The Homestead: Part Forty

This is the fortieth part of a fiction serial, in 773 words.

It was true that I might have lost the spark needed to carry on as a newspaper man, but I had found something inside to replace that. I wanted to tell Phin’s story, and in doing so tell the story of my own family too. I asked Brad James to let my lawyer’s office know that they should just go through with the sale, and they could contact me at Phin’s house if need be. Then I got some more clothes, a portable typewriter and lots of paper, and finished up by buying a tape recorder and plenty of tapes.

I wanted to live that story through Phin’s own voice and expressions.

Mrs Mallory had laid it out for me. After breakfast, we could sit on the porch in good weather, but Phin should have his blanket anyway. Then no more than three hours before he had a rest before lunch, followed by his afternoon nap. Then one more hour before dinner, before he got too tired after eating.

I had to marvel at his memory. His great age hadn’t diminished that in any way at all, even his recall of all the names, and small details like what he called the horses, or whether a woman he encountered had missing teeth. For the next month, I ran the tape machine, and just let him talk. When he was resting, I wrote the notes up in my room upstairs, making sure to have the door closed, so the noise from the tapes and typing didn’t carry down to where he slept.

It was enjoyable living there too. Mrs Mallory was an excellent cook, and I was putting on weight rapidly. Phin acted like he had always known me, and I was a grandson visiting like it was nothing unusual. Walking around the property was eye-opening too. I tried to picture it as he described it when they first built the homestead. And the row of graves, still carefully tended, brought home the loss that still left him misty-eyed, even now. Though on the other side of the creek, rows of identical smart houses had replaced the grazing land that had caused so much dispute in his younger days.

Using my newspaper connections, I gained an introduction to the editor of the main newspaper in Wichita. He was happy to let me spend time browsing in his archives for research, though I admit I found some of the newspapers of Phin’s time to be rather scant on fact, and high on sensationalism. But I did find references to Wyatt Earp, who lost his job after a little more than a year, because of his ‘Tendency to bash people’. He was also involved in a scandal over the election of a new marshal, and decided to look for a new job in Dodge City.

Jessie Fuller, Phin, Henry, and all the others never once made the paper back then. Just as well, as most of the features were about gunfights, and gamblers killed in shootouts.

Over the course of those thirty-one days, Phin told me about how Jessie had fought in the war to protect his older son, but he had been killed anyway. Then his mother’s tragic death in the outhouse, and Jessie’s return from the war in sixty-five. How they intended to make a new life in Colorado, but only got as far as Kansas before his daddy decided to end his journey there. I wanted to know why he had never heard news of me, and something of the family rift that had meant so many decades of separation.

Finally, I just came out and asked him.

He rubbed his chin, much like his father might have rubbed his beard. “Weren’t no rift, Julian. Nothing like that. Sophia got married to your daddy, and went north to New York State. That was her choice, and her life to live. When she died, your daddy sent me a letter telling me the news. My one regret was that I couldn’t bury her on the homestead, with the others. But he sent me a small photo of you, and the address of the newspaper he was running. I had to hope that you had taken it over, just as he had. But I didn’t get in touch then. You had your life to live, just as your mama had done”.

We continued the story right up until Henry fell from a ladder and was diagnosed with a broken neck. I pushed the time allowed a little, asking, “What happened then?”

But Mrs Mallory stopped me at that moment. “That’s enough for today, Julian”.

12 thoughts on “The Homestead: Part Forty

  1. (1) As a newspaper man, Julian had indeed lost the spark. His BIC lighter had run out of fluid, and that saved the paper.
    (2) Julian’s need for “lots of paper” was so excessive that half the trees in Kansas were felled to provide the pulp. And that explains why there are very few trees in Kansas.
    (3) I once bought a tapeworm recorder. The tapeworms squealed with delight as they danced the Wiggly-Wiggly. My gut reaction was that tapeworms are happy little critters.
    (4) Phin had total recall. After he had terminated each evening’s recording session, he looked at the clock, winked, and said, “I’ll be back.”
    (5) “Mrs. Mallory was an excellent cook, and I was putting on weight rapidly.” Julian thought the extra weight looked bad on his frame. However, Phin was quick to reassure him that he actually looked quite phat.
    (6a) Rows of graves. Rows of houses. What about the pretty maids?
    (6b) Grazing land replaced by lawns to mow. Old buildings razed; new ones raised. Cattle ranches replaced by Cessna, Beechcraft, and other aircraft manufacturing plants. The list of changes is as long as Phin is long in the tooth. But Phin will tell you, “Some things never change. The spry may get creaky, but the creek never gets dry.”
    (7a) Wyatt Earphone lost his job because of his tendency to bash ghetto blasters. Blasting outlaws with a six shooter was okay. Blasting folks with criminally bad music was not.
    (7b) After selling his horse, what make of car did Wyatt Earp buy in Dodge City?
    (8) Bad citation: “Weren’t no rift, Julian. Weren’t no one at fault. Weren’t no tectonic nor seismic activity nowhere.”
    (9) Wow! We’re already to the part where Henry fell from a ladder? This story is moving along at a breakneck pace!

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