Thursday, December 30, 2010

Frontier Christmas

The wind howled about the sod covered roof of their log cabin. The window panes rattled and the shutters had been pinned shut. As the snow swirled in white streaks outside the Tanners sat in warmth within.

Gill had left the East to find a place in the West and he never looked back. He was tired of the congestion of the cities and when he read the newspaper stories about the West it fired his imagination. Finally he made his mind up to sell what few possessions he owned and head West.

It cost him nearly a quarter of his money just to complete all the arrangements for going. That was all a year ago and tonight as the storm tore at their home he didn't regret one thing. Well, maybe one thing.

As luck would have it while traveling in close quarters with nearly a hundred others he found his heart had been lost to the daughter of one of the other families in their wagon train. He couldn't believe it had happened but one night as the men gathered to talk Gill tapped Mr. Darrel Hartley on the shoulder and begged a moment of time.

Mr. Hartley was a carpenter by trade. Work was getting slack in the city and he had decided to go West where building was booming according to the newspapers. He had large weathered hands and a stocky body. He was strong outwardly but he had a weakness. His two daughters had but to beg slightly and he would turn the world upside down to meet their requests.

The oldest daughter was well onto nineteen and though not what others might describe as beautiful, she was a kind woman. She was hardly plain. Her long dark hair spent most of its time wound and tucked in a bun under a hat or kerchief. She was of average build and had been valued by her father many times for her hands and help at many jobs.

Her simple beauty along with the way she showed kindness and care to others before herself, endeared her to Gill. He had spent many a meal with their family. Being single he was often the odd guest around their fire.

Only after wards did he realize Heather had been keeping him close with designs of her own. There were several eligible bachelors and single women in the caravan. Early on she had taken a liking to Gill for his own helpfulness to all who needed. He would drive the oxen pulled wagon of others while they slept or endured illness.

Heather knew such qualities were rare and she was going to make sure she got first crack at him. She found things he could help with even though she could have managed alone.

Now it is understandable having been fished for, Gill had no choice but to bite the hook.

Mr. Hartley tried to keep a serious look of doubt on his face as Gill requested the right to court Heather. Mr. Hartley nearly burst into laughter when Gill suddenly choked and started coughing. His eyes turned red and tears ran down his cheeks as Mr. Hartley gave in a slug from his private bottle to stay the coughing. It took a good slap on the back to bring him around from that.

Nodding thoughfully he looked at the stars and the dark sky. Poor Gill was about to suggest they forget the whole thing when Mr. Hartley finally placed a large warm hand on his shoulder. "Well, I guess she could do a whole lot worse." He slapped Gill on the back again and pushed him toward their wagon. He didn't want to let him know he had been expecting this and was pleased with the request.

Heather was trying to appear busy about the fire but as they came into view she faltered. Her father was behind Gill. Neither was smiling and she felt her heart sink. She loved her father but how could he object to Gill? Her heart sank.

They stopped across the fire from her and both just stared. Finally Mr. Hartley took a deep breath and let it out in whistle. "Gill would like to ask you something Heather."

Gill sputtered and swallowed hard. He was sure he had a whole loaf of dry trail bread stuck in his throat. "Heather, I've asked your Pa for permission to court you, if that would be alright with you of course?" He choked and grabbed the dipper in the water bucket. He wanted to pour it over his head but his throat had a greater need.

Heather turned with hands on hips. She looked him over with not so much as a smirk. She circled round the fire to get a closer look. Gill felt like a calf about to be traded off. She turned from him and looked her dad in the eye. His face was stolid but the fire danced in his eyes. In those she could see his amusement. There was no objection in their jovial flickering.

With a sigh she turned and looked once more on her would be suitor. "Well," she drawled. "I guess I could do a lot worse."

She walked around the fire and picked up the pot she had been scrubbing. Walking to the far side of the wagon she hung it on the hook there.

Later Gill found out the whole story of how she went there to have a little cry in private. Her fear that she might lose him was over, finally.

Gill thought through all of this while sitting watching the fire in their stone fireplace. Heather sat with a quilt she had made draped across her legs. On her face a happy smile played and her eyes glistened in secret joy.

It was Christmas Eve and with all the expense of buying land and getting supplies for winter Gill had failed to buy anything for Heather for Christmas. He was sad for it and for days contemplated the hike to town despite the snow. He could not believe his oversight.

Then it hit him. Working with Mr. Hartley, Gill had found he possessed a unique talent for turning wood into furniture and other needed things.

Once the idea came to him he thought through what he planned and worked in the back shed of the log cabin quietly. Heather was busy in the main house and Gill spent the days in the shed.

Tonight he was going to give her the present. She would be surprised. He hoped it might spark the one thing they did not have, though not for lack of trying.

He stood and tossed another log on the fire. She watched as he turned and walked toward the shed. Her hands busily fumbled under the quilt.

Gill returned with a hopeful smile. He set a large bundle down in front of the fireplace. It was covered with a blanket. "I hope you like it. It will be ready when you are." He blushed, his cheeks flushed in the firelight.

Heather stood and handed him a small bundle. It was wrapped in brown paper tied with string. "This isn't actually for you but they go with something that is. I hope you like them."

Gill stood near his handmade rocking chair. He opened the package and stared at what fell into his hands. Heather pulled the blanket off the bundle Gill had set down. Tears came unbidden as she threw herself into his arms.

They stood like that as she looked at the rocking cradle he had made with love and care. He held the hand knit booties and hat that she had made.

He pushed her away to arms length for a moment. "You mean?" She nodded affirmation. Folding her gently into his arms they hugged and sobbed a joyful Merry Christmas to each other.

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My childhood was spent growing up on a farm in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania. In those years I learned the lessons that would mold my character and moral center. In my teens I moved to a small city in southeastern PA. Like many teens I had my rebellion and found the futility of it. During my late teens I moved to central PA and in high school lost my heart to the girl who is now my wife. Presently I'm well into midlife and slowing rapidly. The things I used to do, I can't even remember. Married for 37 years, we have a son, a daughter and five grandchildren. My son has two boys, my daughter three girls, I love irony! I'm self-employed for most of 25 years in construction. Doing a project for a customer and getting their approval is wonderful and inspiring. I started writing when my children were younger. I did some stories for them and over time it became more of an interest. I now have four completed novels and several shorts and am working towards getting one or more published. One short has been published.

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