Hard Time Marrying, Addendum

Graveside0001

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These two photographs look over my shoulder as I settle in to write every day.  The first came down to me in a group of old unmarked family photos.  I bought the second  at an auction because It looked like it needed a home.  These two haunted me till I wrote Hard Time Marrying.  I hope my story pleases them.

 

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Hard Time Marrying Finale

img_1641The stocky little woman leaned on her cane as she picked her way gingerly toward the graves under the mesquites. She lay a few wildflowers on three rock-covered graves, one unmarked, one marked for Joe, and a third for their boy, Johnny.  “I’ll be here sleeping beside you soon’s I can, Joe.  I’m tired and the folks can get by easy without me now.”  She thought back on the last eight years since Joe collapsed one morning at his milking.  They’d had more than forty years and six children together.  It wasn’t enough.

Little Joe had married and stayed on to farm with Joe.  The cabin had become a seven room house over the years, filled first with their children, then Little Joe’s.  Sally had married a a farmer and lived on the next section. She was so sweet, Anya couldn’t help being partial to her.   Rose Anya had taught school till she married a storekeeper in Talco.  Her boy Jules was a preacher.  Rose Anya had wanted her mother to come live with her in town after her pa died, but Anya couldn’t bear to leave the farm.  Betsy come along just a year after Sally and married Emma’s grandson, making them truly family.  The twins didn’t come along for five years.  One of them farmed the hundred sixty acres Joe bought a few years after they married and the other was a lawyer in Dallas.  He didn’t get home but a couple of times a year.  Johnny, the one they lost came when she thought she was past child-bearing had struggled to breathe for three long days.  Losing him nearly killed Joe.

Anya’s mind was fuzzy and she lived more in the past than present.  It pained her knowing all she was good for was rocking babies, stringing beans, and peeling potatoes, though Joe’s wife, Mary, tried to fool her into thinking she was useful.  Whenever she could, she slipped out to talk to Joe.

As she stood talking to Joe, Mary caught up with her.  “Mama, you had me worried to death.  I didn’t know where you’d got off to.  You had me worried to death.  It’s blazing hot out here. Come out of the sun and let me git you a drink.”

“Joe’s gonna be in for supper at four.  I better git in and make him some biscuits.  He always did love my biscuits.” Anya told Mary.

“You don’t have to get started just yet.  Let’s get you a cool drink.” Mary said, leading Anya to a rocker in the shade of the porch.  “Just sit here and cool off and I’ll be right back with your drink.”

” I git so tired of her fussing.” Anya said to Mary’s big backside, watching her head for the kitchen.  In no time at all she was nodding.

“Anya girl, ain’t you gonna cook me no supper?” Joe laughed as he touched her shoulder.  He looked as he did when she first knew him, well-muscled and lean with a full head of hair.

“Oh no, I ain’t even started!  You are early.” Anya told him.

“I’d say I’m right on time.  Come on along with me.”  The years fell away as Anya took his hand and stepped lively as a girl.

 

 

Hard Time Marrying Part 30

 

Mary Elizabeth Perkins and Roscoe Gordon Holdaway Wedding Pictu

My grandparent’s wedding picture, though this is not their story.  I am posting an extra story today as an early Christmas gift.

 

The situation Joe had most dreaded had come to a head at Anya’s most vulnerable time.  Making a run for it with two little ones and a newborn would be futile.  He’d just have to face this situation straight on.  No one was going to hurt Anya and rip his family apart after they’d struggled so hard to be together. 

Seeing Anya’s joy in Rose Anya was bittersweet, knowing what he’d have to tell her, but he could let her have this day unmarred.  Emma had left a pot of soup bubbling on the hearth.  Joe decided to do nothing but necessary chores and store up the joy of this day.  When Anya wasn’t holding Rose Anya, he was.  The little ones played happily in the warmth of family.

Joe didn’t allow himself to think of the preacher and sheriff’s impending visit.  The sheriff didn’t wait a few days, just showed up with the preacher the next morning, probably to avoid the problem of having to pursue them.  Joe greeted them gruffly.  The sheriff was a definite threat, and Joe had never known kindness, only judgment from church folk.

“I know why you are here.  I ain’t gonna let you make trouble for us.  My wife just gave birth to an early baby and she ain’t strong

“We need to talk to her.  I just need the preacher to say if she’s the same woman you married.  We won’t take much of your time.” The sheriff stood his ground.

 The preacher rocked back and forth with his hands clasped behind him.  “Lord knows we hate to bother you, but the sheriff says this has got to be done.  I’d be obliged if we could get it over with so I can get back to town.  I got a couple that wants marrying.”

Grudgingly, Joe showed them in.  “Anya, this here is the sheriff and the preacher what married us.  I know you remember him, even though you was so sick.”

Anya’s eyes widened in fear, taking the situation in.  “Why shore I do.  A woman don’t fergit her weddin’.  Welcome preacher.  I cain’t git up cause I’m nursing my baby.  She’s a mite early an’ I don’t want to jostle her.  She ain’t strong an’ needs to nurse.”

“Why shore, Ma’am.  Good to see you again.  That baby is a tiny little thing.  I wouldn’t want to unsettle her. It’s good to see things working out so good for you.”  Anya took heart from his kind words.

The sheriff took his cue.  “Ma’am, I’m sorry I had to bother you, but I needed to git the preacher to identify you.  I am glad ever’thing worked out so good.  Joe, you take care of this fine woman an’ that purty, little baby.  I got to be going.”

“Sheriff, if you can wait a few minutes, this little one needs christening.  It’s a long trip to town an’ I can git the job done as long as I’m here,” the preacher addressed the sheriff.

“Why shore.  I’ll just wait outside.” He left them alone. 

The preacher faced Joe and Anya.  “I don’t know how I done it, but I realized after y’all left that night I never gave you a certificate.   I’d like to marry you again an’ make sure ever’thing’s right before I christen that baby if that’s alright with you. I disremember the date, but you can help with that. Then we can git that little feller taken care of.  The Lord wouldn’t want me to leave a job half-done.”

A giant load was lifted off Joe’s heart.

Hard Time Marrying Part 29

Early the next morning, Rufus rattled up in the wagon with the children just as Emma’s biscuits in the Dutch Oven browned.  Sally was ecstatic about her new sister, but Little Joe wanted a puppy.  “Well, if you are a good boy, maybe we can git you one of Fred Mason’s brown and white puppies, unless you decide you want another sister.” Joe teased.

” No, no.  I want a puppy.” Little Joe insisted.

Joe brought Anya a plate of gravy and biscuits and a glass of milk.  “Now you eat all of this. You got to feed that baby.”

“I ain’t never et this much.  You must think Rose Anya is a baby pig.”  Emma and Rufus chuckled at the happy couple.

They lingered long over coffee while the children played and Anya nursed the baby. While Emma tidied up, Rufus asked if Joe had a part he needed for his windmill.  Once they were out of earshot, Rufus passed some news on to Joe.  “You remember my boy, Melvin, come up on that peddler somebody knocked in the head.  The sheriff come by late yesterday asking some questions.  A feller come to Talco saying his brother was supposed to meet him in Amarillo and never showed up.  A couple of fellers told him they’d seen had seen him with a blonde woman west of Talco.  The sheriff was asking me if I knowed of a blonde woman that showed up around here lately.  I told him I didn’t know of none that was unaccounted for.  He asked about Anya an’ I told him you wrote off for her and picked her and the kids at the train station and married her before you left town that night.  The preacher told him that was the way it happened.  He said he might want to come talk to y’all, anyhow.  I told him Emma was over helpin’ Anya birth her baby right then and he said he’d wait a few days before stopping by.  I just thought you ought to know.”

Joe felt a chill.  “I ‘preciate you letting me know.  It happened just like you said.  I don’t want him bothering Anya, none.  That there preacher can vouch I picked her and the kids up at the train and married her before I brung her home.  I still got the letter I wrote asking her to come.  It ought not to be no problem.”

 

 

 

 

Hard Time Marrying Part 27

About three weeks later Anya awoke to a back ache.  It got worse as the morning drew on till she suddenly wet herself.  She was mortified, though she’d gotten used the increased demands pregnancy put on her bladder.  As she corralled Sally and set about cleaning herself up, labor pains began in earnest.  Anya knew little about birth except what she’d seen from her step-mother and from life on the farm, but she knew she’d better get help.  Joe and Little Joe were working in a far-off field, so she started a fire and loaded it with pine straw so it would make an impressive smoke to signal him home.  Home in minutes, he found Anya with her pains regular and about twenty minutes apart.  Hitching up the wagon and loading the children, he kissed Anya and warned her.  “Stay in the cabin near the bed.  I’ll be back with Emma quick as I can.  Git up an’ walk if you have to, but don’t leave the cabin.”  The horse trotted across the prairie, bouncing the kids Joe had taken time to tie in the wagon bed.  Over the next two hours, Anya’s pain increased in frequency and intensity.  Just as she feared the baby would come into the world unattended, Joe showed up with Emma.  Within minutes, Emma handed a baby girl off to Joe, waiting behind her with a warmed blanket.  “This baby ain’t big as a minute, but she’s purty like her mama.”

Joe held the baby close as his eyes filled with tears.  Moments later, Emma took the child and helped Anya put her to the breast. He looked from the tiny girl to the woman he loved.  “Our first baby. I ain’t never felt so fine. Thank you, Anya.”

Anya wept, feeling her life had finally begun.

Hard Time Marrying Part 26

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Image pulled from internet

Though Anya had initially invited Joe into her bed out of gratitude, over the next months  she learned to love him passionately, looking forward to their time together in the rope bed.  Neither of them had a lot to say, but the little family thrived.  Sally had gone from toddling to running and was speaking in short sentences.  Little Joe now called them “Ma”  and “Pa,” likely forgetting the poor woman who’d born him.  Anya was the only one Sally had ever called “Ma.”

Joe and Anya traded visits with Emma and Rufus a couple of times over the summer with Emma promising to attend her baby’s birth.  Anya came to depend on her like a mother, taking comfort in her company, grateful she didn’t have to feel awkward about the timing of the upcoming birth.  Emma never brought the subject up again, just reminded Anya to have Joe fetch her when he time came.

One Saturday evening Melvin came riding over to let them know he’d be marrying Jenny in a couple of weeks.  Emma sent word they should come to the wedding.  Joe told Melvin they’d try if Anya was up to it, but as soon as he was out of earshot, reminded Anya.  “We got to lay low.  It was night and the woman was bundled up against the cold, but that preacher might see  you ain’t the woman I married.  There ought’n to be no questions about you long as that preacher don’t git to nosin’ around.  Nobody else was there for the marryin’. We’ll just say you ain’t well an’ keep to the house.”  Joe didn’t think much of preachers and was rankled that this one stood between him and Anya.

It pained Anya to shun her friend’s joy, but knew they dared not risk discovery.  She’d been lulled into a sense of general well-being with her life with Joe and pregnancy hormones.  She had begun to look forward to the little one, hoping it would be a girl who looked like her own baby sister.  Joe lay spooned against her at night, often stroking her belly in his sleep as he nuzzled her shoulder.  Anya wouldn’t have changed anything about her life.

Joe looked around the small cabin the next morning.  “We’re gonna be spllin’ out of this cabin son.  Next spring, I’m gonna put in a few acres of grain for a cash crop so we can add on a room an’ maybe get you a cook-stove.  A woman that cooks like you  ought’a have her a stove.  Joe scooped Sally up and tickled her as she darted by in pursuit of her kitten.”  Life was good.

 

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Hard Time Marrying Part 25

 

big-wildflowerThey got home well before dark.  While Joe and Little Joe milked and tended the stock, Anya put Sally in her sling and walked across the meadow down to the creek.  The cow and calf grazed near the willows, the calf didn’t have to be kept up to protect the milk, though all it enjoyed was its mother’s company since she’d gone dry.  Joe hadn’t bothered to scythe down the weeds since he didn’t have to worry about the coming calf.  The stand of Queen Anne’s lace waved its graceful heads, its regal beauty given no hint of its hidden use.  Anya had often gathered wildflowers on her walk, bringing back an apron full of Black-Eyed Susan’s, bright Indian Blanket, and Texas Bluebonnets, loving the way their colors brightened the cabin.  She’d never been especially fond of white, but today, filled her apron with the lacy white flowers and nothing else.

Emma had sent home enough chicken and dumplings for another meal.  With biscuits from breakfast and Emma’s conserve, it made a festive supper.  Little Joe licked his plate and Sally kept squealing and reaching for the conserve, long after she plastered herself with hers.  They laughed as they cleaned the little ones up.  The children were reluctant to settle in bed after their exciting day and the hilarity at supper.  Joe lay on the cot with his little namesake was still while Anya rocked Sally.

He came back to the table and took Anya’s hand.  Looking pointedly at the pot of white flowers, he said, “You want to be careful with those.  You know they made the cow lose her calf.  I don’t want nothin’ happenin’ to you.  A baby is just a baby.”

Anya started crying.  “Joe, I don’t even know if I want this baby.  I was hopin’ things could go on the way they were.  You have already taken in your dead wife’s little ones and now this.  This baby was forced on me.  I don’t know if I can do right by it, let alone love it.  I think it might be better if you let me do what I need to do and after, if you want, we can figure somethin’ out.  We can make a clean start or I can leave once I am back on my feet if you want. We ain’t married and you done took care of me a long time.  You don’t owe me nothin’.  You could always look for a woman to come stay and help out till she’s bigger.  The West is full of women who need somebody to do for an’ a place to stay.”

Joe was a man of few words.  “Anya, I know what it is to be alone.  I never knew my pa, these younguns don’t know their pa.  You done without a ma. The world don’t have to be such a cold place. You’re are a good woman an’ I seen how you love these little fellers.  I want you, and that little feller you’re a’carrying if that’s the way you see it.”  He picked up his hat to go to the barn.

Anya looked from Sally to Joe as a tear dropped on Sally’s blonde head.  She reached out, putting a hand on Joe’s shoulder.  “Stay, Joe.  It’s time Sally started sleepin’ in with Little Joe.”

Tenderly, Joe tucked Sally in on the far side of the cot with Little Joe, then put out the light.

Audio

Hard Time Marrying Part 24

frontier-woman-evelyn-cameron                                            Image of frontier woman in her kitchen pulled from internet.

 

“Are you havin’ more trouble?”

“I’m afraid it might come early.”

“Well, ain’t nothin’ to be done about that.  Just don’t overdo yourself and maybe it will hold.”  Emma reassured her.

“That’s not what I mean.  I think I was carrying this baby when I come here.”  Anya studied her lap.

“Well, Joe knowed you was a widow.  You don’t look too far along.  You been here long enough it might be Joe’s.”

“It ain’t.  Joe ain’t never touched me.  That’s why I ain’t told him about the baby.  It cain’t be his.  I wish I would just lose it!  I don’t want to Joe to put me out over this baby.  Our life is just starting to be good.”  Anya cried softly.

“Anya.  I know you a good woman the way you look after Joe and them young’uns.  Joe is a good man.  You are gonna have to talk to him about this.  Times is real hard out here.  They ain’t a town fer miles.  Good folks don’t just happen by.  You an’ Joe might have a chance.  I ‘spect Joe’s already suspicions ‘bout that baby.  I knowed you was in the family way the minute I seen you.  Rufus saw it, too.  The Lord has done joined you together and you don’t need to be parted, not without trying.  You’re a’thinkin’ Joe ain’t gonna want you with this baby comin’. You’re a figurin’ you gonna lose him anyway.  Joe’s a good man.  Even if it turns out he don’t want you with this baby, you need to talk to him.  He’s showed you kindness all this time.  He ain’t gonna grind you under his foot like a snake even if he don’t want you.  The two of you can figure out somethin’. Joe ain’t never had nobody to care about him before and that means a lot.” 

Even if Emma was wrong, her kindness eased Anya’s fears.

“I just don’t want to put no more on Joe.” She explained.

“Then don’t leave his feelings out of this.  Let’s get them dumplings started.  The menfolk is gonna be hungry.”  Emma was a good woman.

Hard Time Marrying Part 23

sod-house-2

Anya just drank up Emma’s house as Emma showed her through.  A bright oilcloth covered the kitchen table.  Gingham curtains fluttered in the window.  A cast-iron cook stove filled one corner of the kitchen and a few dish-lined shelves covered the walls over the cook table.  A dishpan hung on one side of the stove and a few pots on the other.  A can of flour and a bread board set on the cook table.   Doors opened off either side of the kitchen and rough stairs climbed to the attic opposite the stove.  An apron hung on a nail, next to an embroidered drying towel.  A water bucket and dipper stood on a shelf next to the back door.  A cracked mirror in a frame hung there also, along with a comb on a string, concession to vanity.

“We got bedrooms opening off both sides of the kitchen.  When Melvin got old enough, he slept in the attic.  He moved downstairs after Marthy married.  He’s courtin’ Jenny Parker, now, so I reckon they could be a weddin’ before too long.  I always hoped we’d have to build more rooms fer a passel of younguns, but I guess the Good Lord thought two was a’plenty.  We ain’t always had it so nice.  Twenty-four years ago we started digging out a sod house when I was first a’carrying Martha.  We ain’t been married long an’ didn’t have nothin’ but a start of seed, Rufus’s old gun, the clothes we stood up in, a few quilts, some old pots and crockery my ma spared me, an ax, shovel, plow and a mule and wagon Joe’s pa set him up with. Our folks was mighty good to help us like that.  They ain’t had much neither.  We slept in the wagon fer a few weeks while we planted and Joe dug sod.  By July, it had dried out enough so we could frame up with poles Joe cut down by the creek.  By the time Rufus had a good-sized hole dug, the sod had dried enough to stack.  We set corner poles and got to stacking them soddy bricks.  After we got high as I could reach on the north side, Rufus stacked the rest of the way up and I started the next wall.  We took the wagon apart to frame up the door and build a tight door.  Joe sodded up a lean-to for the mule off the back wall of our soddy. I sure hated to see that old wagon go, but there weren’t no timber.  We sodded the roof, and it was good enough to get us through a winter or two. 

After our second crop come in, Joe come up with enough lumber to build a two-room cabin.  I was sure proud.  That soddy kept us out of the cold, but when it rained mud was always fallin’ in on us….and the bugs!  We couldn’t keep them bugs out!  A cabin is sure a comfort! He built the other bedroom I was carrying the still-born baby, but we didn’t need more room till Melvin come along.

That old soddy comes in handy as a root cellar now.  Long as we keep plenty of dry straw on the floor and don’t let the taters, sweet taters, turnips, and apples from touchin’ they’ll keep till spring.  I hang my onions and herbs on the rafters so they keep good.  I make leather britches out of my green beans so we can have a taste of fresh all winter.  A few years ago, Rufus brung me in some a’them canning jars an’ I been able to put up conserves when the fruit comes in.  I was so proud, I ‘bout cried when I seen ‘em.  Here, I want you to have this wild plum conserve I put up.  It will go so good with your fine biscuits.”  Emma was justly proud of her home and housekeeping.

Tears came to Anya’s eyes.  “Oh Emma, this is the finest thing I’ve ever been given.  I’ll make sure to git your jar safe back to you.”

“Oh no you won’t.  It’s a weddin’ present.  Every woman should have something fine from a friend.  I am proud to be your first one here.”  Emma hugged Anya to her with the warmth of a mother.  “I’m sure praying you’ll carry this little one and be spared the sorrow I felt.”

“Emma, I am so worried about this baby.” Anya whispered.