Dear brother, this letter will reach you after Christmas, but I hope your
holidays were merry. It is late, here. Much too late to be up writing letters,
but I find myself unable to sleep and thinking of you. It seems as if I haven't
sat still for weeks.
I know that parties and gathering and
goings-on have been happening in this valley from before I got here, but I must
admit that I don't recall this number or this variety of festivities.
I'm sure that as the valley grows the number of parties grows as well.
Gracious, there seems to be one every day.
so enjoy the differences. Morro Coyo seems to be all the Mexican traditions. The
big events there start with a festival of lights in the middle of December and
every few days there is a different reason for a party. I like the Mexican
Posadas. They remind me of the mummeries that we used to hold. Do you remember
the year that Iain was Abbott and had father standing on the dining room table?
I was laughing so hard I couldn't remember my lines. But the Posadas are more
about religion, even if they are just as irreverent as anything Iain could dream
River is full of the Anglican traditions. Complete with the silly notion of
putting a tree in one’s front room. Good heavens just look outside; we have
plenty of trees all around us. Why ever would you want to put one in your front
room? Two houses have already caught fire this year from candles on dried trees.
You would think it would be obvious not to light a candle next to the thing that
should be in your fireplace.
on the ranch we run by our own calendar. The one that the women on this ranch
seem to know so much better than I.
It starts on St. Andrew’s Day.
The first week of advent is the beginning.
The scent of vanilla and cinnamon fill the air.
It is unfair that all that baking is going on and none of it is for us. I
come home in the evening to find baskets of baked goods to go to friends and
must force myself to remember that this is the season of giving. Thank heavens
other families are bringing baked goods when they come calling or none of us men
might ever see a cookie or a cake.
find myself missing Paul, as I haven't done since that first month after his
passing. Each day, as I teach my sons what few traditions I have and they share
what they like from their youth, I find myself turning to share my experiences
with my dear friend only to find he is not here.
have pulled down the wheel chandelier in the front hall and lit the candles. In
his honor we use the oversized tallow candles, dyed purple, which will burn
through the night. His tradition of a circle of light and a light in the window
will continue, even without him.
have made an advent wreath of juniper and light the candles at supper. There are
cedar boughs over the mantle and up the stairs. The house smells of Christmas
every time I come in from the outside.
There is something of these things that does put one in the spirit of
waiting and hoping.
Johnny and Scott were raised to help those who had less than themselves.
I must admit, I wasn't surprised in Scott's case. Harlan would have
preached and practiced charity, and, not to sound unkind, he would have done
some of it with his social standing in mind, but he passed it on to Scott. I
was, however, surprised that Johnny's mother would have done this. From what I
have gathered there were times when they barely had a roof over their heads or
food on the table. When I asked Johnny, he just shrugged and said that there
were times when he had a little and others had none. I am so proud of these men,
even knowing that I had no hand in their upbringing. Enough of this line of
started raining on the second Sunday in Advent. A welcome change to the dry
weather we've had all year. A
worse drought I haven't seen in fifteen years. But, I am not envying you right
now, brother of mine. I don't miss slogging through slush and snow to get
anywhere around town. Nor
have I missed not owning a sleigh.
here, or the lack of it, is more of a concern. With this last drought and the
swarms of families filling the valley we have some hard planning to do this
year. The range has always been open, and water flowed from the high country to
the valley with out hindrance. In some places, however, water is more precious
than the gold once dug from those hills. Each of those miners that didn't go
back home broke and broken has decided to stay and take up a trade. I'm afraid
that a good many of those previous occupations were farmers, and farmers bring
families, and families and farms use water.
and Johnny and I have been reading law books, a task most dreaded and looked
upon as punishment, but we are struggling to determine the best course of action
in securing water rights for the ranch. Water and good grasslands are the only
things that will keep this place in business.
I've done it again. I had started to tell you about this holiday season and
instead have been telling you of the dull aspects of my business.
So, where was I? It began raining Sunday last, every afternoon about
three, and then stops just after sundown. I do notice the sun going down earlier
each day. The nights
are clear and cold. I know, not as cold as where you are, but cold for here.
Stop laughing at your older brother.
a good thing those nights have been clear and the moon full as Johnny and Scott
have been going to most every dance and festival in two counties. They ride out
after work and drag themselves back sometime after midnight. How do I know the
time? Because I'm awake until they come home. Before you snicker at me, how late
did you stay up last Friday night before Edwin got home? I thought so.
Sunday, Rose Sunday, I began mulling wine and made sure to have mincemeat pies
in the larder. I can't believe that neither of my sons have had mincemeat. Who
ever heard of celebrating the solstice with out mincemeat?
wanted to make AppleJack. I keep telling him there won't be a frost cold enough,
but as usual he is determined. I find it amusing that my well-brought up son has
this fascination with alcoholic spirits. I'm still not sure I should be grateful
for those books you sent on winemaking or not. You, little brother, are a bad
is the solstice. We dragged in a well-dried birch to use as our Yule log. I
polished up the old brass brazier you sent me the year I bought the ranch and
sparked this year’s log with last year’s remnants. I love some of these old
traditions. I plan to hold a Hogmanay celebration this year. I have a few
friends here from the old country, and I'm sure there will be more than enough
people willing to keep the party spirit alive after Christmas. We roasted a pig
and served the mincemeat pies. I can't say that either son raved over them,
perhaps it's an acquired taste. We'll have to have more between now and
decided to hold a solstice party here, this year. I admit that I held this party
for purely selfish reasons. I've come to miss my sons at the supper table in the
evening. During the rest of the year when there is a party or a dance they are
gone on a Saturday night after work not to be seen until Sunday morning on the
steps of the church. But at this time of year, when the workday is short and the
nights long, they are gone more often.
are held in the school or the grange hall mid-week and my boys disappear even
before supper, to come home late. I envy the energy that this requires, but I
miss the conversation with them around the fire of an evening. But they are men,
young men, and it's hard to quash such energy that hates to sit idle. The very
same energy that works such long hours in the summer is wasted by the fire on
the long winter nights. Teresa is becoming quite the social butterfly.
The boys keep an eye on her when they go to a town function, but it's
hard to see her going out, knowing that soon she'll be having beaus and making
plans of her own. They grow up so quickly.
day couldn't have been better. It's been overcast each morning for the last two
weeks, with a ground fog that burns off by noon, but this day the sun rose in a
pale blue sky with out hint of fog or cloud.
hawks, each on their own fence post, spread their wings and sunned themselves in
the morning light. I took it as a sign of good things to come. And it seemed I
was right. It turned out to beautiful day.
We roasted a pair of pigs in a pit in the ground.
There were easily a hundred people here.
The women had been cooking and cleaning for days.
The smell of beeswax and lemon oil was overpowered by the scent of
vanilla and cinnamon.
groaning board was in the front room, filled with every cake and pastry you can
think of and name and a few that you can't. The sideboards were filled with
salads and potatoes and a goodly portion of the stored vegetables from the fall
The guests came in buggies and wagons, on horse back and on foot. Friends
and neighbors from two counties.
They came with more food and drink and light hearts and glad tidings. My
heart, and, Johnny commented, my head, swelled at the sight of so many of our
friends come to join us. By noon we had a band playing and the dance was in full
were only two fistfights, which will rank this as a very tame party.
Fortunately, neither of my sons was involved except to break up the
disagreements. I was
interesting to see them in action.
Johnny broke up the first fight. With brute strength he separated the
combatants and then kept them apart by swatting at each of them with his hat.
Raising his voice and clouds of dust as he embarrassed them for fighting in
front of the women and in a matter of minutes he had them separated and assigned
to tasks away from each other.
on the other hand, broke up his fight without ever raising his voice. It was a
low, commanding tone. He pulled them apart and then gave each man a shake. I was
too far away to hear his words, but I saw the fire in his eyes.
In his low tones, he spoke to both men and soon they were shaking hands.
Two different men, with such different ways of handling a problem, but with
The party was a success. It wasn't the first party thrown at Lancer, but
it was by far one of the best. The guests began to leave depending on how long
it would take them to get home before dark. And at sunset all that was left were
the ranch hands and the family.
It took hours to do the big part of the clean up, and the rest will have
to wait until morning.
am so very proud of the people that work here at Lancer. A better group of
people I have never known. We are more like a family than simply employers and
pulled together, the men cleaning up outside, the women inside. I had a grand
time. Having more parties here helps keep the boys closer to home, but it's a
more than a little hard on the pocketbook.
the sun has gone down hours ago and the house is finally quiet.
A welcome quiet. I did not realize just how noisy it was until everyone
left. The fog expected this morning rolled in about nine.
The boys and Teresa headed off to bed and I took a seat in front of the
fire. I told them and
myself it would only be a minute or two, as I wanted to savor the quiet of the
house after the boisterous noise of the day. Instead I found myself there for
quite a bit longer than I expected.
day has been one of reflection. I find this a time for change and I feel there
is more change in the wind. Teresa
was a darling, but I think that next year she will put her hair up and I will
have to fend off potential suitors. I find it interesting that this is a bad
thing for a girl and the thing I want most for my sons. I suppose the fathers of
the girls my sons squire feel much the way I do. Although, I must say, either of
my sons would be a fine catch.
much is changing and I almost feel as if I can't keep up. Things are happening
around me much too fast. I
feel as though I made a wish on a star and now that my wish has been granted I
have no idea what to do with the windfall.
My sons are home. A gift I cannot believe, nor take for granted.
Johnny could easily get work somewhere else. I don't see him as going
back to his old profession, but he could foreman for half the big ranches in the
state and any one of them would hire him away in an instant if he chose to go.
Scott has a whole life back in Boston that he could pick up if he so desired.
But I find it gratifying that they have decided to do this work.
Ranching is not a business for cowards. Long days and short pay, fighting
the land and water and sun for every blade of grass and every success. Working
with local and state governments that seem to contradict each other, just for
spite, and just working with cattle is enough to drive a man to drink.
they have both decided to stay, to work the land and the cattle and even put up
with me. There aren't
words, brother. None.
will be upon us soon. A time for new beginnings. My life is so different from
where it was just a year ago. Every day with Scott and Johnny is a new
is very late, here. The Yule log is burning in the fireplace and outside my
window are the first sounds of a good heavy rain. A sound like no other. I was
beginning to think this drought would never end, and what I hear sounds like
music to me.
It started as a soft sound like wind in the trees and then it became
louder as the drops got bigger. The parched dry soil drinks up the water
and dampens down the dust. I can smell sage and juniper on the air, and suddenly
I hear frogs. It's as if the whole world is happy it's raining. I do so love the
sound of rain on the roof.
think I can sleep now, brother.
My family is home, under my roof, safe and sound. Outside the cycle of
life has begun again. Tomorrow the sun will return for just a minute or so
longer than the day before. We will have oatcakes for breakfast before heading
into town for church. I wonder just how bright-eyed my sons will be. For all
their late nights they seem to have good heads and don't drink to excess, but
enough late nights in a row will run any man down. I must be feeling my age.
Perhaps, it is just that I couldn't have this many late nights and still do my
job. It is envy or wistfulness I feel? Do I long to ride the range and find my
bed in the middle of the night? No, I think not. I didn't do it at their age; I
surely don't want to do it now.
feel blanketed by a warm feeling despite the cool weather. A feeling that all is
right with the world. The change of seasons puts me in a frame of mind to look
ahead, to what will come next year.
Spring planting and the calving season, more dances and barn raisings.
Part of me wonders if these boys go out and tear down barns just so they can be
rebuilt and have a dance. It's hard to believe that there are that many new
families in the community.
miss you brother. I miss the long talks we had in the evenings and the silly
arguments. I can only pray that you have a good strong relationship with your
sons. I am still working on mine, but what I have now, I wouldn't trade for the
world. Keep your sons close, Angus. I know you know this, but they are a
time for me to go and put out all the candles but one. Paul's candle, that we
have burning in the window, to welcome travelers and to remember my friend.
night, Angus. Merry Christmas. Remember me at the Hogamany and remember me to
the family there. Good night and God bless and keep you all safe.