Heading West

Writing prompts: today the Ragtag Daily Prompt was FIXER-UPPER and I was able to work it in with another writing challenge, the one I gave to Judy Dykstra-Brown last night. You’re welcome to try it too, if you like. The goal is to Use at least three words in a poem or story.

Judy has already written her poem in response (Click here to read it) and now here’s mine. I hope you can bear with this long tale. 🙂

Original image created by DarkMoon Art for Pixabay

HEADING WEST

Sunshine and blue skies. A glorious day to start on an adventure!

One of the scouts stuffs a couple of flasks in his saddlebag as I pass. He nods when he sees me observing him. “Strictly for medicinal purposes, ma’am.” Then he has the nerve to wink at me. I don’t know about that fellow. Altogether too forward. Heaven knows what kind of women he’s associated with ’til now.

I smile to myself as I reached my wagon. What I have in my luggage is strictly for medicinal purposes also: two medical books. Father would never hear of me studying formally, but from these I’ve learned a lot about human anatomy.

The scout probably sees me as a frightfully brash thing, attaching myself to this train like I have. My family thinks I’m mad. You should have heard the gasps when I announced that I’d bought a covered wagon, hired young Clancy Fitzhugh to drive it, and was heading west to assist old Dr James in his practice.

My brother Charles sputtered and eyed me suspiciously. Did he think I’d robbed a bank? Or was stealing some of his inheritance? And my sisters-in-law! “Foolishness! Far too daring! Out there among gunfighters and thieves. No respectable woman would ever…” and on and on. They see me at thirty-one as a spinster for life. A lost penny that will obligingly roll along from house to house. Well, I refuse to be dependent on them for the rest of my life.

It cheered me very much this morning to receive a letter from my good friend Sally. Won’t I have things to tell her when I get the chance? She’ll be astounded.

I miss her so much! We were good friends all through school, after all. Then a year after we graduated a young man from England stopped in our town on his tour of the American Midwest. He courted her and won her heart, married her and carried her back to England. Now she writes such interesting letters about her life over there – so different from anything we know! In her last letter she sent along a picture of a hedgehog that her son drew. She told me her children think they’re cute and put out treats to lure them into the garden.

Something catches my eye, a glitter by the front wheel of my wagon. Someone has lost a penny – and I’ve found it! I snatch it up and examine it, feeling lighter of heart. Surely this is a good sign?

Isn’t it amazing how things happen right at the time you need them? If I hadn’t happened to catch Mother sliding a small hearthstone into place one day, I’d never have known about the money she was squirreling away. Someone else would have gotten that windfall if I hadn’t discovered her secret.

“Your father will no doubt leave everything to your brothers in his will, with instructions to look after us,” she explained. “And knowing how careful your brothers are with money, even if they’ll let us have a little house of our own I can see us having to give account for every dollar we spend. I want us to have some money of our own when that day comes.”

Mother was right. Father was generous to her, but he’d will everything to the boys. I can just hear him saying, “Why would women need money when they have family to look after them?”

I knew Mother was good at lacework and sold some from time to time; now she told me she was setting aside some of the housekeeping money. She was looking ahead, but didn’t foresee they’d die together. Their deaths happened when our horse spooked and upset their carriage; Mother died instantly; Father lived only a few days.

My parents’ dear friend Dr James made a special trip back for the funeral. Some years back, hearing about an acute need for doctors, he’d gone out West to a small mining town in Montana to set up a practice and we hadn’t seen him since. Chatting with them I could feel he was happy about what he was doing, even patching up gamblers and gunslingers. The day after my parents’ funeral I shared my own dream with him, knowing he’d understand.

Ever since we lost my sister Millie I’ve had a burning desire to help other women make it through childbirth. Could Millie have been saved if she’d had a more competent midwife assisting her? Who can say? But since the day we buried Millie and her newborn girl, I’ve studied and assisted one of the local midwives, with the dream of saving other women’s lives.

He commended me, said my services would be most welcome in their area, especially since one of the midwives there had such a rough time with her last delivery she may never assist him again. I should consider joining him there.

“I’m sure you can could get a room with Mrs. Greggs will take you on as a boarder. In fact, I’ll even pay for your board for the first few months if you’ll do nursing for me. Mrs Greggs is an older widow, quite a respectable woman who swears by ginger tea as a cure-all and feeds me gingersnaps every time I stop in.”

I had to wonder if he stopped in quite often…

Three weeks after the funeral Charles came over to announce, “We’ve decided to put the house up for sale. This property is too valuable for you to live here alone. But you needn’t worry; you can live with one of us. Or we can buy you a small cottage.” I can still see him standing there, a glass of iced tea in his hand, handing me such a bleak future, with not so much as a “by your leave.”

Oh, yes, they said they’d see I was cared for if I stayed here, but I know how that would go. The thought of being shuffled from one home to another, an obligation, an unpaid servant, underfoot too often. Or in a little fixer-upper cottage, dependent on them to do the repairs. Once he left I pulled Mother’s savings from the niche in the hearth and counted it, breathing a sigh of thanks for her foresight.

I’m striking out on my own, come what may. The wagon-master’s shouting and the teams are all shaking their reins impatiently. Time to head West!

9 thoughts on “Heading West

  1. Glad you enjoyed it. People of past ages had different ways of reacting to a dismal future. Some wanted, and had the means for, an option and were brave enough to venture forth. Still works today, I think. 😉

    Like

    1. Thank you — and let’s say a double “Yay” to her mother’s foresight. 🙂

      Here’s a bit of background borrowed from my family history:
      Researching my genealogy, I discovered a great-aunt who worked for an old couple who ran a little orphanage in ONT. The wife died and Great-Aunt married the elderly man — he was 70; she was 30. I was amazed. He even had a 26 year-old son still at home!

      So why would a 30 yr-old woman tie her future to an old man? Possibly to keep a roof over her head, possibly because she cared for the children and didn’t want to leave them. And the conventions of society back then wouldn’t have a single woman living with two single men.

      When the old man died a few years later, circa 1900, his adult children sold the house and Great-Aunt and the orphans were evicted. She brought them here to Saskatoon, where she lived the rest of her days and the children became part of the community. I’d love to know more about her life and choices! But I know women were quite restricted, both financially and by social mores,100 years ago.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, absolutely. Triple yay to her mother!

        And wow. What an interesting history you have been discovering. I can understand a 30-year old making that decision. It totally blows that his kids were so awful to her – what a gross law that prohibited women from inheriting.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, I see the tips of all kinds of interesting stories –and wish I could delve deeper.

        I don’t think there was a law that prohibited women from inheriting. It was common for a man to leave his possessions to his wife and family — as he saw fit. In some men’s opinion back then, women shouldn’t need to/weren’t able to handle finances. Some had the attitude of the father in my story; the children can look after Mom and any spinster sisters.

        In Great-Aunt’s case, the old man was a retired farmer, had at least ten children, and I’m thinking he was poor as a church mouse. They probably couldn’t say Great-Aunt married him for his money. But how would you feel if your dad at age 70 married a 30-year-old? I’m sure they wouldn’t have taken the house from their own mother, had she outlived him. I’ve lots of question, if I could just shoot back in time for an hour and ask my ancestors. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I bet you do.

        Well, I would look into that since we follow the British with many of our laws and women could NOT inherit and were dependent on the goodwill of whichever next male was in line.

        All we can do is suppose and imagine how it was or any reasoning behind their decision.

        Liked by 1 person

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