Happy Days To Come
Happy Days To Come
I had just finished milkin’ the last cow when I heard the phone ring. I ran fromthe barn toward the front door of our house, hopin’ that it might be Pa.
“Yes, sir,” Mother spoke into the receiver, “I’ll send Jimmy right over to fetch him. Thank you for callin,.”
Right away I knew what was wrong. That blasted bull, Blacky, must have gotten out - again. He was probably eating the neighbor’s vegetables right out of their garden. Mr. Foster was always callin’ and complainin’. If we had enough money we could fix the fence, then the animals couldn’t get out. But we didn’t have much money since Pa left - and darn little before. Pa had gone to the city to try and find work: he’d send for us once he had some money saved up. That was a couple of months ago. I reckon’ he’ll be sendin’ for us pretty soon.
“Jimmy,” it was Ma, speakin’ to me. “You go over to the Fosters’ and bring back Blacky. He’s makin’ a mess over there. Mr. Foster says he’s gone and eaten up all their tators and half the corn. He’s gonna get us in big trouble one of these days.”
Since Pa left, I was the man of the house. I was fourteen and almost grow’d. What I lacked in age, I made up for in determination. ‘Least I’d heard some folks say that. ‘See, Wilton’s a real small town and you learn real early that you’ve got to earn your keep. A meal you don’t earn don’t taste near as good. Pa always said that hard work kept him feelin’ young. I say hard work makes me feel older - and sometimes, downright old.
By the time I got over to where Blacky was, he had himself in a whole heap of trouble. He had decided that he wanted some apples so he tried to get ‘em straight out of the tree. Apparently, a swarm of bees didn’t like that idea and were lettin’ old Blacky know it. Blacky was runnin’ around in circles like a chicken with its head cut off. I never seen anything funnier than that half-ton bull bein’ routed by that bunch of hornets. I reckoned I’d better not let him get stung too many times ‘cause he’s got a real mean temper.
I got Blacky’s attention by throwin’ a couple of rocks at him. Just as I suspected, he got real mad and started chasin’ me. I had it pretty well planned out, you see; when he started chasin’ me I just headed towards home. ‘Bout halfway between our place and the Fosters’, there’s a big ol’ swimmin’ hole, and the only thing bees hate more than bulls stealin’ their apples is water.
When we got to the pond, I grabbed onto the tire swing and ol’ Blacky went right into the water as I swung overhead. It didn’t take the hornets too long to vacate the area and that sure made my bull feel better. I guess Blacky was pretty embarrassed ‘cause he just put his head down and followed me home after he got out of the water.
It was near dark by the time I got Blacky put back in the barn and fed and curried. It had been a long day so I went in and went to bed. This bein’ the man of the house was gettin’ tedious. That night, I dreamed that Pa had got settled and we’d be leavin’ here soon. In a way I’d miss it, but I wanted to go back to bein’ a kid.
Pa was off in Denton City and I was here in Wilton, rememberin’ what he had told me just before he left. “Listen, Jimmy, you’ll meet lots of folks in your lifetime. Remember two things, son. First, family is the most important thing in the world and, second, work for your keep. If you take things without earnin’ ‘em, you get lazy. Lazy people don’t provide for their family, Jimmy. And family comes first.
“I know this time is gonna be tough on you. But I know you can handle it or I wouldn’t dare leave. I just want so many things for you and your Ma and Dorothy and this farm’s about played out. So you see why I’m goin’ don’tcha?” All I could do was nod and try to understand. But I didn’t cry, nosiree. Men don’t cry - ‘specially not Carsons.
When I woke up the next mornin’, Pa hadn’t called. I went down to breakfast a little later than usual - about six o’clock. It was Sunday we were allowed to sleep an extra hour. We still did all our chores, just started doin’ ‘em a little later.
Ma and Dorothy were rushin’ around the kitchen tryin’ to get some flapjacks and bacon cooked up. Dorothy was twelve; my little sister was near as growed up as me. She thought she was a bit brighter than me, and she was probably right. I was schooled, too, just didn’t have as much time for studies as she did. She never used her brains ag’in me, mind you, but we both know she could have.
“Mornin’, Jimmy,” Ma said as I entered, “remember after you eat, go get cleaned up and put on your Sunday clothes. Church is this mornin’ and clean is next to Godly.”
I had me a big plate of flapjacks and a few strips of bacon with my mornin’ coffee. If Dorothy kept on cookin’ the way she was then, she’d make somebody a right good wife one of these days.
After I got cleaned up real good, I went and hitched up the team. It was only a mile or so to church and we would be travelin’ along a pretty good trail. The horses pretty much knew the way without any proddin’, but I hooked up the reins out of habit. You never knew when somethin’ would spook the team and you’d need to use whatever control you had to stop them so nobody got hurt.
By the time we got there, the bell was ringin’. I was glad about that. I hated just standin’ around waitin’. There were a few other wagons just gettin’ there and we saw Mr. Foster complainin’ to the other neighbors about Blacky. I went over and apologized again, but couldn’t stop laughin’ on the inside.
The preacher must have heard him too, ‘cause the sermon was about “Love Thy Neighbor.” Pretty fittin’, as far as I was concerned.
We left right after the service. Had to get on home and do the chores, same as always. Sunday only lasted ‘til about eleven, then it was back to work. I sometimes wished that I could stand around jawin’ like the town boys did but Pa always said that small talk was just that - small and meaningless.
5:00 comes pretty early on Mondays. Must have somethin’ to do with that extra hour of sleep the day before - don’t take long for the “lazies” to set in, Pa always said. After a good heavy breakfast I made my way out to the barn for mornin’ chores. Guess I musta scared Blacky ‘cause he snorted once, then let fly with one hind foot, right where I’d just been. I’d hafta be more careful in the future. Same thing had happened to Ol’ Man Fogleby the year before and it darn near killed him. Still couldn’t get any farther than the chair in the kitchen. Good thing his wife had become concerned and come lookin’ for him. As it was, he laid there for nearly two hours. I’d hafta be more careful.
I’d been doin’ these things the same way for so long that I could near do ‘em in my sleep. Throw hay down from the loft, feed the cows, water and feed the hens, then take care of the horses. We had thirty or more hens (dependin’ on how hungry the weasels were) at any given time; used ‘em mostly for eggs and an occasional Sunday dinner. Thirteen cows we were raisin’ either for show or slaughter and what little milk we got out of ‘em.
Six horses; four of them Belgian crosses we used in the fields (best work horses we ever had and Pa was real proud of them.) Than Dorothy and I each had one. Mine was a Palomino, though I didn’t have much time for ridin’. He made a real pretty picture hitched up to the one-horse wagon or sleigh, too.
Dorothy’s was a dandy little Morgan she called Sugar. They spent an awful lot of time together. She’d pack her books and they’d head off for the swimmin’ hole, then she’d just sit there studyin’ while Sugar ran around in the clover, enjoyin’ her freedom for awhile.
Sorry I got sidetracked there; I’ll get back to goin’ to school.
School was in a big buildin’ in town, right next to the church. It was just one room but we didn’t have call for no more. After all, how much space do eleven young scholars need? We were all learnin’ the same things anyway, just in different stages of it. I was the biggest kid in school, about a head taller than Matthew, my closest friend and the second-tallest. Matthew was the son of Elias Broder, owner of E. Broder Emporium (though it weren’t much more than a big hole in the wall, it was the only store for miles around.) Mr. E. Broder had gained the reputation of bein’ the stingiest man in these parts - tighter than bark on a birch tree, Pa always said. Matt was fourteen, too. He’d be the oldest student left in school when Pa called.
The other students included Shawn Randall, Susie Farnham, Johnny Evans, Mary Waite, Charles Jackson, Timmy Everette, Mark (Double M) Michaels, and Christine Jones. We didn’t have much time for socializin’ but everybody knew everybody else in our town - and most of their recent family history, too.
Our teacher was Mr. Coswell. Mr. Coswell was a bunch older than us, of course - some over twenty, rumor had it. He had grown up in Capital City so he was always talkin’ about life in the big town. He sure filled a young man’s head with wonder, the way he carried on. Someday I hoped to travel there; it was pretty near Denton City, or so the map said. Maybe we’d be hearin’ from Pa pretty soon, then I could look over these places with my own eyes, ‘stead of relyin’ on Mr. Coswell’s memories.
After school got out, I raced home ahead of Dorothy to get my chores done. I figured if I was done with them, maybe I’d be able to sneak in a couple hours of fishin’. I loved fishin’ mostly I guess because it got me away from the farm for a while. Than there was Warren, a big ol’ trout that me and Pa had been chasin’ up and down the river as long as I could remember. Never got a hook in ol’ Warren, though. Just too smart for us, I reckon. But that didn’t take the fun out of tryin’ -
made it funner, more likely.
Chores weren’t so bad after school, just collectin’ eggs and such. That only took a few minutes, than I was off till after supper when milkin’ had to be done. Chores out of the way, I was off to the river. Grabbed my alder pole that Pa had made me and dug a few worms in the pasture on the way. I’d fixed myself quite a few poles but none was as good as this one. Kinda fit nice in the hands, if you know what I mean.
I’d only been fishin’ foe a few minutes when Matt showed up. He’d brung a jug of iced tea and offered me some. We did a lot more talkin’ than fishin’ but we did catch a few small trout for supper.
We was talkin’ about school and things when Dorothy showed up on Sugar with her infernal books. Said she’d decided to come to this part of the river instead of to the swimmin’ hole because it had more shade. I figured the truth was she had a bad crush on one Mr. Matthew Broder but I never brought it up. Didn’t reckon I’d get a straight answer anyway.
Ol’ Warren went swimmin’ by a couple times and I tried to get Matt’s attention but it weren’t no use. All his attention seemed to be on my little sister. Just as well, figured. If Matt about Ol’ Warren, everyone else would too, than somebody would prob’ly catch him and there wouldn’t be no reason for fishin’ after that.
It was near sundown when I said my good-byes to Matt and headed home. Me and Dorothy and Sugar all walked home, not sayin’ much. Just mostly thinkin’ and wonderin’ how Pa was doin’, I reckon.
I cleaned my trout out when we got home and packed them for the icebox. Trout taste better if it’s frozen for awhile and, besides Ma already had supper goin’. After supper and the milkin’, me and Dorothy sat down at the table and tackled our home studies. We both had some ‘rithmatic and some readin’ to do. Even though we put our tablets away at the same time, she prob’ly had hers done for quite a while. Sometimes it was real hard to grasp this stuff. But she was smart as a whip.
“Jimmy, did you hear what Mr. Coswell said today? He was talkin’ ‘bout Capital City, says it’s only a few miles the other side of Denton City.” Dorothy had been thinkin’ the same thing I was, I guess.
“We’ll be hearin’ from him real soon,” I said (and I sure hoped my voice had more conviction than my heart did.) “Why, I bet he’s findin’ us a place to live right now.” Dorothy thought about it for a minute, then she started smilin’.
“And I bet it’s gonna be real nice, too,” she said as her better nature took over. She was off and runnin’ now and I sure wasn’t gonna try to stop her. “And I bet we’ll each have our own rooms, and Ma’ll have a sewin’ room and Pa’ll have the smokin’ room he always talked about, too, just like them rich folks do.”
“My, my, how you do carry on, youngins’,” Ma said over the noise of the butter churn. “Long about now, I’d be satisfied in a birdhouse, long’s we could all be together again. Now you kids go to bed. Mornin’ comes early ’round here, you know.”
She was right and we both knew it. Mornin’ always comes early on a farm. We kissed Ma goodnight and headed for bed.
I’d been gettin’ ready for Tunbridge Fair for a couple of weeks. We’d be enterin’ two cattle in the judgin’ this year. I had decided that Milly and Jack would have the best chances of winnin’ the blue, so I spent a good deal of time each day brushin’ ‘em out and bein’ real nice to ‘em.
Tunbridge Fair was about the best thing around every fall and we always had a bunch of fun there. There was always a lot of games and animals, but I went so’s I could look over the newest farm machinery and dream about ownin’ some of it someday. Last year they’d had a new type tiller there and it sure was pretty, though I hadn’t really figured out how it worked yet.
Worst problem with the fair was it always came in the late fall and some of those nights were downright cold, sleepin’ under the wagon the way I did. But still I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. The women folk would be busy for months ahead, sewin’ new clothes and such. They always griped about not havin’ the time for this and that but if you listened real close, you could tell they looked forward to it as much as anybody did. Ma griped right along with the rest of ‘em, but, when fair time came around every year, you could bet we’d all have some fancy new duds.
Tunbridge was south of Wilton by about sixteen miles and we’d be travelin’ with a bunch of families from town. It seemed much better to go in a group, then everyone could share, if need be. Weren’t near so lonesome, neither.
Among our group were the Broders, Waites, Randalls, and Farnhams. I was glad these families joined us ‘cause they have kids my own age and that seemed nice for a change. Matt, Mary, me and Dorothy talked a lot on the way and it made the trip easier.
Pa had always enjoyed the fair and it seemed strange to be makin’ the trip without him.
Mary and me had gotten pretty close and I sure wished that I knew what to do. I had some pretty strange feelin’s and I knew that I’d better control ‘em ‘cause I’d be leavin’ here before long.
“How much further you figger, Jimmy?” Ma was askin’ again. It seemed like she’d been askin’ that same question every hundred yards or so.
“’Bout six or seven miles, I reckon. We can stop for a bit if anybody wants to.” I called back to the other wagons, “Anybody want to stretch a bit?”
“Aye, I could stand to give me legs a stretch.” It was Mr. Randall. He wasn’t Irish, but Pa said he drank like he was. I figgered Pa would know. He and Mr. Randall had been known to tip a few together from time to time.
We pulled to a stop and stretched some. It was a welcome break for us all. Us kids, havin’ been cooped up like we had, took the time to run around and loosen up our sore and tired muscles. All too soon, it was time to go; we climbed back into the wagons and headed out again.
We made pretty good time the rest of the way. Seemed like it was all downhill after that first big hill out of Wilton. Kinda made me dread the return trip ‘cause than it would be all uphill and would take a lot longer, allowin’ time for the horses to rest more often.
All in all, the trip had taken about nine hours and we were settin’ up camp by sundown. Gotta admit I was near beat and kinda went through the motions of unhitchin’ the horses, then feedin’ them and the cattle we’d brought. Ma and Dorothy had been busy fixin’ their bed in the wagon and they dropped my blankets over the side. I was kinda hungry but more than that, I was plum beat. I took my blankets and rolled under the wagon and was asleep almost at once.
I woke up under the wagon about sunup. I started the fire, then got the fire goin’. These late fall mornin’s sure put the slows in the old system till the sun came up real bright, which seemed to be a little later each day. While the coffee was brewin’, I fed the animals, then spent a whole lot of time brushin’ out Milly and Jack.
The cattle judgin’ would start in a couple of hours and I wanted ours to be ready and lookin’ good. Milly was about two and a half and this was her first fair. She was a Holstein and had been Pa’s favorite.
Jack was my Angus; she was four years old and higher than my head. We got her from an old friend of Pas’ and had named her after him. Now I know Jack is a bull’s name, but our Jack didn’t seem to mind. We’d brought her last year and she’d won second prize for Angus. I figgered she might take the blue this year.
By the time I got done with the animals, Ma and Dorothy had breakfast ready. This outdoor cookin’ sure tasted good and I really wanted seconds, but I knew I had to get our stock registered or the whole trip would have been pointless. I took a couple strips of bacon and went over and registered Milly and Jack at the Judge’s table. There were some fine lookin’ cattle there and for the first time I wasn’t so sure of our chances.
The biggest attraction of the fair is that you see so many people there. About half the time is spent renewin’ old acquaintances and the rest meetin’ new people. I took a saunter down the midway see they had a bunch of new games and such this year. Nice to look but I’d lost a bunch of money here last year (my whole years’ savin’s, almost three dollars) and I vowed that wouldn’t happen again. Made up my mind to stay clear of the midway at night but it seemed safe enough durin’ the day. Most of the booths were closed durin’ the early mornin’, anyhow.
The judgin’ started at ten. When it was over, Jack had won the blue and Millie got an Honorable Mention. I was pretty excited the rest of the day and all my friends shook my hand near right off. Even some folks I hadn’t known before seemed real happy for me. A Mr. Townsend from down Whitewater way even offered me fifteen dollars for Milly but I didn’t have the heart to let her go.
I spent some time lookin’’ over the new John Deere plows but they really weren’t much better than what we had.
By then it was after noon and me and Ma had decided it would be better to stay here overnight and head home first thing in the mornin’. We sure didn’t feel like sleepin’ beside the road. And besides, that way I got a chance to see the horse-pullin’ contest.
The contest was won by a pair of young Percherons from Bradley. They sure were pretty - and real strong, too.
The rest of the afternoon we spent lollin’ around and generally just restin’. Around five-thirty, right after supper, Mr. Randall got out a set of horseshoes and pegs he’s brought along. Me and Matt watched the men play for a while, then said we’d take on the winners of the next game. Beat ‘em, too, 21 to 17. But that was our day in the sun as we got clobbered in the next game, 21 to 7.
We turned in early and were ready to head home a little after sunup. Mr. Randall wasn’t quite ready, however. Seemed he’d spent the night on the midway and had finally found his way to the wagons just a couple of hours ago with an awful hurtful head. When everyone else was ready to go, and we had our cattle tied on and everything, I helped Shawn lay his poor old dad in the back of his wagon and we headed out.
We put the Randall wagon in the front on the way home. Nobody said so but we all silently felt that that way, if the old man rolled out or anything, at least someone would see it and could do something about it. For the first twelve miles, though, he didn’t do any rollin’. Just kinda laid there and moaned and groaned to High Heaven. I felt bad for poor Shawn, bein’ shown up like that, and it didn’t help when Mrs. Randall kept cussin’ at the old man for bein’ such a fool.
When we got to the middle of town, the wagons all headed in different directions, their weary passengers all headed home after a hard day’s journey. We got to the farm long after sundown and I had to wake up Ma and Dorothy to go inside. By the time I got the horses unhitched and Milly and Jack back in the barn, I was too tired to unload the wagon so I left it there and just took the things that would spoil.
Ol’ Mr. Benson had done a good job takin’ care of the animals while we were gone and I was thankful for that. Sure wished we could take him on full time but there was just no way we could do it - not even just for his keep.
Ma had left me a sandwich on the table and I did my best to put it away. I was still pretty excited about the Fair and just kept admirin’ the blue ribbon. Soon’s the snack was done, I blew out the light and headed for bed. I’d got all into bed and everything when I remembered something I had to do. I jumped out of bed and hung the Blue Ribbon on the wall of my room where the sun would hit it first thing in the mornin’. Least I’d have somethin’ to show Pa when I saw him again.
It had been a couple of weeks since the fair. Dorothy’s birthday had come and gone. I’d made a few trips to the Foster’s to get our strayin’ bull. Dorothy and Sugar had gone to the swimmin’ hole a few times and twice, me and Matt had made it fishin’. Mr. Coswell had continued his discourse on the city about every day. And Pa had called.
That was the most important thing that had happened in quite a while and I can tell you right now that the Carson family was some excited. Pa had found a house in Denton City and had rented it with the option to buy. He figured we should be able to get at least the downpayment out of the farm. He’d found work at a slaughterhouse at a fair wage and, even though he hated the work, said he could manage till something else came along.
Pa called about suppertime on Friday and we knew we’d better be gettin’ ready for the move. As it happened, there was a school play that night and Dorothy was gonna be in it. Did a right good job in it, too. Anyhow, we kinda used the night to say goodbye to all the friends and neighbors we’d made over the years. Saved us a bunch of time, doin’ it all at once like that. You know how women are when they get to jawin’ and if we’d made all the separate stops we should have, we wouldn’ta got moved till Christmas.
Saw Mr. Broder at the gatherin’ and offered him Milly and Jack. He gave me thirty-five for the two and I reckoned that was a fair price so I threw in the chickens - long as he came and gathered ‘em all up.
Next day, Saturday, we got up real early and started packin’ the wagon. While Ma and Dorothy were busy with that, I set about tryin’ to find buyers for the rest of the cattle. Took me three stops but I got ten dollars a head for them. We’d be keepin’ the horses, so that only left Blacky to get rid of.
Turned out it weren’t no trouble unloadin’ him, either. I put a small rope through the ring in his nose and led him out past the swimmin’ hole. Mr. Foster saw us comin’ and he met us out in his front yard, kinda confused like. Said he was used to seein’ me lead Blacky the other way. I had a pretty good laugh over that, than handed him the rope leader. I said, “Mr. Foster, you might as well take ol’ Blacky, here. Guess he likes it here about the best of anyplace around. We can’t take him with us and you might be able to get somethin’ good outta him.”
“Well, now that you mention, I have kinda used to him out there in the garden. Would kinda miss him some, I reckon.” We jawed a bit and when I left he said to stop by if we was ever back in the neighborhood.
I took my time walkin’ back home. It wouldn’t be home much longer. I stopped by the fishin’ hole and peered in at Ol’ Warren, just like I knowd he’d be there. He kinda ambled around the edge of the river and I swear he was lookin’ at me the whole time, kinda sad-eyed, just the way I felt. Then he sorta wagged his tail just like a puppy and was gone.
I hung around the river for a few more minutes till the misty left my eyes, then headed for the house. It sure wouldn’t do no good for the womenfolk to see a Carson man cryin’, even if this particular fourteen-year-old Carson man did feel like it.
We got the wagon loaded by one-thirty or so, then I tied on the horses. I set Ma to drivin’ the team while me and Dorothy rode along beside it, her on Sugar and me on the Palomino. We got near into town when I told them to go ahead, that I’d forgotten somethin’ important. I turned the Palomino on a dime and headed straight back to the farm where I bolted up the stairs two at a time and grabbed the Blue Ribbon off the wall. I was gonna be able to show it to Pa after all. And everything was gonna be okay.