Cheyenne Rose …
Every day after breakfast Cheyenne Rose would watch Pappy dig in the ground under the ancient oak tree. Pappy was French. He had come from Canada and settled near a Cheyenne band. His name was Alexandre Pierre Pappillion. The Cheyenne called him Pappy. They liked him and helped him build his first cabin, which became the storage shed when the big cabin was built. Pappy was smitten with a young woman named Mardha. He called her Martha to soften the sound of her name. When the Cheyenne were preparing to move on to their winter camp, Pappy gave Martha’s father several baskets full of vegetables he had grown and asked if he could take Martha for a wife. The father agreed and a wedding ceremony was held a week later. That was nigh on to thirty years ago he and Martha got married.
Pappy had carefully marked the length and width of the hole he was digging with string tied to four sticks, one at each corner. He would dig for about an hour each morning. Cheyenne asked him when he first started on the hole what it was for.
“It’s for to plant something,” Pappy told her as he leaned on his shovel and wiped the sweat off his forehead with the rag he always carried in a pocket. Then he put both hands on top of the shovel handle, rested his chin on them and gazed at the creek. “This here is a nice peaceful place to be. Listening to the water run over rocks, the birds singing in the trees, the bees buzzing round the garden. Yep! Right nice spot here,” he was silent for a few minutes as he looked around his farm and admired the mountains beyond from where the creek ran down. He thought of Martha and how happy they had been.
“You know, Cheyenne Rose, when I first settled here the land was flat as a flapjack. Martha,” he turned and looked at his daughter. “Your Mama wanted something different to look at besides flat land, so I planted those mountains out there. They was just little when I put them in the ground, then they grew like weeds,” he gave her his mischievous smile. “Didja know that, girl?”
Cheyenne Rose smiled back. “Aww, Pappy! You are such a fibber!” She walked over and hugged him. “If’n I was still a kid I would probably believe you, for I always knew you could do anything you set your mind to.” She turned and looked at her mother’s grave. “I should go pick some fresh flowers for her. I wish I had known her, Pappy. You always talk so soft and sweet about Mama.”
“Well, she was soft and sweet. The sweetest woman I ever knowed. You look just like her, ‘cept you are taller, like me. Won’t be long now and I’ll be with her,” he wiped his forehead and started digging again.
Cheyenne Rose looked at her mother’s grave then at the hole Pappy was digging, which would be the same size judging by the string markers. Something slowly dawned on her as she looked back and forth from the grave to the hole, and a cold chill ran down her arms. She watched Pappy for a few minutes as big tears started rolling down her cheeks, then she turned and ran to the meadow. Pappy watched her run and would have followed, but, figured she needed to be alone.
Cheyenne lay among the flowers crying her heart out. When the sobbing stopped she rolled over and gazed up at the sky. “Mama, Pappy is gonna be with you soon he says. He loves you so. I pray you will take good care of him when he reaches Heaven. I’m gonna miss him something terrible. I miss you, too, though you left before I got to know you, for you died giving birth to me, but, I know you in my heart. I’m asking you to please guide me when I will be all alone. I never been alone afore, and it scares me. Pappy has always been here for me and I don’t know what I will do without him. But, long as I know you and Pappy will be above watching over me, I guess I will somehow make it.” Cheyenne felt a softness, like a kiss, touch her forehead and fell asleep.
After she cleaned up the supper dishes and tidied the kitchen, Cheyenne took two mugs of coffee out to the porch. “Here you go, Pappy,” she handed a mug of coffee to him. “You want I should fetch another piece of cake to go with it?”
He raised a hand and waved it back and forth. “No, no, thank you. I ate so much I am stuffed to the gills. Fine supper as always, little girl.” His hunting dog, Barry, lay at his feet. His tail rapping loudly on the wood boards as soon as Cheyenne opened the door. He sat up and looked up at her with anticipation. Cheyenne pulled a piece of beef and a bone from her pocket and gave it to him. Barry ate the meat fast then took the bone over to the end of the porch to lay down and naw on it.
Cheyenne Rose sat down in her rocker. She held her hot mug in both hands near her mouth to blow softly on the coffee. Looking at the distant mountains she giggled. “How old were you, Pappy, when you planted those mountains?”
He squinted one eye and said, “Nigh on to thirty- two summers, I believe. Martha was so happy to watch them grow,” he looked over at his daughter. “You know, Cheyenne Rose, the ten years with Martha was like being in Heaven. Every day was joy. Of course we had some bad times, but we held on to each other and grew from it,” he seemed to drift off to another time and a peace settled on his face. “We thought we would never have a child, but, Martha said, “Great Father will bless us in his own time.” And she was right, for he gave you to us in our tenth summer,” tears came to his eyes. “My Martha lived long enough to hold you for awhile and to thank Great Father. She looked up at me, then back at you and whispered “Cheyenne Rose”. Then she was gone to her ancestors.”
They were both silent for awhile, lost in their own thoughts – Pappy in his memories and Cheyenne wondering how Pappy survived that time of sorrow with a newborn babe on his hands.
As if he heard her thoughts, Pappy told her, “I made a feeder bottle for you and fed you on goat’s milk. After I buried your Mama, I made a cradleboard for you, so I could carry you on my back when I had to work out in the gardens or tend the goats and chickens. Once a month, when I made the trip into town for supplies, sell eggs, chairs and baskets I made, I got a lot of offers from married women to adopt you. They gave me all kinds of things for my baby girl, each woman trying to give more than the others. Everyone fell in love with you. I was invited to noon-day meals a lot. Two widows even offered to marry me so you could have a mother. I thought that was right nice of them, but, you and I got along just fine together and were happy. Those two women made all your clothes till you learned from them how to make your own, which was not too long ago. Very dear ladies they are. They love it when you call them ‘Auntie’. Our life has been settled and blessed.”
“Yes, we have been blessed, Pappy,” Cheyenne had tears on her cheeks. She remembered toddling after Pappy, clinging to his knees when he stood still long enough, and riding on his shoulders when he took long walks in the meadow. She had never been more than one room away from him. Dear Lord, please don’t take my Pappy from me.
“Cheyenne Rose, I was old when you were born and the good Lord has given me many years since with you,” Pappy reached for her hand when she came to kiss his forehead before going to her room for the night. They were still sitting on the porch. The sun was sinking fast as it touched the mountain tops. The wispy clouds above were turning pink and the mountains were now showing their dark blue and purple sunset cloaks, the scattered pinion pines almost black. Cheyenne turned and looked at the mountain range. “Oh, look Pappy! I am going to make me a dress those colors, with a black cloak to go over it on chilly nights,” tears were pouring down her face. Pappy pulled her back to face him.
“Now, you listen to me, darling girl,” he motioned for her to sit back down. “You almost seventeen years old now and that means I am older than I have ever been and I won’t live forever, you know. I want for you to understand your Pappy may not make it through this coming winter. The horses are already growing thick fur on their under bellies, the goats are growing thicker fur, and the wooley worms have skimpy red bands, all this tells me it will be a harsh winter. Look at Barry. He’s got more fat on him and his coat is getting thicker. Last winter when I got so sick in the chest, Doc told me I may not make it through another bout of that. Come spring I will be with your Mama, I feel it in my bones. That’s why I dug my grave and put the canvas over it , before the ground freezes.” He sat back and let Cheyenne cry silently while he lit his pipe.
“You cry now for the sadness, ’cause you gonna need to get through it. Come this winter you will be too busy to sit and cry. Cheyenne Rose, I already feel the pain starting in my chest and it’s hard for me to sleep at night. Doc and Jimmy Clayborne will be out in a few days to see how I’m doing. Jimmy will keep your firewood stocked up and anything else what needs to be done. He will come out every day after that. I talked to them both last week when you were shopping in the store. Doc gave me the medicine I’ll need.” Pappy’s heart was breaking, not for himself, but, for Cheyenne. He could hardly stand to listen to her cry. Barry came over and put his head on her lap to comfort her and she stroked his ears.
“Now, when the time comes for me to go to your Mama, you tell Barry to fetch Jimmy. He will be staying in the shed all winter, keeping the stove burning so he won’t freeze. I would like it much if’n you marry Jimmy. He’s a fine lad and will take good care of you and the farm. Remember to be happy for me, ’cause I’ll be happy with your Mama again. Now, you go on to bed and rest.”
Pappy sat on the porch for a long time after Cheyenne hugged him. She had not spoken at all the whole time he talked to her. She just cried. He knew she was going to be alright in time.
Barry was down at the creek pawing at the thin ice to break it. Cheyenne kept fresh water in his bowl in the kitchen, but he liked to play with the ice and chew small pieces. It was early in the morning and the ice was getting thicker. Christmas had come and gone and January was turning colder than it had been in several years. When he heard the creak of the screen door Barry ran to the porch to greet Cheyenne and get his ears scratched, maybe a bone to chew on, too. Cheyenne scratched his ears, gave him a large bone and sat down. She wrapped her heavy shawl tight around her and and gazed out to the black outline of mountains. It would be a few more hours till Jimmy got up and came in from the shed, but, she was no longer sleepy. It had been a rough night for Pappy and she had slept while sitting in the chair by his bed. She watched Barry for a little while then went back inside to start breakfast. Just a few minutes later she came back out. Barry dropped his bone and looked up at her.
“Barry, fetch Jimmy! Pappy’s gone.” Cheyenne Rose stood there waiting in the dark. She never felt so alone in her life, then Jimmy got there and hugged her tightly.
© 2018 Phyllis Doyle Burns
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