Write On!

Pioneer Praise

In Uncategorized on December 1, 2011 at 2:28 pm

by Tara Wiley

Candles affixed with drips of wax to mismatched, chipped saucers filled the roughhewn windowsill over the sink. Stacey carefully lit each one with Bill’s safety matches, making a mental note that next time they drove into town she needed to replace his stash and buy a lighter for herself. Looking out across the South Dakota prairie, snow blanketing the rolling hills, she let her mind wander across the twenty or so miles to the Cattlemen’s Club. She envisioned her aching feet working their way across that sawdust-covered concrete, planting her weary body in one of the simple black banquet chairs, helping herself to a steak and sides she didn’t cook on plates she wouldn’t have to wash. She shook her head, willing the complaints to sift out as she poured in praise:

Lord, if Brother Lawrence could create sacred worship out of KP duty, then so can I. Let me ‘make it my business only to persevere in Your holy presence, wherein I keep myself by a simple attention, and a fond regard to You.’ And there, let me find joy, even among these infernal — I mean, blessed – dirty dishes.

Forcing herself back to the farmhouse sink filled with ten hungry hunters’ empty breakfast plates, she pulled the hair elastic from her wrist and gathered her dishwater blonde hair back into a low ponytail. Something was still missing – ah, music. The ambiance was not set until she had her favorite Keith Urban album sweet-talking her into loving her work.

What she wouldn’t give for a dishwasher.

But Billy loved the simplicity of this place, just the basics, nothing more: so different from the desert city life they returned to when November’s perfect hunting hardened into December’s fiercest chill and Christmas lights beckoned them to their far more lush (and warmer) life in Arizona. Days would come when she would miss this, too: a basic cabin, two large rooms for eating and relaxing upstairs, a tiny bedroom for her and Billy, a large bay of bunk beds below for the hunters and their boys. The only decorations were mounts of pheasants in flight, their burnt umber bellies and shimmering blue-gray backs giving way to elegant tail feathers, a nod to their common ancestry with the peacock. A few photos of successful hunts were tucked here and there on simple wooden end tables between unassuming upholstered sofas (Stacey had wanted leather, but Bill was practical: the leather would split in the dry summers without her there to condition it. She gave in to the logical choice) Sturdy tweed in brown, red, and blue covered the seating, enough for twelve to each have a cushioned place to recover while recounting the day’s hunt.

Stacey drew her gaze yet again back to the sink where she plunged her chapped hands into nearly-scalding suds. She hated rubber gloves, and gave up trying to keep her hands pretty during these months. A few weeks of paraffin dips and manicures would have her pretty city hands back in no time. What a strange life they had carved for themselves, a wild study in contrast between Phoenix and Pierre. She loved it all, loved homeschooling the boys so they could all be together all the time, no matter the season. She adored her man, every bit the successful downtown businessman, but also a solid Midwestern hunter with roots that ran as deep as the cooleys furrowing the Dakota plains. She loved spending two thirds of the year hosting extravagant, catered business parties; loved the dresses, the Mystic Tan, the manicures, hair highlighted and teased into an outrageous updo. Normally, the retreat to South Dakota for 12 weeks on the family property, hosting of a very different sort as Billy had his favorite clients and best friends out to experience the unbelievable pheasant hunting, was just as welcome. She relished this taste of pioneer life as she spent her days cooking meals and washing layers of hunting clothes, watching her sons grow strong in body and character through the experience, watching her husband unwind a little more with each day.

So why was she finding it so difficult this year, so tiring, so… tiresome? Her low back reminded her of her age. The boys were teenagers, almost out of the house. A lot of hours over a lot of winters had been spent at this sink. Years when, somehow, she had energy to spare. Back South, she had settled into the calmer pace that having older children allowed: they could drive each other to their various activities while she stayed home, drank tea, and read in between responsibilities. Maybe she was just getting soft, but that overstuffed chair back in Arizona sounded like heaven right about now.

Lord, this usually isn’t so hard! Why am I so distracted today? Forgive me for wanting to be somewhere else when this is where You have placed me today. Let me be grateful –

A shriek invaded her quiet prayer. Startled, she yanked her hands from the suds and spun around, assuming the sound came from outside. After all, she was the only one in the house at the moment, and the boys had already left for the plot ten miles south of here.

Then she realized the heat that radiated through her right arm was actually a shock of pain. She recalled the next hour as some kind of out-of-body experience. Surely she was sitting in the sofa by the back door, drinking a cup of tea, watching someone who looked eerily like her, who acted somehow like her with extreme urgency and efficiency:

Drain the sink carefully, find the missing fingertip. Set it on a clean towel. Ice. Find ice. Wrap the woman’s shaking, bleeding hand. Sit down. Sit for a minute before the room turns black. No time to waste. Stand back up, get the – the bag with ice and that in it. Grab the keys. The cell phone? Doesn’t work out here but it will in ten miles. Grab it. Get to the car. Drive. Focus. Focus, girl!

Lord, please help…

Lord, please…


Fight the dark edges closing in. Don’t look down. Look at the cell phone – no! That’s looking DOWN. Dial blind… Someone’s voice… Voicemail!

“Lynn, I’m coming in to the ER. Accident… Bill’s knife… meet me… ten minutes.”

Drive drive drive drive.

Next thing Stacey remembered was Bill’s ashen face huddled over hers when she opened her eyes. She reached up, touched his weathered, stubbled face, saw the bandage on her hand and it all came flooding back.

“Dear woman, I know you are strong, but how in the world did you get yourself here?” She hadn’t ever heard his voice tremble like that. Well, maybe when his bird dog was attacked by that porcupine… The memory made her smile.

“You aren’t… the only one with… pioneer blood running through your veins,” Stacey murmured. “Is it – “

“They reattached it, yes. You might not have feeling in it, though. What in the world happened? It looked like… blood… what happened?” Bill’s hands were shaking as he mentally rewound to the scene he came home to earlier that day: blood on the sink, on the counter, on the floor. Like a massacre. The drive to cell reception seemed to take an eternity even though the speedometer stated he had nearly floated across the gravel road at 85 miles per hour. Hearing Stacey’s nurse-friend answer immediately, “She’s okay,” meant the remaining twenty minutes to the hospital were spent in gasping prayers of gratitude.

“Apparently you did an amazing job re-sharpening your knife to process deer, and somehow it ended up at the bottom of the sink full of dishes,” Stacey explained slowly, still feeling a bit removed from everything. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed a laptop opened to Sears.com.

The portable dishwasher arrived at the cabin the next week.


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