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I remember the last time I was here listening to Miss Stansberry play the wedding march on the church piano. Two months ago, back in June, I was sitting down in the front row waiting for what I thought was going to be my pa's wedding to Katie Morgan.
But that wedding never happened. Uncle Nick crashed in, shouting that Katie should marry him, not my pa, and to my amazement, Pa agreed. I was filled with a lot of feelings that seemed to be fighting inside my head. I wanted Pa to be happy, but down inside I just didn't feel right about him and Katie. Right from the beginning they somehow didn't seem like the kind of man and woman that were meant to be together. Not married, at least. Not when I thought of Ma. An hour later, I was there again—only this time sitting next to Pa, watching Katie becoming Mrs. Nicholas Belle. Instead of marrying Pa, Katie had ended up married to Uncle Nick.
So this day in the second week of August 1854, I felt a heap different than I had the last time I heard the wedding march. No seventeen-year-old girl could have been happier than I was standing up there in front of the church alongside Mrs. Parrish. Uncle Nick stood on the other side next to Pa, with Rev. Rutledge in between. It was the perfect ending to the last eight or nine months, since that day toward the end of last year when Pa announced to us kids that he was planning to get married again. For weeks—ever since Nick and Katie's wedding, ever since I saw Pa and Mrs. Parrish walking quietly away from the church after Uncle Nick had busted in—I'd been so happy and distracted, I hadn't been able to think straight. And on the big day, even standing there in front of the church, I couldn't keep my mind focused on what was going on. All of a sudden I realized the music had stopped and Rev. Rutledge was talking and telling folks about what the wedding vows were supposed to mean. By the time I started listening in earnest, he was already getting on with the business of what we were all doing here! As he said the words, my brain was racing, remembering so many things. I had to stand there, straight and quiet next to Mrs. Parrish, smiling and acting calm. But inside I was anything but calm.
"Do you, Drummond ..."
When I thought back to the first day I heard that name, and how Pa and Mrs. Parrish squared off on the street in front of the Gold Nugget, I just wanted to laugh. He was Mr. Drum then. None of us knew who he was or what was to come from that day. He and Mrs. Parrish sure didn't like each other much at first!
"So, Mr. Drum, what might be your intentions now?" I could still hear her stern voice, her glaring eyes bearing down on Pa's bewildered face.
And he roared back, "I reckon it ain't none of your dad-blamed business!"
Mrs. Parrish said she aimed to make us kids her business and told him he ought to be ashamed of himself. Pa said he had no intention of having a woman tell him what to do, and then he rode off through the middle of town.
What a beginning that had been! Who'd have ever figured it would come to this?
"Take this woman to be your wedded wife ..."
Wife ... his wife! My first thought was of Ma. But instead of showing sadness or regret or sorrow when her face came into my memory, she was smiling. I knew she understood and was watching with pleasure, glad that the Lord had sent such a good woman to this man and his kids.
At first Pa was looking mostly at Rev. Rutledge, but now he glanced over toward me and Mrs. Parrish. He wasn't looking at me but her, and he looked right into her eyes. I couldn't see her face looking back at him, but from the look of love in Pa's eyes, I didn't see how he could possibly concentrate on what the minister was saying. Pa's eyes were so full it must have taken all his concentration just to fill them with that look. I don't think I'd ever seen such a look in his eyes before.
I couldn't help remembering the meeting of their eyes on that day he and Katie were supposed to be married, after Uncle Nick had run in and the uproar had started. Pa had a sheepish, embarrassed look on his face as he stood next to where Mrs. Parrish was sitting, and she looked back at him sort of half-crying.
That memory sent me back further, to a day when Pa and I were talking in the barn. He told me that when he looked into Katie's eyes, it just wasn't the same as it used to be with Ma.
Now as I saw Pa and Mrs. Parrish looking at each other, everything seemed to be coming right after a long time of wondering how it would all turn out. No one would ever replace Ma, but you could sure tell there was something pretty special for both Pa and Mrs. Parrish.
"... to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health ..."
During the last few weeks, getting ready for the wedding, I often found myself wondering when Pa actually started thinking differently about Mrs. Parrish. I thought back to that day of the first church service in Miracle Springs, when there wasn't even a church yet, when he stuck up for the minister. I wondered if he had done that for her, maybe without even knowing it himself. Or that first Christmas dinner at Mrs. Parrish's house, when Pa got mad and we all left early. I wondered if they really liked each other back then, if some of their arguments were just to cover up feelings that might have been sneaking up on them from behind. I guess that's something I'll never know!
"... to love and to cherish, till death do you part, according to God's holy ordinance?"
I asked Pa about three weeks before the wedding, "When did you first notice Mrs. Parrish?" He looked at me as if to say What are you talking about, girl? But he knew well enough what I was driving at. "When did you look at her different than just another woman, Pa? You know what I mean."
He kept eyeing me, serious as could be, then a little grin broke out on his lips. Once he got to talking about it, I think he enjoyed the memories. We talked about the meetings for the school committee, and he sheepishly admitted that we had gone early a couple of times so he'd be able to see Mrs. Parrish before the minister got there, just like I figured. "And you got all cleaned up and shaved and smelling good too, didn't you, Pa?" I asked. "And that was on account of her, wasn't it?"
"I reckon," he answered. "But don't tell no one."
"Everyone knows by now, Pa," I laughed. "There ain't nothing more to hide!"
He blustered a bit after I said that, but in a little while he started talking again, and this time it was about Katie. He said almost the minute she got to California, he realized he'd made a mistake, but he didn't know what to do about fixing it.
"Why didn't you just call the whole thing off?" I asked.
He said he could see it all perfectly clear now and couldn't imagine he could have been such a fool, thinking it might work if he just went ahead and didn't say anything. "But by then, Corrie," he said, "my head was so blamed full of that Parrish woman I couldn't even think straight. I was so muddled I pretty near got myself hitched to the wrong woman, just like Nick said. I was just a downright nincompoop 'bout the whole thing!"
"It's a good thing Uncle Nick came when he did," I said.
"Tarnation, you're right there, girl! Yes, sir, Nick saved my hide but good! And that more'n made up for all the times I hauled him outta his share of the scrapes we got ourselves into. Yep, I figure we're about even now."
It was quiet for a minute, then I asked Pa, "How come you wrote off for Katie in the first place, Pa?"
Pa thought a minute, scratched his head, and finally said, "I don't know, Corrie ... I just don't know. I been wonderin' that same thing myself for quite a spell."
"Maybe for Uncle Nick," I suggested with a grin.
"Yeah, probably," said Pa. "But you know, Corrie, folks sometimes say there's times a man's just gotta do what he's gotta do—which is just another way of saying that a man is sometimes determined to go his own fool-headed way no matter how stupid it might be. And I reckon that's how it was with me back then. I was already startin' to feel something inside for the Parrish lady, and I reckon it scared me a little. At the same time, I wasn't sure if I even liked her, 'cause she could sure be ornery sometimes. So maybe I figured gettin' me a bride like Katie would put a stop to the crazy thoughts I was havin'. But it didn't work at all! The minute Katie got here I found myself thinkin' of Almeda all the more."
I smiled, and that was the end of my conversation with Pa.
Whatever his mistakes and uncertainties back then, he sure wasn't making one now. And he wasn't having any more second thoughts. For when the words I do came out of his mouth, the whole church heard them, and I couldn't keep from crying.
Then the minister and all the eyes of the people turned toward Mrs. Parrish.
"Do you, Almeda ..."
Poor Rev. Rutledge! It must have been hard for him to utter those words. Mrs. Parrish had brought him here, and they had been together so much the whole first year. It was hardly any secret that he was sweet on her. Everybody in town figured they were going to get married one day. And now he was having to marry her to somebodyelse! But ever since Rev. Rutledge came to Miracle Springs, folks have been surprised at what a fine man he turned out to be—building the church, pitching in with all the rest of the men when anything needed to be done, helping folks, going to visit anybody who was sick. I think he'd earned the respect of just about everybody in the whole community. And now he was marrying Mrs. Parrish to Drummond Hollister with his head high and being a real man about how things had turned out.
"... take this man to be your wedded husband ..."
Only about a week before the wedding, one Sunday afternoon Mrs. Parrish came out to our house for dinner. Of course she'd been spending a lot of time with us, but she wouldn't come there to live till after the wedding. She was there, along with Katie and Nick and everybody else, and the talk was getting lively and everybody was laughing. Katie asked the question, but I'd wondered about it too, just like I had with Pa.
"Now tell us, Almeda," she said, "when did you first fall in love with this cantankerous gold miner?"
Mrs. Parrish laughed, and Uncle Nick chimed in, "Yeah, that's somethin' I'd like to know! How any woman in her right mind could think o' marryin' a coot like him, I can't figure it!"
"Aw, keep your no-good opinions to yourself, Nick!" Pa shot back, but neither of them were serious.
When it quieted down a bit, Mrs. Parrish told about how much she'd admired him when he stood up in church, and even when he'd stomped out after Christmas dinner that time. She said part of her was angry with him for ruining her nice dinner, but at the same time she couldn't help respecting him for wanting to stand up for what he thought was right, and for not wanting things said about him that he didn't think were true. "But I suppose the very first time my heart thought about fluttering must have been that day, not long after the children and I had gone on a picnic out in the country, when I was getting ready to leave on a business trip. Drum rode up in a great flurry of dust and noise, jumped off his horse, and came striding up to me so determined-looking I didn't know what he was about to do! But when he took me aside and told me he was the children's father, and then apologized for not coming forward sooner—well, right then I think something began telling me this was an unusual man."
"No, you were already after me sooner'n that!" said Pa seriously, but with a twinkle in his eye.
"What do you mean, I was after you?"
"You know perfectly well what I mean. You always were a mighty headstrong woman, and you—"
"Headstrong! Drummond Hollister, I ought to—"
"You know well and good you're headstrong. And you know you were out to get me right from the start."
"There is no truth in that whatsoever."
"Come on, Almeda, don't lie in front o' the children." Pa threw a wink at us. "Do you deny you went out on that picnic intentionally to get near to my place here?"
"I simply said that—"
"There! You can't deny it! Right from the start you were trying to weasel in closer toward me."
"It was only for the sake of the children. I've told you that before."
Pa laughed. "I don't believe that for a minute. You had your sights set long ago. Once you took a look at me, you couldn't help yourself. Go on, tell Katie the truth."
By now everybody was laughing at their good-natured argument. Mrs. Parrish didn't say anything for a minute. I was beginning to wonder if Pa'd hurt her feelings. But I guess she was just trying to think up some good way to get the best of him. Finally she burst out: "Well, it worked, didn't it? I got you in the end!"
"... to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health ..."
I suppose after the incident with Becky's kidnapping by Buck Krebbs and the thing with Royce and the ransom money, there could hardly be any doubt that Mrs. Parrish was prepared and willing to give everything she had for Pa and us kids, even if it meant she would be poor from then on. After what she did that day, the minister hardly needed to ask if she was pledged to Pa for better or worse and richer or poorer. She'd proved that already!
Pa didn't realize what she'd done right at first. He didn't know how she'd twisted Royce's arm to give her the money. If I hadn't seen her go into the bank with that parcel of papers, and then seen that horrible look on Mr. Royce's face later when she left, none of us might have ever known, because Pa and Uncle Nick had already gone to the sheriff's.
But later that night when I told Pa what I'd seen, he jumped up and, hurt as he was, rode into town right then to get the money back to her. And almost as quickly, she lit off out of town for Royce's home, even though it was past banking hours.
Pa told us later that she'd signed over the deeds to all her property, her business, her home and office, and all her supplies and equipment as collateral against the $50,000. If she hadn't gotten the full amount of money back to Royce within twenty-four hours, everything she owned would have become his! That was how much she cared about Becky's safety, and how much she trusted Pa!
The minute Pa learned what she'd done, he must have known that their lives were made to be intertwined together somehow. After that, his future could have no one in it besides her—not after all they'd already been through together, and how close it had brought them toward each other.
That's when, he told me later, he suddenly realized he loved Mrs. Parrish himself, and not just because she was nice to us kids.
So when Mrs. Parrish answered the minister's question, every single person in that church knew the depth of love behind the vows.
"... to love, to cherish, and to obey till death do you part according to God's holy ordinance?"
And with eyes brimming full of tears, and a radiant smile of love and thanksgiving spread all across her face, Mrs. Parrish answered: "I do."
Ten minutes later, as I walked back down the aisle in time to Miss Stansberry's playing, my hand on Uncle Nick's arm, I was following my pa and my brand-new mother!
Excerpted from On the Trail of the Truth by Michael Phillips. Copyright © 1991 Michael Phillips. Excerpted by permission of Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC.
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Posted March 4, 2014
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