A Sweetness to the Soul

A Sweetness to the Soul by Jane Kirkpatrick Read Free Book Online

Book: A Sweetness to the Soul by Jane Kirkpatrick Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jane Kirkpatrick
loose then bounce down canyon sides as steep as cows’ faces, so steep they surely were not meant for men—nor woman—to even see, let alone traverse. On that trip, the sights and sounds and sense of solitude filled me up and then pushed tears of awesome joy onto my cheeks. I think it must have been like that for Joseph in those early days in the mountains outside San Francisco.
    The ranch he began in the Hupa Valley in northern California he hoped would be his life’s place. In the shadow of Mt. Shasta with the manzanita and laurel to green the brown hills, he brought Benito and his cousins, their families and mules, and several hundred head of cattle who fed on the deep ravines of California’s northern country.
    Here, Joseph was doing daily what he thought he’d set his heart on doing: making money with integrity and adventure though I do not think he saw his future. That would come later, when he was led north, to Oregon’s Valley of the Tyghs. And to me.

T EACHING
    W hile Joseph made his way in the world of mules and mines in northern California, I gave up baby teeth, added scant few inches to my slender frame, and spent my time looking after Rachel and Pauline and my baby brother, Loyal.
    Oh, I pulled weeds from the potato patch we’d planted not far from our Oregon cabin. That was our livelihood those first years, raising and selling potatoes. And I sometimes rode with Papa as he drove freight wagons loaded with the bounty fifteen miles north, to Dalles City and the Columbia River. He made the trip pretty regularly exchanging the loads for necessities that got us through each winter. Together, we cleared more of Papa’s acres, bought additional cows, more mules. Mama was with child, often, when she wasn’t helping folks coming on the Barlow Cutoff heading for the Willamette Valley, or those coming back, all wet and drenched, looking for a life with less rain.
    But it was the looking-after of my brother and sisters that consumed me, filled me up. I never counted it as weight, the older-sister load I carried. No, I counted it as wealth, even when I had to scorch the wheat grain to a dirty brown powder for their wet bottoms or thought to paddle their behinds for being sassy or disobedient ordisappearing without warning. Even when I had to pour kerosene over their heads to kill the pesky head lice that they hatched, I counted it as fortunate. For each occasion caulked us tighter than a log chink regardless of their responses to my presence or my scolding.
    Sometimes in the night I’d hear Rachel and Pauline awake, chattering like magpies in words I couldn’t quite decipher through my sleep, discussing something of great import, enough to wake them up. Beneath a crescent moon casting pale light in the cabin loft, those girls would start to tussle Loyal. Their voices rising, I’d pull myself from sleep enough to counsel quiet, adding with more gentleness, “Itsa-right, itsa-right. Now, find another way to settle, sisters,” and so they would, faces buried in the duck-down quilts now shaking with their gentle laughter until they slept again and I returned to my own sweet dreams of babes. So by the time 1859 rolled around, I had my own life sense: to be surrounded by children through a family of my own.
    It was the mix of work and care for them that satisfied my days. Especially in the potato patch where left alone, without our parents, we discovered much of who we were.
    The potato patch was my classroom until the Walker School was formed. Surrounded by the leafy greens, I sang songs composed with Hound as the subject, or my sisters. Sometimes I talked with rattlesnakes, teaching Rachel and Pauline. “If you speak nice to them, they’ll leave you be,” I told them. “Just sing, ‘I’m too big to eat,’ like that, and you won’t have to worry about stepping on them even if you see their tracks in tater leaves or tall grass.”
    I remember in particular the summer I turned eleven. Papa had offered to

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