Monday, 5 October 2015

The House

Apart from an occasional family of coyotes, no one lives there any more.

Leastways, not since Silas found his mother cold as ice in her bed that Thanksgiving. After they’d put her in the ground, he took the last of the money from the ginger jar and headed to the Panhandle to look up Sara, his sweetheart.

Don’t let the way it looks fool you. You might go riding by one Sunday and see the house and think it wasn’t much cared for, but that just ain’t the truth. It was a house built and filled with love and like many things in this life, it had its time and its place. It had been made for the time of the Mulligans and nothing else. That’s the way some things just work out.

Grandpa Mulligan had come from Ireland by way of New York City. He found that he couldn’t take to a place with those new fangled electrical lights. It wasn’t natural and it wasn’t him. He wanted to look at the sky and see it the way God had intended. So he travelled as far west as his money would take him, except for the little bit he’d put aside to buy some land. The scrub he bought wasn’t the best of farming land but it was good enough to raise horses and that is what he knew and that was what he was good at.

Soon Grandpa had a little business going on in town. The railroad still hadn’t hit Fort Augustus yet, so Grandpa was looking after the stagecoach, Calvary and mail horses. He needed a person back in the office to take care of things, keep the books and count the money. When he advertised in the local paper, he didn’t reckon on a woman coming all the way from the north for the job. This turned out to be Grandma. When a twenty-nine year old half Cherokee beauty presented her self at the stables, my Grandpa ‘just went stone crazy’.

“I had married your Grandma by the end of that year. Sweetest woman I ever knew.”

There were some in the town who didn’t take to a white man marrying a half and half but then in this life you’ll find folks who don’t take to much - everywhere you go. Grandpa always said, “some people have to do what they have to do, don’t mean they’re right and it don’t mean they’re wrong.”

I was never sure if he was referring to himself or the folks who crossed the street when he and my Grandma walked through town.

My mother was the first born, and when she arrived, my Grandpa made a promise that they’d have a big house on the prairie. He built that place at night and at weekends. He didn’t get much help since the pastor had told the town’s folk that anyone helping a Cherokee lover was a sinner in his eyes. I guess the pastor had to do what he had to do.

My Grandpa’s friend Pete - who gave no heed to whom a man married - helped him build the house and it was finished by the following spring. By then my mother had been joined by her twin brothers.

All in all, the house grew by seven kids: two girls and five boys. My grandpa called his first boy, Pete, after his pal and the other twin he called Sean. After his own brother who had died in the famine back in Ireland. He always said that he would carry Sean’s spirit around with him as they had promised each other when they were boys that they’d go to the United States of America together.

Pete used to sit out on the porch with my Grandpa and tell stories to my Pa about his time in the Civil War.

“Brother against brother, it wasn’t right. Won’t be fixed for a long time. South don’t trust the north and north don’t trust the south.”

Then he’d take a long puff of his clay pipe.

My Grandpa being my Grandpa didn’t take well to the motor car when it showed up in town. Sure they were still using horses but I think my Grandma could see the writing on the wall and told him to hand the business over to the boys. It was a new century and the world was changing mighty fast. My Grandpa still shoed an odd horse here and there, but for all things my Grandpa had retired.

“I ain’t retired,” he would tell folks. “We’re just making time  to see this beautiful country.”

He’d been to the Chicago World’s Fair when he was younger and he still had a drawing on the wall of it. But he’d promised my Grandma that he’d take her to New York City where the ladies dressed in finery and where folks didn’t care if you were half Cherokee or not.

It was in New York that Grandpa met the only other pal, he had. He was known in the family as The Colonel. No one ever explained why he was called that but everyone took to him and his greatest asset was that he had an aeroplane. It hadn’t been long since the Wright Brothers had flown along Kitty Hawk but The Colonel had found out about it and got himself one.

Soon he was flying from town to town and performing little acrobatics for folks who had never seen such magic. When The Colonel first came with my grandparents back to town, the pastor had tried to tell everyone that it was the work of the devil.

“Only Angels fly,” he said, “If God had meant us to fly, we too would have had wings.”

But by this time the town’s folk had grown tired of the pastor and his sermonising and had decided that flying was a good thing.  It was my father who had really taken to it. He would never leave The Colonel’s side when he was in town. As a thank you, The Colonel would take him up in the aeroplane. When my father was fifteen he tried to build his own ‘plane but it crashed into the barn and he broke his arm and leg.

But let me go right back to the beginning when my Grandpa was living where the house is now, but back then he was squatting in a big tent. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, the wild animals would come in and steal his food, but most ways he was really happy. He would tend to the horses in town during the day and at night he’d sit by a big fire and sketch the house he was going to build for his family.
When he had a family - that was.
When he’d met the right woman – that is.

Yet he didn’t have any doubt that he’d meet the right woman someday and when my Grandma came along, he knew instantly that this was the soul that he was to spend his life.

She lived in town and although she would have thought nothing of living with my Grandpa in the tent where the house was to be built, she felt that she would give the town’s people as little to talk about as possible. So she lived in a little room above the stables on Sycamore Street. 

One day when the summer spirits had flown, a man came from the north: a Cherokee, looking for his kinsfolk. His sister had run away and the stories were being told in his tribe that she had taken up with a white man.

“I ain’t a white man, I’m Irish,” said my Grandpa.

But the Cherokee insisted that if his ancestors were not to be angered, she had to return with him to the lands in the north. What the Cherokee didn’t realise was that he was fighting a harder battle, for my grandparents were in love and nothing was going to keep them apart.

“What you cannot trap, you cannot change,” said my Grandma to her brother.

So her brother  realised that he was losing the battle and backed down. He said he would be on his way in the morning and my grandparents seemed happy with that state of affairs. But the Cherokee rose early and on his way through town he woke my Grandma and forced her to come with him. He tied her hands and her mouth in case she had any ideas about screaming.

By the time that my Grandpa realised that the Cherokee had suckered him they were a long way away. That wasn’t going to stop him trying to get his love back because he could not change the way he felt and with all his heart he loved her.

The Cherokee rode with himself and his sister on the one horse and was over the Mountains of The Ancestors by the second day. That night my Grandpa pitched up in a peak overlooking the Lost Valley below. He could see the fire that warmed my Grandma, but those folks were a day’s ride away. 

On the third day, at Sam’s Point (so called because an Englishman jumped and survived from there, when he was escaping the ‘savages’) my Grandpa caught up with the Cherokee and the woman he loved.

The Cherokee made it plain that he was under orders from the ancients to bring his sister back to her family. My Grandpa said he was her family now and that she wanted to return home with him.

There was a legend in that area at that time of a bear called ‘Satchmo’. The biggest goddamn bear that side of the mountains; to most it was only a story. That is, until that day when it showed up to the party.

My Grandpa shouted that the bear was behind the Cherokee but until he smelt him, he didn’t believe that the white man was telling the truth. As the Cherokee turned Satchmo made a swipe at the man and my Grandpa seeing the trouble they were in, made my Grandma hide in the trees. He then got the biggest tree branch he could carry and started to stab at the bear. It looked as if the Cherokee’s days on Earth were numbered, until my Grandpa stabbed the bear right in the eye. It howled and roared and probably said a few cussin’ words in bear talk.

My Grandpa dragged away the Cherokee while the bear got its act together.
My Grandpa then went looking for my Grandma to see that she was all right, and she was - just a little scared of Satchmo; but then, who wouldn’t be?

My grandparents hugged and kissed and just then Satchmo made a run for the two of them. The Cherokee saw what was going to happen and started shouting at the bear to distract him and the bear took the bait and started after the Cherokee.

Her brother realised the only way to save his sister was to tempt the bear to edge of Sam’s Point and hopefully push him over. But that never happened, the Cherokee got trapped at Sam’s Point and decided that if my grandparents were to live, then he must force the bear to jump with him.

And that is what he did. No one knows if he survived the jump. When my grandparents went down the mountain, all they found was Satchmo, as dead as any bear could be. There was no sign of my great uncle, because that is what the Cherokee was – my family.

He was a Cherokee, as am I.

No one else came from the north to look for my Grandma after that.

Did I tell you? I still miss her.

bobby stevenson 2015

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