Dallas County, Texas – October 6, 1904
The thin canvas walls moved back and forth with the light fall breeze. Warm sunlight fell through the open flap door on the threadbare bed. The tent was quiet. Unusually quiet. Deadly quiet.
My chest feels like it will collapse or just explode from the grief and the anger, one minute the grief and the next the anger. My eyes ache from the crying. I’ve cried until I have no tears left.
How could he bring me to here to Dallas County, Texas where we don’t know anybody and expect us and the ten youngest kids to live in a tent over a cold Texas winter with rains that could drown the gophers and with hot, hot summers and not a shade tree on these plains? We’ve been living in this tent over a year now, with little prospect of land of our own. He doesn’t like the rich bottom land, because it floods sometimes. He doesn’t like the land on the rolling prairie hills, because the sod is so thick it’s hard to plow.
He’s the smart one, always writing in his journal, planning and dreaming about the future for us and the little ones. Kind of lording over me a bit because I can’t read or write.
I guess I’m only good enough to wash his clothes and have his children. He’s not the least bit grateful for how hard I work; keeping the family fed with what he brings home when he hires out to work on other farms.
Then he’s the one that takes his gun down into the woods along the creek and blows his head off.
The bastard. Bastard. Bastard. Bastard.
If I was a good Christian, I wouldn’t be calling my dead husband a bastard, but he’s sure left me in a mess. We buried him yesterday. I don’t know how I’ll ever pay to get him a proper headstone. Me and the kids are in an awful mess.
I know people are looking at me sideways, wondering if I drove him to commit that mortal sin, but he just wasn’t made for this life. I loved him for his big dreams and his gentle ways – when we were courting he made me a daisy chain crown, splitting the stem of each daisy and threading the next one on. I thought my heart would burst with love and happiness when he asked me to marry him.
He was a grown man of twenty-two and I was three days from turning fourteen when we married in 1881 in Stone County, Arkansas. Babies came quick with Lewis born the next year, then another baby every two or three years. Our hearts still ache for the one we lost between Albert and Moody.
But his big dreams just got us uprooted from Arkansas, traveling in a broken wagon he made of green wood. That wagon fell apart before we ever left Arkansas. And now we’re living in a tent with a dirt floor and ten kids.
At least, I’m not pregnant.
The kids are at the neighbors’ house. After the service, when I broke down, Mary Alice walked me back here and very gently put me to bed. She’s a kind lady, but she talks and everyone in the area will know how we live now. She took all the kids and told me she would give me one night of rest, but she would need to bring the kids back after breakfast this morning.
I guess it’s up to me now to be the strong one and figure out how we work ourselves out of this mess.
No more dreaming – me and the oldest boys and girls will hire out to pick cotton and corn. Then, I’ll go talk to Clyde Hubbard about that bottom land. Abner didn’t like the bottom land; but with us all hired out the rest of this fall, then starting our own crops in the spring, maybe we can make it. While me and big kids are hired out, Lizzie, at eleven, is plenty old enough to watch the four little kids, including Bertha, the baby, just 8 months old. I’ll need to wean her; it’s early, but I’ll need to do that for me to be able to pick cotton too. No, we’ll take the little ones to the fields and I can nurse her at dinner time. People will be scandalized, but it will have to be done. The colored women take their nursing babies to the fields, so I’ll just do the same. Lee is six years old and stout; he can pull cotton bolls and pull a little tow sack down the cotton rows. Otherwise, he would drive Lizzie crazy.
I’ll take Albert and Jimmy with me when I go talk with Mr. Hubbard about that land. Albert’s a grown man at 20; Jimmy’s a good-sized boy at 13. Mr. Hubbard always acts just a little too friendly around the women, always trying to catch their eye and smiling and winking. And him a deacon in the church. I wonder how his wife puts up with his flirty ways. Abner always treated me with respect.
I’ll be a proper widow, making sure all the children learn to read and write, just like Abner did, even the left-handed ones. I never was smart enough to get the hang of book learning. I do everything with my left hand and never could get my right hand to make the letters. How I wish Lewis, our oldest, had come with us. He is so patient with the kids, but he stayed behind in Mountain View to marry Susie and start his own family.
We’ll never, ever mention what happened down by the creek. I think that clumsy Abner must have tripped over a tree root; now I remember he told me he’d seen some squirrels in the pecan trees down by the creek. That must have been why he took his rifle down there.
We’ll buy that bottom land, to get away from the whispers. Near that property is a good school for the children and someday I’ll have the money for a proper headstone in a proper cemetery for my dear, dear Abner, where we’ll lay beside each other until the Lord brings us home to heaven together.
Oh, my, look how the sun has come up and I’m still in bed. Mary Alice will be here in no time with the children. I’ve got to get around. I’m a proper widow now.
After a career in laboratory management, one of my goals has always been to write historical fiction with the stories loosely based on my ancestors. Several relatives, including my sister, have researched an extensive family tree. I’m researching the family stories and have just started writing historical fiction, with the first story based on the life of Almeda Ellen Elliott Todd, my maternal great great grandmother. She married at 13 to her husband, Abner who was 22. The family moved to Dallas County, Texas in two wagons, one made of green wood that broke down in Arkansas. They lived in a tent for about a year. She was left handed and never learned to read or write; she had 10 children and her husband died of a gunshot in the woods. He was said to be alone at the time. Abner kept a journal of their trip from Stone County, Arkansas to Dallas County, Texas. Stay tuned to my blog for more “After Toil Comes Rest – Dallas County, Texas.” To get notification of new posts, subscribe to my blog. These writings are copyrighted and not available for commercial use, without the written permission of the author.
Copyrighted, 2012 by Andrea Musgrove Perisho.