KC and Grumps
Short Stories in the Sweetwater Saga
by Mickey Minner
Jennifer passed through the doorway between the kitchen and the front of the house. As expected, she spotted her daughter gazing out of a window toward the gate at the top of the knoll. “KC, your eggs are getting cold,” she said as she walked up to stand behind the little girl.
Without turning around, KC leaned back against her mother. “I wait for Mommy.”
“I know you miss her.” Jennifer gently ran her fingers through the girl’s silky hair. “But Mommy won’t be home until tomorrow.”
Jennifer smiled at her daughter’s favorite and frequent question. “Because she and Uncle Billie had to drive the freight wagon to Garnet.”
“Because Ed asked them to.”
Jennifer chuckled. She had answered the same questions dozens of times since Jesse had kissed her and the children goodbye three mornings before. “Because,” she said, smiling down at her daughter who had her head bent back to look up at her. “Now, come into the kitchen and eat your breakfast. You know Charlie won’t eat unless you do.”
“Otay.” KC relented. “I tell Cha-wie to eat.”
“That’s my girl.”
“I Mommy’s girl.” KC grabbed her mother’s hand, tugging her across the room.
“Aren’t you my girl, too?” Jennifer asked, a hint of hurt in her voice.
KC smiled over her shoulder at Jennifer. “Yep.” She nodded.
Jennifer stepped out onto the back porch, her daughter following close behind her, and carried a pail of dirty water left after washing the morning dishes to the edge of the porch.
“What Grump doin’?” KC asked as she spied her grandfather walking toward the barn.
“I don’t know.” Jennifer said as she emptied the pail into a wooded trough Jesse had made especially for her. The trough carried the water to the garden, distributing it to the neatly tended rows of vegetables and flowers, thus eliminating the need for the lame woman to walk the short distance.
“Grump,” KC called to her grandfather. “What doin’?”
Stanley Branson looked toward the back of the house to see his granddaughter teetering on the edge of the porch as she peered intently at him. He gave his daughter’s family a quick wave then disappeared into the barn.
“Be careful, KC,” Jennifer warned as the girl inched closer to the porch’s edge.
“I go there?” KC pointed toward the barn.
“No. I think we should wait here.”
Stanley re-appeared carrying Jesse’s tool box. He had managed only a few steps before his granddaughter urged him to move faster.
“Hurry, Grump. I waitin’.”
“KC.” Jennifer scolded then chuckled as her daughter bent at the waist, placing her hands on her knees and glaring across the ranch yard at her grandfather.
“Mornin’, Jennifer,” Stanley said as he approached the porch. He set the toolbox on the ground before mounting the steps.
“Good morning. We missed you at breakfast. Anything wrong?” Her parents-in-law normally ate at the ranch house.
“Marie is feeling a tad under the weather this morning.”
“Oh. Is she okay?”
“She said, if you was to ask, to say she was fine.”
“Let’s say, I don’t think she’d say no to some company and lemon tea.”
“All right. I’ll go over just as soon as I get Charley cleaned up.” Stanley and Marie were living in the cabin her mother had vacated when she had returned to the East. “I thought KC could spread food about but that boy–.” She laughed.
“Where is the lad?”
Jennifer smiled as she watched KC quietly inch over to stand right beside Stanley. Usually it was Jesse the child attached herself to but whenever the rancher was away Stanley garnered the girl’s attention. “He’s still in the high chair. It’s all I can do to keep an eye on one of them at a time.”
Stanley nodded. “They is a handful. I’ll give ’em that.”
“Momma.” The call came from inside the house.
“Sounds like I’ve been gone long enough.” Jennifer turned for the open kitchen door. “There’s still some hot coffee on the stove if you’d like a cup.”
“Think I better be gettin’ to work.” Stanley followed Jennifer inside and his granddaughter followed him.
“What do you plan to do today?”
“Thought I’d start tearing apart that chicken coop. See what can be salvaged to build a new one.”
“Oh? I thought Jesse was going to help you with that when she got back.” Jennifer knew a new coop was needed after their old coop was literally blown apart by the winds of a winter storm.
“You sayin’ I can’t do it alone?”
“Stanley,” Jennifer smiled affectionately at her father-in-law, “you know that wasn’t what I was saying. It’s just that…”
“I should wait for Jesse.” Stanley huffed. “Ya’d think I was an old man the way that girl fusses after me.”
Jennifer lifted Charley free of his high chair. “She worries about you.” She carried her son to the counter where a clean bowl of warmed water waited. “Now, stop fussing,” she told the toddler. “We can’t go visit your grandmother with a face full of egg, can we?”
KC climbed onto a chair to watch her brother’s antics. Standing on the seat, she draped her arms over the chair back and rested her chin on the top rail. “Be good, Cha-wie. Mommy be mad if we bad.”
“Seems she lets you get by with most.” Stanley humpfted.
KC slowly spun her head around to look at her grandfather. “Me go with Grump,” she announced.
“What?” Jennifer asked, wiping Charley’s face with a towel.
“Me go with Grump.”
“No,” Stanley told the girl.
“Sweetie, I think you should go with me to visit your grandmother.”
Jennifer lifted Charley off the counter and held him out to Stanley.
Stanley accepted the boy without comment.
Charley smiled at his grandfather. In an attempt to wrap his arms around his neck, his head butted into Stanley’s cheek.
“Ow.” Stanley shifted the boy to one arm, rubbing his cheek with his freed hand.
“Cha-wie. Careful.” KC admonished her brother.
“You should take Bette Mae up on her offer to pull that tooth out,” Jennifer said as she watched Stanley grimace in pain.
“I ain’t lettin’ that woman anywhere near me with that there set of pliers of hers. I’ll wait until I can see a real doc.”
“Bette Mae is the closest thing to a doctor that Sweetwater has.” Jennifer reminded Stanley of what he already knew. “Dentist too.”
“If it’s all the same to you, I’ll wait.”
“It’s your tooth.”
“Yes, it is. Now, I best be gettin’ to work.” Stanley looked around for the best place to set his grandson down.
“I’ll take him. He needs a change of britches before we go check on Marie.”
Stanley passed Charley back to his mother then strode out of the kitchen while Jennifer carried her son upstairs to his bedroom.
KC sat alone for a few moments then slipped off the chair.
Stanley picked up the tool box and walked around to the front of the house where he found KC standing on the front steps. As he walked past, his granddaughter followed him. “I thought you was goin’ visit yer grandma.”
“No. I helps you.”
Stanley continued walking. “Don’t need yer help.”
KC quickened her steps until she was walking beside Stanley. “Me good helper. Mommy says so.”
“She does, does she?”
“Won’t ya momma be missin’ ya?”
KC looked over her shoulder at the house. She saw Jennifer standing on the front porch watching her.
“Looks like your grandpa is in for an interesting day,” Jennifer told Charlie. She smiled and blew a kiss at KC. “Let’s hope your sister doesn’t cause him too much trouble.”
KC smiled and reached up, slipping her little hand into her grandfather’s much larger hand. “Nope. Momma wuvs me.”
Stanley gently closed his fingers around KC’s. “That she does, young ’un. That she does.”
Stanley pulled another wood plank free of the old chicken coop’s frame. “We can use this one again,” he said as he added the wood to a pile of planks.
“Yep,” KC agreed as she surveyed the plank before returning to her task of picking up all the small non-reusable pieces of wood in the rubble and piling them separately from her grandfather’s pile. She was wearing Jesse’s work gloves and had to constantly stop in her task to pull them back onto her small hands.
Stanley smiled as he remembered another little girl that had once worked alongside of him on his own ranch.
“Grump.” KC grunted as she struggled to pull a large plank free from the debris. “T’is one good.”
“Let me help ya there.” Stanley quickly stepped over to help his granddaughter. “Ain’t this one a tad big fer ya.”
KC tugged on the stubborn piece of wood. “Nope.”
Stanley moved aside the long roosting shelve that was holding the plank in place.
KC walked backward pulling the plank behind her. “You help,” she said when she reached the pile of stacked wood but wasn’t able to lift the plank up to add it. KC stood on her tiptoes, pushing with all her might to shove the plank onto the pile.
Stanley bent down, lifting the end of the plank and carefully guiding it into position.
KC let the work gloves drop off her hands and wiped her brow. “T’anks,” she said as she retrieved the gloves.
“Me thirsty. You thirsty, Grump?”
“Come on.” KC led Stanley to the bucket of water he had placed in the shade of the old coop earlier that morning. She pulled the dipper out of the bucket and took a long drink. Then she refilled the dipper and held it up to her grandfather. “Good,” she said, wiping drops of water off her chin after Stanley had taken hold of the dipper.
With their thirst quenched for the moment, the pair returned to the coop.
“Are you sure she should be helping Stanley?” Marie asked as she looked out the window of the cabin again. “She might get hurt.”
“She’ll be fine,” Jennifer answered. “She helps Jesse all the time.”
“But she’s so small.”
“Getting bigger by the moment.” Jennifer laughed. “Just like this one.” She was sitting on the cabin floor playing with Charley. “Aren’t you?” She reached over and tickled her son’s side.
Charley giggled as he slapped at his mother’s hand.
“They are growing, aren’t they?” Marie turned away from the window to study her daughter-in-law and grandson. “I’ve forgotten how fast they do that.”
Jennifer looked up. “I’m glad you’re here, Marie. And I know Jesse is glad, too.”
Charley yawned. He crawled to Jennifer and snuggled into her lap.
“I think it’s someone’s naptime,” Jennifer said. “Do you feel up to coming over to the house?” she asked Marie.
Marie thought for a moment. “I think I do.” She smiled.
Jennifer pushed herself up from the floor then lifted Charley into her arms and grabbed her cane from where she had left it leaning against the bed. “Good. You can tell me more stories about Jesse as a child while Charley takes his nap.”
“You know how much she hates me doing that.”
“I know.” Jennifer giggled. “But that’s not going to stop you, is it?”
Marie laughed. “Oh, heavens no.”
Stanley was standing atop a ladder working to free a stubborn portion of the roof that was refusing to come loose of the coop’s corner joist. Due to the amount of rubble under where he was working, he hadn’t taken much care in assuring the ladder’s legs were set on firm ground.
KC stood at the bottom of the ladder looking up with an arm shielding her eyes from the bright afternoon sun.
“Things tougher than a one-bit steak.” Stanley groused as he tried to pry the immovable section free. “Maybe I can beat it free with the hammer,” he muttered to himself.
KC turned and ran over to Jesse’s toolbox. “I gets,” she called back to her grandfather as she pulled the hammer out of the box.
Before Stanley could stop her, KC was running back with the hammer clasped tightly in her hands. “No. Don’t climb the ladder,” he shouted as his watched KC do just that.
“I can do’s it,” KC said without stopping.
Stanley felt the poorly positioned ladder shift under the added weight. “KC, no.”
But KC ignored the warning and climbed higher as the ladder shifted again and started to tilt precariously to one side.
Stanley grabbed for the section of roof he had been struggling with only to have it finally and, quite unexpectedly, come loose. With no way to stop the inevitable all he could do was try to prevent KC from being injured as they fell. As the ladder toppled, he snatched at KC pulling her against him. With his arms wrapped around his granddaughter, Stanley had no way to protect himself and he landed awkwardly, half on his side and half on his face.
“What was that?” Marie asked when she heard her husband shout.
Jennifer was already reaching for her cane. “I don’t know,” she said as she rose out of the chair and walked toward the front of the house. She and Marie had been sitting in the kitchen enjoying the stories Marie was recalling about her daughter.
Both women hurried out onto the front porch. Seeing a cloud of dust rising from behind what was left of the chicken coop, they hurried in that direction.”
KC lay on the ground, safely encircled by her grandfather’s protective arms. “T’at fun.” She grinned as she sat up. “You ’k, Grump?”
Stanley groaned. “Ow.” He reached for his mouth where something hard was pinching the inside of his cheek.
“Ow.” Stanley repeated. He stuck two fingers inside his mouth then withdrew them. “Well, I’ll be,” he muttered.
“What got?” KC rose to her knees, peering into her grandfather’s hand. “Mine,” she said as she removed the object he held.
“KC?” Jennifer called out as she approached the chicken coop. “Stanley? Are you guys all right?”
“Momma,” KC called excitedly. “Come ’ere.”
Jennifer hurried around the corner of the chicken coop to find Stanley laying motionless on the ground and KC sitting beside him grinning happily.
Marie gasped when she saw her prone husband. “Stanley?”
Stanley glared at KC. “Ya just had ta bring me the hammer, didn’t ya?”
“KC, are you all right?” Jennifer asked, worried the little girl covered in dust had been somehow been hurt even though she was kneeling in the dirt seemingly unaware of her mother’s concern.
KC held up her hand. “Momma, ook. I helps Grump.”
Jennifer and Marie bent over to see what KC was holding.
Marie gasped. “Oh, my. Is that–?”
“Sure looks like it.” Jennifer started to chuckle. “Stanley, is that–?” she asked as she took a closer look at the tooth resting in KC’s palm; a tooth much too big for her active daughter’s mouth.
“Yes.” Stanley grumbled, pushing himself up into a sitting position. “That there is my tooth.” He reached to retake possession of his missing tooth.
KC clamped her hand closed around the tooth. “Mine,” she said standing up and bouncing away from her grandfather.
“Sweetie, give grandpa his tooth back.” Jennifer struggled to get the words out, she was laughing so hard.
Marie laughed. “Don’t know why he’d want it back. All he’s done for days is complain about it.”
“Humpft.” Stanley grumbled.
“Sweetie, what do you plan to do with the tooth?” Jennifer asked.
“Me keeps for Mommy.”
“Well, I’m not too sure Jesse is going to have much use for it. But if grandpa says it all right, you can keep it.”
Taking very deliberate steps, KC walked over to her grandfather. “Me keeps?” she asked, holding out her hand with the tooth.
KC smiled broadly. “Pease?”
“Yeah. Ya can keep the blame tooth. It surely weren’t doin’ me much good.”
KC looked at Jennifer who nodded.
“T’anks, Grump.” KC leaned in, placing a kiss on her grandfather’s cheek. Then she turned and took off running for the house. “Me shows Cha-wie.”
“But he’s asleep,” Marie called after her granddaughter.
Jennifer laughed. “He won’t be for long.” She held a hand out to Stanley. “Need some help,” she asked as he was still sitting on the ground.
“No.” Stanley grumbled then stood up. “How ya put up with that there bundle of trouble, I’ll never know.”
“That’s easy,” Jennifer said. “It’s the thought of how I’d ever do without her that pains me.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Marie said as she checked Stanley for any other injuries. “You want to tell us what happened?”
“Good. You can tell us while we fix supper.”
“Still got work to do.”
“I think you’ve done enough for today,” Marie told her husband. “Now, come with us.”
Jennifer agreed. “I think its best we get back inside before KC talks Charley into doing to the house what you spent the day showing her to do with the chicken coop.”
“She wouldn’t.” Marie said nervously.
Jennifer laughed. “Oh, yes, she would.”
KC and Grumps 2
Stanley Branson carried the toolbox out of the barn intending to put it to immediately use on a section of fence. But as he stepped out from the deep shadows inside the barn, his eyes fell on his granddaughter sitting on the front steps of the ranch house. He set the toolbox down and pulled a kerchief out of his back pocket. Wiping his hands, he walked across the ranch yard to where KC sat with her elbows on her knees and her head held in her hands. “What’s making you so sad, young ‘un?” he asked sitting beside her.
“Miss Mommy and Momma,” KC answered with a sigh.
Jesse and Jennifer had ridden into Sweetwater for the day leaving KC and her brother in the care of their grandparents. Stanley looked at the arched gate that marked the entrance to the ranch yard. “They’ll be back soon enough.” KC raised her head to look at him, sighed deeply then dropped it back into her hands. “Where’s your brother?” he asked as he fought to keep from laughing at his granddaughter’s dramatics.
“He wif g’andma.”
“Why aren’t you inside with them?” KC shrugged. “Bet your grandma plans to do some bakin’ today. She could probably use your help.” KC shrugged again. “I suppose you plan to sit right here until your mothers come home, don’t ya?” Another shrug. “Well, suit yerself,” he said standing up, “I’ve got work to do.” He chuckled to himself as he left KC to retrieve the toolbox. With a final look at the doleful little girl, he walked to the corner of the barn and disappeared around it.
Stanley surveyed the section of fence that jutted out from the back of the barn for approximately fifteen feet to end at a corner post that anchored no other sections of fence. Jesse had told him it was left from the original owner of the ranch and since it was behind the barn, and not really in the way, she had just left it in place having more pressing chores to occupy her time. With his mind focused on figuring out for what function the solitary section of fence had been intended, he set the toolbox down next to the back wall of the barn and reached for the hammer it held.
“What ya doin’, Grumps?”
Startled by the unexpected intrusion into his thoughts, Stanley jerked upright.
The hammer-head caught on the handle of the toolbox for an instant before being pulled loose by the force of the strong hand grasping it. It flew upward forcing Stanley to yank his head to the side or suffer serious injury. With his arm moving in one direction and his head in another, he twisted around on unsteady legs and would have tumbled to the ground had he not managed to grab hold of the fence with his free hand. “What the…?” he gasped as he regained his footing. With one hand firmly holding the railing, he leaned back against the fence with his other arm hanging limp, the fingers still wrapped around the hammer. He looked down to see KC looking up at him, her head tilting to the side.
“What ya doin’? she asked again.
“Didn’t yer momma never tell you not to sneak up on folks?” He muttered waiting for his rapidly beating heart to settle.
She laughed. “Not sneak. Me walked.” KC moved to the fence. She placed a moccasin covered foot on the bottom rail and grabbed hold of the next rail then pulled herself up and wrapped both arms tightly around the wood. “What ya doing?” she repeated.
“Well, before you showed up and ‘bout scared me ta death,” Stanley said, finally releasing his death grip on the fence. “I was plannin’ ta take down this fence.”
“Why? ‘Cause it don’t to nothing but be in the way.”
“It not in way, Grumps,” she said peering up at him.
“It’s ready to fall down on its own,” he said giving the fence a good tug and watching the jolt shudder down its length. “Might as well take it down ‘fore it does.”
KC laid her head against the rail. “I likes it.”
“Fun? How can this old fence be fun?” he asked seeing it only through adult eyes. “It’s dangerous and needs to come down. Want to help?”
“No,” she said sadly. Stanley watched as her lower lip poked out and tears formed in her eyes. Slowly, she stepped down from the rails and turned away.
He tossed the hammer at the toolbox and followed his granddaughter. “Hold up there, young ‘un,” he said grabbing hold of her shirt and stopping her. He knelt on one knee so they would be on equal levels. “You like this fence?” he asked when she turned to face him. She nodded. “Why?”
“I plays on it.”
“You do?” She nodded again. “Ain’t ya ‘fraid ya’ll get hurt?”
He looked at the fence. To him, it looked like any other section of fence found on the ranch. Only this one was stuck in the ground without any apparent reason for its being. It didn’t serve to confine any animals like the corral or protect anything like the fence around Jennifer’s garden. “What do you do to play on it?”
KC smiled. “I shows you.” She scampered away from him and ran around the corner of the barn. He was about to chase after her when she suddenly reappeared. “You stay here, Grumps. I be right back. Otay?”
“All right,” he said knowing better than to argue with the little girl.
Stanley was beginning to get concerned when he heard odd sounds coming from around the corner of the barn. Moments later KC emerged struggling under the weight of Charley in her arms. “Whoa there, young ‘un,” he said as he retrieved the boy.
“T’anks, Grumps.” She frowned. “He heavy. He eats too much.”
Stanley chuckled. “Thought you was goin’ ta show me how you play on that fence.”
“I is.” She walked over to the fence. “Put Cha-wie dere,” she said pointing to a spot on the ground. “He wikes to watch me.”
“He does, does he?” Stanley asked as she instructed.
“Yep.” Once she was satisfied Charley was where she wanted him, KC climbed back onto the fence. But instead of standing on the bottom rail, she climbed all the way up to the top and straddled it. “Look, Cha-wie. I ride horsy,” she called down to the toddler intently watching her as she bounced. “Gid-up,” she told her make believe mount, slapping the rail behind her. Charley laughed and clapped his hands encouraging his sister. “Gid-up. Gid-up.” After a several minutes of riding, KC used invisible reins to pull her horse to a stop. “Whoa,” she said leaning back in her imaginary saddle.
Grabbing a firm hold on the rail, she swung one leg over then dropped down to stand on the next rail. Then she dropped down to the rail second from the bottom. She poked her head through the fence and made a face at her brother who laughed in response. She balanced her belly on the rail and lifted her legs as if to float in the air. “Look, Cha-wie. I flyin’,” she said holding her arms out in front of her.
“KC!” Stanley called out in alarm.
“I’s otay, Grumps,” KC assured her grandfather. “Watch dis.” She placed her hands on the rail and, without any hesitation, pushed with all her might.
Stanley’s eyes grew wide as he watched KC thrust her body backward away from the fence. Sure she would fall crashing to the hard ground below, he started running in a futile attempt to catch her. But before he could take more than a couple of steps, KC tucked her legs under her and landed on her feet. Laughing, she ran back to the fence where he helplessly watched her dive between the railings to tumble to a stop beside her brother.
“Want to play, Cha-wie?” KC asked the giggling toddler. She helped him to his feet and supported him as he walked to the fence on unsteady legs. “You sit here,” she said lifting him onto the bottom rail. Then she sat behind him and bounced both of them on another make believe horse.
Stanley watched the children play for the next hour before he decided it was time to return them to the house and their grandmother. Carrying Charley in one arm and holding the toolbox in his other hand, he walked around the corner of the barn with KC skipping happily beside him.
The fence remained standing but, after a few well placed repairs, somewhat sturdier than it had been that morning.
“Did you take down that section of fence,” Jesse asked as she poured steaming coffee into Stanley’s cup. They were sitting at the kitchen table while Jennifer and Marie undressed KC and Charley in preparation for their evening bath.
“Decide it wasn’t in the way anymore?”
“Decide it wasn’t ready to fall down on its own?”
“For the life of me,” Jennifer’s voice floated through the open door from the back porch, “I don’t know how the two of you can get so dirty.”
Jesse smiled and nodded knowingly. “Found out that fence isn’t as useless as you thought.”
KC and Grumps 3
KC stood in the front parlor, her elbows resting on the windowsill and her face cupped in her hands. Her weight was balanced on one leg as her other leg was bent at the knee with her moccasin covered foot hooked on the seat of a chair. She was watching her grandfather sweep snow off the wrap-a-round porch.
Snow, accumulated during the previous days, had been blown into drifts around the ranch yard and against the house by strong overnight winds. On the front side of the house, where Stanley was working, much of the porch had been covered by blowing snow. As he cleared the porch, he created even deeper drifts in front of the house.
KC watched as Stanley finally removed the last of the blown snow. Standing at a corner of the porch he surveyed the portico. Satisfied that his morning task was complete, he leaned the broom against the wall then pulled his kerchief from his back pocket and walked to the pair of rocking chairs usually occupied by his daughter and daughter-in-law at the end of a long day. With a groan, he sat down.
KC smiled. “Come on, Cha-wie,” she said as she turned away from the window. “Time to play.” Charley, sitting in the chair his sister had been using as a foot rest, rolled over onto his stomach and dropped his legs over the side of the cushion. KC wrapped her arms around them and helped him down to the floor.
Stanley glanced over at the door when he heard it creak open. “I’ve been wonderin’ when ya would make an appearance,” he told his granddaughter as she marched out onto the porch with her brother in tow. KC pulled the door closed then stood with her hands on her hips. “Well?” He asked, watching her scrutinize the results of his labor. “Does it meet with your approval?” he asked as he helped Charley climb into his lap.
KC finally nodded.
Stanley chuckled. “So,” he addressed his grandson, “just what do ya young ‘uns plan on doin’?”
“Play,” KC answered for her brother.
“Play? Where? Everything is covered with snow.”
KC turned to face Stanley. “I know dat,” she said then walked over to stand beside the rocking chair. “You play wif us?”
“Play? Silly young ‘un. I’m an old man. I don’t play.”
KC tilted her head to study her grandfather. After several seconds, she giggled. “You funny.” Then she looked over her shoulder at the mounds of snow alongside the edge of the porch. “Come on, Cha-wie.” Dutifully, Charley climbed down from his grandfather’s lap to join his sister. “You watch me. Then do what I do. ‘Kay?” As soon as Charley nodded, KC turned and ran for the end of the porch. Without any hesitation, she leaped into the air. Stretching her legs out in front of her, she landed butt first on top of a pile of fluffy snow and burst into giggles.
Charley, following his sister’s example, ran after KC. But when he jumped, he didn’t stretch out his legs. Instead, he landed feet first and instantly disappeared.
Stanley leaped out of the rocking chair and ran to the edge of the porch. “Where’d the little tyke go?” he worriedly asked his giggling granddaughter.
KC pointed at a hole in the snow bank. “He dere.”
“Where?” Stanley asked, even more worried. He was just about to leap off the porch himself when a head popped up, a gob of snow precariously balance on its top. “Oh, for the love of…” Stanley gasped. “You ‘bout scared what little life I have left right outa me.”
“You funny,” KC said rolling over onto her stomach. She reached a hand down to a grinning Charley. “Was that fun?” she asked her brother. Charley’s grin grew larger as he nodded his head enthusiastically. “Want to do it ag’in?” Another enthusiastic bobbing of his head. “Good.” With his sister’s help, Charley climbed out of his self made hole and joined her on top of the snow mound. “Next time, Cha-wie,” KC instructed, “do dis when you jumps.” She showed him how to stretch his legs out so he would land on his butt.
“Ya ain’t plannin’ to do that again, are ya?” Stanley asked as the children crawled off the snowdrift and back onto the porch.
“Yep,” KC said matter-of-factly, brushing snow off her brother. “Ready?” she asked Charley who nodded his response. This time, they ran together to the edge of the porch and jumped simultaneously. Landing side-by-side on top of the drift, KC and Charley dissolved into giggles.
“Young ‘uns,” Stanley muttered as he back-tracked to the rocker and sat down with a thump.
KC helped Charley back to the porch then led him over to their frowning grandfather. She stood beside his chair and gazed up at him. “You play wif us, Grumps?”
“Told ya before, young ‘un, I’m too old to be jumpin’ into snow banks.”
Stanley looked at his grandchildren as they stood looking back at him, hope written all over their faces. He looked toward the barn where he had last seen Jesse then he twisted around to look through the window behind him. He knew Jennifer was inside but she had said at breakfast that she had some baking to do and the kitchen was on the back side of the house. He looked back to find two eager faces watching him. “Oh, all right,” he said pushing himself up from the rocker. “But I is only gonna do this once.”
Smiles spread across KC and Charley’s faces. They each reached up for one of the grandfather’s large, calloused hands and led him to the edge of the porch. KC jumped first. Then Charley landed beside her with a loud crunch as the snow compacted under him. Then the pair scooted over to the side of the depression their landings had created and waited.
Stanley, knowing he couldn’t… wouldn’t… disappoint the little girl and boy waiting patiently, leaped off the porch. He threw his long legs out in front of him and landed with a resounding plop in the middle of the depression. KC and Charley wasted no time diving on top their grandfather. As Stanley tried to fend off the hugs and kisses, he felt himself slipping downward. “Whoa. Hold on there, young ‘uns,” he told the children who pulled back to sit on either side of him. “Seems this here snow is having a bit of trouble supportin’ me. Let me get up before—”
KC and Charley watched in astonishment as the middle of their grandfather sunk into the snow leaving only his head, arms and legs visible. KC started to giggle and Charley joined her. “Grumps, you funny,” she said scooping up a handful of snow and tossing it onto his stomach.
“Stop that, young ‘un,” Stanley batted awkwardly as a second scoop was tossed. “Help me git outa here.”
“Nope,” KC said as she stood. “Dis fun.” She leaped over her helpless grandfather then turned around and leaped back. “Come on, Cha-wie. Do dis.” Then she jumped over Stanley again. Charley tried to copy his sister but his leaping ability wasn’t as strong and he couldn’t make the distance.
“Oof,” Stanley groaned when his grandson landed smack dab in the middle of his stomach.
KC laughed. “Cha-wie, you toos small. You stay dere.” Then she jumped over the head of her brother to land with a thump and tumbled, giggling, down the side of the snow bank.
Unable to move due to the snow compacted around his body and because of the boy sitting on top of him, Stanley could do nothing but sit and watch his granddaughter’s antics as she romped about in the snow.
“Think I best go out and rescue him,” Jesse told Jennifer. She had entered the back of the house minutes before to find the kitchen empty. When she went looking for her wife, she discovered her peeking out the front window. Jennifer had shushed her when she started to ask what she was doing and motioned her over to stand beside her.
“I think that’s probably a good idea.”
“I wonder how they managed to get him out there in the first place.”
Jennifer laughed softly. “You know, KC, she can talk him into doing just about anything.”
“That she can.”
“Let me go help Poppa.”
“I’ll start heating water. They will all be in need of a warm bath.” Jennifer turned away from the window intending to return to the kitchen but found herself wrapped in her wife’s arms instead. Jesse hugged her tightly. “Hmm. That feels good.”
“Sure does, darlin’. Want me to fill the buckets for you?”
“No, I can do it. You go get Stanley before KC decides to use his head as a jumping platform.” She turned back to the window when Stanley’s voice rose in frustration.
“Young ‘un, my legs don’ need to be any longer. Stop yankin’ on ‘em.”
“You better go,” Jennifer told Jesse as she watched her daughter use her grandfather’s legs to pull herself back up the side of the snow drift. Jesse chuckled looking out the window over Jennifer’s shoulder. “Bring them all inside. I don’t want the children to catch cold.”
Jesse gave Jennifer another quick hug then released her. “All right.” She walked to the door and pulled it open.
After Jesse went outside, Jennifer walked across the room to the kitchen, shaking her head and chuckling.
Jesse stepped out onto the porch and shut the door. Then she stepped to the edge of the porch and leaned against a wood post that supported the roof. Struggling to not smile, she said to her father, “You look a mite uncomfortable.”
Stanley rotated his head in the direction of his daughter’s voice. “Don’t just stand there wantin’ to bust a gut,” he snarled. “Help me outa here. And you can start by getting this here young ‘un off me. Don’ they ever sit still?” He asked as Charley bounced on top of him, clapping his hands and giggling as KC scampered around them.
“Charley, please stop bouncing on your grandfather,” Jesse said as seriously as she could manage under the circumstances. She struggled not to bust out laughing at the look on Stanley’s face when her son immediately stilled. “That’s my little man,” she said as she reached down and grabbed her son’s outstretched hands, neatly lifting him off his grandfather. “Looks like you were having a pretty good time there,” she said as she settled Charley into the crook of her arm.
Charley’s head bounced up and down. “Mo’.”
“Not right now. Your momma is afraid you’re getting cold. She’s fixin’ up a nice warm bath for you.”
Charley frowned. He watched KC still playing in the snow and pointed at her. “Mo’.”
“Nope. You are going inside. And so is KC,” Jesse told her unhappy son. “Just as soon as I can corral her,” she added when her daughter, laughing loudly, somersaulted down the side of the drift. Jesse stood Charley on the porch and ruffled his wet hair. “You stay put while I pull your grandpa free.” Anchoring herself by wrapping one arm around the roof support, she reached out her other arm to her father.
With Jesse’s help, Stanley managed to squirm around until he was able to stand thigh deep in snow. Then he plowed his way back to the porch and let Jesse help him up onto it. “Warm bath will feel good after that,” he said brushing snow off his clothes. “I best fetch me some dry clothes from the cabin first.”
“Take Charley and go inside,” Jesse said as she brushed snow off Stanley’s back. “I’ll go over and get the clothes.”
Stanley bent down and picked up Charley who was starting to shiver from his wet clothes. “Bet she’s cold too,” he said of KC who was still playing in the snow.
“Go on. I’ll bring her in.”
Stanley pushed the door open then stopped and turned to face Jesse. “You ain’t goin’ say nothin’?”
“About me acting like a dumb fool jumpin’ into a pile of snow?”
“Why’d you do it?”
“’Cause they asked.”
Jesse thought for a minute. “Seems to me, you’re old enough to say no.”
“Seems so. Don’t supposed you’d have done it?”
“Not likely. Playing in snow is for children.”
“Humpft.” Stanley turned and walked into the house.
Jesse stood on the porch waiting for KC who was climbing over the snow mound toward her. KC scooting off the mound to the porch then walked over and stood beside Jesse. “Have fun?” she asked her snow-covered daughter.
“Charley have fun?”
“Grandpa have fun?”
“Ready for a warm bath?”
“Good. You go inside then. Your momma’s waiting for you.”
“Where you go?”
“I need to get your grandpa some dry clothes.”
“I go too.”
“Hmm.” Jesse looked at the snow drift then she looked down at KC. “It was fun, huh?”
“Yep,” KC said looking up at her mother expectedly.
Jesse looked over her shoulder at the house. Pleased to see Jennifer wasn’t standing in the doorway waiting for her, she looked back at KC and smiled. “Well, then what are we waiting for?”
“Novin,” KC said then took off running with Jesse right behind her.
As soon as KC and Jesse landed on top of the snow bank, Jennifer held out her hand. “That’s two-bits you owe me.”
“Shoulda known better than ta bet against you when it comes ta Jesse.”
Jennifer laughed. “Yes, you should have. Now go get those wet clothes off and get in the tub. And take Charley with you.”
“Shouldn’t we wait and give the young ‘uns first dibs on the hot water?”
“Go on. If I know Jesse—”
“And you do.”
“You will have plenty of time for a bath before she and KC are done.” She laughed as squeals of laughter were heard from outside.
“Sure hope she remembers to fetch me sum dry britches.”
Jennifer pushed her father-in-law toward the back of the house. “Toss those into the kitchen when you strip out of them and I’ll hang them over the stove.”
KC and Grumps 4
Jesse led Boy out of his stall and along the side of the buckboard tilting at a sharp angle, its front axle broken in half. “Need to find a better place for that,” she muttered to herself as Boy barely cleared the space between the unusable wagon and the front of the row of stalls.
“I’ll see what I can do with it while you’re in town,” Stanley Branson said, not bothering to stop in his chore of mucking out another of the horse stalls.
“You don’t have to, Pop.”
“My wagon,” he told his daughter. The buckboard was all he had left of the ranch he once owned outside of Bozeman. Carrying his wife and their meager belongings to his daughter’s ranch had been its final trip, the axle breaking as it was being rolled into the barn shortly after they had arrived. “Should have done it long ago.”
Jesse nodded, understanding her father’s sense of responsibility. “Come on, Sunshine,” she said to her daughter sitting atop the large draft horse. “Your momma is mighty anxious to get to town and see how much Michael has grown. Best we not keep her waiting.”
As her mother led Boy through the open barn doors, KC looked back at her grandfather who was kneeling down to get a closer look at the busted axle. “Mommy?”
“I help Grumps?”
“Thought you wanted to see your cousin.”
“He jus’ a baby. I help Grumps,” she stated her wishes then flattened out on Boy’s broad back so she could slip off his side.
“KC Branson, don’t you dare,” Jennifer called across the ranch yard when she realized what her daughter was intending to do.
Jesse looked back over her shoulder. “Hold on their, Sunshine. Ain’t said you could stay yet.” KC sat back upright, a disgruntled look on her face. “Give me a chance to ask your momma ‘fore you start frettin’.” She pulled Boy to a stop when she reached her own buckboard standing in front of the ranch house.
“KC, you know Boy is too tall for you to get off by yourself,” Jennifer scolded her daughter. She and Charley had been waiting on the porch for Jesse to bring Boy from the barn.
Jesse lifted KC off the horse and set her on the ground. “She wants to stay and help Pop,” she informed her wife as she maneuvered Boy into the wagon’s harness.
“He’s gonna see if he can fix that broken axle on his buckboard so we can move it someplace out of the way.”
“Don’t you want to see Aunt Ruthie and Uncle Billy?” Jennifer asked KC. “And little Michael?”
“I help Grumps.”
“What about Bette Mae?”
“I help Grumps,” KC said unwaveringly.
“Seems her mind is made up,” Jesse said as she helped Jennifer down the porch stairs. “Good boy, Charley,” she encouraged her son as he carefully stepped down the set of steps, his hand tightly gripping his mother’s. “Well, Momma? What do you think?” Jesse asked when the family was standing together beside the wagon.
KC bent her head up, looking expectedly at her mother.
“Well, if Stanley doesn’t mind keeping an eye on her, I suppose—”
Before her mother had finished her thought, KC was running across the ranch yard. “Grumps, I helping you,” she shouted as she ran.
Jennifer watched her daughter disappear inside the barn. “I was hoping to ask Stanley about this first.”
“Not like he has much say in the matter. When she gets her mind wrapped around something, she won’t let it go.” Jesse chuckled. “She gets that from you.”
Jennifer let Jesse assist her in climbing up onto the buckboard’s seat before responding. “She does, does she? Seems that’s more a trait of yours than mine,” she said as she scooted to the center of the bench while Jesse lifted Charley up and placed him beside her.
Jesse walked around the back of the wagon then climbed up to sit beside her wife who had an arm securely wrapped around Charley now sitting in her lap. “You don’t suppose she gets it from the both of us?”
Jennifer laughed. “Yes, I suppose she does.”
Jesse released the brake and gently slapped the reins across Boy’s rump. As the wagon began to move, the women turned to look at the barn opening where KC happily stood next to her grandfather.
“This okay with you, Pop?” Jesse called to her father.
“Ain’t likely I could say it ain’t,” Stanley called back, his gruff tone unsuccessful at masking the pleased look he was trying to hide. “Go on to town. I’ll make sure the young ‘un don’ cause too much trouble whilst you’re gone.”
“Be good, KC,” Jennifer told her daughter. “You mind your grandfather.”
Stanley glanced down at KC who was waving an enthusiastic goodbye to her mothers and brother. “Ain’t much chance of that happening,” he muttered under his breath before turning to return to his task.
KC waved until the wagon passed through the ranch gate and disappeared over the top of the hillock. Then she spun around and ran into the barn. She found her grandfather rummaging about the front corner of the barn where the various hand tools were stored. “What you lookin’ for?”
“Something to take that wagon apart with.”
“Mommy says you fix it.”
“Don’t think there’s much chance of that.”
“Dang thing’s as old as I am. Best we can do is take it apart and save what parts we can. Think you can carry this?” Stanley held a hand saw out for the girl to see.
“Yep.” KC reached for the saw. When her grandfather dropped it down to her, she grasped the wooden handle in one hand and the top of the blade in the other. “What you carryin’?”
Stanley snatched a hammer, pry bar and a wrench off Jesse’s work bench. “Come on, lets quit talkin’ and get to workin’.” KC followed her grandfather across the barn to the buckboard.
The shadows outside were lengthening when Stanley carried the last of the four wagon wheels into an empty stall where he, with his granddaughter’s help, had placed all the pieces of wagon that were still usable. The rest of the old wagon had been piled outside the barn next to the wood pile.
“We’s here, Grandma,” KC poked her head out of the stall.
“Goodness, you two have done a day’s work,” Marie Branson said when she walked up to see the neatly piled pieces of wagon.
“That we have,” Stanley agreed as he glanced at the end of the barn where the buckboard had stood that morning. Except for a few splintered pieces of wood and their tools, the floor was empty, just as Jesse had wanted.
“I have some sandwiches made up. And a batch of cookies ready to come out of the oven.” Marie laughed when KC ran to the wash bucket and sunk her arms into the fresh water.
Stanley followed his granddaughter and stood over her as she vigorously scrubbed her hands and arms. “Best you use some soap, young ‘un,” he said dropping a soap bar into the water.
KC giggled when the resulting splash coated her face with wet droplets. She retrieved the bar from the bottom of the bucket and rubbed it on her arms. Once she had a thick lather built up, she raised an arm offering the soap to Stanley. “Best you use soap, Grumps.”
Chuckling, Marie walked out of the barn and headed for the ranch house and her baking cookies.
“It’s a mite warm in here,” Stanley said when he entered the kitchen from the back porch.
“I was just thinking the same,” Marie answered carrying a plate of cookies to the table. The kitchen was located on the west side of the house and the room was normally warm in the later part of the day. Combined with the heat from the cook stove, the room became uncomfortable to sit in. “Why don’t we take this out and sit on the front porch? Here, Stanley, you can carry this,” she handed the plate to her husband. “And this,” she picked up the tray of sandwiches and pass it to him.
“Me helps, Grandma,” KC offered, her hands raised up as she waited for something to be placed in them.
“How about you carry this pitcher of water?” Marie asked. When KC nodded, she carefully placed the glass pitcher in her granddaughter’s waiting arms. “Hold it tight.”
“I will. You open the door, okay?”
Marie picked up the glasses and followed the pair through the sitting room to the screen door at the front of the house. She pushed open the door and led the way outside. The cooler temperature on the shaded porch provided instant relief from the hot kitchen.
Stanley walked to a table between two chairs and set the tray and plate on its surface. Then he helped KC place the water pitcher next to them.
“That was heavy,” KC told her grandfather, glad to be rid of the weight. “We eat now?” she asked looking to her grandmother for permission. When she received a nod in response, she reached for one of the cookies, still warm from the oven.
“You know what your momma says about eating cookies first,” Marie reminded.
“She says no cookies ‘til after,” KC said, withdrawing her hand to pick up a sandwich instead. “I eats this first.”
“Sit, Stanley,” Marie told her husband as he patiently waited for her to do the same. “Goodness, you must be tired after all the work you’ve done,” she said settling onto one of the chairs knowing her husband would stand until she did.
“You’ve been on your feet all day.”
“Baking cookies isn’t the same as taking apart a wagon.
“Had me some help,” he said as he sat in the other chair. “Thanks for this,” he said picking up a sandwich. “I was just fixin’ to come ask for something. Figured the young ‘un would be hungry.”
“These good, Grandma,” KC grinned after swallowing the last bite of her sandwich. She climbed up into her grandfather’s lap and scooted about until she was comfortable. Then leaning over the arm of the chair, she snatched another sandwich off the tray.
“Chair creaks more than I do,” Stanley grumbled when the wood protested the extra weight.
“Jesse keeps saying she needs to fix it.”
“Look!” KC pointed toward the top of the hillock.
Stanley and Marie turned to see Boy walking through the ranch gate pulling the buckboard behind him.
KC stood up, bracing herself against her grandfather’s shoulder. “Mommy. Momma,” she cried out happily as she bounced excitedly on his legs.
“Hold on there, KC,” Stanley tried to corral the exuberant girl, “’fore this old—” Stanley’s warning was cut short when one of the chair’s back legs split with a loud crack. He barely had time to wrap his arms protectively around his granddaughter before the chair toppled sending them both crashing to the porch deck.
By the time Jesse pulled Boy to a stop in front of the porch, Stanley had picked himself up and KC was dragging the broken chair toward the steps.
“Problem?” Jesse asked as she surveyed the scene.
“Been meaning to fix it.”
“Can’t fix it,” KC said as she descending the steps, the chair bouncing down behind her.
“Why not?” Jennifer asked.
KC stopped long enough to look up at her mother still seated in the wagon. “Dang thing’s as old as Grumps. Best we takes it apart.” Then she lowered her head and readjusted her grip on the unwieldy chair.
“I suppose we should be thankful it was the chair’s leg that broke and not Stanley’s,” Marie said watching KC determinedly drag the chair toward the barn.
“Humpft!” Stanley grunted then stomped after his granddaughter, ignoring the howls of laughter coming from the women.
KC and Grumps 5
KC sat cross-legged on the wooden planks of the kitchen floor, her elbows resting on her knees and her face cradled in her hands. Charley sat beside KC mimicking her position. They were listening to Jennifer, seated in a chair at the kitchen table, reading from their grandmother’s letter.
“…And the tree is so tall it almost touches the ceiling in the sitting room. I can’t imagine what it must have cost Thomas but he insisted I have the biggest one of all. You should have seen your brothers struggle to get it through the front door. We had to move all the furniture into one corner to be out of reach of the long branches. But they finally managed to drag it inside and prop it up. It takes up a full third of the room.
“It took me a week to decorate it. I had to make a special trip to the dress shop to buy more ribbon for tying bows. I don’t believe I would be finished yet if some of the girls in the neighborhood hadn’t asked to help. It was quite the debate as to which one would climb the ladder to reach the top branches. But now it is finished and well worth our efforts. The decorations shine and sparkle and I must admit I enjoy just sitting and looking at it.
“I best close for now as the post carrier will be making his rounds soon and I do want to send this on its way to you. Do give the children a hug and kiss for me. I miss them dearly, as I miss you and Jesse.”
“I’m sure it’s very pretty,” Jennifer said, her voice betraying a sense of wistfulness.
KC cocked her head to the side and thought for a moment. “Very pretty,” she murmured as if picturing the unseen tree in her mind. The letter, describing her grandmother’s preparations for the coming holiday, had arrived several days earlier and had been read many times. But each day she would ask for it to be read again.
The door at the back of the kitchen opened and Jesse walked inside pulling a pair of heavy gloves off her hands. “Boy is hitched up. Are you about ready to go to town, darlin’?”
“Yes,” Jennifer replied, folding the letter to return it to its envelope. “I just need to get these two into their coats.”
KC raised her arms into the air. “Mommy?” Jesse obliged her daughter, reaching down then snatching her up into her arms. “Can I stay wif Grumps?”
“Well…” Jesse shot a questionable look toward her wife. When Jennifer shrugged then nodded, she continued. “I suppose it’s really up to your grandfather since he’ll have to keep an eye on you.”
“Can I ask Grumps?”
“Sure. He’s bringing Boy up to the front of the house. Wait for him on the porch,” Jesse said as she dropped KC back down to the floor. She removed her Stetson and ran her fingers through her shoulder length hair while she watched KC scurry out of the kitchen and into the sitting room.
“Sweetheart, she should put on her coat.” Jennifer said. “It’s cold out.”
“I’ll take it out in a minute. But, first,” Jesse bent over and placed a kiss on Jennifer’s lips, “a kiss for my girl.” Then, she reached down to lift Charley off the floor. “And a kiss for my little man.” Charley giggled when she blew a raspberry on his cheek. “Come on, let’s get you bundled up and take your sister her coat before she starts to turn blue.”
Just then the front door burst open and KC rushed inside followed by a blast of winter air. “Momma, Grumps says I needs a coat,” KC shouted as she ran through the house.
Jennifer smiled and pushed herself up from the chair. She limped to the row of pegs sticking out from the wall next to the kitchen door and plucked KC’s coat off a peg. She barely had time to hold it open before KC slipped her arms into the sleeves and started back toward the front of the house.
“Whoa there, Sunshine,” Jesse called to her daughter causing KC to slide to a stop.
KC turned to face her mothers. “Grumps said I could stay wif him,” she informed them.
“That doesn’t mean you can run through the house like a wild bull,” Jesse gently scolded.
Jesse smiled to relieve the worried look on KC’s face. “Go tell your grandfather we’ll be right out.”
KC grinned then spun around. “Okay,” she said, walking with very measured steps out of the kitchen.
“That child has more energy than all the children in town put together,” Jennifer commented while slipping into her own coat. Then she lifted Charley’s coat off its peg and carried it to where Jesse was standing with their son in her arms. “I can’t imagine what it’ll be like when she starts her lessons.”
Jesse laughed. “I suspect the town folk will offer to pay us to keep her home after she talks some of the others to join in her adventures.”
Jennifer chuckled. “I’m pretty sure Ed will.”
Jesse reached for her wife’s hand. “Come on, you know how Poppa gets when he has to wait.”
“Was beginnin’ to think you’d changed your mind,” Stanley groused as soon as Jesse and Jennifer exited the house. He was standing with the draft horse’s bridle firmly grasped in his large hand as KC bounced on Boy’s broad back.
“Goodness, Stanley,” Marie chided. “It hasn’t been more than a few moments.” She was already seated on the buckboard’s seat with a warm woolen blanket tucked around her to protect against the wintry day.
Jesse helped Jennifer down the porch steps. “Sure KC won’t be a bother?” she asked her father as she guided her wife to the buckboard.
“When ain’t she?” Stanley grumbled.
Jennifer bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. As irritated as Stanley tried to sound, she knew he adored KC and welcomed the time the two spent together.
“Well, we can take her with us,” Jesse offered as she helped Jennifer up onto the wagon seat.
“Nah,” Stanley shook his head. “Told her she could stay. Best keep my word.”
Jesse reached for KC. “You be good,” she told the girl as she lifted her off Boy’s back. “Do what your grandfather says.” She kissed KC on the top of her head before gently setting her down onto the ground.
“I will, Mommy,” KC assured her mother then skipped over to stand beside Stanley, slipping her small hand into his much larger one.
Jesse climbed onto the wagon and settled beside Jennifer who was wrapping a blanket around herself and Charley seated in her lap. She allowed her wife to stretch a blanket over her legs before unwrapping the reins from around the brake handle. “We’ll be back before dark,” she told her father who nodded and released his hold on the bridle. Lightly slapping the reins on Boy’s rump, she nudged the horse into motion then let him set his own speed.
“Bye,” KC called out and waved as Boy pulled the wagon away from the house.
“Bye, sweetie,” Jennifer called back.
Stanley watched the buckboard cross the ranch yard then he looked down to find KC smiling up at him. “Best we find something warm to keep us busy,” he said as a cold gust of air blew past.
“Best we do,” KC agreed, pulling her coat tighter around her body.
“You got something in mind?”
KC nodded. “Yep,” she said. “We needs a tree.”
KC looked up at her grandfather. “For Momma,” she said decisively.
Stanley studied his determined granddaughter. He had heard Jennifer read the descriptions of her mother’s holiday tree many times and hadn’t failed to notice how contemplative she had become after reading it. He wondered if the young girl standing beside him had realized the same. “You think she wants one of them fancy trees?”
“Well, then, we best find one that’ll fit in the house.”
“Well?” Stanley asked as he watched KC circle a four foot tall Douglas fir. The tree was growing on the slope of the hillock leading to the ranch gate.
“It’s big,” KC exclaimed excitedly.
Stanley chuckled, realizing his perspective was opposite hers since he stood a good two feet taller than the top of the tree. “It’s big enough. You go sit over there,” he said, pointing to a grassy spot several feet away.
“So you’re out of the way, that’s why. Don’t want this tree falling on top of you when I cut it down.”
KC glanced up at the tree. Sensing the wisdom of her grandfather’s request, she ran for designated spot. “Okay, Grumps. I’m sittin’,” she called to Stanley.
“Good. Now stay put.” Assured his granddaughter was out of danger’s way, Stanley knelt down then worked his way between the fir’s branches to the trunk. He set to work with the saw they had retrieved from the barn before starting their search for the perfect tree.
KC clapped when the tree began to tilt. “It’s falling, Grumps. It’s falling.”
Stanley kept a firm grip on the tree as he made the final cut then allowed the fir to gently collapse onto its side.
KC ran to the tree. Grasping a bottom branch, she tried to pull it toward the house. “Grumps, it’s heavy.” She grunted when the tree refused to budge. “You help me.”
“Hold on there,” Stanley said as he stood. “We can’t just drag it inside. We need to make up something that’ll keep it upright.”
KC released her grip on the tree. “How we do that?”
Stanley thought for a moment then headed back to the barn. KC followed, skipping along beside him.
“That should do it,” Stanley said, testing the sturdiness of the boards he had nailed to the base of the fir’s trunk. “Let’s see if it’ll work. Stand back.”
KC scooted back several steps then watched as her grandfather pushed the tree upright. “It worked, Grumps,” she shouted when the tree stood on its own.
“Sure ‘nough did,” Stanley said, somewhat surprised his makeshift stand was indeed keeping the tree upright. Smiling, he pushed the tree back onto its side.
“We take it in the house now, Grumps?”
Stanley took a firm hold on the fir’s trunk while KC gripped the tip of the tree. Then, bearing all of the weight, he dragged the tree toward the house.
Maneuvering the tree across the ranch yard and up onto the porch proved easier than fitting it through the front door. Stanley had KC hold the door open while he tugged the tree’s stiff lower branches through the unyielding opening. After several minutes of battling the stubborn branches, he managed to yank the tree inside the house.
KC followed the tree inside, the door slamming against its frame behind her. “Pull it up, Grumps,” she encouraged.
Stanley looked around the sitting room. Although it was sparsely furnished, a space would have to be made for the tree. As he considered the options for placing the tree, he asked KC, “What you fixin’ to use as decorations?”
KC grinned. “I’ll be right back.” Before her grandfather could stop her, she ran back out onto the porch and down the steps.
Stanley looked through the window to see KC running across the ranch yard in the direction of the cabin he shared with his wife. “Wonder what she’s fixin’ to find there?” he asked himself. Shaking his head, he pulled the tree upright to give him room to work. Deciding the tree would look best in the corner of the room he picked up the chair occupying the space and carried it across the room and out of the way.
KC pulled open the door to her grandparent’s cabin then hurried inside. Dropping to her knees beside the bed, she bent over to peer under it. Spotting her objective, she squirmed under the bed until she could reach the non-descript box. Grasping its sides, she yanked it toward the edge of bed and re-emerged with a grunt. Sitting down, she placed the box between her legs and slowly lifted the lid to peer inside. “Pretty,” she said with a happy sigh then carefully shut the lid. Pushing up off the floor, she lifted the box and secured it in her arms before heading for the cabin’s door.
Stanley was just finishing up setting the tree into the corner of the sitting room when the front door opened and KC carried her grandmother’s sewing box into the house.
“Grumps, look,” KC said as she placed the box on the floor close to the tree. She lifted the lid and pulled out a handful of ribbon, each a different color and length. “Pretty ribbons.”
Stanley nodded. “Right pretty.”
“Can you help me tie them on the tree?”
“I suppose so. Hand me one of them.”
KC held up a red ribbon. “Put it there,” she said pointing to the nearest branch.
Stanley tied the ribbon around the branch and into a neat bow. “How’s that?”
“Good. Here,” KC said, holding up another ribbon.
Stanley and KC worked together until all the ribbons were tied onto the tree then they stood back to observe their tree. “What do you think?” Stanley asked.
KC tilted her head to the side. “We needs shiny things,” she finally said. “Gramma said it was shiny and sparkled.”
“Anything shiny in that box?”
KC rummaged through the buttons and spools of thread. “Nope,” she said, unhappily.
“Hmmm.” Stanley thought for a moment. “I have an idea.”
“You do?” KC said, incredulously.
“Ain’t got to say it like that.”
KC looked up at him. “Like what?” she asked, innocently.
“Never mind,” he grumbled. “Come on.”
After putting on their coats, Stanley and KC walked through the kitchen to the back porch.
“Where we going?” KC asked as she followed her grandfather down the porch steps.
“To get you some shiny things for your tree,” Stanley explained as he stopped next to a pile of empty tin cans. Sorting through the cans, he choice a dozen of the ones with the least number of dents in their sides. “Think you can carry some of these?”
“Be careful, don’t want you cutting yourself on the edges.”
“I be careful,” KC said as she bent to pick up a couple of cans then followed her grandfather to the barn.
Stanley pounded the last can flat then set it next to the others on the workbench. He picked up a chisel and, placing the tip on one of the flattened tins, struck it with the hammer. He repositioned the chisel and struck it again. Slowly, the cut edges of tin took shape.
KC sat on the workbench watching in awe as her grandfather worked. She laughed and clapped her hands when a star was held up for her approval. Cautiously, she reached for the decoration.
“Shiny ‘nough for ya?” Stanley asked.
KC nodded. “Pretty, Grumps. Very pretty.”
Stanley grinned. “Well, let’s get the rest of them cut out. Yer folks will be coming home soon.”
Jesse noticed the cut stump as Boy plodded down the hillock toward the house. But before she could mention it to Jennifer she heard her daughter’s excited cries of greeting. “Looks like they survived another day together,” she commented seeing her father on the porch, casually leaning against one of the roof’s supports. KC was jumping up and down next to him.
“Momma, hurry,” KC called.
“I wonder what she’s so excited about,” Marie said.
Jesse laughed. “Well, the barn is still standing. And so is Poppa.”
“Stop that,” Jennifer scolded, playfully swatting Jesse on the thigh.
Jesse slapped the reins on Boy’s rump and he quickened his steps toward the house. “What’s got you so fired up?” she asked her daughter when the buckboard pulled even with the porch.
“It’s a surprise. Hurry.”
Jesse set the wagon’s brake then climbed down. She lifted Charley out of the wagon and carried the half-asleep boy to his grandfather. Then she returned to help Jennifer and Marie down from the buckboard. Together, the family climbed the porch steps with KC urging them on.
Jennifer was the first to enter the house, limping past the door KC was holding open.
KC pointed at the corner of the sitting room. “Look, Momma.”
Jennifer turned her head in the direction KC was pointing. “Oh, my goodness,” she gasped when she spotted the decorated fir.
Marie and Jesse hurried through the doorway.
“Good heavens, Stanley,” Marie exclaimed. “Where did you get that?”
“We make it, Gramma,” KC explained. “It’s pretty?” she asked, her head bobbing up and down in anticipation of her grandmother’s agreement.
“It’s beautiful,” Jennifer said. She limped to stand in front of the tree. “KC? Sweetie, come here.” KC skipped happily across the room to join her mother who immediately lifted her into her arms. “You made this for me?”
KC nodded. “It’s pretty. Just like Gramma’s.”
“Oh, sweetie. I’m sure it’s much prettier than your grandmother’s. In fact, I think it’s the prettiest tree ever.” Jennifer kissed KC on the cheek. “Thank you.”
KC beamed. “Grumps helped.”
Stanley had entered the room and was standing near the door a step away from Jesse who was looking at him with a mixture of happiness and hurt on her face.
“We never had a tree,” Jesse said quietly.
Stanley nodded. “Maybe we should have.”
KC and Grumps 6
“You be careful down at the fishing hole, Poppa,” Jesse told her father standing beside the wagon. She was seated on the buckboard’s bench seat; her wife, Jennifer, was sitting beside her with Charley in her lap; and her mother, Marie, was sitting next to Jennifer. “We don’t want to come home and find you’ve fallen in,” she teased.
“You’d be better off worrying about getting through your day without trouble,” Stanley grumbled. “Don’t be forgettin’ my nails.”
“They’re on the list,” Jesse assured her father then turned to her wife and mother. “We ready?” When they nodded, she turned back to her father “We’ll be off then,” she told Stanley.
“Ain’t you forgetting someone?” Stanley asked.
They all turned toward the ranch house when the screen door flew open.
“I’s coming,” KC shouted running out of the house.
Jesse cringed as the door smacked against the side of the house then swung back toward the door frame and slammed shut with a loud crash.
KC skidded to a stop just before reaching the porch steps. “Oops,” she exclaimed then spun around and ran back to the door. She pulled the door back open before gently closing it again. “It’s okay,” she told the grownups watching her in poorly masked amusement. “Nothing broke,” she concluded and started back across the porch.
Stanley stood eyeing his granddaughter, his head shaking slowly from side to side. “That there young ‘un…,” he mumbled.
“Jesse, don’t you dare laugh,” Jennifer hissed to her wife who was fighting to maintain a stern look.
KC bounced down the porch steps then skipped over to her grandfather and raised her arms, fully expecting to be lifted up.
Stanley stood firm gazing down at the round face smiling up at him. “Don’t know why that door hasn’t broke into a hundred pieces by now. Jesse, you best be adding the fixin’s of a new one to your list.”
KC looked at her grandfather then at her mothers and grandmother, her smile returned by their stern looks. She fisted her hands and jammed them into her hips. “I said oops,” she told them exasperatedly.
Stanley grunted and bent down to pick up the child. As soon as she was in her grandfather’s arms, KC wrapped her hands around his neck and kissed him on the cheek. “Don’t ya be starting that,” he grumbled.
“Come on, KC,” Jesse said biting back a giggle. “Get in the wagon. We have a lot to do in town today.”
“I stay with Grumps,” KC announced. “We’s going fishing.”
Stanley frowned. “I’m going fishing,” he declared. “Lookin’ forward to some quiet time.”
“I go with you,” KC said matter-of-factly.
“KC, did you ask your grandfather?” Jennifer asked her daughter, her lips twitching as she tried not to laugh.
KC thought for a moment, her head tilting to the side as she studied the man holding her. “Grumps, you needs worms. I a good worm catcher. I go with you… please,” she added with a wide grin.
Stanley stared at the impish girl. He scratched his ear. Then he looked at Jesse who had lost her struggle and was laughing silently. He looked back at KC who was still gazing at him with large blue hopeful eyes. Then he looked at Jennifer who was carefully watching the exchange with eyes remarkably the same color of her daughter’s.
“It’s up to you, Stanley,” Jennifer said, her eyes twinkling.
Helplessly, Stanley looked back at KC. “All right,” he caved in.
KC smile grew wider and she turned to her mothers releasing one hand from her grandfather’s neck. “Bye,” she told them, her hand waving wildly. “Bye, Gramma. Bye, Charley.”
Jesse released the buckboard’s brake and lightly slapped the reins on Boy’s rump. “You be a good girl, KC,” she told her daughter as the large draft horse began to move. Chuckling, she warned her father, “Don’t let her talk you into any trouble, Poppa.”
KC sat in Stanley’s arms, content to watch until the buckboard reached the far side of the ranch yard. Then she scrambled up onto his shoulders. Stanley instinctively assisted her change in position, not wanting the rambunctious girl to fall to the hard ground. “I’s ready, Grumps,” KC said from her elevated perch. “Let’s go.”
Stanley took hold of his granddaughter’s legs and turned to walk to the barn.
Stanley strode easily along the well-worn path that led from the ranch yard to the river. He carried a long thin sack in one large callused hand and a picnic basket, prepared that morning by Jennifer, in his other. KC was skipping along beside him.
“Grumps, I carry that?” KC asked of the sack.
“I be real careful.”
Stanley adjusted his hold on the sack that contained his prized possession, a H.L. Leonard fishing rod and reel. It had arrived in a package sent by Jennifer’s brothers. The stoic man had been more than a little surprised when the beautifully crafted rod and reel set had been included in the gifts for his daughters and grandchildren. “I’ll be carrying it,” he told KC.
KC frowned but somehow understood the sack was precious to her grandfather. “Okay. I climb that rock,” she said then ran toward a large boulder they would have to skirt on the way to the river.
Stanley watched unsurprised when KC scampered up the boulder’s side to stand triumphantly on top of the stone.
“Look, Grumps,” she yelled, “I big like you.”
“How you fixin’ to get down from there?” Stanley asked when he reached the boulder. The rock wasn’t much more than three feet high but the height was enough to be an obstacle for most children.
“I jump,” KC told him. Then she leaped off the rock, letting her legs collapse as she hit the ground and tumbling head over hills in the dust.
“You hurt yerself?” Stanley asked when KC stood up.
“Nope. It was fun.”
“Better not let yer mommas catch you doing that,” Stanley scolded.
“It’s our secret, okay?”
KC smiled then turned and skipped down the path.
Stanley found a grassy patch of ground along the shore of the fishing hole and set the picnic basket in the shade of a cottonwood tree. “You best be catching us some worms,” he told KC who was already turning over moss covered rocks. As his granddaughter sought out their bait, he opened the sack. Carefully, he slid the sections of the rod free. He dropped the sack on top of the picnic basket before assembling the rod by slipping the ferrules at the end of each section together. The reel was already firmly screwed into handle; he freed the hook from the hook keeper then thread line through the guides and out the tip eye.
“You got any worms yet?” Stanley asked ready to start fishing.
KC was already walking back to him, her hands cupped together protectively. “Gots a big fat one,” she said proudly. She carefully stepped around a pile of river rocks then held her cupped hands up.
Stanley poked a finger at the trapped worm. “That is a big ‘un,” he agreed. He dropped the tip of his pole down so he could reach the hook dangling on the line. With practiced skill he baited the hook.
“I find more,” KC said then spun around to run back to where she had discovered the worm.
Stanley waited until KC was safely out of reach before flipping his baited hook into the still pool. Then he sat down on a boulder at the water’s edge to wait for a fish to take the bait.
“Grumps, look at all the colors,” KC held a rock out for her grandfather to examine. The lump of quartz had recently been removed from the river and sparkled in the bright sunlight.
Stanley looked at the rock and nodded, keeping one eye on the tip of his rod. “Sure is.”
“I take it home?”
“Won’t be once it dries out,” he told her.
“Set it there in the sun,” he indicated a dry spot of dirt. “Take a look at it when it’s dry. Ya might change yer mind about carryin’ it all the way home.”
KC placed the rock down. “I check it in a bit.”
“Think we ought to check out what yer momma put in that basket?” Stanley asked feeling his stomach rumble having been at the fishing hole for almost two hours. Jennifer had fixed it for him but, knowing his daughter-in-law, he was sure there would be more than enough inside for both him and KC.
KC ran to the basket and flipped it open. “Got lots of good stuff, Grumps.”
“Like what?” The fish were starting to bite and Stanley didn’t want to move from his spot on the boulder.
“Samwiches,” KC called out as she looked through the offerings. “Carrots. Apples. Cookies!”
“You best leave them for later. Let’s start with the sandwiches.”
“Okay.” KC removed two sandwiches wrapped in a cloth. She unwrapped them, dropping the cloth back into the basket before carrying the sandwiches to where her grandfather sat.
“There’s plenty of room for you up here,” he said taking the sandwiches from her hands. He waited for KC to join him then placed one of them into her waiting hands.
KC folded her legs under her as she bit into the sandwich. “Yum,” she mumbled around a mouthful of bread and sliced beef.
“Yer momma is a good cook,” Stanley said after swallowing his first bite.
KC nodded enthusiastically.
The tip of the rod bent. Stanley dropped his partially eaten sandwich in KC’s lap as he yanked on the rod. He stood to fight the trout for a few minutes until it tired and he could reel in the line that the fish had pulled free. Plucking the fish out of the water, he unhooked it then held it up. “Is it a keeper?” he asked KC who was studiously looking at the eight inch fish squirming in his hand. KC nodded. Stanley smiled then added the trout to his stringer line that already held two other fish of equal size.
Stanley chose a worm out of the ones KC had brought him and rebaited his hook. Then he flipped it back into the water and resumed his place beside KC who handed his sandwich back to him.
“You fish good, Grumps,” KC said before taking another bite of her sandwich.”
Stanley was standing and stretching his back. His stringer held six good size trout which would make for a good meal for the family. He had already pulled in his line, broke his rod apart, and wiped it down before slipping it back into its sack. “Bring me my knife,” he told KC who was rummaging around in the picnic basket hoping to find more cookies. “Better we clean these here than take them home and do it.
Unsuccessful in her hunt, KC snatched the last carrot popping it into her mouth before she retrieved the knife secured in a scabbard. She carried it to her grandfather then squatted beside him to watch him gut and clean the fish. She giggled when he tossed the guts into the river only to have them voraciously attacked and consumed by other trout. “Them’s hungry,” she said as water splashed her when a fish jumped nearby.
“Ya’d think they’d ate enough of them worms,” Stanley said as he stood, water dripping off the stringer he held. “Ready to go home?”
KC stood. “Yep.”
“You plan to take yer rock?”
KC stepped over to where the piece of quartz lay. It had dried in the sun and, just as her grandfather had told her, showed little sign of the sparkling colors that had attracted her to it. She picked it up then tossed it into the river. “Nope. It not pretty now.”
Stanley watched the widening circle of ripples the rock created. “Probably just scared them fish,” he grumbled. “Have to work that much harder to catch ‘em next time.”
KC giggled as her grandfather turned away from the river to walk to a young cottonwood, its trunk split and twisted by a storm years earlier. “It’s okay, Grumps. They likes rocks,” she said bending down to pick up a handful of pebbles. She threw them into the river then spun around to join Stanley.
Stanley hooked the stringer on the broken truck, allowing the fish to swing freely between the tree and the ground. Then he walked to the picnic basket and knelt beside it to neaten up its contents before closing the top. Satisfied, he stood.
“Grumps, I carry that?” KC pointed to the sack leaning against the trunk of the tree behind the basket. Stanley looked down at his granddaughter. “I be real careful,” she promised.
Without answering, Stanley walked to his stringer and unhooked it from the broken tree. He walked back to the picnic basket and, holding the stringer so the cleaned fish wouldn’t touch the ground, he bent over and picked up the basket. He glanced at the patiently waiting child. “Can’t see how I can carry everything,” he said and was rewarded by a smile.
KC walked to the tree and carefully picked up the sack with both hands. The rod, even though broken down into its sections, was almost as long as she was tall and she leaned it against her shoulder to support it.
Stanley smiled at the determined look on KC’s face. “You ready?” he asked.
KC tightened her hold on the sack then marched in measured steps to where her grandfather waited. “Yep.”
“Then let’s go home.
“Goodness, what is going on in here?” Jennifer asked limping into the kitchen alongside Marie. Jesse walked in behind her, carrying Charley.
The table was already set and a platter of fried potatoes had been placed at its center. Stanley was standing in front of the wood stove, keeping watch on a frying pan—its contents sizzling.
“If you catch ‘em, you gots to clean ‘em and cook ‘em,” KC said knowingly. She was standing on a chair beside her grandfather holding another platter.
Jennifer groaned but couldn’t stop from smiling at her daughter’s imitation of Stanley.
“Your momma is never going to get you to speak proper English if you keep listening to Poppa talk,” Jesse said ruffling KC’s hair. “Looks like you had a good day of fishing,” she said to Stanley.
“Yes, and you better be hungry.”
“Starved,” Jesse said carrying Charley to the high chair.
“What can I do, Stanley?” Jennifer asked.
“All that needs to be done already been done,” Stanley answered slipping a fork under one of the trout and lifting it out of the pan. He placed it on the platter KC held then repeated the process with the remaining fish. When all the fish had been placed on the platter, he took it from his granddaughter’s hands. He waited until KC hopped off the chair before carrying it to the table.
It wasn’t long before the platter was empty.
KC and Grumps 7
Stanley walked toward the corral where he had spotted his granddaughter sprawled out on the back of the big draft horse, Boy.
KC was lying on her stomach with her arms and legs spread out to drape over Boy’s sides. Her head, resting between Boy’s shoulders, was turned toward the ranch yard; her eyes following her grandfather’s approach.
Reaching the corral fence, Stanley hitched up his right leg to brace his booted foot on the lowest rail as he studied the preoccupied five-year old. “What’re ya doin’?” he finally asked.
“Thinkin’.” KC responded pensively.
Stanley reached up to scratch the back of his neck with his left hand. “What ya thinkin’ ‘bout?”
Without any change of expression, KC peered back at her grandfather. “Just thinkin’,” she told him.
“Hmm.” Stanley shifted raising his arms to rest them on the top rail. Clasping his large, calloused hands together, he watched Boy inch toward him. “Yer momma is lookin’ fer ya,” he told KC as Boy lowered his head to lip at his fingers.
“Don’ ya think ya should be goin’ ta see what she wants?”
KC gave her nose a brisk rubbing. “Cuz I already knows.”
“Ya do, uh?”
Stanley unclasped his hands to scratch Boy under his chin. “And just what is it she be wantin’?” he asked.
KC’s brow creased. “Wants to start me learnin’,” she answered, her face distorting as if the word tasted bad.
“Ah.” Stanley fought back the smile forming on his lips. “Don’ ya think ya might need sum learnin’.”
KC pulled her arms into her sides and pushed herself up to sit on Boy’s back. “What fer, Grumps?” she asked sharply.
“Well, so ya’s can read and write,” Stanley explained solemnly. “And do yer sums.”
“Me been thinkin’ ‘bout thems.”
“Don’t be needin’ them.”
Stanley tugged his kerchief out of his back pocket. Only mid-morning, the sun was already heating up the air. “Well, seems ta me that they might come in mighty handy fer ya,” he told KC, wiping the sweat off the back of his neck.
“What you mean?”
“Well, let me think… Okay, let’s take readin’ and writin’. What say yer momma wants ta bake ya a cake.” KC smiled at the idea. “But she don’ have enuff flour so we go ta town ta git her a sack. But we come back with a sack of salt ‘stead of flour cuz ya can’t read. Now yer momma can’t bake that cake, can she?”
KC’s head tilted to the side, her face scrunching up as she gave his comments proper thought. “That’s easy, Grumps,” she said with a grin. “All we gots to do is ask Ed fer flour.”
“Ah, but what if Ed ain’t in the store and ya got to read the writin’ on the sacks fer yerself?”
The grin faded from KC’s face.
“And what about yer grandma back east. Seems ta me that every letter she writes to yer momma, she asks ya ta write her back. How ya plan on doin’ that if’n ya ain’t gonna learn to write?”
KC’s shoulders slumped. “Momma can write,” she muttered.
“Yer grandma be wantin’ a letter from you, not yer momma,” Stanley explained.
KC frowned. “But I don’t need ta learn no sums.”
Stanley let his foot drop off the rail and stretched out his stiff legs. “Gonna make things a tad difficult fer ya,” he told KC.
Stanley shifted to lean against the fence with his back to KC. “What say yer momma asks ya ta git six eggs from the henhouse so’s she can scramble them up fer breakfast. Ya bring her back the eggs and she fixes them up and gives one to yer gramma, one to me, one to littl’ Charley, one to yer mommy, and yer momma eats the last one.” He glanced over his shoulder where KC was concentrating on what he was saying.
“What ‘bout my egg?”
“You don’ git one cuz ya only brought back five eggs when yer momma asked fer six. Cuz ya don’ know yer sums.”
KC swung her right leg over Boy’s broad back and down his side, a puff of dirt rising around her moccasin covered feet when she landed on the hard ground. Slowly, she shuffled to the fence and climbed over the center rail to stand beside her grandfather, her head tilting back so she could gaze up at him—her face clearly showing her consternation.
Stanley bent down and picked up his distressed granddaughter, hugging her tight. “And, one more thing… ya speak awfully rough considerin’ yer mommas have tried ta teach ya better.”
KC leaned back to stare at her grandfather, her eyes opened wide in outrage. “But, I talks like you, Grumps,” she protested.
“That ain’t sumthin’ ta be braggin’ on. I didn’ git much learnin’ when I was a young ‘un. Wishes now I had. Wish ya’d be gittin’ all ya can, too.”
Determined to please her grandfather, KC sighed. “Grumps, I’ll do my learnin’,” she muttered unenthusiastically.
Smiling, Stanley hugged KC again then set her down on the ground. “That’s my girl. Might even take a likin’ to it,” he said giving her a loving pat on her bottom. “Go on, yer momma is waitin’ fer ya.”
KC grimaced then turned away to trudge across the yard to the house, her feet dragging in the dirt and leaving a trail of dust to mark her path. When she reached the porch steps, KC turned to look back at her grandfather still leaning against the fence. “I’ll do my learnin’,” she yelled across the yard. “But I ain’t gonna like it,” she added emphatically before spinning around and scampering up the steps.
Having listened to the exchange between her daughter and father, Jesse placed the bridle she had been mending on her workbench then stood and walked out of the barn. “Seems you gave that talk to another young ‘un,” she said joining Stanley to lean against the fence.
Stanley nodded. “Seems I did. Young ‘un was just ‘bout the same age.” He turned to smile at his daughter. “Think it’ll take with her the same?”
Jesse grinned. “I don’t think she has much choice.”
“She’s mighty stubborn,” Stanley commented.
“Not as stubborn as her momma,” Jesse said with a laugh.
“Best be getting to my chores,” Stanley stated pushing off the fence.
Jesse reached out to place a hand on her father’s arm and stop him from leaving. “I never thanked you for that, Poppa,” she told him.
“Ain’t no need ta be thankin’ me fer sayin’ what needed ta be said.”
Jesse smiled. “Still, it means a lot that you said it.”
Stanley grinned. “Seems ta me, you reacted the same as KC. Yer momma used ta have ta threaten ta beat ya with a switch ta git ya ta go ta town fer yer lessons.”
Jesse laughed. “But I did go.”
Stanley nodded. “Took a likin’ to it, did ya?”
“Nope,” Jesse answered shaking her head. “I hated sitting in that schoolhouse, all I could think about was getting back to the ranch. But, as miserable as I was, I figured out that I loved the learning.”
“That why ya took ta reading so much?” Stanley asked remembering all the books his daughter had lugged home from school. Even now, Jesse continued to acquire books—receiving regular deliveries from a peddler that had wandered into Sweetwater one day.
Jesse nodded as she turned her eyes toward the ranch house. “I sure hope KC discovers that, too,” she said wistfully.
“Don’ think she’ll have much say in the matter,” Stanley told her. “She does everything her mommas do.”
Jesse turned back to her father. “She does, doesn’t she?” she stated proudly.
Stanley reached up to clasp his hand on his daughter’s shoulder and give it a squeeze. “She surely does.”