This story is by Patricia (Trish)Perry and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Ada McCoy stirred the beef stew that she had been simmering all afternoon. Her father would be coming in from the field soon and he would want his supper. Sam McCoy was not an easy man to please, and had become more spiteful since his beloved wife Rebecca had died after nursing Ada through scarlet fever.
Sam appeared in the doorway, his large frame almost filling the entire space. Ada quickly dished up the stew and set a bowl in front of him along with some bread and fresh coffee. He took two bites before throwing the bowl at her
“I’m going to eat with the boys!” he yelled. “Willie cooks better than you do, girl!” and he slammed out of the house.
Ada used to weep when he would pounce on her this way. However, she had learned that crying didn’t change a thing. She developed a way to keep her feelings in check by retreating to her mother’s rocking chair on the front porch and daydreaming about being a genteel woman who lived in the city like her cousin Henrietta.
Henrietta would often tell stories about her wonderful life in the city when she came from Oak Hollow with Uncle Albert. Ada hung on her every word. She wanted to know what it was like to bathe in lavender water and brush her hair with an ivory brush. She wanted to wear a beautiful hat with a long purple sash she could loop into a large bow the way Henrietta did. She wanted one of the men in town to escort her to a promenade. At age twenty-two, Ada knew that this life was one that would have to remain in her imagination. Her Pa needed her to take care of him. Thus, she was stuck wearing homemade dresses and hats that belonged to her dear departed mother.
Ada was not a pretty girl. She inherited her father’s rectangular shaped face, high cheekbones, and pointed nose, giving her a more masculine profile. Her green eyes were pretty, but they were small and deep-set so they went unnoticed. Her full lips were perhaps her finest feature, yet her smile revealed a large space between her front teeth that detracted from the charm this trait gave her. She wore her chestnut hair in a long braid that snaked down her back and emphasized her rather short stubby neck. Ada knew that if she had not received any offers of marriage by now, she would likely remain unmarried. However, she didn’t mind. She had already had her fill of waiting on one man and did not want to be strapped with the responsibility of waiting on another for the rest of her life.
Sam sat outside smoking his pipe and whittling the figure of a horse from a piece of oak branch. Ada was preparing to get into her nightclothes and go to bed. Suddenly, she heard a loud thud from the front of the house. She ran to the door and saw her Pa lying face down on wooden porch.
“Help! Help!” she shouted.
She turned Sam over and cradled his head in her lap, gently stroking his forehead. Sam lay very still, barely breathing.
“Someone please help me!” she called out into the night. There was no response.
Ada didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t leave her Pa alone while she ran to the bunkhouse, but she also needed to get someone to help her. The tears welled up in her eyes.
“Pa, please don’t leave me, please don’t leave me alone,” she pleaded.
Sam began to speak in a low voice. “Always remember that I have loved you, will you do that for me girl?” he asked.
“I love you too, Pa,” she whispered.
Sam’s body shuddered. “Someone help me!” she screamed again.
“Hush, child. The only one who can help me now is the Lord,” and with that, Sam McCoy exhaled for the last time.
Ada knew her Pa was gone and she stopped trying to summon help. She released him gently onto the porch and went into the house. She pulled his bed pillow from the bed and took it outside. She placed it under his head. Then she ran toward the bunkhouse. She pounded on the wooden door with her fists. The door burst open and Willie the cook was standing there looking at her.
“What’s the matter, lassie?” he asked in his thick Scottish accent.
“Willie, my Pa just passed away and I don’t know what to do,” she said softly.
“What? Speak up, child,” he said.
“Pa is dead,” she said. “I called out for help but-” her voice trailed off.
“It’s okay Miss Ada. It’s okay. Where is he?”
“Up on the porch,” she replied.
Willie turned and faced the interior of the bunkhouse. “Hey there, Henry, James, and Duke, come here, will ya?” he asked loudly.
A moment later, the group reached Sam. Willie instructed Duke to hitch up the wagon so they could take the body to town. It was decided that Doc Tilson would know what they should do.
“You’d better go get some clothes on, Miss Ada,” James said, his voice quivering with emotion.
“Oh, yes, I must,” she replied. “Thank you for reminding me.”
The ride to town took a little over an hour. The men split up to search for Doc Tilson. Henry found him playing poker in Mable’s Saloon. Doc joined them immediately, and advised them to leave the body inside the funeral home. He said that Reverend Snow would be at the ranch the next afternoon at two p.m. to hold a service and get him buried.
Ada was surprised at how many people turned up at her father’s farewell. A red haired man that she didn’t recognize hung back away from the main group. Reverend Snow said some nice words and laid a wreath of flowers on the grave. There was no headstone; just the partially whittled horse figure that Sam had been working on when he died. Afterward, the group sat under the large oak trees, sipped lemonade and shared stories about Sam McCoy. Ada found out information about her Pa that she had never known. A lump gathered in her throat, but she continued to hold back an emotional release.
Later, after everyone had returned to their homes and the men were playing horseshoes, Ada went into her parent’s room and sat down on the bed. She gently rubbed her hand across the colorful quilt her mother had made in church group. For the first time in years, she allowed herself to remember times they spent together. Her mind skipped from one important occasion to another and when she left the room, she was smiling.
The next morning in the fog of waking, Ada forgot about the events that had taken place over the past two days. But, when she reached the kitchen and saw the cold stove, everything rushed back at her. She dressed quickly and went out to the woodpile to gather wood. That’s when she spotted the black buggy winding its way up the lane to the house. She stood motionless until it stopped. The same red haired man from the funeral emerged.
“State your name and state your business,” she said, sounding more like her Pa than she did herself.
“Keenan’s the name and this here ranch is the business,” he said. He had a funny mustache that resembled a caterpillar.
“This is my ranch, Mr. Keenan, and I suggest you leave it immediately.”
“Suit yourself, but I came a long way to talk to you.”
“About buying this place,” he replied. “It is one of the best in the state.”
His statement caught her off guard. She didn’t know how to respond. Her dream of living in Oak Hollow could come true if she sold the ranch. But she would also give up her heritage. Her stomach began churning. She wished she had someone to help her talk with this man. She had never been taught anything about business and she was scared that she would make a mess of everything. Pa had told her plenty of times that she was as dumb as a mule. She caught Mr. Keenan staring at her.
“Won’t you join me for some coffee?” she stammered.
“I’d be delighted,” Keenan said.
They sat at the kitchen table and Mr. Keenan poured out his proposition. She hung on each word he spoke so she could commit the dates and numbers to her memory. It dawned on her that Uncle Albert could help her with this decision. He could tell her whether the figures Mr. Keenan was offering her were fair or not. A wave of relief swept through her and she began to relax a little. Keenan continued his monologue, and when she escorted him to the door, she felt happy for the first time since her mother’s death.
Willie drove Ada to Oak Hollow to meet with Uncle Albert. As it turned out, he had conducted business with Mr. Keenan and vouched for his reputation as a fair and honest executive.
“I cannot tell you whether it is right to sell the ranch,” he said. “I can only tell you that if you are quoting the right numbers, you will make enough money to live a comfortable life.”
Ada thanked Uncle Albert and she and Willie started their journey back to the ranch. As the wagon chugged along the bumpy road toward home, Ada brought up the subject with Willie. Like Uncle Albert, Willie told her that the decision was hers alone to make. Ada began to feel guilty as she listened to Willie tell her stories about living and working on the ranch for the past ten years. Am I acting only out of selfishness?
When they turned onto the lane that led to the house standing proudly on the hill where it was built, Ada knew she would not sell to Mr. Keenan. She could feel her family and all the hard work her father had done here at this place. Maybe someday she would bathe in lavender water and wear a fine hat. But for now, she had to learn how to run the McCoy ranch.