Chapter Nine

Virgil’s Sixth Birthday


"Moses!” called Mother.  "Virgil!  Grampa!” She stood on the porch, scanning the road and yard. "Where are those two?" she said aloud.

"I think they went to check the ice on the pond Mother,” said Laura. "For skating."

"Well they should have known better.  I told them dinner would be soon.” Two figures came hotfooting it down the road.  "There they are. Come on, you two. Dinner."

Virgil shot past his mother into the house and let his grandfather do the explaining.  "I'm sorry, Aurelia,” said Moses, "We got to talking with some of your cousins who I had not seen for a while and lost track of the time, that's all dear. Sorry.” The warm kitchen felt good.

"What news from the West, Grampa?" she asked.

"Parsons King Johnson has settled at Prairie du Chien in the Wisconsin territory.  His fur trading business is good and he thinks he may get into politics."

"I hope he does well,” said Aurelia.  "After all those years of wandering. My Lord, what a curse the Captain's legacy has been. I wonder if it ever really existed?"

"If it ever did, your grandfather kept it a good secret from your grandmother Abigail.” said Moses.  "We never learned of it until after the Captain's death in London. Thank the Lord that kindly Doctor saw the deed or we'd never have known, and thank the Lord there have always been people willing to invest in the possibility, or the family would not have done as well as it did for the past fifty years."

"I just don't understand how you can sell something you don't own,” said Aurelia.

Ruel, who, along with the others couldn’t help but hear the conversation in the small kitchen, offered his counsel.  "You don't have to own it, Mother, you simply sell your claim. It's perfectly legal."

"Really?" she said. "And how would you know, Ruel?"

"I've been reading some law. I find it interesting."

"Let me see if I understand this,” said Milton.  "You can sell something you don't own? All you have to do is claim it?"

"That's right,” said Ruel.

"That means I can sell my claim to the Captain’s land out in Minnesota?" Milton asked. His wheels were turning.

"If you can find someone foolish enough to buy it, yes," said Ruel.

Milton leaned his elbow on the table and stared across the room, rubbing his chin, his brow as deeply furrowed as the first turn of the plow in spring. He said nothing.

"Can we eat, Ma?” said Austin, who sat with a knife in one hand and a fork in the other.  This boy meant business at the table, or any other place food was served.

"Don't you call me Ma!" Aurelia said. "I'm your mother!"

"I'm hungry, Mother." Austin said. "Can we eat?"

"You're always hungry," she said. "Be patient."

By now everyone was eager to get started at the feast. Mother seated Moses at the head of the table and sat opposite him. Ruel, Alfred, Julian and Aurelia sat to her left. With Laura, Milton, Austin and Virgil to her right. Virgil sat next to Moses.

"Bless this house, Lord, and those who assemble here to praise your bountiful harvest.  Amen.” Then she added quickly  - "Oh, and don’t forget to bless a certain little boy whose birthday it is today."

"That's right! I forgot," piped up Virgil.

"Happy Birthday Virgie," they all chimed in harmony.

"I’m six years old, Grampa,” he said, his hazel eyes glowing brightly.

"My, my, my," said Moses.  "Six years old already. It seems like only yesterday."

"Only yesterday," echoed his mother, her thoughts far away.

"Only yesterday?” said Virgil.  "It wasn't yesterday.  It was a long time ago.  I can't even remember, it was so long ago.” They all laughed.

"I remember that night,” said Ruel.  "I'll never forget it. I was standing outside on the porch watching the comet.  It was pitch black, only the stars and the comet. That’s when I heard you cry for the first time, Virgie."

"You did?"

"Yeah, and he's been crying ever since," taunted Milton.

"Shut up, Milton," said Virgil.

"Milton, I'm warning you," said his mother.

"Yes, that’s just the way it happened,” Julian affirmed.  "I remember, too."

"But what happened to my comet?" asked Virgil.

"It’s up there in heaven somewhere,” said his mother,  "waiting until its time to return."

"When? What is it waiting for?" Virgil asked.

"It’s waiting for you to be a grandfather,” said Moses.  "Then it will come back."

"A grandfather?” He thought for a moment and added,  "but that’s such a long time away."

Moses reached over and patted the boy's head.  "Patience, my boy. It will come soon enough."

"Can we eat now, Mother?" demanded Austin.

"No, first Grampa has a blessing," she said.

Moses put on his best Scottish accent.  "Lang may yer lum reek and may ne'er a wee moosie leave yer meal-poke wi' a tear in its eye."

"Now, you may eat,” said Mother, passing the hickory-smoked ham. She and the girls had spent most of the day preparing the feast, a celebration of a successful year of crops, and a commemoration of the first feast of thanks of the pilgrims of Plymouth Colony, to whom they were related by blood and tribulations.  Nothing much had changed in those two hundred and twenty years. The frontier had moved slowly north and westward and there hadn't been any Indian massacres for sixty-six years in Brandon, but the soil had no fewer rocks and the winters were no less bitter. Still, the family survived. With all the tenacity of a patch of moss clinging to a rock in the face of years of climatic adversity, they survived.

For this and nothing more, because there was nothing more, they gave thanks.

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