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MAUREEN

Other Books by Mary E. Trimble

1Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific

“If you’re one of the millions of people who have dreamed of casting off everyday cares and setting sail for the South Pacific in your own 40-foot boat, this is the book for you! Mary and Bruce Trimble did what so many wish they could do. Her story will fire your imagination and fuel your fantasies. ”

Robert H. Mottram, author of In Search of America’s Heartbeat: Twelve Months on the Road.


Tubob: Two Years in West Africa with the Peace Corps

“Trimble’s honesty in describing her two years in Africa, both the trials and the triumphs, makes the book interesting and engaging. It provides a valuable view of The Gambia, while at the same time showing the strengths and weaknesses of the Peace Corps.”

Story Circle Book Reviews


Tenderfoot

“The explosion of Mount St. Helens is listed as the most devastating volcanic event in the history of the United States. There’s plenty of romance and vivid descriptions of ranch life. And always in the background, the dangerous rumblings of a volcano threatening to blow its top. When it does, the book takes a thrilling life and death turn.”

Skagit Valley Herald


McClellan’s Bluff

“The author proves her gift for confronting the complexities teens face as they learn to define their identities and establish independence as young adults. McClellan’s Bluff comes very highly recommended.”

Word Weaving


Rosemount

“Rosemount is a wonderful young adult novel about teenage angst, deftly portrayed by Trimble's skill and perception. She succeeds in expressing the many uncertainties and attitudes of today's teenagers in a way that will invite understanding and acceptance.”

Amazing Authors










MAUREEN







A Novel




Mary E. Trimble



1


Copyright © 2017 by Mary E. Trimble


All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner of this book.



Maureen is a contemporary western novel. The characters, incidents, and dialogues in this book are products of the author’s imagination.



Printed in the United States of America


Cover images & design © Bruce Trimble except:

Barn:© MH Anderson/Shutterstock

Woman:© Alliance Image/Shutterstock



Published by ShelterGraphics

Camano Island, WA USA




1

Author’s Note


In my first book, Rosemount, a Young Adult contemporary western, sixteen year-old Leslie Cahill rebels when her widowed father announces he’s sending her to a private girls’ school in Spokane. A good student and musically gifted, Leslie loves her ranch life and riding her beloved Appaloosa, Polly.

In Rosemount’s sequel, McClellan’s Bluff, Leslie, then seventeen, is flattered when a neighboring cowboy, eleven years older, shows interest in her. He treats her like a woman, not just another kid. But danger lurks.

Throughout these two Young Adult novels, the Cahill housekeeper, Maureen Gardner, plays an important role in the family. In the years following Rosemount and McClellan’s Bluff publications I have frequently thought about Maureen and how life was for her on the Cahill ranch. Her story was yet to be told.

In this novel, Leslie is seven when Maureen comes to the family; Leslie’s brother Wade is seventeen. Their father John, still overwhelmed with grief from the tragic death of his wife and with the burden of managing the family, struggles to keep things running on their large eastern Washington cattle ranch.

Maureen covers a ten-year period. This is Maureen’s story. Some of the events presented in Rosemount and McClellan’s Bluff are revisited in this novel, but seen through Maureen’s eyes, and written with an adult’s perspective.















Dedicated to those who

have helped me along

the way.



















My heart stirred when I saw that help-wanted ad in the Seattle Times. Reading between the lines, I recognized despair. I knew despair.


Wanted: Housekeeper and care

for 7 year-old girl on cattle ranch

near Chewack, WA. Call evenings.


It was clear to me now that I’d never have a child of my own, a deep longing I’d carried with me for as long as I could remember. I had a job, but I was just putting in time. Insurance was only mildly interesting.

Just that afternoon my boss at Safeco had approached me with the offer of a promotion as supervisor. He’d asked me to think about making this deeper commitment. Although I was honored to be asked, the idea of several more years in insurance made my heart heavy. Surely there was more to life than a career at Safeco. I craved adventure, something different, something away from sad memories and bitterness. In trying to make up my mind, I turned to the help wanted ads in the Seattle Times, really more to satisfy myself that I’d covered all the bases. That’s when I saw the ad that tugged at my heart.

That evening I called the Chewack number. The rancher answered the phone. “Cahill.”

“This is Maureen Gardner. I’m calling about your ad looking for child care and housekeeping.”

“Have you had experience with children?” His deep voice sounded weary.

“Not my own, but I’m very close to my brother’s and sister’s children. I’m—“

”Do you mind my asking your age? Are you married? I’m only asking because Leslie, my little seven year-old daughter, is a pretty active kid. We need someone to be with her full time.”

“No, not married. I’m forty and in good health.”

“Are you familiar with ranching?”

“Not really. But I know children, and I’m a good housekeeper.” He could have been no more surprised to hear that than I was to say it. Bragging isn’t my style. For some reason, I knew this job was meant for me.

“Where do you live? Would it be possible for you to come to the ranch to meet us?”

“Seattle. I could come this weekend. Either Saturday or Sunday.”

“It’s about a four- or five-hour drive from Seattle to Chewack. How about coming Saturday, spending the night, or if you prefer I can get a hotel room for you. You don’t have to decide that right now.”

“That would be fine.”

“If the arrangement is satisfactory, when could you start?”

“I’d have to give two weeks notice to my employer.”

“Okay. Let me give you directions for getting here.”

When I hung up, my mind flew in eight different directions. What had I just done? Well, it wasn’t a commitment...yet. This guy didn’t seem particularly friendly, just desperate. I wondered how many people he’d interviewed.

The following Saturday the drive over Stevens Pass to Chewack in eastern Washington seemed endless. My mind whirled and my stomach knotted. It wasn’t too late to turn around, go back home. Back to the life I knew and my safe job. No. I couldn’t do that. Too many reminders. I had to make big changes, make a new life. I kept driving. I tried to quiet the committee in my head by concentrating on the road.

Once in town, I called the ranch, per Mr. Cahill’s instructions, to let him know I was close. I followed his directions to the Cahill ranch several miles out of town. I drove up the long driveway, dust billowing around my car on this hot June day. The drier climate in Eastern Washington always surprised me.

The ranch house looked inviting, but a little neglected, maybe forlorn. The gardens needed care, but if there were no Mrs. Cahill...

Mr. Cahill opened the door at my first knock. “Miss Gardner? Come in.”

John Cahill was a handsome man, in a rugged way, but weariness lined his face. His hair was wet as though he’d just showered and his clothes were clean, but wrinkled. A tall, teenage boy, almost gaunt, came in from the kitchen, his hair slicked back, his clothes also clean. They apparently had made some effort to look presentable to me. Both father and son were in stocking feet.

“This is Wade, my son.” The boy stepped forward and gave me a firm handshake, his smile shy. His coloring was much lighter, probably like his mother. His sharp blue eyes contrasted his father’s almost black eyes.

The boy went back into the kitchen. “Come on, Leslie,” he urged. “Don’t you want to meet Miss Gardner?”

“No.”

“Come on.” A young girl, led by her brother, hung back.

I smiled at the skinny little girl, trying to put her at ease. “Hi, Leslie, my name is Maureen.”

“Hi.” She looked at her brother with pleading eyes. The boy put his arms around her shoulders and drew her to him.

It was a family struck by tragedy. Barbara Cahill had been killed in a car accident about a year before. When Mr. Cahill spoke of it, his voice thickened and he looked away, breathing deeply. The loss was still fresh.

Mr. Cahill cleared his throat. “We haven’t been able to make good arrangements for Leslie. My mother tried to help, but she’s really too old to keep up with a little kid. We tried a daycare, but that meant one of us had to drive into town twice a day. Right now we have the hand’s wife helping, but she’s just a kid herself and has a child of her own. We’re looking for someone who can stay here, take care of Leslie, cook, and manage the house. Wade is a big help, but he’s still in school and we have a ranch to run. We’ve really gotten behind.”

John sat on the couch, leaning forward, anxious, elbows on his knees, big, calloused hands clasped. “What kind of work have you done?”

“I took business classes in college, thinking I would eventually take over my father’s insurance agency. I worked with him for about ten years, but then my mother had a stroke and needed care. That same year my father had a heart attack. We sold the business and I stayed home caring for them. After they passed away, I returned to work at a large insurance company. It’s a good job, I’m a programmer/analyst, but the work isn’t that interesting to me anymore. I need a change of pace, a change of scenery.” I smiled, trying to put them at ease. I stilled my fidgeting hands.

Wade sat on a nearby chair with his sister on his lap. I admired his gentleness with the little girl.

The Cahills, all of them, showed me around the house. It was a nice house, cooled by air-conditioning, spacious, but it was obvious that its care had been neglected, that things had been pushed aside to make it look presentable.

“If you stay, I’d like you to have the master bedroom so you can have more space and your own bathroom. I’ll take this room.” He indicated a much smaller room. “The kids’ bedrooms and bathroom are upstairs. Do you want to see them?”

“No, that’s fine.”

When I look back on it, I realize that John hired me pretty much on faith. They really didn’t know much about me. Later John would say that the minute he saw me, he knew I belonged there, but he had been afraid their desperation showed, that they’d scare me off.

The sensible thing would have been to ask for references, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. As a matter of fact, Mr. Cahill didn’t ask for my references either.

“What do you think?” he asked. His dark eyes bored into mine.

“I think it looks fine, Mr. Cahill.” Surprisingly, I felt calm. My heart warmed to this family.

“Please call me John.”

“Fine. All of you, call me Maureen.”

“Would you care to spend the night, or I can make hotel arrangements for you in Chewack?”

“I’d be happy to stay here. Why don’t I make myself useful the rest of the day? Tomorrow morning after breakfast, I’ll head back home and start making arrangements there.”

John Cahill’s body relaxed as though a huge weight had been lifted. I can’t let this man, this family, down. I, too, felt an unexpected lightness. In my heart, I knew I’d made the right decision.

John and Wade quickly left the house, leaving Leslie with me.

“Well, Leslie, can you show me where things are in the kitchen?”

Leslie silently went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door. Oh, my. Well. I couldn’t start out by throwing things away, but some of the leftovers looked as though they’d taken on lives of their own.

“What should we fix for dinner?”

“I don’t know,” the little girl whispered.

“Okay, well, let’s look around.” I found a package of hamburger in the freezer, wrapped in butcher paper, a bag of potatoes, a lone onion. “We could make hash.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“I’ll show you.”

I set the hamburger out to thaw, and continued looking around.

Leslie began to thaw, too. “Next year I’ll be in second grade! Mrs. Wilson will be my teacher.”

“Second grade? Wow!”

“I love school. I have kids to play with there.”

I found a loaf of bread in the bread box, eggs and milk in the refrigerator. “Leslie, do you have raisins?”

“We do!” She pulled a chair over to the cupboard, climbed up on it and pulled out an old box of raisins.

“How about cinnamon?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know what that is.”

“We’ll find it. Every house has cinnamon.” I opened another cupboard. “Here it is.” The spice was probably at least a couple of years old; I’d be liberal with it. “Let’s make bread pudding.”

The little girl’s eyes sparkled and she nodded, lips pressed together. I gave her the job of tearing the bread into bite-size pieces.

When John and Wade returned to the house, their eyes lit up with the promise of a good dinner. “Oh, boy!” Wade bent to wash his hands at the kitchen sink. “That smells good, Maureen.”

As I was about to serve the meal, I had sudden qualms about where I should eat. Should I have set the table in the more formal dining room for John and the kids, then eaten in the kitchen? I didn’t want to impose, yet I felt I was expected to eat with the family. I needed to clarify this issue.

“John, do you want me to join you here in the kitchen, or—?“

”Of course, Maureen. You’ll eat with us, always.”

We sat down to a beef hash, canned green beans, and biscuits hot out of the oven. The bread pudding was still warm from baking. Wade took two huge helpings.

John sighed in contentment. “Maureen, once you’re here for good, I’ll leave the shopping to you. The kitchen is yours.”

“Can I go shopping too?” Leslie looked at me with huge, eager eyes.

“Of course, I’ll need your help. Leslie was a big help with this dinner.”

Leslie looked to her dad, then her brother, her little face smug.

John chuckled. ”Leslie loves to be included, but we can’t take her with us most of the time.”

“I can ride a horse!”

“I know you can, honey, but there’s more than just riding to do the work we do.”

Leslie looked at me. “Can you ride?”

“I have, but it’s been a long time. I’ll bet you’re a better rider than I am.”

Wade perked up. “We have a gentle horse you could ride. When you come back I’ll saddle up Dixie for you.”

I was surprised how settled in I already felt with these people. And needed. That was a feeling I hadn’t had in a long time. I hoped I wouldn’t let them down.

I slept in the small room that would be John’s. I say slept, but my mind whirled much of the night with unanswered questions. I wondered when the strangeness would dissipate. Would I ever feel at home here? I’d opened my window and the country silence soothed me. Seattle had gotten noisy with traffic twenty-four hours a day. I finally drifted off to sleep.






Life had taught me that when something is meant to be, things easily fall into place. The department manager at work wasn’t happy with my decision, but wished me well. My landlord was sorry to see me go, but had a waiting list of prospective renters.

Until I knew this arrangement would work out, I put some of my furniture and household goods in storage. When our parents died, we four siblings split up the treasures we wanted. Now I gave a few of those to my brother Roger and sister Sue.

Roger, the oldest, showed a bit of resistance to my plans. “We don’t even know these people!”

Sue, my older sister, said, “I’ve never thought of you as a ‘domestic.’ But I have no doubt that you can handle it.”

There were four of us siblings, Roger, Sue, and a younger sister, Diane. I was very close to Roger and Sue. Diane...not so much. I didn’t care if I ever saw her again.

I heard them out, but stuck to my plans. “This is a family who needs me. Living on a ranch will be a good change of pace. I’ll love getting away from city noise and traffic. They seem like nice people and they’ve had a rough time.”

I couldn’t remember much about the furniture in what would be my bedroom. I called John to ask if there was room for a small desk, and he encouraged me to bring it. I didn’t mention it to him, but I also brought a small television, thinking I didn’t want to intrude on the family’s time together. Those two items and an occasional chair for reading were the only furniture I took with me.

My brother and sister helped me move. Roger hauled my stuff in the back of his pickup and Sue rode with me in my car.

We stopped to have lunch and look around the cute little town of Chewack. Another hot June day, it was amazing how the Cascade Mountain range could make such a difference in weather.

Following the directions that John had previously given me, we made our way to the ranch. I led the way, Roger followed. I was suddenly overwhelmed with apprehension. What in the world was I doing? My mind raced. My mouth felt dry. I forced myself to breathe evenly. I kept my thoughts to myself, not wanting to alarm Sue.

Roger swung the truck around with the back facing the house. We gathered at the truck. Roger nodded appreciatively. “Looks like a decent place.”

The Cahill family came out to greet us. After introductions, John and Wade helped Roger carry my things into the house. John had cleared the master bedroom and adjoining bathroom.

Sue stood in the middle of the bedroom. “This is really nice, Maureen. It’s like you have your own little suite.” Relief surged through my veins. Sue’s impression was important to me.

We made our way into the living room. Leslie tagged along. Wade turned to his sister. “Let’s go out to the barn and give Maureen time with her family.”

“No! I want to stay here.”

John stepped in. “You can come back in awhile. Let’s go.” He took the little girl’s hand, but met with resistance. He gave her arm a little tug. “Leslie.”

As the little girl was being led out of the house, she looked back at me with pleading eyes.

I smiled. “I’ll see you in a little while.”

Roger, Sue and I walked around the house and for the first time I saw the kids’ bedrooms. Their beds were made and the rooms looked as though they had been straightened. Back downstairs, we briefly stepped into John’s office. Roger studied a map of Washington on the wall. “Look, the Cahill property is outlined on the map here. Wow, it’s a big ranch.”

In the dining room, Sue noticed a nice planter with dried out plants. “I think these are goners.”

I nodded. “Mrs. Cahill was probably the gardener, inside and out. I wonder if I should just throw them out and replace them.”

Sue nodded. “I think so, Maureen. John probably can’t bear to do it, but having dead plants around isn’t very cheerful, either. When you see stuff like this, just take the initiative and do it.”

Roger laughed. “Remember what Dad used to say? `It's better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.’”

We laughed. “He was good at that, too,” I said as I led the way into the kitchen.

“This is super, Maureen,” Sue said. “It looks really modern. Look at this huge window above the sink. You can see the world from here.”

We joined her at the window. From there we could see the large barn, what I would learn was the calving shed, two pastures and the horse corral.

Roger nodded. “Nothing is going to get past you from here.”

Sue hugged me. “Maureen, you’ll have this place whipped into shape in no time. This is so exciting.”

Roger nodded. “They seem like good people.”

I walked out to Roger’s truck with them. Sue turned to me. “We need to let Diane know you’ve moved.”

I shrugged. “I don’t know why. It’s none of her concern.”

“I don’t want her to think I’m keeping things from her.”

Roger, sitting behind the wheel, shook his head slightly, staring straight ahead.

I squeezed Sue’s shoulder. “Do what you need to do. I just don’t want her coming here. I’ve given her all I intend to, ever.”

Roger leaned over to open the passenger door. “Come on, Sue. It’s a long drive back.”

I thanked them again for their help, and they drove off.

Although I was doing exactly what I wanted to do, I couldn’t help feeling forlorn, out of my comfort zone, as I watched Roger’s truck winding down the long driveway. Wait. Wait! Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.

Leslie poked her head from the barn door, then ran toward the house.

“Leslie!” her dad called.

“It’s fine,” I called back, and opened my arms to the little girl.

* * *


The first morning after breakfast, John pushed his plate aside. “Thank you, Maureen. I really appreciate a cooked breakfast. Most mornings we’ve just been having coffee, or juice for the kids, and toast. Maybe a bowl of cold cereal. That’s not enough for growing kids.”

Wade helped himself to another piece of toast and soaked up the remnants of egg on his plate. “Sometimes you cooked breakfast on Sundays, Dad.”

John shrugged. “Why don’t you kids take off. I want to go over some things with Maureen.”

After they left, John reached for a folder he’d put on the counter and took out a bank card. “I’ve set up an account with both our names on it. You’ll need to sign this application. We’ll call this our household account and it’s what you’ll use to buy groceries or stuff for the house. Pretty soon Leslie will need school clothes and I’ll put more in for that. Let’s see how this goes. I want you to speak up if you need anything. I’ll pay you separately. This is just for household stuff. How does that sound?”

“It sounds fine, John. Very workable. While we’re talking, would it be okay with you if I go through the house, the cupboards and closets, clean, and put things away?”

“Of course, I want you to feel that this is your home. The house is your domain. I’m afraid it has been neglected. Everything’s a mess, I know. He shook his head and sighed.

“Maureen, the kids are to pick up after themselves, do their share of the work. I’d like you to give them chores to do, take out the garbage, that sort of thing. They need to learn that. Wade does a lot of the ranch work, now, but he should still make his own bed, pick up after himself. Leslie will need to learn how to do some of those things. We just haven’t had time to teach her.”

“I understand. What do you have for lunch? I’ve always heard that farmers have their main meal at noon.”

“We’re ranchers. Just sandwiches, maybe soup. Some days, if we’re working far enough away, we’ll take lunch with us. We have our main meal at the end of the day when everyone’s home.”

After John and Wade left the house, Leslie returned to the kitchen, dressed in pink jeans, a red stained tee shirt, hair in disarray and bits of egg in the corner of her mouth.

“Leslie, let’s you get ready for the day.”

“I am ready for the day.”

“Let me show you what I do to get ready, okay?”

We went into the bathroom upstairs. “Show me how you brush your teeth.”

I gave her a few tips on brushing all her teeth, then brushed her hair. She stood still for me, her eyes dreamy. I realized again how important human touch is. Warmth spread throughout my chest. I was fulfilling a need for this little girl.

“Do you want me to fix your hair in a ponytail?

“No, just straight.” I did as she asked, then gave her a hug. Shyly, she hugged me back.

“I’ll gather these towels while we’re up here.” I replaced the bathroom towels with clean, matching ones I found in the linen closet. “Let’s go into your bedroom.”

The room looked like a very lucky little girl’s room. No doubt her mother had lovingly furnished it, probably made the curtains. “What a lovely bedroom.”

Leslie beamed.

“Let’s put these toys away, then change the sheets on your bed.” I couldn’t imagine when this had last been done. I put away what appeared to be clean clothes. “Leslie, I’ll bet this striped tee shirt would look great with those jeans.” While she changed shirts, I gathered dirty clothes, including the shirt she had been wearing.

“All right. This room looks tidy. Let’s go into Wade’s and do the same thing.”

“I can’t go in there. I’ll get in trouble.”

“Oh? Well, you can just stand in the doorway and watch.” I changed the bed sheets and hurriedly straightened the room, then gathered dirty clothes that were heaped in a corner.

Returning downstairs, I glanced into John’s bedroom, but it was tidy with a made bed and dirty clothes in a hamper. On his dresser was a framed picture of John and, I assumed, Mrs. Cahill sitting at a picnic table, both smiling. John’s wife had been a pretty woman, about his age. She looked capable, like she was perfectly comfortable in her skin. A pang of envy shot through me. She’d had what I never would.

I dragged my mind to the present and began sorting clothes in the laundry room, just inside the back door. “Leslie, why don’t you pull out all the white or light clothes. We’ll wash them separately.”

“When Wade washes our clothes, he doesn’t do that.”

Figures. “Well, he won’t have to worry about it any more. Separating them makes the colors last longer. “We’ll need to go shopping this morning. It looks like we’re out of meat.”

“Maureen, we have lots of meat in the big freezer.”

“Big freezer?”

“I’ll show you.” Leslie led me to the attached garage and walked over to a large upright freezer that I hadn’t noticed before. She opened the door. It was crammed with meat, mostly beef. Of course! This was a cattle ranch.

“Well, my goodness. You’re right. We have lots of meat.” Bins of butcher-wrapped beef were sorted by cuts as well as a big bin of pork, also butcher wrapped, and a few packages of chicken obviously purchased at a grocery store some time ago.

I took out a package of pork chops to thaw.

“But can we still go to the store?” Leslie asked.

“Sure, let’s do that later this afternoon.”

I spent the earlier part of the day doing laundry and cleaning kitchen cupboards. Much of the time Leslie sat at the kitchen table playing with her dominoes or coloring. She was good at entertaining herself, but I was rarely out of her sight.

At lunchtime John and Wade washed at the kitchen sink and sat at the kitchen table. I hesitated, but simply needed to ask.

“Do you suppose you two could wash either in the laundry room or bathroom? I really don’t like the kitchen sink used for washing dirty hands.”

Stunned silence followed as they gave each other furtive glances.

“Sure, we can do that.” John glanced over at Wade, eyebrows raised.

Wade nodded. “Yeah, okay,”

“Thank you. That’s important to me.” I sighed inwardly. A small victory for me.

I served toasted cheese sandwiches and canned peaches for lunch.

“Wade,” I said. “I went into your room to change your sheets, but Leslie just stood in the doorway because she didn’t want to get into trouble. Would you prefer that I don’t go into your room, or would it be okay for me to change the bed sheets and clean?”

Wade smiled, a little embarrassed. “I don’t want Leslie playing in there, going through my stuff. But I’d like you to clean my room, Maureen. That’d be great.”

“It’s a deal. As we go along, I suppose we’ll have a few things to work out.”

John nodded. “Just speak up, Maureen, and we’ll do the same.”

My apprehension melted a bit. I expected give and take, and so far this family was giving me their cooperation, and appreciation.

After he finished his lunch, John stepped away from the table and noticed the package of thawing pork on the counter. In the briefest of motions, he signaled to Wade, something about Leslie, slanting his head toward the package of pork. I imagined working together so closely, perhaps in a noisy environment, they were able to communicate without speaking.

“Leslie,” John said, “let’s see what we can do to get your bike working again.” The two of them went into the garage to look at the little girl’s bicycle.

“Maureen,” Wade said, “don’t tell Leslie that we’re having pork for dinner.”

“Oh, why?”

He smiled. “We’re eating Ruby. Mom loved pigs and Ruby was her pride and joy. She weighed over three hundred pounds. We had the sow bred and she had a litter of five piglets. Mom died before they were born, so she never saw them.” His voice grew shaky, he cleared his throat, then continued. “We told Leslie to stay away from the pig pen, but she couldn’t resist. One day she climbed into the pen to play with one of the baby pigs. I came along just as Ruby squealed and started after Leslie. I pulled her out by the seat of her pants. That’s all it took for Dad to sell the piglets and have Ruby slaughtered. Leslie vowed she’d never eat Ruby. So when we eat Ruby we just don’t mention that it’s pork. So far it’s worked.”

I smiled sympathetically. “What a sad story. I’ll work Ruby in with our dinners, disguising her as best I can.”

Leslie burst into the kitchen. “Maureen, watch me ride my bike!” I stepped into the garage and she climbed on her small bike, circled the garage, steered through the open door, and down the cement driveway. The bike slowed as she ran out of concrete and onto the gravel, but she trudged on, made a wide turn, and returned to the garage.

“I’m impressed, Leslie.”

She and I shopped for groceries that afternoon. It was strange buying food in large portions for a family. I bought cleaning supplies, too. And laundry baskets for the kids’ bedrooms so they wouldn’t have to throw their dirty clothes on the floor.

The store had an indoor plant selection and I bought three nice starters for the planter in the dining room.

“Can we go to Dairy Queen?”

Although I didn’t mind her asking, I didn’t want her to think that I was an easy touch. I’d learned from my nieces and nephews that children can easily get the upper hand. There was really no end to their asking.

“Tell you what, let’s buy ice cream and we’ll have it for dessert tonight. Why don’t you pick out the flavor?”

“Can we get chocolate sauce?”

“Sure.” Well, what’s ice cream without chocolate sauce?

No matter what I cooked, it was appreciated, but it was soon apparent they preferred cooked vegetables rather than salad. Meat, preferably beef, was the mainstay of dinner, and they liked potatoes however they were fixed. Without fail, Wade’s eyes lit up with dessert. “Oh, boy, apple pie!” “All right! Chocolate cake! Do we have ice cream to go with that?”

It might have been my imagination, but I think the three of them had a healthier glow.

On the first Sunday, I set the table for dinner in the dining room, thinking it would be a nice change of pace. John seemed surprised, but willing. For the first time he noticed the planter with fresh plants. “You got some new plants, I see.”

“Yes. Is that okay?” I couldn’t read his reaction.

“Of course. I just couldn’t remember to water them. When they died, I couldn’t bring myself to throw them out.” He stared out the window, sighed, then glanced at me. “That’s fine, Maureen, that’s what I want you to do.”


* * *


Around the second day at the Cahill’s, I noticed a dog trailing after the three horses. I watched John, Wade and their hired hand Randy step down from their mounts, obviously weary, and walk the horses into the barn. The dog, looking just as weary, followed them. In a few moments I saw the three horses in the corral and watched as Wade put feed in their trough. The three men emerged, but not the dog.

Randy, their hired hand, a tall skinny fellow with a prominent Adams apple, slowly walked toward his house. John and Wade ambled into the house and washed in the laundry room. I always made sure there was a clean towel for them to use.

When they came into the kitchen, I asked Wade, “I see you have a dog. Where does he stay?”

“Yes, ma’am, Charley. He’s a Blue Heeler, our cattle dog. He stays in the barn when he’s not working with us.”

“Even in the winter? Won’t he get cold?”

“No, we have a place set up for him in the tack room. He’s fine. He gets too dirty to have in the house.”


* * *


While cleaning a hall cupboard, I found a hair-cutting set. On the first Sunday, I’d noticed the ranch work slowed down a little. It wasn’t really a day of rest, but at least a bit more relaxed.

That late afternoon I mentioned my find. “‘I can cut hair if anyone’s interested.”

John perked up. “You can cut hair?”

“I used to cut my dad’s and brother’s hair. Neither could bear to pay the price of a ‘store-bought’ haircut.”

“It is expensive, but more than that, it takes too much time. If you don’t mind, I could use a haircut.”

We got a stool set up in the kitchen and I set to work. It seemed a little strange, touching him, but I was glad to do it. John had nice, thick black hair, receding a bit and graying at the temples.

It gave us a chance to chat without the rush of having to go somewhere. At first, I think it was awkward for John, as though it were too intimate, but I think we were both determined to act as though this was a normal thing.

Wade came in from outside and stopped in his tracks. “Wow! Could you give me a haircut too?”

“Make it shorter,” John said.

Wade just grinned.

When it was Wade’s turn, I asked him what he wanted me to do. Very specifically he described what he wanted and I complied, feathering the sides so it wouldn’t “stick out.” His dark brown hair was still a bit on the long side, but I heard no complaint about it from his father.


* * *

Gradually, I began to feel at home. Certainly the family made every effort to make me feel welcomed. During the day I kept busy and felt useful and needed. In the evening, I helped Leslie take her bath and wash her hair. She often asked me to read to her, and I was happy to do so.

At bedtime, she made her rounds to her father and brother, kissing them goodnight on the cheek, and then John went upstairs with her to tuck her in. I was touched by the tenderness her dad and brother showed her. It seemed to me that John was more available to Leslie now. I knew that my being there relieved him of a huge burden, and I silently rejoiced. I had made the right decision to come here. I was obviously needed and appreciated.

In the evenings, John usually read, mostly cattlemen’s magazines. Wade flipped through TV channels and sometimes watched a program or two, but otherwise, spent evenings in his room, probably reading. Occasionally, I watched a program with Wade and sometimes John would join us. If it was a sporting event, I usually left them to it and went to my room. I love to read and my sister Sue and I often exchanged books.

On Friday nights Wade usually went out, casually mentioning to his dad where he was going, normally someplace with his friend Darrell. His curfew was one o’clock and from what I saw, he was always home by then, often earlier.

Once I climbed into bed, I fell asleep immediately. But, true to my habit, I often woke up, my heart feeling as though it had been hollowed out. A deep longing would almost suffocate me. Sometimes I climbed out of bed and walked around the room, thankful for its spaciousness, or read for awhile before going back to bed, hoping sleep would overtake me. Nowadays, more and more, it did.






The Fourth of July was the next week. “Do you do anything special for the Fourth?” I asked as we finished dinner.

“We used to,” John said, “but didn’t last year.”

Of course. That would have been right after Mrs. Cahill died.

John sighed. “I guess I’d just as soon not do anything this year. If you want to visit your family, Maureen, go ahead. We can manage here.”

“No, the Fourth has never been a big day with us. I just wanted to be prepared if you did something special.”

John nodded. “Let’s just have a barbecue, just the family. Maybe I’ll bring my mother out.”

Although he had been to town to visit his mother, I’d never met her. She apparently lived in a retirement community near Chewack.

Wade perked up. “Can I invite Darrell?”

“Sure.”

Leslie chimed in. “Can I have Janelle over?”

“Okay. Maureen, can you call Janelle’s mother?”

“Of course.”

“Okay, guys, let’s just leave it at that.”

Wade spoke up. “We should ask Randy and Pearl though.”

John sighed. “Okay, invite ‘em.” John looked at me. “Do you want to invite anyone?”

I laughed. “No, my family wouldn’t want to drive over on a busy holiday. What would you want me to fix?”

“Let’s barbecue steaks!” Wade said. “Dad does a great job with those.”

John gave Wade a long, tired look, then nodded.

“I’ll make a potato salad,” I said, “and we can have corn on the cob, maybe a green salad.”

Wade looked serious. “Pearl will want to bring something. Don’t let it be complicated.”

John chuckled. “Maybe she could bring rolls, the store-bought kind.”

Apparently Pearl wasn’t much of a cook. I barely knew the hired hand’s wife; had only talked to her briefly on the phone.

They lived right there on the ranch, in a small house between Cahills and their long driveway. I’d passed it every time I left and returned to the ranch.

The next week Pearl called on me, bringing her baby girl, Karen. “I been wantin’ to meet you, but didn’t wanna bother you while you was settlin’ in.”

“I’m so happy you came. Will you have a cup of coffee?”

We sat in the living room, Pearl and Karen in a big chair, Leslie and I on the couch.

Pearl settled the baby on her lap. “Wade mentioned a Fourth of July party. What kin I bring?”

“We have everything pretty well planned, but maybe you could pick up a couple dozen rolls?”

“Sure.” Although she seemed like a nice, gentle young woman, Pearl was not pretty, nor did she do anything to improve her appearance. Her lank hair hung with no special style. I imagine the only time she visited a dentist was to have a tooth pulled. Several of her front teeth were crooked. But one thing Pearl had in her favor was beautiful, large hazel eyes. They were kind eyes, eyes full of wisdom.

Leslie crowded so close I could barely move my arm.

Karen began to wiggle and Pearl set her on the floor next to the chair.

“Leslie,” I said, “don’t you want to play with Karen?”

“I want to stay here,” she whispered.

I was a little embarrassed and wondered if I should insist that Leslie entertain Karen. I decided against it. Pearl said nothing, but looked at Leslie with sad eyes.

We chatted about the ranch, and Pearl mentioned how much Randy liked working for John. “His wife had just died, so John wasn’t hisself, Randy said, but he was a fair man.”

“I can’t imagine how difficult this must have been for the family.”

Pearl nodded. “I wasn’t much help. I’d just had Karen an’ I never really kept house before.”

I nodded. “It takes experience, especially to step into someone else’s home. Wade seems like a nice boy.”

Pearl nodded with enthusiasm. “He’s great, ‘specially with Leslie. Sometimes he’d take her into town. Most boys that age just want to be with their friends, but he’d take his little sister. John just couldn’t manage it all. Wade, he tried to be everwhere. Randy says he does a man’s job, too.”

Visiting with Pearl gave me more understanding of the situation. I was so happy she’d called on me.

I telephoned Abbie Peterson to invite Janelle to our Fourth of July dinner. I had spoken to her a couple of times when we made arrangements for the girls to play together. A sweet girl with curly golden hair, Janelle was Leslie’s best friend. Actually her only friend who lived close enough to conveniently get together. They were in the same grade at school.

Her reaction pleased me. “What wonderful news! John is feeling up to having people over.”

“Well, sort of half-heartedly, and only the kids’ friends and his mother, and of course Randy and Pearl.”

“Still, Maureen, I know it’s because you’re there. You’ve relieved him of a huge burden.”

“He’s probably just being polite. I brought the Fourth of July up, wanting to be prepared.”

“I don’t care why it’s happening. I’m just so happy he’s joined the living. Barbara Cahill was my best friend and I miss her terribly, but we need to move on. I’ve been worried about John. It was as though his life ended, too.”

I could tell John wasn’t enthusiastic about a Fourth of July party, but when the day came he made an effort to warmly greet people. And Wade was right. John’s barbecued steaks were delicious. When Wade saw the rolls Pearl brought, he winked at me from across the picnic table.

John’s mother Eleanor greeted me politely, but seemed a little standoffish. “I’m glad John has hired some help.”

I knew I was just “help,” not a part of the family. Unreasonably, I took offense, but tried not to show it. I didn’t think of myself as a servant, but rather a helper, someone to make this household run smoothly.

“It’s been great having Maureen here, Grandma,” Wade said.

“I’m sure it is, dear.” She turned to me. “I’d like another cup of coffee, please.”

“Of course,” I said, but Wade sprung up from the picnic table, swinging his long legs over the bench seat. “I’ll get it for you, Grandma.”

I felt defended by Wade, and grateful, as though I’d been rescued. I mentally pulled myself away from Eleanor.

The older woman simply stared down at her plate. She must think I am an intruder, or trying to push my way into the family. Maybe she thinks I shouldn’t be eating at the same table. Well, I was doing what John wanted and that’s all that mattered. I doubted I would ever feel close to this woman.

To everyone’s surprise, as darkness approached, John said to Wade, his friend Darrell and their ranch hand Randy, “You guys ready to set off some fireworks?” John oversaw the show. I could see the effort he made to make this a special day.

Although fireworks had never been an attraction to me, I did enjoy the colorful display against the quiet sereneness of the great outdoors. As rockets whistled above our heads, bursting in high arcs against a black star-speckled sky, I felt a thrill for my new life with these good people. Well, except for Eleanor. I sat as far away from her as possible.

After the fireworks John said to Wade and Darrell, “In the morning when it’s light, I want you guys to clean up this mess. Be sure to pick up all the wires—I don’t want kids or the dog stepping on them and getting punctured feet.”

“Yes, sir,” they both said. “That was a great show, Mr. Cahill,” Darrell added. “Thanks.”

“I’m glad you could join us, Darrell.”

John took his mother home, tenderly helping her into his truck. I busied myself in the kitchen as they were leaving, relieving myself of having to speak to the older woman, of having to say something fake like “so happy to meet you.”

As planned, Wade’s friend Darrell and Leslie’s friend Janelle spent the night. The day had been wonderful for me, except for the brief incident with John’s mother. I think even John had enjoyed himself. For the first time, I felt a real part of things, having fun and not just working.

Unfortunately, Eleanor’s remark kept surfacing. I suppose that’s what I was, hired help, but at least I felt I served a purpose.

The next morning, Wade was the first one to greet me in the kitchen. Darrell was taking a shower and John tended his morning chores. The little girls, who had giggled late into the night, were still asleep.

Wade sat at the kitchen table. “Maureen?”

I turned from my mixing bowl to see his serious face redden. “I just want you to know... it’s great having you here. Things are so much better now.” He shrugged. “I just wanted you to know that.”

I tingled from head to toe. It wasn’t easy for Wade to say that, I know, but it meant the world to me. “Thank you, Wade. I really appreciate your telling me. I’ll never replace your mother, but maybe I can help fill in some of the gaps.”

He nodded. “This last year’s been awful. Leslie just wasn’t getting what she needed, none of us were eating good. I’ve really missed my mother, too.” He swallowed. “Dad was in this deep hole and couldn’t get out.” He looked embarrassed, shrugged his shoulders. “Anyway, that’s how it seemed to me.”

“Grieving for loved ones is tough, especially when it’s someone who’s such a big part of your life. And it must have been scary, too. I’m sure John couldn’t see how he would manage. You stepped up, Wade, especially with Leslie. I can’t imagine how your dad would have managed without you.”

Our conversation ended when Darrell joined us. He looked at Wade’s and my serious faces and started to back out of the room.

“Good morning, Darrell,” I said. “Are you ready for pancakes?”

“You bet!” He sat beside Wade at the table. “Don’t we need to pick up that fireworks stuff?”

Wade nodded. “We can eat first.”

The girls straggled in, looking half awake.

After breakfast the boys went outside to clean up the yard and the little girls returned to Leslie’s room. John remained, apparently wanting to talk to me. “Maureen, I hope my mother didn’t offend you.”

“Oh, no.” I lied, my mind flashing back to my discomfort with his mother.

John ignored my answer. “She took Barbara’s death hard and wanted to take care of us. But it was just too much for her. I’m afraid it hurt her feelings when we got Pearl to help. She still came over once in awhile, but one of us would have to go get her. Her eyes are bad and she can’t drive any more. I think she feels left out and has sort of a chip on her shoulder.” He shrugged. “I dunno....”

“I think people just want to do the right thing, but it isn’t always clear what to do.”

He nodded, and left the room. It seemed most of his spare time was either in his office, or in his bedroom. Actually, I took that as a good sign. He finally had a chance to mourn without the pressure of trying to keep everything going.

A few days later I heard Wade knock on his dad’s bedroom door. “Dad, wanna watch the game with me?” Silence. “Dad?”

“Not tonight, Wade.”

The boy watched part of the game alone, then turned off the TV and went to his room.

A few days later, on Saturday night, Wade came into the kitchen with a deck of cards. “Wanna play?”

“Sure. What games do you play?”

“I wanna play, too!” Leslie said.

Wade’s face lit up. “I’ll see if Dad wants to join us.”

He knocked on his dad’s bedroom door. “Dad, we’re going to play cards. Wanna play?”

“No, thanks, Wade.”

The boy returned to the kitchen, his shoulders drooping, but shuffled the cards and dealt a hand of hearts for the three of us.

John strolled into the room. “Whose deal?”

Wade’s grin lit up the room. He quickly gathered up the cards and pushed the deck toward his dad. “Yours.”


* * *


The rest of the summer rushed by. Once I got the house organized and formed a routine, I began to wander outside. Leslie took me to the barn and another smaller building they called the calving shed. The barn was old, but well maintained and I breathed in the earthy aroma of horses, leather and fresh hay. Saddles and various riding equipment hung in their proper places. In the orderly tack room, equipment for horses lined shelves: brushes, combs, files, cutters, saddle wax. I loved the tack room and enjoyed just browsing.

A horse corral encircled the back and side of the barn surrounded by a sturdy zig-zagged split-rail fence. What a lot of work that must have been, not only splitting those rails, but building the fence.

The calving shed was smaller than the barn and had been more recently built. Inside, small, medium and large stalls were swept clean. An equipment room had a sink with hot and cold water, an older refrigerator, a vinyl-topped counter that ran along one wall, and all sorts of equipment used for calving. I couldn’t begin to identify most of it.

Outside, several pastures separated by barbed wire ranged as far as the eye could see. In some of the closer pastures cattle grazed, but I understood most of the cattle were in their summer pastures a distance away.

One late-summer day, while I hung clothes on the outside lines, John made his way toward the house.

“Why don’t you have chickens, John?”

He scoffed. “This isn’t a farm, Maureen, it’s a cattle ranch!”

I thought of a few retorts to that, like, would the chickens care?

School would start soon and both Leslie and Wade needed new clothes. Wade told me his dad had given him money and he would shop for his own clothes.

Uncertain about what to get for Leslie, I called Janelle’s mother. “Abbie, what do the kids wear to school?”

“Mostly jeans and sweaters, something warm.”

When I mentioned clothes shopping, Leslie couldn’t contain her enthusiasm. The men were gathering cattle in the foothills for fall roundup, too far away to return for the noon meal, so I’d packed lunches for them to take.

“After we shop for your clothes, we can eat lunch in town.”

The little girl’s eyes lit up. My heart filled with gratitude that I could fill this need.

Each trip into town, I traveled around a little bit more. Directionally challenged, I had to work extra hard not to get lost. Before we shopped, I drove past downtown and into a residential area. Leslie pointed to a group of small houses.

“That’s where Grandma lives.”

“Oh, really?

“Can we stop and see her?”

My heart wasn’t into another session with Eleanor, but Leslie would never understand my reluctance. “Okay, I’ll bet she would be pleased to see you.”

Leslie pointed out the way.

Leslie rang the doorbell and Grandma Cahill answered the door. Surprise registered on her face. “Why, hello!”

“We can only stay for a few minutes,” I said. “Leslie and I are shopping for her school clothes today, but we wanted to stop to see how you’re doing.”

The older woman hugged her granddaughter and gave me a reserved smile. We visited briefly, chatting about what the guys were doing. Although I didn’t feel I owed John’s mother justification of my worth, I hoped she’d be able to see that I fulfilled an important role to the family and served as more than “hired help.”

Leslie’s idea of school shopping was a bit different than what Janelle’s mother had mentioned. She went straight to the dresses, particularly the fancier ones.

I raised my eyebrows. “I’ll tell you what, Leslie. We can get one dress for you for special occasions, but then we need to look at warmer clothes for school.” She readily agreed. We picked out the dress first, then fitted her with jeans, a pair of corduroy pants, two sweaters, three tee-shirts and two flannel shirts. In the shoe department we bought new tennis shoes and dressy shoes. This was all new to me—the gifts of clothing I had bought my nieces and nephews were at their mothers’ suggestions when asked.

Once home, Leslie couldn’t wait to show her dad and brother her new clothes. They both raved about them, Wade even pointed out how great the green and gray flannel shirt would look with the black corduroy pants. Leslie beamed.

Back in the kitchen, John nodded his approval, “Thank you, Maureen. That’s really a relief getting that job done. Buying kids clothes—any clothes, really—is way out of my league.” He chuckled. “In a hardware store, now, that’s a different matter.”

“We stopped at your mother’s and visited for a few minutes.”

“You did? That was nice.”

“I’m trying to get familiar with the town, and we happened to drive by and Leslie recognized her grandma’s place.”

“We get so busy here and I don’t see her often enough. She’s used to that though. My dad was a rancher, too.”

“Was this the family ranch?”

“It was, and my grandfather’s before him, but we’ve added to it. This house is on the new section. The house that Randy and Pearl live in was the original house on this property. The original homestead, my family home, has been torn down and we just use the land for grazing.”

That was probably the longest conversation I’d had with John, other than household matters. I was glad he seemed comfortable with me.

He looked at the wall calendar. “We’ll be starting fall roundup soon. While I still have Wade here, we’ll get some of ‘em gathered in the eastern pastures. We’ll probably spend a night or two out there. Maybe you could get some cans of stuff for us to take that would be easy to fix. Stew, maybe.

“How about if I make stew and all you would have to do is warm it up?”

He smiled. “That would be great, Maureen.” He gave me a long look. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all you do.”

“I’m glad I can help, John.” My heart filled with a deep sense of satisfaction.








Once school started, I had more time to myself. Wade drove his own truck to school and, since their school starting times were different, Leslie took the school bus. John usually took her down the lane to the school bus stop, but it wasn’t too far for her to walk.

When I had free time, I enjoyed poking around, discovering my new world. I found a small orchard with apple, pear and peach trees. As the fruit became ripe, I tried my hand at canning. I found canning jars and lids in a laundry room cupboard, and followed directions in one of Mrs. Cahill’s cookbooks.

John’s eyes lit up at the counter full of sparkling jars of canned pears. “This is great, Maureen. It bothered me to have that fruit go to waste.” He started to leave the room, but stopped and turned to me. “Maureen, don’t feel you have to work every minute. While Leslie’s in school feel free to do stuff on your own, maybe visit someone. I want you to take time for yourself.”

I smiled, relieved that he recognized my needs. “Okay, John, I will.” And I did. Abbie Peterson, Janelle’s mother, and I became friends and she introduced me to more of the neighboring women. When she learned I played bridge, I often substituted in her group. Occasionally, I invited one of my new friends over for morning coffee.

One day as I dusted in John’s office, I startled when the doorbell rang. Amazingly, no one had come to the front door since I arrived. Everyone seemed to use the back door. I was home alone and peeked out a porch-facing window. Oh, no! My younger sister, Diane. My heart sank. I just won’t open the door.

She rang the doorbell again. I opened the door a couple of inches.

“Hi, Maureen,” she said, with artificial brightness.

“Hello, Diane. What do you want?” I could feel my face hardening, my eyes narrowing.

“Is that any way to greet your sister? May I come in?”

“Diane....no. I don’t want you here any more than I wanted to see you in Seattle. Goodbye.” I started to close the door.

“I need to use the bathroom. I’ve driven a long way.”

I sighed. I could hardly refuse her the use of a bathroom. I silently opened the door and gestured the way.

I literally stood outside the bathroom door. The minute she emerged, I motioned toward the front door.

“Listen, Maureen, this is ridiculous. May I at least have a drink of water?”

“Of course,” I darted into the kitchen, grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator, turned and bumped into Diane in the kitchen doorway as she started to follow me. We stood, nose to nose.


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