OBIE Chapter 9 LAND O’ GOSHEN!
Following my harrowing escape, I convalesced for several minutes, and then we headed up the trail. Moments later we caught up with Laura and the twins. Laura was the first to notice my missing boot. “Th’owed a shoe, did ya?” She said jokingly, and then she noticed my pants. “Oh my!” she said, shaking her head in horror, and then repeated the phrase several times. The twins recognized the substance immediately by the odoriferous nature of its fragrance. “Shoeee!” exclaimed the first twin, blinking his teary eyes, and the other twin joined in the chorus.
Clomping up the trail with one bare foot and one high-heeled boot, threw quite a hitch in my get-along! Eventually I had presence of mind to remove the other boot and just go barefoot. After awhile it occurred to me that half a pair of boots was of little consequence anyway, and carrying it only added to my misery. I stuck the sorry remnant of my prize pair of boots on a fence post and wiped the offending fingers in the grass.
By the time we arrived back at the Kinney place, the day was rapidly dwindling. Crickets chirped and the dampness smacked of dusk. Christoph had arrived on the dappled Belgian and was waiting to take me home. He and Mrs. Kinney were sitting on the porch swing, visiting in the flickering lantern light and supplementing chatter with shortbread. Christoph didn’t notice my missing boots. He was accustomed to seeing me barefoot, and in any case he was way too busy noticing Laura. All at once Mrs. Kinney paused in mid conversation, her sweet expression went suddenly sour, her nostrils flared and she stared horrified at my pants. “Land o’ Goshen child!” She exclaimed. “What have they done to you?”
Following my long and colorful oration, she examined my pants from a safe distance and shook her head in empathy and revulsion. “If those were my clothes, son,” she said, “I could probably get ‘em to look clean, but I could never feel clean in ‘em!” Mariah held her nose and took a closer look. “They’re not too bad from the knees up.” She said. “I’ve got a pair of shears. We could make cutoffs out of ‘em.” That sounded good to me. We visited for a while longer while Mariah made short pants from my church drawers and my brother flirted with Laura, and then Christoph took a running jump and climbed up on the mule. I thanked Mrs. Kinney for the delicious meal, got a handshake from Lidge that bordered on Indian wrestling, and turned to Mariah.
For a nickel I’d have given Mariah a great big hug, but I lacked the nerve and was five cents shy of the nickel. That probably wouldn’t have been appropriate anyway. Mariah took my hand in both of hers and looked up into my face. “You will remember our Baptism next Sunday, won’t ya?” “Yes Ma’am.” “Honest Injun?” she asked. “Honest Injun.” “I’m counting on you Obadiah.” She said. “You won’t forget me will ya?” The idea that I might forget Mariah made me chuckle right out loud. “Not in this lifetime!” I thought to myself, but I didn’t say that to Mariah.
“Come on Bud.” My brother said, and I took his arm and swung up on the mule. Christoph gave a little kick, and that barn sour mule took flight and headed home. I held on tight to Christoph’s waist and clenched my jaw to keep my teeth from rattling. That ol’ mule had a backbone like a picket fence. I scrunched a little to one side to keep my tailbone from banging on the mules’. She had just two gaits, gut jarring fast, and gut jarring slow. The slow gait was used for leaving the barn, and the fast gait reserved for returning! The fast gait consisted of a cockeyed trot that was enough to jar the teeth from a wooden Indian, and riding double only made it worse!
It was a little after dusk when we trotted into the barn at Camp House. Mr. Macgregor’s buggy was hitched to the gate. He’d been invited for dinner, and he and Dad were sitting on the steps. “Ya done good today, laddy!” he said “Real good! We can use some new blood down at Patty Creek.” Dad just looked at me speechless for a moment, and then shook his head as he glanced down and noticed my bare legs. “Were those your good church pants, Obadiah?” He asked. “Where are your new boots?”
I was fixin’ to lay the whole thing out and tell a big tale. I’m certain Dad was braced to hear one. All of a sudden I just felt heartsick clean through. It caught us all off guard when my lip began to quiver and I fought to stifle a sob. It sure caught my Dad off guard. “What’s the matter son?” he said. “It can’t be all that bad.” Dad wrapped his arm around my neck and I buried my face in his faded wool shirt.
Between the emotions stirred by the church service and the ones stirred by Mariah, the loss of my prize boots, and nervousness over what my folks would think, my nerves were shot and my bowels were fairly churning!
“There, there, Obadiah.” Dad soothed, “Everything’s gonna be all-right. Argyle has already told us all about your new church, and whatever misfortune befell your boots can wait until tomorrow. You go out to your room and take a rest. We’ll wake you up for dinner.” I stripped off what was left of my church clothes, did a quick sponge off at the warsh basin, and collapsed in my bunk, exhausted and plain rung out. Within a minute I was sound asleep.
It was well after dark when I stirred and looked around. Christoph was asleep and the stove was stone cold. The folks had already eaten and Mr. Macgregor had gone home. I dressed and started over to the house. There was a light in my uncle’s window so I headed over there. He met me at the door with a steaming mug of chocolate and slid a second rocker next to the stove. “Have a seat son, and tell me about your day.” Uncle Gus listened attentively while I related the day’s events. A sympathetic listener can cure a world of ills. It felt real good to get it off my chest. After my tale was finished, he smiled understandingly and patted me on the knee. “Drink your chocolate son. You’ve had a busy day.”
I cupped my hands around my mug and sat staring into the glowing embers of the fire. “Christoph told us about your boots son. Don’t give it another thought. Klouse thinks the world of you. It’ll tickle him to death to make you another pair. Joining another church caught your folks off guard, but that’ll be all right too. Your papa says your mom will come around. We’re awfully proud of you son. You don’t need to feel badly about anything. Your mama is in the kitchen. She’s had a long day too. Go on in and tell her you’re alright.”
I thanked Uncle Gus for the chocolate and walked through the dark house and into the kitchen. Everyone else had gone to bed. The house was dark and still. The door creaked as I entered the room. Mother was in the rocker darning socks by the kitchen fire. She looked up and smiled as I stepped into the room, putting down her darning and patting her bony knee. “Sit here,” she said, “and tell me about your day.” At ten years old, I was coming up real fast on being too big to sit on Mammas’ lap. Right now it seemed the only thing to do. Mamma was getting frail and thin, much like I remember Grandma, years ago. I pressed my face against her chest and she laid her bony chin upon my head.
“Argyle says that Patty Creek bunch took to you like a duck to water. They know a good boy when they see one.” Momma started to rock and hum. I knew I had to be getting heavy on her lap, but maybe a few more minutes wouldn’t hurt. I listened to her heartbeat like I’d done so many times; she stroked my hair and kissed me on the brow. I gave my mamma one more hug and then stood up to leave. “I love you Son.” She said, straightening my collar and patting me on the cheek. “Good night Mamma” I said, “I love you too.”
OBIE, Chapter 10. EXUBERATION!
The following week slipped quickly away, as weeks are want to do, and ‘fore ya know it the day of reckoning had arrived! Arrangements had been made for dinner on the grounds at the Kinney’s, following the baptism. I was astonished at the way, when push came to shove, that the entire family got behind this event. I’d never seen ‘em so worked up and excited! The entire family would attend the service at Patty Creek Church and then gather at the creek for the baptism. The shindig at the Kinney’s was to be potluck, and Mother, Maggie, and Kathleen, had each outdone themselves. They sure enough had killed the fatted calf! The Kinney’s would have leftovers for a month!
You can just about imagine the scene as the Camp Brigade pulled up at the church. The handshaking and howdy-dos went on for half an hour. Kathleen’s chicken had been a little slow to roast, so we were running a little behind schedule as we pulled up at Patty Creek. We arrived about twenty minutes late, and by then Mariah was beside herself! She grabbed me by the hand and gave me a good scolding as I slipped down from the wagon. “Where in the world have you been?” she demanded. “I thought for sure you’d backed out and just gone fishin’!”
It was standing room only at that little Baptist Church. Just the thought of a double baptism had set them folks on fire! Good Baptists have gotten a reputation for being kind o’ quiet and reserved. These folks shot that reputation all to heck! That preacher worked up such a head of steam; I thought he’d bust a boiler! He preached joy and thanksgiving for about forty minutes, and then he called Mariah and me up to the front, and the whole place broke out in another round of hugging and handshaking.
The baptizing hole was about a hundred yards down a hill to the northeast. The trail was well worn and steep, and a good toad strangler the previous night had left it slicker ‘en, well it was mighty slippery! As luck would have it, Indian summer had broke camp the week before, and sunny and seventy was only a memory. The purple foliage of the autumn dogwoods was still dripping from the predawn drenching, the sun was struggling with a tenacious fog, and the best the temperature could do was about forty degrees. Last week the creek had been cool and inviting. Now it was running swift, deep, and cold. This was gonna be mighty invigorating!
The trail crossed a low, fern-covered, boggy area, and then the dense foliage opened up at the creeks edge. Along the creek to the east was a long, narrow gravel bar, filled to capacity with about seventy-five shivering pilgrims, beaming ear to ear, with hymnals in hand. At our approach the preacher and two deacons slipped off their shoes, stepped ever so gingerly across the gravel bar, and then clothes and all, they waded cautiously into that icy brook until they were about waist deep. The preacher took a deep but tentative breath and read an appropriate scripture until his lips turned blue and his teeth began to chatter, and then he handed the Good Book to one of the deacons and motioned for Mariah and me. Mariah sucked in a big breath of cold morning air, took a tight, trembling grip on my hand, and the cold and nervousness sent us each into a shudder and a synchronized pee chill. I forced a smile and we waded slowly out.
By the time we’d waded out to the preacher, the water was chest deep on me and almost up to Mariah’s quivering chin. I stood beside the deacons as the preacher took Mariah’s hand and quoted several lines of scripture. I could hear Mariah’s teeth chattering, and her eyes were wide as fruit jar lids! It took every bit of her determination, and she never took her eyes off mine, but she repeated that scripture line for line, held a hanky against her face, and the preacher plunged her head and all, into that swirling torrent!
Mariah was still fighting desperately to catch her breath and part her drenched hair from her eyes when the preacher turned to me. By now we were all near the point of hypothermia, and the preacher abbreviated the process considerably. He was still a tad long winded for my taste, but he was a preacher after all, and you had to admire his sagacity. My teeth were chattering till I couldn’t hear a thing he said, but when it came to my part, he nodded, I nodded, and he plunged me backwards into that arctic bath.
I hadn’t had very high expectations for this experience. I’m not really certain what I expected. There were neither doves nor angels, but somehow a load was lifted, and something deep inside was changed for good. It wasn’t that my path seemed clear, but I knew which steps felt right and which steps didn’t, and I was brimming with the boundless exuberance, which comes of a youthful faith. Mr. Macgregor played his bagpipes as we headed for the shore; the sun came out and the whole crowd joined in song. We didn’t loiter long on the banks; everyone was frozen half to death! I can’t really explain it, but as we trudged up that hill, hugging, slipping and shivering, with those Baptists praising God, I experienced a peace down deep in my heart that would temper the rest of my life.
OBIE, Chapter 11. POTLUCK
Following the baptism, The Kinney’s, the Camps, and several dozen other kith & kin, assembled at the Kinney place for potluck. Everyone had come well stocked, and there was food enough for two or three times the crowd that assembled. Mrs. Kinney and the girls had made preparations as best they could with what few chairs and tables were available. It wasn’t near enough! Several buckboards were unhitched, backed into the yard, and utilized as makeshift buffet tables. A number of folks had brought along their musical instruments, just in case, you know how musicians are, and Lidge amazed everyone with his aptitude for the concertina. The air was filled with Irish jigs, the young and young at heart danced like dervishes, and the festivities continued until well after dark.
Mom and Mrs. Kinney hit it off first thing. Mrs. Kinney had been a teacher back in Ireland, and even though her abilities weren’t quite up to snuff in English, she was clearly a teacher at heart. After some discussion, it was decided that her abilities would be a tremendous help back at Camp House. The entire Kinney tribe would attend, and something would be worked out in regard to a suitable salary. Father offered his services and those of Uncle Gus for the purposes of a workday at Patty Creek Church. The offer was well received and greatly appreciated, particularly by a number of the churches regular members, who demonstrated their gratitude by offering their own support to the enterprise, and insisting on providing all the materials necessary to spruce up and spit shine the entire facility!
Just before sunset, Christoph and Laura approached Mariah and me, suggesting a walk to the top of the hill. It would give us some time to get better acquainted, and after the hustle and bustle of a long exhausting day, it would be an opportunity to enjoy some peace and quiet. The excitement and emotion of the long day had thoroughly worn me out! Christoph read my hesitance and slipped me an imploring glance communicating the urgency of the situation. He was in desperate straits for an opportunity for time alone with Laura, and he knew quite well that this enterprise would be better received if Mariah and I acquiesced and went along.
The sun was just a sliver of crimson as we reached the top of the hill. We were about a quarter mile from the gaggle of ramshackle frame homes, which meander along the ravine and make up the Irish community. To the west, an impenetrable stand of firs was silhouetted against the lavender dusk, and the sounds of fellowship, fiddles, and Lidge’s concertina, were barely audible from the happy gathering below. In the distance a whippoorwill called, crickets sang, and the air carried the faint scent of hickory smoke, as the little community lit their stoves against the cool night air.
Christoph and Laura paused to admire the sunset, and Mariah and I found a seat on a log at a distance sufficient to afford a degree of privacy. We admired the pastels as the sun slipped peacefully away, soaked up the serenity, and reflected on the events of the day. Darkness crept in silently around us and not a word was spoken. Eventually the silence was broken as Mariah shivered, moved ever so slightly closer, and pulled her sweater snugly around her neck. This was my opportunity. I slid over close beside her, wrapped my arms around her and waited for her response. After a moment Mariah reached out hesitantly and awkwardly placed her arm around my waist. My heart raced furiously, and as I listened to her quickened breath, I fought to calm the quickness of my own.
Eventually, noting my hopeful gaze, she glanced up apprehensively, licked her lips expectantly, closed her eyes and eagerly puckered up! This prospect, enticing and long anticipated though it was, had the immediate effect of sucking all the breath from my lungs and simultaneously paralyzing my tongue! Fighting for wind and desperately struggling to moisten my own mouth, I took my queue and pressed my lips to hers. We held that kiss for the longest time; both unwilling to let that moment end, and as our lips parted, we held on passionately in a long, lingering hug. For as long as I live I’ll remember that embrace. Then the twilight faded to velvet black, and our palms caressed as I walked Mariah home.
OBIE, Chapter 12. THE CALLING
The next several years were some of the most happy, idyllic, and frustrating of my life. I felt entirely certain that Mariah and I were meant to be together, but at twelve years old I sure had no clue how! Most any ol’ sailor will tell ya, this ol’ world is a mighty stormy sea! On the starboard you’ve got everything that’s right, and on the port side you’ve got everything that’s left. Keep your eye on the sun, and steer a course that’s true. Most times we steered a mighty steady course; sometimes high seas would drive us hard to port! We faced temptation every day, and rode a crest between our desires and what we believed the Lord we love could bless. Everyone has a cross to bear. Desire is a fools’ master and every Christians’ cross.
As the years passed at Camp house, the entire family was blessed with health, happiness, and prosperity, almost beyond belief! With the addition of the Kinney kids to all the little Camps already in attendance, our educational pursuits became an undertaking of biblical proportions. The memories of those school days at Camp House are an endless source of joy and satisfaction. Oh there were long, tedious hours of study mingled with the joy, and Mother force-fed us grammar and vocabulary till our little minds were distended, but the romance, adventures, and lifelong friendships, that those years provided, would prove to be a powerful and stabilizing force for me to the very end of my days. It seemed to me as though God himself had put the rest of the world on a back burner in order to devout every waking hour to us.
Fathers’ health improved day by day, and he and Uncle Gus became increasingly inseparable. Their joy and enthusiasm for life was an endless source of encouragement to each one of us, and their boundless energy and optimism provided an example that I strived for all my life and seldom matched. The shoe shop prospered, and Christoph became almost as talented a cobbler as Klouse. The salvage business became increasingly lucrative, and through the expert, if exasperating tutelage of Cousin Irving, Lidge and I became well known far and wide as muleskinners par excel lance!
Season by season the years sped away; long, extravagant summers of picnics at the boathouse, excursions on the river, and fishing trips with Dad and Gus that resulted in tall tales I’d be embarrassed to relate; exhilarating autumns with breathtaking foliage, horseback rides through the hills, and air so fresh it made your spirit soar; winter with its’ blowing snow, ice sickles as long as me, and the whole family sharing cocoa by the fire; and SPRING!
The spring of 1849 hit me like a ton of bricks. I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly was different. I was only fourteen, but somehow, though I couldn’t begin to explain it, when the pond ice melted and those frogs began to sing, way down deep inside of me, I was different. Somehow, in the spring of ’49, as the days lengthened and the plaintive calls of northbound geese filled the air, their primordial cries pierced my very soul, and called to me.
OBIE Chapter 13 A PLACE FOR ME!
One cool, blustery day in early March, we were busying ourselves with our usual mule grooming chores. Lidge was checking out an ol’ mule’s teeth, and I was around back fixin’ to curry out her tail. Dad had just outfitted the ol’ gal with a shiny new set of iron shoes. All at once her ears come down, her hind end kind o’ bunched up, and a hind foot come snatchin’ out and rung my shinbone like a bell! I collapsed to the ground frantically rubbing my throbbing ankle and desperately fighting my inclination to besmirch that mule’s pedigree, and Lidge grinned at me like I was just off the boat! “I figured you knowed better than that.” He says, with his lips curled back and his teeth all catching sunlight. “When an ol’ mule’s hind end puckers up that a way, you best drop and roll.” “I thought that’s what ya done in case of fire.” I said, dusting my drawers and struggling to find my feet. “When an ol’ mule behaves that a way” Lidge says, offering me a hand up, “you can reckon she’s fixin’ to fire!”
I cautiously resumed my enterprise, keeping an eye peeled for any further sign of insubornation, and flinching with every twitch, and it wasn’t but twenty minutes later when all at once Lidge dropped his currycomb to the ground, sank onto a nail keg, hung his head in despair, and sighed a sigh well beyond his years. His sudden collapse into despair caught me off guard, and I stood there staring for a moment, perplexed and speechless. Lidge had been a little down in the dumps for several days, but I’d just shrugged it off as spring fever. It seemed evident now; this was more than just youthful melancholy.
“What’s wrong pard?” I asked, dropping my own brush and kneeling at his side. “Everything!” He replied, wiping his sweaty brow with his sleeve, and staring at the ground. “Well,” I said, would you like to talk about it?” “Obadiah,” he said, looking up solemnly, “have you ever been really poor?” “What do you mean?” I asked. “Well”, he said, “my family and I risked what little we had in Ireland and sailed thousands of hard, hazardous miles to this country, in search of what that ol’ piece of parchment calls, Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Now Pa’s dead, Ma’s ill, we’re poor as church mice, and even though we’ve been blessed with a fine church family, and we’re doubly blessed by our friendship with you folks, we’re not actually blessed with much happiness. As far as liberty, is a person really free when they’re enslaved to poverty to the point that without the compassion of folks like you it’s likely that we’d starve?”
Well, I was at a loss to answer that! Life’s experiences had rendered me old for my years, but not near that old! We stood there in an uneasy silence for a time, and then Irving careened up to the stable door like a cyclone, on that barn sour gray. “Hang it up boys.” He hollered. “Let’s call it a day!”
I lay restless in my bunk for a long time that evening, tossing, turning, and trying desperately to sleep. It just wouldn’t happen. My buddy’s comments lay smoldering in my mind. Lidge and I had much in common, but my family had been marvelously blessed since arriving in America, and Lidge and his family had faced poverty, deprivation, and despair. I’d been raised a Christian all my life. My parents taught me to seek the Lords’ will always, to exercise hope, faith, and charity in all things, and to promote justice tempered with mercy. I believed that an all-seeing, all-knowing God distinguished the sin from the sinner, that he hated one and loved the other, and that through God, justice and mercy would prevail. Try as I might, I couldn’t seem to reconcile these beliefs to my friends’ situation. Where was justice and mercy now? Where was charity and love? Where was the hand of a loving God in this?
The following day was Saturday. I attended an estate sale with Klouse and Irving, had a long, leisurely lunch at an open-air restaurant on the wharf, and spent the remainder of the afternoon tending ill-tempered, unreasonable, cantankerous, old mules. That evening I enjoyed family time, devotions, and cobbler, and then retired to bed early, contented and luxuriously stuffed! I devoted a great deal of thought and long hours of prayer to Lidge’s situation, and even though I’d not found a good answer, I arrived at church Sunday morning expecting to find Lidge in that same state of depression, and prepared to be a sympathetic friend. I was clearly not prepared for what I found!
Lidge was at the side door as I started up the front stairs of the church. He was clearly exuberant, uncharacteristically animated, and desperately anxious to share his news. In his hand was a crumpled notice; similar to many I’d seen posted at the pier, and in his tone was an excitement and enthusiasm that took me completely by surprise! “Look here!” He whispered in a tone, which feigned quiet but was anything but. He pulled me to one side, hastily waving the dog-eared document in my face. “Alright! Alright!” I said, “What is it?” He was trembling with anticipation, and I steadied his hand as he began to read:
CALIFORNIA GOLD, the notice read, and NOTICE OF INTENT.
HEAR YE! HEAR YE! NOW HIRING FOR MANY POSITIONS,
GALLEY HELP NEEDED, NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY.
PHILLIDELPHIA TO SAN FRANCISCO IN FIVE MONTHS.
DEPARTING MARCH 17TH, IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 18 & 49
Lidge’s face was flushed, and his eyes danced with excitement. “I’ve already hired on.” He announced triumphantly, “and the Captain has promised to save a place for you!”
OBIE, CHAPTER 14. GEORGE WARSHINGTON HISSELF!
Dear God, why me? I’m not certain what part my prayers have played in this new turn of events. When I was praying for new opportunities for Lidge, I hadn’t figured on the Lord being quite so prompt! It usually takes longer than that! I sure hadn’t counted on anything quite like this! From now on when I pray, I’m gonna be way more specific!
The more Lidge laid out the details of this little jaunt, the more I grimaced and shook my head. The ship is a barnacle covered ol’ schooner that has been sitting at anchor and slated for salvage for years. They scraped her down and scrubbed her up just for this occasion. Part of the crew is made up of old salts that have been retired since Noah’s time, who shook off their mothballs when they heard the word GOLD! The rest of the crew is made up of landlubbers such as Lidge and me, who’ve been commandeered mainly because we’re old enough to be weaned, and a little too young to exercise better judgment.
My voyage from Germany had been enough to worry the feathers off a wooden Indian, and this overoptimistic little endeavor makes that trip look like a weekend excursion on a millpond! One of the highlights, should we even get that far, will be rounding Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America. Well, I don’t know what you’ve heard about the Horn, but it’s one of the most infamous passages anywhere in the world. Why, the very mention of THE HORN is enough to cause the saltiest old seaman to drop his pipe and wet hisself!
They’re calling for stops at Rio de Janeiro, & Valparaiso, and arrival at San Francisco in about five months. Well, If that ancient scow even floats, and if they manage to keep her afloat till they round the horn, and if they don’t all die of the cholera along the way, depending on conditions and prevailing winds, it could easily take as long as eight months to reach California, and then what? According to the barrage of wild tales that have been circulating for a couple of months now, some poor old codger out on the west coast was trying to run a sawmill, and had the misfortune of having some unthinking scallywag discover gold in his millrace. Well, ‘course ‘for ya know it, word is out and the whole place runs amuck!
The word is that folks are pouring into the California foothills from all over the world. They reckon that this year alone, they’ll have fifty thousand crazed men swarming in from the states, and fifty thousand more from ‘round the Horn. Can you even imagine, in your wildest dreams, what kind of horrendous mess that will be? Why, there ain’t gold enough in all creation to draw a sane man into a sinkhole like that! Why, I wouldn’t run a risk like that, if George Warshington hisself were backing the whole affair!
Lidge and I talked the whole unholy spectacle over pretty thorough, top to bottom, and I told him pretty certain, in no uncertain terms, that he was crazier than a pet coon if he’d be drug into a campaign like this, and there wasn’t nothing in this world, that would ever make me change my mind and go!
OBIE, Chapter 15. THE REMNANT
The very next day, I was down at the stable, contemplating the cosmos and mining for nasal nuggets, not bothering a single, solitary soul, and here comes Mariah! “Hi Obie!” she says, in that sweet as sugar voice, “I didn’t know you were down here.” Yeah right, I thought to myself, and I didn’t know to expect you!
“Lidge said he talked to you about helping him out with his idea, and you didn’t seem very receptive.” She rolled her eyes real innocent and lambasted me again with that sweet as honey smile. “Now Mariah,” I said, “Do you know what my Ma would do to me, if I was to as much as even mention a fool notion like this silly scheme that this wild-eyed brother of yours has concocted? Why! She’d knock me end over loop clear into last Tuesday, and there I’d be!” “Now Obadiah.” she says, flitting around like a precious little butterfly, “I think you’re being unreasonable. We’re not talking about a lifelong commitment here. We’re just talking about one little boat ride.”
“Now Mariah,” I said, “I,” Mariah took a good firm hold on my hand, and says “Let me speak my piece Obadiah, and then I’ll hear yours.” At this point it wasn’t looking good for the home team! “I realize that you’re happy right here, right now,” she says, “My brother isn’t. I realize you’d be happy as a clam just staying here and tending your precious mules,” she says, “Lidge won’t. I realize you’ve got everything you need to achieve your dream of life, liberty, and happiness, right here. Lidge will never know happiness or freedom, till he follows his heart and pursues his families dream. I have something for you.” She said, reaching into her frock and pulling out a little remnant of light blue muslin, “I want you to have this. I made it myself.” I carefully unfolded my gift, admired the delicately embroidered lines, and read aloud:
FREEDOM IS A WILD RIVER RUSHING TO THE SEA.
FREEDOM IS A MONARCH BUTTERFLY.
FREEDOM IS AN EAGLE AT HIS PURCH HIGH IN A TREE,
AND HIS NEVER-ENDING CIRCLES IN THE SKY.
“Did you write this Mariah?” I asked. “I wrote it for you Obadiah. I want you to keep it with you always, on your trip.” Well, I was pretty nearly out of squirming room. “It’s a mighty pretty poem Mariah, and I appreciate all the effort and meticulous work that I’m certain you put into it.” “I did it just for you.” She says. “I did it out of love!”
Strike three! “This is a mighty risky undertaking Mariah.” I says, “And there are no guarantees.” Mariah’s eyes peered right into my soul. “Lidge deserves this opportunity to follow his heart.” She says, “Right or wrong, wherever it may lead. I need you to go with him. Freedom doesn’t guarantees success,” She says, “Freedom means you get your chance to try!”
Well, what would you have done? I’ve given lots of thought to what Mariah said. Mariah was right. Freedom is about choices. Freedom means that a body should have the choice to be satisfied with what they’ve got, or risk it all to take a chance and follow their dream. I looked into Mariah’s innocent, hopeful face, and I thought about my choices and my future, and our future. “What about us?” I asked. “What about our freedom? What about yours?” “When you come back,” Mariah responded, “I’ll see our freedom shining in your eyes. You know,” she says, “Lidge is going to do this either way, come hell or high water!” “Well”, I said, “I figure that before we get back from this little quest, Lidge and I will be real well acquainted with both!”
OBIE Chapter 16 THE BLESSING
Well JEEZE LOUISE! Is it just me, or do things just seem to go from bad to worse! Alright, so the ships going to sail next week, and I’ve got until then to find some way of convincing myself and my folks, that the most lame brained, ill-conceived, unlikely scheme that I’ve ever been hitched to in all my born days, is something that I’m willing and able to risk life and limb for.
If I tell my folks about this, what will they say? Well, I can’t tell ya word for word, but suffice it to say, IT WON”T BE PRETTY! If I don’t tell my folks and I go anyway, that would break both their hearts and mine. If I just say forget it, and don’t go, I can never face Lidge or Mariah again. If these choices were a litter of pups, pick o’ the litter would be a lop-eared, cow-eyed, eggsuckin’ mut!
I’ve been stumped before, but this mess beats everything I’ve ever seen. I finally decided the best thing that I could do for now, was to find some time to pray and think this through. After dinner on Friday, I collected some leftovers in my knapsack, told the folks I’d be back in the morning, and hiked down to the boathouse to collect my thoughts. It was coming up on evening by the time I arrived. I started a small campfire on the banks of the river, stowed my gear in the boathouse, got out a biscuit to chew on, and collapsed in a clapboard armchair to sort my thoughts. I sat there all alone in the solitude for a long time. The last shades of pink disappeared behind the mountaintops to the west, velvet black swallowed up the last of the silhouetted pines, and one by one the stars came out and blinked sleepily in the brilliant spring sky.
I sprawled in that weathered, old armchair, as I’d done so many times before on outings with my folks, and I listened to the pleasant crackling of the fire, breathed in the fir scented night air, and prayed. All at once something attracted my peripheral vision and I craned my neck and gazed up at the moon. It’s been five long years since that moon welcomed me to these shores and ushered me into a new land and a wondrous new life. I stared up into its ever-benevolent countenance, recalled my many blessings, and mused about the complexities of life. The tribulations of a long, trying day faded, the tension in my neck and shoulders eased, and I fell into a deep, restful sleep.
It was well after dawn when I awoke the following morning. The sun shone down in cascades through the firs, and I grabbed my gear and began the long trek home. I was feeling better now. The meditation and the good night’s sleep had helped, and my head began to clear. I looked at my situation in a little different light now, and I asked myself, if he were I, what would Dad do? Well that was easy! Why hadn’t I stopped and thought that through before. I know exactly what Dad would do. If he’s told me once, he’s told me a thousand times, “Save yourself some trouble son, and tell the truth first! What the truth lacks in creativity, it more than makes up for in tenacity!” It seemed so simple now! I’d just go home, lay the whole thing out, and let reason shed its’ light.
As I approached Camp House, my dad had been to the smoke house in his long johns and moccasins and he was headed back across the yard like a man on a mission. His arms were full of bacon, and he met me with a big smile and a chuckle. “Good morning son!” he hollered, “You look like you were rode hard and put up wet!” “Good Morning Dad!” I answered. “Here, let me help.” Mom was waiting with the door open as we reached the kitchen, “Good morning Obie,” she greeted warmly, “How was your night?”
“Well,” I said, “I had a great nights’ sleep, a long invigorating walk home, and I’m hungry as a pig in a pie safe!” “You’ve come to the right place.” Mom said smiling, “I’m just about to start a great big pot of mother Kinney’s son-of-a-gun stew.” Mom went to work on supper, Dad and I found a seat by the fire, and they both listened spellbound as I laid the whole thing out. It took a good twenty minutes to say my piece, and as far as I could tell, neither one of them even breathed the entire time. They’ve already heard the rumors of gold. There’s probably not a soul in town that hasn’t. They’ve loved Lidge like a son for years, and they’ve expected for most of that time that Mariah and I have plans when the time is right. They were skeptical of this scheme to say the least and they understood the risks probably better than I, but they listened to my reasoning, and though they hated the whole idea, they agreed that my decision made good sense.
The two of them discussed the proposition for the rest of the afternoon, and that evening they were ready to talk some more. The three of us sat down at the parlor table, and the two of them began to speak their piece. Dad started off. “You’re only fourteen years old son, but you’re as capable as any grownup that we know, and we trust your judgment more than that of most adults. We don’t like the sound of the trip at all, we’d be lying if we said we did, but if this is what you really want, then you have our blessings, and you know we love you more than life itself.”
Mom spoke next. “We have one request we’d like to make of you son; Talk to Lidge and Mariah again, and if the three of you and Lidge’s mom agree that this is best, than you have our blessing and we’ll help you all we can.”
Well, the Lord heaps us up with blessings as we go along life’s way, some we appreciate, some we never see, but there’s one thing that’s for certain, and I thank God every day, when he chose my folks, the good Lord sure blessed me!
OBIE, Chapter 17. A SNOWBALL’S CHANCE
Sunday morning broke cool and sunny, with all the vitality you’d expect from the middle of March. It was a tad windy for my taste, but that just comes with the territory. Following church services, Christoph singled out the dappled gray from the team, and the rest of the family headed home. We grazed the mule on a little patch of early clover behind the church, and as soon as we figured the Kinney’s had had sufficient time to finish their meal, we went calling on the girls.Christoph had a terrible crush on Mariah’s sister Laura, and even though Laura was playing hard to get, she seemed more and more receptive to Christoph’s roguish charm. Mrs. Kinney met us at the door with a big smile. She greeted us like family and ushered us into the kitchen by the wood range. “Aren’t you boys froze near to death?” she asked, “that wind is raw as it can be!”
Laura was at the dry sink washing pots and pans, and Mariah was in a rocker by the fire. She was stitching britches, and the cat lay purring contentedly in her lap. Laura offered us each a chair, and we hadn’t any more than been seated when here come Lidge! He’d evidently just pulled his overalls up over his red union suit, and one of the shoulder straps was eluding his frantic search. He made two or three quick circles, much like a puppy chasing its tail. Mother Kinney watched with growing exasperation, and eventually just broke down and fastened it herself.
My first priority was to satisfy my promise to my folks. This was as good a time as any for the three of us to talk. We excused ourselves and retired to the front porch. Mariah shooed the chickens from the railing and the three of us found a seat in the sunshine. I explained that, following an in-depth discussion with my mom and dad, they’d given tentative approval to our undertaking, under two conditions. Number one, that the three of us had considered all the risks and remained determined, and number two, that we have the unqualified approval of their mom.
Well, of course the two of them had only grown more excited as the time grew close, and they wouldn’t have changed their minds no matter what! On hearing my news, they both broke into a chorus of hurrahs and halleluiahs, and danced a jig till they most fell off the porch! After a moment Lidge says, “I hadn’t actually figured on breaking the news to Ma, till I was safely out of reach in San Francisco.”
“Well,” I said, “that’ll never do for me! I gave my word that we’d not leave, till we had your mom’s approval, and I’m not leaving till she gives us the word!” Mariah scrutinized Lidge for some response. Finally Lidge just shrugs his shoulders and says, “Alright, let’s go ask!” I had absolutely no clue what Mrs. Kinney might say! She’s sharp as a knife but moody as an old wet hen!
The three of us marched back in the house like folks on a mission, and cornered the unsuspecting old woman digging through the pantry and trying to roust out some tea. We closed in on her pretty tight and quick, and darn near scared the poor ol’ thing from her skin! She came up out of that little closet like she’d been thunder struck! “Land o’ Goshen!” she hollered, “you kids nearly done me in! You kids and your shenanigans will be the death of me yet!” After a few desperate seconds trying to tone down our grins, Lidge began to relate the details of our little pleasure cruise. He filled that defenseless old woman with such a line of blarney; even for an Irishman he laid it on mighty thick!
Once Mariah had used her girlish charm to finish the whole tale off, that poor old woman was ready to go herself! By the time Mariah had sung the praises of a South Atlantic cruise, how it wouldn’t cost a dime up front, and we’d more than likely wind up filthy rich, why, that poor old spirit never had a snowball’s chance! Just the talk of all that gold had addled her just a bit. She was counting the booty and wondering what to buy! Before we’d left she’d already planned a new chicken coup, and was dreaming of a brand new, cast iron, Benjamin Franklin fireplace, with dampers and andirons and pokers and solid brass balls. I mean finials!
OBIE, Chapter 18. GRANDPA’S FAVORITE KNIFE
So the week whizzed by, the seventeenth rolled ‘round, and the big event at last was ushered in. I can’t begin to tell ya how the approach of this day has wreaked havoc on me! I was frantic as a mouse in a bucket! I hadn’t eaten nothin’ in about three days, and folks was sniffling and tearing up, till my throat had a lump the size of a grapefruit! My mouth was so dry I couldn’t spit ner swaller!
Most everyone in town would see us off at the wharf. My folks couldn’t bear it. They’d see me off at home. I said goodbye to Mother first. Neither one of us was able to say much. We hugged and cried, and kissed and hugged, and hugged and cried some more! She promised to write, and I promised to read, and I promised a whole lot more! “You know son,” she sobbed, “you’ve been the brightest spot in each of my days since before you were ever born. I can’t even imagine a day without you here.” “It’s all those years of love”, I said, “That give me the strength to go. Till I’m home again, that love will keep us strong.” My poor heart was poundin’ fit to bust! I kissed Mamma goodbye and hurried for the kitchen door.
Dad was waiting as I stepped out on the porch. I knew Dad had been crying. He blew his nose on that same old bandana that he’s carried in his pocket for years, and then he forced a smile and reached into his vest pocket. “This old tin of fishing lures has always brought me luck.” He says, “Take it with you son, and always remember, I love you with all my heart!” Then he hands me his brass-cased compass, and his dad’s old pocketknife. “This was your Grandpas’ favorite knife, son. He carried it most of his life. He gave it to me when we left the ol’ home place, and he’d want you to have now. Keep it dry son, keep a good edge, and bring it back home real soon.”
Well, I broke down and bawled like a day old calf, then we hugged and I staggered down the stairs. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, I turned and took one last look. Dad waved real big, wiped his nose, and hollered, “Use your own head son, write to your Ma, and catch a great big fish for me!”
Saying goodbye to my mom and dad, without the slightest doubt, was the most gut wrenching experience I’ve ever suffered through! After an experience like that, why, rounding Cape Horn won’t be no more than a lark! This shindig ought to be a piece of cake from here on out!
Christoph was waiting in the wagon to haul me into town. I was traveling light! Uncle Gus had given me an old leather rucksack, from back during the war for independence. It was soft as glove leather and broken in just right. I took the clothes I was wearing and one of Klouse’s old pea coats. Everything else I was bringing along I toted in that ol’ ruck.
When we arrived at the wharf it was standing room only. The lure of gold had the whole darn world in frenzy. Ships was coming and going, and most of the town turned out. There were two tall ships prepared to depart. They were loaded and canvassed, and fixing to double the horn. There were flags flying, bands playing, crowds waving, and I’d never seen anything to match it in my life!
Christoph followed and I fought my way through the crowd. All at once we spotted the cousins and the rest of the family. I hugged each one in turn till I came to Uncle Gus. ‘Fore ya know it; he’d hoisted me clean off my feet! Uncle Gus gave me a bear like squeeze that relieved me of most of my wind, and as he sat me down I stood face to face with Mariah! It hadn’t occurred to me till right at that moment how much I’d miss Mariah! My red eyes blurred, my throat went tight, and my stomach went all to knots. I grabbed her in my arms and we hugged like we’d never let go! After a moment I gazed into her eyes, and it took all the gumption I had just to try and speak. “You will wait for me, won’t ya?” was all I could say. Mariah just kissed me and grinned real big with those huge brown eyes; “I’ll be here Obadiah, if it takes a thousand years!”
Well, they were fixin’ to haul up the gangplank as I ran for the ship. Everyone was hollering and carrying on something fierce! Lidge was already onboard, and he grabbed my hand as I jumped down on the deck. His eyes were wide with excitement. “We did it Obie!” he hollered over the roar of the crowd, “Look out San Francisco, here we come!”
TO BE CONTINUED
Thanks for your patience.
Thanks for your time.
Thanks for your kind attention.
Shannon T. Casebeer
Old Hangtown, aka Placerville, California