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Courage of a Stranger
Courage of a Stranger
There comes a feel of freedom when you are cruising through a well used pasture, blaring country music out an old Chevy truck’s speakers. It’s the perfect moment when the beat of the music matches with the jostling of the pickup. The scene of a freshly set fence against the afternoon sky paints the most beautiful masterpiece.
True country, that’s what it is. The smells, the landscape, and the sounds. All remind you what beauty God has created.
The line of freshly set posts seem to go on forever. It doesn’t seem a body could singly put up that much fence. ‘Must be some brood to be able to do it all’ I think to myself.
His truck came into view over the hill before he did. A pile of fence posts lay beside his pickup, from where he takes posts to set. He packs the dirt around the latest set post and turns to watch his surprise visitor pull up.
Shutting off my truck returns nature to its wonderful silence. My old Chevy’s door squeaks when I open and close it, getting out.
I walk around the front of my pickup, inhaling the smell of the country and the smell of freshly upturned dirt.
“Howdy there, maam” His voice, so deep and rich, yet smooth like dark chocolate. I squint into the sun to see him tip his hat. I lean against my pickup to wait for him to finish attaching the barbed wire to his newest post.
As he wraps the wire around the post I watch him very closely, trying to decipher who he could be. Even though he has probably set hundreds of posts today, he works without showing signs of fatigue. Could he be an old friend? The conditions of skillfully working the land, change him so much I can’t recognize him? Or a new comer? Obviously having experience elsewhere? I am about to find out, for he puts the extra wire around the post like a lasso, finished with it.
He pulls off his work gloves, walking the short distance to me. He nods again, “Ben…”
There’s the voice again, so deep and warm. I reach out to shake his awaiting hand. “Angie.”
I study him for a second. He seems familiar but not someone I’ve met before. The voice though? Super familiar.
“So, what are you doing out here?” I ask the first thing that comes to mind. Moments later I realize that my question was for absolutely no reason. Anyone could tell what he was doing, even if they were from the city. I blush at my mistake.
“Oh, well, you know, nothing much. Just setting some fence.” He replies laughing. “The question fits you more. What are you doing out here?”
“Just taking a drive. Such a nice day out to do so.” He nods in agreement. “Just checking up and seeing how my land is doing, you know.”
At this he gives me a questioning look. ‘Your land?’ his eyes seem to ask.
“Well not mine yet. Someday all of this will be mine,” I say, gazing again over the land. When my gaze lands back on him, he still has a confused look on his face.
“You’re the new hired hand, aren’t you?” I ask. He nods a yes. “I’m Rob and Sharron’s granddaughter. Currently I’m in line for some of this land.”
“Makes sense.” He says in his deep, lush voice. We turn and watch in silence as a passing pickup creates a massive cloud of dirt behind it.
“Sooo….” I say turning my attention back to my new acquaintance. “Ben, huh? You don’t seem like a Ben to me.”
“What, why not? Who do you think I be then instead?” He asks in confusion, as I reach through my passenger side’s window and grab something. Before turning back to him I pull the cap off a sharpie with my teeth.
“I don’t know. A Scotty maybe?” I say, handing him the sharpie and an old CD case.
He takes off his hat and wipes his brow, his eyes never leaving the CD case. “How did you know? Is it really that obvious?”
“No, it took me a little bit to figure it out. I would have been clueless except for the fact that you spoke to me. Your voice kinda gave it away.” I say sheepishly. “But I think you’ll be fine, I only recognize you, ‘cause I was, am, a huge fan. Anyways, you’ve done okay so far haven’t you?”
He looks up from signing my CD case with a smirk. “A huge fan huh?”
“Yes, definitely! Since the beginning.” I say. Suddenly a beep from my truck interrupts us. Pulling my phone out of the cup-holder I see it is my grandma checking up on me. “Excuse me.”
I open up the text, seeing my grandma is wondering if I’ll be back for an early supper. I respond saying that I will, and that I had met and was talking with their new hired hand.
“So, what exactly is Scotty McCreery doing here, in this small town?” I ask putting my phone on the hood of my truck. I stare at him, wondering how it could be my luck to be meeting him, let alone in a place I’ve literally grown up at.
He sits down on an upturned bucket. “Well, as you can see, I’m working for your grandparents; helping out where and when is needed.”
I shake my head, “Well, why would you need to be out here? I’m assuming they’re paying you, why would you need the money? You’re a millionaire!”
“I’m guessing you’ve spent a greater part of your life out here, am I correct?” I nod my head in response. “Okay, so compare this to the hustle and bustle of the city life and music industry.”
“I get it now I guess,” I say, still processing everything.
“I guess I just had to have a break, come to a consensus with myself. Soak up some of this peacefulness for a while.” He explains. “You’re not going to tell anyone are you? I mean not even your grandparents, I really need this break.”
I nod my head, “Of course! I understand, this is my safe haven too.”
My phone shakes violently almost falling off my truck before I can reach for it. My grandma had responded to my text. “Well that’ll save me from troubling him. Let him know about early supper for me, will you?”
“Well by some coincidence I am here to let you know that supper will be served earlier tonight; in fact very soon.” I say to him returning my phone to its original spot in the cup holder.
“Then we better get going,” he tips his hat again. “I guess I’ll see you in a bit.”
I walk back around to the driver’s side of my pickup and get in. I start my pickup and lead us to my grandparents’ house, down the twisting dirt roads.
The wind blowing through my open windows had eased my mind. So much that it wondered over to Angie. Who was she really? The question kept popping up.
At the end of the long twisted drive sat the familiar house. In the midst of all the familiarity was one pickup. She had beaten me here.
She must know a different way to get here from the pasture. I had lost sight of her as soon as she had pulled out. She must know the area well, I think to myself as I pull up beside the shed. As I get out, I spot her grandfather, and go to check in with him, before heading inside for dinner.
The most delicious aroma hits us the second we open the door to the house. Our boots make an echo on the wood floor. When we round the corner into the kitchen and dining room we are greeted by a small but hearty meal, the source of the tasty smells, being laid out on the table by my employer’s wife, Angie’s grandmother. Everything looked like it had millions of times before, but this time it should have been different. Angie was nowhere in sight.
“Angie will be back in a minute and then we can eat.” Her grandmother says.
As if to reply to this statement I hear a door open and close from somewhere behind me. I listen as Angie’s footsteps announce her arrival somewhere near me.
“There you are sweetie.” Angie’s grandmother exclaims as she puts the finishing touches on the table.
I turn around to see Angie had come from a small bedroom off the dining room and now is busying herself with something in the kitchen, her back turned to me. When she turned around the sight stopped me in my tracks.
When she turns around there in her arms is a stilled pink bundle. She walks closer to me. “Ben, this is Skylar Mae, my daughter.” She says letting me look over her shoulder at the stirring baby girl. Her nose crinkling as she stretches for a yawn.
The next moment her grandmother is there telling everyone to sit, so we can eat. We obey, taking our seats around the table. Bowing our heads we say a prayer of blessing:
Come Lord Jesus
Be our Guest
And let these gifts
To us be blest
During the prayer I cannot keep my eyes off Angie. This sincere woman, all hardness turned peaceful, with a content Skylar Mae in her arms. The question arises again, so much stronger; who is Angie and her daughter?
After the prayer everyone goes into their own little world. Angie and her grandmother talk about Angie’s trip up here and Skylar Mae’s nap and sleep schedule. Her grandfather and I talk about plans for tomorrow. It isn’t until he brings up giving the tractors a tune-up tonight, that our two conversations cross. Angie and I both offer to help at the same time. After the longest time he convinces us he doesn’t need our help, that he’ll be fine by himself.
“You two can take the night off.” he says, standing up to take his dishes to the sink. Angie follows, Skylar Mae still in her arms, with her own dishes, then coming back to clear the meal off the table.
“I guess Skylar Mae and I will take a walk before it gets too chilly.” Angie says as I take my own dishes to the sink. Angie walks into the bedroom she came from earlier, and emerges with a sweatshirt on and a thick blanket wrapped around Skylar Mae.
“Don’t go too far, the temperature is dropping like a rock!” her grandmother exclaims pulling the blanket tighter around Skylar Mae. The next moment Angie is out the door and walking across the yard.
I set down my dishes in the sink. “I think a walk will do me good as well,” I say to Angie’s grandmother who had begun busying herself with the dishes, as I hear the garage door shut, suggesting her grandfather has left to do his work.
Quickly I put on a jacket and head out the door. I shiver as the cold hits me, but quickly move on. Determined, I follow Angie and her daughter across the yard.
We trekked on and on. Me, staying a good distance behind her, not knowing if she knew I was following her and her daughter. The cold almost disappeared, as we walked across a pasture that sits behind her grandparents’ house. Soon I lost her over a hill. The higher I climb up the hill, her head starts to appear little by little.
She had sat on a lone bench, on a fairly large flat surface, and staring off in the distance at the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen. From the top of the hill you could see for miles around. You can see the roads and cricks twisting and turning across the land. The grass still has a greenish tint, it only just the beginning of winter.
I stop about five feet behind where Angie’s sitting to gaze at the wonderful scene in front of me. We just stay where we are for a moment and take in the view, unsure if she knows I’m here or not.
Finally Angie sighs, shifting Skylar Mae in her arms, breaking the silence. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Taken back by her awareness of my presence, I finally step up beside her bench. “Very…” I sigh myself. Angie moves over enough room for me to sit down next to her. We resume our silence a little longer but every few seconds I glance back at her daughter’s small pink face poking out from her blanket.
“The summer after my junior year,” She starts out of the blue. “That was the first time my parents forcibly sent me here. They hoped it would be my comfort place, seek refuge in this beautiful landscape. Find myself, what you’re doing.
“November my junior year I was engaged, yes engaged in high school. The night after, it was homecoming game, my fiancé was killed when he was sacked; his helmet wasn’t quite on right after the time-out.” She says this without even looking at me, just staring into the distance. “I was dead, I didn’t do anything, he had meant everything to me, and I had lost all will to live.
“I hated the world, anyone who was the least bit unkind to me, I unloaded all my…” She searched for the right word. “Crap….onto them. My senior year I might as well have skipped, I got nothing out of it. The summer after, last summer, I came here again seeking nothing more than just my own little world. My grandparents had this hired hand who liked to get on every nerve I had, not allowing me to escape into my comfort place. Needless to say I fell in love with that cowboy.” She smiled to herself, recalling the old memory.
Angie reaches her palm out to catch the first snowflake of the year. You could see the peacefulness in her face and deep within her eyes. You could see she was no longer in pain over the loss of her high school sweetheart. But, I think to myself, where is the man, Cowboy she called him, that had made her whole again? Was he also the father of Skylar Mae, where is he now?
Angie takes a deep breath to start again. “It was a night exactly like this, first snow of the year,” She looks again out at the land below our wonderful view, and then looks at her daughter, eyes amazed at the new discovery of snow. Angie looked down at Skylar Mae with loving eyes and gently wiped the snowflakes that had found their way to her daughters face away.
“The aisle,” She turned to point behind her. Vaguely, something I had not noticed before, pure white pebbles formed two lines that stretched along the flat top of the hill. “Not many guests, just his family and mine, a couple of friends here and there. It was more perfect than I had ever imagined.”
Angie wrestled with the button on her coat pocket and pulled out a worn picture. She stared at it for a moment but then handed it to me. There, staring up at me, from this little piece of her life, were happy eyes of the mysterious cowboy and the also very mysterious woman beside me. The first snow danced and twirled around them in the picture. The two people in the picture were clearly madly in love. I looked closer at the picture, noticing the beautiful sight the background is.
I lift the picture up, matching its beauty to the nature before me; the picture had been taken on this bench.
“He made me whole again. I will always love my fiancé but this “Cowboy” had patched me up and I found a new kind of love; not the hurt love I was used to, but I-love-you-so-much-I-can’t-live-without-you love. I knew him for but six months before marrying him, the last four months I began to let go of my high school sweetheart and forgive the world.
“This Cowboy was my new whole world. We made it official by marrying with ‘till death do we part. The ceremony was perfect, the snow was almost heavenly, though some guests may beg to differ.” She giggles quietly to herself. “The party afterwards at my grandpa’s old barn was cut short because the first snow had turned into a full blown blizzard.
“You see that old house with the camper next to it?” she points to the right, at the only house visible, in a small valley between two hills and this one. “That was our place; thought we would fix up the place when we could.
“It’s a good ten minute drive from my grandparents’, but that night it took well over half an hour to get to our place. He carried me up the steps of our camper, but we hoped that it might be soon that he would be carrying me across the threshold of our new house when we finished fixing it up.
“The next morning the snow had stopped falling, but sometime during the night our heater had quit on us. Eventually the cold had woken me up, but when it did, I woke up to a note from my cowboy saying he had gone to get breakfast from my grandparents, for we had not yet stocked up on groceries.
“I sat down to drink my morning coffee, the one thing we had made sure we had. Sitting there, looking out at the snow that now covered the ground in a blanket a couple inches thick, I made myself a promise, that now that I was completely whole and happy again that I would never allow myself to hurt that bad again.” Angie’s face was so calm as she said this, like she meant it.
“I sat there for two hours, so wrapped up in the beautiful scene outside, that I had not noticed how much time had passed. Only when there was an urgent knock on the camper’s door did I look at the clock, and wonder for the first time why my husband had not returned yet, if something had held him up. Little did I know the answer to my question was behind the knocking that still hadn’t ceased. When I opened our camper door to the cold frisk air, my grandfather is standing there, without a coat like he left the house in a hurry.”
Angie brushes her now sleeping daughter’s cheek with the back of her hand. As hard as I look, I cannot find any emotion in her face, her eyes blank as she continues with her story.
“He was halfway between our house and theirs,” she points to an area on the road in the valley. “The soil was warm enough to melt the snow as it landed at first, but throughout the night it started to freeze. He had yet to put the chains on his truck, so he was taking it slow. That stretch right there, it had been without ice, so he thought he was out of it. He had sped up, trying to hurry so he could bring breakfast home to me, but when he went to turn on the bend, he hit a hidden patch of ice. He could have stayed on the road, but at the same time a car rounded the bend, to avoid hitting the oncoming vehicle he swerved into the ditch. His truck flipped and ran full force into a telephone pole.
“He was conscious long enough to tell the other driver to call my grandparents, that he did not want me called. He told him what he had been doing and that he was sincerely sorry. The last thing he said before slipping into unconsciousness was a direct order to tell me that he loved me. He was dead before my grandfather arrived, let alone the ambulance.
“I never got to say goodbye to him. That is why I thank God with all my life for Skylar Mae, every time I look at her I see part of him, a part that I still have, that maybe makes up a little bit for not getting to say goodbye to the cowboy I loved with my whole heart. It would be easy to blame God though for taking two of my loves from me, but I made myself a promise to not go there, and I honor it, I have to hold it together for Skylar Mae’s sake, she needs to grow up knowing the woman her father had helped her become, not the devastating mess I was before.”
Angie breathes out, still showing no emotion, I can tell though that she still hurts and longs for that one moment to tell her cowboy goodbye but has mastered hiding it behind blank eyes. The courage it must take to face every day knowing that the two most loved people in her life are no longer alive, but putting on a smile for the sake of her daughter. Having to accept what has become of her life and keep going, not allowing herself to fall apart on Skylar Mae; to try to feel alright about the situation and move on. The courage to stand up to the rumors surely spread by people who do not know her is stronger than any courage I have ever known or witnessed.
“His life was short but touched many hearts and helped many with just twenty-one years. My time with him was quite a bit shorter, six months, only four of them where I gave him any notice, and married to him for only eighteen hours before he was taken from me. That day, November 3, 2018, was a year ago tomorrow…” Her stare was lost again in the distance. “I married him a year ago today….”