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Daughter of Grace
By Michael Phillips, Judith Pella
Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLCCopyright © 1990 Michael Phillips/Judith Pella
All rights reserved.
The Dedication ... Looking Backward
In September of 1853, the first service was held in the brand-new Miracle Springs church, and the dedication was followed by a big town picnic and celebration.
It was a warm, beautiful, fragrant day. As I sat there in the freshly painted new building, with Pa on one side of me, and Zack, Emily, Becky, and Tad on the other, my sixteen-year-old heart was full of happiness as Rev. Rutledge led us in the singing of the morning's hymns.
Then he said he had a special addition to the morning service. He asked Mr. Peters, a German man who had settled in the area recently, to come to the front with him. "Hans asked me if he could read an old German hymn for us today," said Rev. Rutledge. "And I told him we'd be delighted."
"This is my favorite hymn," said Mr. Peters in his thick German accent. "It maybe is because I like animals. This song vas written by St. Francis of Assisi, who loved all God's creatures. I loved in ta old country to sing it, but I think no one knows it here. So I make ta vords into English so gut as I can, and I read them to you for ta church dedication today."
He stopped to adjust his spectacles and take a breath, then began to read from the piece of paper he was holding. As he went along, my mind started filling with all kinds of memories of everything that had happened. All the words of the song, and Mr. Peter's explanation of how he'd turned it into English, reminded me of little parts of last year.
All creatures of our God and King, lift your voices up and sing with us, Alleluia ...
You, the sun that burns bright and gold, and you silver moon with soft gleam ... praise him! O praise him!
All the memories weren't happy. That sun in the desert had been so hot. There'd been times I'd cursed God for that sun, burning down day after day, infecting Ma with its heat, till she couldn't cool off—even at night.
Heat ... heat. Every day her hands and forehead got hotter, her voice weaker, till there was no voice left but Captain Dixon's, trying to comfort us kids, trying to help us in the only way he knew.
I remember walking a little ways away from the wagon camp the night Ma died. Walking, stumbling aimlessly, I hardly had strength to put one foot in front of the other. Ma had been my whole world, and now she was gone. I couldn't even stop to think what we were going to do now. There was nothing but emptiness inside, not even sadness at first ... just an awful empty feeling.
I looked up and there was the moon—about half a moon, staring silently down at me. Everything around me was quiet. The desert sounds were way off in the distance, and I didn't even hear them. Back where the wagons were, everyone knew about Ma and they were being real subdued. I guess death always makes people quiet. All I could hear was some of the horses shuffling around, and Becky and Emily still crying once in a while back where I'd left them. Tad hadn't cried yet. But he'd understand later, and then the hurt would catch up with him. Zack wanted to cry, I know, but something in him couldn't let it out.
I looked up at that moon, quiet and cold, with the cool of the summer night closing in all around us. I wanted to yell up and curse that moon for not bringing its coolness sooner! The cool had come to the desert, and Ma's face was cool now, too. But the cool had come too late!
How could I praise him, how could I sing? Ma was dead! Didn't God know what he'd done? I was angry and hurt. The last thing I could do was praise him!
Tears filled my eyes out on that lonely, quiet desert. Why, God ... why! Was it my fault, for not praying enough? Was Ma a sinner that you had to take her away? Why, God? Were you angry with us ... with Ma ... with me? Was it on account of Pa that you took Ma away out here in this hot, horrible, empty, lonely desert?
And still that silent, silver moon looked down, mocking me in my misery. It was blurred now, and my eyes were all wet. "Go away!" I shouted. But then quickly I stopped, shocked to hear my own voice in the middle of all the stillness.
Hearing my outburst sobered me for a minute. I took in a deep breath, trembling like I always do when I've been crying. But I got the air all the way in, and then I looked up at the moon again.
It was still there, still the same, quiet and bright and cool. But now there seemed to be a softness in its gleam. A peaceful feeling gradually came over me, a feeling that maybe God was like the moon, looking quietly down on us, that he hadn't forgotten after all, and that maybe his coolness, his peace, his tenderness would be there even through all the pain we were feeling. I didn't actually think all that right at the time, out there in the desert as I stared up at the moon. But there must have been a feeling in my heart that maybe God hadn't forgotten us, and I wrote it down later.
You fast-blowing wind so strong, and you clouds blowing along through the heavens, O praise him, Alleluia.... Rejoice in praise, you morning rising up ... You flowing water, clear, pure, make music for our Lord to hear, Alleluia, Alleluia....
I looked up at Mr. Peters reading, with Rev. Rutledge standing beside him smiling, and I quickly wiped the sleeve of my dress across my eyes. Thinking about that day the year before had brought tears back to my eyes without my even realizing it!
God had watched over us. I know that now, although I didn't at the time. He had blown the past away with his strong wind. We couldn't realize it then, but as my sisters and brothers and I continued our journey over that desert, and then over the Sierras and down into California, not knowing what was to come, the clouds above us and the winds blowing about us were God's way of brushing away our past life and getting us ready for everything he had for us there.
A new morning had come to us in Miracle Springs. Suddenly there were new people, like Mrs. Parrish and Alkali Jones and some of the neighbors and townsfolk. Best of all, there was Pa, and of course Uncle Nick. It was like God's way of letting the sunlight that had died with Ma rise again—as the sun does every new morning—on Pa's face. I don't know if it makes sense. Sometimes when people try to use words to say something they're feeling down inside, it doesn't always come out quite right. But I felt like in Pa and in the other folks in Miracle, and in everything that happened, a new morning came to our lives, and maybe I could learn to rejoice in it.
And the water—the wonderful, bubbling, sparkling water! How many walks alone had I taken this year up that stream by the cabin, where the deer came down to drink? Beside that stream I first talked to Little Wolf. Pa and Uncle Nick worked there every day, and we all carried that water up to the cabin in buckets to do the cooking and washing.
Most folks from around here, and from all over the country, praised the water only because it carried the gold from inside the hills and mountains out into the light of day where they could see it and mine it and sell it and make their fortunes with it.
If it weren't for the water, pure and clear, and the shiny gold it brought with it down to Sutter's Mill, Mr. Marshall would never have found what he did and no one would ever have found out about all the riches filling the veins that crisscrossed these hills and mountains of California. It would all have sat there for years and years, maybe forever, and no one would have ever known it. But the water changed history, and made California a state, and Miracle began to grow so fast there were new folks coming to town every day on account of the strike. And lots of the other men hereabouts dug deeper into the hills than before, following Pa and Uncle Nick's example, and some of them found new veins too. Folks said ours was one of the most famous new strikes around, because so many of the original places had started to run out of gold.
But even if it weren't for the gold, even if little Tad hadn't found anything in the mine after the cave-in, and even if we were poor as could be, the water flowing in that stream outside the cabin would be just as musical to me, and I would be just as content. It isn't the gold that makes folks happy. The Lord knows how many around here aren't happy for all the bags of gold they've taken to the bank!
If a person's going to be happy, it's got to come from somewhere else. That's one thing I've learned this year! It comes from having a family, and friends, and probably more than anything from learning to be thankful for whatever comes your way.
But the next words Mr. Peters read both filled me with joy and made me have to fight back the tears. They showed me all over again how much had changed, and how thankful I was to God for making us kids part of our father's world, and for making him part of ours, too.
Mr. Peters' words set me to thinking so deep that I didn't come back to myself till he was sitting back down and Rev. Rutledge was talking again.CHAPTER 2
A Man of Tender Heart
These were the words Mr. Peters was reading:
Alleluia, O praise him, all you men with tender hearts.... Alleluia, forgive others, you who must bear sorrow and pain, Alleluia....
When it came to changes in our lives, I doubt anything could match the change in Pa! These last months with him had been wonderful.
Nothing could make up for Ma being gone, and I still missed her, but not as much as at first. In my head, I still missed Ma just as much as ever; I doubt I'll ever get over loving her till it hurts. But my heart was getting used to the idea of going on in life without her. I knew it was hard for the three younger kids not having a ma around the place. Pa wasn't a woman, and never could be. And though I did what I could, I was only their sister after all.
But Pa was real kind, even more so to the younger ones, I think, because he knew they needed mothering. I know he loved Ma, but now I think he missed her more for the kids' sake than his own, because he felt so helpless to give them all they needed. Mrs. Parrish would come out once a week or so, and I think she might have liked to help more with the younger kids, but Pa seemed kind of reluctant—as though it was his duty to take care of his family and he didn't want help. He felt that he had to do more for us now on account of his being gone from us and leaving Ma alone for so long.
So Pa'd tuck Emily and Tad and Becky under their covers every night. And though he never said much about religious things, he took us into Miracle nearly every Sunday for Rev. Rutledge's church services, because like the rest, he thought getting some religious teaching was important for us kids. He wouldn't have gone if it hadn't been for us—it was simply one more way he was trying to be a good Pa.
Pa and I never had another talk like that one outside the cabin after last Christmas. Since that day, we'd had a silent understanding between us. And because of it, Pa treated me more like one of the grown-ups around the place.
The change I noticed most about Pa had to do with Uncle Nick. They still worked and laughed and talked together like the friends and partners they were. But there was another side of Pa that I started to see, a little part of him that seemed to think of himself as Uncle Nick's pa, too. In so many ways Uncle Nick was still a kid at heart. He'd do silly things and chase off after ideas Pa called "just a blame fool ridiculous notion!"
Now it was like the partnership and older-brother was only half of Pa's relation to Uncle Nick. The rest of the time he was his pa, just like he was Pa to all the rest of us—a pa who had to tend his family, work his mine, be careful with his money, see to our training, fix up the cabin, and sometimes read us stories. He never gambled or drank anymore, and he took his fathering duties as seriously as any man ever could.
More than once or twice those last months Uncle Nick would come home after squandering some of his gold in a poker game or on something he didn't need, and Pa would get after him like he was an irresponsible little kid.
"Don't you know no better'n that!" he'd say. "Those fellas in town see you coming and say to theirselves, 'How can we fleece ol' Nick today?' Sometimes you're just a downright fool, Nick! That mine could dry up any day, and then where'll you be?"
"But, Drum," Uncle Nick would whine like a whipped puppy dog feeling ashamed of itself, "I figured maybe you'd ride into town with me and help me win the money back."
"You figured wrong!" Pa would answer, and that would be the end of it. Uncle Nick wouldn't say much for a day or two, and would try to work harder at the mine. But then he'd just go out and do something foolish again a little while later, and they'd have the same argument, but over something different.
I can remember two conversations I heard, one the previous May and the other more recently, that really showed me how much Pa'd changed. The first was a conversation with Mrs. Parrish and Rev. Rutledge one Sunday after Pa'd taken us in for the little service in Mrs. Parrish's house.
As we were getting into the wagon to head back home, while Pa was tightening a strap on one of the horses' necks, Mrs. Parrish and Rev. Rutledge came up to him.
"Could we have a few words with you, Mr. Hollister?" said the minister.
Pa turned to face them, gave a nod, and continued fiddling with the strap.
"Mrs. Parrish and I have been thinking a great deal about your children and their future," Rev. Rutledge began. Pa shot him a quick glance, and I think the minister figured Pa was going to light into him like he had that day of the Christmas dinner. But before anything else was said, Mrs. Parrish jumped in.
"It isn't what you may think, Mr. Hollister," she said quickly. "Actually, Rev. Rutledge and I've been commenting on what an admirable job we think you are doing with your family. We think it's a fine thing you're doing, and both of us are proud of you. We consider you a real example to some of the other men of the community."
Pa didn't exactly seem comfortable with the compliment, but it did settle down the irritation that seemed ready to rise up. He just nodded and said, "I'm obliged to you for thinking so."
"We really mean it, Mr. Hollister," added the minister. "And with more men like you, and women too—you know, family folks—coming to the area, we've been thinking that we should be giving more attention to the future of our young people. The church is going to be up before you know it, with facilities for a school during the week, and we think it's high time something was done in the way of preparing ourselves for the changing times that are coming. We'll need books and desks and paper and supplies. It'll take a fair sum of money to outfit a new school."
He paused, and Pa, thinking they were finally getting around to the point of what was on their minds—that is, asking him for money—started to reply.
"Well, I'm as much in favor of educating my young'uns as the next man. You can count on me to give my share. As long as our mine's producing, I don't mind contributing what I can. Tad's the one that found the gold, and if he's gonna be schooled, then I figure—"
Mrs. Parrish interrupted him with a laugh.
Excerpted from Daughter of Grace by Michael Phillips, Judith Pella. Copyright © 1990 Michael Phillips/Judith Pella. Excerpted by permission of Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC.
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