Thank you Cat, because Fall is the season of procrastination. I need to be outside this time of year. Your patience is a blessing. Thank you.
I love this time of year as long as I don't think about it too much. This time of year the days are long and warm and the nights soft and gentle. The days seem to just fly by and before I know it, it will be winter, which is what I'm trying not to think about.
I hooked up my little mare, Charity, and headed out to the Lancer home. My visit is two-fold; I have come to return some borrowed books and to ask a favor. I love to visit this ranch, a more gracious family a man can never hope to meet. I'm always welcomed, no matter if I come at suppertime or on wash day. So I set out at a good pace to go for a much anticipated visit. I made the turn off from the main road to the road that leads to the ranch when a cowboy rides up alongside.
He leans down to look under the buggy cover, his arms crossed loosely, resting on the pommel of his saddle, the reins loose in his hand. I often wonder if some of these cowboys are really good horsemen, or if the good Lord gave horses more understanding than we know. The horse just plodded alongside placidly.
"Hey Padre, what brings you out here? Plan to help with round up?"
"Good heavens, no laddie, I'm going to see your Da."
He nods, sitting up. For a moment he's out of my line of sight, I can only see the horse and his legs and then he leans over to look in again. "He's not up to the house, we're all over to the meadow. Follow me."
He trots his horse out in front and then takes a little side road. We head down the hill and in the distance I can see wagons at the far side of the meadow. "What goes on there, Johnny me boy?" He has to lean over again to answer me, and I think he finds it a bit of a nuisance. He pulls his horse alongside my buggy and then grabbing the roof and swings down inside. With a quick squeak of the springs he's sitting beside me, one foot up on the splashboard. He takes a second to tie off his horse to trot along behind.
"We're berry picking." Johnny waves a hand down at the crowd assembled. It seems half the ranch is there. "Murdoch says we have to pick blackberries before September 29, or else." He's got a sparkle in his eye. "He won't say what the 'or else' is."
I have to laugh, for all that Murdoch Lancer has tried to fit in to this wild land, a man can't leave his youth behind. "The story goes, lad, that when the devil was cast down from heaven he was trapped in a blackberry bush. And every year just after Michaelsmas he comes down and spits, or uhm, does something worse, on the bush. So after that, you don't want to eat the berries."
I cherish this boy's laugh. Sometimes it
seems like it takes him by surprise and just bursts out of him. "Well, I'll
think twice about eating them in November, that's for sure." He stretches one
arm across the back of the seat and settles in. "What do you think it really
"I think a lot of these tall tales are just a way to get a point across. Do you think the berries just spoil on the vine after a while? Or " he sits up, pulling off his hat thinking. "I'm betting it's to keep kids out of the berry patches once the bears come. What do you think?"
He's looking at me. Those blue eyes all a-sparkle, like he's stumbled on a secret. "I think the devil is in the works, lad, and that should be enough."
"Oh but Padre, the devil is everywhere, why should he keep me out of the berry patch?"
"I'm sure the devil is trying to get you into the patch, lad, it's your Da trying to keep you out."
He nods sagely as if he almost believes me. There are blankets spread out under an oak tree. As I pull the buggy up next to the wagon I can see there are already a few baskets full of berries under old sheets in the back. Before I've barely set the brake, Johnny is out of the buggy. One of the boys has come over and they make quick work of unhitching the horse and taking it to water.
I can see the ladies and children in the briar. Everyone is wearing their oldest clothes and have their hair tied up in rags to keep out the brambles. The little ones come to greet me, their fingers and lips stained with juice.
Murdoch and Jelly Hoskins are together, each with a full basket. Mr. Hoskin's looks my way, but says nothing. The only time we've ever met was when he brought his orphan boys to me to be placed in homes. With the help of the Lancers they were all put with good families, but Mr. Hoskins' has never forgiven me nor spoken to me since. I know that Johnny is still in touch with the oldest boy, Willie, but I don't know if he's seen any of the others.
Murdoch puts down his basket and comes to welcome me. "Fr. Mike, what a pleasure. I'm sure we've got a spare pair of gloves if you'd care to join in."
"Ah, now, Murdoch, I can't say I will and I won't say I won't. What's this I hear about having to get the berries in by Michaelmas?"
"Yes, well," he stammers. "Old habits."
Scott has joined us, such a fine looking young man, bronzed from long days in the sun. "Don't let me forget, lad, the book I borrowed is in the back of my buggy." He's lent me Darwin's book on the origins of man. He said it was best if I "knew the enemy", even though reading it was against church doctrine, at least I now know what all the fuss is about.
One of the little children starts up a song and for a moment the bushes are singing and swaying with the happy music. I'm trying to learn Spanish, but all I get is that the song is about little yellow flowers. No matter, it's a joyful tune and most everyone joins in, some in better voice than others.
The day seems a mix of work and play. When the children get bored with picking fruit they climb the trees or chase each other in the tall grass, playing hide and seek and follow the leader.
I help for a bit, mostly carrying the filled baskets from the briar to the wagon. They've been at this since early morning and are almost done. These berries will be for cakes and pies and made into jams that will last all year. When we are done with the work the baskets of food are brought out and I say the grace.
"And every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor, for that is the gift of God." Johnny said as he grabbed a chicken leg and sheered most of the meat away with one bite.
I can see his father rolling his eyes in what be exasperation as he perceives his son as being impertinent. I'm amazed he can quote the Bible and find his impertinence charming. "I think that's what I said."
It's a lazy afternoon, one so surprising to find for these men of labor. The sun overhead is a vibrant blue, with only the palest of clouds. Murdoch looks uncomfortable, his big frame not used to sitting on the ground. Scott looks almost elegant, and I have a strange thought of society men taking lessons on how to look good at a picnic. Johnny is sprawled on his back, but I see he has the good sense to keep his boots off the blanket. Teresa, that charming little thing, is dishing out plates of food for us all the while entertaining us with happy chatter.
"I'd almost forgotten," I can see the
workers all around me settling down to eat. "I'd come to ask a favor. The
Founder's Day celebration is coming up next week and I was hoping to get a few
extra hands to help set things up on Wednesday. We need a couple of strong
backs." Murdoch understands. There aren't a lot of employers in these parts
willing to let men off, with pay, on a work day to help do the set up. I watch
as the man's eyes narrow and I wonder if he's calculating lost wages against
community good will, when I see him smile.
"You know. I have two men I can lend you. Mind you, they get distracted easily and will need someone to ride roughshod over them. And don't let them too close to the food or you'll have nothing to serve, they eat like food is going out of style. And don't forget to keep them away from the womenfolk or you won't get a lick of work out of either one of them." He's chuckling, and Scott is shaking his head. Johnny just tosses the chicken bone out under the bush. They are good men and hard workers, so I know he's teasing. "But don't let this work for the Father deter you from your real job." His tone is almost stern.
"Our real job?" Scott is the one to ask.
"I want my goose."
Johnny laughs and includes me in the conversation. "Murdoch says we gotta get him a goose for Michealsmas or he's gonna eat Dewdrop."
"You ain't eatin' my gander!" Jelly insists. "It won't be very good luck for Dewdrop if he gets eaten, will it?"
Ah, another old tradition. Nice to see that Murdoch still keeps some of the old ways.
"Funny to think on a hot day like this, the grass tall, the birds in the trees, that it won't be long before it's winter." Scott wipes his hands on a napkin and after folding it, he sets it aside.
"The seasons don't change here like they do back home, do they lad?"
Scott's shaking his head again. "They barely change at all." He slides a look at his father out of the corner of his eye as if to lay the blame there.
"Well soon enough you will be too busy to notice the change of the seasons. Tomorrow we will need to start making sure the holding pens are ready and then we'll need to start round-up."
"After we get the goose."
"Yes, Johnny, after you get the goose. And with any luck, more than one."
Johnny rolls over, propping his chin on his hand. "With the round up and the, uhm "
Scott is chuckling. "Wild goose chase?"
"Yeah, we gonna have time to go to the fair?"
"You boys get my goose and I think we'll be able to stay a few days at the fair. Perhaps stay in town at the Continental Hotel?" He'd planned to stay as it was, but Johnny didn't need to know that.
Johnny got to his feet in a hurry,
brushing stray bits of grass of his trousers. "Come on, Scott. We have work to
Scott groaned, knowing full well he was going to be pestered every day until their hunting trip was successful. "Father, good to see you, as always." He extended his hand and we shook briefly.
"Lad, I'll see you Wednesday."
Behind me I could hear the wagon being hitched, the ladies folding the blankets and packing up the baskets of food as I stood to watch them go. Looking over I could see Murdoch watching them, too, as they mounted their horses and with a quick wave, were gone.
"They're good boys," I said to the man standing next to me. He was silent a long time, watching them ride across the meadow.
"Better than I hoped or deserved," he finally said softly.
"Good things come to those who wait." I'm reminded of all he lost in those years separated from his children. The heartache of knowing another has raised your child must be great. "They are here now."
He turns to me and smiles, at first wistful and then with joy. "They are, they are. And I think they will bring me more than one goose, for I think this will be a very good year, indeed."
I will need to tell this tale in church on Sunday. Remind the people that old traditions still have a purpose to teach and motivate. Murdoch Lancer believes good fortune will come with a goose on his table to show prosperity for the next year. But I believe his good fortune will bring that goose to his table. For he has spent the year sowing friendship among these two fine men, and that harvest is joy that his sons show for each other and for him. This time of year, when we are all so busy with our daily work, is the time to be certain to enjoy the long, warm days, the bountiful harvest and the gifts that God has given us.
Yes, I like coming to Lancer I always find a sermon here.
Happy Fall Everyone
September 21, 2004