Thursday’s Teaser

Storm’s Promise

              Stormy scrunched low into the tall grasses surrounding the pool of water bubbling out of the prairie. From the tracks around the area he reckoned it was a favorite watering hole for both man and beast. He wasn’t sure which category he fit. He’d have to think on that some—first he needed to stop the bleeding from the gun shot high on his chest. 
            He took one last look around, then lowered himself to the ground. Normally proud that he stood head and shoulders above most men, now he was wishin’ he could fold himself in two. He grunted as he loosened his shirt from his britches and tried to look at the wound. The bandana stuffed in the hole was sticky with blood, some fresh, some dried and it hurt something fierce when he pulled it loose, bringing black chest hair and a fresh gush of blood with it.
            An annoying sound, like a thousand cicadas, undulated in his ears in rhythm with the beat of his heart and he fought to stay conscious. He’d never lost a shooting match in his life, and wouldn’t have lost this one if he had seen his assailant. Careless—that’s what he was. Plain careless. He thought he’d be in friendly territory once he crossed the Kansas border, what with him still wearing the Union blue, but here he sat weak as a kitten, teetering on the very edge of safe and sorry. He’d thought wrong.
            He pulled a handful of grass and jammed it into the wound as best he could. Then he leaned on one elbow and retched as the ground rose to meet his face.
            “Please don’t go moving around, mister. I just got that hole in your front side all plugged and you can’t afford to lose more blood.”
            The girl behind a voice as musical as wind in the pines, moved to wipe his face with a wet cloth. Stormy found himself looking into eyes the color of his ma’s lilacs Even in this predicament he wasn’t beyond taking notice of a beautiful woman, though this one appeared to be a mite on the wrong side of old enough.
            Use you charm, Storm. It’s never failed you yet. “I must’a died and gone to heaven, seeing as how it’s an angel talking to me.”
            Pfft, that’s silly talk. If you were dead I doubt it’d be heaven you were seeing.” The girl smiled and his heart thumped. Must be dreadful weak. He’d seen plenty of smiles in his life and most of them held promises he meant for them to keep. This had to be one of the most innocent smiles ever turned his direction.
            “You saying I’m not fit for up yonder?” He tried to move but nothing would cooperate.
            “I can’t be a judge of that. All I know is your dirty, you stink, and you have a great big hole in your chest that you weren’t born with. And—”, she flung herself down beside him, slammed one arm across his chest and moved close enough he could hear her whisper.
            “You best be lying still as death, mister. Whatever you do, don’t say a word, do you hear me? Just take a deep breath if you understand. I’ll feel your chest move and know.”
            Stormy obliged. It wasn’t hard—he needed to breathe. Her arm lay across his wound and it hurt worse than ever, but he’d never bickered with a woman lying so close to him before. No reason to start now.
            “We’re being peered at from behind those trees yonder. I can’t tell for sure, but I think they’re fellas I know. Until they show themselves, you best be dead or dying.”
            She smelled all soapy and clean, and he fought the urge to turn toward her. He took another deep breath and released it only when he felt the toe of a boot grind into his thigh.
            “Lookee here, Frankie. Looks like Miz Harding’s limpy little girl finally found herself a man. A dead one at that.”
            “Shh.” Her breath tickled his ear.
            “Hey you.” The boot connected again and an involuntary moan escaped his lips.
            Why, you’re not dead at all. Why don’t you get up then, big strange man. This itty bitty gal wear you out, did she?”
            “You hush your dirty mouth.” The girl screamed in Stormy’s ear, then used the arm across his chest to push herself up.
            He sucked in his breath to keep from screaming with the pain. Thunder, but that did hurt.
He opened his eyes in time to see the girl fling a handful of dirt into the pimply face of the young man bending over them.
            “You got a dirty mind and a dirtier mouth, Charlie Tucker. Say you’re sorry, then you and your ugly brother hightail it on back into the timber where you belong.”
            “Ahh, Promise. You don’t mean that. We was only funnin’ ya a little.”
            “It wasn’t fun and you know it.” She stood up, arm drawn back with another handful of debris. “You get on out of here before I sic mama, and Bertha, on you both. Now get.”
            “What you gonna do about him?” The smaller of the two scrawny boys bent over and peered into his eyes. Stormy blinked, and the kid jumped backwards.
            “He ain’t dead, is he?”
            “Course he’s not dead, but he’s shot bad. I patched him up for now. I’ll wait and see what Mama wants to do with him, I suppose.”
            “Want us to go get your ma for ‘ya?” The pimply-faced one bent low, so close Stormy could count all five whiskers on his dirty face.
            “I can manage. You just get on home.” She gave the one called Charlie a shove. “And move away from his face so he can breathe. I can smell you clear over here.”
            Stormy moved his right hand slowly down his leg. Had she left his gun on him? She had. What luck. Slowly he withdrew it and tried to raise it enough to point.”
            The younger one laughed. Stormy never had a kid laugh at him, and he didn’t like it.
            “You think you’re gonna shoot me with that thing, mister?”
            The kid straddled him, looming like a giant wishbone above him. “I don’t think ya’ got the strength to pull the trigger, but try if you want.”
            “From this angle, young man, I wouldn’t kill you, but I could sure take away a whole lot of your pride. Now move away.” Stormy hoped he sounded tough. The strange buzzing sound was going off in his ears again, and his arm dropped to the ground.
            “Promise, call him off. He needs more help than you can give him and I know for a fact you can’t get him home by yourself.”
            The girl squatted down beside him. “You game to let them get my ma? First thing she’ll want to know is if the law is after you. Second thing is how you got shot. Then she’ll ask you what your intentions are with me.”
            “What do you mean, my intentions? I never intended you to find me in the first place.”
            “You running?”
            “Don’t figure that’s anybody’s business but my own, ma’am.”
            She looked at him and grinned. “Have it you way, Mister. You can keep your business your own, but you surely didn’t shoot yourself so I reckon somebody must be looking for you.” She shook her skirts and turned her back on him. “Guess he doesn’t want anything to do with us, Charlie. You want him?”

            “Nah. I’d rather let Bertha have him. Come on Frank. Let’s go get Miz Harding and let her decide.” 
            Stormy could hear them laughing as they trudged away. Did the girl go with them? It was far too quiet. Surely she didn’t leave him alone. What if he bled to death? 
        And who in blazes was Bertha?

Tuesday’s Tale from the Tailboard

Empty Chairs

We celebrated Thanksgiving this past Sunday at Kip and Becky’s. It gets harder every year to find a time when the family can all be together. With two firefighter schedules plus others in the family who work, it becomes a juggling act to come up with a date. And we’ve already chosen January 3 and 4 for our Christmas.

But we were together, and for that I am most grateful. Yes, we miss those that are gone. But that has nothing to do with the fire department. All across this nation there will be empty chairs around the Thanksgiving table no matter when or where it is celebrated.

Some chairs are empty because duty prevents the presence of one who would normally fill the spot. Soldiers, Firefighters, Policemen, doctors, nurses, farmers, ranchers, waitresses, cooks, housekeeping personnel, and the list goes on.

Some are empty and will never again be filled because they’ve given their lives to protect others.

Some are empty because of old age, or illnesses, or accidents, etc..

And some are empty because they were never filled, those who were lost before they were born.

Thanksgiving is not just one day of celebration. It is a choice we make, regardless of the circumstances. It is a lifestyle—Thanks-living!

But may we never forget that while we rejoice with those who rejoice, we are also to mourn with those who mourn.

Some people have a custom of setting a plate on the table for the unseen guest.

This year, why not place an empty chair in the room.

Thank God if the chair you place is only a symbol.

Pray for those for whom it represents so much more.


Mundane Monday

Life at the Bottom!!

Nothing quite so mundane as spending one’s life at the bottom of a sink.!! But I don’t have a dishwasher ( gasp!), so this is who greets me after each meal I actually cook. I say ‘who’, and give her a gender, because to me she’s much more than a kitchen gadget. She’s taught me so much. Really, she has:

1.  She’s there every day to fulfill the job for which she was created.
2.  She doesn’t whine about being on the bottom.
3.  No matter what sharp thing is thrown against her, she remains steadfast.
4.  Steadfast, even though someone else’s garbage is placed on her shoulders
5.  Steadfast, no matter how hot the water.
6.  Never tries to overthrow that which is placed on her, in order to rise to the top.
7.  She allows the abuse because she knows when it is over, she will be cleansed.
8.  Yet, even after the cleansing, she’s willing to go back to her position at the bottom
9.   Because she knows that’s where she’s needed most.
10. All this, without one word of complaint that she is ONLY …

I can’t fail to mention she was a gift.  See the connection?

I should be so willing.

It matters.

Friday’s Fun (FOOD!!)

Chocolate Caramel Cake
This is a quick, easy recipe and tastes very gourmet. And the best thing–you can ‘tweak’ it however you want.  White cake instead of chocolate. Hot Fudge toppings instead of caramel.  More (lots more) Heath bits.  You can garnish the whipped topping with nuts, or mini-chocolate chips, or whatever your little heart desires.  

1 chocolate cake mix
1 jar caramel ice cream topping
1 cup (or more if desired) Heath chocolate covered toffee bits
1 tub whipped topping
Bake cake as directed. When cool, punch full of holes using a drinking straw.
Pour the entire jar of caramel topping over the cake–making sure each hole is filled!
Top with whipped topping, and then the toffee bits.
Now, this will only be a Fun Friday if YOU share a favorite quick and easy recipe!!  And I will thank you from the bottom of my cake plate!!  

Thursday’s Teaser

Storm’s Promise

Cass County Missouri
August 26, 1863
            Stormy Dey leaned from his saddle to address the tiny woman standing in the clearing and prayed she’d not show recognition. If his superior officer knew it was his ma, it would only make things worse.
            He cleared his throat. His pa was a man of few words, but when he gave that raspy aahem they all knew they’d best pay attention. Would she remember? “Military Order Number Eleven. Do you know what this says, ma’am?”
            “Read it, Dey. That’s an order.” The veins on the Sergeant’s neck protruded—a sure sign he was angry. “Don’t reckon the old lady can read for herself by the looks of the place.”
            Storm scowled at the thickset officer. This would not be a good time to argue. He straightened in the saddle and willed the woman to listen without a quarrel. “All persons living in Jackson, Cass and Bates counties and in that part of Vernon County…” He stopped. Did she understand what this meant for her?
            Wilson grabbed the missive from his hands. “What you pussyfootin’ around for? Read it. Let her know we mean business. We got a job to do.” He wiped tobacco juice from his chin.  “are ordered to move from their present place of residence within fifteen days from the date hereof…” He finished and shook the paper at the woman. “You understand lady? This here order is signed by Brigadier-General Thomas Ewing hisself. You gotta get off this land. You got any questions you better be asking them now. You ain’t off in time there won’t be nobody answering nothin’.”
            A wad of spittle hit Storm’s boot, and he reined his horse backward. A mere ghost of a smile and the glint in her eye signaled the woman was quite pleased with the result. She recognized him for sure.
            She swiped her frayed sleeve across her chin then clamped her hands on her hips. “Must make you feel real high and mighty, you bunch of soldier boys. Comin’ onto a woman’s property with your dirty hunk of paper tryin’ to say what she can and can’t do. Ever lastin’ one of ‘ya got a ma somewhere, and I’d be ‘bliged to take a willow switch to each of your sorry behinds in her name. Now git off my yard, and tell that fancy mister General Ewing man to come here hisself and say them words ‘stead a sendin’ a bunch of snot-nosed young’uns to do his dirty biddin’.”
            The hair on the back of Storm’s neck bristled as burly Sergeant Wilson reached for his pistol. Known for his hot temper and itchy trigger finger, the man was hated by his peers and feared by most who came in contact with him. And he seemed to relish the authority Ewing bestowed upon him. “Clear them off.” Those were the orders, though it made Storm sick to his stomach.
            “Let her be, Wilson.” Storm glanced around the yard. It wasn’t uncommon for a woman to greet the mounted soldiers. With the exception of a few, the edict affected mostly women and children, or those men too old or too sick to be conscripted. But a fresh mound of dirt under the spreading limbs of an apple tree convinced him this tiny spark of fire had most likely just buried her man.

            Sergeant Wilson turned on Storm, gun drawn and veins in his neck bulging even more. “You ain’t the one givin’ orders, Dey. I’m in charge and don’t you forget it. This Order Number Eleven clearly states these people have fifteen days to get off this land.” He turned back to the woman. “But since you’re so almighty sassy I’m saying you got ‘til sundown tomorrow.”
            “You can’t do that, Sergeant.” Stormy leaned in the saddle. “Can’t you see she’s alone? How’s she gonna get packed up and out of here by then? Ewing won’t stand for you roughin’ up one old woman before she’s had her fifteen days to clear off.”
            Wilson’s eyes bulged. “Ewing won’t know, lest you tell him and I don’t think you want to do that, now do you? Nothing says you can’t help her, you being such a lady’s man and all.”
            The woman widened her stance, her eyes ablaze. “Ain’t nobody helpin’ me do nothin. I’ll get off only when the Good Lord tells me. And by crackers, you ain’t Him, and neither is that runnin’ scared Ewing. Now git. The lot of ya.”
            Wilson moved his horse closer. “We’ll be back, woman. Come tomorrow night you best be gone , or—”
            “You can go dip that or in somebody else’s stream, mister. I ain’t never took orders from a bully and I ain’t gonna start now. You come on back tomorry night, long about supper time. Iffen you got better manners, I’ll feed ya. If not, I’ll shoot ya myself. It’s only cause I’m a lady I didn’t come out to greet ‘ya with my gun anyway.” Her forehead furrowed. “Shame on the lot of ya.”
            “You ain’t no lady. You ain’t nothin’ but poor white trash livin’ in the shadow of your uppity neighbors. Probably got an old man and a pack of mealy-mouthed johnny-reb sons off somewheres in the woods lettin’ you do their fightin’ for ‘em.”
            Storm bit his cheek. If Wilson suspicioned, for one minute, that he knew this woman he’d burn her out tonight. He and the sergeant tangled more often than not, and he was aware of the rash threats the man made behind his back. Wilson would like nothing better than to have a reason to report him, or shoot him. However, it was a chance he’d take. “I’ll stay a bit and see if I can help her. That is, if you don’t mind Sarge.” Storm dismounted. “I’ll make sure she gets on her way like you said.”
            Wilson’s holstered his gun. “It’s your neck, Dey. You wanna stick it out for some sassy old woman I reckon that’s up to you. Just don’t expect me to feel sorry for you when Ewing finds out you turned soft.” He shook his finger. “Don’t get no fancy notion of runnin’, neither. If you ain’t caught up with us by moon-up, I swear I’ll torch this place then hunt you down myself. You think I ain’t noticed you sound just like these people?”
            Storm bit his tongue until the last rider was out of sight, then he turned to the small woman by his side. “What were you thinking, Ma? You want to get yourself shot? He would have, you know.”
            “He weren’t gonna shoot me, Storm.” She stood on tiptoe to brush her work-worn fingers across his cheek.” Now, ya best get on that horse and catch up with your ugly friends. I don’t need your help doin’ what needs to be done.”
            “You really think I’m just gonna ride out of here and leave you like this? What kind of son would that be?”

            Her shoulders slumped. “Oh, Storm—the same kind a son ya been since the day ya was borned. Stubborn. Hot-headed. Always lookin’ for what was beyond the next hill. Ya walked away from here ten years ago and ya ain’t never come back ‘til now. Then ya come ridin’ in with that gang of hoodlums tellin’ me I gotta get off this here land.”

            Storm ducked his head. He never doubted his parents’ love for him—didn’t doubt it now—but it burned like turpentine on skeeter bites to hear her saying what he knew was true. 


Tales From the Tailboard

It’s Not All Work!

Because they live together 24 hours at a time, firefighters become very much family. And in each family there is a certain amount of tomfoolery that occurs. Imagine a household of four or five boys, and then multiply the mischief by lots of ten because these are no longer boys, but grown men.

Like family, most of the rowdiness occurred when the Chiefs weren’t there. So Bob questioned the fact his Chief hung around one evening, and even sat down at the table with them for their evening meal, which happened to be pancakes.

Bob’s first bite of pancake was uneventful. But when he tried to cut a second bite his question was answered. The chef for the evening had put a milk strainer in Bob’s pancake. Of course, his attempt to cut the second bite was thwarted…but it took a bit of ‘sawing’ for him to realize what they’d done.

I don’t know how many of you know what a milk strainer is. It’s not unlike a coffee filter, though more fiber dense. That’s how Bob felt–a bit dense.  But it was good for a laugh–and still is.

For the past several years, the Newton Fire Department has hosted a special luncheon for the retired firefighters and ambulance personnel. It’s a great time of reflection, of remembering members who have gone before them, exclaiming over how things have changed.

Most of all, it’s a grand time of recounting stories like this over and over again, and laughing as though they were hearing them for the first time.

It’s the brotherhood.

And it’s what got them through the times they don’t want to to remember.

Retiree  luncheon, 2014.  Bob is standing, 7th from the left
Retirees and their sons who are still active Newton firefighter/paramedics
Bob and Rob on the left