In The End: A Family Legacy

By Jody Bresch -Certificate of Award 2000 Iowa State Letters Competition, National League of American Pen Women, Inc., Honorable Mention Award.

Washington threaded the squiggling earth worm onto the small fish hook, then dipped it into the red stained water of the pond. It looked like melted hot chocolate in the pearl gray light of early dawn. He should be milking the cow who called to him softly from the padlock outside the barn. Fortunatley, she was a good milker, and the fat calf nursing at her side would not nurse enough for his breakfast that it would even be missed. Washington had some deep thinking to do, and dipping a fish hook in some muddy water always gave him insight into a problem that nothing else seemed to do.

There was always more to do on a frontier farm than was humanly possible to do. The garden crop put fruit and begetables on the table and in the root cellar for winter. He had a few head of cows and hogs out to pasture, and a few chickens in the chicken coop, and that put meat on the table. Besides that, Washington was an excellent hsot, and often brought down a deer, a wild turkey, or a few pheasant and quail with his gun. Early mornings he liked to take a fishing pole back to the pond and fish for breakfast, but that didn't happen often. Unfortunately, there weren't enough hours in the day to do everything he needed to do, and most days he felt like fishing was a luxury he couldn't afford.

The land was good to them, he and Grace and the little ones. However, there were some things that could not be grown, or harvested from the land. The three babies were growing like weeds. Grace was always fretting for yard goods to make them britches or shirts or dresses. Then there were things he needed that cost an arm and a leg at the general store. He would like one of those new plows. Since he planted more than they needed for the table,he had surplus for a cash crop, and he had been thinking about making a trip with the buckboard back to Tennessee. He was sure that he could make a better bargain back east than he could here in Adair County. The problem was that winter was coming on.

It wasn't the only problem of course. When Grace found out what he was thinking, she would want to go see her mama. Not that he oculd blame her, but taking off in a buckboard with three young children this time of year wasn't a smart thing to do. It was going to be an awful ruckus, and if anyone knew how to throw a real snit, it was his Gracie. Beautiful, spoiled, overindulged all those years out there in Tennessee, she was used to having her way, and she knew all the wiley ways a woman knows to get it.

First, she would romance him. That part would be okay, he grinned, thinking aobut the romancing they had shared the night before folded in the thick warmth of the feather tick mattresson their bed. Then she would pout. That part he hated. Keeping Gracie happy was like eating and drinking, like soaking up sunshine, and lying down to rest at the end of a hard day It gave meaning, substance, joy to his life. Making her unhappy felt like a hard gut kick from a Missouri mule. When all else failed, she would give it to him with both barrels, yelling, screaming, crying until her face was blotched red and her nose was all stuffed up. Why did God give women tears, damn! Why didn't he give them something useful like good old common sense? Tears were such a darn waste, and served no useful purpose anyway, because a man had to do what a man had to do in the end. Besides, George Wesly, his younger brother, was working for them as a hired hand. Sometimes he didn't much like the way he saw George looking at Gracie, not that he oculd blame him, but Gracie could keep George in line, and George oculd keep the chores caught up while he was gone.

Washington pulled in his line. He hadn't had a single bite as he watched the pear gray morning change to amver, and then hot orange. The turmoil churning in his gut was probably vibrating down the silk line when he cast it out into the sitll water of the pond. The sky reminded him of that first morning seven years ago when he crossed the crest of Indian HIll ridge and saw all of this folding out before him. Maybe he had found a little peace, anyway. It reminded him of all that was good for them. In the end he reckoned he'd be going to Tennessee whether Gracie like it or not. Hitching up the strap on his coveralls, he bent over to pick up his pole, and took a well worn path through the sweet clover that turned away from the house because the dusty dirt trails was the shortest distance to the cow's mournful pleas.

*Author's Note.

Washington Miller was born in 1822 and died in 1855 Grace Broyles was born in 1823 and died in 1912. They were married in Tennessee in 1847. Washington Miller walked from Tennessee to Missouri in 1848 where he took out the first land grant in Adair County, Missouri. The piece of property he homesteaded came to be called Indian Hills. Family stories were passed down that a vigilante crowd hunted down an Indian from an area tribe and hung him for supposedly stealing a horse. However, nobody would agree to the man being buried anywhere in Adair County after they hung him. The story is that Washington Miller came forward and said he would bury the dead Indian on his farm. If the Indian's grave is there, it is outside the main grounds of the Miller family plots, and it is on a narrow slope at the top of the hill above a gravel road to the old farmhouse, marked only by a very narrow stone raising up out of the ground, a rough facsimile of a church steeple maybe 8 inches high.

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