Pumpkin Sugar (Part 1)


You take these pumpkin seeds, Brose. Plant them and take good care of them. Who knows—when pumpkin pie time comes this fall, your pumpkins might be just what we need!”

It seemed to Brose that even her eyes smiled as Granny handed him the little bag of seeds. The seeds were his! Not Jeremy’s, not Willie’s, but his, his very own! He was pleased that Granny had given them to him instead of to his older brother.

Brose took care of the pumpkin patch, all right. In fact, he did it so well that it began to bother Pa. “Every time I need you, Brose,” he complained, “you’re in that pumpkin patch. Why, the weeds in the rest of the garden could grow as high as cornstalks, and you’d be out there lifting up pumpkin vines, trying to find another weed to pull. Well, at least I always know where to find you.”

This second year in the Salt Lake Valley was proving to be about like the rest of his nine years, Brose decided. Being in the middle, a boy could scarcely move either way. No one paid him the attention that they did Willie, who was only two and a half and who had hair the color of the brightest sunset over Great Salt Lake. Why, even strangers would stop Willie and ask his name. All they ever said to Brose was, “Is he your brother?”

When Willie did something wrong, no one made a big fuss because Willie was still so young. But when Brose did something that Pa didn’t like, Pa would say, “Brose, you’re big enough to know better!” And whenever it came to deciding which boy would get the best jobs—like riding the pony and herding the cows on the east bench—Pa would say, “Wait up a spell, Brose. You’d best help Ma with the wash and let Jeremy do the herding this year. You’re still a mite small for that job, and Ma can use a little more help than Trudy can give her.”

Brose didn’t give up, though. He wanted Pa to know that there were lots of the good jobs that didn’t have to be left for his older brother to do.

One day the three of them took Old Brownie and Belle and went up City Creek Canyon for a jag of firewood. As soon as they’d found a good place to stop and load up, Pa had Jeremy unhitch the team so that they could graze while the wagon was loaded.

“There,” said Pa, when the wagon was full. “That’ll do it for this trip. Hitch the horses back to the wagon, Jeremy, while Brose and I fasten the chain around the load to keep any logs from falling off.”

“Let me hook up the horses, Pa!” cried Brose. “I can do it, honest! I watched you and Jere do it every day, coming across the plains! Let me hook ‘em up, Pa!”

Pa hesitated, then said, “All right, Brose. Don’t forget to fasten the crosslines, so you can drive the team together without their trying to go off in all directions.”

“So you can drive them!” That’s what Pa said! Maybe, if I hook ‘em up just right, thought Brose, Pa’ll let me drive all the way home!

Brose didn’t have any trouble leading the horses into place. Brownie stepped right over the wagon tongue into her place while Belle stood quietly waiting on the other side. Then, just as Pa had cautioned, Brose fastened the crosslines, snapping the one from Belle’s harness onto the ring on Brownie’s bit, and the other onto the ring on Belle’s bridle.

Next he took the wide leather strap on the front of Brownie’s harness, slipped it through the big ring on the end of the yoke, and fastened the snap to the ring on the other side of the harness. “There! That was just the way Jeremy would have done it,” Brose murmured, pleased. He fastened the strap on Belle’s harness to the yoke the same way. Then he took the driving line from where Jeremy had hung it on Brownie’s hame and threw it ever so gently over Belle’s back, just the way Pa would have done it—quiet, easy, so as not to frighten the team.

When he walked around to put Belle’s line with the other, Brose heard a bird call. It was a new sound, something like a meadowlark’s, yet different. It was more like that little brown bird he used to hear back in Connecticut before the family had come west. Maybe it was! Maybe that very same little brown bird had followed him, Ambrose Dodd, all the way to the Valley!

Brose didn’t know how long he had listened to the bird before he saw Pa and Jeremy. They had walked a little way down the canyon and had stopped, waiting for him.

Brose was to bring the team and wagon! He was going to drive! He climbed up onto the seat, picked up both of the lines, and slapped them against Brownie’s side, just as Pa would have done.

“Giddap!” he cried, loud enough for Pa and Jeremy and the horses to hear. The horses stepped forward. But the wagon did not move. Only the yoke went with the team, the ring on it sliding off the end of the wagon tongue and the lines slipping through Brose’s hands.

Jeremy ran toward him just as the wagon tongue banged to the ground. “Brose!” he called. “Hey, Brose! You forgot the wagon! It won’t move unless you hitch the tugs!”

Brose couldn’t move. How could he have been so dumb! How could he possibly have forgotten about the tugs?

Jeremy reached out and took the lines and drove the team around in a little circle, putting the team right in place. Brose came out of his daze and scurried around to pick up the end of the tongue and slip it through the ring of the yoke, which was still fastened to the horses.

Jeremy was just hooking the last tug to the doubletree when Pa came. Brose watched Pa climb over the front wheel and take his place on the front of the load. Pa reached for the lines, and Jeremy handed them up to him. Pa took them without a word, and Brose knew that he had lost another chance.

There wasn’t much talking during chores that night. When supper was over, Brose sat on the little stool beside the fire, listening to the crackling and hissing of the pine knot and watching the sparks it sometimes sent up with the smoke.

Jeremy took Pa’s fiddle from its case, and music began to fill the little cabin, then float away on the night air. Brose leaned back against the warm cabin wall near the fireplace and listened. He wished—oh, how he wished!—that he could play like Jere. Pa had been fair about it, though. He had tried to teach both of them. Brose still remembered Pa’s words: “Seems as though you’ve got ten thumbs, Brose, and they all want to go in different directions.”

Pa had quit trying to teach him soon after that, and at the time Brose had been relieved. But now every time he listened to the fiddle singing under Jere’s fingers, Brose wished Pa hadn’t given up quite so quickly.

He’d much rather be standing there by Pa’s chair, playing the fiddle, with Ma and Trudy and Willie giving him all the smiles Jeremy was getting, than do the job he was supposed to be doing. He saw Ma looking at him from time to time, but she didn’t interrupt the music with talking, and after a bit Brose made himself get started.

He knew someone had to straighten out the kinks in the wool so that Ma and Trudy could knit it into socks for winter. Brose hated to card. Mostly women and girls did it, but Ma said that Trudy was as fast at knitting as she was, herself. With both of them knitting, they could have twice as many socks ready when winter came. They could, that is, if Brose would just keep ahead of them with the carding.

Brose had his problems with this job too. Sometimes he got the wool so tangled up that Ma said it was worse for knitting when he got through with it than before he started. But she had more patience than Pa. Or maybe she needed the wool carded more than Pa needed another boy to play the fiddle.

Across the firelight Brose saw both Ma and Trudy knitting, each tapping a foot in time to the music. The only time either of them stopped was if one of them happened to drop a stitch. Then the stitch-dropper would move closer to the fire so that she could see to pick it up. Brose sighed as he pulled the big basket of wool closer to him and reached for the cards.

He laid one card close to the fire so that the wire brush would warm. He picked up a handful of wool and drew it across the other card. Then he took the card he had warmed and pulled it carefully across the wool, trying to get the strands straight.

“Learned that fiddle quicker’n I did,” said Pa, as Jeremy stopped for a moment. “Never did see a boy pick it up as fast as that.”

Pa will never be that proud of me, thought Brose, even if I did the carding perfectly! Ma would be pleased, but Pa and Jere wouldn’t care about it at all. Maybe … just maybe someday I’ll do something that they’ll think is important …

“Brose!” He was startled from his daydream by Ma’s voice. “The wool, Brose! I can smell it! You’ve got it too close to the fire!”

(To be concluded.)

[illustrations] Illustrated by Jerry Thompson