. As time went by Maw learned about real love and married love. When she told Paw about what she had thought that day he said, "Woman are you crazy? I married you cause I love you and I shore wasn't gonna' take you back. I didn't figure I had a chance to ever have you."
Maw put the finishing touches on the body and headed for the door. At the door she turned and whispered softly, "Goodbye my love. I loved you the day I married you, I love you now, and I will still love you the day they put me in the ground beside you."
As Maw entered the main room of the cabin Jeb came through the door. "The coffin is finished Maw."
"Good, get your brothers to he'p you carry your paw out here and put him on that table."
The boys came through the door with Paw's body, obviously struggling, Paw was not a small man. They layed him carefully on the sheet draped over the table. "Thank ye, boys." Maw said. She began to arrange the sheet into a tube that would cover the whole body. Once she had it just the way she wanted it, she said, "Liza, come on over here and stitch this closed as soon as all of you has had a chance to say goodbye to your Paw."
The little children were setting the table for the evening meal as Sari, Leary and Zena got the food onto the table. The family sat down and ate silently. As they ate the wind began to howl then they could hear the sharp ping on the windows as snow and sleet were blown against it. Maw never let her feelings show on her face, but she was getting very concerned for Zebulon, this storm looked like it was going to turn into a white out. As the wind howled louder and the pinging on the windows became a constant buzz Maw began to pray. "Dear Lord protect my boy out there in that storm. Even an old seasoned trailblazer can get lost and die in weather like this. Lord, don't know if I have enough left in me to give up my man and my eldest child all the same day. Lord, please bring him home safely."
"CRASH," the door flew open as Zebulon burst in from the storm. His face and clothes covered with a thin layer of ice. His teeth were chattering so hard he couldn't talk. "Get on over there by the stove, one of you girls get him some coffee to drink. Sari, bring me the quilt from my bed." Finally Zebulon began to feel the fire and the coffee, his teeth stopped chattering enough to allow him to speak. "Maw, I didn't make it to town. I ran into this storm half way to town, but I kept going, but when I could no longer see, I turned around and came home. I'm sorry Maw, I let you down."
"Don't be silly, you made the right decision, what good would it have done to keep going and maybe freeze to death. You were right to come back. As soon as this storm lets up we will load the coffin on the wagon and drive into town and let the preacher speak words over him at the church. We can bury him in the cemetary in town. Now all of you get to bed and snuggle up to keep each other warm, it's gonna' be a bitter night tonight."
Next morning the family got up to a white world, but the wind had stopped and all was peaceful. "Good," Maw thought, "we shouldn't have any trouble getting to town now." Maw picked up the dishpan and began to hit it with a wooden spoon, "Git up everbody, we gotta' get Paw to town." There was a bustle as they made breakfast, ate, then the boys loaded the body into the buckboard. The children sat down on each side of the wagon bed along side the casket. Maw and Zeke sat on the seat, Zeke was the best with the team. The older boys were on the mules and horses as there was no more room in the wagon.
Zeke had slipped and fallen on the icy surface of the snow as he went round the wagon and Maw knew this wasn't going to be as easy as she first thought. They started out and the buckboard was slipping a little to the downhill side of the road, but the mules could pull it back each time. Even so it took them over an hour to cover less than a mile. It was slow going at best.
Finally they reached Devil's Hill, there was no way around it with the ground covered with snow, they would have to go up it. Zeke stopped the team the give it a chance to get a good wind built up, then he whipped them up and they started up the hill and were going at a good clip when suddenly the wagon stopped moving and the horses hooves were slipping backwards on the icey road. Slowly they slipped back to the bottom of the hill. Maw was frustrated, but a far cry from being defeated, she sat thinking for awhile and finally turned to the children and told them to get out of the wagon.
"Okay, Zeke, whip them up again, maybe we can get up with less weight in the wagon." Zeke whipped the horses into a frenzy, but they did not get as far as last time before they started slipping back down the hill. Maw contemplated the situation again for awhile. Did you boys bring your lasso's?" Maw asked the riders. "Sure, Maw never git on a horse without your lasso."
"Okay, then each one of you find a place to tie onto the wagon." the boys did as she said and soon there was ropes tied to the wagon by each wheel and on each side of the front. "Now, let's go boys, all together."
"Giddap, Zeke yelled as he popped the whip over the horses head. "Giddap, move you lazy horses." The horses took off at a pretty good clip and were making their way back up the hill, even went higher than before. Just as Maw was sure that they were going to make it the wagon began to slide backwards again. Once more they found themselves at the foot of the hill. With Maw's encouragement they continued through six more tries, finally Maw said, "It's no use boys, we can't get up this hill with it covered with ice. It is time for a famly meeting."
A couple of the boys built a fire behind a big boulder under an outcropping to try to get a little warmth. The sheltered spot did warm everyone up and they all began to feel a little bit better. "Leary, go git that basket of food out of the wagon, we might as well eat while we talk, it is well past noon."
Well, younguns we can't git your Paw to town, now we have to decide about the burying. We can take him home and put the casket in the loft of the barn until spring and take Paw to town then. Don't think this road is going to git any better until spring, winter is here and it stays cold once it is, it ain't gonna thaw till then. Or we can take him back and bury him at the place, it's up to you younguns. Let's take a vote. Wait for spring? 3. Take him home? 9. Well, I guess we take him home. Let's get loaded back up and head for home."
Going seemed to be easier going back than coming up had been. They were moving along at a pretty good pace, when suddenly the wagon lurched and slid into the ditch with a loud cracking sound. Maw's worst fears were confirmed when she climbed down and looked at the broken wheel in the ditch. Her heart fell as she knew they would not be able to get Paw home either. She was losing control, something she never did, and she was close to tears. As she looked at the split rail fence along the roads edge she spotted a wild rose bush in full bloom! "What is this? Roses don't bloom this time of year." But there they were a bright red splash across the snow as if blood had been thrown across it. Then she noticed the second unbelievable thing about the spot, there was no snow for an eight foot circle around the rose bush. Maw walked over to the bush and reached down to touch the earth there. "It's warm." she said. "Must be an underground hot spring here. Younguns, I think God has just told us what to do with Paw. We are going to bury him right here under this rose bush. Git the shovels boys, night is coming on fast and we need to get the wagon fixed and your paw buried so we can get home before dark."
Two of the boys worked on a temporary patch for the broken wheel, while two more dug the grave. When the wagon was fixed and the coffin in the ground and covered the family sang Amazing Grace, said a prayer, and loaded back onto the buckboard to head home.
Maw looked back over her shoulder at the grave as they drove away. "Well, love, don't think we could have found a purtier place to bury you. You have a red rose to shade you, the sun at your head in the morning and the beautiful sunsets at your feet for you to watch. Good bye my love."