The Years Before…
Chapter 23 -
A Time to
Written by Michelle
He staggered into the saloon, drunk as usual. Now
days, nobody paid him no mind. He was a common face in the Circle Q – about
as common as the clock that always ran ten minutes fast on the wall behind
him. Besides that, he always sat way back at a corner table where he could
be left alone.
But tonight, his drunkenness only served to make his
already sour mood worse. The memories that plagued him on this night were
so great inside him. Things were so different from a year ago, and he
couldn’t help but remember back to happier times…the times when he was proud
and had everything to live for. But tonight he could only think of what
happened that evening a year ago. That was the evening when his innocence
and memories came crashing down around him.
The man continued to pour drink after drink in his
whisky glass, hoping to drown the memories, but each drink only served to
intensify the memory.
A stranger walked through the doors. He wore double
guns and carried the gun belt way down on his hips. The man walked with a
bad limp. Men sitting at tables all turned to stare at him. They wondered
what had happened to this man. “Brandy!” The man pulled his hat further
down on his head and turned around to see who was staring at him. He
propped his elbows on the bar and narrowed his eyes. “Suppose none of you
have ever seen an ex-Rebel soldier before, huh?”
Men suddenly averted their eyes at this
announcement. But the stranger turned and drank his brandy down. Then he
slowly stood up and placed his hands on his guns. “Yes sir! I was a damn
good soldier, if I do say so! Every battle I fought in, I shot at least
five or so Yankees! Yes sirree!” He laughed. “Then one day a Union
soldier shot me in the leg. Yeah, but I got him back! Sure enough! I blew
that boys’ head off!”
From the back, the sound of a glass hitting the table
hard echoed through the saloon. The stranger turned to see the drunk stand
from the table and slowly walk over to him. “You say you killed a lot of
Union Solders?” The stranger nodded proudly. “Were you in Virginia?”
“I sure was, mister!”
“Could be you killed my son.” The drunk stood in
front of the stranger. “You proud of that?”
“It’s unfortunate your son chose to fight on the
wrong side!” The man declared as he tapped his gun. “Why don’t you go on
back over to that table and sit down?”
The drunk was angry now. He grabbed the man by his
collar and flung him up against the bar. “YOU could have killed my SON and
yet you laugh about it?”
“Samuel!” Ike, the bartender, warned.
“You stay out of this, Ike! It’s no concern of
yours.” Samuel pushed a finger in the stranger’s face. “Now, tell me the
truth. How many men did you kill in the war?”
The stranger laughed. Samuel grew angry and reared
back to punch him. But the young man had strength and kicked Samuel hard
across the room. Samuel stood and drew his gun, but the other man was
faster. The shot fired. He felt a pain in his chest then he crumpled to
Marshal Williams hurried through the door. He bent
down beside Samuel and looked him over. He lifted his head. “This man’s in
a bad way! Get him to the doctor! Quick!” Marshal Williams slowly stood
up and walked toward the stranger. “I’ll have your gun.”
“No sir!” The stranger declared. “I shot in self
“No way!” Marshal Williams declared.
Ike cleared his throat. “I’m afraid he’s right,
Marshal. Sam drew first.”
Marshal Williams narrowed his eyes in disbelief. It
didn’t seem possible…but it was.
The banging on the door sounded in the middle of the
night. Margaret slowly sat up in bed wondering where the noise was coming
from. Bang Bang Bang! Someone was knocking on the door. “What is
that?” Beth asked tiredly as she slowly sat up in bed.
“Someone’s at the door,” Margaret answered as she
stood from the bed and grabbed her robe. The knock sounded again. “Come
on! Wake up already!” A man’s voice sounded from the other side.
Margaret and Beth hurried from the bedroom.
“Alright! I’m coming!” Scott declared as he opened the door to his bedroom
and snapped his pants on the way to the door.
The whole Gibbs’ house was awake now. When Scott
opened the door, Ike, the bartender from the Circle Q, was standing there.
“Ike?” Scott buttoned his shirt. “What are you doing here, man? It’s one
in the morning!”
“I know. Can I come in?” Scott stood back to allow
Ike inside while Amanda went to light the lantern on the table. Ike looked
nervous and agitated as he shrugged out of his coat and stood in front of
the Gibbs family. “Scott…Mrs. Gibbs…I’m afraid I…I have some bad news.”
Margaret’s heart started beating fast. “Pa? Is it
“What’s wrong?” Beth suddenly cried out. “What’s
“There’s been an…accident,” Ike answered as he
cleared his throat and looked down at the floor. “I’m afraid he got into
some trouble tonight.”
“Just spill it!” Scott angrily demanded. “What did
he do this time?”
“He’s hurt…bad.” Ike turned and looked at each
family member. “I tried to stop him! I assure you I did, but…he was so
“Drunk!” Scott declared.
“A man…he came in tonight claiming he’s a rebel
soldier and he started talking about the men he killed. Your father…he was
pretty wasted as usual.” Ike sighed. “I’m sorry, ma’am.”
Jennifer slowly sat down at the table while Amanda
went to put the coffee on. Johnny and Scott slowly sat down while Margaret
and Beth continued standing, staring at Ike. “Sam…he drew his gun against
the man, but the man was faster. He rode out of town after the shooting.”
“Pa…” Margaret felt her knees grow weak.
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
“Bad?” Jennifer asked. “I mean…is he going to…”
“Dr. Stevens is with him now. He told me you should
come. He’s not sure if…”
“Ike…please…” Scott swallowed hard. “Just tell
us…how bad is it?”
“He was shot in the chest,” Ike answered. “The
doctor’s working on him now.”
“We’ll be there,” Jennifer stated as she hurried
toward the bedroom. “We’ll be there as soon as we can.”
The Gibbs all hurried to their rooms to get dressed.
Margaret anxiously waited for the others as she clung to her Bible and
dropped to her knees to pray. Scott rushed inside to announce the team was
hitched up. The Gibbs all climbed into the wagon.
Margaret held her Bible to her chest and prayed the
whole entire way to town.
The town was dark. Long ago had the last drunk
staggered from the swinging doors of the saloon. The only lights shining in
town was a dim light in the doctor’s office and a light at the Marshal’s.
The sound of the wagon pulling into town echoed up and down the now vacant
street. Scott’s call for the horses to stop sounded loud in the silence.
Slowly, the family walked toward the doctor’s
office. They didn’t want to know what the outcome would be, yet they had to
know. Scott held up a hand for everyone to wait outside while he stepped
inside and closed the door. “Doc?” he called in a nervous voice.
Doctor Stevens stood from where he had slumped over
at his desk and hurried toward Scott. “He’s asleep. I did the best I
“Is he going to live?”
Dr. Stevens sighed. “Scott…I just don’t know. The
next 48 hours or so will be critical.”
“Can we see him?” Scott wasn’t sure if he felt
better or worse with the news he just received.
“He’s asleep. He’ll be asleep for several hours.”
Dr. Stevens nodded. “But you can look in on him. Perhaps your mother could
sit with him.”
Scott nodded and hurried to the door. He escorted
his family inside. They silently made their way to their room where Samuel
lay. They looked down at him. He was covered in a white sheet and a black
blanket. Only his face and one part of a bare shoulder could be seen. His
face was ashen and his lips pressed tightly together.
“He looks so pale,” Beth commented tearfully.
Margaret threw a hand to her mouth upon seeing the
state her father was in. “Oh Papa…” she cried. “Papa…why?”
Scott stood over his father. He felt mixed emotions
as his wife took his hand in hers and squeezed. He shook his head
silently. He was angry, worried, sad, and grateful all at the same time.
He didn’t allow any expression to lay on his face, but kept it neutral.
“Let’s go out,” Scott mumbled as he led his family out. Margaret picked up
her father’s hand and held it to her cheek. Scott put his hands on her
shoulders. “Come on, Sis.”
The family made their way back into the waiting
room. “How bad is he, doctor?” Jennifer asked in a tearful voice as she
pressed a hand to her chest. “I mean…what are his chances?”
“They aren’t good,” Doctor Stevens answered
honestly. “Your husband’s injuries should have killed him but…the truth is
that being drunk probably saved his life.” Dr. Stevens ran a hand through
his graying hair. “There’s something in alcohol that slows the body down.
I don’t really understand much about it but…”
The door opened. Marshal Williams came inside and
looked grimly at the family. “Scott…Mrs. Gibbs…” he nodded as he took off
his hat. “I’m…sorry for what’s happened.”
“Is it true what Ike said? Pa drew first?” Scott
“Scott!” Amanda warned.
“No.” Jennifer held up her hand. “I don’t
understand. Marshal, my husband isn’t a violent man. It couldn’t have
happened that way. There must be some mistake!”
“It breaks my heart to say this.” Marshal Williams
looked down at the floor. “I’d give anything to say it wasn’t true but…it
is. He’s usually just a lousy drunk…” Marshal Williams gasped. “Oh,
forgive me!” He lowered his head again. “Tonight…he was different. From
what I gathered, this stranger came in there looking for a fight…bragging
about all the rebel soldiers he’s killed and Samuel started thinking that
maybe Andy was one of them.” Marshal Williams saw the deep burden of grief
that came over the family upon hearing the words. He toyed with the hat in
his hands. “Uh…the clerk at the hotel has some rooms ready for you. I
think you should all go get some sleep. I’m sure the doctor will wake you
if there’s any change.”
Without saying a word, they slowly walked out. But
Jennifer turned and looked back into the room where her sleeping husband was
laying so pale and still. “Mother…” Scott took her shoulders to lead her
“No. I’m staying right here,” Jennifer whispered.
“Oh mother….” Beth started.
“Let her stay,” Margaret spoke softly from behind
them. “This is where a wife belongs…at her husband’s side. Just let her
Scott shook his head but allowed her to go into his
father. Her children watched her sit down and take his hand. Then she
bowed her head and prayed. They walked out and across the street. Margaret
saw her brother’s jaw clinching and didn’t pretend to not know why. He was
angry with their father. But Margaret was sorry for him. She always was.
But for the first time…she was trying to keep her own anger at bay. How
could he do this to his family? Part of her told her he was being selfish.
But the other part of her…She couldn’t imagine the pain and sorrow…the
guilt…her father had carried around all this time. It had been…
Margaret suddenly gasped and threw a hand to her
mouth as they walked into the hotel. Scott and Amanda had gone into their
room already, but Beth turned and looked at her. “Beth…Today is…is…”
“What?” Beth asked, suddenly taking her hand and
staring into her eyes.
“A year ago today…”
Beth gasped and closed her eyes. “A year ago today
we got the telegram.”
An eerie silence fell over the sisters as they
remembered back. Margaret watched her sister go into the room, then turned
around and walked back out the door and across the street.
She opened the door to Dr. Steven’s office and went
inside where her mother and father were. Margaret got a chair and sat down
next to her mother. “Mother…I think I know what happened. One year ago
Jennifer gasped as her eyes filled with tears. She
turned and put a hand on her husband’s bearded cheek. “Did you hear that,
husband? Now we know why you got so angry tonight. Oh…can’t you find it
within yourself to forgive yourself?” Jennifer stared at her husband.
“I’ve never loved another as much as your father, Margaret. This year…it’s
been so hard on me…It’s almost like he…he…”
“I know, Mama. I heard you cry at night. I saw your
downcast face. But…I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how it would
feel to have the man you’ve loved for so long to just up and leave.”
“You go on to bed now, Margaret. I’ll just stay here
with your father.”
“Mama, I…I want to stay. I…I believe in him even if
the others don’t.”
“No, honey.” Jennifer shook her head. “I need…need
to be alone with him. Please understand.” Jennifer turned and looked into
her daughter’s eyes.
Margaret nodded. “I do, Mama. I understand.” She
stood and walked to the door. “G’night, Mama. G’night, Papa.”
Scott paced the length of the floor in his hotel
room. Amanda sat down on the bed. “Scott, come to bed! We need to rest
before the morning comes. We don’t know what it will hold.”
“Rest…” Scott sneered angrily. “How can he do this,
Amanda? HOW?” Scott shook his head. “He’s put our family through HELL
this past year! He’s upset Mother again and…Damn it! Why is he doing this
“Scott, your father may be dying. I don’t think you
“Should what? Be angry with Pa for running from his
problems…hiding behind a bottle when things get rough? What did I do when
Andy died? I picked myself up and went back to work while Pa…” Scott
“Scott, there are other people in this hotel, so stop
yelling!” Amanda demanded harshly. She got up from where she sat and stood
in front of him. “And when did this become all about YOU?”
“It’s not!” Scott declared in a quieter voice. “This
is about Mother and Margaret…Beth and Johnny…They are suffering so much
because of what our father did! Why did we all go on while Pa just…”
“I don’t know, Scott. I don’t know. Perhaps…Perhaps
this will turn it around.”
Scott paced the floor some more. “If only he hadn’t
pushed Andy. If only…” Scott stopped and suddenly turned. His eyes grew
wide as he stared at his wife. “What’s today?”
“It’s November 26.”
“November…” Scott suddenly sank to the bed. In
silence, he took his boots off and laid down, pulling Amanda into his arms.
“Just hold me, honey.”
Amanda wrapped her arms around him. “What’s wrong?
What is it?” Amanda asked worriedly.
“Today…is one year since we got the news of…of…”
“Oh Scott…” Amanda breathed in a whisper. She held
her husband close, and he was soon asleep in her arms.
The next morning, Margaret had convinced her mother
to go eat breakfast while she sat with her father. Margaret kept her head
bowed in prayer, begging God to save her father. Though he had seemed dead
to the family this last year, he was still very much alive to her. She
wanted him to come home…to try to put things back the way they were before
they received the news.
Margaret felt a hand brush hers and lifted her head.
Her father’s eyes were opened and he stared into her face, but he was still
too weak to speak. Margaret leaned forward and grasped her father’s hand in
both of hers. She kissed his cheek. “Oh Papa…I love you…” She smiled
through her tears. Samuel opened his mouth, trying to form words to speak
to her, but still he couldn’t quite talk. “No…” Margaret whispered softly
as she shook her head. “Don’t try to talk. You just rest.”
The door opened. Margaret turned her head and smiled
at Dr. Stevens. “He’s awake. Get Ma!”
Dr. Stevens rushed out. Margaret turned back to her
father. She saw question in his eyes. “You were shot last night. It
doesn’t matter how. Oh Papa…I prayed so hard and God’s brought you back. I
love you so much!”
No other words could be said. The door soon opened
and the whole family hurried in. “He’s awake!” Margaret declared. She
tried to release her father’s hand, but he squeezed it tighter. She sat
back down, but moved over so her mother could come closer. Jennifer put her
hands on his cheeks and kissed him. “Oh Samuel…You fool…I love you so
much!” Jennifer’s eyes filled with tears. “Come back to us. Please…come
Scott and Amanda stood at a distance. Beth came to
stand behind Margaret, but she couldn’t say a word. Johnny stood beside
Beth. He too remained silent. “Papa…we all love you so very much.”
Margaret turned and looked at Scott. “Don’t we, Scott?”
Scott allowed his eyes to focus on hers. “Y…yes! Of
course we do.” He stepped forward. “Yesterday was the…the anniversary of
the news. We’ve all suffered so much, Pa. I…” Scott’s voice broke. He
Margaret couldn’t take her eyes from her father’s
face. The beard was the only thing different about him then before. Color
was slowly returning and Samuel continued to try to form the words.
Finally, he took every ounce of strength he had. “I…I…sorry!” Then his
eyes closed and he fell asleep.
“Papa? Papa???” Margaret shook him gently.
“Doctor!” Scott yelled. Dr. Stevens hurried in and
He shook his head. “He’s so weak. He needs rest.
It may take weeks of recovery, but I say his chances of pulling through are
“When…” Jennifer’s voice cracked. She stood up to
face the doctor. “When can we take him home?”
“Mother!” Scott shot out angrily. “Mother, no!”
“YES!” Jennifer declared. “He’s my husband and your
“Mother, I can’t allow…”
“Scott!” Margaret jumped up and hurried to her
“You don’t have to allow…I’m your MOTHER, young man;
and you will listen to me!” Jennifer held her head high. “Now…when can we
take him home?”
“As soon as he regains some of his strength. In a
few days,” Dr. Stevens answered.
“Fine.” She turned to Scott. “We need to get the
house ready for his return.”
But Scott turned and hurried out. Amanda started to
go after him, but Jennifer grabbed her arm. “No. Let him go. He has to
work this out on his own.”
Peter stopped in the doorway of the Circle Q and
pushed his hat way back on his head. He heaved a heavy sigh and shook his
head as he looked in at Scott, who was sitting at a table in the back with a
fresh beer. Slowly, he walked inside and stepped up to the bar. “A beer
Ike filled the glass from the tap and slid it down to
him. Peter took it then made his way over to the table. “I don’t care for
any company right now,” Scott muttered.
“Yeah.” Peter nodded. “Had to come into town for
some supplies and I heard about your father.”
“He almost got himself killed last night, the fool.”
Scott shook his head. He looked up at his friend. “I can’t believe my
father…the man who always taught me that violence is bad…forced a gunfight.”
“I’m sorry.” Peter looked into his beer as he
thought on it. “I heard he’s coming home though.”
“Humph,” Peter breathed. “My mother wants him to
come home.” Peter lifted his head. “Nothing’s changed as far as I’m
concerned. He’s going to drink and curse and run away again like a coward.”
“Aren’t you being a little hard on him?” Peter
“Hard on him???” Scott smacked his half-empty glass
down on the table. “Peter, I’ve given my father a lot of chances! I hired
him to work his ranch and he couldn’t even do that! He showed up drunk at
Andy’s Memorial Service. He put a big damper on our wedding…showing up
drunk…And let’s not forget that he drank himself loco while my sister was
out in the blizzard!”
“I’m not saying he hasn’t done some stupid things,
but drinking makes you do stupid things. You and I both know that, Scott.”
Peter looked down into his glass. “Look…Your father is obviously really
struggling with Andy’s death still. He feels responsible but…” Peter
reached over and put a hand on Scott’s shoulder. “Scott, he’s your father.
This is Uncle Sam we’re talking about. He’s always been like a second
father to me and I cannot sit here and believe there’s no good left in him.
Just give him a chance.”
Scott continued to stare into his glass. Peter
didn’t miss the tears that moistened his eyes, but Scott fought them off so
well that he wondered if they were really there. “You want to know what’s
really bothering me?”
Peter nodded. “I know. You wonder if it had been
you…would your death have affected him as badly.”
Scott put a hand to his face in shame. “Oh, what I’m
thinking is so wrong but…I can’t…for the life of me…keep from thinking it.
We all know that Andy was the strong one. He’s the one that was expected to
take over the ranch someday. My lame leg keeps me from doing a lot of the
things I need to do and…Pa just always expected Andy to…He always favored…”
“You’re wrong.” Scott looked up at Peter. “Your
father always talked about you, Scott. You were the strong one…not
physically, but in so many other ways. You could always get the family
through the hard times. When you had your accident and went lame, you,
Scott…You fought like hell when the doctor said you’d never walk again. And
you were only a very young boy. You never let your suffering show in
anything you do. Your father was proud of you.”
Scott lifted his head and looked into Peter’s eyes.
A small smile played at the corner’s of his mouth. “I knew we were best
friends for a reason. You know me better than I know myself.”
“It’s a best friend’s job,” Peter declared with a
nod. He finished his beer off then stood up. “Uh…but as my best friend,
you have to come back to the farm with me and explain to my wife why I smell
like I have beer on my breath.”
“Oh.” Scott smiled. “And my wife is going to give
me hell too.”
They slowly left the saloon together. “So…what are
you going to do?”
Scott stopped and looked towards the doctor’s
office. “Well…I’m still not convinced things are going to be better but…I’m
going to give Mother my blessing. After all…he IS my father.”
Last night I had a scare.
A man knocked on our door in the wee hours of the morning to inform my
family that, exactly a year after my precious brother, Andy,was killed; my
father was possibly dying in the doctor’s office from a gunshot wound to the
chest. I was so worried that I dropped to my knees and prayed right then
and there. Oh, I’ve always been taught that the power of prayer is amazing,
and I think I’ve experienced it.
My father woke up this
morning, but he only stayed conscience for a few moments before drifting off
to sleep. Mother wants to bring him home. Oh, that’s what I want so badly
only…my heart is torn. I can’t stand to see my father drinking like he is.
I don’t want him around my family if he’s like that; and it’s tearing me up
inside. I’m not sure what to do. I’m not even sure what I want. I…Well, I
guess I just want my father back. But is that possible? Does the father I
knew and loved all those years still exist somewhere? I don’t know.
One thing I do know,
though, is that there is still life inside my father. God hasn’t called him
home yet so there must still be some reason…some purpose…for him to be
alive. Will I see it? Or perhaps he’s staying alive for someone else in
I thank God Papa’s going
to live. And I pray that my family has the strength to face what tomorrow
Margaret heard her father moan. She closed her
journal and sat it on the chair as she stood and bent over him. “Papa?”
Samuel opened his eyes and looked into Margaret’s. “Papa, I…I’m here.”
“Mar…Mar…garet…” Samuel mumbled painfully.
“Sorry? Do you remember?”
Samuel nodded. “The blizzard…I’m sorry I…” Samuel
Margaret reached onto the table next to his cot and
poured a glass of water. She held his head up and helped him take a drink.
“Ma? Where’s Ma?”
“Mama is at home getting the place ready for you.
She’s setting up a cot in the bedroom so she can be close to you and…”
Samuel started crying. “Papa…Oh Papa…What’s wrong?”
“She…She’s taking me back just like that?” Samuel
pressed a hand to his forehead. “Oh no, I don’t deserve that.”
“Maybe not Papa, but we love you. We want you to
come home. Now is the time to live. God’s made His decision.”
Samuel turned his head away from his daughter as he
continued crying softly. Just then, the door opened. Scott stepped
inside. “Is he awake?” Margaret nodded her head. “Pa?”
Samuel turned his head toward Scott. “Pa, we have
your bed all ready for you at home. You’re welcome to come home to get
“And after that?” Samuel asked.
“After that…” Scott lowered his head. “Pa, we’ll
have to see.” Samuel nodded, knowing that was the best answer he was going
By the next day, Samuel’s hand was shaking badly. He
groaned, stating he needed a drink badly, but no one who sat with him that
day would even allow such an unspeakable thing. Samuel cried and begged,
but nobody would give in. Scott clinched his jaw, unhappy with his father’s
behavior; but Margaret and Amanda softly put a hand on his shoulder to calm
Later that day, on the 28th of November,
Dr. Stevens announced that Samuel was well enough to travel home. Dr.
Stevens would have to ride out and check on him, but he was in good hands.
As Margaret watched Abraham and Peter load the big
man in the back of the wagon, Ann Pritchard came to stand beside her. “Can
we talk?” Margaret nodded as she wiped her tears. She shivered as the icy
wind blew through her coat, and hurried inside the hotel. Ann cleared her
throat. “I…I know you have a lot on your mind, what with your father and
all but…I have to talk to you about something.”
“The wedding?” Margaret asked.
Ann nodded. “We’ve chosen December 19 for the
wedding. It’s just before Christmas and the church will be all decorated.
I…want you to be my maid of honor.”
“Oh Ann…” Margaret shook her head. “I just don’t
“Margaret, you have been my best friend for…well,
forever. I can’t imagine anyone else standing up for me; and I cannot ask
Hal to postpone the wedding again. We’ve already postponed it twice.
Please, Margaret! Oh PLEASE!”
Margaret smiled. “Of course I’ll do it. I…Oh, I
don’t have much time to get everything ready.”
“I have the utmost confidence that you will have
everything perfected by our wedding day!” Ann declared with a gleam in her
eye. “Oh Margaret, I’ll stand up for you at your wedding when you and Luke
“Alright.” Margaret smiled. “But I’ve got to get
Margaret turned to see Jeremiah standing beside his
wagon, waiting to escort her home.
“It’s too much for you to handle alone!” Abe declared
when Scott told him he could go. “You’re loco if you think…” Abe shook his
head. “Have you ever dealt with someone coming off of a long bout with
booze? It ain’t pretty. It’s going to get bad, and I mean really bad,
Scott. You need our help.”
“I said I’ll handle it!” Scott declared. “And it may
be best if Margaret and Beth aren’t here. I can’t convince Mother to
leave. She wants to be at his side. And Amanda…well, she’s being stubborn
as well. But the other girls…I want them out.”
Abe shook his head. “Scott, you need us here as
well! Let me talk to Julie. I’m sure she wouldn’t object to…”
“NO!” Scott shouted suddenly. “You take care of your
family, Abe!” Scott stopped yelling when he saw the hurt in Abe’s eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he breathed. “I didn’t mean…”
Abe nodded. “Scott, sit down. I want to tell you
something.” They sat down at his table. Abe cleared his throat. “Now,
over the past two years or so, I’ve had to learn what pride does to a
person. My father was always proud and you know that. Your father…well, he
was always proud too. I think he still is and that’s why he’s in so much
trouble now.” Abe put a hand on Scott’s shoulder. “Listen man, my pride
has hurt those closest to me. Julie and I have had a few pretty nasty
fights because of my pride. I hurt my sister badly because of my pride. At
one time or other…I’ve hurt everyone because of it.
“Now, I’m not saying that I’m not still proud because
I am. I’m very proud, but my wife is a loving and wonderful wife, and she
doesn’t stand by quietly while I ruin other people’s lives. It’s because of
her that I’ve learned I have to lean on people. When my father died, my
whole world changed. When my mother died, I felt like dying myself. We’ve
been through so many hardships…so many really HARD things lately, and I
cannot go at it alone.
“You can’t go at it alone now, Scott. You need us.
We’re all one big family. It’s always been that way, so don’t let your
pride stop that now. Your problems are our problems. Just like you would
be there for us if we needed you, we want to be there for you.”
Scott lowered his head and shook it sadly. “I wish I
had your strength.” He lifted his head to look at Abe through his moist
eyes. “I see the things you have been through and wonder…how do you
Abe stood up and crossed the room. He picked up the
Bible that sat on the stand beside the chair, then walked back over to the
“Yeah. I remember when I was little, Mama would
gather all us kids around her and read from it. It’s funny, but it was the
highlight of our day. I guess that sometimes we forget about those things
that got us through our daily problems. Ma always told us that if anything
happens to take away our smile, we can find our smile in these pages.”
Scott lifted his head. “I guess I lost sight of that.”
“We all do. Julie reads the Bible to me sometimes
after we’re in bed. Sometimes I fall asleep just listening to her read the
words of hope. It’s more comforting than anything a doctor can deliver.”
Scott opened the Bible and thumbed through the
pages. “So…what do I…” Scott stopped and smiled as he looked at Abe. “…WE
do about father?”
“Well, first of all we can’t go into this believing
he’s changed. We may not be able to bring him back to who he was
before…stuff happened…But we can give it our best shot.” They heard Samuel
as he started shouting from the bedroom. He was again begging for a drink.
“And just because we get him over this hump doesn’t mean he’ll never drink
again. If he does, Scott, you’ll have to pick him up again and start all
over. That’s the way a drunk is. You’ve heard the expression, ‘Once a
drunk, always a drunk?’” Scott nodded. “Well, there’s a lot of truth in
that. I remember having an uncle when I was a kid who was a drunk. He’d
sober up and stuff, but the next time he took one sip of whisky or beer, he
was wasted all over again. It was a vicious cycle that nobody understands.
“SOMEBODY HELP ME!” Samuel shouted.
Scott started to get up, but Abe held up his hand and
hurried into the bedroom. “What is it, Uncle Sam?”
“Abe boy…” Samuel forced a smile on his drenched
face. “I need some medicine…just a little whisky or…brandy! Please! The
pain is bad…really bad.”
“The doctor left some medicine for you. I’ll get
“NO!” Samuel shook his head. “It’s not my chest
that’s hurting. It’s…it’s…”
“Sorry. There’s only one thing that will make that
pain go away, and that’s time.” Abe turned to leave, but he saw Margaret
standing in the doorway. Her eyes were wide and her face white. She locked
eyes with Abe and slowly shook her head. “Margaret…there’s nothing you
“Margaret…Daughter!” Samuel held out her hand.
Margaret brushed past Abe and hurried to her father.
“Oh Pa…” Her eyes filled with tears as he grasped her hand.
“Margaret, I love you so much. You don’t know what
it means to me to be here with you again.” Samuel swallowed hard as he
lifted a hand and wiped her tears. “Honey…Papa’s hurting so bad and I need
a little drink…just a…a little…”
Margaret stared into his eyes. Suddenly, she did
something that surprised everyone watching. She bolted straight up and
glared down at him. Her face was red with anger. “How DARE you! How can
you lay there and USE me to feed your dirty habit? Why can’t you just
stop?” Margaret’s voice was shaking from grief and hurt now. “You’ve
always treated me like a daughter, but now you are trying to USE me to feed
your habit and I won’t do it! I won’t!”
Margaret turned and hurried to the door. “Just
STOP! STOP IT!” Then she ran out the door.
Margaret was upset. She tolerated a lot of stuff
from a lot of people, but what her father had just done was inexcusable.
She still couldn’t believe he had behaved that way with her. Margaret
busied herself in the General Store by working on plans for Ann’s wedding.
Ann left a running account in the store and informed Margaret her parents
were willing to pay for it all. She wanted the wedding of the Century!
Margaret again wiped her eyes as she fingered the lace material.
“There you are!” She heard from behind her. She
turned to see Abe standing in the doorway with his fist on his hip. “What
are you doing in town without telling anyone where you are going?” he
Margaret turned back to thumb the material. “I’m an
adult. I suppose I know how to find my way back.”
She heard Abe’s footsteps behind her. “Yes. I know
you are an adult.” Abe laid a hand on her shoulder and forced her to turn
and look at him. “But you are also a beautiful 19 year old woman, and
coming to town on a Saturday evening without a male chaperone isn’t a smart
idea.” Abe smiled into her eyes. “Besides, I have to watch out for my
Margaret wanted to relieve the tension she was
feeling, so with as much gumption as she could, she shot back, “I thought I
was already your sister!”
“Well…of course!” Abe shook his head at her
attempt. “Let’s talk.”
“Well, I’m a little busy right now. Ann’s asked me
to be her Maid of Honor and as such, I have…”
But Abe shook his head and took her arm. “Let’s go.”
Margaret sat down the lace material and followed him
out of the store. He led her to the church where they could talk quietly.
After they were seated, Abe folded his hands in front of him and spoke.
“Guess this is an appropriate place since I feel like a parson these days.
Seems I’ve been giving lots of advice. This is ruining my reputation as a
Margaret smiled. “I’ve never seen you as a hard man,
Abe. I remember when I was little I thought you were the biggest man I ever
saw, and when you hugged me it was like being hugged by a great big bear
only…it was comforting.”
“Hm…” Abe smiled down at her. “Your family was
growing worried about you when you didn’t come back after you…ran out.”
“I exploded.” Margaret shook her head. “That’s not
like me. I don’t know what came over me.”
“Wait until you’re married and Luke does those
impulsive things like I used to do…”
“Use to?” Margaret raised an eyebrow at him.
“Okay. Maybe Julie does still raise her voice to me
every now and then.”
“I could never yell at Lucas! He’s so…” Margaret
“I think you two have been apart for too long!
You’re forgetting, SIS, about all those arguments you two had and the
‘lessons’ you’ve tried to teach him over the years. No…I think you’ve got
your work cut out for you!”
Margaret smiled. “Well, I suppose it’s a task I’m
willing to take. I can tame him.”
Abe chuckled. “You know, I think you can at that!”
he declared. Then he sobered. “Now…about your father…”
“I love my father, Abe. But what he said was…it was
inexcusable! How can my own father do such a…a…wretched thing?”
“Margaret…alcohol is powerful stuff. My mother
always called it the Devil’s drink, and I NEVER saw my father drink so much
as a beer because he knew how much my mother hated it. It DOES seem to
bring trouble when it’s around. I’ve heard some people say that a drunk
going off of spirits is like a man dying for a drink of water in the middle
of a desert. He’d do anything to get that drop of water…ANYTHING.”
“So you’re excusing him for what he did to me?”
“Oh no.” Abe shook his head. “I had some words with
him earlier, and I told him that he was to NEVER speak to you that way
again. Honey, I know it’s hard to understand…but he really DOES feel awful
for what he did.”
“Then why, Abe?” Margaret cried. “Why did he say
those things to me? Why did he USE me?”
“Because he needs a drink. I mean he really NEEDS
it.” Abe shook his head. “I don’t have all the answers, but I know that
your father is a very sick man right now. He’s recovering from a near-fatal
gunshot wound to the chest, but is hurting even worse while getting the
poison out of his system. It’s really hard for a man like Uncle Sam. He’s
always been so prideful and now we see his weaknesses.”
“What should we do?”
“What we are doing. Honey, I think you should go
stay at my house for a few days. I’ll be with your brother and father and
Julie will need your help.”
Margaret lifted her head to protest, but she saw the
finality in Abe’s eyes. “I don’t have a choice…do I?”
“No. Margaret, my wife really COULD use your help.
With five children underfoot…”
“I know. Maybe she, Emily, and Tiffany can help me
with Ann’s wedding plans.”
“Yes.” Abe nodded. “Julie’s had experience. She
planned her own wedding.” Abe grinned mischievously. “Besides, you need
the experience. You’ll be planning your own very soon.”
“I don’t know. Sometimes Luke seems so far away.”
“There’s just a lot going on right now.” Abe stood
and helped Margaret up. He helped her up onto his horse then climbed on
behind her to escort her back home.
December 1, 1863
My Dearest Lucas,
I was just telling Abe the
other day that sometimes you feel so far away. But as I held little David
tonight and listened to Laura recite her portion of Paul Revere’s Ride, I
suddenly felt so close to you. I couldn’t help but smile as I remembered
you standing in front of class that day with your shoulders straight up and
your chest puffed out. You did this funny voice as you quoted your version
of the poem, and it was so funny – at least until the teacher ordered you to
stop, then you had to stay inside at recess and get a licking.
I wish you were here right
now, Luke. I need you so badly. I need to feel your arms around me and for
you to assure me Papa’s going to be all right. You see, Luke, Papa had an
accident last week. Guess you really can’t call it an accident, he was
drunk and a Rebel soldier entered the saloon, bragging. Anyway, from what I
heard, Papa got mad and drew his gun first… He was shot in the chest and
almost died. He’s at home recovering now. I’m staying at Julie and Abe’s
because Scott and Abe won’t let me stay there. Mama’s with Pa, but I can
tell it’s really hard on her. When I saw her in church Sunday, her eyes
were red and puffy from crying. Oh, I wish I knew what to do…to tell my
heart how to feel.
Is it wrong of me to want
things the way they used to be? Yet, is it wrong that I feel a
bit…apprehensive about Pa’s return home? Oh, I can’t help but question
myself – will he stay sober once Abe and Scott get him that way, or will he
go back to drinking once he’s healed? I’d do anything to help him, Luke. I
pray, yet sometimes my prayers feel so empty. I’ve never felt this way
before and it’s so hard!
I’m sorry to be burdening
you with this when you are so far away and I’m sure you have your own set of
problem.. Yet, I hope things are going well for you. I was so happy to
hear that you got to meet the President. I think he’s the finest President
this country has ever had, and I hope he will stay for a long time.
I best go for now, Abe
just stopped by home for a visit with his family. I’ll write another letter
in a few days when I know more.
I love you, Lucas.
Margaret stood from the table as Abe and Julie
embraced. She turned from them, blushing a bit when they shared an intimate
kiss. “How are things?” Abe murmured as he stared into his wife’s eyes.
“Okay,” Julie nodded. “Margaret’s a big help.
I…just wish that I could have my husband back.” Julie turned and hurried
into the kitchen. “Would you like some coffee?”
“No. I can’t stay long.” Abe turned toward
Margaret. “How are you holding up?” Margaret nodded, but couldn’t speak.
“Your father’s recovering. He’s over the cursing and yelling now, but he
still has the shakes mighty bad.” Abe took the cup of coffee Julie handed
to him anyway. He took a sip of it. “I’ll only be staying there a few more
days. I’m helping Scott get some of his winter chores done. His leg…bothers
him a lot this time of year.”
“I know.” Margaret bit her lip. “Abe…you think he’s
Abe turned away from her and went to the window.
“No.” Abe sighed. “At least…I think it’s going to be hard for him. He
still blames himself for your brother’s death and thinks he’s a burden.”
Abe turned. “You know what I mean.”
“Papa Abe!” Abe turned to see Laura hurry from the
bedroom and run to him. “Papa Abe, you’re back!”
“No, Rosebud. I just came by to check on my
family.” Abe hugged her then pulled her away and lifted his eyebrows.
“What are you doing up, young lady?”
“I heard ya talking!” Laura shook her head. “I
wasn’t asleep. Julie made me go to bed early on account...” Laura swallowed
and quickly changed the subject. “What I mean is…I went to bed early but
couldn’t sleep. I was counting the stars.”
“You can’t see the stars too well from your bed.”
“No sir.” Laura lowered her head. “But then I saw
you coming and I…” Laura lifted her head back up. “Will you tuck me in?
Oh please, Papa Abe?”
Abe chuckled as he picked her up in his arms and
carried her to the bedroom. He ordered her to stay in bed, then kissed her
and closed the door. “I have to get back.” Abe turned to Julie and took
her in his arms. Margaret turned away to give them this moment. “I miss
you,” Abe whispered in her ear. Then they shared a kiss. Abe turned and
hurried out the door.
On December 3, 1863, Samuel Gibbs was allowed out of
bed. Scott and Abe both held onto him as he slowly walked out to the table
and sat down. Ironically, they sat him in his own seat at the head of the
table. Amanda hurried from the kitchen with a fresh pot of coffee. As Abe
and Scott sat on each side of Samuel, Amanda poured the coffee then left the
men in the room alone.
Johnny came home right after school, which surprised
Scott just a bit. He knew there was an important family meeting that
evening, and he wanted to make sure his father had proper representation.
Amanda and Jennifer worked at getting the roast and
vegetables in the oven as they talked lightly. They were both nervous,
wondering how tonight’s meeting would go. By the time they had supper
almost ready, a wagon pulled up outside carrying Jeremiah, Em, Baby Abby,
and Beth. The moment Beth entered and saw her father sitting in his usual
chair, she dropped beside him and hugged him. “Papa…” Beth whispered. “You
really are home!”
But Samuel said nothing. Everyone wondered what it
Soon after, Peter pulled up with Emily, Tiffany, and
little Rosie. Julie and Margaret pulled up in a wagon just behind them with
the children in tow.
The house soon filled with noises of children as the
ladies tried to finish preparing the meal for that Thursday evening.
Finally, Abe stood and clapped his hands. Sternly looking at his children,
he pointed to the rug in front of the fire, and even the triplets knew that
they were to sit immediately. They did so without complaining. But Laura,
who felt she should be treated more as an adult than a little child took
another stern look before she finally sat down.
Only when Jennifer nodded as she took her place
beside her husband did Abe clear his throat and hold out his hands. Even
the smallest child there, with the exception of Baby Abby, held a hand in a
circle as Abe prayed, asking God for wisdom as the family discussed in a
calm manner the next steps to take. Finally, Abe lifted his head and smiled
as the women filled their children’s plates then their own. As was the
custom, the men went last.
In time, the children were sent to the parlor to play
under the watchful eyes of Laura while the rest of the family gathered to
discuss Samuel. They all sat and looked at the Gibbs’ Patriarch as they
waited in anticipation to see what he had to say; for it was Samuel Gibbs
himself who had called this special meeting. After clearing his throat one
last time, Samuel lifted his head and spoke to the members.
“Losing Andy is the hardest thing I’ve ever been
through, and I’m still going through it. This past year, I haven’t been
sober for more than 48 hours. I must admit that I am overwhelmed by the
love and forgiveness my family has shown me. In spite of all the grief I’ve
caused, you were still willing to bring me home and sober me up. I know I
have a wonderful family and should appreciate the love each and every one of
you has shown me these last few days.
“I wish to stay here for the time being. I know the
ranch is in good hands with Scott and the men he’s hired to run it; and I
know it’s unfortunate that I had to give my land to him early but at the
time it seemed like the right thing to do. By no means am I ready to come
back to being the head of this household. I have a long recovery before me
and must take it one day at a time. I promise you that I will try.
“Now…Scott asked me a question a while ago. He asked
me if I still want to drink, and the answer is yes. Every second of every
day I want a drink. If there was whisky or any sort of spirit in this house
right now, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick it up and drink it because I still
feel an urge.
“I do owe all of you an apology. Margaret, I don’t
know why I left you out in that blizzard and went off to drink while
everyone else was looking for you. I feel just horrible about that time
now. Honey, I hope I would never…ever do anything to put your life in
danger. I’m also sorry for the things I did the other night. Using you to
try and get my fix was very wrong of me. All I can do is ask you for
“Well, I reckon that’s all I have to say. I’ll be
sleeping on a cot here in the living room for now, Jenny.” Samuel’s eyes
met his wife’s. “I’m sure you aren’t ready to accept me back into your bed;
and I’m not ready to make that step.” He turned to Scott. “I will pull my
weight around here. I’ll tend to this ranch like I used to, only now I’ll
take orders from you.”
No words were said as Samuel stopped talking and
allowed his words to penetrate the clouded brains of those around him. He
had been as honest as he could, yet everyone heard the doubt in his voice.
Some – those who were willing to admit it – knew he was only home for a
matter of time. Others – those who wanted to give him the benefit of the
doubt – hoped that from this day forward, Samuel Gibbs was back.
Jennifer slowly stood and moved toward her husband.
“But until you’re healed, you will take the bed. You need it more than I
do. I don’t mind sleeping on a cot.” Samuel didn’t argue as Abe and Scott
stood to help him back to bed.
There was an uneasy silence as the families gathered
their children and prepared to leave. The words they heard weren’t exactly
the words they had hoped for, but they were what they were. Margaret
herself didn’t say a word as she silently helped Amanda and Jennifer finish
cleaning up the kitchen. Then she silently slipped into her bedroom, lit
the lantern at her desk, and sat down.
My heart is breaking again
tonight because I heard it in my father’s voice. He was trying to give us
hope that he would be better; but there was no sincerity in his words. I
feel like my father is dying. Maybe the father I knew is already dead. How
ever can I go on knowing my father is so lost? What can I do?
But I will stay strong. I
will fight this fight with everything I have. The Lord never gives us more
than we can handle, and I will give my father all the love I can for as long
as he will allow me.
There was more that she wanted to write, but the
tears blinded her eyes from seeing the pages of her journal. The ink
blurred the words written on the page. She wondered if she’d even be able
to read the words later. With a heavy heart, Margaret blew out the lamp
and went to bed.
The following Sunday, Ann Pritchard stopped Margaret
as she was leaving the church with her family. “Next Friday, I’m having the
ladies out at the ranch,” Ann announced. Then she smiled as she coyly
declared, “OUR ranch!”
“You’re not married yet!” Emily McCain declared with
“No. But it’s just a matter of time!” Ann smiled.
“We’re a ways from town, but then I don’t reckon we’ll need to come to town
too often. Hal’s already got close to a hundred head of cattle! Said that
come spring, we should have several calves as well.” Ann gasped. “Oh, you
ladies must come! I want us to have a small house-warming party there! We
have to get the ranch ready for my homecoming on Saturday after the
Margaret squealed at the smile on her best friend’s
face. “I have the dress almost ready! Oh Ann, why didn’t you travel to
Oklahoma City and buy an already made dress? I heard they have some
beautiful dresses there!”
“Because,” Ann answered with a nod of her head. “I’m
only getting married once…” Ann put a finger to her chin and lifted her eyes
skyward. “…I hope…So, I want it to be PERFECT and only my best friend can
make a dress that is perfect for me! Oh, I cannot wait to see it!”
“Well, you must come over this evening for a
fitting!” Margaret declared. “I’ll need plenty of time to take it
out…er…put it in.” Margaret winked at the other ladies that gathered around
“I think it will be fun!” Julie commented. She
winked at Em and Tiffany. “You think the men could handle the children for
“ALL of them?” Tiffany asked as she lifted an
“Oh posh!” Emily waved her hand. “I’ll make a great
big pot of Ma’s vegetable stew for the men! They can all gather together
and work together. Surely between the three brothers and seven children,
“They’ll be outnumbered!” Ann declared with a
giggle. “Are you sure they’ll allow you back in your home when you get
“Laura can keep them in line,” Julie declared with a
nod of her head. “If they go astray on their duties, I guarantee you that
sharp-tongued Laura Rose will set them straight.”
So it was decided as the husbands pulled their wives
from the huddle the women had made, that they would meet at Hal Dodd’s ranch
at 3:00 pm on Friday to get the home ready for the new bride and groom. But
when the news would be broken to the fathers was a delicate matter and had
to be handled in the most delicate way!
On Tuesday, Em broke the news to her husband. He
didn’t take the news as well as she had hoped. “You’re going to do what???”
Jeremiah suddenly asked in a loud voice as Em sat in her rocking chair
nursing Baby Abby.
“Honey, be quiet! I’m trying to get the baby to
sleep now!” Em smiled as she watched the baby suckle from her breast.
“Ann’s having a party on Friday afternoon at the ranch and…”
“Does Hal know about this?”
Em rolled her eyes. “What do you mean does Hal know
about this? Of course he…”
“I mean, he knows that a bunch of…of…females are
going to be in his house decorating it like a…a…”
Em stood up abruptly and laid her sleeping daughter
in the cradle. As she buttoned her shirt back up she stared into her
husband’s eyes. “Like a WHAT?” She shook her head at him. “Jeremiah
McCain, must I remind you WHO decorated THIS house?”
“No, honey. I reckon I can manage Baby Abby for a
bit…as long as I don’t have to change her diapers while you’re gone.”
Em laughed. “Oh, I hate to disappoint you, hon, but
the possibility is pretty great on that one.”
“Oh now, honey! Let’s talk about this!”
“Now look…The women in this family usually stay at
home while you men go off and…do whatever it is you do all day.” Em sat
down to fold the freshly laundered diapers up.
“It’s called WORK!” Jeremiah declared as he put his
hands on his hips.
“Ah yes.” Em nodded sarcastically. “’Work!’ Well
then, just think of us as working together to get Ann’s home ready for her
and Hal when they come home to it on Saturday.” Jeremiah groaned.
Tiffany untied her apron and hung it on the hook as
she turned and looked at her husband sitting at the table reading the
paper. She walked up behind him and drew her arms down his shoulders and to
his front. Then she leaned her head on his shoulder. “Where’s Emily?”
“She went to bed,” Peter mumbled. “She said
something about being tired.”
“Oh.” Tiffany straightened up and took the paper
from her husband’s hands.
“Hey!” Peter declared in an annoyed voice.
Tiffany slid onto his lap and kissed him
passionately. “Why don’t you pay attention to your wife as much as that
“Oh.” Peter grinned as he returned her kiss and
wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close against him. “I can give you
plenty of attention.”
“Peter…” Tiffany cooed into his ear. “Do you
remember our wedding?”
“Wedding? Humph! We went to the Justice of the
Peace and were married in five minutes!”
“Exactly.” Tiffany kissed his cheek. “Don’t you
think that a big wedding is important for a couple?”
“Of course,” Peter answered as he trailed kisses down
her cheek and rested his lips against her neck.
“Don’t you think Ann and Hal deserve all the
happiness they can get?”
“Well then…Friday, all the ladies are going over to
the Dodd ranch to get it ready.”
Peter suddenly straightened up and narrowed his eyes
at his wife. “Oh? What are you buttering me up for? Am I going to have to
come along and move furniture or something?”
“No…” Tiffany kissed him again. “But you do have to
stay here with your brothers and babysit.” Her kiss lingered on his lips
Peter suddenly pulled away. “WHAT???”
“Only for a few hours, my love.” She put her finger
against his lips. “Well…she’s your daughter too!”
“Yes.” Peter nodded. “She IS my daughter but…”
Peter suddenly stood, forcing Tiffany to stand in
front of him. He took her hand and led her to the bedroom. “But I don’t
want to spoil the moment so I’ll just say two words before I take you to bed
and make love to you.” Peter kissed her, then when he was close to her ear,
he whispered softly, “Yes dear.”
If Julie thought her husband would take the news any
better, she was badly mistaken. The fact that she waited until the family
was eating supper Wednesday evening didn’t help matters any either. Her
announcement did not go over well at all, and she knew it as soon as the
words left her mouth. And mentioning that Laura would be a good helper to
the men folk only riled up both Laura and Abe.
Part of Julie’s smile died as Laura and Abe sat down
their forks and turned to stare at her. She wondered who would speak
first. “You’re going to what????” Abe finally asked.
“We’re all going to Ann’s and are leaving the
children in the capable hands of their fathers for a spell,” Julie answered
“Now Julie, see here…” Abe started.
“Why can’t I come with you?” Laura suddenly asked.
Julie held up her hand and shook her head. “Now
listen…these children are partly your responsibility, Abraham McCain! I’ve
left them in your hands before!”
“Not for THAT long! Look, I don’t mind watching my
own children for a few hours, but I’m thinking of Jeremiah who probably
doesn’t know which end of a baby to change and PETER who is only going to
talk about how in love he is with his wife while I change his daughter’s
“Oh?” Julie planted her fists on her hips. “And
uh…you don’t stand around and talk about how in love you are with your
“Well…” Abe suddenly found himself in a sticky
situation, and from experience he knew that treading carefully was a very,
very important concept at the moment. “You see…”
Julie shook her head at her husband. “Never mind,
dear. I’ll let you out gracefully.” She turned and looked at Laura. “I’d
say Laura Rose is capable of changing diapers. In fact,” Julie winked at
her. “I’d rather you leave the diaper changing to Laura. It’s less messy
“Are you saying I can’t change a diaper?”
“From experience, yes!” Julie declared with a short
nod of her head.
“And another thing…Charlie’s in the middle of toilet
training and I…”
Julie rolled her eyes. “Oh Abe…you’ve seen Charlie
announce when he has to go. He makes his needs loud and clear now.” Julie
shook her head as she calmly took another bite of food. “What would happen
if I just up and died? You need to learn these things!”
“You’re not going to up and die and leave me with
five children to take care of!” Abe declared suddenly.
“Four. I’M NOT a child!” Laura declared.
“Laura Rose…” Abe warned.
Julie wiped Sammy’s hands off as she spoke. “Now
Abe, we’ll only be gone a couple hours and I…”
“A couple hours my…” Abe stopped himself and looked
at Laura. “This thing starts at three, right?” Julie nodded. “Yeah. So
she’ll probably feed you some sort of fancy dish at five’ish, then you’ll
sit around and giggle for a few hours. It’ll probably be seven or eight
o’clock before you come home. And what if a blizzard comes up? We could be
stuck with these children for….” Abe stopped when Julie raised her
eyebrows. “I mean er…trapped in the house with these children for days!
How would we survive?”
Laura giggled. Abe and Julie both turned and glared
at her. “I think I’ll start doing the dishes.”
Julie folded her arms on the table and leaned in to
her husband. “Look, Abe, you’ve been left with the children before and…”
“Not for very long!” Abe argued. “And you always
have Margaret here to help me.”
“Not always, dear.”
“Well…most of the time! And what’s worse, you are
making me help Peter and Jeremiah!”
“I’m not MAKING you help them! You will just be
together for support. It’s their wives’ responsibilities to teach them how
to properly care for a baby.”
“Ask me to clean up after a cow or pig and I’ll do
it…but to clean up…”
“Oh Abe!” Julie stood as she handed Laura some dirty
dishes. “I swear, you are worse than the children!”
Charlie lifted his hands to his father and grunted,
wanting his father to pick him up. Abe raised his eyebrows at his son. “Up
please?” Charlie asked politely.
Abe lifted him up. “Papa take good care of Charlie!”
Charlie declared with a smile.
Abe laughed. “Of course I’ll take good care of
you.” Abe whispered in his son’s ear, “I just have to make your mother feel
needed. I want her to know we can’t live without her.”
“I heard that!” Julie declared with a smile.
Laura turned from the sink. “Well, I still wish I
could go with you, Mama Julie!”
“When you’re a little older, Laura Rose.” Julie
patted her on top of the head. “I promise!”
Friday afternoon, Margaret untied her apron and went
to finish getting ready to go. When she emerged from the bedroom, she saw
her father sitting at the table. “Scott, are you sure he should be sitting
up? He’s still hurting quite a bit.”
“Now don’t you worry, daughter. I’m feeling much
Margaret bit her lip, wondering if all the women
should go away and leave Johnny and Scott to care for her father. She
turned and looked at Amanda who only smiled. “They’ll be fine.”
“Oh, I’m sure only…” Margaret had a very uneasy
feeling about her. She felt guilty, because part of her hoped her father
would never heal to the point of being independent. Her heart told her what
that would mean, and it hurt just thinking on it.
After she, Amanda, Beth, and Jennifer were on their
way to the Dodd Ranch, Amanda spoke as she drove the team. “Margaret, I
know what’s bothering you and I don’t blame you for how you’re feeling.”
Margaret sighed as she looked at her hands folded in
her lap. “But I shouldn’t be thinking it. Oh, it’s just awful of me!”
“Your father will be fine,” Jennifer informed
Margaret and the others. “Now that the poison is out of his system, he’s
not going to turn back to it. Your father has a good head on his
Margaret turned and looked at Amanda. She couldn’t
speak the words out loud, but she had seen the look in her father’s eyes.
It was a desire to get better faster…a hunger for what had fed him for the
past year. Margaret had talked to him and even read the Bible to him a
couple nights. She begged him to forgive himself for what he had done, but
Samuel wasn’t ready. He declared that he could NEVER forgive himself
because he didn’t deserve forgiveness. Margaret fretted that someday
Samuel’s unforgiveness would hurt someone that was close to them in a way
that would bring him even more guilt; and turn those that loved him against
This thought process was very difficult for Margaret
because she had always tried to see the good in everyone. Anyone who came
along was given a big dose of Margaret, no matter what they had done. Now,
for the first time, Margaret found herself struggling with trusting her
father…believing he could do no wrong…and she didn’t know what to do with
“Which road do we take?” Margaret’s thoughts were
suddenly interrupted by Amanda’s question. Margaret blinked herself back to
the present and lifted her eyebrows, asking Amanda to repeat her question.
“I said which road do we take?”
“Oh. We go East.” Margaret tried not to allow her
thoughts to stray away again. Today and tomorrow were Ann’s day, and she
deserved every moment.
Margaret had been to the Dodd Ranch several months
ago, but she had forgotten just how beautiful the house was. Sitting back
from the road, the house was painted yellow and had a white picket fence
around it. It was two stories tall with French windows that opened up from
the master bedroom onto a balcony. The porch wrapped around the house, and
was an excellent one for all the children to play on. They were quite
isolated out here. Traveling to town would take an hour at a fast pace.
Hal Dodd had purchased this land and built the house himself a few years
ago. He had almost 10,000 acres of ranch land with hills and crests. Trees
lined the yard all around the house. Margaret stared at the house in
wonderment, mesmerized at the beauty.
She turned and looked across the road at the empty
hills and valleys that sat there. That’s the piece of land Luke had his
eyes on. It was rich land, and the man that owned it was rather firm on his
price. Nobody in these parts wanted to spend that much money on it, but it
was 4200 acres of the best ranching land around Oklahoma. Hal Dodd had
bought the only other good section of land, not wanting the land across the
road; and he hoped that someday they would have a good neighbor to take over
Margaret had never gone with Luke when he came to
admire the land, but she heard his brothers talk about it. Abe told her
once that Luke rode all the way out here on a Saturday and just sat in the
middle of the field. He ran the dirt through his hands and imagined the
wonderful ranch he could build up with his wife and children. Margaret
smiled as she wondered if perhaps he pictured her on the land with him. She
blushed at the prospect of her and Luke standing under that big oak kissing
as two children ran around them chasing each other. She wondered if that
image would ever become real.
“Margaret!” Margaret suddenly turned at the sound of
her name. Ann laughed softly as she hugged her best friend. “My, but where
did you go?”
“I’m right here,” Margaret declared, a bit
embarrassed she had once again allowed her thoughts to stray.
Ann turned and looked out at the land across from
her. “I know where your thoughts were.” Ann giggled. “Every time I look
out across there, I see you and Luke living in a house in that little flat
area over there. I picture the barn and the swing in the tree for you.
It’s going to happen.”
“The land costs so dear.” Margaret shook her head.
“Sometimes I get so impatient on waiting.” She turned to Ann. “I’m sorry.
This day’s about you and Hal…not about Luke and me.”
“Well then…” Ann winked her eye. “Did you bring my
lace curtains for the windows?”
“Certainly!” Margaret declared as they hurried toward
For the next two hours, the women worked together
decorating the house. Fresh curtains were hung and a list was made of
things Ann wanted Hal to work on. She wanted more colorful walls and a bit
of rearrangement of the furniture. Hal had given Ann permission to have a
run of the place, but he had left strict orders for her to stay out of one
room: The Master bedroom. Before leaving that morning to work out on the
range, Hal had even nailed a sign to the door that declared, “KEEP OUT!”
Tiffany couldn’t help but stop and look at the sign.
“I wonder what’s behind these closed doors?” She smiled mischievously.
“Nothing but a bedroom,” Ann declared. “But Hal told
me the first time I see that bedroom, it’s going to be…” Suddenly, Ann
stopped and blushed. Several of the women giggled. “Oh my…It’s getting
warm in here!”
Margaret stood outside the group of giggling women
and watched the excitement. She went into the spacious kitchen and began
fixing them some dinner while the women continued to work together deciding
what other things needed to be done. After eating a wonderful meal prepared
by Margaret’s hands, the women worked together on getting the kitchen
clean. They were just wrapping up when the door opened and Hal walked in.
“Well…” Hal stated as he crossed his arms in front of
him. “Do your husbands allow you to stay out unchaperoned after dark?”
“Dark?” Julie hurried to the window and looked
outside. “Oh my!” She quickly untied the apron from her waste. “Ladies,
we must get going! Abe gave me strict orders to be back before dark! Oh
dear…I may be getting a lecture when I get home!”
Margaret chuckled. Scott had demanded the same thing
of them. Ann blushed as Hal came to stand beside her. He put his arm
around her shoulders and shook his head. “I’m afraid we’ll have to follow
them to their homes now, Ann. It’s the only thing we can do.”
And he did just that. The ladies drove their teams
all the way home as they sang cheerful songs. Margaret and her family made
it back to the ranch before the sun went down, but the McCain women weren’t
so lucky. As they walked into the house, three very upset husbands stood
from the table, turned, and crossed their arms as they looked accusingly at
“Hello,” they all said together as they tried to
smile. But that night, the men were not in a good mood. Julie raised her
eyebrow at Laura who merely shrugged. The four women stood still and
listened to a long pointed lecture of why they were in trouble for being
She saw Lucas, a bit older, sitting on the top step of a porch. A boy sat
beside him. They looked out across the land and laughed. She wasn’t sure
who the boy was, but his hair was blond, and his face held the same shape as
her brothers’. His eyes were brown like hers. She watched as Lucas put an
arm around his shoulders and talked sternly. Their eyes locked on each
other and she had a feeling the things said through their eyes said a lot
more than that said by the lips.
She floated away a bit. There, she saw herself swinging in a swing. A
little boy sat on her lap giggling as she held onto him with one arm. A
man…Lucas…stood behind her and pushed her higher and higher as she and the
“Margaret…Margaret…” Margaret forced her eyes to open
suddenly. Beth stared down at her. “Mama said to get up! The wedding’s in
“Two…” Margaret jumped from bed. “It’s eight
o’clock??? Why did Mama let me sleep so late?” Margaret started running
around the room nervously, trying to find the things she needed.
“What were you dreaming about anyhow?” Beth suddenly
Margaret stopped her scurrying and turned to smile at
her younger sister. “I’m not sure…but I think it was my family!” She
declared with a firm nod of her head.
Margaret stuck her hair pin in her mouth and twirled
her hair into a tight bun. “Yes. My family!” She stuck the pin in her
hair then hurried out of the room. “Mother! Oh Mother, you must do my
The next hour was a flurry of activity in the Gibbs
house. Scott and Johnny helped their father to the table as Margaret
continued to rush around. “Oh Scott…You MUST get me to the church at once!”
“My, my, but I haven’t seen you this excited in quite
some time, daughter!” Samuel Gibbs declared as he gave her a wink.
“If you ask me, she’s meeting Lucas McCain at that
church and marrying him!” Beth retorted.
Margaret turned and shot her sister a look. She
shook her head and rolled her eyes. “I’m Ann’s Maid of Honor! I have to
“She’s just practicing, Pa, for when she gets
married!” Beth retorted.
“Oh?” Margaret hurried and took her coat down.
Scott held it for her so she could put it on. “First of all, little sister,
I assure you I will spend more than an hour getting ready to marry Luke!
And second of all…I think you’re just jealous!”
Beth planted her hands on her hips. Samuel held up
his hand and chuckled, enjoying seeing the bantering among his daughters
again. There was more life in the house that morning than there had been in
quite some time. “Now, now girls! Beth, you best get your own self ready!”
Amanda hurried forward, wagging her finger at Scott.
“And you hurry back here yourself, Scott! I’ve your suit all laid out on
the bed. We mustn’t be late for the wedding!”
Scott turned to leave, but something mischievous
inside him made him turn around and ask, “Say…could you possibly faint and
announce you’re pregnant or something as a lasting memory for the bride and
groom!” Scott grinned as he thought back to his own wedding.
“Scott Gibbs!” Amanda hurried forward, but Scott
hurried from the house.
Samuel watched his family with much pride. He
enjoyed seeing life in his house. But there was a part inside him that
wanted to cry because something was missing. It was something that could
never be in this house again. And suddenly, he wanted a drink.
Margaret stood in front of the church surrounded by
Christmas wreaths and mistletoe that hung from the ceiling. The organ
played the wedding march softly as Hal waited nervously for his bride to
come to the door. Margaret bit her lip, wondering what Ann would look like
in the dress. Then as Ann came through the back door on her father’s arm,
Margaret felt her eyes fill with tears because suddenly, she didn’t see her
best friend in that wedding dress. She saw herself as she held the wreath
of flowers and smiled nervously walking up the aisle to the wedding march.
And not only that, but waiting at the front was Lucas McCain with his hair
slicked back and a wonderful black suit on. The grin on his face matched
the sparkle in his blue eyes.
The music stopped as Hal reached out and took Ann’s
hand. He pulled her up onto the platform and stared lovingly into her
eyes. Ann reached out to give Margaret the bouquet, but Ann was once again
picturing Lucas holding her close to him up on that platform. Lucas was
staring into her eyes. “Margaret!” Ann suddenly whispered impatiently.
Margaret grabbed the bouquet from Ann and held it
nervously. Her hands suddenly started sweating as the preacher cleared his
throat and spoke. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to join this
man…and this woman…together in holy matrimony.”
Again, the words were lost to Margaret as she
imagined Lucas standing there staring into her eyes. His voice spoke “I do”
so confidently. There was no hesitation. Then when it was her time, she
smiled into her eyes and with every ounce of confidence she had, she
whispered, “I do.”
“You may kiss the bride.” Margaret blushed as she
pictured Lucas lean into her and kiss her. She felt a tingle all the way
from the tip of her toes to the top of her head.
Her thoughts were interrupted, once again, by
applause from the wedding guest. “Ladies and gentlemen, I now introduce to
you Mr. and Mrs. Hal Dodd!” Margaret hurried forward and picked up the
train of Ann’s dress as she and Hal made their way down the aisle. Ann’s
eyes were filled with tears. Hal paused and turned to her. He wiped a tear
from her cheek and again kissed her softly. Margaret heard Hal whisper “I
love you” in her ear, then they continued walking.
A small reception followed the wedding. Those close
to the bride and groom, which included the Gibbs and McCain family, were
invited to the reception. Laura was allowed to attend only for a bit. Then
she was sent to assist Mrs. Pritchard with the McCain children. Ann and Hal
stood at the reception as Hal picked up his glass of wine and proposed a
toast to his new bride. Ann batted her eyelashes as she took a drink from
her own glass. Then they kissed one last time.
Everyone grew quiet as Hal sat down and Ann picked up
her Bible. “I want to do something a bit irregular today. Margaret, you
are my best friend. Ever since we started school at the age of six, we’ve
been together. But I know there is one that is closer to you than I am, and
I’m sorry he can’t be here today.” Ann opened her Bible to a marked page.
“My best friend and her family have been through a lot this past year. And
as I watched her go through trial after trial, I saw the strength she
possessed. Knowing Margaret like I do, I don’t have to wonder where she
gets her strength. She gets it from her family and from God.
“Recently, she faced another crisis in her life that
took her to her knees. In fact, when I asked her what she did when she
heard about her father, she told me she fell to her knees before her God.”
Ann turned to her husband. “And that’s the way I want our marriage to
start. As I was praying last night for this day, I came across something
that’s always stood out to me. And today as I stand before you, my husband,
I think this passage is appropriate to read to you as our first reading
together; and to my best friend for the strength she has given me.
Ann cleared her throat and looked down at the Bible.
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the
A time to be born; and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.
Ann slowly closed her Bible as Margaret wiped the
tears from her own cheek. She mouthed a thank you to her friend. Then she
smiled as Ann announced, “And I think it’s a time to dance.”
The rest of the reception was filled with dancing.
Margaret watched from a distance, refusing to dance with any man. Even her
brother offered to dance with her, but she made a vow to her heart that the
next time she danced, it would be in the arms of Lucas McCain. “I’ll dance
again,” she told Scott. “When it’s a time of peace.”
She watched as Scott swept his wife out onto the
dance floor. Again, she wiped her eyes. She treasured all these things in
Today my best friend got
married. I’m going to marry Luke someday very soon. And when that day
comes, it will be a time to live.
The Years Before