Summary: A collection of three vignettes based on three Springtime themes – mud, allergies, and memories.
Rating: K, Word Count: 2676
#1 – Spring Mud
Based on a discussion and challenge in the Brand forums, I wrote this story in 2nd person POV.
The Prompt: You step down from the Overland Stage and are greeted by [name someone] who [does something]. You [react].
You step down from the Overland Stage and are greeted by your father who sees your warm smile turn upside down as your boots sink into the muddy street. He tosses you a slicker, grabs your bag, and makes for the buggy while hollering over his shoulder, “Let’s get out of here before it gets any worse!” You release an audible groan when you tug your feet loose and trudge over to the waiting vehicle. Thank goodness Pa had the sense to bring something with a cover and not the buck board or, heaven forbid, the horses.
The ride is silent for most of the way home as you split your time between watching Pa maneuver the buggy over the sodden road and looking out at the dismal, dripping landscape. A deep sigh sneaks out when Pa mentions it all started the day you left for California. That was a week ago. When you finally arrive at the house, you seriously wish you were back in the warm sun and balmy sea breezes of San Francisco.
After settling back home and going over the new contracts with Pa, the real fun begins. The rain abates just a little but you know it would take a month or more for the ground to dry out. Each day you, Hoss, and Joe head out to check the herd and pull stuck cattle out of mud pits or swollen watering holes. And each night each of you fight over who is the dirtiest and therefore gets the tub first. Hop Sing settles it with a rotating schedule and enforces it with a stern look and the threat of no bath for whoever breaks the rule. When you finally get your turn in the tub you soak as long as you can to get the blasted mud out of all the places it should never have gotten into in the first place.
After a week of all this, the sun breaks through one morning and its rays coming through the open curtains in your bedroom nearly blind you. You leap from your bed and stare at the cloudless blue sky. Throwing your eyes upward in thanks you quickly dress and head to breakfast, a new found spring in each step.
At the table as you dig into your ham and eggs, Pa makes an announcement. “Adam, would you take the contracts back to San Francisco? I want everything in place before roundup begins.”
Slipping your mask into place to hide your disappointment at not being able to stay home and enjoy the sunshine, you respond quietly. “Sure. When do I need to leave?”
“By the end of the week should be sufficient. Make sure to come right back since we’ll need you for roundup.”
“Sure, Pa.” Well at least you have a few days to enjoy the fresh Spring air. Then a thought hits you and you recall how nice the city was when you left. A smile creeps in and you find breakfast tasting better already as you reach for a biscuit and jam.
A few days later, the stage finally arrives in San Francisco. It’s been an arduous journey as the driver navigated the last of the muddy roads. The last leg of the trip is smoother so you stretch out and doze since you are the only passenger left. When the stage rocks to a stop you grab your bag and plant a smile on your face as you can already smell the sea air. The door pops open and you freeze. Why is the station manager looking dour and holding an umbrella over the door? Resisting the urge to lock yourself in the coach for the return trip, you smile your thanks and step down…into the mud. Couldn’t the driver at least have gotten close to the boardwalk? As a string of forbidden words fill your head, you decide that next winter and spring you will hibernate in Mexico!
#2 – Spring Allergies
Adam loved Spring in the Sierras. The sky changed from slate to azure and was filled with cotton ball clouds. The wildflowers and tender grasses created a patchwork of color in the valleys. The air smelled sweet and carried the happiness of bird song and animal chatter.
On one glorious day in May, Adam helped Clara Watkins up the last of the rocky path and together they settled on a flat boulder to gaze at the newborn earth below. This was his last Spring before heading to college in the East and Clara had just arrived from there to start a new life in the West. They had known each other about a month and Adam felt it was time to show her his favorite spot on the Ponderosa.
“Oh my, Adam, this is breathtaking. I feel as though I’m on top of the world. If I were a hawk I would never land.”
Adam grinned as he slipped his arm around her waist. Noting she leaned toward him he nuzzled her ear then gently touched it with his lips. Clara giggled and swiveled toward him leaving a mere inch between their faces. Adam watched her eyes flutter shut as he floated closer. When their lips touched she moaned quietly and he felt his heart beat faster. After that first kiss, she rested her head on his shoulder as he played with her braided auburn hair.
An hour later they descended to the colorful field near the lake below them to pick wildflowers and play a game of tag. Falling into the flowers the couple kissed again before laying on their backs gasping for air and staring at the deep blue sky.
Adam turned to gaze upon Clara’s beauty framed by the purple, yellow, and red flowers. “You’re beautiful laying here among the flowers.”
She rolled closer to him and smiled. “Your tawny eyes reflect the sun and life itself.”
Adam pulled her body to his and trailed kisses over her cheeks and lips. She responded in kind, until a shout broke the romantic tryst.
“Adam, where are ya? I saw you an’ Miss Clara heading this way. Pa says you’re late gettin’ home and he sent me to find ya.”
“Yeah, you better come now or you’re gonna get it from Pa.”
Panic broke the two would-be lovers apart and Adam whispered frantically. “That’s Hoss and Joe. If they find us like this we’ll never hear the end of it.”
Clara could only nod as she tried to squelch her fears of being discovered in a compromising position by Adam’s younger brothers. The couple separated and lay quite still, holding their breath. Both could hear the boys moving around the field and getting closer.
Just as Adam felt sure his brothers were moving away, Clara let out a stifled squeak, and then another. Adam rolled his head to the side to look at her and was aghast to see her rubbing her eyes and nose. He reached for her hand to stop the movement when she released a full blown sneeze. That brought the brothers running just as Adam arose from the flowers pulling Clara with him.
“Adam! What’re you and Clara hidin’ in them flowers for?”
“Not a word from either of you. Clara and I fell, and then she started sneezing. Looks like she’s allergic to the flowers. I’m going to get her to the lake to wash her face. You two go home and tell Pa we’ll be there straight away.”
When Hoss and Joe continued to stare at the young lady with her braided hair coming loose and puffy lips, and Adam’s shirt with one extra button undone, Adam reached out to spin them around, yelling in the process. “I said scram!”
The boys didn’t need to be told twice. “Hoss, did you see…?”
“I didn’t see nothin, and neither did you. We just tell Pa that Adam’s comin’ home right behind us.”
Thirty minutes later, Adam drove the buggy into the yard. He noted his father and Mister Watkins were in deep conversation on the porch. He helped Clara down and escorted her to her father.
“Well, Adam, it’s about time you got home.” Ben’s dark eyes burned into his son.
“Clara, what happened child? Are you hurt?” Her father took her face in his hands to get a better look at her puffy eyes and lips, and red cheeks.
“I’m fine, Father. Adam and I were walking in a field of wildflowers and after bending down to smell several of them I got like this. Adam says it’s an allergy. He took me to the lake to wash my face and hands, and I feel much better now. At least the sneezing has stopped.”
“Adam, is this true?”
“Yes, sir.” He locked eyes with Mister Watkins to avoid his father’s scrutinizing gaze.
“Well, we best get you home. Thank you, Adam, for acting quickly to help my daughter. Why don’t you and your father join us for dinner after church tomorrow.”
Ben had moved closer to Adam and placed a strong arm around his son’s shoulders. “Thank you, Matthew. We would love to come. Is it alright if Hoss and Joe come too?”
“Of course, the more the merrier.”
With their own child safely ensconced in their arms the two fathers exchanged satisfied glances while Adam and Clara exchanged worried glances that spoke volumes…the fathers didn’t believe a word of their tale.
Just before the buggy rolled out of the yard, Clara looked back with a quick smile. Adam saw it and winked back. They may not have completely fooled their fathers but Adam and Clara had enjoyed every minute of their time together.
#3 – Spring Memories
Spring cleaning was a ritual that had been ingrained in Adam’s life since he was a child, thanks to the family cook and general caretaker, Hop Sing. Even now, with his own family, they followed the ritual for one week out of the year.
Temporarily sharing his father’s home until his own family home was complete, Adam was once again drawn into the annual ritual. He was almost finished going through boxes and trunks he had left at the house during his travels. After dinner, while his wife and children were outside enjoying the Spring evening, he sat in the middle of his bedroom room floor going through one last trunk. Everything in it smelled musty but was otherwise in fairly good shape. Once the papers and old clothes had been sorted he found several packages wrapped in oil cloth. Retrieving one and gently removing the cloth he found a collection of small faded books. As he thought hard about when he had received these books a memory was triggered…
“Time for Spring Clean. Everybody clean own rooms upstairs. Hop Sing very busy downstairs.”
“You know my room is spotless.” Adam leapt onto the stairs to avoid having his backside swatted by the venerable cook’s rag. Continuing upstairs, Adam smiled back at his friend.
That evening while a cool Spring breeze wafted through his bedroom window, Adam strummed his guitar. A quiet knock interrupted the peaceful moment.
Peering around the door Ben slipped into the room. “I take it you’ve finished cleaning?”
Adam gave a lopsided smile, continuing to play his guitar. When Ben remained silent, Adam stopped strumming and noticed the books his father held. “What are those?”
As he leaned his guitar against the nightstand, Ben pulled a chair around and sat down. “I was cleaning out my old sea trunk which hasn’t been opened in years. I found these under my uniform.” He held them out for Adam to take. “They’re journals, son. They belonged to your mother. I thought this would be a good time to share them with you. Keep them for as long as you like, Adam. I want you to have time to get to know your mother. There are more but I thought you’d like to begin with these.”
Dark eyebrows rose in curiosity as Adam took the books. The patterns on the covers were faded and the leather binding was split. Gently laying the two bottom books aside Adam reverently opened the top one and began reading.
‘I have met the most wonderful man. He’s tall, has the warmest brown eyes and the deepest voice. Thoughts of him fill my waking hours and my dreams. Alas, he is a sailor on my father’s ship so my dreams are all I have at the moment. I don’t know if Father would approve of my heart’s desire but I know Ben will keep his promise and convince him that we would make the most wonderful couple. The ship is due to arrive tomorrow after being gone for months. I am so impatient to see him again, to be held in his strong arms and become lost in his soulful eyes. Oh Benjamin, my love, may the waves speed you back to me post haste…’
Later that night, Ben noticed Adam’s light was still on. He knocked, then entered slowly when no answer came.
“Adam?” Ben found his son leaning his head against the window, staring past his reflection into the black night. The first journal lay on his bed still on the first page.
“I can’t do it, Pa. When I read the lines her voice somehow fills my head and it becomes overwhelming. These are memories and stories I should have heard as a child, that I….I missed out on.”
Ben saw Adam’s shoulders slump and shudder. He moved closer and rested a hand on his son’s shoulder and quietly spoke, “Son, memories are nothing more than ghosts that we let in.”* He gently placed the worn book into Adam’s hand. “Don’t be afraid of them.* These are your mother’s memories – embrace them. Let her embrace you.”
After a few moments Adam gave his father a crooked smile that reminded Ben so much of Elizabeth’s smile. Adam returned to his bed and opened the book once more. This time, though, Ben remained and together, long into the night, father and son relived the life that was Elizabeth Stoddard Cartwright…
As the memory faded, Adam caressed each book before opening it and scanning its pages. Lost in reading a particular passage, a knock interrupted his trip across time.
When Adam looked up he saw his wife enter followed by his father carrying a slice of pie.
Ana sat on the bed and gazed at her husband sitting on the floor surrounded by small books and oil clothes. “When you didn’t come down for dessert I thought I should check on you. What are all these books, Adam?”
Ben handed the pie to his son and reached for one of the nearest books. “These are your mother’s journals. I wondered what had become of them. I’m glad to know they are safe.”
“I packed them away before I moved to Boston. Guess I forgot to tell you where they were.”
Ana picked up a book near her and read the first page. “Adam, these are a treasure. Will you share them with me?”
Adam reached for Ana’s hand to help her to the floor. Ben slipped out quietly, letting Adam share these precious memories with his wife for the first time.
Adam chose a different book from the one he had been reading. “Let’s start at the beginning.”
For the next couple of hours, Elizabeth Stoddard Cartwright came to life once more for her son, and now her daughter-in-law, and one day to be shared with her grandchildren.
*Lyrics by Bon Jovi – Memories are nothing more than ghosts that we let in. Don’t be afraid of them.
Other Stories by this Author
- A Rose for Mama (by AC1830)
- A Different Conversation (by AC1830)
- Surprise! (by AC1830)
- The Roar of the Lion (by AC1830)
- A Chance for Love by AC1830