“Not Spunk, Faith!”

By Alice Stratton

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    Beck and Blue broke into a trot at the sight of the old familiar lane. When our sister Mary, who was tending the place, sighted the covered wagon, she ran to open the gate. I helped Ma down while my four younger sisters, holding their skirts half way to their knees, clambered down from the wagon. With hugs and kisses over, Ma and the girls flocked like chattering blackbirds into the house, while I drove the wagon alongside the porch to unload it.

    Stepping inside for a drink, I noticed Pa’s picture on the easel by the bay window where Ma had always kept it. He still presided over the family even though he had been gone for years. I thought of Pa’s goodness and my mind reached backward. I remembered how I’d spread myself wide—couldn’t have been more than ten—trying to keep up with his long legs striding through the cane fields at irrigating time.

    One day as we watched the water shimmering like quicksilver through the furrows, I had slipped my hand into Pa’s and looked up into his smiling eyes and asked, “Pa, are we rich?”

    He chuckled. “Yes, son, we’re rich in all that matters.”

    “What matters?”

    He tousled my hair. “Loving the Lord and putting your trust in Him matters, and loving your family and neighbors.” Dropping to one knee he gave me a hug that almost knocked the breath out of me. Then he said, “Son, you matter.”

    I wrapped my arms around his neck and his hearty laugh mattered too.

    One night after the molasses making was finished, he kissed my sisters and me goodnight and said, “God bless you.” That night he went to sleep and never awoke again.

    My heart broke. I didn’t want Ma to see me cry so I went out to the stable. Later she found me and, putting her arm around me, said, “George, you’re the man of the house now. You have six sisters and your Ma is depending on you.”

    Well, pretty soon it was seven sisters. Just two weeks after Pa died, LaVern was born.

    One evening when I saw Ma slip out alone and go toward the cemetery I followed, and found her kneeling by Pa’s grave, weeping.

    Tugging at her arm, I said, “Ma, you mustn’t come here to cry. Come on home.”

    Getting to her feet she drew me to her. “My little man,” was all she said.

    “If Pa got permission to come for a visit, do you think he’d come to this cold old graveyard?” I asked.

    Thoughtfully, she said, “No, he wouldn’t. He’d want to come home.”

    Hand in hand we walked silently through the twilight.

    Shortly after that, Ma put Pa’s picture on the easel in the living room. “Children,” she said, “in this home we will live exactly as Pa would want us to do. Because he loved the Lord we have been blessed.” Her voice broke, but only for a moment.

    We knew she missed Pa, but she kept herself busy making our home happy. As we grew, it became the gathering place for all of the young folks in town, especially on Sunday afternoons when Ma would sing with us around the organ.

    Since neither she nor Pa had ever been to a grade school, it was Pa’s dream that we should get an education. His dream became Ma’s fixed goal. “If we all work hard, the way will be opened up,” she maintained.

    When mining boomed at Silver Reef, I got a job on the pony mail route. My sisters wanted to work at the “reef” too, but Ma put her foot down.

    “A mining town is no place for girls,” she said. “We will pray a little harder and think a little harder and we will make work for ourselves at home.”

    Ma found joy in working. She was manager of the little one-room co-op store in our town, and the girls took turns clerking. They also took in sewing and all of us dried grapes and peaches by the ton. Still, the savings account to go away to school was small.

    After a while lovers came courting and my three older sisters married.

    Still concerned about her goal, Ma said, “Now is the time for the rest of you to go to school.”

    “We haven’t enough money,” Kate insisted.

    “The Lord will provide,” soothed Ma.

    So that fall we packed our bottled fruit in the bottom of the wagon and arranged our bedding and supplies over it, leaving Mary and her husband in charge at home. On top of the load was a sack of washed sheep’s wool. For the thirteen days that the horses plodded toward Provo, LaVern and Evadna picked trash from the wool, Ma carded and spun it into yarn while Kate and Annie knitted our winter stockings, and I drove.

    Sometimes the littlest girls got awfully tired and I felt sorry for them, but Ma said, “Only after we have done all that we can will the Lord take over.” However, the miles were shortened considerably when we sang songs like “Swinging in the Lane,” and “Daisies Won’t Tell.”

    At Provo the house we rented had more rooms than we needed, and by the time we furnished it, our money was gone. After years of working and planning, we were starting school practically penniless.

    “Ma,” I said, “do you think we’re doing right? It’s mostly your spunk that’s keeping us here.”

    “Not spunk, faith!” she corrected. “We’re doing what Pa would want us to do. Now get busy all of you and make this place look like home. I’m going to the academy to see President Cluff.”

    Before she left we knelt in prayer. As I led, I put my question before the Lord. “If it is right for us to stay, please give Ma the answer when she talks to President Cluff.”

    She never had the chance to talk to him at the academy. When President Cluff saw her coming, he rushed to the door and hurried her back home to receive three young men he had just sent to board with us. After that we had all the boarders we could handle.

    Now several years later, we were back home. I walked outside through the apple orchard and across the shallow river. I climbed the red foothills on the other side where I could look down into town. Every shingle and adobe of the pioneer cottages, nestled under the cottonwoods, were dear to me.

    The flicker of kerosene lamps shone from the windows below. With bursting gratitude, I bowed my head. The faith of my parents and the blessings of a good home overwhelmed me. “Father in heaven, thank you,” were the only words I could say.

    Illustrated by Ralph Barksdale